Race morning, I got out of bed around 4:30a…of course, I’d been awake since about 3:00a thinking about all of the things I needed to transport from my campsite to the transition area – it was about a 1/2 hour drive one direction, so If I forgot something I would be out of luck. I was extra paranoid about this now after I forgot my tri suit for the Padden Tri. Also adding to my lack of sleep was the fact that this would be my first half ironman – my longest race to this point was Padden, which was just a little shorter than olympic distance. My main goal for the day was to finish – I figured I’d be somewhere in the 6:45-7:00 range.
I had my scheduled breakfast of a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and an apple – I’d been having this same breakfast for the week prior to the race, just to make sure that my stomach would be ok with it. I did have some late changes to my nutrition plan because of the heat in the forecast (nearly 100 degrees for the day) – the breakfast change was to add a bottle of water with a couple of salt sticks. After breakfast, I put on sunscreen with little confidence that it would stay on throughout the swim.
My wife Kim was awesome support leading up to and during the race. She went with me to set up transition at about 5:00a or so, while we left my younger daughter and her two cousins behind in the RV for some added sleep. She helped me haul gear down to the transition area as I began to set up for the race. There were a couple of differences that were new to me this time around – I dropped my bike off the day before. Since it was a hot day out, I slightly deflated the tires to make sure they didn’t pop. Pumping the tires back up was the first thing I took care of while setting up. Next was all the fuel I was carrying – I had way more than any other race that I’ve done. The first hurdle of the day – I hadn’t actually raced in the tri suit I was wearing (due to the Padden debacle), and I found that I could only fit two of my gel flasks into the pockets on back. Fortunately I had extra gel packets that I put in my bento box. In addition to the extra fuel, I was carrying lots of salt tabs – in the bento box on my bike and in my run belt. Finally, I had a bottle of sunscreen to reapply after the swim. Other than that, pretty standard transition area stuff.
There were about 200 people doing the half ironman distance – the swim was a mass start. Probably the biggest start I’ve been in…the chaos at the beginning lasted a good 5 minutes into the race. One cool thing about this course is the marker buoys are attached to a floating line, so you could just follow the line without having to sight. There were a couple of issues with this – I felt like the beginning of the race was a little more cramped because everyone was trying to get near the line, and if you follow with the line directly below then you run into the buoys that marked the course (not that it happened to me…well, too many times anyhow). Once the swim calmed down a bit, I got in a groove and found someone to draft behind – the first time I’ve actually done this in a race. They were going slightly slower than I wanted, but I figured the energy saving would be worth it. Once we rounded the first turn buoy, I lost my draft. About half way through the long stretch (close to a mile) I noticed someone off to my side and tried to drop behind and draft some more. It turned out there was a mini pack of people there and some combat swimming occurred for a few minutes – this was probably the most stressful part of the swim for me as I could tell my heart rate was going up. After the pack broke up, I did find someone to draft for the rest of the swim. When I started training 8 months ago, I would never have thought that the swim would be the easiest part of the race, but it ended up being that way. Swim time – 41:58.
Moving into transition, I found that I was not too tired from the swim. I took my time getting to my area. Stripped off my wetsuit without any issues today. Took my time and applied some sunscreen. Got into my biking shoes, helmet on, sunglasses on, and jammed out of transition. T1 time – 3:57 (although it seemed a lot faster when I was there).
