My first half ironman

Warning !!! Long Post full of bad words.
I wanted to write a piece that would adequately portray the myriad emotions I felt before, during, and after my first half ironman. I'm not sure if have succeeded, but I did my best.

Unlike prior races, I didn’t sleep through my alarm (small victories). Got up had coffee, got dressed, etc. Car was already packed with my stuff the night before so I simply filled water bottles, made toast etc and headed out at 5:20 a.m.

I made it to the start and parked my car at 6:15. Transition was open but race bib pick up wouldn’t’ start until 6:30 so I gathered my stuff together and staked my claim on a rack for Sac Tri Club. Drank a bottle of water and got body marked. At 6:30 I walked to the line at the registration tables (YES PEOPLE WERE REGISTERING THE SAME MORNING) and checked in. I received a race number for my shirt (or on a race belt), a number to put on my bike, a water bottle, and a shirt. Volunteers explained that I would get my “finisher shirt and medal after I completed the race.”

Between 6:45 and 7:45 I set up my area and talked to a few familiar faces. Honestly, I don’t know if I was in denial about what I was about to embark on or what, but I didn’t feel very nervous. I slowly took off my sweatpants and smeared bodyglide on my ankles. I put on my wetsuit. 8 a.m.

My wave started at 8:15 so I thought I should get in the water and warm up a bit. Because my swimming has been, let’s say, “sporadic”, I didn’t want to tire my arms out by doing a vigorous warm up. Before I knew it, though, the horn for my wave (the last wave) was blaring and I was off.

Surprisingly, I was doing ok on the swim. I passed the first buoy and surged past a group of 3 women. I rounded the second bouy and turned right. Again, doing good. I put my head down and concentrated on lengthening my body and doing full strokes. About 5 minutes later I looked up. The blur of pink caps were racing off into the distance. I evidently got off course, but continued onward. By the time I rounded the fourth buoy and turned right again, I managed to pass men in wearing two different color caps – I was passing people in other waves! I started to feel really good about myself even as I watched more and more pink caps slip away.
And then it happened. The unthinkable.

I got stuck in a large bed of seaweed. Yes really. I panicked and tried to back out of it but the more I kicked the more it seemed to wrap around my legs. I tried grabbing it with my hands but then it stuck to my arms and images of a barracuda snapping at me got stuck in my brain. A water safety kayak raced to me to try to help but by then I was a jittery mess. The adrenaline caused my left hamstring to cramp so hard I almost cried.

I turned back toward the shore and kept swimming. Finally I saw sand right under my nose and stood up. I was afraid to look back at the water and see that I was dead last so I didn’t. I checked my garmin. 50 minutes.

I walked up the grassy knoll to my bike and stripped off my wetsuit.

I hopped on my bike and headed out for my ride.

In the past, I’ve found that I don’t ingest enough fluids or calories on the bike so I was determined to not let that happen on Race day. By the time I hit the 10 mile mark I was almost done with my first bottle. At the bottle hand off (22 miles) was able to easily chuck the empty bottle and grab a new one. By the second hand off (35 miles) I had slurped down 3 bottles. I emptied my gel flask by mile 50 so I was sure I had enough calories

Now a word about road conditions. I have ridden over 56 miles before with no problem. I have ridden over 45 miles in my tri shorts with little to no problems. So I didn’t expect I would have very many issues riding 56 miles in my tri shorts. The conditions of the road were atrocious however—they were something called , “Chip and Seal” and exposed aggregate concrete roads. For 40 miles. Ouch. I didn’t realize it until later but I had horrendous saddle sores from the road.

I was making pretty good time for the first 20 miles. I did 20 miles in 1 hour and 10 minutes—speedy fast for me. But as I made the turn onto Jackson Highway, things slowed considerably. The ride became lonely—I passed 4 or 5 people on hills and maybe 4 more who were having mechanical issues. But that’s it. I was usually riding alone with a running commentary in my head.

“ouch this hurts”
“Oooohh did I just run over a skunk?”
“ouch my arms hurt”
“oooh my ass hurts”

When I entered Amador County (Where the trucks are big, the necks are red, and the men have few teeth”, the chatter changed
“was that a hillbilly truck that just buzzed me?”
“Is his neck really that red?”
“Isn’t the confederate flag passé”?

At mile 45 I had to stop to pee at the bike aid station. A lovely volunteer held my bike as I tried to rush into a porta-potty and go fast. I don’t know about you, but when I try to go fast, it seems like things get a little backed up. I exited the porta-potty and he handed me my bike, offered me a cliffshot block package and then sent me on my way with a, “Go get em!”

