70.3 or Bust: Dominating The Miami Rhoto Half-Ironman

Greetings from Milwaukee. Things have been a little chaotic around here. In the last 10 days, I’ve had terribly unreliable internet connections while moving out of my old house, flying to miami, and flying back to the midwest. Somewhere in between all that, I ran a half-ironman. A HALF-IRONMAN! I’m shocked too. So, apologies for the delay on this, but I’ve been a little busy. Either way, I”ll shut up with the excuses – on to the story! (Warning: It’s a long read, but if you read the whole thing, but it includes underwater sparring and stories about someone peeing their pants. Intrigued? Read on!)

Miami Half Ironman

As I was getting ready for the race last week, the weather reports kept saying that there was a Hurricane that was coming Miami’s way. Usually, that would be intimidating, but tat this point it seems that wherever I go, natural disasters seem to follow, so I didn’t think about it too much. As the week progressed, the hurricane must have heard that I was coming to town and it diverted it’s course to be more in line with Cuba than Miami.

You’re welcome Miami. Sorry Cuba!

Unfortunately, just because the hurricane wasn’t gonna hit us, doesn’t mean that the rain decided to follow suit. We got plenty of that. It rained the entire time we were down there.

Saturday Pre-Race Expo

Saturday morning, we headed to the Half-Ironman expo. Fortunately, it was at the Bayfront Park. That doesn’t mean a lot to some of you out there, but that’s the park in the opening scene of Burn Notice (I don’t watch much TV, but Burn Notice is awesome).

We made our way through registration, picked up my packet, listened to the rules and did our best to avoid the intermittent downpouring throughout the afternoon and proceeded to buy an obscene amount of protein bars and energy gels in preparation for my punishment race the next day (it was a good deal!).

After reveling in my haul, we headed to my hotel, ate a light meal and lied around for a bit. I still wanted to get in a 3 mile jog just to stay warm for the next day so I decided to go downstairs and get moving.

It had been raining a lot since the expo, but as I walked outside the rain seemed to have lightened up. “Let’s give it a shot”, I thought. I started jogging. As soon as I got about 200 yards from the hotel, the weather turned it started to downpour. The sides of the streets turned into rivers and puddles began to transform into small lakes.

Within 30 seconds, I was drenched.

Screw it. I’m already out here and wet – I might as well finish the run. I finished the 3 miles and came back sopping wet walking into my hotel to a gallery of gawkers wondering why a drowned rat was coming into their hotel. Awesome.

I went back to my room, took a shower and put on half of my race day outfit for the next day (always prepared!) and decided to try and convince myself to get some sleep.


Race Day Morning

The wake up call came at 4:00am. My phone went off at 4:15. Then again at 4:20.

I’m up.

A combination of knowing the pain I was about to experience along with realizing that it wouldn’t be light for another 3 1/2 hours still, held me to my bed.

I got up (already dressed, +1 for preparation!), packed my things and was ready to go.

Around 5am we head towards transition to find out the damage done on our bikes. Unlike every other race I’ve done, here we had to check out bikes into transition the night before. This mean that last night, the rain had  not only soaked me, but had time to drench my brand new bike as well – awesome. While the rain was nothing compared to what it had been earlier, it continued to drizzle in the darkness as I looked over my bike.

[click here to watch the video]

I wasn’t really prepared for the rain the night before and tried to cover my bike’s handlebars with a Bubba Gump shrimp bag from a nearby restaurant, but it was much too small to fit and only succeeded covering the right side of the handlebars along with the speedometer. I pulled my bike off the rack to inspect the damage. Luckily, all I had to deal with was a little tire deflation. Compared to some of the guys around me who had to reset their chains, replace their tires and rework their bikes, I was in pretty good shape.

It was still dark out, but the sun was threatening to come up over the horizon. I check my watch – almost 7am. Time to get in the water.

Swimming with the Fishes

They called our wave and we jumped from the doc into the bay and I immediately got a taste of the salt water. First time in a salty body of water, this would be interesting – at least it should be easier to float. The water was warm and we worked our ways to the starting buoys. As we treaded water for about a minute and a half, waiting for the wave in front of us to get sufficiently far enough ahead, I started to get a little bit worried.


I started to answer myself, “A half-ironman, it’s 70.3 miles…”, but as soon as I started to tell myself those words, the gun went off.


I’ve never been a terribly good swimmer. I’m much better at it than some objects (say, rocks for instance), but it’s not my favorite part of the race. It’s really easy to get worked out and wear yourself out on it in the first part of the race and then spend a good 30 minutes on the bike recovering, so my basic rule of thumb for the swim is “Plan on spending a good 45 minutes pseudo-drowning. Once that’s over, get on the bike, work on your time there and you’ll be in the clear.”

