(Huge thank you to blog reader Caroline for snapping some pictures of Ryan at the finish! So thoughtful!)
For those unfamiliar with a Half Ironman, it’s a triathlon and participants complete a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run. Ryan has been training for the race for several months and the boys and I wanted to be there to cheer for him and support him as he tackled such a big goal. Today’s blog post is a recap of the race from my perspective, but a few people expressed interest in a Q&A-style post from Ryan about the race, so if that is of interest, please let me know and leave any questions you might have for him in the comments section.
The Ironman Village
We attended the Ironman Village expo with Ryan the day before the race and that was very helpful for all of us from a logistical standpoint. Ryan picked up everything he needed for the race and I was able to connect with other spectators. I spoke with a handful of people about their game plan going into the race and took the tips I received to heart.
One of the most consistent tips I heard from supporters of previous races was to not try to see your athlete on the bike. Apparently it’s very challenging to spot your athlete when they’re riding so fast and they may not even see you for the very same reason. That helped me eliminate the desire to see Ryan on his bike ride and focus on getting our crew to spots where we could see him and he could see us and we could hopefully boost his morale.
For our family, this looked like the transitions and the finish. We saw Ryan at the end of every section and were able to cheer for him as he wrapped up the swim, began the bike, finished the bike, started the run and finished the race. I worried that the transitions would be packed and we’d miss him but since the race is so long and athletes finish hours apart, it never felt too congested. The finish line was definitely the most popular spot, but everyone was respectful of each other and if you told someone your athlete was about to finish, people had no problem letting you get a prime spot.
I very heavily relied on the Ironman tracker app which was fantastic and let me know when we could expect to see Ryan at each transition.
Ryan’s First Half Ironman
On the day of the race, Ryan was up at 4 a.m. to eat and stretch and I joined him around 5:30 a.m. Ryan booked our family a beach rental a little less than a mile from the start of the race which was extremely helpful because it allowed him to walk to the race start without the need for us to wake the boys and get everyone rockin’ super early before a busy day.
Soon after Ryan left, I got dressed and apparently Chase and Ryder sensed the race day energy because they were up a little before 6:30 a.m. and full of excitement. As they got dressed, I loaded up our double stroller with snacks, race signs and water bottles and then got Rhett up for the day.
We left our beach townhouse at 7 a.m. and walked to the swim transition which was about a mile away. It was so, so helpful to be able to walk to this location and not worry at all about parking, especially since a lot of roads were blocked off for the race.
It was a gorgeous morning and as we talked about the swimmers beginning the race in the ocean, Chase said, “Sharks really like to feed early in the morning.” We all agreed that so many people swimming at one time would make a lot of noise that wouldn’t interest any sharks.
About halfway into our walk, I got a notification on my phone that said Ryan began his race! I was so impressed with the tracker app because it showed his exact location in the water and sent me another notification when he got out of the water so we knew when to look for him running toward the transition area.
Something about watching an Ironman is very emotional and I surprised myself by crying when I saw the first woman come through the first transition. She was beaming and I am truly in awe of the dedication, motivation and determination of the Ironman athletes.
As I tracked Ryan’s swim, I kept double checking his time because he seemed to be really flying! Ryan spent a lot of time training for the swim early morning in the lake near our house because, at the beginning of his training, he said the swim made him the most nervous. (By the end of his training his nervousness switched to the bike mostly because most of his bike training took place on a stationary bike in our garage until he found a bike to borrow from a friend.) Seeing him rock such a competitive swim time was incredible!
The boys and I were stationed right around a curve and it was so fun to see Ryan break out into a big smile when he saw us. We stayed in our same spot so we could see him take off on his bike and then headed back to the townhouse for some food and playtime. We spent two hours at our home base and the boys played outside while I constantly checked in with Ryan’s pace on the bike.
By 10 a.m., it was time to head back out so we could catch Ryan at his bike transition. We parked in a parking garage near the transition area which worked well and didn’t feel too chaotic. We easily claimed a spot at the transition entrance and an unexpected bonus of lugging the double BOB stroller around all day is that it doubled as a stool of sorts for the big kids so they could stand on the end and see Ryan over the corral fencing.
We were there for about 10 minutes before Ryan came through and I was so relieved to see him looking strong with a smile on his face as he high-fived the boys. Throughout Ryan’s training he always said, “If I can just make it to the run, I’ll be okay,” so it was nice to know he was about to enter the area of the race that felt the most comfortable to him.
Once we chatted after the race, Ryan said the bike was absolutely the area that was the most challenging for him, which he largely attributes to not spending enough time on a road bike in his training.
After we cheered like crazy for Ryan as he entered the transition, the boys and I sprinted to the transition exit so we could catch him coming out of it as he began his run. His stride looked strong and his pace looked fluid which I took as a good sign because, pending no injuries, I knew he’d finish the race. His first Half Ironman — 70.3 miles — was within reach!
Since the run was an out-and-back course, it wasn’t the easiest for me to find a way to see Ryan and then have enough time to high-tail it back to the finish with all the boys in tow. (I think this would have been manageable if I was spectating alone and didn’t have three kids to corral everywhere with me.) Since I knew we likely had less than two hours to kill, we made our way to the finish and played in the lawn nearby.
All things considered, the boys did really well during the race but the most challenging part of the day with the boys occurred at the finish line. Rhett just wanted to wander all over the place whereas Chase and Ryder were really into cheering for the athletes. Keeping little ones who don’t want to be in the same place together was challenging at times but overall our day went surprisingly well and wasn’t too stressful.
As I mentioned above, Chase and Ryder had a blast cheering for the men and women completing the race and we ended up spending most of the time Ryan was out running cheering for the athletes as they finished. We even got to see the first man and woman finish which prompted Ryder to ask, “Why was that not Dad?” A conversation followed about how amazing it is to try our best and accomplish challenging goals we set for ourselves, regardless of whether or not we technically win.
My tears came out again when a man yelled out and clenched his fists above his head as he crossed the finish. Witnessing the emotion on the faces of the finishers who were clearly overcome by what they just accomplished was so inspiring and incredibly moving.
Chase got really into my tracker app by the end of the race and I told him it was his job to let us know when Ryan reached his final mile so we could start cheering as loud as we could. I spotted Ryan as he came over the hill and it was so, so amazing to see him running toward the finish line of such a huge race.
He high-fived the boys while I cheered and did my best to video his finish — 5 hours, 21 minutes and 30 seconds later. He did it!!!
I don’t know how to capture the experience of Ryan’s first Half Ironman because it was his race but from the outside looking in, it was unbelievable. The whole experience was wonderful, in large part, because of the community surrounding the race and the camaraderie between the athletes. Everyone was so helpful to me and the boys as spectators and the fellow athletes were always more than happy to answer Ryan’s questions and offer words of encouragement before his first 70.3.
Ryan was clearly exhausted after the race but still somehow had enough energy to join us on the beach and walk to dinner later that evening. I couldn’t get enough of hearing about his experience on the race course and was so glad he seemed to get a morale boost from seeing us cheer for him throughout the race. Being a part of something so special for Ryan felt incredibly special for our whole family.
Also, thank you so much to the blog readers out there who saw Ryan on the course and cheered for him! He said he heard from a few of you who called out to him and said you were PBF readers. Fist-bumping you guys definitely helped encourage him!
Ryan’s first Half Ironman was such a memorable experience for our whole family and we’re all so incredibly proud of our favorite guy!