After 6 months of preparation with Coach Nixon and my two training buddies, Jared and Melissa, race
week was finally here. I did not feel ready. This was going to be the longest race I had ever done. I knew I
had done the work but my nerves were going crazy.
I spent my last week of tapering trying to relax, run slow, and adding up my training stats.
When I started 6 months ago I had only had one triathlon (a sprint Tri) under my (race) belt. It went well,
but it was pretty hard and I breast stroked the entire swim… From November to race week I ran some 640
miles, biked 1630 (half outside, half on the trainer) and swam 81 miles learning how to freestyle.
On Friday, I made my way to Panama City to compete in the
Gulf Coast 70.3 Half Ironman. I got there before Athlete
Check-In opened and the area around the transition area was
full of people biking and running. It made me nervous.
Everybody looked so professional. Everybody’s bikes were
so nice (I have a good old Jamis road bike… we will get back
to that later). I headed to the hotel to wait for Coach Nixon
and the rest of my team to arrive and get away from the
nervous energy of the Athlete Village. I checked my race
gear one last time.
Figure 1 - Making sure I have everything I need for the race.
We all headed to Check In around 1 pm. The line wasn’t horrible and we spent some time shopping and
looking at swag before listening to the Athlete Briefing. After some back and forth between the hotel and
transition we got all of our bikes checked in and situated.
Figure 2 - Bike Check.
Figure 3 - "There is no turning back now, they have our names on it... just keep on smiling" (left) . Coach Nixon
is there every step of the way!! (right)
Dinner was lots of carbs and salt. We would need the salt the next day, with temperatures looking to climb
into the high 80’s/low 90’s. After a restless night for all of us – I got MAYBE 3 hours of restless sleep and
was wide awake at 1:30 am – we got up at 4 am to get ready.
Our hotel was only 3 miles away from the race and we left at 4:30 am. There was a big parking lot with
easy parking close to the start and transition area and we had plenty of time to set up our gear. We checked
our bikes one last time, set up our transition and went to the bathroom just before transition closed.
The water had been really close to the wetsuit legal temperature cutoff the previous mornings. Luckily the
official temperature was reported to be 75.6F and wetsuit legal. Good! I needed all the help with the swim,
that I could get.
The swim start was a rolling start with self-seeding into your expected finish time. I seeded myself at the
front of the 43-45 minute group. I figured that it would be better to swim around people then to be
overtaken by them. My ideal swim goal was sub-40 min but I would be happy to be sub-45 min.
It took 30 min for my group to start but luckily I chatted with some people around me to keep me occupied.
You have to understand that I am borderline panicky about the swim. During the Clermont triathlon I
basically had a mini - panic attack with my heart rate shooting up, not being able to breath etc. So I was
nervous… I knew I could do the distance breaststroking but that is not what I was here for.
I have to say I loved the rolling start. Everybody went in with a one second gap. There was not really much
fighting for your position or getting kicked. In addition, the water was super calm with no waves.
Coach Nixon was there right next to the start (I was the last one of our group to go into the water). I ran
in…. and almost face planted into the sand because I tripped (of course Coach caught it on camera…..).
The plan for the swim was to rest my legs,
use it as a warm-up, and get through it
efficiently but without wearing myself
out.. I found a comfortable speed pretty
quickly, and concentrated on my arms and
head position, just as Coach Nixon had
drilled into me. I kept passing a bunch of
people and felt really relaxed and
comfortable. I also, surprisingly, had not
problem sighting and was swimming so
much more straight then I had in Clermont.
Of course it helped that the water was
beautiful and calm and very clear. The
only problem was…. Jellyfish!!! They
were everywhere and kept stinging me…
The way out along the first 6 markers was
relatively easy without many people in my
way. Approaching the first turn, there
suddenly was a bit of a congestion of
people and it took some nudging and
weaving to find a good position to the
second turn. After the second turn I
encountered another group of people but
also managed to swim through them with
relative ease. The sun was now in my eyes
and reflecting on the water and it took me
slightly longer to sight every marker. I still
managed to swim pretty straight, which
was probably one of my biggest
accomplishment for this race! Then there
were more JELLYFISH and I fully
concentrated on not touching the red ones.
