I want to start by saying thank you to my friends and loved ones for believing in me, supporting me, and going on this journey with me.
You see, it was not just me working towards this goal. My children, my husband, my sister, my dad, my mom, and all those that hold me in their hearts went through this with me. From long talks on the phone, to helping with dinner, to being patient with me when I could not go to events because I had to train, to bearing with my nights of doubt and frustration, following me on long rides to ensure I was safe, and helping me carry around equipment and getting me through race days. I did not carry this on my shoulders alone. You all helped shoulder the load. You all put parts of your lives on hold to help me reach this goal. I am forever grateful for your sacrifices. I am in debt to you. The real IRONMAN is the journey to the starting line.
Morning of Race Day
3:00AM The alarm goes off. No need for it though, I woke around 2:30 and could not go back to sleep. I was giddy with anticipation and excitement. I had prepped everything the night before so all I had left to do was get dressed, put my numbers on and load up into the truck, pick up Charlie Moore (my training partner who was also racing) and eat my breakfast on the way there. We loaded into the truck. My husband kept quiet, but I could see him looking over at me every so often as I tried to choke down my food. Being in the truck on the way to a race caused my heart to race and my stomach to churn. I had so many “what ifs” going through my head. I had fleeting thoughts of, "What the heck am I doing?" "What have I gotten myself into?". I was in a head war with the woman I used to be. It was Texas’ first real cold front of the season and the temp sat at 38 degrees. All my concentration was on the swim. I am not a strong swimmer and the days before, the wind blew so hard there were white caps on Decker Lake. We tested out the waters the day before and I felt like a tiny boat in the middle of a hurricane. The waves unrelentingly threw me around. Fear, doubt, and panic crept in. As we pulled into the event venue I almost threw up and was physically shaking. It hit me....today was the day.
We grabbed our gear, checked our run bags into T2 (which was surprisingly calm) and hopped into the shuttle bus to head to T1. My husband reached over and grabbed my hand to calm me. Where were my usual grit and hunger to start? I had worked so hard to get to where I was and I have competed many times in the CrossFit world, but I had NEVER felt this way! T1 was full of individuals with the same look on their face as I had. Thank God...it’s normal! It’s a scene and feeling you just can’t describe. So much tension, anticipation, and people getting their minds in the right place, preparing for the course ahead. I checked my tires and was finishing my set up and a girl came up to me and asked me what I planned to wear on the bike. I was shocked. She was asking ME, I felt I was a noticeable mess! I pretended I had my crap together and told her I would rather be over prepared and warm. I was wearing a tight long-sleeved thermal shirt with a windbreaker over it and gloves. I would shed layers as needed for the ride. None of us had trained in cold weather, none of us knew how it would affect us.
We head down to the swim start. Again, I almost threw up. The buoys looked so far! A light fog had settled in giving the lake an eerie but beautiful glow. I just knew it would be a miracle if I finished it. I did not want to NOT finish in front of my family. Then my dad and his wife Lisa showed up. My dad took one look at me and knew the storm I was fighting through in my head. He always knows what to say, he of all people just gets who I am and the way I work. Long story short he said look around you...you belong here. You have put in the work, now get it together and go get it done!
I fold in with my training partner Charlie, and hundreds of other shivering athletes. I just knew it would take me an hour, but I didn’t want to stand by myself at the back. The gun went off and the line started to move. We both finally approached the start. Goggles on. Timing mat two steps away and it was official...my first 70.3 had officially begun. My feet hit the water and boom! Off we went. And there she was...Mitch! My competitor side came out and I was happy she showed up! It’s a crazy phenomenon, I become a different person when the clock starts. I stayed laser-focused...taking no crap from aggressive swimmers. Each athlete fighting to get through and finish what they worked so hard for. I did not let the punches and elbows get to me. There was no place for frustration, fear, or doubt in the water. I swam for what seemed like two minutes and I rounded the first turn buoy and realized...hell yes, I belong here, I’m doing this! I turned it up a notch and found peace as we swam through the light fog that had settled on the lake. It was eerily peaceful for a few moments.
Then....there it was, the second red buoy. This was the final turn back to the bank. It was a long stretch and quickly became a mass of neon swim caps, fists, elbows, and feet, fighting through the last leg. I stayed in my own zone, focusing on my rhythm and staying the course. I emerged, not knowing I beat my goal by nearly 16 minutes! I heard my family cheering, stripped off my wetsuit, and ran up to T1. I was elated and ready to get my hands on my bike! I freaking did it! I took my time in T1 making sure my gear and nutrition were on point. It was freezing, and my hands and feet were numb. I took a few extra minutes to add a layer and gloves. My family cheered me on and helped me to stay focused. I was ready.
