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What My First Ironman 70.3 Taught Me

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There it was, less than a quarter-mile away. I hear the spectators cheering and my legs are fatigued but they magically go into sprint mode as I cross the finish line. I had completed my first Ironman 70.3.

It’s hard to put my gratitude and appreciation for a 70.3 into words. It was one of the most challenging and yet rewarding experiences of my life, and a confidence booster. I had trained for it but I could have trained better. I could have improved my nutrition intake, too. While the numerous could have’s crossed my mind, I pushed them back with the biggest thing I learned: I did this. I had finished an Ironman 70.3.

The 70.3 Race 

On Apr. 8, 2018, a girlfriend and I tackled the IRONMAN 70.3 Florida, my first Ironman competition. I love fitness and running (half marathons are my race preference) and I wanted to test myself in an Ironman 70.3. I thought it would just prove that I have strength and endurance, but it proved more than that. It showed me what I am capable of. 

The 70.3 race is a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. I’m not a swimmer so I practiced swimming more than running and I biked — more indoors than out, thanks to winter weather. The morning of the race, I was nervous and scared. I feared that I wouldn’t survive the swim or make the 1:10 cut-off time. I felt confident that I could survive the bike and run since I enjoy both of those activities. 

As I stepped closer to the swim start, I could feel my body freezing. I was thinking, “What the heck am I doing?”

First Leg: 1.2-Mile Swim

As soon as I hit the water, my anxiety got the best of me and for the first quarter mile I was panicking. People around me were hitting, splashing and kicking. I was afraid to put my head underwater in the chaos, not to mention the water has alligators. As I swam, I tried to relax and reminded myself to “just breathe.” Suddenly I was in a rhythmic swim and 45 minutes later, I was out of the water running up the exit ramp feeling like I was the queen of the world.

Second Leg: 56-Mile Bike

I dashed to my bike where I felt confident (maybe over confident). I felt good at the beginning of the bike leg. I reminded myself that this is the time to eat and hydrate but struggled with my bike gears, eating and keeping a steady pace. I didn’t have a speedometer so I had no clue what distance I was at, except for the mile markers that were spaced about every five miles. My legs started to feel heavy around mile 20/25. My energy was dwindling and I started thinking, “I should have done interval training, pace work and practiced eating.” I was hard on myself, but once I started to take in the scenery, I was able to just ride. I discovered how to be more present and mindful during that bike ride than in any yoga class. My backside was sore but my legs were still working. It was time for the half marathon. 

Third Leg: Half Marathon Run

The run was a three-loop course. The first lap I thought, “This is it! You’re almost done with the race.” Only 13.1 miles left. 

As I made my way through mile one, my legs were hurting and felt so heavy. I kept telling myself to loosen them up and that I’d get back to my normal run pace, a typical half-marathon pace which is done on fresh, non-tired legs. I definitely didn’t think that one through. 

The first lap was OK. It helped me map out the mile markers but I thought I was running out of time and I started to worry that I wouldn’t finish the race. At mile four, my body was in pain and I was tired and miserable. As I rounded the corner to start lap two, I was envious and jealous of the runners finishing. I started to complain in my head, thinking I might not finish within the cut-off time and wondered if I should just stop. From miles four to nine, I was not in a good place mentally. As I made my way through mile eight, I thought about quitting again but reminded myself that I flew all the way to Florida for this race and I’m almost done. I’m not stopping now. 

My legs, which still hurt, began to pick up the pace. I found a rhythm and kept trekking, taking it mile by mile. I rounded the corner to start the third lap and felt such a relief. I was excited that this was my third and final lap and had the biggest smile on my face. I also learned there were two hours left before the cut-off time and so my worries of not finishing went away as I knew I would finish with plenty of time. (Note to self: wear a watch.) 

The Finish 

As I neared mile 12, I grabbed water and started to walk. I would run once I made it to the mile marker. However, I wasn’t running. I told myself it was OK and I could pick it up once I turned the corner — I knew I was on the home stretch. 

And there it was, the finish line was in sight. Spectators were hollering and handing out high fives. I was steps away to being an Ironman 70.3 finisher! The adrenaline kicked in and my tired, achy body sprinted its way to the finish line and I finished, of course, with the standard “arms up” pose. 

The Aftermath

For the first time in a long time, I was proud of myself. I did something for me, and no one else. Relief ran through my body and I was so amazed that all the pain didn’t stop me from achieving my goal. My times: swim 0:56; bike 3:40; run 2:49; finish 7:36:34. 

I now have a new found respect for triathletes. It’s not an easy sport and requires more than just physical strength. You need a strong mind to carry you through the challenging times. When my mind struggled, I struggled. When it was positive, I was stronger. The biggest takeaway from the 70.3 journey is that I am capable of anything if I put my mind to it.

Fara Rosenzweig

About Fara Rosenzweig

I’ve been working in the media industry since 2004. My background ranges from broadcast programming to online media. As an Emmy-award recipient, I’ve been producing, writing and editing content for various outlets over the past several years.

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