October 2, 2012

SuperFrog Half Ironman Race Recap

This post is going to be long. Very long, maybe too long.  Feel free to skip.  I was going to divide it up into two posts, but I want it all together in one. There are a lot of things I want to remember about the race, so I want to get it all down before they become a faint memory. So sit back and enjoy the tale of.....


First of all, I did it! I completed all 70.3 miles, and am officially a half-Ironman.  For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, you know how much training I'd done for this.  I signed up on March 30, 6 months to the day from SuperFrog. When I signed up, I was already trained up to be able to do an Olympic-distance triathlon (the Oly that got canceled).  All summer was a push to increase my endurance, especially on the bike.  I knew I could do the distance in the swim, and have done many half marathons, but needed to increase mileage on the bike. Oh yeah, and be able to run a half marathon afterward.  I did the necessary training.  I suffered some injuries, but was able to resume training.

As I've said before, SuperFrog is the original half-Ironman. It's a notoriously hard 70.3, as it's put on by the tough Navy Seals, who don't like anything to be easy.  Lance Armstrong signed up a few weeks ago, which added more buzz and an extra 200 or or participants.


The days leading up to the race were good.  As I wrote in my last post, I felt ready. I was in a zen-state. I was pretty calm.  I realized I had done most of the course before, which made me feel better.  I hadn't swam at that beach, but I've done lots of ocean swim practices, and a beach is a beach.  I've ridden the Silver Strand tons of time in training, even doing the actual course (albeit one loop rather than 4) in a triathlon last year. I had run the Silver Strand Half Marathon last year, which covers part of the same run course.  And I've been doing lots of beach runs.  So I kept telling myself, although the distance was new to me, the DOING wasn't new.

I'd kept my workouts very light last week. Two short (2 mile) runs, a short (1500 yard) swim, and a short (5 mile) bike.  The bike ride was mainly to test it out; I had been practicing changing the tubes in my tires, in case I got a flat on race day, and wanted to be sure I put my wheel on right.  Apparently I didn't, as unbeknownst to me a screw had come loose and when I replaced it, I'd put it's spring on backward.  When I tried to ride, the chain came off, I couldn't clip out in time, and down I went, gashing my knee.  Just what I needed right before the race, but at least I was able to take it into my local bike shop to get fixed!  Friday I picked up my race packet. Even then I was calm. For a while I was obsessively checking 4 different weather websites, but each gave a different forecast (ranging from 78-85 degrees). I finally stopped checking, as the truth was it didn't matter what the weather was, I had no control over it, it was going to be hot, and I was racing in it no matter what.

Friday night I got a very poor night's sleep. I went to bed at 9:15, but was up from 12:30-3:00, and then up for good at 5:00. All day Saturday I was exhausted...and nauseous. This wasn't good, as I wasn't able to eat as much as I should have. Nothing sounded appealing, and I did my best to choke some food down. I did my final preparations for the race (checked my gear about 6 times, then packed my transition bag and bike in the car), put on my race number tattoos (a first for me, I've always been body-marked in transition with a marker, so the tattoo felt so official!), and was asleep by 8:30. Although I set my alarm for 4:00, I was up at 2:00, and couldn't get back to sleep.  Another poor night's sleep in the books.

By the way, I got a flood of support from my friends and family. A few friends sent me good luck cards in the mail, and I got a ton of phone calls, texts, tweets, and Facebook messages. I appreciated each and every single one.


I got out of bed at 3:30, got dressed, and was out the door by 4:30.  Although I had packed my usual pre-race peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, I still felt nauseous and couldn't stomach it.  I did eat a Luna Bar, though.  I drove down to Coronado, easily found parking at the Silver Strand State Beach, and walked into transition. I met another triathlete on the way; it was also his first 70.3, so it was nice to commiserate.  I was happily surprised to see that we had assigned spaces on the racks; that was a first for me too! They were assigned by race number within waves, so after wandering around for a while I finally found my spot.  I racked my bike, then went back to my car for my Igloo (I brought a small Igloo with ice, because I wanted ice-cold Gatorade to start the run with). I stopped at an actual bathroom, because I was having, er, tummy issues.  I got back to transition, and was setting up when my friend Steve came over.  I was so happy to see him! I may have started crying.  Later, I found my dailymile friend Leah, which also helped to calm my nerves.

