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My First Half Ironman – One Athletes Story on her Road to 70.3

My first Half Ironman (without the swim)
written by Linda Martello (Empire Member since 2011)

First, I want it to be known that I would NEVER have made it to the finish line if it weren’t for Empire Tri’s coaches, Alison Cooper and my wonderful Teammates– Megan and Yael—Paula and Paul — who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

It was my first Half Ironman and I was freaking out!  When we were informed that the swim portion of the race was cancelled, 90% of me was happy, but the other 10% thought about all the swim-training that I went through and I was disappointed. Let’s face it–I was beyond being scared of being in the open water, but found that the open-water swimming coaching with Coach Alison, helped me to relax and gain strength (endurance) because she was extremely patient, understanding, and supportive during these open-water swims.  But, that part of the race was out–now came another hurdle–I had to face the bike portion of the race.

When I heard of the technical turns we would be facing out there and with the wet roads, this was not looking good for someone who had problems with turns.  During the bus ride to T2, I made a big mistake by sitting in front of two men who decided to discuss the bike route.  (Comments like:  “It’s a dangerous course; there are extremely difficult turns, hills that are dangerous”).  I swallowed hard as panic and doubt set in.  In my mind I screamed at myself:  “Why are you doing this?  Why didn’t you drop out like your friends did?  You have nothing to prove”.  Yet, I found myself in T2 setting up for the first leg of the race.  I ran into my Teammate Jay, and told him that I was thinking of dropping out.  His advised me to, “just treat it like a long training ride; don’t drop out.”

Before I knew it, they were calling waves.   My heart started to beat faster and as the wave in front of mine was called. My heart went into overdrive and a wave of panic hit me.  Next thing, I was running out, hoped on my bike and “bam!” my chain dropped.  I managed not to fall; unclipped and fixed the problem; got back on my bike, made a left turn and off I went!

I was riding for awhile during this period and calmed myself down by saying:  “You can do this!   That’s when I encountered my first technical turn…I unclipped my right shoe just in case…I made it and thought to myself, “Alison would be so proud of me.”  Before I knew it, the miles were passing me by. I made turns I thought I would not be able to.  Then, I hit a hill (please note that, to me, these hills looked like mountains!)  I felt myself slowing down and I knew I was going down.  I managed to unclip and somehow prevent a really bad fall.  This caused a chip in my confidence somewhat, but I found myself getting right back on the bike.  I encountered another very big hill promptly, unclipped and walked up.   (Don’t tell Coach Alison!)  [LOL]  When I looked behind me, there were others walking up behind me.  Ok, so I’m not the only one that had to walk.

Then there they were familiar faces calling my name and cheering me on–Coach Alison, Megan, Yael, and Sascha.  They have no clue how much I needed that boost! It had me ride faster and, once again, built up my confidence.  Then there it was–the technical hill and most difficult turn I faced during the course of the race.  I felt myself slowing down and I heard myself yelling for help.  But, no one was there to stop me from falling.  I went down in a ditch filled with rocks.  I stayed there a moment then unclipped, sat up and assessed the damage.  They called the EMT and they informed me I either broken or fractured my hand/or thumb.  I was advised that I would not be able to ride because my hand was too swollen, that shifting and breaking would be extremely hard and very painful.  The pain was so bad I felt as if I was going to faint and had to lay down for a bit.  As I laid there, I had to make a decision–quit or go for it.  I heard myself tell the EMT “Wrap it!  I’m going for it!  I walked the rest of the way up the hill and mounted my bike.  I was off once again.

Every time i breaked or shifted of my gears, it hurt so badly that I wanted to give up, but something inside of me just would not quit.  The last 20- something miles consisted of more technical turns, which I was determined to make and I did.  I also managed to get up over the more challenging hills.  Yes, another challenging hill came up where I slowed down and I started to pray, “don’t fall, you can make it”, and I did.  And, there, just in front of me, was the finish line for the bike race.  I pretty much threw myself on the ground–I was so happy to be off my bike.

As I racked my bike and started to get ready for the run portion, I looked around and saw all those bikes.  I lost my composure for just a second and bent over and just started to cry, and said, “I can’t do this”.  A guy walked up to me, patted me on the back and said. “just 13.1 miles to go–we can do this”.  I went to the medical tent where they checked me out a second time and was told that I couldn’t run like this.  Once again, I started to cry and said, “just bandage it so I can run”. They did as I asked; they also give me a painkiller and had me sign a form stating that I chose to disregard their advice.  As I exited T2 to start the run, there they were again–Coach Alison, Megan, Yael and Sascha , screaming my name–another boost!  For 13.1 miles I ran, walked, and fought the urge to quit.  Mile after mile was nothing more than pain on top of pain.  Then, there it was–the turn- around point, right there I knew I was going to make the cut off–just 6.1 miles to go.  Then mile 8, then mile 9 and so on and there it was–the mile I was looking for–mile 12.  “Okay,” I told myself.   ”You have people who are waiting for you; waiting to cheer you on those last couple of steps”.  As I was running that last mile, I rounded a corner and there was Paula and Paul screaming my name, telling me “you are almost there!”  Then there was Jay, my teammate, I screamed his name and we ran the last scratch together, crying, cheering, in pain, sweaty, but most of all proud of ourselves for not giving up even when that little voice in the back of our minds kept screaming “STOP!!!”

As I crossed the finish line, I was so proud of myself.  I am now a Half Ironwoman.  Right there still screaming my name: Awesome Teammates and Friends.  I could not have crossed that finish line without my teammates, coaches from Empire Tri and friends.  Thank you all!