Becoming a Brave Athlete: Ironman Maine 70.3

 

Race morning. Photo by son of athlete Vladimir Aronsky

A few weeks ago, on the recommendation of some members of the Women for Tri Facebook page, I bought the book The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion by Simon Marshall, PhD and Lesley Paterson. I didn’t have to get far into it before I recognized myself in the section describing athletic identity, and, more precisely, the lack thereof. I started running more than 25 years ago, and I ran my first of three marathons in April 2003, two weeks after I turned 40. I then shifted to half marathons and short-distance triathlons. Still, because I didn’t grow up playing sports (and still can’t shoot a basket or even toss a frisbee very well) I’ve never viewed myself as an athlete — even if others did.

That changed this past weekend when I completed my first half Ironman triathlon. At Ironman Maine 70.3, which took place in Old Orchard Beach, I swam 1.2 miles in a freezing cold ocean churning like a washing machine from the mass of moving bodies. I then biked 56 miles through the beautiful countryside and ran 13.1 miles, most of it on a trail.

Marshall and Paterson define seven characteristics of a mature athletic identity:

  1. You currently participate in sports or exercise. (check)
  2. You are comfortable calling yourself an athlete. (getting there)
  3. You are comfortable being called an athlete by others. (getting there)
  4. You “own” your athletic identity, neither embarrassed by it nor needing to prove it to anyone else. (getting there on the embarrassed part)
  5. You don’t engage in excessive self-criticism or self-aggrandizement when talking about your ability or performance. (getting there on the self-criticism part)
  6. You maintain a healthy balance between sport and other interests. (I think I’m OK there, but my husband may disagree.)
  7. You have emotional reactions most others would consider reasonable when shit goes wrong. (I’m cool on this one.)

So while my athletic identity is still a work in progress, I am becoming more comfortable defining myself as an athlete.

One of the perks of being an “athlete” who competes in a 70.3 race is the vanity project of writing a detailed race report that maybe one person will read (or maybe not). I’ve enjoyed reading many race reports, but I haven’t seen many this long and detailed (and boring?). You’ve been warned. Proceed at your own risk.

Maine 70.3 Race Report

I initially planned to do the Timberman 70.3 in New Hampshire, but I’m kind of glad Ironman shut it down because I honestly can’t imagine a better race for my first half Ironman than Maine 70.3. The conditions were perfect, the course was beautiful, the volunteers were amazing and my fellow  athletes were incredibly supportive and friendly.

I went into this madness with simple goals: finish, within the time limits, ideally not last, smiling for the photos,. That’s what I told Megan Sellers, the trainer I hired to coach me, as we walked the Columbia Trail on that late fall day with her young son in the stroller. I was too anxious to wait until April to start triathlon training, so we started in January with training for the Rutgers Unite half marathon. She sent me workouts one week at a time – for the triathlon it was typically two to three swims, three bike rides, three runs, and a rest/yoga day — and when I missed one she talked me down from the emotional cliff. (“No, you should not double up a long bike and a long run. You’ll be fine,” she’d say.) When I doubted my ability to endure over so many hours, she kept telling me I’d do better than I thought. In the end, she was right. I crushed all of my goals, plus one that I hadn’t included but should have: Enjoy every minute.. I was thinking more along the lines of “endure,” and I knew  I’d be happy just for having finished. (Kind of like Dorothy Parker said about writing, which is my profession: I hate writing. I love having written.)

It didn’t dawn on me that I would feel so much joy actually doing it.

Warming Up to Maine

My husband, Chris, and I arrived in Maine Friday night after a long, traffic-filled drive from New Jersey. We moved into our Airbnb in South Portland – about 25 minutes from Old Orchard Beach – and headed downtown for Thai street food and cocktails at Boda.

In Maine, even the bourbon cocktails are made with wild blueberries.

My friend Peg, who has been a huge inspiration and a great training partner, was sharing the house  with us, and my 19- and 22-year-old sons would arrive from New Jersey via train and bus the next day. Peg was doing the aqua bike with plans to complete Ironman Lake Placid 70.3 two weeks later.

When I got to the house, Peg gave me a gift that our friend Cris had picked up at the Ironman Village: A race shirt with all of the athletes’ names printed on the back.