So I stayed relaxed and swam at my own pace. I picked two or three other swimmers that were easily identifiable and decided to try and keep pace with them.

I stayed right on target for my 45 minute pace or so. Swimming in packs is always interesting. It’s hard to always know who’s where and even when you can tell, it’s not always easy to avoid everyone. There’s a lot of grabbing, kicking, pushing and occasionally the overzealous guy who decides that out of all the routes in the entire bay, the quickest one is not swimming around either side of you, but swimming on top of you. Apparently he thinks it works like the moving walkways in airports – if you swim on top of someone already swimming, you go twice as fast! Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually work like that. All you really end up getting is an underwater pushing war. It would escalate into a full-out fight, but it’s pretty difficult to throw punches underwater and even if you do, the water slows them down and instead of actually fighting, you just look like you’re doing a poor reenactment of bad slow motion stage fighting. Not to mention that it’s hard enough to swim 1.2 miles, keep moving forward, turn when needed and still remember to breathe that adding sparring to the list is just too many things to add to the list.

So after about 45 minutes of almost-drowning and underwater sparring, I was done. I jumped out of the water, jogged the 200 yards to the transition area and jumped on my bike.

Bike, Bike, Bike

The first 5 miles of the race were ugly. As we zig-zagged backstreets to get out of town, we went over several really old railroad tracks and I saw at least 5 people wipe out going over these way too fast. Once we got out of the downtown area, we literally headed out 27 miles out and came 27 miles back. The first 15 miles were relatively easy I actually got up to some speed on my bike. As we kept going, I realized that I really need to practice my cycling more.

At about mile 22 we shifted from riding NorthWest and started going straight North. As we did, we started cycling straight into the wind. The combination of this and my inexperience cycling, made it sort of a rough as my legs started to tire out really quickly. My speed slowed WAY down and I was counting down the miles to the turnaround. Once we turned around, we grabbed some water from the volunteers (grabbing food/water while riding is still a technique I’m learning to master) and headed back. After wrangling my food into submission while riding and realizing I had the wind at my back, I picked my pedaling up again and started pushing on. 

At about mile 40, I started to get a little bored. I had been on the same road for a couple hours and wasn’t quite close enough to the city center to have a change of scenery. My legs were getting tired and it started getting to the point in the race where you start checking your watch, as if by doing so, you can somehow time will start speeding up.

Luckily, I had my fellow cyclists to entertain me and take my mind off the race.

Around mile 45, I came up pretty quick on a woman coasting. I’m used to getting passed by a lot of people on the bike so seeing someone that I was about to pass so quickly was a little of a start to me. As I got closer I realized she was standing up and as I started to pass her, water started gushing everywhere. I had flashbacks to the monsoon from the night before, but the rain had long since stopped. I looked around thinking an open water bottle might be the answer, but as I swerved left to go around her and get my bearings on what happened, I realized what had just gone down.

A 52 year old woman was voluntarily peeing her pants (and her bike) to save precious time on the bike. And it was a lot of pee.

Now, theoretically, I knew this happened in cycling and triathlons often (really, who wants to stop for the bathroom when you’re in the middle of a race?), but this was my first time experiencing it first hand and being the 12-year old boy that I am, I just started busting up laughing. Count it up to the things people will do to make time (and things you’ll only see during a half ironman). The best part of it all was that there was completely no shame involved whatsoever. As I was passing her, a group of 4 intense older male cyclists passed me and nobody seemed fazed at all.

Ah well, after squeezing as much entertainment out of that episode as possible, I kept pushing forward. As we got close to the bike-in area, I saw 52-year-old-peed-my-pants-with-no-shame-and-a-lot-of-pee lady and started giggling to myself again. Only in triathlon :). Now onto the run!

Just A Half-Marathon

Only a half-marathon left! Ha, only. I did the quick math in  my head and realized I had done 57.2 out of a total of 70.3 miles already. 13.1 miles left? Piece of cake. I jumped off my bike and almost fell over from my wobbly legs. I need to practice bricks more! I jogged back to my transition spot, racked my bike, swapped shoes and half ran/half-wobbled to the run-out portion as I tried to get my legs under me.

The run was a 2 laps of a course a little over 6 miles. The first 1.5 miles weren’t bad, but miles 1.5-4.5 and 8.5-11.5 were up and over across Biscayne Bay on 395/1A (aka the windiest bridge in America). As we started up the bridge, the wind came straight at us. It was honestly a little ridiculous just how windy it was. I started muttering underneath my breath some choice words at the wind itself and resolved to walking up the hill and letting gravity pull me down the other side once I got halfway up.

