I bought new goggles with better tint since everyone in the Muncie Facebook group who had raced before said if the sun was out it would be blinding after the second turn. I drove to the pool and did a quick 20 minutes to make sure they fit and shake out a little energy. Thursday night I got everything packed up since we were leaving Friday afternoon after my much needed massage. As usual I had a little help getting things together. But he's generally more into directing since he doesn't have thumbs.
Friday afternoon my sister and I hit the road for the 3 hour drive. We opted against using the highway the whole way since construction is crazy and unpredictable. The winding country roads kept things interesting but we were still stir crazy after hour 2. We finally made it without incident and met up with our cyclist Jennifer and her husband.
It was so weird to be at my first Ironman branded event as an athlete instead of volunteer! We got those fancy athlete only wristbands we were to keep on until the end of the race and our swag then caught the middle of the athlete briefing and stuck around until the end. The water was likely to be wetsuit legal since it was around 75 degrees but since I have no wetsuit and have never worn one I was just hoping 75 was as warm as I thought it was. After the meeting we walked down to the beach to check things out. My teammates wanted nothing to do with the water so I ventured in alone. I was really glad to take some steps in and not feel cold at all. It was late in the day and the sun was shining so I assumed it would be a little cooler in the morning but I still felt fine about not having a suit. And surprisingly, I didn't think the course looked all that long. Sure it was far but it just didn't seem as daunting as I was expecting. Maybe my "trust the training" mantra was actually working!
I rinsed off my feet (hats off to the facilities! They were awesome!) and we walked up to check out Jennifer's setup in transition. It wasn't clear if we'd be handing off near her bike or somewhere else so I wanted an idea of where she would be just in case. Her bike is fancy as hell so I felt like a baller standing next to it like it was mine. Remind me to buy a Shiv...
One last shot before we parted ways for the night!
My sister and I stayed at a hotel in Anderson which was about 25-30 minutes from Muncie but didn't feel that far at all. We packed my big cooler full of food and snacks and made our usual pre-race meals and just hung around for the night. I attempted to sleep around 8 since we were getting up at 4 and managed to sleep soundly from 9-12 and then commenced waking up every half hour to make sure I didn't miss the alarm. Despite that I got up pretty well rested and feeling good. My sister booked our room through Sunday so we didn't have to pack everything up to leave that morning and could come back to shower and nap before driving home. Brilliant idea! The drive to the race was uneventful and we quickly fell into line with all the other cars heading that same way. Parking was smooth in a big flat field and only about a quarter mile from transition.
The water temp was 74.5 which mean wetsuit legal. People were audibly cheering about it which made me a little nervous. I definitely wanted to get a warm up in so if it was cold I'd know what to expect. We found Jennifer pretty easily and got a quick picture with some tri club friends. It was probably one of the biggest races I've done so the energy was insane. So much excitement made me really pumped to just get swimming. Unfortunately the relays started in the very last wave an hour after the actual race start. We found some friends from church and decided to stick with them until it was time to go. I headed down to the beach soon after they opened it up for warm ups. Even though I had an hour to kill I knew it would go quickly. The water temperature didn't feel much different from the day before so I was relieved. There was even a guy down there in a full wetsuit who decided not to use it after warming up. It wasn't an organized swim so people were going in all directions. I got bumped a few times and my foot tickled and didn't freak out so I figured I was ready. I also had no nerves about actually swimming! I think I've finally kicked that open water fear!
The waves went off every 5 minutes so we watched the pro wave and several more and then I went to line up around 7:45. I was genuinely excited. Nervous too but not intimidated which was my ultimate goal. The swim was 1.2 miles...around 2000 meters. After months of swimming 7500 meters a week including days of 2500s, 2000 seemed reasonable. I'd followed my plan almost religiously and for once truly trusted the training. I knew I could do the distance, my worry was about the time cutoff.
The time limits for the course start when the final swim wave goes off, aka my wave. That meant we were racing the clock as much as other teams (although we should have named ourselves Team Survival, we were just happy to be there!) The swim cutoff was 1:10. And I knew I was going to be close. My goals for the swim were multifaceted because I like to make my goals in layers. The first goal was to finish the distance. Even if I got out and it was 1:12 and they told me I was too slow, I wanted to prove to myself that I could swim 1.2 miles in open water. Second, I wanted to actually make the time cutoff and not be pulled from the water. After those two I got a little more specific, ideally I wanted to be in the 50-60 minute range. On a great pool day my mile is 42 minutes, on a bad day, more like 46 so I thought 50-60 minutes for 1.2 was reasonable. And then I had smaller strategies like make sure to breath bilaterally as often as possible, catch a draft, focus on alternating strong pulls and strong kicks (I'm still not a good enough swimmer to do both simultaneously without being spent).
We started in the water up to about our thighs and with only 29 relay teams it was a nice small wave. I lined up on the outside like I always do and chatted with everyone while we waited for our 5 minutes. One of the guys was in my tri club so it was nice to meet him in person instead of just through the Facebook group and a couple of the women were arguing over who would be last. They both had on wetsuits so I told them not to worry, I'd take care of last place for them and we laughed. I waved to my teammates, heard the 45 second warning and then we were off!
Everyone went out fast and I knew early on I wasn't going to be able to hang on. I saw a few people coming back towards us to the shore who I guess were quitting for whatever reason. I felt bad for them, especially as age groupers because I knew they'd put in so much work to even get there. I also know the pain of having a DNF.