 

Some weeks before the race, I learned about the Ironman 70.3 Maine Athlete Community Facebook page, and the camaraderie, support and humor on that page was a great source of comfort (not to mention distraction from my work). On that page, I learned that some athletes were planning an informal swim practice the morning before the race. I was obviously not the only one fearful about swimming 1.2 miles in the cold Maine waters.

Peg and I left the house Saturday morning for the swim. We met up with Cris, who was also doing the race, and his son, Ben, both of whom were staying in Old Orchard Beach,  just a short walk from the race transition area.

There were dozens of people on the beach testing the water, which at that time was a shivery 58 degrees. I was wearing a sleeveless wetsuit. I own a full wetsuit, but I’ve never gotten used to the compression, and in the water I feel like I’m suffocating. Months ago, I bought neoprene sleeves to wear with the sleeveless wetsuit, but I had never used them and didn’t think it was a good idea to try something new. But Cris had a pair shipped to his hotel, and I figured I might as well give mine a try. Peg and Ben jumped right into the ocean, while Cris and I took our time. I had read some advice about slowly acclimating by dipping your limbs, your body and then your head in the water before attempting to swim.

The water felt icy, but the acclimation helped and I swam out to the second or third buoy and then back. The sleeves were great! They kept me a little warmer and seemed to help to propel me more easily through the water.  I was still super anxious about swimming the full distance, but after this short warm up I was less concerned about the cold water itself.

 

After a breakfast of pancakes, eggs Benedict and bad coffee, we went to the Ironman Village for athlete check-in, which was a well-organized assembly line. The expo tent was overwhelming, and I left with a Maine 70.3 cycling jersey and some Clif bars and gels.

Once checked in, the plan was to ride a few miles of the course and then rack our bikes in transition, where they would stay overnight.. But before we could do that we had to address a problem with my bike. Moving my bike from my husband’s bike rack to the back of Peg’s car, we realized we could not get my front wheel off. We could not get the brake to open wide enough to release the wheel. I thought I’d bring it to the bike mechanic at the Ironman Village, but Cris and Ben said they could fix it. Cris brought a huge toolbox out of his hotel room and the two PhD’s spent a good hour dismantling and reassembling my front brake. I was exceptionally grateful for their help. I could have ridden the bike the way it was, but if I’d had a flat I would not have been able to get that wheel off and back on. (My newly acquired flat-fixing skills had been tested only once so far.)

You can’t leave the Ironman Village Expo without dropping some cash. My new cycling jersey.

The bike now fixed, the four of us then set out for a 9-mile ride on the course. I had wanted to drive the whole thing so I’d know what was coming at every turn, but there was no time for that.

Transition was a huge parking lot. I’m always disoriented after the swim and struggle to find my bike in transition, so I was really happy to find my assigned spot in the middle of the first row of racks! I won’t lie: I was intimidated by the large number of fancy bikes (that’s a technical term), and almost every bike seemed to have aerobars. I’ve been riding an entry level silver and purple Fuji road bike (with a granny gear) for four years, and it was only this year that I put a lot of miles on it. I wasn’t going to buy a new bike just for this race.

I had wanted to attend the Athlete Briefing for newbies, but we missed it during the unexpectedly long bike repair. And since I didn’t want to wait for the last briefing of the day, I figured I could manage without it. Cris, Peg and Ben assured me there wasn’t anything I didn’t already know from reading the Athlete Guide.

But I did have one burning question. I had this bizarre obsession with wanting to know where the wetsuit strippers were going to be stationed, having never done a race with them. I have no idea why this seemed so important — and my incessant questioning about it seemed to drive my friends crazy. I never did get an answer, and as Cris pointed out, it was probably because it really WAS NOT very important. I think it was just my attempt to control my environment as much as I could.

It was well into the afternoon and time to head back to South Portland to see my husband, Chris, and my sons, who had spent the day in Portland, including a visit to the farmers market and a taco joint. Peg and I stopped at the store for a few things, including some local beer and ice cream, and I couldn’t help but buy even more Clif bars.

