Before I get into recapping my experience at Ironman Silverman 70.3, allow me tell you a little bit about my history with triathlon. I come from a running background and have done quite a few half marathons. Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with bad IT band issues and my knees don’t seem to love running as much as I do. In the midst of being treated at physical therapy in 2012 (something that I still do to treat the aches and pains of being an athlete), my physical therapist suggested I do a triathlon.
“A triathlon?! You’ve got to be kidding me! I can’t even swim the length a pool. And I’ve never ridden a road bike in my life. AND I’m afraid of fish!”
“I think it would be better for your body than just running, but it’s your call,” he responded.
I thought that he was absolutely crazy. Running is hard enough. Who, in their right mind, would voluntarily add swimming and biking into the mix?! But, let’s be serious, the seed was planted.
Fast forward to May 2013. I graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in English and a minor in Film and Television Studies. I DID IT! I DID IT! Wait…now what? I had planned to take the summer off but I definitely needed something to focus on. At that point I was recovering from my second obnoxious and painful IT band injury and had only built up to running about 20 minutes.
A year and a half after my physical therapist recommended a triathlon, I sat at home one night in May now officially a member of the “real world.” And suddenly an idea popped into that crazy brain of mine. “I should do a triathlon!” To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what sparked this enthusiasm. Perhaps I was looking for a new physical challenge. Perhaps I simply wanted a purpose post-college. Whatever the reason, I found Team Challenge that night and mentally committed to training for and conquering a triathlon that summer.
Team Challenge is an endurance training program that supports the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. According to the official Team Challenge website, “In exchange for fundraising, Team Challenge participants receive personalized training…” This was exactly what I needed to tackle my first triathlon. I love fitness and I was excited to raise money for such a good cause that was close to my heart. I joined Team Challenge in May 2013 and began 16 weeks of training for TriRock San Diego, which would take place in September. I signed up for the Olympic Distance (1500 m swim, 22 mi ride, 6 mi run) because why I choose the Sprint Distance if my mentality was GO BIG OR GO HOME.
Throughout 2012 and into my senior year in college, I had built up my swimming (good, low-impact exercise for my knees) but was by no means a strong swimmer. My cycling experience was slim to none. And I was deathly afraid of open water. But I was also determined.
Highlights of my first round of triathlon training included (but are not limited to): buying and learning to ride of a road bike (clipping in…not as easy as I thought), open water panic attacks, bike crashes, resulting road rash, transition runs where my legs felt like lead, and a ton of doubt that I would even finish the race. I trained seven days a week, up to 3 hours per day for 4 months. It was difficult, but manageable. And I loved the challenge.
Despite my goggles deciding not to work on race day (salt water in your eyes is NOT fun and will slow you down significantly), I did finish TriRock San Diego in September 2013 and had a blast. Exactly four weeks later, I completed the Newport Beach Triathlon and had even more fun. I was hooked on triathlon.
Unfortunately, triathlon is not a winter sport and my training came to an abrupt halt when the weather got cooler and the days got shorter and I had nothing to train for. My bike sat in the garage and I didn’t put on a pair of goggles for months.
Fast forward to April 2014. I’m starting to get restless again. Looking for a new challenge and an olympic distance triathlon just doesn’t seem like it’s enough this time. Ironman 70.3. That seems doable. I mean, it’s not a full ironman, it’s just a half. How hard could it be? (Oh how naive I was…)
I scoured the Internet looking for an “easy” Ironman 70.3 (although I’m not entirely sure any race of that distance could be classified as easy). I settled on Miami 70.3, which would take place at the end of October. It was a flat course and the weather was fairly agreeable. I signed up, hired a coach, and began training at the beginning of May.
August rolls around and I officially hate triathlon training. Why? Well there were a few reasons.
- My body was breaking down. Everything hurt and I was constantly tired. I was dealing with old and new injuries and felt like I was constantly teetering on the edge of something that would be game-ending.
- My mind was breaking down. Training alone (without a group/teammates) was mentally grueling. I was left to entertain myself for hours upon hours. (NOTE – I can only hold a conversation with myself for so long.)
- My social life suffered. I am a dedicated athlete and I do really love training, but I was sick of having to plan my social life around when I could fit in my three hour bike ride. I wanted to be able to go out and have fun and not worry about what my training would be the next day.
- This goes along with number 4, but training was time consuming. At the peak of training, I was working out 7 days a week, going on 3+ hour bike runs, 90 minute runs, and swimming thousands of yards in the pool. All of my training was done in the San Fernando valley, where summer temperatures average around 100 degrees.
Cue – Dempsey signing up for Ironman Silverman 70.3, which was scheduled for October 5. Remember how I researched all the Ironman 70.3 courses and chose Miami because it was “easy”? Well Ironman Silverman 70.3 is considered the hardest Ironman 70.3 in North America and was home to the Ironman 70.3 Championships for years. Why did I sign up for it? It was close to home (meaning I would save money because I didn’t have to ship my bike) and I would be done with training 3 weeks early. It seemed like the perfect scenario.
There were a few kinks in my plan, though. They are, as follows:
- First, the Ironman Silverman 70.3 was the hardest Ironman 70.3 course in North America (in addition to the hills, Henderson, Nevada has a similar climate to the surface of the sun…average highs in October were expected to be in the mid-90s and the course provided no shade).
- I had not trained on ANY hills on the bike and, incidentally, Silverman 70.3 features a wonderful 4,000+ feet of climbing on the bike.
- I had not trained on ANY hills running and, of course, Silverman 70.3 was a hilly run course.
I had exactly 6 weeks to get myself in shape for this beast of a race. So, in addition to hours of swimming and biking, I began by riding hills in the 100 degree heat in the San Fernando Valley. It was a rude awakening. By the time I was four weeks out from the race, I was convinced I wouldn’t make the time cutoff for the bike leg and all of my training would be wasted.
On September 11th, I wrote this, “I am 100% worn out. I dread my workouts. My knees hurt. I doubt myself. I question why I ever signed up for such a grueling event. I consider pulling out. I cry. I worry I will not make the time cutoff. My achilles hurts. I get angry at myself. But somehow I keep going and am able to convince myself that after 4 months of training, I must not give up.”
On September 14, I headed to the beach for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon, hoping that it would be a good warmup event for Silverman 70.3. This will get me in the triathlon spirit and motivate me to push through my training! That’s not exactlyyyyyy what happened. The waves got the best of me that day, and I ended up getting pulled out of the high surf by a lifeguard before I even reached the first buoy. To say my confidence was shaken would be an understatement. But I did finish the biking and running segments of the course. (Small victories!)
I entered my last three weeks of training with more self-doubt than ever. I was convinced I would NOT finish my half ironman. The number of things that could go wrong… I could panic in open water again. I could get tired on the swim. I could crash my bike. I could miss the cutoff time on the bike leg. I could overheat and get dehydrated on the bike OR during the run. Nope, I definitely wasn’t going to finish.
My doubt followed me into my workouts. I dreaded every swim, every bike, and every run that I did. I told my friends and family to “NEVER LET ME SIGN UP FOR ONE OF THESE EVER AGAIN NO MATTER WHAT I TELL YOU.” But I pushed through mentally and physically and found myself on a plane headed to Las Vegas, Nevada on October 3rd, two days before the race.
My anxiety was only heightened when I reached the race destination. But if I was going down, I was going down swinging.
My Ironman Silverman 70.3 race recap will be split into the three separate parts. First up…The Swim. Stay Tuned!