What started as training for a sprint triathlon turned into training for my first half Ironman race. This post explains my training, preparing for race day, and the full race report from my first half Ironman, which was the Ironman 70.3 Muncie Race.
It’s been over two months since I completed the Ironman 70.3 Muncie, my first half Ironman race. I debated whether or not I should even write this post, but as I think back to the race, I am flooded with thoughts about training, the race itself, and the positive impact the whole half ironman experience has had on my life. What I can see now, over two months later, is that the experience of this race is lasting and it will go far beyond race weekend.
So, here’s the story of what lead to my first half Ironman race. Last October, I learned about triathlons. The idea of a triathlon sounded intimidating and I had a hard time understanding why anyone would ever want to commit to a race that was basically three activities in one. However, it was in the same car ride when I learned about triathlons that I also committed to training for one. Fast forward to a few months later (right after running my first marathon), and I started to train for my first triathlon.
What started as training for a sprint triathlon turned into training for a half ironman…. This is definitely an example of my intense, achievement-focused personality to go hard with personal goals. When I started training for the sprint triathlon, I realized that really enjoyed the variation in training and challenging myself mentally and physically with each race, so I set out with the following goals:
- May: sprint triathlon (400 meter swim, 15 mile bike, 3.1 mile run)
- June: olympic triathlon (.93 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run)
- July: half ironman triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run)
After completing the sprint and olympic races, I was absolutely nervous for the half ironman. While I finished both shorter distance races in great times, they were both pretty challenging. I was pushed to the limit mentally and physically during the races, and it felt like the training was more enjoyable than the races themselves. Because of that, I was questioning why I signed up for a half ironman and was nervous I was just going to put myself through physical and mental hell for 8 hours. However, I had already put in months of training and knew I was so close to reaching the goal I originally challenged myself. I thought about how hard I worked in training to get to the point I was at, and I knew not doing the race now meant that it would be starting from scratch later in life. Postponing the race seemed inefficient and lazy, so I pressed on despite my lack of confidence. Also, in all honestly, I had already paid the large sum of money for registering for an ironman race, and there was no way I was letting that go to waste!
So, filled with nerves and excitement, I completed my training and headed to Muncie, IN for my first half ironman triathlon race!
THE WEEK BEFORE
The week leading up to the race was the most extreme race taper experience. I went from training 1-5 hours a day, to basically 30 minutes or less. I knew that I had to rest my body, but because I’m someone who uses exercise as a way to better my mind and body, it was tough to not have much movement! There were several times the lack of physical movement lead to mental craziness. What I mean by mental craziness, is that I found myself questioning my training and abilities. I had to really work on my mental strength all week long by repeating personal mantras, listening to hype music, and other small actions that were aimed at positivity. Other than focusing on physical strength (by allowing my body to rest) and mental strength (by filling my mind with positive thoughts), I focused on nourishing well. I ate many meals full of nutritious foods. I kept things simple and ate a lot of chicken, sweet potatoes, veggies, eggs, greek yogurt, oatmeal, and other “safe staples” I knew my body would handle well. I tried to hit a certain amount of macronutrients per day to fuel my body well. I also spent so much time packing my race essentials to make sure I didn’t forget anything! After a full week and a half of tapering, I was ready to do the actual race!
TWO DAYS BEFORE
With most races, I like to arrive the day before so there is plenty of time for checking-in, getting a lay of the land, and taking care of other race preparations. However, this triathlon was such a big race that I wanted to give myself a full day to prepare. To make that happen, it required leaving two days early. Two days before the race was purely a travel day.
This is also a good time to mention that one of my best friends, Leah, was my saving grace of this race! Leah agreed to accompany me for the entire race experience to be my support, encouragement, extra driver, social media sharer, and basically just make sure I stay alive during the race. There’s absolutely NO WAY I could have had as positive of an experience as I did without her!