The waves seemed calm, and the moon was bright and full in the dark sky.  I remember music blasting from the loudspeakers, which was kind of annoying because it was too early for peppy music.  Lots of athletes were in their own world, listening to their iPods. A mix of excitement and anxiety was in the air.

The full moon as the sun rose. See how small the waves were at that time?

set up with a lot of stuff!

my wave

After setting up, I decided to use the port-o-potty, as my tummy was still in turmoil. While in line, I was so nauseous I almost threw up. My legs turned to jelly and I almost had to sit down. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I thought "I can't do this. I am not going to even start.".  That's how scared I was.  I almost didn't start.  Then I thought about husband, my kids, my family, all my friends, and how everyone in my life, and on Facebook, and Twitter, and dailymile, were rooting for me, and how could I face them if I didn't even start?  Most of all, how could I face myself?

I got back to my area, and the woman next to me, Denise, could tell I was upset.  She asked if she could pray with me. I said okay.  She took my hands, and said a prayer for me which was so sweet.  The other women around me were awesome too...everyone was so friendly and nice and supportive.  Soon I heard that Lance Armstrong was there. I decided to play paparazzi and took my phone over for a few pictures.  Watching him set up his bike, and wearing the same tattoos that I had on, actually calmed my nerves. I returned to my area in a good mood.

Something that helped was that I thought about my friends who couldn't do what I was doing.  My friend Angi, who is recovering from breast cancer. My friend Monika, who just found out she has a brain tumor.  My friend T, who got me into triathlon 2 years ago, who just broke his foot.  I GET TO DO THIS. I kept telling myself that. I GET to swim, bike, run, and compete.  I also thought about something that I read on a blog this week (I wish I could remember which blog to give it proper credit...). The writer said that the race is really a celebration of the training. I've been training my ass off for this moment, so I needed to celebrate it today.

pre-race, looking scared
Right as I was about to get my wetsuit on, Leah came over.  She insisted that I take something to eat with me down to the beach, so I brought a Vanilla Honey Stinger Waffle. I'm glad I did, I was already in calorie deficit with my nausea and it was good to get some more calories in me. We walked down to the beach, and got in the water to warm up. Brrrr....the water was c-c-c-c-cold! And the waves, which had been tiny earlier, were suddenly big. Huge. I started to get really freaked out.  I had practiced open-water ocean swims many times with  Steve, but usually the waves were calm.  Once the waves were big, but not THAT big.  I had learned that day, after getting knocked over by a huge wave and losing my goggles, that I needed to put my goggles under my swimcap. So glad I had learned this lesson before, as it would be crucial today.  I found Steve, gave him a hug right before it was his wave's turn to go, then lined up, as my wave would start 5 minutes later.


From the SuperFrog website:

The swim course is a two-loop open ocean water swim in the Pacific Ocean. Swimmers will swim out 350m, turn right (north) and swim 200m, and finally swim back to shore (350m) to begin the second lap.  There will be multiple wave starts that will be set 3-5 minutes apart. Water temperatures in September average 69 degrees. Wetsuits are recommended. Cut-off time: 1:10

I don't want to exaggerate, but by the time it was my wave's turn to start (women 30+), the waves were extremely big.  As I said, much bigger than anything I'd practiced in.  I found some photos from the race to give an idea of what I was facing:


So when it was my turn to run into the water, there were a LOT of strong  waves to get through.  I tried doing what I'd practiced, ducking under them like a dolphin, but they were so strong that I was having a hard time getting through them.  I kept getting knocked back.  And the rush going over my head was so strong that had I not put my hand on my head to hold my swimcap and goggles on, they would have gotten washed away.  There were about 3 sets of these breakers to get through before it got calm.  By the time I got through the third set, I was exhausted and almost in tears. I thought it would take me forever to get through the rectangular loop, and then I had to do it again?  No way. Again, I had the thought in my head, "I should give up." That's how hopeless I felt.

