Ironman 70.3 Ohio — The Race Report


My face hurts from smiling. I haven’t even been able to stop grinning for about 36 hours now. I am completely on cloud 9 from this past weekend and I can’t stop raving about it. Next to our wedding day, racing Ironman 70.3 Ohio was my second favorite day ever!

athlete-villageTo be a part of something so incredible, amazing, uplifting and positive was more than I could have ever expected. I am so proud of not only myself, but of the 3,000+ other athletes that I toed the starting line with. Ironman is the most supportive and positive experience I think I’ve ever been a part of. All of these incredible athletes gathered in one place to push themselves and each other to be better and to not be average — it’s simply incredible. I am in awe.

ironman-signWe left our house on Saturday at about 11AM and got to athlete village around 1PM. We checked in with little wait time and I was nervous and excited as the nicest volunteers wished me luck. I picked up a few items from the Ironman store (aka my husband limited my spending) and then we went to an athlete briefing at 2PM. Next stop was the mandatory bike check-in at the beach start, so we headed over there. It was the biggest transition I had ever seen, but I kept my composure as I nervously racked my bike and made small talk with other athletes around me. It looked like it was going to rain, so after a quick walk around we headed back to the car. About five minutes later it was pouring and although I was concerned about my bike, I was super glad we didn’t get caught in it. My husband had recommended me tying plastic bags around my seat and aero bars, which I was glad I did.

bike-check-inAfter that we went to get something to eat since we were starving and then we checked into our hotel. Once in our room I began to reorganize my items all over again. (Seriously how many times do you need to organize stuff for an Ironman?! It’s insane how much you have to pack!!) Since the race was a point to point course and I had never done a race like that before, it took me a while to organize everything into my separate gear bags. (It also took quite a bit of checking and double checking to make sure I wasn’t panicking that I had forgotten something!)

gear-bags-ironmanMy husband stayed up to watch the UFC fights that were on and I turned off social media and tried to lay down to go to bed. I thought I was going to have a hard time falling asleep, but I slept decently and only woke up a few times throughout the night. My alarm went off at 3:45AM and I was wide awake. I wanted to be out the door by 4:30AM, but we left more towards 4:45AM. Thankfully we ended up being way ahead of schedule! We had to drive to T2 to drop off my run gear bag and then head over to the beach for the swim and to finish setting up my bike and T1 items. Because my husband was driving I just hopped in and out of the car and was super efficient at set up. We had so much time we even stopped at McDonalds for the hubs to grab an extra large coffee.

ironman-tritats-numbersWe were down by the beach at 7AM to watch the elite and first few waves go off. I knew this was going to be one of the hardest parts of the race — to sit there and wait and watch for my wave. I knew my head was going to be my enemy and I’ll admit I teared up just a little as the elites went off. It was a combination of nerves, excitement, worry, happiness and pride. I couldn’t believe that I was there and about to do this… I looked down at my hand and saw my two power words for the race — fearless and joy. I wanted to remind myself to be fearless even when I was doubting and questioning and to also soak up as much joy from the experience as possible. I do this because I enjoy it and I never want to forget that.

ironman-power-wordsFinally my wave was nearing so I dove in the water for a quick little warm up so that I felt more comfortable. This worked out well and the water temp was around 79 degrees and felt fine. After the fuss I had over the “no wet suit” fiasco — I hardly even noticed I wasn’t wearing one!! I felt completely comfortable in the water! pre-race-warm-up


This picture cracks me up because I look like a nervous, excited little kid!

I patiently waited in line with my age group and we slowly made our way to the front. Music was blaring and I felt excited. Finally it was our turn to get in the water and the announcer kept giving us updates like “just under 2 minutes ladies” and “about 30 seconds more”…then the horn went off and my Ironman 70.3 started!

swim-start-wave-ironmanI began swimming, but like any normal triathlon swim — the first few moments are straight chaos. I couldn’t find a spot and I kept hitting people and people kept hitting me. At one point someone’s arm (or maybe their foot I’m not quite sure) knocked me in the face and shoved my googles up over my forehead. I had to stop and tread water to fix them. I heard myself say “Ok, ok, easy. It’s fine. It’s completely fine.” I readjusted myself and kept going.

The first part of the swim felt a little longer than I had hoped for, but I kept reminding myself that the swim is long for almost everyone. I did manage to swallow water not once, but twice! I’ve never done that before and both times I had to stop and tread water to cough. Both times lifeguards in kayaks sprinted over to check on me. It made me feel super safe in the water and I waved them off with “I’m fine! Thank you!” 

swimFinally we were swimming the straight away back to land and I felt joy when my hands brushed the gravel. I had made it and it wasn’t nearly as bad or as hard as I imagined it to be…in fact I almost (just a tiny bit) enjoyed the swim!!

{Swim time: 46:09 minutes}

I sprinted back to T1 and then had the longest transition time known to man! LOL! I know that there is an art form to fast transition times, but all that goes out the window for me. Honestly my biggest thing was that I wanted to be comfortable for the 56-mile bike ride so I wanted to take my time to dry off my feet and eat my gels. I felt relief when I pressed on my tires and felt that they were fine. (I have a crazy irrational fear of a flat tire because it takes me over an hour to change one!) Before I knew it I was headed out of transition and starting the bike!

{T1 time: 9:47}
(BUT in my defense I put on compression socks, regular socks, my tri top, changed tri shorts from the swim, took an energy gel, drank water and took my inhaler — all after being disoriented from the 1.2 mile swim!)

