My name is Sandi Haws and I just completed an ironman 70.3 (half ironman). My journey through this adventure taught me a lot about myself, family, and friends. I am hoping that if you have ever had a big obstacle in your path… reading this may help you find the strength to push through. To better understand my journey here is a little about me and my family. My husband and I have been married for 7 years now. We have two little kids: 3 and 1 years old. My husband is a registered nurse who works 12-hour night shifts 3 days a week about an hour away from home. I am registered dietitian. For the last couple years I have worked 1-2 days per week while staying at home with the kids. Right before starting training for this race I decided to work part-time with 3 set days each week. We decided to en-roll our 3 year old son in preschool for this year to see if a classroom setting will help him focus a little more. It has been a great experience for us. My husband’s job is unique. It allows him to be home and watch our 1-year-old on the days I work. However, on his work days we hardly see him at all. My husband came to me one day with the idea to train for a half ironman and write about our experience. At first I thought the idea was crazy. I am not a writer, and a race that big would require so much training. One of the reasons I married my husband is because he helps me move past initial fears that often keep me trapped in immobility. I get frozen in place trying to figure out how or where to start. All the obstacles start to surround me and I can’t see a way around them. My husband gets so much fire and excitement for new ideas. He does all the research to make a dream become real. And all of a sudden I start to see a path to the goal. It is a wonderful gift that he has given me many times in our marriage. Without his guidance I would not have started on this journey at all.
One of the initial promises I made to myself when I started this, was to make sure that my training would have as little impact as possible on my family. I didn’t want training to take away time spent with them. Despite the fact that I was just starting to work more I knew I had to find a way to make this work. Another promise was to try to be prudent about money. I had the luck of already having a bike. Jon and I did a couple small triathlons before we had children, and had bought bikes back then. I will discuss different things I did to save money, and things that I eventually spent money on.
I will give a little background info on my level of fitness just prior to training for this race. I did very little working out in high school. I was on the volleyball team for one year. In college I did workout videos with friends, started lifting weights regularly at the gym (very little cardio), played outdoor sand volleyball, wake boarded, started running 5Ks occasionally. I was a slow runner, usually averaging 10 minute miles during races. If you don’t think you are an athlete don’t let that stop you. At 25 years old I would have told you I am not a runner a biker or a swimmer; I don’t know a thing about any of them and I am not any good at any of them. When I met my husband we did a few 5Ks together. He helped create a plan for me to get faster. I followed a training regimen for about 6 weeks, and dropped my pace to under a 9 minute mile. It felt great. I had never really been trained by anyone before, and I loved seeing such a drastic improvement. My husband had several marathons under his belt before we met, and at some point I decided I would like to do one. It was a year or more into our marriage, and we hadn’t been working out much. I was basically starting from scratch. I remember that even one mile was painful then. After my first marathon I was determined to get faster and by my third marathon I had dropped a minute per mile off my pace. Then I started having kids. After my first child, I ran a marathon 6-months postpartum, but was very slow again. After my second baby I ran a marathon about 8 months postpartum. That was this first day of this year 2014. My knee started hurting halfway through the race and I pushed through the pain. After the race I backed off running a lot. I took a few weeks off to let it heal. I started running 2-4 miles at most, and picked up my pace. My knee didn’t hurt unless I went more than 4 miles. I cut back running to 3 days a week at most. That is where I was at when Jon presented the ironman idea to me. If I hadn’t run a marathon just 4-5 months prior I don’t think I would have agreed. But just 18 months after my last child was born I am in better shape than I ever have been before. Despite many small successes and failures I was able to balance, work, family, and training and I am glad I lived through this!
How I got started… taking on more work, training plans, time with family, etc
- Life plan: Each week I mapped out my entire schedule to determine how and when I could workout. I looked online for some scheduling printouts or organizers and eventually created my own which is attached below.
- Research: One of my first steps was finding a training plan. I didn’t just look at one I looked at several. I didn’t follow any exactly, but adapted the plans to fit my life and schedule, trying to make sure to implement important aspects of the training plans. I read about the half ironman and tried to learn from others’ mistakes.
