Preparation: One day I was running through the back roads of Temecula. In a moment of weakness, my friend Karrie talked me into doing the Ironman. She tells a different story where I volunteered to do it, but really, who would be crazy enough to do that? (Sorry Karrie, this is my story and I am sticking to it.)
No matter how I came to be doing this very challenging race, one thing is for sure...once I decide to do something I don't do it halfway. Anyone who has trained for an Ironman will tell you, the training for the Ironman is almost more difficult than the actual race itself. I will tell you that I purchased a calendar just for my training, and as I filled in all the exercise I will be doing from now until July 2013, I can see that this training is rigorous and will definitely prepare me for swimming 2 1/2 miles, riding 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles.
The first task on my road to Ironman is to complete my first triathlon. We chose a sprint triathlon (3/4 mile swim, 18 mile bike ride, and a 3.1 mile run) at Camp Pendleton. I have been running for over two years now, have been biking for years, but need some work on the swimming. Therefore, I have been trying to swim at least three times per week including some ocean swims to allow me to practice diving under waves and back and forth through the strong currents that are sometimes present. I also continued with my three day a week running and added a few long rides in between.
The other preparation I required was gathering necessary equipment. One thing I needed to aid in all three sports was a tri-suit. This one piece of clothing is worn as a swimsuit, can then be used for biking because it has some light padding in the shorts, and is comfortable enough to be worn through the run portion as well. I had to borrow a wetsuit (thanks Darcy) to keep me warm through the ocean swim, and because my legs are still dragging when I swim. The buoyant suit will keep my legs parallel with the rest of my body.
My second concern is the transitions between each leg of the race. I am extremely worried that I will forget to bring some major piece of equipment I need, like a helmet, goggles, or running shoes. I found a check-off list online to help me remember everything (sprint triathlon checklist), so hopefully this will not be an issue. Camp Pendleton Sprint Triathlon, here I come!
While the photo to the left is not the most flattering photo ever taken of me (tri-suits love to hug my areas that still need work), I think that this picture best shows how I truly felt at the end of this race. I have never had to fight so hard just to complete a race before. In fact, I even think that this race was more challenging for me than the Tough Mudder, which included over 12 miles of massive hills all while tackling some extremely difficult obstacles (for more Tough Mudder details so my 2/26/12 blog). But not once during the Tough Mudder did I ever think I wouldn't finish...not even when I was zapped so hard by electricity it caused both my calves to cramp and I fell hard to the ground. But I get ahead of myself...
The day started off very early--like 3:30 am early. While all my triathlon gear had been carefully packed the night before, I still had to eat a light breakfast, have my morning coffee, dress for the race, and do some light stretching. All of this had to be done so we could all leave the house by 4:25 to pick up my friend Emily and her bike. One of the best things about today was that our car was not just filled with racers and gear, I also brought a cheering section--my husband Sean, my daughter Siobhan, and my son Eoin. I was so excited to have them there to see me complete this course.
We all arrived at the front gates of Camp Pendleton in plenty of time. The drive from the gate to the actual course was about thirty minutes, and while our wave was the last to take off at 8:30, we had to get our timing chips, swimming caps, get marked with our numbers, and set up our bike and transition area (all the gear we would need for our bike and run legs) before 7:20 am.
Once we had everything ready to go, we threw on our wetsuits and went out in the surf to test out the water conditions. I felt great. The waves were fairly easy for the day--about three bigger sets of waves and then some very flat surfaces. There was a strong current, but my buddy Leslie figured out we could move about 100 yards left of the start line and then the current would pull us toward the first buoy. Thank God she made this suggestion, because the group of racers before us did not make this correction and many of the swimmers went so far right that they actually ended up between the two buoys and had to swim back to the first one.
When the gun went off, my swim plan played over and over in my head, "Swim ten to twenty strokes, and then take a couple breast strokes to catch my breath." Unfortunately my body had other ideas. Once I got past the first couple waves, I completely lost my breath and had a panic attack of sorts. Instead of sticking to my plan, I resorted to doggie paddle, which has absolutely no power, and the longer I struggled, the more I couldn't catch my breath. My breathing got so heavy that I had a couple lifeguards come up to me wondering if I needed some help. If I allowed them to help me even just a little, I would be disqualified, so I very nicely asked them to stay away from me. Every ounce of energy I had went into completing that swim, so by the time I hit the beach, I could hardly even walk across the sand to the transition area. I felt nauseous and dizzy, but I knew I couldn't quit. Just then I heard my name being called from the spectator area on the cliff. I could hardly raise my arm to wave because I was so tired, but that cheer gave me the strength to push through this rough spot. I couldn't quit--not with our cheering section behind me.
I took longer than necessary to transition to the bike, but I was hoping the nausea would subside. I finally just decided it was time to move on--I had more than 18 miles of bike ride ahead of me, and I was shooting to come in under 2:30:00, which I know is slow, but considering my weak swimming I had to set a reasonable goal for myself. In the end I was very pleased with my bike leg. While coming out of the transition area there were only two bikes behind me, but I was able to push through and pass a handful of mountain bikes and even a road bike or two. The problem was that the swim had taken a lot out of me, and what energy I had left I used to go hard on the bike. When it came time to run, I had very little left in me.
My transition was actually pretty good from the bike to the run, but my legs felt like lead and I had trouble getting them to move faster than a quick walk. I finally started setting goals for myself. I had to run from the light pole to the final cone. I could walk through the water station, but I could not walk anywhere near the photographer (who wants that documented). When I thought I was almost done, I hit the 2 mile marker. I couldn't believe I had more than a mile left to go. I continued to set small running goals for myself and just when I thought I couldn't go one more step, I turned the corner and my racing friends and most of our spectators were there to run the last 100 yards with me. I can't tell you how much that meant to me, and I knew then that I was going to complete my first triathlon (and I did it in 2:21:39, more than 8 minutes faster than my goal). It was not my best race, but I think I am more proud of this race than any other. I had to dig deep, and when I had nothing left, my friends and family were there to spur me on. I am definitely a lucky girl!
So, while I don't want to scare anybody off of triathlons because of my experience (because I would do it again in a heartbeat), or make you think that choosing an Ironman is for everyone, I do think that training for triathlons is a great way to plan a well-rounded exercise plan. With a little swimming (one of the best low impact exercises), some bike rides, and some reasonable run mileage, you too can do a sprint triathlon in as little as 8-weeks. This resource can help you to achieve this goal if this is something you aspire to do (Beginner Triathlete Resource). You just may want to choose a little easier course for your first triathlon. :)