It was Sunday September 27, 2015. I woke up just before 5am and started to get ready to start my day and my second Half Ironman. I tried as hard as I could not to wake my mom, daughter, friend Becki and her son. As I came out of the bathroom and started to get my things out of the hotel room door I heard my mom say “it’s not time to get up, we have to go back to sleep.” And all I thought was I am going to pretend I did not hear that. I managed to get my transition bag, wetsuit, bike pump and gallon of water out the door around 5:15 and headed down for some pre-race breakfast and coffee. The lobby was buzzing with athletes and the energy was strong. I eat a few hard boiled eggs even though my stomach was in knots. And I drank some coffee, hoping the caffeine would calm me somehow, no luck on that. Around 5:30 I decided to head to the transition area to set up my things and meet my friend Stacy. I started walking (hotel was only 1 mile from the transition area). It was dark, the sidewalk was full of cracks and I was getting more and more nervous with each step. The closer I got, the more athletes and supporters of athletes I saw. The energy around me was growing rapidly. Finally I reached the transition area and found my spot. Yesterday, after athlete check in we had to bring our bikes to the transition area and “rack them”. It makes it much easier on race day, all you have is your gear. Anyway, I found my bike and began to set up my little spot in the world. I was chatting with some other gals that were also setting up their spots and it was nice to hear that others were just as nervous as I was. The plan was to meet my friend Stacy who was only 2 spots away from me in transition and then travel back to the swim start with her. After I was done pumping up my tires and setting myself up for the day Stacy came. It was so good to see a familiar face. She set her stuff up and then we went to find her friend Gary. We found him and then headed to the busses to get to the swim start. We had to wait in a rather long line for the busses and I started talking to two gals behind me. It was their first half ironman and they were nervous but ready. The wait for the bus seemed to take forever, but in reality it was not that long. We got on the bus and rode about 1 mile to the riverfront area where the swim started. Stacy had to hussle back to her hotel to drop off her bag and get her wetsuit, goggles and swim cap. I chose to stay at the riverfront. I walked into the church that was close by, used the ladies room and made it to the riverfront in time to see the first wave of swimmers start. I missed the singing of the national anthem and the paratroopers coming down, I was disappointed at that. But I could not change it. After the first wave started I realized I needed to get my wetsuit on and head down towards the front because my wave was starting soon. The first wave started at 7:30 and my wave was at 7:54. That was about an hour earlier than last year, I was very happy about that. It means I didn’t have to wait like last year. But it also meant I had to hussle down because my wave was starting to line up. Stacy and I were in the same wave and I didn’t see her anywhere. I was getting nervous for her. When I got to the line up area I saw a friend of Stacys, Heather. Heather was concerned that she was not there yet as well. I stayed toward the back of the pack in hopes of seeing her. While waiting I had a mild panic attack because I could not remember how to get my Garmin watch on auto multisport mode. A gentlemen helped me who was not racing, but his hands were shaking (he was very nervous) as he was pushing buttons on my watch. It made me nervous, but I didn’t have time to care. A minute or two later she came, she had plenty of time, but she was hustling to get her wetsuit, cap and goggles on. We then saw her friend Lucy who wished us luck. And then we started down the ramp to the dock. We wished each other luck and went our separate ways. We immediately got in the water and our race was about to begin.
Getting in the Savannah River is always interesting. You never know two things, how cold the water is and how strong the current is. This year, the water was really cold and I immediately thought I was happy I have a full wetsuit. We had about 1 minute to get used to the water as we were holding on to the dock. That minute went by super fast and the horn blew. We were off. I made my way to the left side of the course, it was the closest to the middle of the river and the current was faster. Swimming with the current is awesome. You still swim,but the current carries you a lot. Swimming 1.2 miles is a very long way. About half way through I was convinced I would be swimming forever. I just told myself to keep going and I would be there soon. And I was right. Before I knew it I was coming out of the water. I was greatful to see volunteers helping us up and onto the transition mat. The end of the swim was rocky and it was hard to get my footing. As soon as I was going up the ramp to transition I heard my name. Mom, Becki and the kids were there to see me at the end of the swim and to start my bike. That made me super happy. After I saw them I was trying to pull my wetsuit zipper down. I could not get a hold of the zipper string and I asked some random spectator to unzip my wetsuit. He happily complied and I started to peel it off down to my waist. I made my way around the corner to the wet suit strippers. As I approached them they said, “butt on the ground, legs in the air” and I happily complied (and giggled a little, okay, a lot). They peeled that wetsuit off so darn fast. And then they helped me up!! The swim was officially over and I was headed towards my bike.
