Where do you start a race recap that is made up of 70.3 miles and required months and months of training? When you’re still deliriously tired you just jump in and start at 3:30 in the morning the day of… or we would all be here all day.
I woke up the day of the Raleigh Half IronMan at 1:15. I had already had five hours of uninterrupted sleep and I was feeling pretty good. Nervous. But rested. I slept a little here and there between then and 3:30 am and I hopped out of bed at 3:30 ready to go. I drank three cups of coffee, braided my hair, tried (in vain) to get Lucy to go back to sleep, thanked Mike and Emily for their support (and for watching Care Bears with Lu in the middle of the night) and I headed out to meet my friend Tori, the only friend I have crazy enough to be doing this race (for her second time!)
The play-by-play of a thirteen hour day would bore you to tears, I fear. Let me just make sure I give you the highlights….. did I poop before I left the hotel? Nope. Not pleased about that. But who wants to be a middle of the night pooper? (Unless you are a sophomore in college and you move in with your boyfriend and you pretend that you don’t really do that. Ahem.)
There was a mile stroll to catch the shuttle to Jordan Lake where I had left my bike the day before. I dropped off my running gear in transition in downtown Raleigh and marveled at the number of people that were milling about in the middle of the night. I tried to convince myself that it was actually very early in the morning but the drunk girl sleeping in the lobby of the hotel and the chain smoking, loud talking, laughing kids still lingering in front of recently closed closed bars told a different story.
The ride out to the lake was pretty chill. Lots of chatty, nervous athletes. When we arrived at T1 (the transition area between the swim and the bike) Tori said “Have a good race if I don’t see you again this morning!” and that is when it dawned on me that I would largely inside my own head for the rest of the day.
The moment we got off of the shuttle bus it was confirmed that the water temperature was above 76.1 and we would not be wearing wetsuits. The day before I had gotten in the water a bit and felt pretty good about skipping the wetsuit. I am a confident swimmer, if not a particularly fast swimmer, so I was happy to skip out on the added complications of getting in and out of my wetsuit.
I found my bike and was pleased to also find a bike pump to borrow in short order. Upon the recommendation of more seasoned triathletes I let the air out of my tires the day before. Evidently sitting on hot asphalt for 24 hours can cause your tires to pop from the heat if they are inflated. Bike was ready, water bottles were full.
Back to the portapotties. Watched the sun come up and enjoyed the fact that whomever was choosing the pre-race music had a soft spot for Def Leppard. Fruitless visit to the portapotty and some sweet text messages to Emily and it was time to drop off my morning bag of stuff. Without a phone, wearing only my trisuit, goggles around my neck, swim cap stuffed in my bra I returned to the portapotty line one last time. Had the good fortune of finding Tori again so I was able to skip out on the mindless, friendly pre-race chatter with a stranger that can take my head somewhere it doesn’t need to be.
Before I knew it the Pros were in the water and the swim waves were lining up. Fell into a good groove with some nice women in my swim wave. A delightfully nervous lady had me rolling with laughter before our feet were even wet. I took my place on the far left outside of the pack (all the better not to get the shit kicked out of you, my dear) and off we went.
The swim felt good. I hit a nice, mellow stroke, breathing and sighting and doing my thing for the first third. We turned at the first buoy and the water got a little colder and a little choppier and I let myself check my watch. I had an overall goal of finishing the race within the allotted eight hours and thirty minutes. My pie in the sky dream was to finish in under eight hours: one hour for the swim, four on the bike, three on the run. All of these were well within the realm of possibility barring any surprises. The first third of the swim was just under fourteen minutes so I was stoked! Either I moved ahead and into the pack of men swimming in the wave before mine as we rounded the buoy or the younger guys that started after me were catching up but the choppy water was suddenly the least of my concerns. I slid back out to the left hand side and stayed out of the way. In spite of the swim being my strongest sport I wasn’t trying to spend the rest of the day with a black eye. Reading other race reports indicates that the water was giving people a hard time but I didn’t find it too awful. As we rounded the second buoy I was at about thirty minutes and decided to try and give it another go in the middle of the pack. I got knocked around a bit but kept trucking.
I finished the swim in the top third of my age group (and that would be the last time I enjoyed that feeling!) With my swim time closer to 45 minutes I knew I would get out of transition and onto my bike in well under an hour so I took my time in transition. I ate a Honey Stinger waffle and got ready to ride. A generous slathering of sunscreen from a volunteer and I was off!
The bike course had a strange little out and back jog around Jordan Lake involving a turnaround on a tiny two line road. Everyone slowed way down and I successfully unclipped a foot in case I needed it! That tiny bit of confidence had me smiling within the first ten minutes of the bike. As we head out of Jordan Lake I spotted the Instagram famous Alan and I spent a few minutes thinking about how many people worked so hard to be here and how lucky I was to be among them.
