My Journey to 70.3: Part II {Guest Blog}

Happy Work-It-Wednesday!  Ready to take your workout to the next level?  Everyone, please welcome back on of our favorite guest bloggers [and 805 resident], Jessica Rodriguez!  By day, she is a physical therapist and all-around wonderful person, but she recently added a new title to her long list of accolades: triathlete.  Check out her story [Part I is here] and see how she trained for and completed her first half Ironman!

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Part II of my journey continues with more triathlons, lots of training, and taking it one day at a time.

I competed in two more triathlons to better prepare myself for my big race, both of which were new courses for me.

  • On July 26th I completed the Goleta long course, which consisted of a 1 mile swim, 22 mile bike, and 5 mile run. It was a far choppier swim than the training swims I had completed the weeks leading up to the race. Swimming towards the rising sun created a new set of challenges, making spotting the buoy difficult. I’m pretty sure I swam more than 1 mile that race . . . extra credit? I did, however, do my personal best on the bike course! I had a goal to stay in front of my cycling superwoman teammate as long as I could, and it worked! The run felt like endless loops, but I did enjoy passing my teammates and cheering squad several times for extra emotional support.
  • On September 27th I completed the Carpinteria Olympic, a 0.9 mile swim, 30 mile bike, 6.2 mile run. I had the most fun on this course, because of the number of Transcend teammates completing and the experience to feel well prepared. The bike course was a technical one, with many steep climbs. My run included multiple high-fives from teammates, quick pep talks from our cheer squad and a lovely man showering runners with his garden hose as they ran past his house. When you’re exhausted mentally and physically, it really is the little things that get your head focused on the goal.

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Since I knew I could get through four-hour races, it was now time to prepare my body for eight hours. The next four months leading up to the Palm Springs triathlon would consist of intense endurance training… gulp. I signed up for this half Ironman distance triathlon during the busiest year of my life, so training had to be on my terms. It had to be flexible and fun, otherwise, why am I doing this? I spend enough of my week working; I didn’t want my workouts to feel like it. It was important for training to feel like socializing with friends and dedicated time I set aside for myself. I fully respect the triathletes that stick to their rigorous training schedule to a T — I’m just not one of you. It’s all about balance!

What my training and triathlons have taught me about life: expect the unexpected. You can plan and follow through with your goals, but how you overcome unforeseen obstacles to persevere is the real challenge. Even though my training involved many personal victories and celebrations, it was not without setbacks.  Clipping in and out of my pedals was a literal crash course in Falling Gracefully 101 — I had a pretty bad spill in Hidden Valley during a training ride that rattled me. I was paralyzed with fear getting in an open water swim with the largest swells I had swam in. Somehow my teammates helped me muster up the courage to get it done. Six weeks from the big day, I started to feel a twinge in my left knee (isn’t cycling low impact, seriously?).  Thankfully, my good friend from grad school is an Orthopedic Specialist. Diagnosis: biomechanical torsion at the knee. Not to toot my own profession’s horn, but physical therapy is seriously magic! After five weeks of PT, I was able to get back to 25 miles pain-free a week before the race.

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I’m scheduled to taper two weeks before the big day, and then, boom! Cold and flu season.  I’m sick ten days before my race. Lots of Vitamin C and rest should kick the cold in time, right? Wrong. Now it’s three days before the race and as nine months of training and emotions are bubbling up inside me, I’m in urgent care, crying to the nurse that I cannot miss my triathlon. I ask the doctor if it’s all right if I race (cringing at what I think she might say). She was practical; it was all right for me to compete.

Armed with medicine, we head to the Palm Springs for packet pick-up.  I go for a quick run and test out my bike before retiring early for the night. Nerves and excitement offer four hours of sleep, and suddenly, it’s the big day! My alarm goes off at 4:30am, and I’m setting up my transition area by 6:00am. I hear an announcement that the water temperature is 53 degrees (not the mid-60’s they had expected). Yikes! Here goes everything!