As I was in transition getting my bike ready I realized I had to go to the bathroom. But I decided to just ignore it and hoped it would go away (stay tuned, that was a bad idea). I dried off my feet and put on my cycling socks, my sunglasses and helmet, grabbed my bike and headed out to ride. Just after getting on my bike I heard Becki yell for me and I saw mom and the kids on my right. Becki was on my left trying to get a picture but she couldn’t get it because I was riding too fast😊.
The bike course is so beautiful in Augusta, most of it is done in South Carolina and it is full of farms and beautiful scenery. Remember how I ignored the need to use the port-a-potty?? Yeah, it caught up to me quickly on the bike. I still had to go at mile 15 and I had not taken one sip of water because I had to go so bad. When I came up to the first bike aid station I decided to stop to relieve myself. I hate stopping for that reason, but I knew I would be in trouble if I didn’t. I was very happy to see the first aid station around mile 20. And as soon as I got back on my bike I was very thankful that I stopped. The bike course has some hills, but it’s not bad. The area where I train has more hills, so I know I can handle this course with no problem. The one thing that I don’t like about the bike course is the condition of the roads in some areas. At 2 different sections along the rolling 56 miles the road is just rough. It’s not full of pot wholes, it’s just rough road. It’s like there are cracks in the road and the road has buckled a little. Not only does your tush hurt more while riding in these sections, you have to pray you don’t get a flat. There were a few sections that I was super concerned about getting a flat, but thankfully that did not happen. Around mile 50 I was ready to get off my bike, I wanted to run. The last 6 miles seemed to take forever. I made it back to transition with no problems and I was thankful for a good ride.
Transition from the bike to the run went well. Nothing too exciting happened, I did change my socks and take Advil. Nothing hurt, it was a preventative measure. I put on my fuel belt, race number belt, running shoes and took off for the 13.1 mile run.
The run started off great, my legs were ready to run and so were my mind and the rest of my body. Just after mile 1 I saw my support crew, Mom, Becki and the kids were cheering and it was so fantastic to see them. As I made my way through the first few miles I kept saying just make it to mile 6 and then you can walk. I saw my support crew at least one more time before mile 6. They were awesome and saw me at all different parts on the run. Around miles 3, 4 and into 5 we were running in the heart of downtown Augusta and the crowd support was amazing. Everyone was cheering and yelling and the energy was amazing. Then between miles 6 through 8 the crowds die down. There are still people cheering and yelling, but it’s not the same as in the downtown area. Around mile 6 my stomach was feeling full of liquid and I could feel it all moving around. So I decided to walk some. I ended up walking most of miles 6 and 7. My stomach needed to calm down. I only drank water at the aid stations and that helped. I started running again at mile 8 and I felt good. I am not sure at while miles I saw my support crew, I do know that at one of them Becki was Face Timing with her mom and sister who were in Kenya. I could hear them cheering for me and it was so cool. I believe that was between miles 8 and 9, but I am really not sure. Remember Lucy, Stacy’s friend we saw just before the swim start? Well she and her husband were at a ton of different places along the run route. I think I saw them 5-6 times. At one point I said to “you guys are everywhere”. It made me so happy to see them. As I was running through the crowd support for the last time in downtown Augusta people kept saying that they remembered me from my first loop I was looking strong and good. That was huge boost and it just made me go faster. At mile 11 I looked at my watch and saw my total time was around 6 hours. My goal was to beat my time from last year and if I ran the last 2 miles I could achieve that goal. My crew was at mile 12 and I was so happy to say I only had one more mile. I made the turn to the finish line and the energy was incredible!! I could feel the energy from the crowd and from the athletes who already finished and were cheering others on. I saw the finishing chute and I just ran as fast as my body would allow. And then I heard those words “Janel Brooks has successfully completed her half ironman here in Augusta”. Music to my ears!!