There was some unexpected chop in the water that I hadn't noticed warming up. I almost crashed into someone at one point since visibility was so poor I couldn't see his feet until they were right in front of me. He wasn't kicking so I didn't have any bubbles to warn me he was there. I swam around him and he quickly caught me again before stopping for another breather. He was hugging the buoy line pretty closely which I don't do so I don't remember really seeing him again. I had a personal kayaker and I assumed that meant I was the last person and he didn't have anyone else to look out for. Every now and then I'd look at him to make sure he wasn't trying to get my attention and pull me out for being too slow but most of the time he was just looking around and seemingly enjoying a morning on the water. The buoys going out were numbered which was really nice and helped me turn it into a pool workout. The course was about 900 out, 250 across and 850 back to shore. My warmups on long days have been 800 meters so I took the first 800 slow-ish (although I don't actually have different swimming speeds). My plan was to pull harder at the turn, then switch to a hard kick at the second turn towards home for 250 then just go balls out until the end.
Just before I hit the turn, I was attacked by lake plants that were all slimy and tangled me up. Something wrapped around my leg and bits floated past my face and got between my fingers. I had to breathe on every stroke because I was silently panicking but racing the clock reminded me I didn't have time to flip out so I just kept swimming. After that I got an overwhelming whiff of diesel fuel from the boats. I guess they leave the engines running as they idle but I could smell and taste diesel the whole rest of the way.
I made the turn and hit a whole new set of issues. For one, the water was a lot colder though still not too cold. It was also really choppy. I got hit with water 3 breath attempts in a row and finally came up vertically just to get one good one. That got my kayakers attention, but only for a second. There also seemed to be some kind of current that was not working with me. We weren't in a river and I thought that was the only body of water with currents besides the ocean but whatever the case I was being tossed all over and had trouble sighting and keeping a line. Luckily that was a short leg and I was quickly turning towards home but I abandoned my pull/kick plan and just swam as best I could.
After the final turn the chop seemed to pick up more and I was just hanging on. I wasn't burned out but I was getting tired of swimming and bouncing around. I was also a little nauseous which made things tougher. I kept seeing heads pop up in front of me that didn't seem to be the same color as my cap but wasn't sure. It did make me feel good to even be in sight of people though. In my head I just knew I was the slowest swimmer there and that honestly didn't bother me. I started counting buoys again but kept forgetting what number I was on and how many there were so I tried to estimate how long it felt like it'd been. I didn't feel like it had been an hour but still picked up my speed as much as I could just in case. I eyed my kayaker every time I came up to sight and his expression hadn't changed.
About 200 meters or so out from the finish I could hear the crowd and got really excited. At that point I knew without a doubt that I could do it, but I didn't know about my time and had no interest in stopping to check my watch. I looked up for my kayaker again and saw that he'd stopped and was letting me go, a good sign I was almost finished. Another kayak came towards me and I saw her talking. My heart broke right then because I just knew she was coming to get me. I came up for air and heard that she was just cheering for me! I felt so unbelievably happy that I was really going to do it, make the time cutoff and give my teammates a chance to do their legs as well! The kayakers all started hitting the sides of their boats with their paddles as a way of clapping and all of a sudden I felt my fingers scrape the sand.
I seriously could not believe I'd done it! I'm not a pretty swimmer so I stole a second to wipe my nose and fix my shorts before standing up. I saw my sister jumping up and down for me and there were surprisingly still spectators on the beach. I staggered up the beach and attempted a jog up to transition. Since I was only swimming I neglected to wear a sports bra and tri top plus my heart rate spiked as soon as I was vertical so I quickly turned jogging into a bit of a trot. Did I mention it was also uphill? I came over the first, steeper hill and could see Jennifer so I held my ladies down and jogged towards her. They had the relay exchange in a small pen right beside transition so I didn't have to run all the way to her bike.
She took the chip and I think I gave her a high five or something and said "Go get 'em" but honestly I can't really remember what I was saying or doing. My sister came out of nowhere and gave me a huge hug which is very uncharacteristic of her. I was (and still am) beside myself and can't believe I actually did it.
The facilities were great and they had free showers so I got nice and clean then we waited around for Jennifer to come back. There wasn't really a good place for us to walk to and see her on the course so we had to wait around near transition. We got to watch the pros come through and then the age groupers and it was fun to cheer on all of the other Landsharks and just everyone in general. Jennifer came in after about 3.5 hours which was amazing! She handed off to Alexis who took off out to the run course.
Jennifer went to shower off and I headed over to the athlete food tent near the finish. I was shocked to see veggie burgers so naturally I had to have one. I didn't have much of an appetite all day so I only ate about half of it, a few bites of a cookie and a small potato then headed to the finish line area. It was really fun to see everyone finishing and since it had been a few hours since I'd swam I got really excited again about the idea of doing the whole 70.3 myself one day. Jennifer and her husband (who took so many great pics and was an amazing sherpa to all of us!) met up with me and we found some tri club people to chat with while we waited for Alexis. A little rain came through and I figured she was probably appreciating it. Jennifer's husband perched up high on a jungle gym with some kids to get a first view of Alexis through the finisher chute.
I learned a lot from this race and it turns out I wasn't actually the last swimmer. I finished in 1:03 officially and was the last from the relay wave but there were a few age groupers still out there who I passed. I also checked some of the times and there were quite a few people who swam over 1:03 and even over 1:10. Luckily they had that buffer from being in an earlier wave.
I'm so proud of myself for doing something I've never done before and honestly before last year never imagined doing and incredibly proud of my teammates who each had their own struggles on their portions and still soldiered on. It was an honor to be out there with them and I hope we can do it again! Unless of course we decide to race the whole thing solo ;)