“Rookie in Training” columnist Jason Devaney completed his first half Ironman over the weekend. Read the recap below.
As I turned right at the first red buoy and started to swim the long backstretch at Ironman 70.3 Timberman Sunday morning, the water suddenly became choppy. Swells were moving me up and down and small waves were hitting the left side of my body.
Two months ago, I would have panicked. But not this time.
I dealt with the conditions, finished the swim strong, and continued with my race.
Five-something hours later, I crossed the finish line in 5:51:33.
I finished my first half-Ironman.
I pushed my open-water swimming anxieties aside as I waited in line for my wave to start by pumping myself up. Instead of thinking negative thoughts, I was confident—even after watching a safety boat bring someone to shore from an earlier starting wave.
I was convinced I’d get through the 1.2-mile swim without any problems when the gun went off. I floated on my back a few times, probably for a total of 1-2 minutes, but it wasn’t because of nerves or fatigue. It was the conditions, which were rocking me up and down and side to side. I was getting beat up.
I kept swimming my own race and breathed away from the waves and other swimmers. The final turn buoy was a welcome sight and I happily made it to shore.
My time was slow (45:29) but I didn’t care. I got through it.
What I learned: Confidence is everything. Knowing that you can and will get through something puts you in the right frame of my mind. Then you simply revert back to your training and get it done.
Now I was in my element. With the swim out of the way, I was ready to tackle the bike course head-on.
And I did just that. I cruised through the first half, up some short but steep hills and over some long straightaways. The bike course was net downhill going out and uphill coming back, so it was important to take advantage of gravity.
I pedaled hard, ate one hour and again two hours into the course, and stopped for a minute with about 12 miles left to refill one of my bottles with the drink mix I brought along. Two big downhills on which I neared 50 mph brought me closer to the state park where the transition area was located.
When I dismounted and ran into T2 after pedaling through the 56-mile course in 2:51:01, I had no doubt I would finish the race.
What I learned: Keep a consistent effort. I pushed it pretty hard—it was race day, after all—but tried to maintain a continuous effort. Taking my drink mix helped as well. Volunteers were giving out a different sports drink at the aid stations, but I’m comfortable with what I use.
I knew this would be a challenge, and it was. My goal pace was between 8:45 and 9:15 per mile. I held a steady 8:50 pace in the first two miles but slowed down after that, as the adrenaline from the bike ride went away.
I ate four gels, one every three miles or so—probably too much, but I was worried about bonking and not having the energy to keep moving.
Mentally, I stayed strong by telling myself, “You didn’t come here to walk. You’re here to race.” Still, I was forced to walk for a few minutes during the first half of the second loop. My legs were sapped.
The final challenge was a hill with under 2 miles to go in the race. I wasn’t moving very fast, but I ran up the whole thing.
“You didn’t come here to walk.”
When I finally reached the finishing chute, I spotted my small cheering section on the right—my parents, my fiance’s parents and two friends. Then I sprinted through the finish line and finished the run in a slow 2:07:39.
What I learned: It’s all mental. If I was able to sprint at the end, I had gas in the tank. I need to push through the pain and keep going. Also, do your long runs and brick workouts! I didn’t do enough of either and that cost me a lot of time on the run.
The race was an incredible experience and, frankly, I had a blast.
Now I can’t wait for the next one.
Jason Devaney is a freelance contributor to Triathlete.com, VeloNews.com and Competitor.com. A resident of Virginia, he spends way too much of his free time training. When he’s working, he’s typically dressed in either sweatpants or a cycling kit. Follow him on Twitter @jason_devaney1.