Chris grilled up a delicious pre-race dinner for all of us, which we ate outside on the patio, along with wine, beer and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with wild Maine blueberries on top. (Can’t get enough of those blueberries.)

It was getting late, and time to pack up. Peg laid out everything she would be wearing in the morning, including her timing chip and her Garmin watch, and she packed her bag in layers, with swim stuff on top and everything else in order of use below. I followed her lead. We also put on our race tattoos (race number on biceps and top of the hand, age on one calf), leaving as little to do in the morning as possible.

I was still feeling uncertain about nutrition, and I had a pile of Clif bars, PowerGels, Clif Shots and Clif Bloks* on the kitchen table when a timely text from Coach Megan popped up on my phone:

“Hey Leslie! Have such a great race tomorrow! Remember your first goal is to finish with a smile on your face. Take it one mile at a time and do your best.  Keep it comfortable but it’s ok to push too. You are ready for this. Trust your training and stick to your nutrition plan. Have an amazing day!!”

Stick to your nutrition plan?

I replied with this photo of the pile of gels and bars I was contemplating for the race.

She replied with as stern a warning as Megan can deliver by text: No new foods! Just the liquids and maybe a gel.

Sure thing, coach.

I put my two bike bottles and running bottle with water and Infinit (more on that later) in the fridge and stuck a couple of gels in my bag just in case.

*(For the uninitiated, a gel is a thick, gooey energy mixture of sugar and caffeine in a foil pouch; a Clif Blok is like a gummy bear but in a cube shape.)

It was hard to fall asleep, so I pulled up the Facebook page for the race. Everyone was posting pictures of the personalized notes written by volunteers that were included in each race packet. I loved my note from Ed.

Did I mention there were nearly 2,200 athletes? Everyone got a note.

Race Morning

After a fitful sleep, the alarm woke me at 4 am. I made coffee and prepared a whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter and half a banana and then decided to also make a peanut butter and banana sandwich to have just in case.

 

We packed up the car, and double checked to make sure we had everything. Our timing chips were already tightly secured around our ankles.

By 4:35 am we were on the road. We ate in the car on the way to Old Orchard Beach, where we had reserved a spot in a prepaid parking lot. I was glad I brought the sandwich and ate a quarter of it on the way to transition, where I set out all my stuff on a towel in the order I would use them and put air in my bike tires. (Thanks to the athlete walking by who offered to hold up my bike as I struggled to balance it while attaching the pump.) I chatted with Gina, two spots away from me, who was also doing her first half Ironman after 15 years of shorter distances.

Just a quick anecdote to let you know about the spirit of this athlete community: Messages went out over the loudspeaker asking if anyone had extra goggles, Albuterol and an extra pair of socks for athletes who had forgotten to pack them. By the time I got to the tent with my extra socks (of course I had an extra pair!) there were at least six other people standing there with socks in outstretched hands. Mine went back into my bag.

I grabbed another quarter sandwich as we made our way to Cris and Ben’s hotel, where we stopped for our last bathroom break before walking to the beach for the swim start.

A minute here to thank Ben, who got up before dawn and was an awesome sherpa for all three of us. He carried my bike pump, my glasses and long sleeve shirt — along with anything and everything else we needed for the moment but couldn’t take with us in the race. He was generous, friendly and super encouraging.

The Swim

Photo by Ron Searle
Photo by Sherpa Dan Poliquin

By the time we got to the beach, they were clearing the water of people who were taking a practice swim, so we just stayed on the north side of the pier and got into the water ourselves.

Unlike every other triathlon I’ve done, where you are put into a wave by gender and age group, this was a rolling start, which means people stood in line and at 6:20 am they started sending people into the water two at a time every two seconds. (Kind of the opposite of Noah’s Ark.) The line was LONG. Even though it was first come, first served, Peg and Cris managed to get into the line at about the halfway point. My  plan was to start near the back, but the farther back I walked the more nervous I got. People were lined up in twos, so when I saw a woman by herself I asked if I could join her. It turns out we had met during the swim practice the day before. It was nice to chat with the women in line with me about their previous race experiences.

(Here’s a tip: Bring water to the swim start, as there is never any available. I brought a bottle with me and shared it. Next time I’ll bring a six pack of water bottles and give them away. We were all thirsty.)