Once I got on the bike I realized how much fun I was having. I had survived (and actually enjoyed) the swim and now there I was cruising down back country roads with the sun shining. I had a smile on my face almost the entire ride and my checks hurt by the time I was done.

bike-5I did have one little hiccup on the bike — because I was cruising (about 17 mph) and I had a nice rhythm going, I didn’t want to stop at the aid stations. I knew I should have stopped to eat because I’m bad at eating on the bike, but I just didn’t want to and I kept riding. The aid stations were at miles 14, 32 and 46. Around mile 40 I started to hit a wall. I was super tired and I started getting mad because I was so hungry. I just kept telling myself to get to mile 46 and that I would stop and eat once I was there. Finally I got there and I got off the bike. A nice volunteer held my bike for me as I put my hands on my knees. I was shaking at that point and knew I shouldn’t have waited so long to eat. I had a PB&J in my back jersey pocket and I took it out and ate it. I also took another gel and drank some Gatorade. Then I was off and I felt myself returning back to normal!

bike-22I will say that I was pretty paranoid of getting a yellow penalty card on the bike. The drafting rules for the race were six bikes ahead of you — six! Do you realize how large that is? Especially when it was really clogged up at times and you couldn’t really do a lot about it except to keep riding and hope there was no race official watching. Thankfully I made it through just fine, but when I passed the first penalty tent I was shocked at how many people were in it.

bike-33Finally I heard the noise of the stadium and knew we were close to the end of the bike and to T2. I wasn’t sure what to expect on the run, but I was glad to be off the bike.

bike-to-run11bike-to-run1{Bike time: 3:12}

My transition in T2 was better than T1, but I still wanted to make sure I was comfortable and took my time.

{T2 time: 5:35}

So there I was off on the run. I had made it through the swim and the bike and I was on the final leg of the race. I couldn’t believe it. I felt ok…for the first 5 minutes. And then the pain started. I later joked with my family that I had a few moments of deep despair on the run, but there’s no other way to describe it. At mile 3 I thought about seeing my husband and thought about crying. I carried on. Luckily there were a lot of amazing spectators on the course and hearing a random “keep going Cassandra!” helped to keep my spirits up. At mile 5 I started feeling decent. I was tired of course, but I felt like I had climbed over the wall that hit me pretty early on in the run. I kept playing games with myself like “run until you reach that light pole” and then I would walk for 30 seconds and then pick another target to run towards. This helped to pass some of the time, but I was really wishing we could have listened to music.

run-1At mile 9 I started running next to another fellow Cleveland Triathlon Club member, Melanie. We chatted a little bit, but mostly we encouraged each other when the other one would give a defeated sigh or groan. We ended up running the last 4 miles together and picked up the pace quite a bit. It was awesome running down the finishers shoot with another club member. Our entire tri club was going crazy when we passed them and I had a huge smile on my face.

CTC-MembersThe finish line was on the track of Selby Stadium at Ohio Wesleyan University. It’s awesome because the spectators and fans are looking down at you and cheering. I could hear the stadium from the street and I couldn’t believe I was in the final moments of the race. I love this moment. The very end when everything you’ve endured and pushed through is right there in front of you. It’s always an emotional few minutes as you near the finish line.

I tried to soak it all in. The cheers, the sun beating down on me, the tiredness and soreness in my legs, the smile plastered to my face…

Music blasted and I made the turn to the finish. I passed another group of Cleveland Triathlon Club members who were cheering loudly for me. The screaming and cheers were so loud and I felt myself start to tear up. I was grinning and blinking back tears. I heard my husband cheering and then I heard my mom! I was sprinting now and I heard the announcer yell “Cassandra Holloway bringing it home!” I was laughing and cheering too as I crossed the finish line. I had done it!

{Run time: 2:21}

finishline1finish-line2I wasn’t as sore as I thought I would be, but I was even happier than I could have imagined. I kept saying “I just can’t believe it! I can’t believe that happened!”

{Total time: 6:35}

I didn’t have much of an appetite right after the race. They had a nice spread of post-race food for the athletes, but nothing looked good. I think I was too excited, tired, sore and thrilled to even think about food.

finisherUnfortunately Selby Stadium didn’t have a locker room/showers for the athletes (which I was really hoping they would considering I had to drive over 2 hours home). We ended up driving back to the beach start and I went in with a bar of soap to clean up — LOL! Hey, gotta do what you gotta do I guess! This was sufficient enough so that I could change and we went out to eat. Delaware is a really cute little town and I enjoyed sitting out on a patio with my family. We drank beer in the sun and I kept flipping out about the race. I just couldn’t believe it! It was a nice moment that I won’t forget.

Even almost four days later I am still thrilled. Honestly the training was harder than the actual race. The race was pure enjoyment and excitement. I can’t believe I was a part of something so incredible and I found that I was almost at a loss for words when I told my coworkers about it at work this week. Everything I tried to explain didn’t do it justice. You just have to be a part of it to fully understand and to “get it”.

By now I am fully recovered. I enjoyed some pasta and ice cream and two days of full rest. Yesterday I did some light weights and cardio and this morning I went out for an early 8-miler since I am still technically marathon training. My husband helped me make this little shadow box with my bib and medal and I’m obsessed with it! We found the box for $9 at the store.

boxTomorrow we leave for Italy and I can’t even believe it! What a whirlwind these past few days have been!! I’m also super excited to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary on Monday too. We will be taking a bus tour out to Tuscany to celebrate.

Thanks to everyone who followed my 24-week journey. I can honestly say it was worth every sacrifice and I learned a lot about myself and the sport. If you are questioning or thinking about doing a 70.3 my advice is to do it!! You will not regret it. Ironman 70.3 Ohio gets an A+ in my book. What a great inaugural race!