Yep, that’s right, I completed my first half ironman! If you had told me last year that I would be racing a 70.3 (as they’re commonly referred to in triathlete circles), I would have thrown my arms up and said, “No way, not me. I’m not ready for it!” Funny how things change. Not only did I complete my first 70.3, I also won my category and placed 47th overall with my good friend and amazing guide Thomas.
I love racing in Montauk, I have been going there every year for the past few seasons with Achilles. But this time, we had a very large team (15 athletes), I had never been so proud to wear my neon yellow jersey! Among those 15 athletes were a lot of people competing for the first time, or like me, for the first time on a longer distance. We were all very nervous. While I finished well, am happy with my overall performance, not everything was beautiful during my first 70.3.
1. Finishing is a great accomplishment
While I usually don’t like to think in those terms, seeing a few people suffering from hypothermia and having to abandon the race right after the swim was an important reminder that each finish is a great accomplishment. Too often I take this for granted, I don’t prepare simply to finish, I want to execute well, but many things can happen during a race. Technical issues, weather conditions, stomach problems can compromise the race of even the most experienced competitor.
2. Take your time in transition
I was very cold when I got out of the water, I felt like a lobster just taken out of the freezer (the temperature of the water was 58 degrees). We were moving in slow motion in T1. It took me over two minutes to put on a dry jersey, I wish I had a video of our transition, we probably looked really clumsy. But guess what, that was the best thing that I could have done! It helped me warm up quickly, the bike would have been a nightmare otherwise.
Oh and even if it requires 30 more seconds in transition, take the extra time to wipe your feet. Running from the swim to the bike, I always pick up some gravel on my feet. That could be very painful on a Half Ironman.
3. It will hurt in ways you might not have been expecting.
My friends Thomas, Stefan and Jared prepped me well for the open water swim, for long rides on the bike and for long tempo runs, but until you throw all three of those elements together on race day, at race intensity; you can’t know what’s going to hurt and how bad. I don’t mean to scare anyone and to have you think that I was in excruciating pain at any point in the race, but I wasn’t prepared for my back to tighten up as much as it did on the last half of the bike, or to have a few stomach cramps towards the end of my run. Your first race at a new distance is going to have a lot more bumps and possibly bruises, so the best thing to do is mentally prepare yourself to be tested and you will be able to work through what’s thrown at you!
4. You are not alone.
Miles 30 through 56 were pretty tough on the bike course. The weather conditions were difficult (cold and very windy) and there were sections of gradual climbing with short rollers. Thomas was doing his best on the tandem, but clearly we were slowing down mile after mile. I was mentally starting to fatigue and started counting the miles to transition. What kept me going, our Achilles jersey of course! There were many riders in pain around us who were inspired by the French duo leaving it all on the road. There is nothing like a “go Achilles” to help you push on that last tough climb.
5. Enjoy the little things
For the first time during a race, I walked through two aid stations and said a few words to the volunteers handing me some Coca-Cola. I usually run through those stations, letting my guide taking care of the drinks. It was a great mental break, it helped me stay positive and enjoy that sudden burst of sugar in my body.
6. Achilles is amazing
By the end of the run, Thomas and I were really pushing. We were passing a lot of people who were walking with their head down, looking defeated. But hearing Thomas say that each time, they would look up at us, realize that I was blind, smile and start running again, I would remember how inspiring Achilles can be for all of us even in the toughest times.
7. Express your gratitude!
7.1. Thank your coach – It takes a lot of long days, nights and weekends to put on each and every race. There are so many details that go into each event and without Kat, none of this would be possible.
7.2. Thank your teammates – Thomas and I didn’t just spend 5 hours and 57 minutes together, we prepared for three months, 10 hours per week together. I’m quite sure that he spent more time with me than with his wife during the last few weeks of our training! My teammates inspired me to compete in this Half Ironman, they showed me the way, Lamar, Asim and many others are incredible mentors.
7.3. Thank your family – Coming home with a medal and the approving smile of my wife is the best reward I could ever dream of.