2XU Compression Trisuit
Garmin Forerunner 310XT
Swim: Xterra Vortex wetsuit, Speedo Vanquisher goggles
Bike: Felt B2, Hed Jet wheels, Giro Advantage 2 aero helmet, Rudy Project sunglasses, Bontrager RXL Hilo tri shoes
Run: Brooks Racer ST5
When the alarm went off at 4am Sunday morning my first thought was, “How on earth am I going to race a Half Ironman today?” I figured I’d had about 2 hrs sleep, due in part to an incredibly noisy, old hotel where I could hear someone lift the toilet seat in the next room, and because I never sleep well the night before a race. Because I never sleep well pre-race, I don’t usually worry, but I hadn’t slept well Friday night, either. There was a concert in downtown Raleigh Friday night and the crowd noise kept me awake, then voices in the hallway in the middle of the night woke me up. And of course there was the damn toilet seat next door.
Nevertheless, I got up, took a shower, and got ready to race for what I imagined would be close to 6 hours…5:30 if I had a good day.
At 5am my teammate Donna and I headed off to T2, just down the street, where a bus would take us to Lake Jordan for the start of our race. We were pleased to see plenty of buses and no lines. I get antsy when there are lines. We jumped on a bus and headed to the lake in the dark. Arriving at the lake we saw long porta-potty lines. Already. Groan. Since I’d been drinking Nuun the entire 40 minute ride, I jumped right into a line prior to dropping off my transition gear. It was while in line, listening to pre-race announcements (or trying to, since we couldn’t quite make them out), that we heard loud cheers. Donna said she thought she’d heard that the race WAS wetsuit legal. YES!!! Given that the water temp had been steadily climbing all week, and had apparently hit 78 on Saturday, I hadn’t held out any hope for a wetsuit race. (76.1 is the max water temp for a wetsuit legal race. You can wear a wetsuit if the water temp is over 76.1 and under 84, but you have to start in the last wave and aren’t eligible for awards.) Good sign #1.
But of course I had brought my wetsuit with me, just in case. Apparently a number of triathletes, assuming the temperature would climb, not fall, had left theirs at home. Ugh. That sucks. Always bring yer wetsuit! Well, unless it’s a pool swim. That would be silly.
Post-bathroom visit, Donna and I got body marked (why do I always get a body marker who writes small numbers, even when I request they write BIG?!) and headed into transition to set up. We hadn’t brought a bike pump so we had to beg, borrow, and, as a last resort, steal. (I’m not above that when it comes to racing…) Some people are really nice when it comes to lending their stuff. “Red shirt guy” near me was like that. Unfortunately, because he was nice we just kept passing the pump around, saying, “it belongs to that guy in the red shirt over there…” I hope he got it back. I have an odd valve for my rear race wheel and red shirt guy’s pump wouldn’t fit on it. So I accosted a girl and borrowed hers, which worked like a charm. But when Donna tried to use it, the girl said she was leaving transition and needed to take it with her. So I scoped around our area and saw a couple of pumps, which we commandeered. But we just couldn’t get air in Donna’s tires. With 10 minutes left before transition was set to close, and Donna’s tires now mostly deflated thanks to yours truly’s failed attempts at getting a pump to fit, I sent her over to the race mechanic. Thankfully she came back a couple of minutes later with fully inflated tires. We finished filling our water bottles and positioning our shoes (more about that later) and helmets, and headed out of transition just before it closed.
We still had almost an hour before our swim wave so Donna decided to hit the porta-potties again. The lines were insane but even worse was the third-world slum aroma emanating from the porta-pots. I decided to don my wetsuit and go sit in the grass…sorry, wear shoes if you walk in the grass pre-race; I guarantee I wasn’t the only one peeing in their suit. From my viewing spot I got to see the pro’s start the swim, which was cool. Donna joined me and we had a pre-race picture taken:
Ha, we might look relaxed but we were nervous! I am not a fan of open water swim starts. At Ironman 70.3 Austin, I stupidly positioned myself front and center in the swim and ended up getting crushed for the first 5 minutes as the faster swimmers ploughed through me. This time, I planned to be more sensible and start near the back. And then, because I was trying to relax and not freak out, we almost missed our swim start.