The line seemed to be moving very slowly but then it sped up and in we went. (I found out later that there was a hard time limit for everyone to finish swimming before the 8 am train came through town, as it would bisect the road to transition!)

When my turn came, I jogged into the shallow water, then dove in and started swimming. I adjusted to the water temperature fairly quickly. At around 60 degrees, it felt a bit warmer than the day before.

I wonder how I would have felt if I’d not tested it out the day before and again right before the race. The shock might have made me panic, a common feeling even after several years of triathlons. This year, I came to a realization: After about the first 400 yards, any panic I feel passes. So I just kept repeating this fact to myself each time the urge to roll on my back or return to shore welled up in my mind.

The truth is, I didn’t experience those feelings this time, but I could empathize with the two swimmers I saw with hands raised, indicating to the kayakers that they needed assistance. I hope they were OK.

I swim really slowly so throughout my training I was concerned about making the cut off time of 1 hour 10 minutes. Everyone I know told me it wouldn’t be a problem, but I didn’t believe them. I had learned at an open water clinic this summer about drafting by swimming in the bubble stream of swimmers in front of me, and I did that as much as possible. (They invariably got too far ahead of me, so I just waited for the next one.)  I counted my strokes and just focused on making it from one buoy to the next. Noticing that the buoys were numbered, I wished I had asked in advance how many there were. It would have been nice to be able to count them off.

My inability to get faster at swimming has been very frustrating, and it’s something I’ll continue to work on in the off season. So I just tried to focus on different techniques I’d learned for lengthening, timing and finishing my strokes, engaging my core, and kicking from my butt to move forward.

In addition to the ersatz drafting I was doing, a gentle current seemed help to me along. The only struggle, besides the scrum of people, was the difficulty seeing the buoys because of both my foggy goggles and the glare of the sun, which was low over the water. Because of the sighting challenge, I just stayed close to the buoy line, even though I know it’s easier to avoid other swimmers if you stay on the outside.

When I made the turn toward shore at the second red buoy I was so excited, though I had the feeling that I was swimming in place. The next buoy didn’t seem to be getting any closer until it was right in front of me. When I reached the last buoy, I followed advice I’d heard to just keep swimming until your hand hits the bottom, even though I could see other people standing up much earlier and walking out of the water.

Needless to say I was shocked when I looked at my Garmin coming out of the water (as I can’t see a thing when I’m in it): I finished the swim in under 50 minutes!

Finally, I would meet the elusive wetsuit strippers, who were just off the beach. I kept my swim cap and goggles on my head so I had hands free to pull my wetsuit down around my hips as I ran up the beach. I got down on the ground lifted my legs, and held onto my tri suit bottoms as the young man ripped my wetsuit off with a dramatic flourish, like a matador waving a cape. (Lesson learned watching a man come THIS CLOSE to full exposure as his shorts came off with his wetsuit during Timberman last year!)

The walk/jog to transition was long at 600 meters from the beach, and it took us onto the street and across a railroad track. I had thought about bringing shoes or flip flops to wear for the trek, but decided against it, and it really was fine.

Swim time: 49 minutes 43 seconds

T1: Swim to Bike Transition

Once in transition, I found my bike easily in that first row. Headband, sunglasses, helmet, gloves, socks and bike shoes went on, and I sprayed myself quickly with sunscreen. I thought about eating more of my peanut butter sandwich, but I was eager to get on the road.

After crossing over the timing mat out of transition, I tried to hit the lap button on my Garmin watch with one hand, but uncoordinated as I am, I lost control of the handlebars and dropped my bike on the ground, banging and scraping my knee with the pedal. It was more embarrassing than anything, since there were so many people there cheering us as we left transition, but I just thought if that were my only mishap I’d be fine. I am still wearing the scrape and black-and-blue mark as a badge of honor.

Time in transition (T1): 7 minutes 14 seconds. That seems like an eternity, but it includes the very long trek from the beach.

The Bike Ride

On the road very shortly outside transition, two women were down on the ground with their bikes, several yards apart. I didn’t want to be one of those people who cares more about the race than the racers, so I stopped. One woman seemed OK, but the other was complaining about how much her head hurt. Two other athletes as well as volunteers were attending to her, so I continued on, knowing there wasn’t much else I could do to help. When I got to the first turn at the end of the street, I told the police officer that someone behind needed medical attention, though I was certain others had called for help because there were so many people around.

