First half Ironman

My first half-Ironman (a.k.a. a “70.3”)  went much better than I could have imagined, especially given the course conditions.

First and foremost, without some key advice and coaching from about 10 different people, this would have been much harder.  Hopefully I’ve remembered everyone below in the details.

The two days before the 70.3 I was  a nervous wreck, not even able to think straight most times, so Lisa led the half-witted BJR around Galveston making sure I checked my bike in, ate enough, etc.

Race day

We woke up early, into transition, and found all my T3 team members.  Seth and I were in the same swim wave so we headed over together.  We jumped off the dock a few minutes before 7:30, the gun went off, and my first half-Ironman began.

The Swim – 1.2 miles

Despite forecasts of low wind, there was still quite a bit of wind.  The waves at first were small, but the salt water is tricky to swim in, and without Tom’s advice to really bury my head, and Chrissy’s advice that I’ve been swimming out of balance and needed to keep my head down even while swimming in practice, it would have been a lot tougher.  I was definitely “off course” a lot, and no swim for me is complete without having a few novice swimmers run into me only to learn that I don’t shy away from contact or holding my line.

The waves along the long, second leg of the swim had grown into large swells, and even keeping my head buried, you could feel them crashing against me.  I kept thinking that someone who is a novice swimmer is crazy to try this course, but there were a lot out there.  Despite getting excited to exit the swim, and push the part where my strength lies, I told my self to settle in and cruise.

Out of the water in 37:46, a good time for me.


When I first heard the term wetsuit strippers I was excited, then I learned that these are just people who help you off with your wetsuit.  But it’s very cool – as you exit the water, you basically just sit down on a mat, and two people tear your suit right off you, and you’re off to your bike carrying your suit.  My T1 time was still slow (5+ minutes), but my heart rate was well above 170 coming out of the water, even though I had tried to mellow out more.   A half of a PBJ sandwich, my second Gu, and on to the bike.   I left transition very happy, because I had heard Lisa cheering for me and had gotten to see her.

The Bike – 56 miles

The cycling part of a triathlon is where my ego takes a relentless pounding.  When I have pushed the bike section hard, I have paid the price during the run.  And, since I’m a faster swimmer, this is where I get to watch all kinds of people blow by me.   This time, with having read enough and listened to the T3 coaches, I wanted to keep my heart rate not much above 144, which is 80% of my max heart rate.    And, I’m typically a grinder (low cadence), which is not good, so I wanted to be close to 80 rpm instead of my usual 70 (90 would be better, but I’m just not there yet).

The wind was not low as predicted, and I told myself to ignore everything else except my heart rate, my cadence, and my nutrition.   I bought a Garmin 310XT a few weeks back, and it made it incredibly easy to pay attention to those three.   A Gu every 30 minutes, a sip of Accelerade every mile, and half a cliff bar at the turnaround.   I checked my heart rate constantly – as it began to creep up to 150+, I would downshift and make sure my cadence hadn’t dropped to 70.   This was a constant battle, and required focus.   The Garmin beeped every mile to give me a split time, and that forced me to check in at least every mile to make sure I was focused.  Brian, who had done the Olympic the day before, told me that there were a lot of disappointed people who expected a tailwind on the way back, so I just set my mind to fighting the same crosswind or worse on the way back.  Another lifesaving piece of advice.

I’ve never had to stay in the aero position that long, and I didn’t manage to stay in it the entire ride.  My back was sore, and I would ride for a minute up from time to time, just to relieve the stress.

The road surface was great with the exception of one bridge, and had actually been finished just on Friday in some sections.   I sang in my mind “These miles fall like Dominoes” (apologies to the Big Pink).   At 20 miles, I was tired, and thinking that the bike was taking too much out of me, even with the right nutrition and pacing.  At 46 miles, knew I would finish unless I had knee problems.   I did not push the last 2 miles, and let my heart rate drop in preparation for the run.

Overall my bike time was not stellar (3:13, at 17.4 mph average), but I’m coming to realize it’s me weakest area.

More details from my Garmin (note that I forgot to start the timer so it’s missing part of the first mile, but you can see how high my heart rate was even 5 minutes after getting out of the water):  Lonestar 70.3 Bike by bryanjrollins at Garmin Connect.


T2 was quick (for me). Bike up, bike shoes off, helmet off, bike shoes on, hat on, race number on.   Go.  Okay, maybe some extra sunscreen.  Go.

The Run- 13.1 miles

I’ve never felt better starting the run in any triathlon before.  Normally my legs are dead, and feel awful.  The run after  a bike is often called a “brick” for good reason.   But I felt something I’d never felt before – I felt ready to attack.  My goal was to stick to a 10 minute mile pace, never having done a 70.3 before.  That would give me a 13.1 mile time of just over 2:10.  I knew my swim plus bike were over 4 hours at this point, so unless I ran a strong half-marathon, it wasn’t going to happen.  The one half marathon (the only other time I have run more than 13 miles in my life, I ran a 2:05.