- Where to train: Early on I had to decide how and where I would train for this race. Gyms, pools, bikes, strollers, weights, treadmills, bike trailers, bicycle trainers, stationary bikes, etc.
- When: I tried to train when kids were asleep as much as possible, so that my working out was taking away my “me time” not my family time. I also wanted to include my children in my workouts when possible. This affected what equipment was my priority.
Life Plan/ Research
Once I found a Ironman 70.3 training plan I had to find a way to stay organized. Until I was able to see that I could fit working out into my life, I didn’t care about the specific workouts. I spent an hour one day looking at daily, weekly, monthly schedulers/organizers/planners. A lot of them didn’t work for me. I didn’t want to plan out every hour, but I needed something with more space than a monthly calendar. I needed to be able to look at my week and see my work days, my husband’s work days, days I watch my niece and nephew, activities with my kids, and my workout plan, but without having to know exactly what time some things may happen. One of the best things about my job is that I don’t have set hours. I can arrive at work at 5 am or 10 am. I leave when my workload is done 6-8 hours. Schedules with my family and kids change so I don’t write down specific start times for things, unless I have an appointment. I found a great idea online and created my own Calendar in Word.
Each row was given a title and events from each category could be tracked throughout the week. When planning each workout I had to consider a lot of things. The weather during a summer in Texas is brutal. Any middle of the day workouts needed to be swimming or biking. I rarely ever ran mid day. If I did it was only a few miles. Since my husband works evenings on the days he works he is not home at night after the kids are in bed. He is not home in the morning before the kids wake. I have to either bring the kids with me on a workout when they are awake or workout at home when they are asleep. This was a big factor in deciding where to spend money in terms of workout equipment. On my work days I can’t workout during nap time or with the kids, so I must work out early morning or after bedtime. The number of hours I had to work out varied depending on all these factors. Here is an example of how I utilized the Calendar for my life. It helped me keep things straight most of the time.
This was not an actual week, but an example of how it all came together. It is very similar to a normal week’s schedule. I printed many copies of the blank calendar and put them on a clipboard. Near the end of each week I would start working on the next week. I would adjust based on how the previous week went, and was able to keep up with the most difficult workouts on the training plans I had found.
Where to Train
I had some equipment already, and had a limited budget. I wanted to include the kids on some of my workouts. I needed to be able to workout at home 3 days per week. All of these factors influenced how I spent my money. Below is a list of what I used for training.
Nature: I did the majority of my training outside in nature. I utilized every park and trail that I could find within a 20 mile radius of my house. No matter where I am in my city I can give a good estimate of how many miles I am from home. When the weather was good I brought the kids along.
Jogging stroller: As soon as I was pregnant with my second child I started planning on getting a new jogging stroller – one that would hold two kids. I used it a lot to train for my marathon, and I used it to train for this race as well. I use it on almost all outings as well: zoo, museum, park, walks to grocery store, etc. This investment was very worth it to me. One day when my three year old wouldn’t go down for a nap he came along on a 6 mile jog. He slept most of the run and ended up getting some much needed rest. On longer runs it is really nice to bring some water along. (ARTICLE)
Shoes: I spend about $50 – $60 on running shoes. I probably buy a new pair once every 2 years. I put a lot of miles on my shoes, and put a lot of thought into each purchase. The discounted shoes are often the model from the previous year. They are not poor quality, just not the newest and most exciting. I have always been able to find great running shoes staying under $60.
Tracker: To monitor my pace/distance/etc I used a free app on my phone. I like having my phone on me any time I workout in case something happens. It uses GPS to let me know my pace and distance. I didn’t pay for anything just utilized the free app that came with my phone: RunKeeper. I also utilized a program called mapmyride on some of my bike rides when I wanted to try out a new route.
Bike: My bike is about 7 years old now. My husband and I did a lot of research and found a company that made less expensive triathlon bikes. We found a bike for about $700 that had higher end components. My sister-in-law spent $800 on a good road bike. They both worked well. I personally do prefer the aero bars (handle bars that allow you to ride in a more aerodynamic position). I noticed a significant difference in my speed, and the position was very comfortable for me.
