I can cross off “train for a 70.3 off my list for the half ironman distance” now that I’ve completed the distance this past weekend in Montauk (The Mighty Man Half). I wrote the distance as one of the 35 things that I wanted to do before I’m 35 and it was such a journey to get here.
I grew up on the island of St. Croix where the half ironman distance there was a Kona qualifier. I had dreams of making my first half ironman experience that specific race. However, it was canceled this year. I finally learned why from this blog. However, earlier this year, my bf Mike suggested that we both do Lake Placid Half Ironman in September. I did the preliminary prep to get things started. I swam so many laps in the pool getting to over 1.7 miles of swimming. We swam in lakes when we could. We did many miles of cycling on 293 and we ran lots of mileage on the reserve. We did some cross country races and I competed in the West Point Triathlon.
Then Lake Placid kind of happened.
Succinctly, I didn’t make the cut-off time on the 4th of September. I was such a newbie that I ignored the cut-off since conditions of the Half Ironman distance changed. It was 31 degrees that morning and with the 18+ weeks of training that I did, I never considered the temperature would drop so low that I would’ve had to change into dry clothes after the swim in transition. I paused too many times on my bike and I missed the cut-off by 10 minutes. Despite having more than 2.5 hours to complete the run, they didn’t let me on the course. I was disappointed. I had trained really hard. However, I was so proud that I did the swim which I thought was going to be the worse! I had swum 1.2 miles in open water and hadn’t panicked!
The next day, Mike reluctantly suggested that since I was already conditioned, I could look up another race.
Not even fathoming the idea prior, I looked. I saw that there was Atlantic City Half Ironman, a Toughman and Mighty Man. Not sure how I felt about signing up for another Ironman experience and it is only a week away, I settled on Mighty Man bypassing Hurricane Florence which would have affected our area. I would taper out another 2 weeks.
The day before the race at Montauk, they announced that the swim would be at Navy Beach (in salt water) instead of Fort Pond because of blue-green algae bloom that was above the DEC threshold. I was a little concerned because I hadn’t trained in salt water, nonetheless, Mike and I checked it out the day before and I dipped in for a few yards before thinking it’ll be ok. I had no idea how the buoys would be set up since they weren’t up yet. I also thought I would be fine since I did grow up living on an island surrounded by salt water (I’m a certified scuba diver). However, I’ve never raced in salt water. I was most nervous of whether the salt would make me dehydrated and unforeseen circumstances would be a repeat of Lake Placid.
We were up the next morning to the swim start. Mike drove there super early to drop off my bike and pick up my timing chip. After, we headed back to the main transition about 1.7 miles away to organize my running gear. We were then to take the shuttle back to the swim start. The day prior, at the athlete’s briefing, they mentioned that cyclists could bike over to the swim start (however, Mike and I thought it would be a terrible idea to bike in the dark). I was quite stressed about the change of plans.
When we got to the start, I was even more concerned because they announced the swimming instructions wrong more than once. I started questioning what was happening. They were already making me nervous. The day before, the announcer had ALSO made the wrong announcements. Did these people know what they were doing? Finally, everything was corrected, “Half racers were to swim on the right with buoys on the left and come back to the center.”
Swim 1.7 Miles.
My wave was to start at 7:00 a. m. Mike gave me a jacket because it was really cold. Thankfully it wasn’t as cold as Lake Placid (which was 31 degrees Fahrenheit). My wave was headed out and the water seemed calm. I heard the announcer said to get in the water. However, I wish they were clearer about wading to the first buoy for the swim start. No one seemed to be paying attention. They made the announcement again and I went in. We took off when the countdown was over.
By the time we reached the 2nd buoy, the waves started crashing in my face. The day prior, someone was looking up the surf conditions and realized it was going to be about 15 knots (17mph winds). I couldn’t find the information to verify but by the time I passed the 2nd orange buoy, I was questioning my life choices. I couldn’t sight well at all. To calm down, I reminded myself that I’m an island girl and a scuba diver (so I was used to waves) and I actually know how to swim. I kept going. By the time I made it 0.3 miles in, I was already in the wrong lane. The currents took me to the left and a kayak was near me with a guy yelling, “Hey! Which race are you doing?” I told him the half and he told me I needed to make my way to the right in the direction of another kayak. I groaned and told him I can try. “You can do it! You’re strong!” He yelled at me. Sure, I thought and continued diagonally and to the right. I wasn’t going to swim parallel only to be swimming into the current headfirst. I kept sighting to make sure I didn’t swim into other swimmers. I looked up and sure enough, some were already coming down the middle straight at me! I breast stroked to avoid them and made my way through the clearing where I could. I made it to the right finally and kept swimming to the final buoy.
