I came into contact with Jenn when she reached out through my contact page to ask the following:
I am new to this whole endurance athlete sport thing. I am an accidental athlete who got sucked into a duathlon as a bet by a trainer last year. That same year, I ran my first half marathon, full marathon, and competed a sprint triathlon. So, when it cam time to set new year goals I chose an Ironman 70.3… to start. I love all your articles, but with one week left to my event, I still feel unprepared. Do you have any advice for me? any tips? I am storingas much info as I can!!
I felt so honored to have a reader ask me this question that I think my response was both incoherent and long, but Jenn did respond and we wound up sharing a few emails. After she raced 70.3 Rhode Island she sent me her race report before I could even ask for it.
I have read this race report a number of times and I think it is one of my most favorite because of how she ends it and her ending is the true definition of what triathlon is all about.
Thank you Jenn for writing this race report for my blog.
Jenn Gambardella’s Ironman 70.3 Race Report
I am an accidental athlete. I began running January 1, 2010 only because my gym closed early and I was determined to get my New Year’s Resolution started. That day, I realized I could do more than I thought and so I registered for my first half marathon. Up until this point, I had only ever competed in one event; the yearly Thanksgiving morning 5k as a way to rationalize my poor eating habits for the day. To make a long story short, my love of the endorphin rush of racing brought me to register for a duathalon, multiple half marathons, a sprint triathlon, more 5ks, and a full marathon all in 2010. When 2011 came, I decided I needed to set my goals higher and achieve more, so I decided to challenge myself to do an Ironman 70.3.
With that said, I love to work out, I love to train, I love to be challenged, and I love to eat. My training for this event was going to be tough. I began by perfecting my running. I signed up and ran a half marathon every month beginning in February. In March, I began my cycling training at a higher level by kicking up my spinning routine in the gym and getting on the road as much as the weather would allow. My swimming was going to be my most difficult training; I had no idea where to start. I met a friend at the gym who would later help me both with getting out on the road for longer cycling training and into the open water for swim training. Without this friend/coach Jim I could not have been ready for this event.
SO… that brings me to race weekend. We drove up to Rhode Island early Saturday morning to get to the Ironman expo. The expo was at the convention center and was very well organized. There were no lines for checking in and the volunteers were pleasant and knowledgeable. I got all my race info and numbers and headed to the athlete briefing. We found out that the lake temperature was too high to wear a wet suit which was something I had not anticipated. I was a bit more nervous about the swim now. The odd thing about this event was there would be two transition spots, something I had never had to do before. They gave us three bags all coded with a different color and we had to have all of our gear and transition stuff set up in each bag (bike, run, and morning/ swim attire). We dropped off my bike first. This was quite easy, the volunteers were very helpful and all the bike racks were numbered. Then, we drove to the second transition spot to drop off the run gear. We set off for lunch and then to the hotel to plan the night and attempt to relax.
I set my alarm for 3:00, knowing I would hit the snooze at least once and be out the door by 3:45 to get on the shuttle to the lake for 4:30 am. I made my oatmeal with protein powder and grabbed a black coffee as we walked out of the hotel. I ate my oatmeal in the car as I begged my husband not to talk to me. Mentally I was all over the place, my nerves were getting to me and I was doing everything to try and stay positive.
There was a shuttle bus going to take all participants to the lake and then return all family back to the second transition after all the swimmers were out of the water. (The only downfall was this that they charged everyone $8 to ride the shuttle, you could have driven on your own, but I thought it would be less stressful sitting on a bus with everyone feeling the way I did) The drive to the lake was quick. I set all my stuff up on my bike. This was a clean transition and we could not leave anything on the ground. This was hard; I was not a pro at hanging things off my bike, so I left most of it in my bag. I knew this would slow down my transition, but would keep me calmer knowing that all my stuff was in one place. I headed over to the port o potties for my first pre race bathroom break. I have a bad habit of having to go multiple times before any type of race. The lines were slow, and mostly men.. which sadly I wished would just go find a bush but… I waited. I handed over my morning gear bag to the volunteers and headed over to the lake. I nervously ate my banana and half a piece of bread with almond butter on my walk. It was still just about an hour before my start time and my stomach was in knots. I found a “real” bathroom at the lake and stood in line with about 20 other women who did not appear to be feeling the way I was. They all chatted about what they were going to eat after the race and about the hill at mile 30? Huh hill? I thought Rhode Island was flat!
