My first Half Ironman is officially in the books!  And now that I've had a few days to physically and mentally recover, I'm ready to share my experience with you!  (Apologies in advance for the length, but thanks for bearing with me!)

Leading up to race day, I did my best to have a smart week.  I got a massage, did some deep stretching with a trainer, ate smart and slept as much as possible.  I did a good bit of running around (and some light open water swimming) the day before the race, and finished the day with a meal consisting of salmon, quinoa and a mixed greens salad.  I hydrated with too much G2 and water to mention and called it a night at 9 pm, finally falling asleep around 11 pm.

On race morning, I set my alarm for 4:15 am and managed to drag myself out of bed at 4:30 am.  I wasn't tired nor too nervous and made some gluten-free toast with coconut oil and coffee to take in the car with me.  We set off around 5:15 am and after picking up our friend Cheryl, made it to Stony Plain around 6:15 am.  I unloaded my gear, finished my transition setup, made the all-important trip to the porta-potty, ate a PowerBar, drank a G2, ate a package of Honey Stinger energy chews and lined up on the beach for the start of the race.  I knew I may have trouble getting in enough calories later, so I figured the more I could take in early on, the better.
Wetsuits. So sexy! Obligatory pre-race shot with some of my training buddies!

The Swim

Before I knew it, the beep sounded and off we ran into the water!  This was a mass start for 900 people (which I'm still questioning) so I did my best to get to the front of the pack since the swim is where I'm most comfortable.  After some elbows and kicks, I found a group to stay with and just focused on turnover and steady breathing.  I didn't have any problem with sighting and even managed to draft off a male swimmer for quite a while.  Before I knew it, we were back at the beach and I clocked an under-30 minute swim.  (After discussing with lots of people, it appears the swim course was probably short, but I'll take it.)

Coming out of the water was a bit rough for me (as expected) with my vertigo; I was quite dizzy but before I knew it the amazing wetsuit strippers were there to save the day!  They asked me if I wanted help, I said yes, they shouted "butt to the ground!", and the next thing I knew my wetsuit was off and I was running to my bike.  It was awesome, and I'd like to give them a belated virtual hug.

PS - if you want to see a really funny swim photo of me, check out the official site here.

Split Time: 31:01 (1:34/100m) 
You can't see the first buoy because it was wayyyy down yonder around the bend in the lake.

The Bike

Backing up to T1, once the wetsuit was off and I was at my bike, I quickly put on my helmet, sunglasses, socks and shoes.  I threw my cap, goggles and wetsuit into my 'wet bag' (the race organizers then collected these and brought them to the finish line for us) and took my bike off the rack and ran over to the clip-in line.  My original plan was to eat a PowerBar at this time (i.e. get it in my mouth) since I'm not yet good at handling food on my bike but I couldn't stomach it, so I started to ride and didn't have any regrets about that.

The bike course was two loops with an initial starting point on the Yellowhead, one of Alberta's busiest highways.  We were riding only 7km on this road, but between tractor trailers in the lane next to me and bike bottles flying off the bikes back at me, I was glad to get into town and then onto the steady, rolling range roads.

I had ridden the course previously (I highly recommend everyone do this if you have the chance) so I knew what to expect.  I was most nervous about mechanical issues with my bike, shifting my gears and drafting penalties so I know I was more conservative on the bike than I needed to be.  I was planning to stop at aid stations to take in nutrition, but ended up not having any problems drinking my Gatorade from my bottle between my aerobars and eating a PowerBar and package of Honey Stinger energy chews from my BentoBox.  

Halfway through each loop, I passed Shaun and the pups and our shop owner Rich which really energized me!  It was so fun to see them and give them a thumbs up and a smile to let them know I was feeling good!
Climbing a hill from Coaly's perspective.
One area of this race for which the organizers should be commended is the volunteers on the bike course.  Simply put, they were outstanding.  They did a great job with traffic and did not stop clapping or cheering at all.  I was riding with a smile on my face the entire time thanks to them!

Split Time: 3:27.15 (26.1km/hour avg)

The Run

Coming off the bike, I didn't really know how I would be feeling.  I hadn't done a ton of brick workouts but I do know it typically takes my legs a solid mile or two to feel warmed up and in the groove on any given training run or race.  In transition, I was quickly directed to my run bag containing my shoes, extra socks and hat.  I racked my bike and sat down to change my shoes.  I also decided to spend the extra 20 seconds changing my socks because I have one pair I love to run in and I thought mentally it may make a difference.  I stuffed a packet of Honey Stingers in my jersey and off I went.  Well, not too far.  I did stop to use the first port-a-potty I saw.  (Hey, I wasn't going to win this thing, so I at least wanted to be comfortable.)

I made the decision from the start of the run to walk through each aid station to consume a mix of water and Ironman Perform. While this is definitely reflected in my run time, I think it was the smart thing to do.

