Triathletes, Zombies and Alligators: Essential Triathlon Training from My First Half Ironman

Disney's Fort Wilderness, Host to the Annual 70.3 Half Ironman Event
Disney's Fort Wilderness, Host to the Annual 70.3 Half Ironman Event | Source

Triathlon Training 101: If You Don't Think About the Alligators, They Can't See You

Okay, you've heard of that movie called The Neverending Story? Well, when I was completing the swim section of my first Half Ironman, the Florida 70.3 triathlon held in Orlando, I felt like I was swimming The Neverending Swim.

And even though 2,000 people swim in the exact same lake during the Florida 70.3 Half Ironman race every year, and there has never been an incident involving any of the many many alligators that inhabit the lake and any of the triathletes' 8,000 or so limbs, it was still lurking in the back of my mind (as I imagine it was in about 1,999 other minds) the whole time that THIS MAY BE THE RACE WHEN IT HAPPENS.

There was one consolation: The water in the lake was so murky that I literally couldn't see an inch in front of my face, so I wouldn't see the alligator approaching before it locked it's jaws around my torso and dragged me to the bottom of the lake in its 'alligator roll', making me an unfortunate and anomalous statistic in the Florida Half Ironman history books (Average Triathlete Age: 37. Number of Female Participants: 876. Triathletes Eaten by Alligators: 1). A footnote in history, what I've always dreamt of.

Other than these dark thoughts, my stroke was at times terribly inefficient, but I did catch some moments of dolphin-like fluidity, and I was happy to get through the swim without any puncture wounds to my abdomen.

I did get kicked in the face periodically and will never forget the slimy, zombie-like hands and arms slapping down on my calves at random but frequent intervals (is that a triathlete behind me or is it one of Jason's -kill kill kill - Crystal Lake victims rising to the surface to exact vengeance?), and one person actually swam completely over top of me across my back, perpendicular to the direction we were supposed to be going (I don't know where he was going, perhaps he knew a shortcut?).

Other than all that, the swim leg was great fun.

Swim Finish Line, the Day Before the Start of the Florida 70.3 Triathlon
Swim Finish Line, the Day Before the Start of the Florida 70.3 Triathlon | Source

Triathlon Training 102: Wind Blows Both Ways, Traveler

As soon as I got on the bike I immediately felt great and I was riding strong. I biked a lot during my triathlon training and did a lot of swim-bike sessions, which I think really helped out on race day.

It was a beautiful bike tour through some of Orlando's back roads, with rolling hills, pastures, cows and orange groves aplenty. The landscape reminded me of my home town in New York -- just switch out some apple orchards for the orange groves and I can almost see my elementary school bus stop.

And so went the first 46 miles of the bike leg of my first Half Ironman -- no alligators, no zombies rising from the deep to eat my brains, and lots of strength. Then the course suddenly turned onto an open straightaway, leaving us riding directly into a headwind for almost the entire last 10 miles of the ride.

At right about this same time is when my rear end started killing me. Yes, it was all coming together nicely. Just as I had planned. And it quickly deteriorated into pure torture. At one point, I'm pretty sure I said out load, "G&*%!?/#! Wind Are U &&*#%$?/!)*! Kidding Me!!" In fact, I am 100 percent sure I said it.

But I fought through, continued to ride hard, and finished the bike ride within my goal of under 3 hours.

Florida 70.3 Half Ironman Bike Check-In
Florida 70.3 Half Ironman Bike Check-In | Source
Some Beautiful and Mysterious Spanish Moss Rains Down on the Beaches of Fort Wilderness
Some Beautiful and Mysterious Spanish Moss Rains Down on the Beaches of Fort Wilderness | Source

Triathlon Training 103: Race With the Heart of a Champion, and Don't Have a Heart Attack

The run was hot and slow, but there were about 10 aid stations throughout the 13 miles with ice water, Gatorade, cookies, energy gels, and Coke. I found that the kiddie pools at each station, filled with ice water, were the most helpful. A couple cups of ice water over my head, my thighs, one down my back, and an ice-water-soaked sponge to carry away on my head really cooled me down fast and kept me refreshed for a couple of minutes.

Then then came the next 6-8 minutes before reaching the following aid station. There it is, oh no, wait, that's just a mirage. At least there aren't any alligators. Hey, just a minute, is that an alligator crawling through the grass towards me? Oh no, it's not an alligator at all, just a triathlete keeled over and vomiting from the heat. No worries there. My formerly ice-water-soaked sponge lay in the grasses about a quarter mile back, undoubtedly looking like a dried up, shrunken head.