Ok, now I am on the edge of the lake in my group of ladies all with the same white Ironman swim cap on. The ladies 30-35 would go off in the 8th group, leaving only 4 groups behinds us. The lake was well organized; all the volunteers held signs and it was easy to see where you should line up. I took my place on the edge of the water when it was my time. I knew we had about 5 minutes to wait after the guys before us went. So, I chatted it up with some ladies and got some more details about the swim. This was my attempt to relax. There was music playing, we sang and even danced our nerves out. The announcer gave us the 30 second count down and we were off. Swimming was my weakest area and I knew it was going to suck. I stayed positive and kept a good pace to the first buoy. The lake was filled with some kind of underwater sea growth like seaweed, and I kept getting my arm caught in it. The swim was a counter clockwise rectangle shape. Mentally I broke it down into three parts, the first straight away, then across the back, and then the straight away back to the beach. I made it the first two parts without too many issues. I couldn’t get my breathing down but was surviving and not feeling tired at all. There were about 8 or 10 buoys on the straightaway to the beach. This last part was the toughest. It was probably about a half mile and I was letting the negative thoughts into my head. I stopped three times to compose myself and treaded water. I thought about calling one of the canoes over to help me out, and even thought about hopping on the canoe and ending my day. Deep down I remember my coach and my trainer telling me the things that I can do, and then I remembered something that Jason told me about the book he read from Chris McCormack, “embrace the suck.” So that I did, I refocused and told myself to suck it up and finish. I dragged my body to finish and ran up the sand of the beach. I did it, I finished the swim. I had nothing left in me, I walked most of the way to my bike.
During the walk to my bike, I heard everyone cheering and my husband telling me I looked great. I couldn’t focus on anything but the plan in my head, shoes on, granola bar in, water in, helmet on, gloves on, sunglasses on, shirt on and GO! I took too long in transition, but I needed that time to prep myself and pump
myself up for the bike. I got on my bike and headed out. I felt good once I started. I started off slow up the first hill out of the park. This was the first time I did not drive the route I was racing, I didn’t want to know. I had heard about some hills at the end and there was a bad road section where no passing was allowed. But that was it, that was all I wanted to know. I was going to get through it and do it no matter what the route was. However, looking back I wish I drove it. The course was very hilly. Lots of rolling hills and long climbs followed by long declines. It was do-able but I did see some people getting off their bikes and walking them up a few of the hills. I was determined to get up each and every hill and I did. There were three aid stations on the course. I stopped at all three and took water. I ate shot blocks for electrolytes and shot rocks for protein along the way. At the last stop I used the bathroom hoping that I wouldn’t need to go on the run. The bike ride seemed slow, the hills just kept coming. The beauty of this was, I enjoyed every minute. The scenery was beautiful and all the competitors were pleasant and helpful. The only downside of the ride was the last 10 miles. There was a no pass zone and the street was terrible. It was obviously under construction and the pot holes and rugged pavement made it impossible to go fast. The whole road was filled with water bottles and bike pieces which must have fallen off of the people in front of me who didn’t really care about slowing down. I heard later on that this area also caused lots of flat tires for some racers. In this final stretch was also some winding streets which made it seem like forever. It was somewhat of an inner city area with police officers on most corners, but still could be scary for a cute blonde chick out for a bike ride. Anyway, I finished and rode in to the transition to see LOTS of bikes already there.
I felt pressured now to run, I had no idea how long the bike portion took me, but I could tell that I was at the end of the pack. I grabbed a sip of water, a Lara bar and my “secret weapon” Swedish fish candy to begin my run. I was off, a quick transition and my legs were just getting some blood back to them. I began with a slow jog out and picked up my pace with the amazing noise of the crowd. However, that was soon halted when I saw lots of people walking up the huge hill in front of me. I was less than a mile in and already faced with another challenge. I counted 100 steps walking and then 100 steps running to control my breathing and my legs. Mentally this was so hard. I knew everything that I was doing I would have to do again because the run was a 2 loop run, meaning we would run the first loop (7 miles) and then do the same loop again! The run was tough with more up hills and down hills, not too much of a flat stretch until
mile 5 and 6. Again, I played mental games with myself telling myself I could do it, only to see the mile markers for the second loop daunting me. The volunteers on the run were AMAZING! There was Perform energy drink, water, and cola almost every mile. There was fruit, pretzels and Powerbars at every station too. The volunteers handed out cold sponges, which thanks to Jason I knew to put near my heart to slow it down and cool me off. I was feeling good after the hill work and my Swedish fish got me through the first loop. I really don’t remember how I ran the second loop. I know I ate Powerbar along the way and talked to a man with an Ironman tattoo. I had come this far and nothing was going to stop me. I noticed some men walking, some throwing up, and some just sitting on the corner. I stayed calm and put one foot in front of the other and imagine what I would do when I crossed the finish line. I do remember the last .1 miles of the 13. That was the line of the crowd cheering everyone on. I loved hearing people, and didn’t let the sight of people heading back with their bikes bother me, this was my race, for me, nothing else mattered! Of course the final stretch was, yup you guessed it… UP HILL ! Really , did they have to do that? When the announcer called my name as I crossed the line, I could not believe that this journey was over. My husband ran up to me, tears filled his eyes and at that moment I realized the powerful effect of the event. I felt amazing, accomplished, powerful, strong, and proud! It takes a true warrior to accomplish an endurance event and to be able to navigate your way physically and mentally through it. You need to be tough and you need to rely on your training and your body to take over. Believing is the first step, and when you do, anything is possible!!
Walking out of this Ironman 70.3 I said I would never attempt a full Ironman because it would be too much, and too hard. TODAY, ask me the same question and I know I have a different answer for you!
Thanks to everyone who helped me on this adventure! I encourage everyone to believe that they can do more and be more. Set your goals high and don’t ever stop living. Life without passion is meaningless!
AKA: The Pink Hornet