The course is four laps, each 3.25 miles.  At the start of the first lap, you run right by the T3 booth.  Maurice was right there, yelling at me to pour water on my head at every rest stop.  Lisa was yelling at me telling me to drink lots of liquids.  That advice saved me.   It was hot.

T3 is a big team and there are lots of “friends of T3”, so throughout the run, people are cheering and yelling for you when they see your jersey.  The swim is chaos and a roller coaster.  The bike is lonely and mentally taxing.  The run is invigorating if you have the energy to be receptive.   You hear your name (people read it off of your race number), you see your fellow T3 team mates who are also running (one even yelled “Go Alaska” – I become notorious for being the only person to swim in Lake Pflugerville when it was in the low 50s).   And I saw Dennis and Albert (two friends from Austin), as well as Roberto, the owner of Taco Deli (my favorite place to eat in the world).

My goal for the run was to keep my hear rate in the 150s.  I had done some practice runs and it seemed like my heart rate settled there nicely for longer runs.  My first lap I was running sub 9 minute miles, and worried that it was too fast.

Lap 2 began, and my mind was telling me that it had to have been longer than 3.25 miles, but I ignored the tired legs and tired lungs, and knew that I can finish if I don’t screw up.  Every water stop, I grabbed Gatorade in one hand, and 1-2 waters to dump on my head or down my back.  And grab a Powerbar Gel each lap for fuel.

The one small downhill section (a drop of all of 10 feet), my left meniscus began to get irritated, which is what almost ruined my half-Ironman training.  A smidgeon of worry crept into my mind, which I immediate threw out by swearing at myself, and telling myself that it didn’t hurt, and that I needed to put one foot in front of the other and let it go.

Lap 3 I ran with Dennis, who really encouraged me and told me I looked good.  My pace had dropped to 9:30ish miles, but I still felt good, just tired.  I began to think about the finish line.  I began to think about my cousin Diane, whose kidney inside me was making this run possible.   I began to think about Lisa and how much I love her.  I began to get choked up (I get emotional when I get tired).  I forced those thoughts away for after the finish line.

On Lap 4, the wheels came off a bit – my pace shot above 10 min miles for the first mile, and my legs were hurting all over the place.  I kept looking at my watch, not sure of my overall time, but I knew I had run the first three laps in under 1:30, and I just needed one more lap under 30 mins to get in below 2:00.  I knew that if I could make it to 1 mile left that adrenaline would carry me in. I hit the 12 mile sign and started to feel it kick in, relieving the pain in my legs.  I knew where the half mile mark was, and let it all loose then.  It was going to be close to get under 2:00.

I saw Maurice and several T3 folks with a quarter mile left and chanted “Best coach ever!  Best coach ever!” pointing at him as I ran by.

Lonestar 70.3 Run by bryanjrollins at Garmin Connect – Details.

The Finish

As I cross the finish line, the timer read 6 hours, 27 minutes, and change on the clock, so since my start had been 30 minutes later, I knew I had come in under 6 hours.  Given the waves and the wind, I had written it off, but a strong run (for me) but me across with less than 2 minutes to spare.

I had never done a triathlon before my transplant.

A wave of emotions washed over me.   5 years, 4 months, and 4 days ago, I had woken up in the ICU in the hospital to see my Mom’s face, telling me the surgery had gone well.  My cousin Diane had given me one of her kidneys, and it took me from being sick and without hope, to believing that nothing can stop me.   Being a triathlete transplant recipient is not an easy road – there are struggles sometimes just with basics like muscle recovery and protein intake, with another 100 complications.   But so many more people are much worse off – that I need to show what’s possible, that transplants don’t just sustain life, they can transform it.

Lisa found me and it was wonderful to see her.  She was my support crew for the entire weekend, and it meant the world to me to get to share this experience with her.

Trust the training

Almost every event I have ever done, I practice by doing the event the weekend before.  That’s not really possible with a half-Ironman.  It’s very doable with Sprints, Olympics, half-marathons.   But Maurice kept telling us to trust the coaches, trust the training, be patient, be smart.  Several times during knee rehab I asked to run longer distance, because I wasn’t getting in the long miles I wanted – i.e. very few runs over 9 miles.  Maurice smiled and told me to follow the schedule, and that I could only hurt my chances of finishing by pushing harder.   While I am not the most talented distance athlete out there, at least (maybe) I have learned to 1) listen and 2) trust the training.

Overall results for the Lonestar 70.3, 2010



2 thoughts on “5:58:14

  1. Bryan-
    What a great race report! And congratulations to you on such an amazing journey. Sub 6 hours is an amazing result for any athlete and doing it as a transplant recipient I think makes it all the more amazing.

    Thanks for sharing your story (and your heart) with all of us. It lifts my spirits and puts some wind in my sails when I read a story like this. You’re an awesome guy, with an awesome wife. I look forward to catching up when you have some time.


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