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.
What is a half ironman race?
A half Ironman, also called an Ironman 70.3, is a long-distance triathlon. 70.3 refers to the number of miles covered in the course, which breaks down into a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run.
How long does it take to complete a half ironman race?
The average race time of a 70.3 is about 6 hours. Of course this will vary per athlete and the 70.3 course.
First Half Ironman Race
I completed my first half Ironman 70.3 in Muncie, Indiana. The race was itself was an amazing experience so I want to share all about race day, training, and my half ironman journey.
It wasn't until my mid-20's that I learned about triathlons. The idea of a triathlon sounded intimidating and I could barely wrap my ahead around why anyone would ever want to commit to a race that was basically three activities in one.
However, it was in the same day I learned about triathlons that I 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.
Why I decided to train for a half ironman
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. I finished both shorter distance races in great times, but was pushed to the limit mentally and physically.
I definitely questioned why I signed up for a half ironman and thought I signed up to put myself through physical and mental hell for 8 hours. But I paid for the race (and trained!) so knew I had was committed to try.
The week before the race
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. It was a tough mental shift by the extreme decrease in physical movement! All week long I repeated personal mantras and listened to hype music.
I also focused on fueling well and 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!
Two days before the race
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 so I left two days early.
One of my best friends came with me to the race and was my support, encouragement, extra driver, social media sharer, and basically just make sure I stay alive during the race. She helped me have such a positive race experience!
Two night before the race
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.
We had a room in the basement to ourselves so we had privacy and were able to get plenty of rest! I would stay in a place like this again.
One day before the race
I woke up filled with emotions! I was nervous, excited, exhausted, and ready all at the same time.
After a quick walk on a nearby trail for some movement, it was time for nutrition. Breakfast was oatmeal and a trip to Panera Bread to fuel up on some bagel sandwiches! We fueled up and headed to Prairie Creek Reservoir.
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!
Getting out the jitters
After a little bit of shopping, we looked for a dinner spot. We searched Yelp and ended up at Savage’s Ale House (it was just okay). 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!
After dinner, 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.
I fell asleep thinking about how crazy it was to be here, preparing for a HALF IRONMAN. My ultimate goal was to get to the finish line in the most smart and safe way. Of course I wanted to have fun and have a great race experience, too!
My alarm went off and I began getting ready for the big day! I got dressed, pack up my stuff, ate a big breakfast and started mentally preparing.
We loaded up the car and headed to the race. The starting line was only 1.5 miles away so I got dropped off at the transition area so I could get ready while she parked the car.
I 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 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.
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 a few friends who came to support me! I took the time to eat another snack and hydrate as much as possible.
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.
I actually started the race! It was from here on our that I didn’t have much realization of time.
The swim section
The swim started the beach, with two people making their way to the water every four seconds. The swimming portion 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.
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!!!)
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, laced up my shoes, slapped on some sunscreen, and put on my tank, sunnies, and helmet. My nutrition and hydration were already loaded on my bike so I was ready to go.
- Goal Time: 0:05:00
- Actual Time: 0:05:14
Immediately after leaving the transition area I saw my support crew, 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. It wasn't the smartest idea, but I knew I needed 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 nervous about bonking or getting dehydrated so my plan was to have 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!
Bike section 2
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
I hopped off my bike and tried to move as quick as I could to start the run!
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
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 ⅓ 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
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 race recap
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.
Here are my final results from the race!
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 home.
As I drove home, I thought 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 felt (and still feel!) so thankful to call myself an ironman!
Can a beginner do a half Ironman?
Absolutely! Without any training experience, budget at least 6 months of training. If you're new to the sport, I'd recommend following a training plan to build up endurance and avoid injury. I used this Triathlete Magazine Training Guide.
Is a half Ironman easier than a marathon?
I completed my first marathon 3 months before my first half Ironman. Even though the marathon was a shorter duration than the half Ironman (4 hours compared to 6), the marathon felt more challenging. My guess is that the changing of activities helpful physically and mentally!
What is the hardest part of a half Ironman?
The hardest part in my course was the second half of the run. Trying to finish a half marathon during the middle of a really hot day on black asphalt and starting to feel exhausted was HARD. The race support really helped during this section!
Can you wear headphones during a half Ironman?
No! Practice training without music because you won't have it on race day. For this reason, the race support during your half ironman race makes a big difference!
How long does it take to recover from a half Ironman?
It took about two weeks for me to fully recover after my half Ironman race. I did short workouts, a lot of active recovery, and stretching and yoga during my recovery period.
What should I eat during a half Ironman?
This is personal preference! I stuck to gatorade, water, bananas, gels, and granola bars. I knew I would react well to foods like this. Eat what works well for you!
Note: This post is similar to other race posts (like my first marathon experience and first triathlon experience) in that it includes details about the decision, training, race, and post-race.