My goal time of four hours on the bike was doable if I maintained a speed of 14 miles per hour. Not fast if you are a seasoned cyclist but not easy if you ride your brakes going downhill and planned to stop at each aid station. My big fear of the bike involves crashing into others. I was petrified that I would reach for a water bottle and wiggle just enough to bump into a man on a zillion dollar bike. I would be fine and he would have a shattered collarbone because I was going slow and he was whizzing along. I focused on staying my course, keeping to the left and listening for other cyclists. Women shout out “On your left!” almost always but many of the fast men seem to appear out of nowhere. I did manage to get an ear for these fellows, though, by the end of the day. You can actually hear expensive wheels and their fancy whirring sound if you listen for it. Just as I was starting to think that I might actually meet my 14/mph goals (averaging 15.2 mph in the first twentyish miles) a guy road up right next to me, slapped me on the bike and said “heeeyyyy, Kelly!” Instead of shitting my pants (thanks, Immodium!) I just said “Hello!” My bike tech and all around super cycling support system was out for a ride to see if he could catch up with anyone he knew. He rode with me for a few miles and I felt 800% better by the time he broke away. Just remembering that not everyone that was good at this was likely trying to kill me was a bonus.
I had a successful water bottle hand off at the first aid station and decided to pull over anyway just after the aid station to pop into the portapotty and apply some Hoo-Ha Glide! I wasn’t having any issue but hadn’t used any before the swim thinking that it would all wash away anyway. I hopped back on my bike all smiles! Shout out to the lady that said “You’re all smiles!” I replied “New Hoo-Ha Glide!” and she quickly said “Gotta love the menthol, sister!” before she took off.
Mile per hour average dropped to 14.1 including my stop but I figured I could make up some time. The rolling hills in the middle of the course were great. I learned a lot about my cycling skills on the ride. I LOVE to climb! I got passed by a handful of women on the flats but within a few miles I would find that I passed them on the climbs. My fear of riding on the road means that I do 80% of my riding on a trainer. I guess this means I am always pushing my butt and my legs so climbing is where I am comfortable. Who knew?!
I was prepared for the last third of the ride mentally. I knew that as we neared downtown Raleigh the roads would change and I would need to be more mindful of other riders. I was not prepared to stop while going uphill FOR A TRAIN! I had some laughs with the group of folks that were hanging out at the train tracks. I said “This is the Half IronMan version of a fishing story. I would have WON my age group but we waited at those train tracks for almost an HOUR!” It was nice to have some laughs before we hit the stretch of the ride I had been fearing.
At some point on the ride I was behind a woman with Team Hope on the back of her tri shorts. I spent a solid thirty minutes thinking about all of the things in my life that make me hopeful. I think I got a little weepy as I thought about all of the hours that had gone into making this one day happen and all of the people that had supported me.
My average mile per hour was sitting pretty at just above 14.5 so I was stoked! I tried to be fearless. When there was nobody near me I leaned into a few turns, I went aero on the downhills and repeatedly said out loud “God dammit, you can do this.” An unbelievably helpful woman that I met in a Facebook group, Mandy of Fierce & Focused Coaching, told me that I needed to find my own mantra. Nothing had come to me until midway through the bike when I realized that I muttered that to myself every time I got scared. I guess sometimes a personal mantra finds you, huh?
Coming into T2 (the transition area between the bike and the run) I noticed one thing – it was hot, Africa hot. I had a successful dismount (huzzah! I hate seeing people fall while getting unclipped at the Dismount line!) and found my rack. Got my bike racked and sat down on the curb. I had planned to apply some Body Glide and hadn’t counted on it being liquid after a full day in the sun. I slapped it all over me and swapped out my shoes. I paused and focused on the gratitude I had for the swim and the bike. I had no fear of the run, checked my watch and realized I had over 3:30 hours to do my 13.1. My goal, finishing within the eight and a half hours was totally possible. It was the first time in the day I got goosebumps.
I went out on my run feeling good. My pace was all over the place and way too fast but I was excited. I told myself I would give it one mile to level out and then if I didn’t slow down naturally I would walk for a minute and get a game plan together in my head. As I slowed to walk after my first mile I realized that in about 200 yards I would see my family. MQD and the kids were at a hotel on the run course and I would be able to see them three times on the run course as it was an out and back, assuming that they met me at the finish line. (Out and back – we ran down the street and then back again along the same street in a loop and did this twice.)
I always sweat like crazy when I slow down. I started to walk and looked at my watch. Goosebumps. Not excited, holy shit, I might actually finish this thing goosebumps, but I am freezing and nauseous goosebumps. I watched my pace getting slower and I never started sweating. I was cold. And possibly dehydrated. And definitely starting to cry. I had to pull my shit together. I had to be running when I saw my family. There was an aid station in front of our hotel. I could get cold water and see my kids. I was just excited and nervous, I told myself. I got hugs from the girls, big smiles and a thumbs up from my dad and a “You look hot!!!” from MQD. I tried to run out as I left the first aid station, I had to. The kids were watching.