And then suddenly I could see the bottom sloping up and coming closer and closer, I passed the last marker
and could see the exit funnel. I tried to catch some waves to shore but they weren’t big enough… oh well,
I’ll take calm water over waves any day!! During the last couple of yards my foot got caught on something
behind me and I felt my left pinky toe pop. It didn’t hurt too bad so I put it out of my mind because at the
same time I had completed the swim. I had done it in 37min 37 sec.
Now that might not be fast for many people but it is for me, especially without switching to breaststroke
and considering how well I had sighted and how easy it felt. I was very happy!!
Swim: 37 min 37 sec
13th F30 – 34
I ran out and saw Coach Nixon by the freshwater showers. We both yelled at the same time “37
minutes!” (of course he has that on video as well ☺ ).
I pealed out of my wetsuit (no wetsuit peelers at this event), and rushed into transition. The distance
between the beach and transition is super short and my bike was very close to the swim entrance. I saw that
Melissa was already on her bike (no surprise! She is a super fast swimmer) and hurried to dry off, get my
socks and shoes on, take a quick bite of my banana, some water, sunglasses, helmet and off I went. The run
out of transition was a little long. Plus there really wasn’t a path. You have to go in between all the racks
and people sitting on the ground getting into their shoes. Outside of transition you still have some distance
to the mount line. Right after the mount line is a sharp and very tight right and left turn, so you better make
sure you get on your bike fast.
to feel confident
The bike for me is where the race begins. However, I was
under strict instructions to not go out too fast. Too many
people go out super fast and then fall apart at the end of the
bike or on the run. My goal was a steady 18.5 mph
The first 6 miles of the route was on Front Beach Rd which
is the main strip of the beach. Since it was early there
weren’t many cars yet, which would change on the way
back (more later). After a couple of sharp turns the next 45
or so miles were out and back on a highway. The highway
was open to cars, but they only occupied one lane. I really
did not find it a problem for that portion of the bike.
I kept my speed steady and slowly found my legs and
rhythm. I got passed by some of those super tall men with
their really expensive bikes but kept myself entertained by
wondering why they were behind me in the first place, or
memorizing what they looked like to see if I could pass
them again later (and I did for a lot of them. Seriously,
going out slow is the way to go people!!).
There were some slow uphill stretches (the kind of uphill
that you can’t even really see but makes you wonder why
biking is suddenly so hard…) and one bridge. Now, I live
and train at the coast of Florida where there are zero hills,
but I have discovered that I am actually pretty good at
hills. This is thanks to Coach Nixon and his workouts on
the trainer! Just like in Clermont, I passed big groups of
people going uphill… and I loved it. Especially because
my bike is not fancy at all. Its not even a Tri bike. I do have aero
bars and I love my Jamis road bike but what I love even more is
passing people on fancy bikes. Another source of entertainment
during the 56 miles.
About 30 miles into the bike I started wondering if maybe my
bike had a flat. The back tire felt weird and rough. I didn’t want
to stop and get off and it felt alright so I just kept going. You have
to realize that I have really bad luck with flats. The entire 6
month of training, I was the only one in our group that kept getting flats. And not just punctures but sliceopen-
the-tire-having-to-buy-new-tires-multiple-times kind of flats. We joked at the beginning of the race
that I would probably get a flat…. Yeah…. I figured I would ask Melissa to look and tell me if my tire was
looking weird when I caught up with her so I just kept going. About 6 miles before the turn around I
spotted Melissa on the other side and yelled and waved to her. I couldn’t wait to catch her. Just behind her
The way back was fast. I realized that there must have been some wind on the way out because all of the
sudden I was flying. It felt easy and fun so I just let it happen and averaged almost 1 mph more on the way
When I caught Melissa, I had forgotten about my potentially flat tire. We chatted for a quick second in
which I told her about my toe that I could feel swelling up in my shoe.
During the entire ride I had tried to eat my nutrition according to plan. Gels and Gatorade give me stomach
cramps so I had bars and other stuff on the bike with me. I could feel my stomach fighting the food and
stopped eating for the last hour on the bike because I was afraid I would cramp up on the run. In hindsight,
I should have tried to eat a little more but really I just need to experiment with nutrition much more and
really find what works best for me.
