Half Ironman for Dummies

Completing a Half Ironman is one heck of an achievement! Not only do you become a bad ass, get in the best shape of your life, feel great you also become a disciplined endurance machine!

If your someone like me, wanting to get into the sport but feeling like a DUMMIE not having a clue on where to get started or what to expect, look no more! I am going to tell you all about my story, how I got into the sport, gear, nutrition and my challenges along the way.

The amount of training, dedication, time, effort, and sacrifice is no joke, however, finishing 70.3 miles is one of the most rewarding feelings you will ever experience! You don’t just practice a few times, show up on race day and go for it, unless you are super human! This type of race is on a whole other level that goes beyond just drinking water and hoping for the best!

Now, just putting it out there I am NOT a trainer, coach, or professional. I am just some girl who got interested in the Triathlon sport three years ago and have learned a lot along the way. I’m making this guide to explain to the most important things I have experienced during my Half Ironman training and what has worked for me. It’s a WHOLE new level of training and nutrition I have never experienced before!

MY STORY

I never played many sports growing up. I am not very competitive. I have always been very active and considered a goal junkie! I loved the idea of three sports in one as I get bored easily!

Three years ago, Ron and I signed up for a Sprint Triathlon (.5mi swim, 12.4mi bike, 3.1mi run) for our 7thanniversary. Though, I felt was one of the toughest things I ever done, I felt I could do more. The following year I did one more Sprint Tri and last year I did my first Olympic Triathlon (.9 swim,24.8mi bike, 6.2mi run). This one took some proper training. I was blown away that I finished without stopping! Right after the race, I thought to myself, that was tough, but I know I can do more. That is when I decided I want to do a Half Ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1 mile run) before I turn 30! You catching on… 😉 This has been my journey and progression in this sport. It’s not an overnight thing. This has been in the making for nearly four years!

I want to encourage, inspire and show you do not need to be an athlete, have the best gear or have any prior experience in any three sports to go out and give it a TRI!

I am going to dig deep into what I did for my Half Ironman trainings, my experience, gear, nutrition plan and how I managed to beat my estimated time by nearly an hour!

MINDSET

Mindset is the one of the most important parts that link everything else together for a successful race.

There were MANY days where I told myself I am going to give up, don’t feel like it, don’t want to, im nowhere near ready, making up many excuses WHY I shouldn’t do this race. I did this to myself up until a few weeks before race day! I thought to myself, if I am going to do this I need to believe that my mind, body and strength is ready for something like this. So, I decided I CAN do this and I AM going to do this no matter how long it takes. It didn’t feel like obligation any more. It was a fun opportunity to achieve something I never could have imagined for myself!

All that said, you will feel the same during your training. However, it’s up to you to decide on how to react to it. The best thing you can do is DECIDE you can do this no matter what life throws at you!

If you are feeling discouraged go onto Women for Tri FB group. They are SO helpful with anything and everything!

TRAINING 

I decided to sign up for a Half Ironman 14 weeks before race day. I do not recommend this but it can be done. Since I am a very active in general, I felt It would be okay. I found a FREE 18-week Intermediate training schedule that I followed. I will admit, I didn’t follow this exactly.

I travel a lot, so I missed a few days here and there. I also missed two weeks of training a month before the race. Ron and I celebrated our 10thyear anniversary road trip out West. We did a lot of hiking though. I never rode over 50 miles at once. Did a total of six 40 mile rides and never ran over 10 miles my entire training regimen. All to say, I probably would have done much better if I stuck to the training much more.

There were many 3+ hour training days, giving it my all, sweat, and tears. I trained even when I really did not want to rain, shine or 90+ degree days! We are human and have other responsibilities, I learned to not beat myself up about it if I miss a day here and there and you should do the same.

During training, you will feel like you’re not ready. When I would go on a 40-mile ride for example, I would feel 100% exhausted thinking there is no possible way I can ride 16 more miles, run 13.1 and swim a mile on top of this! Race day is a magical day, somehow you always dig deeper than you ever have imagined and FINISH like a total bad ass!

That was my own experience. However, here are some tips to make sure you stick to a plan and stay on track to completing your first ever Half Ironman.

  • Find a training plan that works for you. You can find some training plans online for FREE! Here is the one I followed and switched it up to fit my lifestyle/schedule.

