My second scheduled triathlon was to be a half Ironman totaling 70.3 miles consisting of 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run. This would be the longest endurance event of my life to this point. This is definitely far from the norm, because most triathletes work their way up by doing several sprint triathlons and then some Olympic distances. This helps build endurance and gets the body ready for the very hard and long events.
My own impatience wouldn't give me the luxury of building up. I felt earlier this year that I had done enough endurance activity over the past few years that ramping up to half Ironman was definitely doable. The biggest question was whether or not my hip could handle the running.
I worked up slowly with running distance and even had a few stumbling blocks along the way, including stopping for a few weeks at a time over last winter, because my hip was not agreeing with what I was doing. I was terribly upset at the time it was taking to build up running but in the end it all was worth the wait.
I continued to train through the winter, learning how to swim and continuing to build up the run. I knew I wanted to do triathlons this year. In the March/April time frame I start considering the 70.3 distance more seriously. At that point I was putting in around 8 hours per week of swim/bike/run training. Kicking it up a bit more wasn't too much of a stretch. I did a lot of research and talking to veteran triathletes. Settled on a training plan and started eyeing Ironman Kansas 70.3.
I am very stubborn and too impatient but knew what I was capable of and I felt like I could legitimately finish a half Ironman, so in late April I confirmed my decision by signing up and paying the entry fee.
Goal 1: Finish
Goal 2: Finish under 6 hours
Given the history with my hip replacement in 2009 and the fairly aggressive scheduling of this race it seemed likely I wouldn't meet either goal. Even though I got clearance from my surgeon to run he has warned me that I would likely shorten the life of my implant by doing lots of running.
In my pre-hip replacement days I had planned to do many full marathons, so in my mind triathlons should be easier on my hip since I won't be running as much, even though I would be running half marathons at times. I fully understand the risks but these endurance events are such an important part of my life I feel it is worth the risk. If things get too bad I will shut it down. I have and will continue to live by the credo of "use pain for guidance." I know my body extremely well and know when to stop if needed.
At the recommendation of several people who've done this race before, I decided to camp in the Clinton Lake State Park, which is where the race started and finished. It was a great decision. It was very nice to not worry about getting to the event and getting parked and walking quite a distance from parking to transition.
I had a good dinner the night before of pasta with grilled chicken and some fairly bland sauce alongside some mixed veggies. Nerves wreak enough havoc with the GI system on race morning, so I wanted to make sure I had a meal with some carbs and a bit of protein, but more importantly, a meal that would set well with my stomach.
Slept like crap. Won't sugar coat it. I rarely sleep well the night before a race of any sort, let alone the biggest of my life so far. It didn’t help that the weather was predicted to be thunderstorms starting through the night and lasting completely through the race. I was worried sick. Maybe I should start taking a sleeping pill.
Got up at 4am and got some water heating for some coffee. Lathered on sunscreen and liberally applied body glide to any area with the potential for friction burn. Got dressed, which was easy since there isn't much to wear. Ate a bagel with light cream cheese with a cup of coffee. Double-checked my transition bags. Had a PowerBar with another cup of coffee. Made first bathroom pit stop. All good :) Grabbed my gear, met a couple of buddies and headed to T2 to drop our stuff and then headed down to T1 and the swim start.
None, except for the walk to T2 and then to T1, which was .5 mile.
This was my second triathlon. Anyone who read my first race report (KC Tri - Olympic distance) knows I totally panicked on the swim. Wanted to quit. Thought I was going to die. Needless to say, that experience had me extremely worried about doing a Half Ironman with another .3 miles tacked onto the swim.
The first tri was three weeks prior, so I didn't have a lot of time to improve. I did, however, go on vacation to Aruba and swam a few times in the sea. As it turns out, that was more helpful than I could have predicted.
For this race, I just wanted to get through it without panicking. I was extremely nervous. To add to my nervousness the swim was a deep water start, which I had not done. My group was pretty much in the middle of the waves, so I got to watch several groups get started. One of my buddies was in my wave and he being a seasoned triathlete helped calm my nerves.
The wind had kicked up pretty good and the chop was going left to right, so my buddy thought it would be a good idea to get on the inside line of the buoys. Very few people were there, so it seemed like a good idea to me and certainly started that way.