The first few miles were familiar from the ride we did the day before, and once we got beyond the town the course was really beautiful with rolling hills, farms and fields of wildflowers. Police and volunteers stood at every turn and intersection, and I think I thanked them all. I had heard that there was somewhat challenging hill right after a turn — it  always scares me that I won’t have enough time to shift into the correct gear — but I couldn’t remember where it was, so before every turn I just shifted from my large chainring into the middle one (I have three, including that granny gear) so I could be prepared for a hill if it came up quickly.

As it turned out, none of the hills were too challenging for me after riding the hills at home in Hunterdon County, NJ.

The bike route
Smiling on the ride

A word about nutrition

Let me take a minute here to talk about my nutrition. This was a great concern for me, as I know it is for others. I was worried about having enough fuel for the bike and run and making sure that my stomach did not rebel, as it does so often on long runs.

A couple of months ago, my friend Kendra told me about this powder called Infinit, and I figured, despite the high cost, that I would try it. Infinit customized a blend for the bike and a blend for the run based on questions I answered about my hunger, GI issues, sweat (amount and saltiness), as well as my desire for strong vs. weak flavor and caffeine. In addition to electrolytes, lots of salt and carbs, the bike blend has protein. The run blend does not, to avoid stomach upset.

I was very skeptical. I’m a person who likes to eat real food and the idea of consuming just powder-spiked water over the course of potentially 8 1/2 hours of activity (that’s the time limit for the race) seemed crazy. But the more I trained with it, the more I realized that it worked for me.

So, I had two bike bottles, each prepared with two scoops of Infinit, and I kept four more snack baggies in the pouch on the top tube of my bike. The goal is to drink one bottle per hour, and that’s what I strived for in training. There were three aid stations over the course of the 56 mile bike ride, near miles 18, 33 and 40. I replenished one empty  bottle at each of the first two aid stations, and I skipped the third. I had planned to bring a bar “just in case,” but I didn’t and I didn’t need it. I highly recommend Infinit, and I was pleased that they worked with me to tweak the blend when I had some concerns.

TMI: A word about the unmentionable

Let me also take a minute to talk about something that consumes the thoughts of most triathletes I know: peeing and pooping. The last time my conversations were so focused on this subject was when my kids were in diapers.

I’m not kidding when I tell you how anxious every athlete is for that pre-race poop — the earlier the better. I also took an Imodium pill before the race started, hoping to forestall another long bathroom break.

Nuf said about that.

I read several LONG Facebook threads about what to do when you have to pee. Some people are adamant that it is never worth stopping in a race to pee when you can just go in your trisuit, which is designed to get wet and dry quickly because you swim in it. Other people think that’s just gross.

I think it’s gross, but I hadn’t ruled out the possibility. I was fully prepared to do it if nature called at an inopportune time.

At each bike aid station I contemplated using the porta-potty, but I was just unwilling to get off my bike and rack it. At the first and second stops  I just stopped to fill my bike bottle with water and Infinit, and off I went. (Thanks here to the awesome volunteers at every aid station. They were enthusiastic and helpful, providing ice and water for the bottles and offering an assortment of snacks.)  Some bikers just grab a water bottle from an outstretched hand while still riding, but I don’t think I’ll ever be one of them. (Still, having completed this race, I’m reluctant to ever say never.)

Along the ride, I encountered serious bikers who sped by me with nary a word, but many, many more who offered a smile or comment about the beautiful scenery. I was incredibly inspired to see Doug, a blind athlete, and his guide and cousin, Bob,on a tandem bike and then later again on the run.

Bob guided his cousin Doug, a blind athlete, through the race.

Riding where I live,  you can’t really avoid hills, so while people from Florida complained that the course was hilly, the rolling hills interspersed with long sections of flat were perfect for me.  Going up hills was a bit challenging only because of the number of people who would slow down even more than I did. I found myself passing people on the hills who would then fly right by me on the flats.

