This weekend is a big one in anniversaries for me. It marks the first time I ever toed the line at a half ironman distance triathlon, Augusta 70.3 way back in 2012. And it’s also the anniversary of my full ironman, Chattanooga 144.68 (Yes, you read that distance right. The bike course is long and appears to be staying that way.) These races are actually similar in swim course as they both sort of feel like you’ve been shot out of a cannon, they are that fast. The bike courses are both hilly, although I think Chattanooga has a touch more. The run courses are very different, but both memorable in their own ways.
Since almost a full year has passed from Chattanooga Ironman I feel like this is a good time for me to reflect honestly about my experience and how I’ve felt since.
First, I had a tough time during the training for the ironman. I can say there were a lot of fun moments, but there were also a lot of low moments where I doubted myself and so wanted to be stronger. Most of that has to do with that old killjoy named Comparison. And of course some of it had to do with just being dead tired. A lot. Not to mention that training for an ironman during the middle of the summer in Florida is HARD. Major props to all of my friends who do it year after year.
Second, race day was magical. I had a great time. I obviously LOVED the swim, gutted out the bike with a smile, and did my best on the run. I had some tough moments but ultimately it was a great day. There’s really no finish line like the ironman finish line. And ya’ll know I heart finish lines.
Now, after the race I felt super proud and thrilled with what I had accomplished. I also felt relieved it was over. I set out what I intended to do and that was finish. I had some small goals in my mind that I wish I didn’t have because I think that’s what led me to feeling not so great about my finish time.
After a few more weeks passed I was feeling really bummed. I felt crummy about my run time and it wasn’t made much better when folks asked about it or mentioned my “five hour marathon.” It stung a little because in the back of my mind I really thought I could run sub-five.
I know a lot of this has to do with the HUGE drop in endorphins and I got a classic case of ironman blues. Which led to a full downward spiral. I have never admitted this on the blog before, but I have had bouts of depression on and off throughout my life. Running and exercise have been wonderful in helping me through them. I know I’m not alone in this. And running is truly my favorite therapy…and yet after the ironman I couldn’t get my shit together through just exercise. I felt sad and whenever anyone talked about my ironman I felt a weird mix of pride and sadness.
By December of last year I knew it was time to head back to actual therapy, which helped immensely. That, mixed with continuing my exercise has helped get me back on track and feeling good again. I’m very fortunate to have a strong support system, not to mention insurance!
So what do I think now? Well, I think the ironman was like any race. I trained and executed what I had prepared to do. I raced to what my body was capable of that day. And, I definitely don’t think I’m a slouch. My race time is nothing to sneeze at but it’s something I’d love to improve upon. That’s how it always goes, right?
The ironman distance is no joke. The training time, the physical pain, the mental pain, all of it can be a lot. I think the first one, like any first time distance or event, is eye-opening. I remember thinking before Augusta 70.3 that I was out of my mind. Now, having completed multiple 70.3’s, I’m not scared of them at all.
Will I do another full ironman? I think so. Not any time soon. But I feel a lot more confident that the next training cycle I’ll be better able to manage since I know what to expect before, during, and after. I feel I’ve fully recovered mentally and physically, even if I haven’t ridden my bike more than a handful of times. Hee hee…..
Obviously, this is not the outcome all first time ironman finishers, everyone is different. So to those of you heading into your first 70.3 or your first full ironman distance triathlon remember to be kind to yourself during the race, and after. Your body is doing so much work and you have to remember how amazing you are just being out there. This is something I learned and am always working on. From the first person to cross the finish line to the very last, every person out there is doing something amazing.

Best of luck to everyone racing this weekend! When the going gets tough, remember to smile. It doesn’t take a lot of effort and I swear it helps.