I’ve had a long-standing goal to run a half marathon. Rather than just lacing up my sneaks, I wanted to devote more time and energy to something I’ve come to love – triathlon. Multisport has taught me how to become self-sufficient and driven in uncomfortable situations, such as changing my flat tire when I’m 30 miles from home, wanting to quit half way through an open water swim, or nourishing my body on long runs and rides when my body isn’t responding to nutrients.
My decision to do a half distance triathlon wasn’t an easy one. I thought long and hard about the time commitment that training would require, and how I would balance this with three kids; a husband who travels for work; and four part-time jobs – two at the Gorham Times and two at First Parish Church. In November, I talked myself out of this goal. By the end of December, I didn’t feel very good about this decision. It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, so I did – I signed up and never looked back. My goal was to simply cross the finish line safely, injury-free and hopefully smiling. GOAL OBTAINED! Here are some thoughts on my journey to the finish line of Ironman 70.3 Maine in Old Orchard Beach on August 27.
Training was tough but manageable. I learned early on that I needed to be disciplined with my time, but flexible enough to switch gears when needed. January brought more consistent lap swimming and indoor cycling. In April, I started working with a coach, Katie Dwyer, who provided me with structured workouts and guidance. Training eventually became a lifestyle – swim and run on Monday and Wednesday, ride on Tuesday and Thursday, and long swims, runs and rides with transition runs on the weekends. There were lots of early morning workouts, followed by a mad dash to get the kids on the bus, throw in a load of laundry, check Gorham Times email, and get to work at First Parish by 9 a.m. Once summer vacation started, my boys would often accompany me while I trained, either by riding their bikes while I ran or kayaking while I swam in open water.
The Ironman “Anything is Possible” motto resonates with me. Ten years ago, I never would have envisioned myself participating in a triathlon, let alone a half distance tri. In 2008, my husband, Tom, gave me a bike for Christmas so we could go on family bike rides. This gift got my wheels turning (literally and figuratively). Off we went on our family bike rides, but I also signed up to do a sprint triathlon – the first of many.
On race day, I witnessed a blind athlete and his guide cross the finish line, along with Team Hoyt – a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy and his race partner in action. I saw the look of determination from athletes with expensive bikes and flashy race wheels on a mission to secure a spot in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and others, like me, making a commitment to live a healthy and active lifestyle. I made a promise to myself to never say the words “I can’t.”
In July 2016, I crossed off a bucket list item and participated in the Peaks to Portland swim. I finished close to last, and often refer to this event as an amazing version of hell. I told myself and oth- ers that I wasn’t a swimmer. This summer, while out on one of my many longer bike rides, it occurred to me that anyone who willingly signs up to swim 2.4 miles from Peaks Island to East End Beach in Portland IS a swimmer. I happen to be a swimmer with lots of opportunity to improve my technique for speed and efficiency.
I responded well to training, both physically and mentally. Workout by workout, I gained the strength and stamina to tackle the next long workout. By the time race day arrived, I was fully confident in my ability to take on 70.3 miles. That confidence shined through from the time I entered the water until I arrived at the finish line grinning ear to ear.
My alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. on race day. I was so fired up that I emptied the dishwasher before tackling 70.3 miles. I woke my husband up with all the noise I was making, so he took the opportunity to come downstairs to wish me well and offered to finish putting away dishes. Too late – I was already in my “finish what I start” mindset.
The swim was pleasant, not because I was speedy but doing the P2P last year gave me the confidence that I can handle a 1.2-mile swim. Race start was a rolling start, and athletes self-seeded on a first- come, first-serve basis, not by pace. I found myself in the middle of slow and fast swimmers. I was both the giver and receiver of elbows and feet in the face and body. I can’t say I loved it, but it’s the nature of open water swimming in this type of setting. I refuse to let anyone swim over me. I measure my own success my finding my rhythm and not relying on a safety stroke, like back or breast, to get me through the swim.
I started my 56-mile bike ride with cold feet and tight leg muscles. After I dropped my chain at mile 19, I made a conscious decision to shut my mind off to the discomfort, time of day and time spent on the course to focus on a smooth, steady pace. I kept thinking about what my coach told me – don’t over bike so your legs fall apart on the run. My only reminder on time was in the form of alerts from my bike computer reminding me that I needed to intake energy blocks, potato, salt tabs, water and/ or Skratch every 15 minutes. With an occasional eye on pace and distance, I enjoyed the scenery, lost in my own thought and a little conversation from an unknown but friendly athlete.
Finding my footing on solid ground for a half marathon was a fantastic feeling. I started the run feeling strong. After a half mile in, I realized I forgot to attach my running bib, but decided to keep running. I averaged a steady 9.28 pace and didn’t stop to walk, although I thought about it at mile 11. What’s another two-mile run at that point?
Why Ironman 70.3 Maine? My answer is simple – I wanted to and I could. Spending 6 hours and 19 minutes enjoying 70.3 miles of Maine’s beauty was an amazing experience. I have it in me to do another 70.3, and likely the full Ironman 140.6 when the timing is right.
Editor’s Note: Stacy Sallinen has been volunteering with the paper since 2008. She is the current Business Manager and Advertising Coordinator for the Gorham Times.