I think I made it less than a quarter of a mile. Hills were coming up fast and I already had told myself I would walk uphill. I wasn’t tired, my legs felt good. But I felt bad, super bad. And weird. And…. tears.
In front of me was a woman about my size, she was in my Age Group or so said the back of her calf. I told myself I would just not lose sight of her. I passed her and she passed me for a couple of miles. Eventually after the first turn I settled into a decent pace on the long downhill and I just kept my eyes on her back. At some point I caught up to her and said (because the mid-race crazies had taken hold of me) “Not to sound like a total creep but…I think I could pick your ass out of a line up with my eyes closed at this point. I have been trying to catch you for the last three miles.”
Instead of giving me the “Get away from me” eyes, she laughed. You guys know that laughing just encourages my bad behavior. I don’t know that we ever decided to finish the next ten miles together. It just happened. One of us would start to feel good and say “We run to the next three stop lights and we walk through the aid station?” and off we would go. We talked triathlon and kids and labor and laughed and drank Gatorade and squeezed ice water on ourselves for the next two hours. She’d missed setting a new PR and decided not to kill herself. I was feeling dangerously dehydrated and just avoiding getting spotted by a medic so we made a good pair.
As we closed in on the tenth mile we realized we had an hour to finish the last 3.1. On the last pass by the hotel I noted that Lucy was passed out in MQD’s arms (and later in a flower bed) and hollered to them to stay at the hotel and not come down to the finish line. I love that I had been able to see so much of them during the race and that they’d not had to hang out on the sidewalk all day.
As much as I wanted to get to the finish line – I also felt like a summer romance was coming to a close. This delightful human being that the Universe delivered was going to disappear at the finish line. Angie, I am glad I could find you on the Facebooks! We laughed as we talked about how one of us had to drop back and one of us had to hurry up so that we could get our own finisher’s pics. I told her to Go, go, go!
We started picking up speed as we made the turn towards the finisher’s chute. I fell about twenty paces behind her and figured I would just run in behind her. I had been fighting a gross feeling for almost three hours, what’s another hundred yards? And then I felt the urp feeling.
And then it was like the scene in Stand By Me only instead of a pie eating contest it was Gatorade and I was the only one competing. With one hand on my knee and one hand on a planter I let it rip. “Oh shit” gag, “oh shit.” I wiped my mouth and looked apologetically at a woman with two school aged kids “Oh man, sorry about the swearing… and well, the puking.”
“You’re almost there!” she said! I knew that. But I couldn’t stop hurling and I really wanted good race pics. I hadn’t lost all vanity in the preceding eight hours. I leaned into the puking and gave it everything I had. More than seventy miles of Gatorade and ice water came pouring out of me. A fantastic woman stopped next to me and said “better out than in and better now that at the finish line.” I smiled. She got me. “Do you want some salt?” she asked.
Licking crushed salt tabs from a stranger’s hand is not the weirdest thing I have ever done. I don’t think. But it certainly ranks up there. I felt better instantly.
Eyes on the prize. And before I knew it, it was over.
Finished in 8:01:27. Between the puking and the train, I am calling it a win. A medal and a hat and some pictures and some more smiling and some water and a Gatorade. I went down to pick up my morning bag and get my cell phone. I called MQD when I got to my bike. “I knew you could do it,” he said. “Stay where you are, I will send a Raleigh Rickshaw to get you.”
And the tears started and they wouldn’t stop. “I can’t just stand here, I can’t. I will just walk back now. I need to be where you are… I did it. Fuck. I did it….”
And I piled up three big plastic bags on my handlebars and I walked another mile. What’s one more in the greater scheme of things?
I am still riding high. I still can’t bend my fingers on my right hand all the way. Dehydration? Pinched nerve? It’s better today than yesterday. The rest of me feels great. After what felt like a three hour labor, I finally pooped. My 70.3 sticker is on my car. My eyes still well up when I try and talk about Sunday. I have all of my toenails. I have a new necklace that says Tri and an Ironman backpack. I am tired. And starving. And so very, very proud of myself.
What did I learn from this experience? More than I can adequately sum up just yet. But I can share with you two things today. One – make friends with the person that crosses the finish line before you. This way when you throw up they will tag you in their finishing chute picture because you can be seen emptying your stomach on the sidewalk in the background. Really, thank you. Words can not express how happy I am to have this picture. It kills me.
Two. If there is an option to check an occupation in a race registration – pick something hilarious. If you skip to about 5:46 in this video you can see me cross the finish line and hear the announcer say “Kelly Doherty, a homemaker.” WTF? I have never said that in my life and it cracks me up. I wish I had picked Astronaut. Or Fortune Teller. Ahh, next time.
This won’t be the last you hear about Sunday. It was a big day for me emotionally. We don’t do things that scare the shit out of us often enough as adults. And this was terrifying. And awesome.
Set goals. Big, crazy impossible goals. And go get ’em. Really. You’ll be glad that you did.