I was buzzed 3 or 4 more times by big trucks before I made the final left turn into rancho seco park and to T2. Bike time was 3:55

My transition was pretty fast in T2—according to my garmin, 1:12.

The run, well what can I say about the run. If you ask any Triathlete in the Sacramento area about the Rancho Seco run course, without exception the person will shudder and say, “ick. That is a hellish run.”

I started my half marathon just after 1pm. It was hot. 90 degrees or so. There is no shade at all on the run. It is a barely bulldozed fire road full of rocks, dirt, rocks, dirt, oh and rocks and dirt.

No shade
No wind
13 miles.

Oh my.

By the second aid station I was dumping water on my head, back and front. I was tossing cups of ice into my sports bra and down my back. I saw that others did not look well. Some were weaving around as if they might keel over. Everyone was walking. I half-heartedly ran for 2 minutes and then walked for 5. My estimated time of 2hours 15 minutes for the run portion went right out the window as I realized that it was 2:30 pm by the time I finished the first of two loops—nearly an hour and a half after I started the run.

The things that got me through the run were dumb, but effective:

1. Saying over and over to myself, “I never have to look at this stupid piece of ground ever again.”
2. Someday you’ll be too old to do this sort of thing and when you sit in your wheelchair you’ll be wishing you were out running.

I saw several people quit during the second loop, including a woman who couldn’t even walk upright anymore. She was bent over trying to walk while swinging her arms. It wasn’t pretty.

Finally, I realized I had only a mile to go. I started to run as fast as I could. I passed a guy who was walking and he cheered for me, “Go go go!” I yelled back, “I have to get this shit over with!”

As I approached the finish line, I saw my husband cheering for me. Others sitting on the sidelines also cheered and yelled, “Go #182!!!”

I crossed the line in a blur. Someone handed me a Gatorade and a medal. My garmin said 7:37. I was instructed to go to a table to pick up my finisher t-shirt. My husband met me at the end of the chute and gave me a big hug and kiss and walked me to the table where I picked up a t-shirt.

Then I started to cry. I couldn’t help it. I was just overwhelmed. The whole day—from the killer seaweed, to the crappy road, to the death march run just seemed too much. I just stood there and cried. Husband was really nice and just held me and murmured that everything was over and I was done. He asked if I wanted to sit in the shade or use the toilet or just pack up and go home.

I ran to the toilet and realized that I had chaffed so bad from saddle sores that there was blood on my new tri shorts chamois. No wonder I was miserable.

Later that evening, I lay in bed totally exhausted but I couldn’t sleep. My slow race time kept playing over and over in my head and I started to wimper again. My husband sat next to me and said, “you aren’t thinking straight right now because you are so tired. You need some sleep.” At my insistence that I wasn’t tired, “I am NOT tired!!!” he said, “you want me to tell you something that will make you feel better?”

Me: “yes.”
Him: “Your friend Judy who is doing the double century today—she still on her bike right now and she’s been on her bike since 5 a.m. today. Now do you feel better?”
Me: “Yeah.”

The volunteers were amazing through out the race. Every single volunteer cheered, smiled, offered more effort than necessary. Volunteers ran next to me (deftly avoiding my crappy bike handling) as they handed me a fresh water bottle. They walked out to me as they saw me approaching the water stations on the run with 4 cups in my hand. They remembered that I liked two cups of ice and two of water. They cheered and asked how I was doing—if I needed extra sunscreen or if I felt sick. And they paddled to my rescue from killer seaweed. They were awesome!

Is this how most half ironman are supposed to go? I don’t know since I’ve never done another one. But I guess now I know exactly what to expect under brutal circumstances.

But I went to the Vineman 70.3 website today and figured out that registration starts November 1.


  1. Wow - that is such an accomplishment to keep pushing through that! I'm so comfortable in the water but I couldn't imagine getting caught in seaweed like that!

  2. Ouch, that sounds like a very painful day. You know, I think that when a swim goes wrong, it sets up bad vibes for the whole day. Remember Scott Dewire's last Ironman? You did great! Damn seaweed monster!

  3. Great job! Yeah for your first Half Ironman and definitely a brutal run course! Ouch.

    My first was Barb's Race years ago which is part of Vineman. I highly recommend Barb's race . . . gorgeous course, swim and yeah the run is hot but it isn't Rancho Seco!


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