Race day – Go Time!

4 AM – Wake up, make oatmeal, coffee, and breathe, breathe, breathe. Inside, I could feel the anxiety like a bubbling cauldron. However, I did not want to begin feeling overwhelmed by the day ahead, so I sat at the desk in the hotel room and purposefully visualized my race while eating the oatmeal. Black coffee and oatmeal with berries and apricot because that’s what I do before my training sessions. Don’t change anything on race day!

4:45 AM – We’re out the door and headed to the transition area. Due to the race’s safety protocols, all athletes were to instructed assemble at their bikes in the transition area. Rather than a mass swim start, we were staged and entered the water 3 at a time, 5 seconds apart. Athletes self-staged by their anticipated finish time, where the fastest swimmers were called 1st then slower and slower etc. First up were the pros, then people who planned to finish in less than 1 hour,  then 1 hr to 1hr 1 10 min, 1h10min- 1h20min, etc.

I decided to do an easy swim and join the 1 hr 10 min-1 hr 20 min group. As a strong swimmer and one who enjoys swimming in the ocean, I wanted to go with a faster group but decided that I should remain conservative during this race. The goal was to finish (the unspoken personal goal was to finish in 13-13.5 hrs). Swimming can easily eat up gobs of calories and energy. Even if I did “hydroplane” to the finish, I wouldn’t have saved much time. The swim is the shortest event in an Ironman race, there really would have been little return on the effort when the whole race was considered. I put my ego back in the bag and refocused on my plan for the day.

As my group wound its way from transition, through the streets, and to the beach, I saw Kai and Robin. We hugged and smiled before I had to keep going. Unfortunately, they weren’t allowed to get close to the beach or on the pier (VIPs only) and wouldn’t be able to watch me swim.

My moment

Most Ironman finishers tell their story of when they had “the” moment during the race. It’s the point where all the emotion and feelings of success, joy, and gratitude come crashing and flowing out of your body… usually in the form of sobs and tears. They almost always say that it occurs at the finish as they walk the red carpet and hear their names being called an Ironman.

While I was walking through the corrals waiting for my turn to enter the water, my moment came. As I noticed the sunrise and absorbed the energy of 100s of athletes, I felt incredibly grateful that I was standing right there in that instant. I was about to do the very thing that I envisioned almost 18 months ago.  I had dared to dream and claim that I would do exactly this….what, at the time felt almost impossible. I welled up with all the emotions at once and began to cry. Not in a sobbing catch-my-breath way. My eyes welled up and tears just streamed down while I watching those ahead of me begin their race. I took a deep breath, felt it all and I cracked the smile that would be present for the next 14 hr 3 min and 58 seconds.

Everything was perfect. I was ready.

6:24:06 am – I entered the water.

The sand bar extended about 50 feet from the beach, so most of us were hopping through the waves before we actually began swimming. Since the water was 71 degrees the swim was deemed wetsuit legal. Meaning, if an athlete wears one they can still qualify for prizes and championship slots. None of those things were of concern to me, however. I was happy to wear the wetsuit because it adds buoyancy and makes the swim easier. We had to complete two laps, 2.4 miles total.

Once I began swimming, I focused on staying efficient and relaxed. I kept my mind on maintaining a low heart rate, adequate hip rotation, and pulling fully. The water was clear enough that I could see jellyfish floating around and the other swimmers very easily, some of whom were flailing and others moving gracefully. I picked a few in my group and swam alongside them to get some pacing, then began passing most of them one by one. I practiced spotting and staying on course with the buoys. After the first turn, the pros began passing us as they were completing their second lap. I really enjoyed watching their form. I didn’t try to keep up with any of them, I just watched as many as possible. After the 2nd turn, I wasn’t able to see the buoys as well so I meandered a little bit more. I even had to stop and pop my head up because I realized that I was swimming away from the course and right into a safety kayak. Before I knew it, I was tracking along the other side of the pier and approaching the beach. Lap one was almost finished and I could hear the people along the shore and on the road.

We exited the water and ran back onto the loose sand of the beach towards the start line. Only one more lap! However, this lap was rougher, the wind and waves had picked up. Even before we reached the length of the pier we were tossed around by good-sized swells, that lifted and dropped us like a runaway elevator. People were getting seasick and vomiting! I picked up the pace and tried to time my strokes with the waves and current. I kept my effort relaxed and my head clear. I really enjoyed the swim, I could have done another lap without complaint. I found that running through the loose sand was more tiring than the swim itself.

1 hr 19 min 07 sec – final swim time.  I finished in the top 30% of both my age group and overall.

Get on the bike

From the beach, we ran about 0.5 miles back to the transition area to begin the 112-mile bike ride.


Up next….the Bike