 

  • We all start somewhere. When I first thought about doing a HIM in March I started to run more often. Running was one of my least favorite things to do. I would struggle running literally two miles. It took a few months but I actually started to enjoy running. I slowly built up to 4,6,8,10 miles at a time! I remember one of my friends would go for a six-mile run for fun and it would BLOW my mind. Now, four months later I can do the same! So, when you say, I “can’t” run… all you have to do is start and add a little at a time. If you commit you WILL get better!

 

  • Find a like-minded community doing the same thing as you. I joined Women for Tri and I absolutely loved it! Everyone was so encouraging no matter if they have done a dozen Ironman’s or just thinking about doing one. It’s a great group to be a part of. If you ever feel lost or discouraged, need advice, they’re a great group to lift you up and keep you inspired.

 

  • Hire a coach. I originally wanted a coach but went the free route. They create a plan that fits your schedule, current fitness level, nutrition, accountability and so much more. If I were to do the race again I will hire a coach. I wrote inside the Women for TRI FB group and found many great coaches I would consider. Join a FB group and ask for recommendations. There are many different options from having a coach in person or over the internet.

 

  • Find a riding, running, swimming buddy. You must be extremely disciplined to train 5-6 days a week 3+ hours at a time to stay on track. You most likely have a full-time job, family and life to take care of and it’s not always easy to commit many hours per week in training on top of everything else!

 

  • Having a friend/accountability partner will HELP tremendously. If you don’t have someone, again, FB groups are a great to keep a fire under your butt! I maybe went on a dozen runs/rides with Ron, other than that I was on my own. There were many days I did not feel like training, miss fun outings and social life but still committed to my training. I would log onto, Women for Tri FB group, read what people were up to for the day and inspire me to keep going.When I went on rides with Ron he pushed me to dig deep and ride much faster than my normal average. Find a cycling, running, swimming group near you and make friends. Training with someone better than you can only make you better.

 

  • Do not skip, “hitting bricks” trainings. The most difficult part of the race is the transition from biking to running (in my opinion). Your legs are jello and you feel like you’re running in place getting nowhere.  The feeling is so strange you can’t help but laugh. Try it and tell me how it goes! Make sure you do this often even if its a short run, it helps.

 

  • Dream, believe and achieve! You can truly do anything you put your mind to. If you stick to the trainings, you will cross the finish line!

 

NUTRITION

Training for a HIM goes beyond just drinking water! This was one big mistake I didn’t take seriously nearly the entire three months of training. I wish I did because it truly changed everything!

It was four weeks before race day and I asked the Women for TRI FB group what people ate throughout the race to avoid dying out. This woman commented, “hunny, you need your nutrition plan in place ASAP because you should start tapering off on your training soon.” I didn’t understand what she meant, I know DUMMY right here! After some people shared what they did I began to read about nutrition. It’s a whole other world that makes total sense. I never took the time to read about it.

That day I ordered everything I needed and started to test it out. Now, before all of this I would drink a GU gel or two, water and that’s it during my trainings. I would die out during my long rides/runs, get cramps, felt like I hit a wall all the time. I just thought it was part of the training process. Which it is, however, you can avoid most of that, injury and increase your performance tremendously if you have a proper nutrition plan in place that works for you.

Many athletes get an “Athlete Blood Test,” where they focus on tracking micronutrient utilization (blood levels and intracellular levels), hormones, organ enzymes, inflammatory markers, and red blood cell destruction and production rates. It is very fascinating! I will for sure do this next racing season.  You can read more about it here.

Every single athlete has their own unique nutrition plan. You have to figure out what works for you and that takes some trial and error which is why you need to start from the beginning and not be like me, figuring it out four weeks before race day. Here is a list of the supplements I decided to use during my race, thanks to some Ironman athletes’ advice.

  • Perpetum – this stuff is a game changer! It’s great for workouts over 2+ hours long. I decided to test it out on my longest ride. It was a 49-mile bike ride and 2-mile run on a 90-degree hot humid day. I put four scoops in a 32-oz. bottle and then had a regular water bottle. I would sip on each interchangeably every 15 minutes or so. Afterwards, I was a bit wore out but felt good and could have kept going if I needed to. You can read all the reviews/about and order, here.