The 6 mile marker was where the 2nd lap started and the finish line ended. I thought it was a little cruel that they plan the route so you can run so close ot the finish line and have the gall to then tell you to turn around and do another 6.5 miles. Not cool. The next three miles after that were a little demoralizing. I began to slow down and wear out a bit, so I took a shot of cola, mashed a banana up in my hand, ate it and ate a half-cup of ice while dumping the rest on my head. With a little renewed energy, I turned the corner at mile 10 or so and began kicking the rest of the way home (at least that’s what I felt like I was doing – at that point, I’m sure I wasn’t moving quite nearly as fast as I thought I was).

When I got to mile 12 and realized I only had a mile left, I got this giddy smile on my face and almost started laughing to myself. I entered the chute and kept my pace up as I began to get closer and closer and finally crossed the finish line.

My goal for the race was 6:30. I finished at 6:31:27.

Off by a 87 seconds. Suck. Oh well, who cares. I finished.

That was my real goal for the race. I just wanted to prove to myself that it was possible that I could finish. The time wouldn’t have really bothered me except for the fact that I can point to exactly where those 87 seconds came from.

Forgetting How To Get Dressed

I lost a ton of time in T1 (the first transition from bike to swim). No, I didn’t have trouble finding my bike. It wasn’t that the area was crowded and the transition area wasn’t *that* big. It was my shirt. I forgot how to get dressed.

After getting out of the water and running to my spot, I threw on my cycling jersey (correctly). Maybe the salt water from the ocean had gone to my head, but for some reason I thought I put it on wrong (I hadn’t). So, I unzipped it, pulled it off, flipped it inside out and put it on. This time it was obviously on wrong, so I muttered to myself as I looked up and saw people flying in and out of transition while I stood there looking like an idiot. I flipped it again and messed with it as I got it on right. I threw on my shoes and tried to act like none of the thousands of spectators had seen me forgetting how to dress myself.

So, just so we get this straight: I can swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run a half marathon back to back to back, but I still can’t figure out how to put on my shirt? Yup, sounds about right.

Post Half-Ironman Thoughts

I still don’t really feel like I actually did a half-ironman. When people run a maathon, they talk about it like it’s a super emotional experience. When I ran my marathon, it didn’t seem like it was me doing it. The same thing happened this race.

Trying to Smile While Really Tired

All I could think about during the run (besides how much I hated the stupid win) was – “YOU’RE RUNNING A HALF-IRONMAN” – and jolting with the surprise that I was actually doing this. My brain quickly followed tha up with “YOU’RE RUNNING A HALF-IRONMAN – are you out of your f***ing mind?” That realization would cause a brief episode of panic until I realized that I didn’t feel like puking yet, and I returned to being surprised.

A full ironman doesn’t seem that far off anymore. As recently as Saturday night, I was sitting there wondering if I would be able to actually pull the 70.3 miles off. Now, with a full year in front of me to train, I don’t doubt that I can do it, and do it well. Heck, if you put me up for it, I think I could go and do it now – and while it definitely wouldn’t be pretty – it definitely wouldn’t be impossible. It’s funny how much your perspectives can shift in just a few days.

Half-Ironman: DONE.


What’s next?

Now that I’m back in Milwaukee, I’m back in chaos mode. I moved out of my house before I headed to Miami and realized when I got back, I had forgotten to get another place! Details. Details. I’ve got leads on a few places, but if you happen to know any downtown loft owners in Milwaukee who want to give someone a place for either free (preferably) or in exchange for some good stories, let me know :p.
The Inaugural 30 Day Challenge in the Impossible League has finished. We’ll be picking the winners and resetting the challenge soon. If you’re not a part of the league yet, we’d love to have you.
What impossible things are you doing this weekend?

Want to do your own triathlon? We designed Impossible TRI is designed to get you ready for your first triathlon in 3 months. Find out more here.

[photos by Tomyra & Austin Passy]

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  1. josh denness says


    Best blog post in a while man, really enjoyed reading it! Can’t believe that woman on the bike, I generally find in races that I sweat it all out and the balance isn’t too hard. But I’ve never done 6 and a half hours straight exercise before!

    Have you considered what’s coming up after the full ironman yet??

  2. says

    My biggest athletic accomplishment was the 1/2 marathon I ran a few months back. The feeling of coming up on the Finish line is amazing. Congrats!

  3. chuck Linn says

    Great job Joel, and the blog very inspiring. Looking forward to the next 30 day challenge since I wussed out and did not do the last one. Congratulations on your Half Iron Man .

  4. says

    That’s an impressive feat of endurance… and an impressive feat of predicting your finishing time! Crossing the line within 90 seconds of a predicted six and a half hours is pretty amazing!

    In fact, I am SO STOKED by this post that I am compelled to add another IMPOSSIBLE T to my wardrobe.

    And then I gotta get out and run in the morning.


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