When I’m 54

I saw many women, like me, wearing triathlon suits made by Couer, a small California company. I knew from Facebook recommendations that women who wear Couer are passionate about the products. What I didn’t realize was that wearing Couer is like being part of a team, with everyone wearing the brand giving everyone else a shoutout. (Go Couer!) And so it was that Katie McCrory Bielat started talking to me about our Couer tri suits as she rode on my left.

Katie was very enthusiastic and encouraging when I told her it was my first half Ironman. She had done a few 70.3 races and at least one full Ironman — with four young kids!!!! I can’t even imagine how she had the time to train.

As the lane narrowed and I pulled ahead of her, she commented on my age, which was on a temporary tattoo on my calf. “No way you are 54. I thought you were 34,” she shouted.

An exaggeration? Maybe. But I’ll take it.

We passed back and forth a few more times, but as a long line of people slowed on a hill, I passed on her left and said something entirely out of character for me: “Let me show you what 54 looks like,” and off I went.

The next time I saw Katie, she was waiting to use the porta potty I was exiting  at the mile 1 aid station on the run. “Hey, 54!” she said.

During the bike ride, I could not believe how good I felt and how quickly I was plowing through the miles. I was literally talking to myself about how great this was. “You ARE a brave athlete!” Seriously, I said that to myself, out loud.

I had estimated it would take me at least four hours to finish the bike ride, assuming no flat tires. Four and half hours seemed entirely plausible.

Actual bike finish time: 3 hours 26 minutes 11 seconds. Average pace (including stops) of 16.3 mph

As I rode the final turn into transition, I heard a shout and saw my older son, Zack,  jump up and wave. I was so happy to see him!

T2: Bike to Run Transition

Back at my spot, I put on my running shoes and grabbed my race belt, which had everything for my run tied to it. I had read a suggestion to just grab your belt with everything attached and put it all on while running. But at the last minute I realized that wasn’t going to work for me. I stopped, put on my race belt, my hat and my Spibelt, which had a gel and two baggies of Infinit run blend and grabbed my Amphipod bottle, which was already filled with water and Infinit. (I settled on the Amphipod after buying a different handheld bottle and fuel belt, neither of which worked well for me. I bought a lot of stuff to try out over the last few months, including three bike pouches.)

As I was jogging to the run exit on the far side of transition, I saw my husband running alongside the fence, and I stopped for a kiss. I think I said something like, “I was great on the bike.” I don’t think I’ve EVER said that. Ever.

Time in transition 2 (T2): 3 minutes 45 seconds

The Run

The first two miles of the run took us up a hill on a sidewalk next to a long line of stopped cars. At check in, we were given blue rubber bracelets that we could give to volunteers and other supporters. I had given one to a volunteer at the bike aid station, and now I tossed one to a child through the rear window of a car stopped in traffic. It could not have been fun trying to drive on those roads, especially with kids in the car.

Bracelets for volunteers and supporters. Photo by Phil Cousineau

At mile 1, I was shocked to see my pace was about 9:50/mile, which I knew was unsustainable over the distance. I decided it was a good time to stop at the port-a-potty and then continued onward.

Much of the run was an out-and-back on the Eastern Trail, which was mostly shaded by trees. For one long section, the trail went over a wooden bridge through a beautiful marsh with views that extended forever. I loved running on that trail, but when I occasionally stepped on rocks, I could feel them through the bottom of my running shoes. I had thought about getting a new pair a few weeks ago, but it seemed too close to the race.

Happy to be past the turnaround

Early in the run, I was struggling with my race belt and Spibelt riding up my waist. Although I practiced running with two Spibelts, I wasn’t wearing my tri suit when I did, so I think it was the slinky material that made it move so much.

It was starting to drive me crazy, so at an aid station, I took the baggies of Infinit (which, no doubt, looked like cocaine) and my gel out of my Spibelt, asked a volunteer to help me tuck them into the back pockets of my tri top and threw the belt in the trash can. It was SO much better!

At about mile 4, I was feeling shooting pain from cramping in the toes on my right foot. This has happened before  on long runs, usually around mile 8 to 10 of a half marathon. After stopping during some races to adjust my socks, I realized that I just need to run/limp through it. After a while — sometimes 20 minutes — it goes away, and despite fierce pain, it did.