 

  • GU Gels – I use to only eat one gel for my long rides until an Ironman competitor told me to try eating one every 40 minutes to replace the calories I burn. The little caffeine in them also helps a ton! The best part, their all delicious! My favorites are chocolate, salted caramel, and strawberry banana. Since I am caffeine sensitive I get dizzy, increased heart rate, and the shakes easily so I would interchange gels from a caffeine one to a non-caffeine one (strawberry banana). I get this 24-pack. It’s the cheapest I have found.

 

  • Salt stick – “It is possible to be both dehydrated (low in total body water) and hyponatremic (dilution of electrolyte sodium in blood, leading to swelling of cells). This is because for hours on end you sweat out not only water but also key electrolytes, including sodium. Countering that fluid loss by drinking plain water means you’ll not only not retain the fluid as needed (because it doesn’t contain the sodium needed for fluid retention) but you’ll also further dilute the electrolytes left in the bloodstream.” Stated in “Triathlete Guide To Salt article.” There are many different electrolyte options. I chose Salt Stick chewables.

 

  • Eat clean – There many ways to go about this but in basic terms, stick to a whole foods diet. Stay away from deserts (my weakness), fried foods, fast food and anything overly processed. If you hire a coach, they can make a food plan for you to make sure your eating balanced meals that go with your training. You do not want to eat too much/little.

 

  • Your perfect race week diet – I wanted to eat really well the last few weeks before the race. This article was very fascinating and helpful! Did you know it’s NOT good to carbload the night before the race?! They explain it all in the article, here.

All that said, this is what worked for me. I highly suggest testing out your own methods that you, your body and stomach like starting from the beginning of your training so you have plenty of time to adjust.

GEAR

You can easily spend THOUSANDS on the best gear for a triathlon but you do not have to! I have heard many people say they can’t do a race because of all the gear or get intimated by the ones that DO have the top of line gear and feel they should not even try. I am one of those that DO NOT have the best gear, but it works for me and got me across the finish line!

As I set my bike up in the transition for my first ever Half Ironman, I noticed my bike was nowhere near as nice as anyone else’s! It was a whole new game of athletes. I truly didn’t care though; I was thankful for what I had and it worked for me. DO NOT get discouraged or compare yourself to others.

 

BIKE: Giant Avail Road Bike – I bought this bike for $450 from a bike shop eight years ago! I haven’t changed anything about it! It may not be super light or all carbon fiber, but it has gotten me through many miles and I love it! If you are just starting out in the sport, I recommend a bike like this, to see if this sport is right for you before you start spending the big bucks! I found some used ones on Ebay or here.

CLIP IN SHOES: Shimano – These shoes were actually given to me when I bought the bike, they have been through a lot, lol! Not so pretty but they work. I highly recommend clip in’s. They are weird to get use to but after a couple rides you get use to them. I like how you can push and pull with them. They help stabilize and keep my feet in the correct placement. This is my preference. You can find shoes, here.

RUNNING SHOES: Saucony Gide10 – I am really picky when it comes to a good running shoe. I have tried many different kinds and I keep coming back to these ones! I have been running in this style shoe for several years. My knees don’t hurt and I feel like I am running on clouds! Whenever I am ready for new ones I bring them into my local running shoe store and order the same thing every single time.

GEL BAG: I bought this last minute and so glad I did. This thing can hold several gels and your phone. Click for link.

REAR BAG: Even though I have still never gotten a flat yet (I know I probably just jinxed myself) I needed to carry this just in case. Ron gave me his bag and taught me how to change a flat the night before the race! You do not want to rely on someone else to stop and help you so be prepared. You don’t want all your months of training to be thrown away because of a flat. Here is a similar bag for cheap.

RIDING TRI SHORTS: I do not like road biking shorts! They feel like a diaper. I especially did not want to run in them. Most of my training I wore simple black eight-inch-long spandex shorts which worked great. I wore them for years and cost less than $20. A week before race day, I wanted to invest in a good pair of Tri shorts since the ones I had were so broken in. They would slide up and drive me nuts! I did a WHOLE lot of research and Googling to find the perfect fit. I did not want a Tri suit since I don’t like anything on my belly button. I came across these adorable Zoot shorts, one of the top leading brands for triathletes. I ordered a size small and they were too small (I am 5ft 100lbs usually wear size 1). I re-ordered a size medium and they fit perfect! I tested them out once and rode 20 miles and ran four miles, I LOVED them. They were light, breathable, did not feel like a diaper, just enough cushion for the butt, no chafing and were super cute which is rare to find! I wish I invested in these forever ago. You can find these shorts, here. Also, get $10 off your first order, here!

