Those three letters every triathlete dreads. Did not finish. Not going to lie, it stings, A LOT. I knew it was bound to happen, but for it to be my first Half Ironman makes it all the more painful.
Ironman 70.3 Superfrog just wasn’t my race. Race week started off with a bad cold/flu. I spent Monday and Tuesday in bed. I took my bike out for a test ride on Wednesday and still felt lousy, so at the advice of a fellow triathlete friend, I called my doctor and begged for a z-pack. I started it Thursday before the race and within 24 hours started feeling much better. My spirits and excitement for the race really kicked in by the time we packed up and headed down to San Diego on Friday. I was so ready to DO THIS. Mother Nature had other plans for me.
Our hotel was 2 blocks from transition and the start/finish. Nice! I picked up my packet and race bib Friday afternoon. Saturday was a fun family day at the new Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego (I highly recommend it if you have kids and are ever in the San Diego area). After we got back and put the boys down for a nap, I headed down to the beach for a quick practice swim. There were warning signs posted everywhere to stay out of the water because it was contaminated. Yuck! Just as I was about to turn around and leave the lifeguards told me the water quality was OK, the advisory was being lifted and it was safe to go in the water. The waves were big and the swim is not my strongest event, so I was definitely beginning to regret that I had not done more open water swimming before the race. I got in a quick 10 minute swim, but didn’t go out very far. Followed it up with a 15 minute shake out run on the sand.
Afterwards I checked in my bike and despite my extreme nerves about the swim and what conditions would be like the next morning, I felt pretty relaxed and ready to do this. I had my traditional pasta dinner with family, including my mom and grandma, then it was back to the hotel and lights out early. Thankfully the boys went to bed right away and I was asleep soon after.
The next morning my nerves really set in, but it was more a nervous excitement. I was up at 4am, took my time double checking I had everything and headed out for the short walk to the transition area around 6:20. Shortly after I got there they announced transition would be closing at 6:45am and everyone needed to be out and at the start. They don’t mess around at Ironman. I quickly set everything out, popped a GU and true to word they had everyone out by 6:45 sharp.
I headed down to the beach and once I saw how fast and furious the swells were coming, I said a silent prayer. I usually pray that I won’t get eaten by a shark, but that never crossed my mind. The ocean never looked so scary to me. It was a rolling start with athletes seeding themselves based on expected finish time. I lined up with the 45-60 minute group and watched as the people in front of me battled the huge swells. When it was my turn to go I said another prayer and ran into the water ready to do battle.
Imperial Beach is very different from what I’m used to in Santa Barbara. The beach is long, shallow and takes a while to get to deeper water. I tried to dive under the first wave and was violently pushed back. I stood back up and charged towards the next wave and instead of diving under this time I stayed standing and again was knocked back. I repeated this over and over and after 15 minutes hardly made any forward progress. I was using so much energy just fighting the surf and hadn’t even really started swimming yet!
Others around me were having similar trouble. When I saw people getting rescued and brought back in to shore by the lifeguards on jet ski’s I went from scared to petrified. I stood and waited in the water for what seemed like forever hoping there would be a long enough break in the swells for me to make a go for it, but they just kept coming fast and furious, getting bigger and bigger.
I knew time was not on my side at that point so made another attempt to dive under the next wave and got thrashed HARD swallowing tons of water in the process. I asked a lifeguard for advise on what to do. People were getting through the surf, but I was struggling BIG TIME. He told me to swim into the rip current that was near the pier as it would help push me out past the surf to calmer waters quickly. Only in an Ironman event does a lifeguard tell you to swim INTO A RIP CURRENT. I swam toward the pier and got hammered again. At this point it was over 30 minutes in and I was becoming seriously deflated. Even if I made it through the surf, it was a 2 loop course, so I would have to fight the surf again to get back out a second time. There was a group of people in the same boat. At least I wasn’t the only one struggling. Another girl and I made a pact to try a couple more times together, we both continued to struggle and saw more people getting rescued. We both finally decided to through in the towel. We made our way back to shore and with another group of people who were struggling to get out as well, asked the race director if we could continue on the bike/run knowing we would receive a DNF. She gave us a flat no.
Devastated, I picked up my broken heart and bruised ego and made my way to find my family who was in the crowd at the swim finish waiting to cheer me on. As soon as I saw them the tears came and came. I was in serious shock and couldn’t comprehend that it was over and this was how my first 70.3 was going to end. In hindsight, I wish I had continued on to the bike and run despite being stripped of my timing chip and being told I couldn’t by the race director, but at the time I was too distraught to think about that. All I wanted to do was shut the blinds and crawl back into bed.
Bad days happen to every one. Sunday was my turn. It’s easy to say I wish I had fought those waves harder, but I gave it what I had on that day, in that moment. There were more than 250 DNF/DNS’s and for one of the smaller Ironman 70.3 races on the circuit, that’s A LOT. Several veteran Ironmen and Ironwomen later told me it was the toughest swim they have ever experienced. Knowing this softens the blow, just a little. Since becoming a mother my mindset has changed some. I love this sport and thrive on challenging situations, but I discovered when faced with those kind of extreme conditions I’m not as willing to take on the risk anymore. There will be other races. I will bounce back and have another shot at a 70.3 in Oceanside next year. I learned a lot from this experience and although it’s not how I ever envisioned this race would go down, I don’t regret the decisions I made that day.
On to the next!