Progressing from a swim meltdown to a strong bike leg set me up with a very positive mindset as I prepared to begin the half-marathon. I moved through transition feeling confident and energetic. My goals were clear, run the entire distance, and maintain a pace of 10 min per mile. Relatively speaking, neither of those goals appears very aggressive or difficult. However, they’d be firsts for me and are big challenges at this point in my racing career.  Over the past two years of Ironman training, both my swimming and cycling skills and speed have progressed very well. My running skills have also improved, but I started so deep in the hole, that I still feel very far behind the curve with where I’d like to be.

Finding the will (I already knew that I was physically capable) to endure 12 miles of continuous running at an uncomfortable pace while my body hurt and my mind screamed “make it stop” was my reason for doing this race. I’ve given in to those urges to quit simply because the discomfort was louder than my desire to accomplish the goals. When shit got hard, I didn’t get harder. Completing Ironman distance triathlons is a tough endeavor, however, giving in to pain or discomfort instead of achieving my goal becomes an unrelenting self-induced mental torture chamber. It’s like being encased in a mental shroud of fear, disappointment, anxiety, and doubt. Beyond those feelings, recognizing that what actually occurred was an opportunity unrealized. With so many hours of training and pushing to remain disciplined, why wouldn’t I go above and beyond to make the most of the race? There are no guarantees another one will be run or that I’ll remain as capable as I am today.

So, I chose this race to begin demolishing those walls.

Choosing to focus on smashing my run, I decided to purchase a new pair of shoes. Normally, getting a new pair a couple of weeks before a race is fine. Provided one has enough time to break them in. However, this time, I purchased a new type of shoe, not a new pair of existing shoes. 

Don’t try anything new on race day! – Rules #1, 2 and 3

I broke the rules. I had FOMO. Bad, bad, bad FOMO. Watching the elite marathon runners and hearing so many triathletes talk about the merits of Nike’s carbon-plated shoes was too much for me to ignore. They use them and they got faster. The shoes, the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% , are fucking cool with incredible spring and responsiveness. The 1st person to break a 2hr marathon did it wearing these bad boys! So, why not me? I wanted all the help.

Buying an expensive bike does not make a stronger cyclist. Nor does purchasing the latest, greatest shoe make the average runner a great runner!

The shoes didn’t fit well. I think they are 1/2 a size too large. I only did two training runs in them and neither of them was longer than 6 miles which is half the distance of this race. I believe this situation is what they call “getting in your own way” 🀣. I knew that I should have talked to someone before I purchased or even wore the shoes for this race, but I wanted them to be my magic carpet and wasn’t willing to hear anything to the contrary. I chose to create a fantasy and protect it. Having a coach and many experienced marathoners and endurance athletes available is a gift, but I ignored every single one of them. I was fueled by my delusion. They were placed in T2 ready to propel me to new speeds…

After the 56 mile ride, I hopped off my bike with legs that felt good, eagerly slipped on my “super shoes” and grabbed my water bottle that was preloaded with Infinit run mix. I was hot and thirsty. To my surprise, there were no aid stations for the first mile or two. As we ran traversed the Texas Tech campus, I kept thinking that the water station would be around the next corner. Nope. Turn after turn just led to more turns and then we ran into the football stadium. Even though it was empty, I enjoyed running around the field and imagining the stands full of people watching and cheering for their friends. The route was three laps, but we would only enter the stadium once. 

The sun wasn’t too bad early in the run and once I was able to fill my bottle, I focused on maintaining a 10min/mile pace, nothing much faster. during the first 5 miles I developed a good rhythm and found myself holding a pace in the low 9 min/mile range. I also noticed my heart rate creeping up so I slowed down. If I could hold it together for the first 8 miles, then I could push the last 5 miles faster. Sounds reasonable …when you are fresh (ie., mile 1 or 2).