TOP: 2XU Women’s Perform Tri Crop – I ordered this top at the same time as my shorts. I loved that it was a bit longer than a regular sports bra but not too long to annoy me, as I do not like anything on my belly button. This is what I wore. The top does not have a lot of support but it was plenty for me. You can find it, here.

HELMET: Giro – I found a cheap high rated one on Amazon and it works great for me. See here.

GOGGLES: I may look goofy but I love my $10 goggles. I dont like tinted colors. These are big, which suction to my face well. The smaller eye socket ones always fill up with water on me.

SPEEDFILL: I asked in the Women for Tri FB group what everyone used on their bike for fluids. I wanted to avoid slowing down to drink. I was not very good at riding one handed. Nearly everyone commented, “Speedfill.” I looked it up and ordered it that day! I highly recommend you invest. It holds 40oz and you can drink without moving your hands or slowing down. Click for link.

I also got the cover to keep my drink out of the direct sun, you can find here.

TRACKABLE WATCH: Garmin Vivoactive HR –  I wanted one of these for a long time now! I bought a refurbished one for $150 with a 2-year warranty. This thing tracks SO MUCH stuff from swim, bike, running, SUP, skiing, golf, your sleep, steps, GPS and so much more!  This was the cheapest, best deal I could find that tracks this much stuff. I don’t like anything on my wrist so I only wear it when I train however you can wear it 24/7. I love that it connects to my phone as well. I was tired of using several different apps, wanted to track my swimming and heart rate so I invested in this watch about three weeks before my race. You can find the same one I got, here.

GYM BAG: Vooray When I first got started as an influencer I came across Vooray and loved their products. I felt it was a great fit. I was so thankful they gave me a chance. It’s been over two years now and I absolutely LOVE their bags. They are super affordable, adorable and high quality. If you need a bag I highly recommend them! I use their bags for triathlon, flying, travel, swimming, weekend trips, and nearly everything in between!

HOW I SET UP MY TRANSITIONS

T1: Two 32oz bottle of water to pour into my 40oz Speedfill to activate my 6 scoops of Perpetum, deodorant (I get sticky pits, haha), spray sunblock, electrolyte tablet, 1 gel if needed. Extra water to drink if wanted. Clip in shoes, helmet.

ON BIKE

  • Gel holder: bag with 6 GU Gels, 10 Salt Stick chewables.
  • SPEEDFILL
  • Rear bag with stuff to fix a flat.

 

T2: There was only one transition so it was nice to have everything in one place. If you do have two transitions, I recommend for T2 have

  • Little towel to wipe sweat off
  • Sunblock
  • Deodorant, lube them arm pits so they don’t rub raw (if I don’t use it, my pits get raw)
  • Nuun tablet in water bottle
  • Extra water
  • 1 GU gel
  • Shoes
  • Fresh pair of socks if wanted
  • Fanny pack belt: I love this thing; it holds so much and is not big and bulky for my little body and only cost $8! During my trainings, I can easily fit an 8oz water bottle, my phone, keys, and a few gels. It would not bother me while running. As for the race, I had 4 GU gels, 4 Salt Stick chewables, and pinned my number to it since that is the only time I had to wear it.

Looking at everyone else’s layout, I over do, it but I would rather have the option if I wanted it.

MY RACE DAY EXPERIENCE

You most likely will have to travel for your Half Ironman race. Luckily, my race was only three hours from home. We booked a hotel near the event. We left around 4pm Saturday July 14th. Made it to pick up my packet at The Thumb Brewery. We randomly ran into my cousin who was there at the same time completely RANDOM and awesome!

I was not nervous; however, I was very anxious! Which did not make my tummy feel well, if ya know what I mean, lol! I was as ready as I could ever be for the race though! At this point it is was it is!

Ron taught me how to change a flat at 10pm the night before the race. Better than never right, lol!

I fell asleep around midnight, woke up at 5:30am, ate a Cliff bar, oatmeal, and toast. I did a ten-minute yoga session to calm my nerves and loosen up my body. We packed up the car and headed to the event.

