One year ago next weekend I raced my first triathlon. It was a sprint distance, and I had the most fun I’d ever had in all my life doing a race. I knew this was my sport. I made a goal that by Fall 2017 I wanted to do a half iron distance. That goal turned into Spring 2017, and here we are! This recap is obviously about a race, a very challenging race. But it’s deeper than that. There will never be an experience like this one ever again. And I hope you’ll read this to the very end 🙂
This race, and this particular course, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And consequently one of the most rewarding. I can literally count on one hand the number of things in life I can look back and say, yes, that’s on the list of hardest. This race makes the list.
Innsbrook Missouri is a beautiful little resort community tucked up on the northeastern part of the state. It’s hilly, green, secluded, and splattered with a hundred little lakes. I was excited to race in such a picturesque place. I knew it was a hard course, I’d mentally prepared myself for the hills. But I wasn’t aware of just HOW HARD it really was.
At the start of the swim I was in a wave with the women in the half iron group and we were all chatting. Some were nervous about the swim and I said ya’ll just enjoy it – this is the easiest part of our day! And it was. I struggled somewhat on the first lap because I went out too hard and tried to keep up with the strong swimmers. Once I gave that up and found my own rhythm I did really well. It was a two loop swim, and I shaved two minutes off my time during the second loop. Total swim time – 44 minutes. Then we had to run a quarter mile uphill to our transition area. Well. I walked most of it. I planned to take my time in transitions and not feel like I needed to race, just feel every second of the experience. No shame today. Transition time – 4:30.
There was a hill on the bike almost immediately and I knew it was coming. But whatttttttt in the world, I’d never experienced a hill like that before. I’d guess it was 18% grade. I fought with every ounce of strength to get up that hill, only clocking 3 or 4mph. ON A BIKE. It was so slow that I couldn’t unclip, and if I stopped fighting I would absolutely fall off my bike. But I made it! At the top I breathlessly yelled HOLY SHIT. I asked a volunteer at the top how many times he’d heard that today, and he just laughed at me.
Little did I know there were like 6 more of those same hills. It was unreal. And they were all within the 8 miles we rode inside the resort. After the resort the course took us onto the rural highways around the county which were mostly gentle rolling hills, with only 2 or 3 significant climbs. But guess what? It was a 2 loop course! I knew I’d have to face those absurd hills within the resort all over again. As we approached the last mile of the loop they threw us a venomous, heartless piece of torture. One final 18% grade hill leading into the resort.
I was mentally ready for the hills this time, and I actually tackled them so much better on the second loop. After I got out of the resort I may have cried a few tears of joy. It was just a simple, leisurely ride at this point. I experienced low back and hip pain that I hadn’t felt in months, and I thought maybe it was due to the climbing, but I’m quite certain I need to get refitted for my bike again. I’ve gained a lot of fitness in the past months and I’m sure the way I ride needs to be adjusted now. Anyway, the rest of the bike was without any drama, climbed that venomous last hill and rode into transition. I couldn’t wait to run! Bike time – 3:37. Surprisingly impressive (for me!) given the 2600 ft of elevation!
My nutrition and hydration was spot on during the bike. I’d read so many other athlete’s accounts of not timing this well or neglecting it and how much they suffered during the run. I didn’t want that to happen to me. I’d had a waffle stinger right before the swim, and during the bike I had 2 Honey Stinger Chews, one Clif bar, one Gatorade, and 3 bottles of water.
My official bike and T2 time is skewed here because I left transition to use the bathroom after the bike (3 waters and a gatorade will do that!). They only had one area of portapotties and they were right outside the timing mats for the bike. Kind of terrible planning on their part. I’m guessing my T2 time, thanks to the bathroom stop added on, was like 8 minutes or something crazy.
On the race’s official website they said the run elevation was just shy of 700ft. I was already feeling nervous about that, but had planned that I could easily run the flat parts and walk the hills. The most I’d done in a race previously was probably somewhere around 400 ft. Anyways, I was aware and I was prepared, and I knew I could do it. My goal was 2:30 for the run, giving myself grace to likely run closer to 3 hours.
Okay. The race website was very, very wrong.
We left transition down a grassy path, took a turn through a gravel area, and immediately were met with a never ending sharp ascent. I told myself I needed to run some of this hill. It was too long of a hill to walk the whole thing. Just get up the hill, there shouldn’t be a ton more like it. Well, I ran about half and said holy hell NOPE. Once I reached a flat part I started running again and was easily going at my normal running pace and felt pretty good. But it wasn’t a minute later I was faced with another steep hill. So repeat strategy. Walk hill, run flats. My first mile I clocked in 12:17. Okay fine, I can maintain that and it is what it is. During the second mile I knew this would be a long, long day. As I was walking I said Jesus, this is going to be a half marathon hike, not a run. Would you walk with me today and meet me here in my suffering? Many, many times when these overwhelming hills would come up I would say Jesus, you promise to meet me in my suffering. Please meet me here. I would look down at my arm and see my mountain tattoo and those words, Rise Up. It was a day to do hard things. And God meets us on the mountains.
I finished that terrible loop in 1:47. And then I had to go do it all over again. I couldn’t even think about how slow this was going.
Less than a mile into my second loop, soon after a bored and unenthused aid station, I missed a turn. It was no fault of the race, but simply my own exhaustion and disillusionment. I thought the race arrow was pointing straight, so I went straight. I eventually came to a fork in the road, and there were no arrow or cones telling me which way to go. My first thought was that I was so slow they started taking down the course already. So I took a guess and went left. I’d gone about .25 miles when it dead ended at a private drive. I though no no no you’ve got to be kidding me! I took the wrong turn! So I backtracked, went down the other path. About .25 miles this one dead ended too! I stopped and just cried. I was lost, and I had no idea how to find my way back. There were so many little paths and roads. My only choice was to find my way back to the last aid station and figure out the course. As I took the way back that I’d come, I found the arrow I’d missed. It was pointing left. By this point I’d tacked on an extra 1.2 miles onto a half marathon. And I cried again.
Long story short on the run. I faced the hills again. I faced the temptation to cut the course short since I’d gone so far out of the way. I stopped halfway up a hill and felt like I couldn’t even finish walking it, it was so steep. I came across other racers. I wasn’t last. And I finally, finally, 8 hours and 15 seconds after the gun went off, after 1400 ft of elevation on the run, sprinted across the finish line of a half ironman triathlon.
I have additional thoughts I want to share on how God met me here on this course. How this felt like the conclusion of a deep, healing journey. How this was so, so much more than just a race. But I’ll share those later 🙂 I have a lot of people to thank and mention, as this was definitely not something I could have done on my own (Suzanne – you are number one my friend!) Below are Suzanne’s picture’s from the race, and hopefully next time I can share some professional photos the photographers took.