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It’s 7:00am, time to start. I hit the water with hundreds of men of women competing. It. Was. Freezing. Swimming is my strong sport, but the cold is causing me to hyperventilate. I can’t feel my hands and feet. The pain is intense. I clear my head — worrying won’t change the outcome. All I can do is my best. It takes me 500 yards to get a real rhythm with my stroke. The rising sun makes it difficult to spot the swim buoys.  Some way, somehow, I emerge from the 1.2-mile swim 56 minutes later. Triathletes coming out of the water are shaking from hypothermia. For the first time ever, I need help getting my wetsuit off — I couldn’t use my hands until they warmed back up.

Transition 1: the sweetest volunteer helps me zip my jacket and put my watch on. I eat, I drink, I apply kinesiotape on my knee (PT’s orders!) and then I mount my bike.

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My friends and supporters send me off on my 56-mile bike ride with cheers and wishes of good luck. I’m literally shivering, my teeth are chattering for the first 10 miles. I am now 1.5 hours into my event and I will burn upwards of 5,000 calories during the entire race. The bike leg is both where I’m spending most of my time and the easiest place to replenish calories. During a training ride, my teammate stressed staying in front of my nutrition to prevent my body from crashing, so I kept myself busy every 10 minutes by alternating a drink of water and a bite of my snacks (and popping cough drops fo control my cough!).  I get into a good rhythm by mile 15 and get a chance to enjoy the scenic course with beautiful mountains and blue skies, while trying to block out the fact that I still can’t feel my feet.

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I pass my cheering squad around mile 28. It’s just what my heart needs to finish the second half of my bike ride. At 50 miles, I begin to count down: mile 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. I did it, 56 miles, the longest distance I have ever ridden. My husband and friend meet me at Transition 2.  I change shoes, put on my hat, drink some Gatorade, get some hugs, and take off. I am five hours into my race and still have a half marathon until the finish line. I take a deep breath and tell myself, “I’ve got this.”

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It takes me a mile to get my cycling legs into a good running rhythm. I’m so thankful to be met by my cheering squad at mile 3 and friends who are volunteering at an aid station at mile five. It’s the pat on the back I need to push further. My friend even jumps in and jogs with me at mile 9. I tell her I’m feeling great, strong, and ready to finish. I’m still smiling at mile 11 as I wave one last time to my friends — I’ll see them all again soon at the finish line.

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And then what I couldn’t anticipate and certainly didn’t expect . . . the last 2 miles were brutal. I was hot, exhausted, and started cramping in my calf and hamstrings. I took several walk breaks and glanced down at my watch in disappointment. My hopes of finishing under eight hours were fading fast – unless I pulled it together, like, NOW. I alternate jogging and walking despite the pain. I reach the grass; it’s 0.4 miles from here. I check my watch again; it’s going to be close. Tears start to swell in my eyes. I didn’t train nine months, overcome injuries and illness to be this close and give up. I run, I sprint, and I make it.

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I completed my first 70.3 in 7 hours and 59 minutes. I can’t believe – I actually did it!

This was the most rewarding, challenging, extraordinary, exhausting event I have ever participated in. Sacrificing early mornings and weekends to train was worth every second. I feel so full of pride and accomplishment to have made it here. I am so grateful for my teammates. Without them, I certainly would not have crossed that finish line with a smile. These supportive and selfless women continue to inspire and amaze me daily. We’ve built a strong bond during the hours we spend training together and I can’t wait to see what next season has in store for me.

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Thank you for letting me share my story with you. I hope you find something that you are passionate about, fight for it, and accomplish your dream. The journey is worth it.

Side note: Transcend Racing is having their 2016 season kick-off meeting on January 6th. Check out our club’s event schedule of half marathons, triathlons, a century ride, and more. Hope to see some new faces chasing their dreams next season! Visit our website for details – http://transcendracing.com

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