I checked in, got my body marked, set up my transition and went to the beach. It was a BEAUTIFUL, very foggy, no wind, flat water and perfect temperature morning. We walked in the water and at 8am we started the race! This was the first time in two years they could have the swimming section since years prior it was too windy with large waves. The water was perfect, I could see the bottom, felt like bath water and completely calm.

I held in the back to avoid getting kicked in the face. My mission was to finish without stopping so I didn’t mind being in the back. I never practiced swimming in open water. The only thing that frustrated me was having to keep looking up to make sure I was swimming in right direction! I felt, if I practiced swimming in open water It could have saved me a few minutes in my swimming time.

I ran into the transition, wiped down, poured water on my feet to wash the sand off, put on my clip on shoes, sprayed my body down with sunblock, drank some water, poured 40oz of water into my Speedfill to activate the Perpetum, went pee and was off!

The ride was very cool since it was still really foggy. The loop was 14 miles out and back twice. The ride was flat along the side a country road. There were so many people ahead and passing me. I did not mind though. I was enjoying the ride. I probably could have pushed a little harder but I never ran 13.1 miles before so I wanted to take it easy. On my first lap, Ron met up with me on his bike to cheer me on. I loved it!

My water ended up pouring out of my water bottle so I did not have any water for the last six miles or so, it sucked! I had a GU gel each hour for three hours. I didn’t have a salt stick until my second hour, from then I would have two tablets each hour. I would sip on the Perpetum/water every 15-30 minutes or so. I just listened to my body and gave it what I felt it needed. I didn’t end up using everything I packed. Every time I would go over a rock I would just hope my bike tires would last me X amount of many miles left. Thankful I did not have to fix any flats!

The last couple miles were really tough but I made it and was feeling good! I ran into the transition, chugged some water, wiped off the sweat and dirt off my legs, put shoes on with fresh pair of socks, put deodorant on, sprayed sunblock and went pee. I was second to last for the riding portion but I was so proud I rode 56 miles and felt great!

The few first miles I couldn’t help but laugh. The feeling of running after riding is so funny to me! Around mile five is when I started to feel normal. The fog was gone and it was really HOT AND HUMID! They had booths filled with everything imaginable every couple miles which helped a ton!

My favorite part of the race was an ice-cold towel filled with ice! They would hand me a freezing wet cold towel filled with ice. I shoved a ton of ice down my sports bra and back. I copied this older couple running. They put the towels on their head and sunglasses over the towel so it would stay in place. I replaced a new one at each booth every few miles. I truly believe this saved me the entire race. It kept me cool the entire time! At this point I was on an adrenaline high, I felt good! I usually don’t run without music but I enjoyed this run thinking about my future and goals.

Ron met me at the six-mile mark! He showed up with a smart water and popsicles! He’s so sweet but I denied them since I had so many other sugars/caffeine in my body I didn’t want to mess with the chemistry.

I passed six people during in the running section! I didn’t think I was a strong runner but it made me feel great! Even though my goal was just to finish.

The last four miles was tough! My leg cramped, felt like my toe nail was falling off and had blisters. I blocked it out and pushed through. This is where the caffeine and adrenaline helped. I was so gitty I felt like a machine! I saw Ron and ran past the finish line into his arms! It was actually hard to stop running for a second! He said you finished in seve hours! I didn’t believe him since I for sure thought it would have taken me at least eight hours. Sure enough I turn around and I finished in SEVEN HOURS THREE MINUTES AND TWENTY SECONDS! I was so proud of myself!

I ended up winning my age group because I was the only one in my age group, lol! I enjoyed the extra medal. I was the youngest female by six years! Which is why I want to encourage more women to sign up and give it a TRI!

We packed up and hit the road!

I surprisingly felt great! Ron and I awaited the crash but I made it all the way back home and even went out to dinner!

This was truly an experience of a lifetime, who knows maybe i’ll do a FULL IRONMAN someday ;)! It’s incredible what can train your mind and body to do! If I can do it, SO CAN YOU!

These are all my own honest opinions and thoughts. There were no sponsors/collaborations involved. I just know the feeling of being a NEWBIE and hope my experience, story can help you give it a TRI ;)!

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