We had this picture taken at 7:30. I know because I posted it on Facebook. Then we headed to bag drop. Our swim wave, #12, was due to start at 7:42, so we really should have been lined up by then. I realized how late we were when I saw the sign being held up for wave #20. Crap. We had to squeeze our way through 8 waves of people to get to our wave, which by this point was on the beach. We still hadn’t zipped up our suits. We stood off to the side to zip each other up, and then rejoined the group. Then Donna realized we had joined wave #13, and our wave was in the water! Crap again. We scooted around wave #13 and got in the water. The temperature felt perfect. We had 4 minutes to start. And the wave was very small, so even though I was near the back, there were only a couple of rows of people in front of me. Perfect. Good sign #2.
THE SWIM – NO MOSH PIT
When the gun/cannon/siren/whatever went off I started swimming hard to get a good spot. I didn’t have to worry. A great spot opened up to my right, close to the buoys. At first I was hesitant to take it, because I had planned to swim a little wide of the markers, since it tends to be a mosh pit near them, but the area was clear and given that my wave was small, I went for it. That turned out to be a great decision. I had room to swim, visibility was great for sighting, and nobody was in my way. Before I knew it, I was swimming through some of the slower swimmers in the previous wave, which gave me a boost. I took a kick to the goggle while trying to navigate around a breaststroker, but even that didn’t bother me. I was like Dory…just keep swimming…I actually had to remind myself to pull hard because I was zoning out. Perhaps I took a nap. I don’t know. The time went by really fast. It was the most relaxing open water swim I’ve ever had!
And then the end came in sight and I started to kick fast to ready my legs for the bike. Of course it took forever to get to the dock but I finally made it and hauled myself out of the water. Swim time = 41:45
The volunteers were yelling that the wetsuit strippers were on the left on the way to transition. Wetsuit strippers are awesome. Never try to remove your wetsuit yourself if there are strippers available. By the time I reached them I had the top of the suit down. I made eye contact with a couple of ladies, one of whom yelled, “sit down! Lift your butt up!” Yeah, it’s unladylike but it’s worth it because they rip that thing off in a second. As I took my suit from them I told them how awesome they were. Then I ran into transition.
THE BIKE – WILL MY GOOD LUCK LAST?
Backing up for just a second…bear with me. When we attended the “athlete briefing” on the Friday before the race, someone asked if we were allowed to lay our stuff out in T1 or if it had to stay in the gear bag. (Some races, like Austin, have “clean” transition areas, which means you can’t lay your shit out and potentially mess up the place. Of course it looks nice and you don’t lose stuff, but it takes extra time to get your stuff, so athletes hate it.) The guy running the briefing said that you could put your stuff on the ground. Then he said something that shocked me. He said that we could NOT put our bike shoes on the pedals. As someone who has learned to put my bike shoes on while riding, to avoid the hazards of running in something that has metal cleats on the bottom, I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. So I raised my hand. Shortly he called on me and I said, “Can you confirm that bike shoes are NOT allowed on pedals?” And he confirmed that we had to leave them on the ground. I was not happy to hear this. I did not want to run in my bike shoes. I prefer to run in bare feet. Of course, I had the option to hold them while running to the bike exit, and put them on there, but then I’d be holding my bike and that would be a nightmare.
Fortunately, the transition gods must have been looking out for me because on Saturday, when we went to rack our bikes in T1, I discovered that my spot was on the second to last rack, right by bike out. Sweet. Good sign #3.
So I breezed through transition, donned sunglasses, helmet, and shoes, grabbed my bike, ran toward the bike out, almost careened into a woman who slowed to have sunscreen applied, ran to the bike mount and got on my bike. It was a long, continuous climb out of the lake area to the first turn, and I took it easy, not worrying about my speed or the other riders, just wanting to get comfortable and conserve energy. As I had practiced at USA Triathlon Nationals in Vermont, I drank only water for the first 20 minutes, to allow my stomach to settle from the swim. After that, I started drinking my Infinit, a custom complete nutrition drink that prevents me from having to eat, which I find causes me stomach issues in the aero position. I kept an eye on my Garmin and noted that I was riding around 20mph, which surprised me as I didn’t feel that I was pushing the pace at all. I figured it was flat and some hills would soon appear to slow me down.
