The Road to my First Half Ironman

June 20th, 2016 by Kaitlyn Patterson

–By Kathy Braginton, Team OAM NOW Multisport Athlete

Braginton GR tri

It is better to look back on life and say: “I can’t believe I did that,” than to look back and say: “I wish I did that.” Last October, I began to think about trying my first half Ironman. Knowing I couldn’t do it alone, I looked to recruit a few family members to join me. I asked my niece if would be interested and got an immediate, YES! My sister on the other hand, dragged her feet until the last day before the price increase. The next step was to find a coach. Athletic Mentors made that decision easy with the introduction of their newest coaching package, the Custom TRI Coaching Subscription. With my weekly training plan laid out for me, I was on way. Let the training begin!

West Michigan offers two half Ironman races in the Grand Rapids area, one in June and one in August. The Grand Rapids Triathlon held in June is known for its flat, fast course. It’s ideal for the new and experienced triathlete alike. With a beautiful swim in the lake-like Thornapple River with virtually no current, to a flat country-road bike course then on to the scenic, shaded run course with loads of local support. This race offers several free clinics leading up to the event, a pre-race swim and pre-ride at the race site the week before, along with an amazing expo. It’s the largest triathlon in Michigan and offers a Sprint, Olympic and Half Iron, all with separate transition areas to give you a small race feel. With a description like that, I decided Grand Rapids Tri was the race for me.

Finding your race day focus

After 5 months of focusing solely on training, how was I going to shift my focus from training to racing? A friend of mine once told me that I had R.A.C.E. written across my forehead. Apparently, that was all I could think about. For the first time in my racing career, I found that was not true. Those letters were now T.R.A.I.N. Being so focused on training, I suddenly realized the racing season was rapidly approaching and I needed to shift my focus once again to R.A.C.E.

Nothing happens without focus. To gain my race day focus, I searched for a local race to use as my warm-up race. I chose Double Time Triathlon, hosted by Spirit Racing. It is staged at the Nazarene Church Camp on Indian Lake, just east of Vicksburg. Double Time also marked a milestone for me. It was triathlon number 50! After 49 triathlons, you would think I could transition with my eyes closed. However, after a 9 month hiatus, it takes 1 triathlon to refresh your memory, verify all your equipment is in working order, and to confirm you can slip your feet in and out of your bikes shoes without crashing.

With my focus established (or so I thought), it was on to Grand Rapids. When I decided to transition from a race that takes less than an hour and a half to a race that would take approximately 6 hours, I started to rethink everything I thought I already knew. Should I transition this way or that way? How much should I eat? What should I eat? How fast should I bike? How should I hydrate? And most importantly, when am I going to go to the bathroom?

Braginton GR Tri run

Then the race horn sounded. All the months of swirling emotions: excitement, anxiety, confidence, self-doubt, apprehension, they all drifted away. It was an amazing sense of freedom, as though a huge weight had been lifted off me, and I simply put my head down and swam. I swam 2 minutes under my goal time. My bike time was right at my goal. My total transition time was 3 minutes faster than estimated. Feeling amazing at the start of the run, I took off like I was on the run leg for a sprint distance race. I quickly settled myself down and got into a comfortable pace. I found I really liked the 2 loop run course as it made it easy to cheer on all the other competitors along the way.

As I crested the last hill and into the final stretch of the run, I scrolled my Garmin to display the total race time and distance. The distance read 69.5 miles. That is the moment it really hit me as to what I was about to accomplish….70.3 miles!




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