But then I got it together. I told myself to suck it up, that I've trained hard for this, that I WOULD get through it.  That of course it's hard, it's a half-Ironman for God's sake, not a little sprint...and with it sponsored by the Navy Seals, why would I expect anything easy?  I got through the last set of waves and was able to actually swim. I swam up to the buoy, where I expected to turn right, but the other swimmers kept swimming straight.  WHAT? OMG there was a second buoy PAST this buoy that I had to swim to before turning north. I hadn't noticed that from the shore...probably because the second buoy was so away.

So I kept swimming.  And swimming.  Finally I turned right, and rounded another buoy before heading to the shore. Stroke, stroke, breathe.  Stroke, stroke, breathe.  Overall I was able to get a good space to swim. Once I got kicked in the head, and another time I got hit by my face and my goggles started leaking, but other than that I was fine. Until...I was almost at shore. I kept looking behind me, because I knew the monster waves would be breaking on me and I wanted to be aware. Suddenly a guy next to me shouted "watch out!" and there was a huge wave I couldn't escape from. Under I went, holding my goggles and swimcap to my head, as I tumbled upside down.  I came up sputtering and spent.  Oh well, almost to shore.

I finally made it to shore, ran a bit along the shore to the start, and did the whole thing all over again.  The experience the second time was exactly the same---same huge waves, same getting knocked back--except I didn't get kicked by anyone.  By this point, though, I was sufficiently warmed up so that I wasn't tired anymore, although by the end my hands were getting numb from the cold water.  Again, I made it to the shore, and this time got to run into transition. I trudged up the soft sand while unzipping my wetsuit and went in. I  came in under my hour goal. Yay me!

I had brought a bottle of water to rinse off my feet post-swim, but the woman next to me, Denise, was there and told me to step in her bucket of water, which was much easier.  I took my time in transition, not really to dry myself off (I didn't) but to make sure I had everything I needed for the bike. It's one thing to rush out of transition for a sprint bike ride of 12 miles...but 56 miles is a different story. Socks and bike shoes on....helmet on and strapped...race belt on....sunglasses on....medicine and gels in my back pocket....let's roll!


From the SuperFrog website: 

Next, the bike course is a flat and fast 56mile bike-leg consisting of four counter-clockwise 14 mile loops on Highway 75. There is one aid-station on the south end of the course which you will pass at mile 4, 17, 30, and 43. The max elevation on the course is 39ft above sea-level….yes, this is the fastest course you have ever been on! Cut-off time: 3:45

I hit the mount line, got on my bike, and started pedaling.  The ride was actually pretty uneventful, which was good.  Four loops. I've biked here so much that it wasn't new to me at all.  One way I got a pretty bad headwind; the other way the wind was a help.  At the first turnaround, I saw two of my friends, S and B! They were holding a sign and yelling for me. That put a HUGE smile on my face and gave me an extra push!  And at the other turnaround, two other friends, A and I, were there with signs. I saw them a few times, on each time I turned around there. They even got the cops who were standing there to cheer for me. I so appreciated my friends being there. I really needed it.
I made a critical mistake on the bike, though. I failed my nutrition and hydration.  I was still feeling nauseous, even a bit more so since ingesting so much ocean water.  I reminded myself to eat and drink, and did so, but not as much as I should.  In my long bike training rides I had nailed my nutrition,but the nausea made it really hard for me.  I didn't intake nearly enough calories or fluid, which would later come back to haunt me. It's hard to eat when nauseous....most of what I was able to eat were Gu Chomps and Clif Shot Blocks,  one and a half of my two Pay Day bars, and a few peanut butter pretzels.  I had more with me. . I even dropped one of my Gatorade-filled bottles around mile 20, and successfully picked up a new bottle of Cytomax at the aid-station hand-off (a first for me!) but never touched that extra bottle.  Total fail.

Although the course is pretty flat, the wind is definitely a factor.  The first few laps it wasn't bad, but by lap 3 the headwind was getting tough.  By lap 4, it was bad. At times it felt I was in a wind tunnel. I passed someone and mentioned how windy it was; his response to me was lost in the wind. I have no clue what he said.

