Julia’s very first Half Ironman – Part I

The official race logo!

A few years ago when I realized that time slipping like sand through an hourglass was not just a proverbial saying, I decided that I wanted to start doing things that I had always dreamed about doing but had never gotten around to. I intended to celebrate each and every year of my life with something so fantastic I’d remember it forever. Last year, for my birthday I swam the Messina Straits. It was so exhilarating I didn’t ever think I’d be able to top it. But then I did, by racing my very first Half Ironman.

Now before you think this was some wacky idea I came up with out of the blue, I’ve been participating in triathlons for many years. The first Olympic distance I ever raced was in 1996 and since then I’ve finished uncounted Sprints and Olympic distance triathlons, but I’ve never ventured beyond that. I’d always wanted to participate in an Ironman, so to get my feet wet I thought I’d better start with half the distance, the 70.3. The idea came to me last October and I started to looking around for a race to sign up for. I was on the Switzerland 70.3 website with my credit card in hand when a news flash popped up that the first 70.3 Ironman event was coming to Italy. I switched websites, signed up on the spot,  and began to plan my training programme.

I had to take a few important things into consideration. I had a full time job, two school aged children, and a husband who I enjoy making happy and spending time with. There’s also the house to clean, a little social life along with two cats to take care of. Plus, a little snafu happened in the spring of 2011: my own running event which occupied every single minute of my life until the afternoon of April 17.

On the morning of April 18 I reassessed my situation. Just me, myself and I at this very important meeting. I had exactly eight weeks to train for this event and this is what I decided to do:

  • I broke down the swimming, biking and running workouts. I knew that swimming was my strongest event so I could get away with two training sessions per week. I usually swam 2000 – 2500 metres and tried to include some interval training but mostly concentrated on simple technique.
  • I knew that the bike would be my weakest event since I hadn’t biked at all over winter. This was where I needed to concentrate so I had to ride at least three days a week. Plus I knew I needed to cover the 90km distance at least three times to get me used it and build my confidence. Brick workouts (bike and run)  would be essential in getting my legs used to that funky sensation when you hop off a bike after three hours of sitting on a bike seat.
  • I’m not a particularly fast runner, but I knew that I could run 21km with my eyes closed, so as long as I covered the distance at least once in training I’d be good to go on race day.
  • I knew that had to be satisfied with just participating in this race and making it to the finish line in the 8 hour cut-off time. There was no getting around this. No regrets that I hadn’t trained during the winter, just joy that I was able to train now. Period.
  • I forced myself to concentrate exclusively on each workout without worrying about what shape I was in or whether I would be ready on race day. I would only know if I was ready on race day, and even then I would toe the start starting line and go… until I couldn’t. No matter what.

To all of this structure I added one really important, essential training tool: visualization. During those never ending bike rides I pictured myself on race day. I was always smiling and happy. Happy to be there, happy to be healthy, happy to be racing in the beautiful sea, hills and boardwalk in Pescara, Italy. I was so into the visualization that I even visualized what would happen if I didn’t make the swim-bike cut-off time of 5 hours. I saw myself still smiling and graciously thanking the judges for allowing me to race. I thanked them for their work and (still smiling) I went to the boardwalk to cheer on all the other participants to the end. I was a visualization magician.

By the time race day came around, I was ready for anything.