When I first signed up for this half Ironman, I knew my swim would be slow and my ride would be average, so the plan was to make-up some time on the run. The Universe had other plans though, and handed me the stress fracture in my hip. It was literally only days before the race when my chiropractor agreed that I could try a walk/run of the course, but only if I swore a blood oath that if it hurt, I would stop. And, in a cruel twist of fate, advised that my best strategy would be to run the uphills and walk the down. That goes against everything I hold dear in life, but okay. I figured I would run a mile/walk a mile throughout the race for as long as I could.
My strategy worked perfectly… for the first quarter mile. Then holy-f’ing-heat Batman! It. Was. Blazing. And I hadn’t done any brick workouts where I practiced running after biking. And I hadn’t been running outside. And excuse, excuse, excuse. Long story short, I managed a mild sporadic jog throughout the 13.1 miles, but I walked the majority of that sucker.
I was not alone. Most people were walking or doing a dead-man’s trot, half-stumbling with glazed eyes toward some stopping point they had marked off—a stop sign, a curve in the road, an aid station.
The course was a double loop, out and back, which meant I got to see others progress. My colleague Si had told me at the start of the race his goal was to be the first Asian to finish, so when I saw him coming back on the course as I was going out, I started screaming, “First Asian Si! First Asian!” (I may have been hysterical from the heat at this point.) People are looking sideways at me and I’m like, “It’s okay. I know him.”
The hardest part was the first three miles. I had expected to be running these miles and when I couldn’t (or wouldn’t), I went to a bad mental place. 13.1 seemed like an incredibly long way to walk, especially as my skin felt like it was peeling off me. I walked and walked and walked and walked, only to come to a sign that said, “MILE 1.” Uh-oh.
Those first few miles were my slowest. (I think mile 1 was like a 20-minute pace. Ugh.) Once I settled in mentally and accepted it would be a long day, things got easier, and I actually ran a bit here and there.
Around mile 7 I noticed that I had stopped sweating, had chill bumps and was cold. Not good. At the next aid station I was like, “Salt. Give me all the salt.” I stuffed pretzels in my mouth as I sucked on an orange. A really good look. But I staved off the dehydration.
On a good note, hip pain never kicked in. And around mile 9, after I reminded myself that no one was forcing me to be here and that, in fact, I was walking on shaky legs, dripping sweat and chaffing because I find this kind of thing fun, I had a great time.
About a half-mile away from the finish, I started running because, yes, I wanted the pictures of me crossing the finish line to be at a run. And when I heard them announce, “Dena Harris from Greensboro, NC crossing the finish line, a first-time finisher,” it made every hot, miserable, doubtful moment worth it.
And, like every race I’ve ever done, about 10 minutes after it was over, the mental pain disappeared and I started thinking about the next race I would run. (Marathons, ultras and Ironmans are like childbirth in that you forget the pain… or so I’m led to understand.) I will say this race put enough fear/respect into me that I’m delaying my entry into the full Ironman. I thought I would do this as a practice and then train for a full. Um.. NO. Having done this, I have newfound respect—and fear—for the full Ironman. I’m looking at late 2018 or early 2019 for that particular disaster to happen.
I drove home right after the race, spent an hour scrubbing my age off left calf (because, NO) and surprisingly, ate very little. Until the next day, when I ate triple my weight in food at breakfast alone.
I’ve read a number of running blogs or articles where people talk about how, after their marathon, they found an inner strength, knowingness that if they could do this, they could set their mind to anything. I’ve never had that feeling from a marathon. I don’t completely have it from this half-Ironman either, but I have glimpses of it. Enough that I’m fairly certain if/when I complete an Ironman, I will have that experience of, “If I did this, I can do anything.” That’s what I’m chasing—that feeling.
Or at least, that’s what I tell people when they ask me, “Why do you DO this?”
- Goal #1: Don't drown. Check.
- Goal #2: Average at least 16.5 mph on bike. Check.
- Goal #3: Finish the race. BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA-LAKA! Check.