Bicycle Trainer: A bike trainer allows you to take your bike and set it up in your home to ride in place. I prefer it to a stationary bike for several reasons. First, you can get a bike trainer for much less than a stationary bike. Second, you are riding your actual bike with a bike trainer. You can practice correct position on your bike in addition to building your muscle. It will also get you used to the seat on your bike. If you can bike outside for all of your training that is amazing, but if weather is a limitation or you are home with kids, like me, the bike trainer is a great solution.
Bike trailer: I actually didn’t end up getting a bike trailer. It takes up a lot of space and so I skipped that investment. I also have issues with my 3 year old being too rough with his little sister. The one time I borrowed a bike trailer to try it out it didn’t go well. If my kids got along better I might have gotten a bike trailer that can be used as a jogging stroller as well.
Bike Computer: I started with a $10 bike computer. It worked great. It tracked everything that you would want. It was not wireless. The one thing it lacked was light, and when I started riding more in the dark I started to want a light on my computer. I bought a $20 bike computer that was wireless and had a backlight.
Bike shoes and clips: You can actually save time on your transition from bike to swim if you don’t wear bike shoes. I never noticed a big difference in my speed with bike shoes. Although I did get bike shoes I don’t think they are necessary. It works just as well to get toe clips and straps. The pedal goes around the front of your shoes so you get push down and pull up while pedaling. This is a much less expensive option.
Pool: There are a lot of options out there for pool access: personal pool, gym, community pool, neighborhood pool. Our city gym has a pool for a great price. It doesn’t have childcare, however. I was lucky to have an outdoor neighborhood pool. I waited anxiously for it to open at the beginning of summer, and trained in it til mid October when it closed for the year. I would have used the city gym if I had been training during the winter. There pool is indoors. Texas is known for long hot summers so I had a lot of warm months to train in our neighborhood pool.
Swimsuit: I did not buy a fancy swimsuit, I just used an old one piece that I had.
Goggles: I spent a lot of time finding goggles that wouldn’t leak. I had to go through a few pairs before I found one that worked. ARTICLE
Neither of the training plans that I ended up using included a weight-lift day. I think it is essential to build all the muscles utilized in running so that you don’t do damage to your joints. The stronger the muscles the more support for your joints. Instead of always just running I also worked in some track workouts with bleachers. WEBSITE I used a couple training videos that helped workout my core. I also did planks, squats, superman, crunches, etc. A strong core helps you keep better posture when running. I have a small set of hand weights where you can adjust the weigh amount. I did some good bicep, chest, and shoulder workouts with the weights. I also used them while I did squats. The weigh set was actually a free gift from work. I went to the local high school track and ran bleacher miles and did sprints. I love using gym equipment for weight lifting, but was able to do everything I needed with a little less expense.
Workout clothes: I have been wearing the same 3 pairs of workout shorts for the last 10 year. I liked the first pair I bought so much that I went back a week later and bought 2 more pairs. Since my body has changed over the years I have purchased new running shirts, but I have always been happy with generic brand workout clothes. I was able to survive all the training with about 4 different workout outfits.
Race clothes: I really wanted to try a triathlon suit for the race. This was a hard decision because they are expensive but not essential. I was originally going to buy a one piece because they are a little less expensive. While researching I read on a website that they are difficult to take off in the port-a-potties for bathroom breaks during the race. I ended up buying tri top and shorts online. I used the sizing guide and ordered the cheapest one I could find. Unfortunately, the top didn’t work for me because it chafed at the top by the zipper. The shorts on the other hand were perfect. I loved the little extra padding on the bike, and felt they were very comfortable to run with. They worked great for swimming as well. Since I trained with no padding on the bike the padding in the tri suit was a welcome extra on race day. I just wore an old sports bra during the swim. I pulled on my favorite running shirt before the bike and wore it the rest of the race. It worked out perfectly.
Workouts with kids:
I started altering my routes so that I wouldn’t go by a park where my 3-year-old would inevitably start begging to stop at the playground. I loved to end workouts at the park, however, when I could stretch while they play, then walk home after.