The run course was also two loops, and a portion of each loop was on a trail through neighborhoods.  I loved the trail portion of the run.  It was distracting and also where Shaun and the pups had stationed themselves so I was able to see them four times!  And yes, I stopped twice to say hello and get some licks.  (Again, not winning, might as well run happy!)
My favorite photo from the race. Love from two of my biggest fans & run training buddies!
My legs took a little longer than expected to warm up, namely my right achilles.  My right leg below my knee felt stiff as a board for the first four or so miles.  It was frustrating, but I managed a 9:15/9:30 pace and just told myself to keep moving forward.  I didn't have any cramping issues (thank goodness!) and overall was pleased with where my body was at since I feel my running has been the least consistent part of my training recently.

It poured rain twice during the run, and other than the soggy shoes I was left with, I must say I didn't mind it at all.  (It made me think back to all of my Pittsburgh Half Marathons in the rain!)  At mile 10, my stomach reminded me that it needed fuel so I ate my packet of Honey Stingers.  

By this point, the race was almost done and I couldn't believe it.  Here I was, about to finish (and finish strong!) my first Half Ironman!  Something I had dreamed about for years and stayed committed to even in tough times.  The next thing I knew, I was crying.  And I'm talking full-on waterfall tears.  (Thank goodness for sunglasses!)  I couldn't control my emotions; I was so overwhelmed and proud of what I was about to accomplish.

With my tears ceased, I ran into the finish chute and crossed the line.  Completely forgetting to look at my time but just beaming as I saw my friends and training buddies waiting for me.  My medal was placed around my neck and I told them all that I felt good.  I grabbed some water and a handful of pretzels along with my finisher's shirt and found Shaun and the babes.  I had done it!

Split Time: 2:13.02 (6:19/km average)
Overall Time: 6:11.17 

Overall, I was pleased with my time but now wish I would have pushed for an under-6 hour race. Although I need to remind myself that this was my first HIM and there's something to be said for that, which is sometimes a challenge when you're training with fast gals that come in at 4:54 and 5:08, respectively :)  I definitely learned what my body could handle (in a good way) and where I can improve for IM Canada.  I feel good about my swim and know that if I stay in the water a couple times per week from now through race day, I'll be strong there.  I need to ride more hills and focus on a faster cadence while in my aerobars.  And I need to run more.  Between bricks, long runs and temp runs, I have my work cut out for me there, but know I will be OK on race day if I train smart.  T-minus 6.5 weeks...

A Special Thanks

There are so many people I need to thank for my success on race day, especially Shaun.  Without his support, I never would have crossed the finish line last weekend.  While moving to Canada was a sacrifice for me to some extent, it has created this opportunity for me to pursue a dream.  And Shaun has supported this dream 110% to which I am beyond thankful.  From the endless training hours (many of which I've made him participate in) to the 'we can't do that because I have a race' line and the questionable food he has seen on his plate some days, he has never questioned or doubted me. And for that I am so grateful to have an amazing husband and best friend in life.  And of course my Cycle-Logic training pals/Edmonton family.  They've made me step outside my comfort zone and have taught me that anything is possible with some determination, good friends, hard work and maybe a new tri bike, right Rich?!  And last but not least, all of my friends and family back 'home'. Your virtual support and texts and Facebook messages light up my life.  You have no idea how much they all mean to me.  And I hope you'll keep sending them, especially through August 25 :)

And now's the part where I tell you that you too can do this!  Yes, the 'if you can dream it, you can do it' line may be a little cheesy.  But it's the truth.  Sure you will have to sacrifice and there will be plenty of days during which you'll want to throw in the towel, but I promise you, it is FUN and it is WORTH IT.  Surround yourself with the right people in life and you can accomplish anything.  

As my favorite quote goes: that which does not kill you, only makes you stronger.  Preach it.


07/11/2013 17:37

Julie, congrats on this amazing accomplishment...I so enjoy your posts of your life in Canada but this is the best...can't wait to hear about your upcoming training and your ultimate finish of the Canadian Ironman...particularly enjoyed how you took time for the loves of your life!

07/11/2013 18:29

You've come a long way from Kona! Sh*t, looks like you'll qualify for Kona soon at this rate. Congrats!!!

07/11/2013 19:53

Congrats Julie!! So proud of you! I am officially inspired and excited for my next race adventure.

07/12/2013 12:16

Congratulations Julie, awesome accomplishment. Seems like it wasn't so long ago that Dr. Pepper was spraying all over your cube and ceiling at FH, and now you're an IronWOman! Very cool.

07/15/2013 12:43

So proud of and happy for you! Awesome job! :)

07/17/2013 07:13

yay! I loved seeing the updates during the race. This is such a huge accomplishment - I would have cried, too! Congrats.


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