Around mile 50, I started getting a sharp pain in my left knee, on every downstroke. That worried me for the run (luckily it stopped hurting as soon as I was off the bike).  Soon it was time for me to come back to transition.  Although I was one of the last people on the bike leg (but certainly not last!) I made good time for me.  I had planned on four hours, and I came in under that. That also included two port-o-potty breaks.  Although the bike leg was pretty long and boring, I actually enjoyed myself, although I was looking forward to getting off the bike and onto my favorite leg, the run. I liked the biking much better than the swim, and, as it turns out, better than the run.

Back in transition,  I racked my bike, helmet off, bike shoes off, running shoes on, fuel belt with ice-cold Gatorade bottles on....and I was ready.  I actually thought to myself that this half-Ironman thing was easy.  I was having fun. It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be. I wasn't too tired, and felt like I could crush the run, as it was my favorite part.

I didn't know just how wrong I was.


From the SuperFrog website:

Lastly, the run course is a 13.1mile course is a combination of  hard-packed sand, soft sand, trails and pavement. The run takes you south down the beach (hard packed sand) for approximately 2 miles and on to the Silver Strand Training Complex. Racers will then complete two loops on roads and groomed trails and head back north to the finish. Approximately 4 miles of the course is on the beach (hard packed sand). Approximately 4-500 meters of the beach run will be in soft sand…the rest is at hard-packed sand at the high-water line. Water, Cytomax Drink and Cytomax Drops will be available at all aid-stations (4 stations per loop). Cut-off time: 3:15

As SuperFrog winner Lance Armstrong said afterward, "whoever invented that run course needs to get checked out!"  It was a seriously tough, seriously badass run course. 

As soon as I started on the run I knew I was in trouble.  The first two and a half (not 2, as stated on the website) miles were on packed sand, making a total of 5 miles there and back on the packed sand. I wasn't too concerned about this, as I've done a lot of beach runs, but I was getting really tired. Plus, I was passing tons and tons of runners on their way back. Nothing like starting out to run 13.1 miles when you're seeing people on their last mile.  Ugh.  I passed another woman, walking, who told me she hurt her foot on the bike. I felt bad for her.
I had planned a 0.4 mile run/0.1 mile walk ratio.  I tried this, but couldn't sustain it. I was just too tired, and my feet and legs were getting sore. I decided to try a run 0.2 and walk 0.05 instead.  Soon that got hard.  Then I decided to walk, and run when I could.  When I ran, I was in a good pace, about 10:00-10:45 mile minutes...but then I'd have to slow to a walk.  After the beach part, we got to the Silver Strand Training Complex, a hot and ugly barren area that we had to run two loops of, totaling about 8 miles. Before we started that part, I sat on a chair at the aid station to empty out my shoes, which were full of soft sand that we had just trudged through.  Soon, I was run/walking again.  Luckily, I made a few friends a lot the way, some random guys who were also trudging along.  This was awesome, because even though conversation was limited, it was some distraction. I almost always run with music, and have never run a half marathon without my iPod, so anything was welcome.  And I had the worst songs going through my head.  It's hard to be solely in your own head, with no talking, no music, etc for 8 hours.

By mile 5 I really wasn't doing well. At all.  My nausea was really bad, and I started retching.  Unfortunately, there was nothing in my stomach (even though I had been eating Gu and Gu Chomps) and I was just dry heaving. I thought if I could throw up, I might feel better.  I did feel a bit better after, even though nothing came up.  I ate some salt and that revived me a bit.  I kept moving, though...always moving forward.  I kept thinking of quote by my hero, Dean Karnazes: "Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up." I was NOT going to stop.  Soon I hit mile 6.6, and I knew I was halfway done with the run.  At that point, all I wanted to do was finish.  I wanted to run more than I was, but I couldn't, and decided that I was ok with that. Even if I walked the rest of the way, I would still finish.

