So who did their first half ironman?

By Susanna Duerr        


Hi UHN Wellness, my name is Susanna Duerr I am a personal trainer at theWellnessCenterwithErin’s Well. I have recently completed my first half ironman distance triathlon and was asked by the amazing ladies at theWellnessCenterto share my race experience. The following is a condensed and edited version of my race experience, I hope you enjoy it!

The Basics: (a pretty dumb sport!)

A half ironman triathlon consists of a 2km lake swim, 90km bike ride and a 21.1km run. The course I completed was located at Deerhurst resort inHuntsville, a very hilly course with a bonus 4km on the bike ride (in case it wasn’t long enough to begin with!). Check out for more info on the course.


First and foremost I have to thank all the people who have helped me to get to this point. Triathlon is a very individual sport on the outside, however it took a lot of people along the way to improve my swim, bike, and run to the point of a half ironman. So, for all the people that have provided inspiration, advice, coaching, and company I give you a massive thanks, I couldn’t do it without you.

Pre Race (hurry up already)

I had a hard time sleeping the night before the race (my friend’s snores aside), but eventually my nerves tired me out and I got a few good hours in. I woke up before sun up, ate some breakfast, and hit the bathroom. I finally got out the door, it was a perfect day, sunny and calm, I certainly couldn’t complain about the weather. I got to transition area to unpack my stuff and get organized. I laid everything out, got marked up (your race number gets written on your arm and your age on your calf) and got my wet suit on. I met up with the rest of my friends doing the race, and with those out supporting, and we all headed out towards the swim start. It felt so good to race with some familiar faces and have a massive entourage escort us to the swim start. Oh man I was feeling really pumped at this point!


Swim goal: keep my breathing under control and finish in under an hour.

I put my pink cap on and headed into the water for some warm-up with my friend who was in the same wave. He had a bad shoulder injury in the summer, so I was hoping he would be ok. I lined up toward the back of the wave, waited for the count down, and off I went. Nice and easy start, long strokes and calm breathing – perfect. I got a little lost around the 2nd turn or so, I couldn’t tell if people were turning at the buoys ahead or going straight? I looked around and saw people near me so I figured I was going in the right direction. I took in a large gulp of water, oh man, I pulled up and coughed/barfed a bit. Normally this would freak me out but I stayed relaxed and when I caught my breath I got back to it. Finally I got towards the shore, covered in weeds, but I had made it out of the water. I headed over to the wetsuit strippers – I had been looking forward to this service. My wetsuit struggles a little, but soon enough I was stripped and off to transition. Up the giant hill I saw all my friends, wow what a huge group! High fives, thanks guys! Woobawooba! I ran to T1 and my feet are numb, I guess a $300 race doesn’t buy you a carpet!

Swim actual: breathing was under control, and came in at 42:05 – great!


Bike goal: sub 3:30, bike as hard as I can for as long as I can!

There were a lot of people heading out to the bike at this time so I was really anxious to jockey for my place on the road. I knew I would pay for heading out this hard but I didn’t care, those climbs at the end were going to be hard no matter what. Biking around the lake there were some really nice views, ahh I took a few seconds to take it in. Passed the 30km mark under an hour – sweet I’m on pace for a good bike, well so far. I got out on the highway and I knew this would be the tough section for me – mostly flat, open, and boring. Woobawooba! I cheered at every spectator I saw while on the bike and I was rewarded as they cheered in return, I was feeling tired but still having fun. I cheered for one little boy, and I guess no one was responding to his cheers all day so he got super excited and told me I was his favourite – thanks buddy you’re my fave too! 60km around 2 hours I think, I was slowing down a bit. Oh man my legs were really tired! I thought of all the women I knew doing the weekend walk to end women’s cancers this weekend and thought how tired their legs must be – this helped me mentally to keep going. Ok, after 70km it’s all about the mental count down. I told myself I had to get through the 70s. Then 80s. Then 90s (stupid course should be over now). I saw another one of my friends, we had a quick chat and he flew by me, way to go! Ok, now to get through those endless climbs. Climbing, and cursing! Oh man my legs are screaming I’m going to fall off my bike! Everyone I’m close to at this point is suffering so we all commiserate together. Cursing and panting up the climbs, kind of funny in retrospect. Finally I got close to Deerhurst and I passed through the massive cheer squad onto T2, great to see you guys! Woob woob!

Bike actual: 3:14:41 – nice, I’m happy with that!   

Run (After all that, do I really have to run now?)

Run goal: suffer through it and run under 2 hours

I headed out to run… oh man this hurts! I put on a brave face as I passed my friends cheering. I couldn’t wait to be heading back this way towards the finish line. I was running and passing a lot of shufflers, despite this I felt like I was running so slowly. I used all my mental strength to tell myself I could run this, just count down the kilometers and don’t walk. The sun was out in full force, but finally I got off the highway and into some shade which felt so much better. I had told myself not to walk, but that quickly turned into walking through most aid stations, and the steep hills. There was a massive hill around 8kms or so lasting to the half-way point and I had to walk that. The run course was so hilly; it never lets you get into a good pace. I’m not having as much fun here; however I tried my best to cheer at the volunteers and spectators. The kids at the aid stations would ask if you wanted a spray and I think they really enjoyed soaking the athletes – yes please I’ll take as many as I can woobawooba. I walked, ran and walked up some more hills until finally making it up to the last climb before the finish – yes less than 2 more kms to go! Then I saw my boyfriend and some friends cheering for me at the bottom of the last hill. I was still suffering but it was so great to see them. Ok bring it home now. I got into the finisher chute and crossed the finish line, so happy to be done!

Run actual: oh I suffered! But met my goal at 1:56:13

Full Time: 6:03:18

Conclusion (argh finally)
So far this is the hardest event I’ve ever done. During the race I said I would never do this again, and as predictable as ever two days later I had thoughts of beating my time next year. Lastly, of course another big thanks to all the people that have supported me in one way or another to do this race I really appreciate it. Also for anyone considering a triathlon or multisport race it is a fantastic lifestyle, a great challenge, and you meet some amazing people along the way so I highly recommend it.


About alirunner

Officially: Wellness Manager at UHN; background - Physiotherapy (what a portable profession that turned out to be!). Outside of work I'm a student (part-time U of T), mom of 2 teenagers (super, super scary) and wanna-be marathon runner with a first marathon goal date of October 16, 2011. Likes: FOOD, food and food (the real reason that I run), getting outdoors, seeing new places, G n T's and newly discovered carb-loaded gel packs that enable one to keep on running...What else? Arrived from UK 20 years ago to work in Canada for a year and still not visited Italy.

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