I actually printed off two free online training plans for the Ironman 70.3. Then I started making adaptations. I did my best to make sure that I always did the hardest workout of the week, and I tried to make sure I was increasing my distances in each event at a similar rate as the training plans suggested. Other than that I changed things around a lot. There were days where my only option was riding on my bike with the Mag trainer. On other days I could only run if I brought the kids in the jogging stroller. I adapted time of workout, type of workout to my schedule and conflicts. By the end of it all I had done the complete swim distance several times including 2 times in open water. I had done the complete run distance twice. I had done the complete bike distance once. I did a lot of transition practice between swim and bike and bike and run. I completed a 1.2 mi swim followed by a 40 mile bike followed by a 7 mile run. That workout killed me. I got so nutrition depleted and dehydrated that I hit a wall and walked about 3 miles of that run. It was a bit disheartening to me. It was a really hot day, and I had not adequately replaced fluid, carbohydrates, and electrolytes. Two weeks later I did a 20 mile bike and a 13 mile run. It was cooler and I did better with my nutrition. The run went really well, and I kept a great pace. Still the last 2 miles I think nutrition again got the better of me. During my training I never properly repleted nutrition. I didn’t have enough space on the bike. Texas summers get very hot and all my long bike rides were between noon and 5 pm. It is difficult to carry water on runs, and hard to plan runs around water fountains. I am making a lot of excuses, but I could and should have done better with this. I was already pretty aware of what I can tolerate. I have run several marathons, and know what I can handle and what I need during a 26.2 mile run. I just didn’t prepare enough on training rides to make what I needed available to myself. I would drain all my Gatorade, and suffer through the rest of the workout. I just kept hoping that I wouldn’t need to worry about it as much in October. I was training in 95+ degree weather, and I was hoping for 70s on race day. One thing I did practice was initial bike nutrition. I read on a training plan that some people don’t tolerate water or food well the first 10-30 minutes of the bike after their swim. After my training swims I practiced my transition and did a 30 min bike ride after my swim. I tried drinking water and Gatorade and practiced eating pretzels. I had no problems at all so I knew I could start repleting nutrition as soon as I hopped on the bike. ARTICLE
I am amazed everyday at the things other moms are doing in their lives. Sometimes people would ask me how I had time for this. It is the same as anything in your life. What you put as your priority gets done. I still worked and put my family first, but I definitely had to give some things up:
Cleaning: My husband has said multiple times in the last few weeks since the race how much cleaner the house has been. He keeps saying I don’t know what we are doing differently… I keep responding that I am spending hours cleaning everyday again! I was a much less effective housekeeper during this ordeal to say the least.
Cooking: I should have been eating better in preparation for the race, but we were eating out more and eating more pre-made meals. I stopped making homemade bread. I stopped making food from scratch. I had no time to grocery shop and that lead to more eating out.
Me time: I gave up my “me time”; well exercise became my “me time”. I was playing volleyball weekly with some friends, but that was quickly replaced by training.
Spouse time: I made sure to give a lot of attention to the kids through everything, but I did end up spending less time with my husband, which was a strain on our relationship. Our evenings together after the kids went to bed became my training time.
Patience: The worst thing that I gave up during training was my self-control. The added stress and time associated with training left me drained and fatigued. I was quicker to anger and less patient. I was more irritated with spills and messes. I know it is ridiculous to get upset at a 3-year-old who accidentally spills his spaghetti sauce across the room, but when you are exhausted you are less rational. I love my kids more and more each day, but I regret that maybe I could or should have been a better mom. I do hope that someday my children will find some personal strength from this goal that I worked for and achieved.
I tried to find accomplishment in every workout. When I was about 1 mile away from home I always picked up my pace. I tried to finish every run strong. Running was the one thing I already knew how to do, and I already could do the distance. So with running I focused on improving speed and form. With the swim and bike I rewarded myself for every improvement in distance or speed. Every workout I would get home and tell my husband what great workout I had just done. I texted my sister-in-laws about my reached goals, and they told me about their own accomplishments. That positive outlook got me outside on those days that I didn’t feel like doing anything. With about two months left I noticed differences in myself. At that point I was tapering so I had this endurance, but I wasn’t using every ounce on every workout. I noticed how much longer I lasted playing with the kids. Things that used to wear me out, didn’t anymore. I was not in bad shape at the beginning, but I feel like a real athlete now. My overall health is in a better place than it was before. Every second was worth it, and the moment crossing the finish line was euphoric.