Without music, I used my breathing to create a rhythm. Staying focused on keeping a cadence around 175-180 was difficult. As I ran, my mind was wandering all over the place. When I was able to remain focused on cadence and breathing, the running felt very smooth and fluid. I enjoyed it and felt like I could sustain it for a long time. Unfortunately, as soon as I relaxed into the feeling, my mind would wander and I soon found myself with an uneven rhythm and lower cadence.  The lower cadence resulted in a slower pace. It was like dominos falling. Not only was this a physically taxing event, but I was also becoming mentally fatigued.

To compensate for the mental lapses, I found someone who was moving at my desired pace and drafted off of him. I matched him step for step. Since my shoes were too large or I was unfamiliar with their responsiveness, each of my steps was quite loud.  clap, clap, clap, clap, clap…like a horse on cobblestone.  He kept looking back. I didn’t move, I was like his fucking shadow. I stayed with him for a while even in and out of a couple of aid stations. Running from station to station, I used them to refill my water bottle and get ice to pour into my race suit, and put underneath my hat. As the temperature rose the need to cool down became more important. I didn’t want my heart rate to get too high as my body tried to cool itself off.

Mile 8 came and went, then mile 9 went by and I was struggling to maintain the 10 min/mile pace. Convincing myself to push harder was very difficult. I would pick up the pace then fairly quickly slow back down. I found another runner who was moving at the right pace so I shadowed her for a while, but she slowed and began walking and I ended up passing her. By mile 11 I wasn’t spending much time trying to run faster, I was fighting with my mind which was telling me to slow down or even walk. Walking sounded so nice, I wanted to just take it easy.

NO!!!

The whole race consolidated into the last two miles. The previous 68 miles were simply to get me to the final 2 miles. Fighting through my desire to end the pain and to simply relax into the comfort of walking. All I had to do was let go and it would stop. I’d still be a finisher. However, I’d be disappointed in myself knowing that I didn’t give it everything or dig a little deeper and discover new shit within me.  I don’t do these races for “easy”, I want the growth, self-discovery, and personal satisfaction that I didn’t quit even when my whole being was yelling at me to do just that.

Goal Achieved!

The only way to realize my potential is by stepping into it. Doing the work. Pushing through the fear.

During the last two miles, I realized that I had plenty of energy, so there really was no reason to stop pushing myself. I decided to finish strong. The pain would be temporary, but the satisfaction and confidence could serve as a new base on which I will build new achievements.

I crossed the finish line exhausted. Fortunately wasn’t as light-headed as I was at the end of CapTex Tri, but I needed to sit and rest for a little while.

I did it!

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons learned

  • I achieved my goals of running the entire distance and maintaining a 10min/mile pace.
  • Cadence and form have a large impact on how well I am able to sustain a run for longer distances. I will continue to focus on these aspects of running and hold off on doing very much speed work.
  • Having done one of each, at this point, I prefer the full-distance 140.6-mile Ironman races to the 70.3-mile (half-distance) events. Both are hard, but the feeling of accomplishment after a full distance is greater.
  • Don’t take any part of the race for granted. Lack of mental readiness can be as devastating as poor physical preparation. Once in race mode, remain focused until the race is over.
  • Don’t change a fucking thing on or just before race day. The costs are very high. Trying new shoes resulted in my smashing my quadriceps muscles. Because I was unfamiliar with the feel of the shoes and they were not sized correctly, my foot strike and recoil were thrown off.  For several days my legs felt very sore. I felt like I’d been punching the ground with my feet.
  • Mental fatigue is real. I’d been focusing on physical endurance. The run and the intense focus on cadence and pacing drained me mentally. Well before I crossed the finish line I could tell that concentration was difficult and not easily maintained.
  • Before becoming too dependent on technology and sensors I must continue to learn to listen to my body. While on the bike, my sensors were not reliable, but having the confidence to ride by feel was tremendously empowering. Not ideal, but so much better than feeling lost or proceeding blindly.