My plan was to walk through every aid station (they were every mile), even though I only took water at a few. About an hour into the run, I refilled my water bottle with more Infinit and continued on. (It’s worth noting again that the volunteers were EXCELLENT. They were out there for so many hours, but their enthusiasm never flagged.)

I was REALLY happy to reach the turnaround point, and encouraged everyone coming the other way that the turn was near. Reaching the halfway point always provides a huge psychological lift.

After mile 8, however, I was starting to fade and decided I might need something more to eat. When I got to the next aid station, I took the berry Power gel I was carrying with me with water. Before I started using Infinit, I was using Power gels on runs, so I knew it would be OK as long as I drank plain water with it.

I think this is when I met Peggy McDowell-Cramer, whose calf tattoo indicated she was 78 years old. She was walking at a good clip, so I walked beside her. I told her it was my first half Ironman, and asked about her racing experience. She started doing triathlons at age 51, and had completed 25 FULL Ironman races (2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike, 26.2 mi run), including 14 Kona championship races in Hawaii. Talk about inspiration! Peg and I were thrilled to run into her at the Portland ferry station the next day and get more of her story. (If you want to know more about Peggy, click on her name above.)

Peg and Peggy at the Portland Ferry Terminal
Me and Peggy at the Portland Ferry Terminal

At around mile 9, as my energy continued to flag, I met my running angel, Lauren Rosenberg Foley, who ran beside me and chatted about racing and kids and work. She was taking 30 second walk breaks at every mile, so I walked with her. I was walking through each aid station, so she walked part of it with me. At some point after mile 10 we separated. I was so grateful that she helped me over that hump, and I was thrilled to connect with her on Facebook later.

Lauren from Larchmont talked me through the toughest miles.

At the end of the trail, the road turned uphill, and I just decided to walk it. I talked with a couple of other women who were walking, too.

By that time, I felt like I was SO CLOSE. I knew it wasn’t close enough to go all out, but I picked up my pace, encouraged by the cheering spectators, many of whom shouted comments about the huge grin on my face.

And then I could see the finish ahead. I could hear my younger son Jesse’s booming baritone shouting my name, and got high fives from Peg and Zack. (Jesse’s Snapchat videos are below.)

High Fives with my tribe

And then, from the announcer: “Here comes Leslie Hann, with a strong finish for her first half Ironman.” Or something like that. And he even pronounced my name right. (Hann: rhymes with man)

 

Run time: 2 hours 27 minutes 50 seconds (11:15 per mile pace, about a minute per mile slower than my typical half marathon pace)

Total finish time: 6 hours 54 minutes 43 seconds

Elation: Days and days (finish time TBD)

For anyone who hasn’t done a triathlon of this distance before, let me tell you what the biggest surprise was: These really are three separate events, and I did not feel much more tired running 13.1 miles following a 56 mile bike ride than I did for any other half marathon. My pace was a minute or so slower per mile because I made more stops and walked a bit more, but it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. And get this: I was not any more tired or sore after finishing this race than I have been after half marathons or Olympic distance triathlons. I can’t really explain it, but it’s true.

I learned many things about myself and what I can do while preparing for and completing this race. I was diligent about my training. I took deliberate steps to address my many fears (swimming in the ocean, having to fix a flat, riding by myself, riding up steep hills, riding down steep hills, OK, just riding!). I invested in myself with a trainer (thank you Megan S.), swim lessons (thank you Megan L.), yoga (thank you Lisa) and massage (thank you Jen and Margi). I schlepped to Long Branch for ocean swim practices (thank you Coach Brian Shea). I also surrounded myself with super supportive friends and training partners (there are many, but especially Peg and Kendra).

I am signed up to do my next 70.3 triathlon in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in May.

I would do Maine 70.3 again in a minute, but I promised Chris I wouldn’t abandon him for another summer of intense training. I can’t even describe the patient love and support I received from my husband, who feeds me, nurtures me and accompanies me on boring interval rides. I couldn’t have done this without his support.

Next summer we’ll have more days at the beach. What happens the summer after that is negotiable.

 

Me and my boys
Ironman Maine 70.3 swag