My First Ironman and my Biggest Surprise

“Is this your first time? Oh, you’ll always remember your first one!”

I have received questions and comments like this quite often over the past few weeks. People are very excited when they realize I am about to do my first half Ironman. This first Ironman, the Chattanooga 70.3, is coming up – this Sunday in fact. I’m excited and nervous and scared and really, just ready to get it over with!

Last August I was running with my trainer Nicole and she encouraged me to sign up for a half Ironman. “I know you can do it”, she said. The swimming portion scared me to death, but I was in. My heart pounded and I felt sick to my stomach as I registered for the Ironman 70.3 in Chattanooga, but I was excited to have a real challenge. With the right training I was pretty sure I would survive it…hopefully.

I signed up for the race to push myself to a new level and to see if I could do something that difficult. All of the typical reasons people do these type of things. It has been exciting to see how I can push myself (a half marathon on a Monday morning before work? No big deal now!). But what I have gained the most from this experience is something that I never expected. Community.

Training started in earnest in January. There was a group of us all training together, preparing to run our very first half Ironman. We were excited and nervous and not quite sure what we had gotten ourselves into. Everyone came from a different background sport-wise and we all had varying levels of experience.

At first we all kind of did our own thing, briefly comparing notes and discussing our workouts with each other. But as the weeks went on, we became closer. Conversations after classes got longer as we shared our struggles and fears. We began to run the long runs together, discussing life as we knocked out the miles. A few of us purchased tri-bikes at the same time and had a couple scary rides together attempting to get used to them. And after swim practice became hot tub time. Sitting together in the hot tub after a rough practice, we would talk about our swimming (or in my case, lack of) techniques. Slowly we began to get to know each other.

Then came our first open water swim. We met at a nearby lake and put on our wetsuits (a first, too, for most of us); laughing at how difficult they are to get on. The day was cold and windy and the lake was wavy, but we had wetsuits, how bad could it be?

It was really bad! The water was so choppy that most of my swim, once I was away from the shore, was on my back. My main thought was, “I’m going to drown in this stupid lake”. I think everyone had similar thoughts. Maybe not the drowning, but about just how difficult that was and how would we ever swim 1.2 miles in the race. We left the lake feeling frustrated and nervous, sharing our stories with each other.

The next week we were back at the lake. Take two on our open water swim. This time was so much better. The lake was calmer, we were more comfortable, and we all did it, swam our furthest distance ever. And then we had a party! Friends and spouses and kids came and we grilled out, drank, listened to music, and celebrated our accomplishment. Our own little community.

This community of people has been such a great part of my life the past few months. It’s amazing how 4am training sessions, long tiring runs, a 57 mile bike ride in the pouring rain, and almost drowning can bring people together. I know their spouses and kids and dogs. It’s not unusual for me to look at the phone in the middle of the day to see 50 missed texts from our thread. We all even look alike now because not only will be all be wearing the same kit on race day, representing our group Music That Moves, but we also have purchased a lot of the same gear. Too many of those text threads have lead to me opening up my Amazon app or heading to the local bike store.

And those people that have told me about how great your first Ironman is; I think I get it now. No matter what happens on Sunday, I’ll always have this group of amazing friends!

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