But by mile 20 I was still averaging 20mph. And it was the same at mile 30. And 40. With about 10 miles to go on the bike, I was getting a cramp in my side that had me worried for the run, as I didn’t run well at Austin due to a cramping stomach. I had to pee, and planned to wait until run transition, but realized that needing to pee may be causing the stomach cramp. So I decided now was the time to finally master peeing on my bike.
Around the time I decided this, a monster downhill appeared, which provided the perfect opportunity. I felt bad for the guys behind me but that made sure they kept their distance. I recall reading in Chrissie Wellington’s book that if anyone tried to draft off her on the bike, she would let off a “warning shot” to keep them away. So having issued a “warning shot,” I sat back down in my seat and felt very relieved (pun intended) as the stomach cramp started to subside almost immediately.
Although I was having a good ride, the last 10 miles did start to drag. First of all, after 40 miles the course was no longer coned, and traffic was getting dangerously close. I had a couple of close calls with cars, and started to worry that my good luck was about to run out. Fortunately I made it through unscathed. I took my feet out of my shoes a bit early as I didn’t know exactly where the bike ended (rookie mistake: Donna and I did not look at the end of the bike course), but that actually turned out to be a good idea as the bike ended on an uphill, and had I not taken my shoes off before this, I probably would have wiped out. I made a decent dismount and ran my bike into transition as fast as I could. Bike time = 2:45:43
THE RUN – DON’T FAIL NOW
All I had left now was the run. The run is my strength, but I had failed to capitalize on this in Austin. Suffering from stomach cramps in that race, I took 2 hrs to run the 13.1 miles. This time, my stomach was feeling fine. As I started the run I glanced at my Garmin and saw I was running in the low 7:00s. Too fast. I tried to slow myself down but I still had my bike legs, i.e., they were spinning fast. I even stopped at a porta potty and still continued hammering the pace. If I had been running a 10K I would have kept it up, but I knew I’d be in trouble if I tried to maintain this pace for a half marathon. Eventually I managed to slow myself down, aided in part by the gradual incline over the first 4 miles. Miles 4 – 9 were on a paved trail. I had hoped the trail would provide some shade, but unfortunately it was fully exposed to the midday sun. And hilly. Relentlessly hilly. The brief respite from every downhill was met by another grueling uphill.
I managed to maintain an 8:30 pace on the trail but was painfully slow on the uphills. Race support was fantastic. Ice, water, sponges, etc. at every mile, with plenty of volunteers to hand stuff out. And there were kids on the course with water guns as well as sprinklers and hoses, which was awesome. I ended up as wet as I was after the swim. We had to run two loops at the top of the trail, which wasn’t much fun, but I reminded myself over and over that it would eventually end. Finally, I was out of the park with just 4 miles to go, most of it downhill. I started to try to crank up the pace, although my body was in full protest at that point. With a couple of miles to go I saw a girl with a “42″ on her calf (my age group), and focused on passing her.
Soon we were making the final turn and I could see the finish line with about 800m to go. There is no other feeling like running down that finish chute. The crowd noise is deafening and you feel like you’re on air. All the pain goes away for those last few steps. And then the line is there. And it’s over. Run time = 1:44:59
Total race time = 5:15:59
I placed 3rd in the 40 – 44 age group and was offered a spot at Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Which I turned down. I don’t like Vegas. Maybe Mont Tremblant will tempt me in 2014, assuming I do another of these, and do it well.
Prior to this race I said this was my last Half Ironman, that I wanted to focus on duathlon (which I still do) and running. Now, I’m not so sure. Funny how a race change change your perspective.
If you made it this far: thanks for reading; I know this was long!