I was bound and determined to not panic, so I started out easy and just made sure to get into a good breathing rhythm. I'm normally a bilateral breather in the pool, but with the chop I breathed to the right. Things were going good for a few hundred yards. Then the heavy chop kicked in and it was ROUGH. It was almost as if a boat was going back and forth past us stirring up the wake. It was easily as rough as any time I swam in the Caribbean.
Rough water aside, I kept going and going. I purposely went easy, because I knew if I got too tired I would panic. This race was much rougher with contact than my first one. I got hit, tugged, pulled under, tackled, kicked, you name it. It was pretty brutal, but I feel like I handled it well. Never got upset about it.
About half way through my legs started cramping. Hamstrings, calves and feet were all cramping at different times. I think some of that may be due to the wetsuit, but regardless of how it happened, it was something I had to deal with. I'm already about as aerodynamic in the water as an ocean freighter and having to flex my feet forward and move my legs around to get rid of the cramps made it even worse.
Heavy chop + my slowness = more slowness. I knew it was taking me a while but in no way did I think it took me 59:40. I had hoped for 45-50 minutes. A bit disappointed, but not too much considering how nervous I was and how bad the conditions were. I did feel comforted by the fact that I heard several strong swimmers comment on how rough it was, so it wasn't just my own opinion. On to T1.
What would you do differently?:
Just more OWS practice.
My transition area was reasonably close to T1 entrance, but that meant a long hike with the bike to exit. Took me a little longer to get out of my wetsuit than it should've, but not too awful. I had a horrible time getting my socks on. I just didn't get my feet dry enough. Sprayed on some more suncreen. Ate a gel. Shoes. Helmet. Glasses. All that stuff was quick. Had to stuff the official transition bag, so my things would be transported back to T2, since there were two different transition areas. This added a little extra time but not too bad and well worth the trouble not to have to walk back down to T1 after the race.
What would you do differently?:
Probably go sock-less. I've done sock-less at shorter bike rides but not a long one. Just need to work on that. Would’ve saved valuable time.
Bike course started with a few climbs out of the state park. Not super long or steep but not what I want to do just starting out. My goal was 18 mph to hit the 3 hour mark. I can do that on most any course without killing myself for the run.
The wind conditions were pretty rough, so it wasn't going to be as easy as I thought. What little tailwind we had was on the first part of the course and it paid off. I averaged about 20.5 on the way out to the turn. I hadn't used too much energy at that point, so I felt good about "banking" some time, because the return was going to be hard. The climbs combined with the head and cross-winds made the last 28 miles much more difficult than I had hoped. I knew if I got into too much difficulty with my quads and hamstrings, my run would be a suffer-fest.
Being my first WTC event, I was very worried about their strict rules on drafting. I tried to be very cognizant about getting into the passing zone and getting out of it quickly. I'm not a super cyclist but am strong enough that I passed a lot of people, so I was constantly making sure I was within the rules. With all the hills, the referees did seem to use discretion, which was nice.
Around mile 50 is probably the largest climb which is up to the damn. A lot of people were suffering here. I put the bike in the granny gear and went as easy as I could. My plan was to shut it down the last few miles to get my legs ready (as possible) for the run, so after I got on the dam I took it easy on the way in.
Ended up with time of 2:52 averaging 19.4 mph. Getting that speed on the way out was really helpful for my overall time. I got about 8 minutes I could apply toward recovering from my crappy swim. I moved from 168 (out of 212) on the swim to 118 on the bike. Pretty happy overall with the bike.
What would you do differently?:
Not much. I focused more on running and swimming during training, so I want to get back to more long and intense bike rides. Given my situation with my hip (for the run) and being a beginner swimmer, it was the right thing to do, but for Branson half ironman I'm going to hit the bike hard.
Not good. Not horrible. Took longer than I had hoped but not longer than I had planned for. I knew it would take me a bit to get my socks changed. The quick laces I just put on my shoes were nice. Very glad I added those. Put on some more sunscreen, hat and clean sunglasses. Long-ish run to the exit.
What would you do differently?:
Work on socks.
Run course was great. Started on the main park entrance road, down the hill to the swim start area, back up the only hill and then through the campground. Do this loop twice. Great run course. Outstanding crowd support. I literally said "wow" out loud. One of the best spectator run courses I've encountered.
Races of any kind are tricky if you want to do your best, but triathlons are very difficult. If you are really racing (i.e., competing to do the best you possibly can) then you want to hit the finish line and be exhausted and know you did everything you could. I've done both bike and run races in the past when I knew I had more in the tank. If I am walking fine the next day I didn't go hard enough! That being said, I felt okay after the bike but not great. I knew I had used up too much energy on the bike due to the wind, but felt like I would at least be able to get through the run.