I think I said a loud “Thank GOD” when I saw the 50 mile marker. I wasn’t that tired or hot but I was
getting anxious to start the run. The last 6 mile on Front Beach Road where horrible though. There were too
many cars and people. At one point a car backed out onto the road and almost hit the guy in front of me and
then me. I had to weave around him and ride off the the side of the road into some potholes, almost fell and
to have made it out of
lost my water. Just a couple miles
further down a truck backed out onto
the road and completely BLOCKED
it!! I managed to not crash into him
and go behind him and in front of
some cars. That one was a very close
call. I was so happy to get off the bike
at that point. I came in at 2:53 h,
crushing my goal of a sub-3 hour bike
As I dismounted I saw Coach just in
front of the “Bike In”. As I was
awkwardly bouncing pass him he
yelled to me that Jared was just
about .25 miles in front of me and in
transition right now.
So I rushed through transition (yelling
out to Jared as I ran past) and made it
out without incidents. I didn’t even
stop to drink or eat…
Now, the run is the fun part for me.
Usually, at least... Biking towards
transition I had seen all these people
already on the run and they all looked so
SO miserable. As soon as I got out there I
understood. It was HOT. 89 degrees, no
breeze, no shade and about 105 degrees
reflecting off the tarmac. I was in for a
looooong run. I started out feeling okay.
Funny enough, my legs felt alright coming
into the run. I managed to run my first two
miles on target pace, the third just under 9
min/miles and then struggled through the
rest. I kept hoping to see Coach because I
was going so slow and just needed to hear
him say that it was okay. I crashed and
burned on mile 6 but managed to compose
myself after a quick bathroom stop. I
walked through every aid station grabbing
2 cups of water to drink, 2 to dump over
my head, plus ice to put in my tri suit. I
would feel better for a little while and then
start crashing again just before the next aid
station. I managed to stay under 10 min/
miles for mile 7 – 10 but just could not do
it until the end.
The only thing that made me feel better is
that nobody else was running. Everybody
was walking. Nobody passed me. There
were maybe a handful of people that I saw
Figure 6 - This must have been the 1 lap, because I
still look pretty happy.
running (and struggling just like me) but EVERYBODY else was walking.
When I finally saw that bridge to the finish line (how cruel to have a bridge at the end of your run!!!) I was
so relieved I almost started crying. After the bridge there was a turn… and then another turn… and another
turn… and …. finally the red carpet, the finish, the voice calling my name. I managed to sprint down the
finish chute and pump my fist.
I did not manage to stay sub-2 hours. Its frustrating, because I know I can go much faster. I was 1.12 min/
mile slower than my target pace! For now I blame the heat but I know it also has to do with the way I ate on
the bike and run. My legs just had nothing more to give.
TOTAL RACE TIME: 5:44:28
Seeing the time on my watch 5:44 h, I was beyond happy! I had done it! I had finished in sub-6 hours!!
That is all I wanted for my first Half Ironman race. I can worry about a faster swim and crushing my run
splits during my next race.
After the finish I almost passed out. I was feeling nauseous and sick and my face started tingling. I found
Coach in the VIP area and joined him for awhile but had to sit down and concentrate on not passing out.
When my arms started tingling I got a little worried. For some reason I figured eating a Mentos might calm
down my stomach and I am so glad I had some. Seconds after eating it, the tingling stopped and I felt fine. I
realize now that I was very close to passing out because my blood sugar had dropped so much.
Coach and I waited for Jared and Melissa to finish. They both did amazing. Melissa especially crushed her
run with an even split.
The heat had definitely gotten to us. We were all not feeling too well. I finally took my shoe off and
remembered my toe. It was bruised badly and swollen. We checked out the bikes and sure enough I had a
But we had done it!
I know I could have NEVER managed to do this race in 5:44 without Coach Nixon. There is just no way. I
would have been one of these people out there crashing and burning half way through the bike or on the
run. Actually, I would be the person doing a 1.2 mile swim breaststroking.
I am so glad he was there every step of the way and during the race and that he agreed to train me. I am so
excited to see where this training will lead me in the rest of the season (without broken toes and flat tires).