So, because Leah was going with me to the race, we left together to take on the drive. We left early in the morning to give us plenty of time to get to Muncie, IN. The drive was pretty uneventful, which I would prefer while making a long trek, because that usually means nothing stressful happened! We made stops for lunch, coffee, and other treats to keep us motivated.
We arrived to Muncie around dinner time, and only really had energy to eat dinner and chill at Harris Chapel, the church where we were staying for the weekend. Harris Chapel was a church I found through Facebook that was offering lodging for racers for a donation. The church was an awesome place to stay — there was amazing hospitality (the church provided air mattresses/breakfasts & snacks), it was a great location (only 1 mile from the start/finish line of the course), it was budget-friendly ($20/night donation), and it was super convenient. Leah and I had a room in the basement to ourselves so we had privacy and were able to get plenty of rest! I will admit that looking for housing at a local church is something I never considered before this race, but would absolutely do again!
ONE DAY BEFORE
I woke up filled with a mix of emotions! I was nervous, excited, exhausted, and ready all at the same time. To get in some movement, Leah and I went on a morning work on some trails near the church. We got hungry and hot pretty quickly so we made our way back so we could keep on moving for the day.
I had oatmeal and banana for breakfast, but we also made out way to Panera Bread to fuel up on some bagel sandwiches! Panera actually messed up my order, which was not a big deal at all, and they ended up giving me an extra sandwich (so I saved it for race morning!) We took our breakfasts to go and headed to Prairie Creek Reservoir for pre-race festivities.
Prairie Creek Reservoir was the location for all of the pre-race activities including athlete briefing, check-in, and hosting vendors. We spent the morning walking around the park so I could go to athlete briefing (the time where they tell you details about the race), athlete check-in, and orient myself to the course. I always like to walk around the start, finish, and transition areas so that I have some bearings before the morning of the race! I also got my hair french-braided (my go-to hair style for triathlon day), checked in my bike (so I didn’t have to worry about it the next morning), and said hi to a fellow athlete from Kirksville. After a few hours at the park, I started to feel tired, hot, and intimidated, which meant it was time for me to go!
We left the park and wanted to take advantage of the fact that we were in a city with actual shopping stores so we walked around TJ Maxx and Target. We searched Yelp to find a spot for an early dinner, and ended up at Savage’s Ale House. We picked this spot because it had my lucky pre-race meal on the menu — a toasted and loaded club sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries! The meal was alright, but it did fit my needs for the night. Leah wanted some dessert, so we headed to a local bakery where Leah was given the biggest piece of cheesecake I’ve seen in my life. I didn’t want to risk making my tummy upset, so I resisted with just one bite, and thought about my post-race ice cream I would have in less than 24 hours!
After fueling up, we headed back to the church. I laid out all of my race clothes, triple-checked my race bag, and got everything organized for the tenth time before getting ready for bed. Before falling asleep, I called Alan and thought about my goals for the next day. I thought about how I ended up in the spot I was, and it was pretty crazy to even think that I was here, preparing for a HALF IRONMAN. My ultimate goal was to get to the finish line. However, I wanted to get to the finish line in a smart and safe way. I also wanted to feel good, have fun, and have a great race experience! Despite the butterflies I had been feeling all day, I went to sleep (at 8 p.m.!) feeling ready, trained, and excited.
5 A.M. My alarm went off and I began getting ready for the big day! By the time I made my way upstairs to the church kitchen to make my breakfast, several athletes were already long gone to give them plenty of time before the race. Personally, it’s not very beneficial for me to be there hours before the race, so I spent some time eating a big breakfast and mentally preparing.
5:45 A.M. We loaded up the car and headed to the race. The starting line was only 1.5 miles away so Leah dropped me at the transition area so I could get ready while she parked the car.
6 A.M. I began to set up my transition area for the race. I layed everything out, organized all of my supplies, and checked everything at least three times. I felt confident in preparing my transition area because I practiced in my two previous triathlons, both of which taught me what not to do.
