The 40th IRONMAN 70.3 Muncie took place on Saturday morning at the Prairie Creek Reservoir in Selma, Indiana. Having pulled out last year due to injury, I was determined to toe the line at my first Half Ironman this year.
My support crew and I made the five-hour drive to Muncie on Thursday evening. Friday was a full day including packet pickup, a pre-race athlete briefing, a practice swim, quick bike ride, a shakeout run, a reconnaissance drive of the course and dinner at Amazing Joe’s.
Four a.m. Saturday morning came quickly; after a surprisingly good night’s sleep, we loaded up and headed to the venue. I racked my bike the night before and just had to lay out the rest of my gear and head down to the water for a warm-up swim. With average lake temperatures of 79 degrees, this race is rarely wetsuit “legal.” Thankfully, this year was a wetsuit “optional” swim and while it meant lining up at the back of the self-seeded line, I was going to take advantage of the added buoyancy to help make the 1.2 mile swim a little easier.
They changed the swim course this year to run parallel to the shore. In past years, you swam back directly into the sun making it difficult to see. I stayed to the outside to avoid contact with others as much as possible and was thrilled with a time of just under 52 minutes. This was one of my favorite swims thanks to the abundance of support boats, “resting” rafts and bouys, The run uphill to transition, however, I could have done without.
After a longer than expected T1, it was out onto the bike course that is advertised as fast and flat. Many first timers, myself included, quickly found out that those words are relative to other 70.3s. The six or so miles to US-35 is gentle rolling hills, and once we were heading out on the double-loop section of the course, it felt like a gradual incline much of the way out into a crosswind without much return on the effort coming back.
The saving grace were the two aid stations fully stocked by amazing volunteers with water, Gatorade and gels. Unfortunately, although I thought I had dialed in a nutrition plan, nothing can prepare you for the scorching heat that caught up to me about mile 30 and by 40 I had severely cramped and was ready to take an ambulance ride back to transition. Thanks to the kindness of fellow athletes, I dug deep and pushed through the last 16 miles to T2 where I struggled to get shoes on for the run.
I walked much of the first mile and by the time I got to through the aid station and looked at the hills and relentless sun that l knew lay ahead (having driven it the day before), I accepted my day was done. Although, I still had a good three hours to complete the half marathon, my body was starting to give the first signs of heat exhaustion. Crushed and full of self-doubt, I headed back with some incredible athletes who not knowing I was a DNF encouraged me to “finish strong.”
Muncie is known for its finish celebration and this year was no different. Although I was initially dejected by the experience, I have since spoken to many finishers who confirmed I made the right call. With feel-like temperatures of close to 100 degrees, very little shade on the course and an already cramping body, I would have not made it back under my own power as many were already succumbing to the heat. I may have come up 11 miles short of my goal this time, but I learned a lot out there about myself and what I need to do for my next attempt at this distance. And really, for the average athlete, that’s what endurance sport is all about.
I hope to be back to Muncie in the future to take another crack at this challenging, beautiful and amazingly-supported course. To the 1,500, or so athletes who made the cutoffs and finished the race (and even those who didn’t) you are an inspiration and testament to the power of the human spirit!