I passed the mount line, climbed on Blitz, and settled in for the 56 miles. I was nervous about mechanical issues at first as I had two blowouts the week before. Then I realized I needed to have faith. Focus on what I have control of. I stuck to my plan to go a tad slower in the beginning. The course required laser focus due to rough roads and so many athletes. One wrong move and my race was over. It was hard to stay calm at first with the freezing temperature. My nerves spiked as I passed other cyclists that had wrecked or broken down. I always made sure they were okay before moving on. A person’s safety always takes precedence over a race. This made me thankful for the support trucks driving the course. After mile 10, I settled in and started to hit it. The sun was shining, it was still cold, but it was a beautiful ride. Every 20 minutes I drank. Mile 10...I ate. At mile 25 or so, I pulled over, stripped down to my tri suit, refilled my water bottles, ate again. The course was awesome, hills and all! I was definitely earning this race. I constantly reminded myself to take it all in. At mile 35, I hit a cluster of backed up cyclists having to slow because of traffic. I found myself growing frustrated at a major loss of speed but reminded myself it was my first race, and we were all in the same boat. I had issues with a man struggling to ride straight, he almost swerved into me three times as I tried to pass and when he saw me he would hit it as hard as he could. After a restroom break, I eventually passed him and believe he ended up with a penalty card. At around mile 50, I started to refuel again so I’d be ready for the run. The final six miles I backed off a bit to make sure my legs were ready. I was feeling my back a bit and my groin was definitely chaffed! I definitely had to succumb to the pain!
As I rounded the final turn, I could see and hear the cheers of the crowd. Austin has THE BEST SPECTATORS and VOLUNTEERS EVER! Cowbells, signs, people jumping up and down and they didn’t even know me! I totally teared up! I thanked them, I dismounted my bike, saw my family and smiled and yelled at them! One more leg! Holy crap...I was actually completing this thing! T2 transition took a bit. I hydrated and took half a Gu, then had to stand in line for the Porto Pot...again. I’ve had bladder surgery so I had to make around five stops during the race. All in, all it cost me about 20 minutes...but I was comfortable.
After six minutes or so in transition (🐌 ) I headed out for the run. I could definitely feel fatigue in my legs but it was bearable. After about 400m my back muscles let up and I settled in. My watch beeped and I realized I was running at an 8:15 pace. After all the stories I read, I promised myself I would learn from other people’s experiences so I backed way off. About 800m in I heard “Hey Girl” and it was my training partner Charlie Moore! I was so excited to see him. We did not plan on racing together, but it was God’s perfect timing. We agreed to run together and talk nonsense like we did every week in training. It was perfect! We stayed meticulous about hydrating and fueling and stuck to a realistic pace. This helped when we approached the hills. We rounded the first loop and saw our families anxiously waiting and they cheered us on.
Lap two we took a bathroom break, faced the damn hills again and were just as excited to see our families as the first lap! My dad was yelling, “How bad do you want it?!” He was yelling that I would be the first in our family to ever complete an Ironman event. I felt a lump in my throat and tears started to flow. The volunteers called out our names and yelled to keep pushing. We pressed on. On our final lap, the fatigue really set in. Our legs burned, our lungs were on fire, our ankles and knees felt like someone was hitting them with a baseball bat. We talked about how we knew the pain would come, and that we have trained through it before. It was expected. That’s when autopilot came on and we kept our tempo....left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. We just kept moving. Focusing on the rhythm.
Then there it was. Heartbreak hill and it was the last time we had to climb it. We approached the bottom and stayed focused on the finish. In my mind, I saw the red carpet, I heard the cheers. Up we climbed! Then there it was....the event center that held the finish line. Tears started to flow. There it was! All of the months and hours of training, and we were almost there!
We entered the chute and heard the roar of the crowd. The lights flashed from all of the cameras. Then I felt it. From pavement to the red carpet. We ran down that red carpet as our family, spectators, and volunteers cheered us on. My heart soared as I heard the announcer call our names. I smiled as the photographer captured the finishing picture of a moment that will be passed on through my family’s generations! It feels amazing to finish something I once thought was impossible for me. I have overcome! I am an IRONMAN 70.3 finisher!
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Written by Michelle Means
Follow Michelle on Instagram! @meansroadtoironman