6:30 A.M. I walked around the transition area and met a fellow Bulldog (an alum from my alma mater!) I saw someone wearing the Truman logo and couldn’t resist introducing myself, asking him far too many questions for the time of day, and then wish him good luck.
6:45 A.M. The transition area closed so I headed down to the beach for the start of the race! Prior to the race, I hung out with Leah, Ruth, and Thomas! (Two dear friends from college, Ruth and Thomas, drove hours just to cheer me on in the race!!) I took the time to eat another snack and hydrate as much as possible.
7 A.M. The race started but it was very anti-climatic. The swim was a self-seeded start, meaning you lined up by estimated swim time. I put myself in the 42-45 min pace group, which was pretty middle of the pack. I chatted with some people, which is always one of my favorite part of races! It was honestly a very chill time.
7:37 A.M. I actually started the race! It was from here on our that I didn’t have much realization of time.
SWIM: The swim started the beach, with two people making their way to the water every four seconds. The swim was not wetsuit legal and I didn’t feel the water temp before the race started. I was worried I would be chilly, but it didn’t feel cold at all. It was a painless start and the water was smooth. The swim was okay and I felt great, but the other people in the water were making it difficult to find my groove. More than any other race, the other swimmers were very aggressive. People were bumping and jostling into the side of me and passing was very difficult. By the end of the swim, I didn’t have much patience to attempt passing people, so I just tried to have a positive attitude and find enough of a rhythm to get to the end. The last 100 yards of the swim, the part where we headed back to shore, was absolutely blinding. I am not even being dramatic when I say I couldn’t see a single thing. Overall, I enjoyed the swim and felt great at the end!
- Goal Time: 0:45:00
- Actual Time: 0:45:00 (on the dot with my goal time!!!)
TRANSITION 1: To get from the swim to the transition area, there was a long run up a hill. There was carpet that lined the runway, which made the trek easier! My bike was one of the furthest away from the transition entrance so I had to run up the aisles for a while. However, I had my eye on the area I was headed and successfully made it without getting lost (which happened in the prior race.) I had everything organized so it was easy to get ready for the bike. I sat on the ground, peed my pants (much more efficient than a port-a-potty, and I was already wet), laced up my shoes, slapped on some sunscreen, and put on my tank, sunnies, and helmet. I already had my nutrition and hydration loaded on my bike so I was ready to go.
- Goal Time: 0:05:00
- Actual Time: 0:05:14
BIKE: Immediately after leaving the transition area I saw my support crew (Leah, Ruth, & Thomas), which was a mental boost! I knew it was going to be a long couple of hours, so it definitely made it exciting to see them at the beginning of the bike course. I knew that nutrition and hydration was the most important element of the bike section of the race.
There’s a saying that goes “nothing new on race day” but that did not apply to me because I was trying everything new. I can’t say it was the smartest idea, but I knew that I had to focus on consuming a certain amount of hydration and nutrition if I was going to set myself up for a successful bike and run. I was really, really scared about bonking or getting dehydrated so I focused on consuming nutrients. I didn’t really had a set goal in mind (this is what I should have planned before the race), so I kind of played it by ear and keep consuming things. I would have a goal to eat a bar/banana/gel and drink a bottle of gatorade in between the aid stations so that I could replenish by the time I passed through. The aid stations were awesome — the volunteers were very positive, helpful, and ready for athletes! The stations were stocked with plenty of supplies, and it was so fun to ride through and grab nutrients (getting more snacks was definitely something to look forward to every 15 miles!)
The bike course itself was actually really fun! The course was filled with rolling hills through rural Indiana, so it felt very similar to my rides in Kirksville! Every once in a while I would look at my watch and I was CRUISING. While normally I might have been worried about the fact that my pace was quick, I let myself get hyped by the fact that I was booking it because I felt great! I saw my support crew on the course at mile 37, which gave me another mental boost! The course was two big loops so there were always fellow riders around. By the time I got to mile 50, I was ready to be done. Even though my legs were tired of pedaling, I knew I just had the best long bike ride of my life and my time was way better than I hoped! I felt great and was ready to move onto the run.