At about mile 10 or so, we exited the Training Center and were on sand dunes. All soft sand, about 1/3 of a mile.  The kind of sand you slip and slide in when going to the beach.  I continued to trudge through that, and when I finally got through that, I sat down once again to empty my shoes.  Back on the shoreline, I began my run/walk again. Now I was motivated to finish, because I knew my husband, two kids, and best friend would be waiting for me at the finish. I wanted to get to them. I NEEDED to get to them.  Remember that woman who had hurt her foot biking? I saw her again; she had dropped out.  That must have been tough after coming so far.

Finally, I was at the finish. I saw my family and my best friend.  My son, D, ran up and tried to run in with me, but they wouldn't let him.  I walked until I hit the final stretch, then ran it in, crossing the finish line with arms up high to big applause from all the volunteers that were there. I was the only athlete crossing at that time.

This race was grueling, which made finishing even more sweet.  Getting pummeled by the waves, biking through a wind tunnel, running in the sand and the heat....I did it. I'm tougher than I thought.  I finished in just over 8 hours.  I am very proud of myself.  Could I have pushed it a bit on the run and come in a few minutes under 8?  Maybe, maybe not. It's easy to second guess myself now, but at the time, I truly did the best I could. Although I walked so much of it, I ran as much as I was able to.  Regardless, I finished. I am a half-Ironman.  Unbelievably, I was never sore after. Tired, yes, but not sore at all. I guess I was trained enough!
By the way, Lance Armstrong won the whole thing 3:49, which was shorter than my bike portion!  The volunteers were amazing, and I'm delighted to report that even with the extreme heat, there was PLENTY of food, water, and Cytomax. I had been worried about them running out, but they were fully stocked, and since I was toward the end, I know there was enough for all. It was a well organized event from start to finish!

But this race wasn't about Lance. It wasn't about any of the other hundreds of racers.  It was about me, about me conquering my fears, and doing what to me seemed impossible at one point. I swam, biked and ran 70.3 miles. I am a half-Ironman!


  1. Just awesome!! Congrats! You are one tough mama - WTG!!

  2. So proud of you. You did amazing. CONGRATULATIONS!!

  3. This is something to be proud of for so many reasons. Congratulations, what an accomplishment!

  4. Congratulations!!!! SO excited for you!!! :)

  5. Yeah!!! Great job on a hard course. I admire you for your toughness! CONGRATULATIONS!!!

  6. Congratulations!!! What an amazing accomplishment!

  7. So proud of you Sugar! Thanks for a great race report - which will serve as a nicely detailed training diary for future training. So glad to hear you had lots of support from friends and family. So important when your resolve starts to waiver.

  8. Congratulations!!!!! That is a crazy race! If I was faced with those waves I'm pretty sure I would have quite...never, never gonna do an ocean swim. :) You did amazing, that course is crazy tough...I can't imagine all that sand running either. You are a rock star!

  9. Oh my gosh! That swim looks terrifying!!! Look at those waves!

  10. Well you sure picked a good one for the 1st!! Nice job getting it done and with your usual grace and style!! Enjoy this one for a while! :)

  11. Great write up Sugar. I'm a little late to the party here but I loved it. Coming in slightly over 8 hours isn't so bad. Now you have something to shoot for. I am proud of you. You look great in your wet suit too! :o)

  12. Congratulations!! omg!! :D
    That swim looks HARD. So, so so soooooo hard! Amazing that you got through that!
    Wind makes the biking hard for me too, I become a wimp in the wind I swear. Great that you got through the bike okay since it was your biggest worry.
    And the run, O M G, wow, props to you! Seriously, you choose a very difficult course as your first 70.3! Your next one will be a breeze compared to this!
    So very proud of you!

  13. Congratulations! That is amazing!!!

  14. So...so...proud of you. What a tough race and gutsy performance. When we finally meet, can I get your autograph? :) You are creating a monster...I may just have to take on a half. Congrats!

  15. Congratulations!!! You should be so proud of yourself! And to think just a year and a half ago we were starting with that baby tri at Fearless. :) I wish I could've seen you racing and cheered you on but we must have just kept missing you. Hope you take some time to rest and enjoy this amazing accomplishment! :)


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