Once there, I was elated and began to make my way back, however, another swimmer collided with me and momentarily panicked. He apologized. I hadn’t expected that. I chose not to scold him about “sighting” since he seemed pretty freaked out about what happened. I made my way to the kayak and held on for a bit. Well, I made it halfway. I prepped myself for the way back knowing that the wind would be in the other direction. It didn’t seem any easier heading in towards the shore. The waves were still crashing and pulling me back. I found another kayak to pause at when I saw the end of the sprint course. He asked if I needed the boat to take me in. I looked at my watch and said absolutely not. I had already made it halfway and I had over half an hour left for cutoff. I could make it. I just needed to know I was moving. I finally made my way in, not easily. However, I was so happy when I saw that I had more than enough time to transition.
Looking back, I wish they hadn’t made the swim an out and back. I don’t think there were enough kayaks and I learned that a jet ski was broken down. Also, many swimmers were taken out of the water (since many people, just like me, hadn’t trained in the ocean). I realized there were more than 7 people who DNFed but not sure if they had because of the swim.
When I ran into the bike transition I saw Mike. He was taking photos and I was so grateful to see him. I placed my helmet on but realized I was pretty wobbly. The swim had exhausted me and I couldn’t get my socks on. I sat back on my butt—where there’s a will there’s a way! I put on my socks by my sponsor, Tiux. I sprayed myself with sunscreen and the back of my neck started to burn. WHAT THE F?! I was very confused because I don’t remember snagging onto anything. Later, I realized I was stung by a jellyfish.
I hope I had sprayed enough. I instructed Mike to grab my swim transition stuff and he told me he would. I shouted that I loved him and like a pro, I jogged my way to the bike out to mount past the line.
Now Bike 56 miles.
I’ll preface by saying this: I don’t think the course would’ve passed if it were an Ironman course. The Olympic and Half Iron were on the similar course and there was no way to indicate who was doing what. There was no tracker. However, I did have my Garmin, and I figured since my goal was to do a Half Ironman distance, I’d be honest to myself. So, if I had a complaint about this race: That would be it. So yes, I completed the 56-mile course in the range that I wanted (see the proof to the left).
From the swim start, our alternate route went over 2 railroad tracks so we had to be careful. I was worried about getting a flat because my last two long bike rides had a flat. My tires were also new for racing. I figured if I carefully rode the first loop under 2 hours I’d make the cutoff time and not do a repeat experience of Lake Placid. I figured an average of 17mph should be decent and I would pace myself through the hills.
We had to do two loops. I gave myself a goal of completing 15 miles in around 1 hour 25 minutes. With the traffic (The roads weren’t shut down—fun!) and pauses, I was close and had a generous amount of time to do the 2nd loop. By the time I came around for the 2nd loop, I was still keeping pace. I was happy because if I had no flats, I knew I could complete the course under 3 hours and 30 minutes (I did). Mike also saw me on the course a few times (he was on his long run).
Run 13.1 miles.
The entire race I just thought, “Make it to the run.” I didn’t want a repeat of Lake Placid. I also knew if I had 3 hours to complete it, I’d make it happen. The day prior they mentioned a hill called “Murder Hill.” They made it sound tough. In my opinion, Murder Hill was fine. However, you wouldn’t want to run on it after biking 56 miles. I decided to jog or walk the hill. I was at jogging pace anyway. Mike met at the run start and did the first 2 miles with me. He reminded me to hydrate. The sun was blazing! After the first loop, I realized that it wasn’t so bad. I was averaging what I had expected. I figured I’d make the other loop in another hour.
Once again, I realized there was no real timing at the extra loops on the half course since it was shared by the Olympic course. I definitely debated shortening it. I had lots of time and felt fine so I continued on. It was incredibly hot and kept feeling hotter. I had stopped at every aid station and hydrated. I ran out of water with .3 miles to go. I’d make it! I picked up some speed carefully.
When I saw the finish, I got even more excited. I made it! I ran down towards the finish. The announcer said my name (he pronounced it correctly!) and my profession (I thought that was cute!).
I’m a 70.3 finisher. A half iron(wo)man.
The funny thing is, I did a faster swim than the Lake Placid experience (with worse conditions) and I was over an hour faster on the bike!
Overall Rank 79 / 94
Gender Rank 14 / 18
Division Rank 2 / 2
I don’t think that’s bad for my very first one!
As for the race, I’m really happy to have done it. I’m still debating whether I should do this distance again. However, if I do, I’d love to Take 2 at Lake Placid.