Four more nights until my first ever Ironman 70.3 race and right now, I am having ALL the feels about this impending doom!
I am vaguely terrified of the swim entry. Wary of how long I know it’s going to take to complete the race. Wishing I had done a lot more strength building. Knowing the run is really going to hurt. Really excited to not swim, bike, or run for awhile. Occasionally tearing up. Feeling like a beginner again.
I have no doubt that I can finish the distance. My greatest fear is that I won’t make a time cut off. Even though I anticipate finishing 25 minutes prior to the swim cut off, two hours before the bike cut off, and at least an hour and a half before the total time cut off, the “what ifs” are invading my head. What if the currents are so bad that I get pulled off course on the swim and have to be rescued? What if I have a flat and something goes wrong when I’m fixing it? What if I just don’t have enough time left to finish the run?
My legs hurt. My right hip has been bothering me for months. I’ve got some kind of TMJ flare up that’s giving me a headache that won’t go away. It’s going to be mid 80s on Sunday- hot for my standards. I’ve sworn off any food item that might hamper my condition when all I want is a pint of ice cream. And I am constantly reminding myself to stay in the moment, to mentally focus, to enjoy the journey.
All I really want is for this damn race to be over.
I keep reminding myself to look at the progress I’ve made. Two years ago it took me 20 minutes to swim 500 yards in the pool. Last week I busted out 1000 yards in 19:55. A year and a half ago I did my first tri with the goal of finishing. This year I’ve been on the podium in two races. Still, I have a nasty habit of comparing myself to others. And in the world of long course racing I’m a slow beginner, just trying to finish her first race.
My greatest struggle has been mental. Not in getting the training done, or in thinking I can complete the race. It’s been a struggle to think of all this work as an accomplishment. In the past few weeks I’ve had more than one person remark that I looked like an athlete. Did I do Crossfit? Was I a swimmer? What exercises did I do to tone my legs? I was surprised and shrugged it off by saying I was training for a half ironman. More questions would follow- how long was the race, had I done one before, is it swim bike run or run bike swim? I would answer questions, and again shrug it off. “It’s going to take me about 6 and a half to seven hours to finish. I’m not very fast. It’s going to be a long day!”
I’ve been dismissive of my accomplishments and the work I’ve done to get to this point. I share the highs and lows of training, but I present with self-deprecating humor as an “everyman” for the masses. I have slogged through the miles, taking small victories where I can find them, but always comparing myself to others who are faster or more experienced, who have better equipment or natural talent. Even with my two podium finishes this year I think, “it was only because the competition wasn’t very good.” I consider myself a “middle of the pack” participant: not going to win, not going to come in last. I am not special. I don’t consider myself an athlete.
At my last spin class the instructor announced to the class that I was racing on Sunday and that she expected to see me on the podium. I shook my head, smiled, and rolled my eyes. “I just want to finish,” I said. She stopped at my bike, pulled the microphone away from her face, and looked me in the eye. “Listen to me. Everyone in here is intimidated as *** by you.” Again, I shook my head and said no. “It’s true,” she said. “YOU are an athlete.”
I always thought of athletes as people who were born with athleticism. They had to work hard to be the best, of course, but they had a leg up. They were athletes. I have approached training as a sort of survival method. If I wanted to finish the race, I needed to build my fitness. Every day for six months I took steps to prepare for this day. Three days a week I got in the pool to swim back and forth, back and forth. Every Tuesday I set out to run a little further than the week before, pushing to 5 miles, 7 miles, 10 miles. I drove 40 minutes for 7am spin classes and bumped up my resistance a little each time. I rode my bike for hours until my bum went numb. I shoved vegetables and water and protein smoothies into my mouth and went to bed at 9pm so that I could do it all over the next day. Each day I had to make a choice: do the work, or don’t. Most days, I chose to do. That, I now realize, is how you become an athlete. You build piece by piece, mile by mile, rep by rep. I know I can finish this race because six months ago I chose to start.
So my game plan for Sunday is to approach the race exactly as I did with my training. I will take each leg one step at a time. I will pick up my packet on Friday to avoid the crowds. I will check in my bike, attend the course talk, and practice the swim course on Saturday. I will drink tons of water and fill my body with the nutrition it needs to perform. I will go to bed early. I will arrive by 5:30 to set up my transition. I will do my usual pre-race warm up at 6:45.
At 7 I will take a deep breath and start.