The sun blazed down. The humidity enveloped my being and bashed down on my head and shoulders, trying to push me down into the ground like a post hole digger. Between the humidity and my sweat-drenched sneakers that squish with each step (did I run through a creek somewhere? I must have missed it.), there 's plenty of liquid around.

Problem is: none of that liquid is inside of me, where it needs to be, replenishing my cells that are drying up more quickly than stacks of flapjacks baking on some midday, Death Valley asphalt.

Suddenly, the course breaks from the open field to the roads of Disney's Fort Wilderness. Here, race supporters line the streets, cheering on the warrior triathletes.

Two more laps. I can do this.

Triathlon Training 104: Keep Your Head Low

As for the sleeping arrangements, well, let's just say that a 30-foot RV (I reserved a 25-footer, but they gave me a 30-footer for the same price) doesn't have as much room as you might think. This thing officially slept six. Six of what, I am not sure, as I was solo and I was feeling slightly claustrophobic.

It kind of felt like I was living inside a dollhouse -- shipwrecked and washed ashore in Lilliput -- crouching down to get underneath the showerhead, squeezing to fit into the john, etc. -- and there was a slightly weird odor emanating from . . . somewhere. Have you ever rented a car and experienced that stale, rental car smell? It was kind of like that, but slightly more off-putting.


Chez Moi for Triathlon Weekend

Triathlete's weekend home
Triathlete's weekend home | Source

All in all, a great weekend. The only thing I would do differently would be to simply get a hotel room next time -- more square footage and more comfortable. I've always wanted to drive across country in an RV and visit, among other things, all of the great national parks out west. I've learned from this experience that it's going to have to be in one of those full-size motor homes that are bigger than tour buses, with the rooms that slide out from the sides. So, I need a million dollars for that.


For more info on training for your first Half Ironman, check out this terrific Half Ironman Training Program -- It's the Same One I Used for my first Half Ironman. Watch out for zombies!

And don';t forget to check out some of my delicious whey protein shake recipes to keep your muscles well nourished during training.

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8 comments

rich_hayles profile image

rich_hayles 5 years ago

Terrific hub Mike. You are nuts, I'm so jealous! Great achievement and advice. I have never tried something on the scale you have but its very inspiring.

I agree that a hotel room would be best for comfort, a friend did the same.

Shame that the RV didn't quite work out as I have had the same idea when planning a travelling holiday. More research is in order.

Thanks again for an entertaining and educational read.


Mike's Corner profile image

Mike's Corner 5 years ago from Maryland Author

Ha -- thanks Rich!It all started with a little sprint triathlon a few years ago . . . then, as the distances got longer, I needed to increase my sense of humor to manage the increasing pain :) On the RV, I definitely recommend checking out some RVs in person before making any reservations -- they're great, but interior room is less than you would think. Happy trails.


Beth100 profile image

Beth100 5 years ago from Canada

Awesome achievement!!! I think I'll just sit back and read your adventure! I'm not much of a swimmer, especially when it comes to teeth toting underwater swimmers! Thanks for sharing your experience -- it was just like being there! :)


Mike's Corner profile image

Mike's Corner 5 years ago from Maryland Author

Thanks Beth, happy to hear you enjoyed the hub! . . . swimming is definitely not my strongest of the three disciplines, but I could definitely outrun an alligator on my bike :)


thebusyathlete profile image

thebusyathlete 4 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

Great hub. Wonderful achievement. The RV was a novel idea!


Mike's Corner profile image

Mike's Corner 4 years ago from Maryland Author

Thanks busyathlete! The RV definitely added to the adventure of the weekend!


Ryan McGill profile image

Ryan McGill 4 years ago from Omaha, NE

Great hub Mike! As a fellow tri-geek I can certainly appreciate what you've done and written. I love the humor. I never seem to find the humor button when I'm racing but it's a laugh riot looking back at the crazy things we've done and seen. Thanks for the reminder and good luck on your future racing!


Mike's Corner profile image

Mike's Corner 4 years ago from Maryland Author

Thanks for the read Ryan and glad you enjoyed the hub! I agree, in the moment it's hard to laugh ... actually I'm usually closer to crying - ha! Good luck with your racing too!

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