Off on the bike! As I get about 5 bike lengths away from the volunteer directing out of transition, I hear someone shout “You are sending them the wrong way!”. They were sending us out the way the bikes were supposed to arrive at the end of the bike leg. I continued along the wrong way (along with 80% of the rest of the racers) – added maybe a 1/4 mile to the bike length. The plan for the bike was to stay at 140 watts for the first hour, and if I felt good bump to 150 watts after that. On hills I should try to hold at about 180 watts and could spike up to 200 watts (my ftp). I was passed by lots of people while riding at my 140 watt pace – it was so hard to stick to my plan! I just reminded myself that I wanted to be able to run at the end. At 1 hour in, I was feeling good, so I bumped up to 150 watts. The first 30 miles of the race was semi-flat, no real big hills. After that things change up a bit – there was a 2 1/2 mile hill climb on highway 97a. I felt great going up! kept my power in check and had plenty of legs. Just before the top of the hill was an aid station – I stopped for a quick bathroom break and topped off my water. Continued up the hill, and then down an awesomely fast 4 mile descent. I must have pushed too hard on the down, because my legs were pretty tired when I got to the flat at the bottom of the hill (about 40 miles into the ride). Now it is starting to get hot outside, and I’m starting to feel it – just in time for an 8ish mile climb. Even though I had been spot on with my nutrition and power plans, this climb took a lot out of me.It was steep for a mile or so, flattened out a bit for a few miles and then got steep again. As I climbed this hill, the bottom of my right foot started to hurt. The pain gradually got worse and worse – almost to the point of being unbearable. For temporary relief I would curl my toes up to change the pressure point on my foot, but couldn’t really hold that position for very long. Eventually I made it to the top and started my descent – this one was a bit more scary with a hairpin turn halfway down and a stop sign at the bottom. Half way down my nutrition timer went off – I skipped my gel and figured I would try to get it in on the flats back to transition, which I never did (I believe a key mistake, which you will read about in a minute). I get to the bottom of the hill, my foot hurts really badly, but I know I’m close to transition and that the ride is fairly flat from here. Close enough that I decide to skip my gel and get it in transition instead. One scary moment happened along this part of the bike – the shoulder (riding lane) was separated from the cars by orange cones, a car clipped one of the cones right in front of me pushing the cone over in my path. Fortunately I had plenty of time to react, but had I been a bit closer it could have been a pretty nasty accident. Bike time – 3:49;37.
T2 was pretty straightforward ditch the shoes, get on my running shoes, race belt and hat. Grab my water bottle, take a shot of gel (I believe this was my critical mistake), and go! T2 time – 1;57.
I knew the run was going to be tough because of the heat and the amount of time I’d already been racing – the plan for the run was to hit 9:30-10:00 min miles (my normal 1/2 marathon pace is an 8:30 mile) and walk for 3 minutes at each aid station to bring my heart rate and core temperature down. I started out at around a 9:30 pace – my right foot felt fine after the painful end to the bike leg. Then it happened! As I approached the first mile, my stomach starts to feel heavy. I get to the stop and walk my 3 minutes. Start running again, my stomach is feeling worse and I’m slowing down now at about a 10:30 pace. Make it all the way to the next aid station. Start my 3 minute walk. I know that I am supposed to take a gel soon and I’m dreading it. The fuel at the aid stations is Heed, and I’ve never tried it before – don’t want to start now. Start my run again get to the 30 min mark and decide to try to choke down a gel – a really bad choice. My heavy stomach turns into cramps and I had to start walking ahead of schedule. Try to run some more, and I just couldn’t do it. At this point, I’m feeling really down – I’ve got 8ish miles of run to go and I may have to be walking all of it. My attitude really started to spiral down – almost to the point of giving up. Then I came up with a strategy – Kim likes to listen to her iPod when she runs and she’ll run for a song and then walk for a song. Since I didn’t have music on the course, I decided to run for 5 minutes and walk for 5 minutes. It seemed to work well. After a couple of intervals like this, my stomach started to feel better. So, I stretched it to 6 min run/4 min walk. That didn’t work. So I went back to 5 on/5 off. Taking more gel was out of the question, so I started trying the heed at the aid stations. It didn’t seem to make things worse, and was getting calories into my system, so I figured that was a good thing. I plugged away at most of the run just doing the run/walk pattern. With a mile to go, I decided that I was going to run to the end of the race – the worst case was sucking up 10 minutes worth of pain to make it happen. So I did. My run time – 2:48:38
My total time ended at 7:26:09 – much longer than I expected it. I have to admit I finished with a bit of mixed emotions. I was extremely happy that I finished, but was a little disappointed with how long it took me to complete the course. As time has moved on from the end of the race, I’ve actually become happier with my accomplishment – very few people will even attempt a race of this magnitude, and had my run been on plan, I would have finished about where I expected. Now I have a lot of room to improve!
It has been two days since the race – my recovery has gone well. The evening after the race, I put on my 110% compression pants and filled all of the ice pockets up. My legs really haven’t been sore at all – my shoulders and my back have been a little bit tight, but not too bad. The big issue has been the massive sunburn that I ended up with on the back of my shoulders and sides. I don’t think I did a good enough job w/sunscreen in T1, and probably should have applied more in T2. Definitely a good takeaway for the next race! And at this point, I think there will be a next race at this distance – if you would have asked me immediately after I finished, I would have said no way. Well, time heals all wounds, and after only two days, I’m ready to get after it again!