- Goal Time: 4:00:00
- Actual Time: 3:11:33
TRANSITION 2: I hopped off my bike and tried to move as quick as I could to start the run! I struggled because I couldn’t find my ziplock bags I had packed. (I packed ziplock bags to fill with ice to keep cool on the run — it was something I learned online the week before the race that I wanted to try!) Once I finally found them, all I did was reapply sunscreen and grab my water bottle. I already had my running shoes on because I wore them for the bike portion of the rice (I don’t clip in!) I really had to pee because I hadn’t stopped on the bike, but both port-a-potties in the transition area were occupied. Instead of waiting, I started running and and made it a goal to run fast so I could pee ASAP!
- Goal Time: 0:05:00
- Actual Time: 0:03:16
RUN: Though running was usually my strength, I was most intimidated by this portion of the race! I knew it was going to be HOT (in the upper 90’s!) and hilly. The run was an out-and-back course on black top! I did my best to prepare for this leg of the race by hydrating on the bike. Thankfully, there were aid stations every mile of the race so I took advantage! My strategy was to run from aid station to aid station, and then be refreshed by the resources and cheering of volunteers! At each aid station I refilled by ziplock bag with ice (so I could stuff it in my sports bra, near my heart), grab sponges for under my sports bra sleeves, and grab two cups of water. One water was to drink and the other was to dump on my head!
My goal was to just keep moving. It wasn’t until about 1/3 of the way through the run that I started struggling mentally. I kicked it into full-gear with my personal mantras. People would pass me, but I would pass people too. Once I hit the turn around point at mile 6.5, I knew I was going to do this. I knew I would finish! I kept going. At mile 12.8 I saw my support crew and immediately gained energy to get me to the finish line!
- Goal Time: 2:15:00
- Actual Time: 2:09:49
FINISH: Spoiler alert: I FINISHED. I CROSSED THE FINISH LINE FEELING GREAT. I felt confident, strong, and filled with joy. When I crossed the finish line, I knew I had put in my best effort and did my best. I truly was so proud of myself, in a way that I hadn’t felt before. Finishing this race, let alone with joy and feeling great, was something I never would have dreamed I could do, until the moment I did! I had a great experience, had a lot of fun, and actually enjoyed the experience! When I finished the race, I was exhausted, BUT, I also felt like I still had more left in me…. so maybe there’s a full ironman in my future….
- Goal Time: 8:00:00
- Actual Time: 6:14:50
OVERALL: I REALLY enjoyed everything about this race. I had so much fun (way more than my sprint and olympic triathlons!) The Muncie race course was terrific — it was organized, stocked with plenty of resources and aid stations, and there were hundreds of encouraging volunteers. The Ironman App was an awesome resource for during the race and allowed for my support crew (near and far) to keep up with me. My race support crew was a complete game changer and they were so helpful before, during, and after the race. I would highly recommend finding a support crew for your athletic endeavors! I really loved that I did this race. It was a huge physical and mental achievement, and two months later I am still on a high.
After the race, we walked around the park, took victory pictures, and celebrated. After a quick shower in the beach bathroom, we packed up the car and search for ice cream. We stopped at Chick-Fil-A, got huge ice cream homes from Graeter’s (a local favorite!), and made the trek back to Kirksville. As we pulled into Kirksville around midnight, I couldn’t help but think about how this was the end of an amazing chapter. The past few months had been filled with triathlon training and I became mentally and physically strong in new ways. I knew I wouldn’t be able to train like this as I moved to Texas in a few weeks, so I let myself soak up how thankful and appreciative I had been for the following months. I knew this triathlon season had come to an end, but I know all of this is not the end of the book. I feel so thankful to call myself an ironman.