Even though my legs were starting to hurt I had fueled well. Got out of transition and within half a mile my quads locked up like a steel door. Oh man, did it hurt! I stopped and tried stretching any way I could get my legs to move. I bent down as far as I could go and something just seemed to release. I stood back up and could move my legs again. I massaged them just a bit and decided to try to go again. Whatever I did must have worked. I was able to run.
I made it to the first aid station and took some sport drink and kept going. I was feeling fine but making sure to keep my strides short and not push the pace. Made it to mile 2 and was feeling really good, not pain free, but good. I don't know how big my grin was but I was in a sudden state of euphoria, because I knew I was going to be able to finish. A huge personal accomplishment that I had worked extremely hard to train for.
Realistically, I planned for a 2:10 run, roughly 10 min/mile pace. I had hoped for sub-2, but really just didn't know given I had never done that much bike and swim prior to a half marathon. I was doing around 8:30 pace for the first half of the race and felt comfortable. I was taking in sport drink and water often.
During the run I kept trying to do all the math in my head of what time I could finish in. My stretch goal for the entire race was 6 hours. I knew it would be difficult, but also knew if things went right it was certainly doable.
After the swim, I felt like sub-6 was all but gone. My bike and T2 helped make up some of the swim time, so it was all up to the run. At the halfway point of the run, I knew if I kept up a similar pace, I could possibly get under 6 hours. I was looking at my watch often to see how I was doing.
Still felt good until mile 11. My body started shutting down. My stomach was cramping a bit. I had taken in too much fluid. My legs were starting to hurt bad and I knew if I pushed the pace they would lock up. I was on the verge of hitting the wall. 1.5 miles to go and I gave up on the idea of getting under 6. I was easily on pace for sub-2 half marathon, so I took solace in that thought and tried to enjoy the last bit. There were so many fans in the park it was really uplifting. The volunteers at the aid station leading into the last quarter mile were just outstanding. They helped me get going for the final push.
There is something amazing about coming into the finishing chute in an endurance event like this. I don't quite know how to explain it. You have given all you have to give and suddenly have a small burst of energy helps propel you to the finish. I had the same feeling when I did my one and only full marathon. I got this incredible sensation of chills and dizziness followed by an incredible high.
As I approached the finish line I could see the clock. Given that the clock time is based on when the Pros started and where I thought I started, I knew I was still very close to 6 hours. I thought I was at 6:01 or 6:02, and although a bit disappointed, I was so incredibly happy I didn't care.
Two of my friends were waiting at the finish line cheering on those of us from my area (there were quite a few of us who made the trek to Kansas). It was such a relief to see friendly faces. I was in such shock I didn't even realize that Chrissie Wellington was the person who put the medal around my neck. How freakin' cool is that? I wish I could've gotten a picture.
Only a few hours later did I find out that I did meet my goal. Total time 5:58:17. 95/212 - purely MOP (middle of pack) but not horrible considering where I was after the swim. I was ecstatic. As if I didn't already feel great about being able to finish, when I found out my actual time I was stoked beyond belief. What a day!
What would you do differently?:
Be more careful with fluids.
Went to the food tent and had a BBQ sandwich and some chips and started taking massive amounts of fluid. I could barely move my legs, so I couldn't even stretch for a while. I got a post-race massage, which was a first for me at any event. I should do that more often. It was very helpful.
What limited your ability to perform faster:
My swim was so hard it made me use a lot of energy. My legs even cramped during the swim, so my legs suffered all day. I really think getting much better at the swim will help each event. I was a bit lax on bike training, because I was already fit enough to suffice and I needed to focus and run and swim training. For the next HIM (Branson) I'm going to work harder on the bike in hopes of staving off pain on the run.
My first WTC event. The organization and support is unreal. The venue at IMKS is great for all disciplines. The wind caused the conditions to be tough, but that could happen anywhere. I will very likely return many times to this event.
1.2 mi. (59:40)
56 mi. (2:52:59)
RUN SPLIT 1: 2.5 mi
2.5 mi (22:12)
RUN SPLIT 2: 7.75 mi
5.25 mi (43:28)
RUN SPLIT 3: 9 mi
1.25 mi (14:03)
RUN SPLIT 4: 13.1 mi
4.1 mi (37:44)
13.1 mi (1:57:27)