So as some of y’all may know I had a pretty rough triathlon racing season this year. I had a hard time a the Buffalo Springs 1/2 Iron, did a bunch of sprint triathlon races, then got hit by a car which took me out for about 10 weeks. I came back at the Kerrville half and did well, but that was more a test race since I had not raced in three months. So I the downlow, I registered for the Ironman 70.3 Austin 2013 (“Austin 70.3”).
I didn’t tell anyone. I put a lot of pressure on myself and I find that just having folks knowing I’m racing tends to make me feel like I have to rise to whatever expectations I believe they may have for me. I really just wanted to see how I would do and once I was done, I would tell folks… or maybe not.
And it worked pretty well for awhile. A week before the race I let Coach Jen know, since she is my coach and all. Then I posted a question the Austin 70.3 facebook page about transition racking three days before the race. Since none of my friends were doing the race, none of them would see it, right? But a BUNCH of folks saw it and I got four or five replies from TriZone friends. Eek! Was it showing up on my FB page? In a panic I deleted the whole thread. Damn it.
I got up early on Saturday and went for a 35 mile bike ride* in south Austin with my buddy, then headed over to the mandatory packet pick-up and bike racking for the race on Sunday.
* I find that riding the day before a race helps to loosen me up.
Before even entering packet pick-up, I spied Nancy at the info booth out front. She was pretty busy so I sneaked past her. I entered the building and got into the packet pick-up line and it became readily apparent that everyone in TriZones was volunteering for this race. In about 20 minutes my cover was completely blown. Every time I turned around I ran into someone else I knew who was not racing, but was volunteering. You can’t really fake it anymore when you have your wrist band on and are carrying around your swag bag. So after packet pick-up I went over to say “hi” to Nancy, who immediately jumped up, said “Cover me!” and ran to the bathroom, I faked my way through running the info booth for the 5 minutes she was gone. Seriously, the questions did not stop for a single second. I can’t believe Nancy had to cover that job all day by herself. When I got to the bike drop off at transition one, it was even worse. Either every single volunteer was a TriZoner or every single TriZoner was a volunteer! (not sure which)
I do have to say that keeping this race on the downlow significantly lowed the amount of pre-race stress I experienced. I was a mess the day before Kerrville – freaking about the weather and being on my feet too long. I was totally chill about Austin 70.3, even though there was a 50% chance of rain and thunderstorms in the morning, and I had ridden 36 miles, walked all over the expo center, then spent 4 hours in the transition area running into all my peeps.
I finally got home and packed all my transition bags (there are two transition areas and they were both “clean” meaning all your stuff had to be in a bag) and loaded up the truck. I made some dinner, watched some TV, had a beer then went to bed and slept like a baby. The next morning I woke up at 4:10am, 10 minutes before my alarm and laid there listening to the rain and thunder, but not freaking out about it. I didn’t want the swim to be canceled since then it make it hard to compare your race results to other races, but if the swim were canceled I would have to worry about my shoulder and it would most certainly improve my finish time standings (since swimming – my weakest sport, had been even weaker since the accident).
I got out of bed, donned the tri clothes I had laid out the night before, including my compression socks. I put on my lucky Cartman fleece pajama pants since it would probably be a bit chilly. I made a PB&J and cup of tea; fed the fish, cats and dog; and headed out. I like a lot of extra time in the morning before my races which is good since about 2 miles from the house I realized I didn’t put on my timing chip so I headed home and got it still with plenty of time.
It was raining pretty good, but the radar indicated it was likely to finish raining close to the race start and the lighting and thunder stopped long before the rain did (lighting and thunder will delay a race start while rain alone will not).
I got to the Expo Center parked the truck, grabbed a fleece blanket I keep in the truck and stuck it in my dry clothes bag since it was a little chilly, then dropped my run bag at T2 (near the race finish) before boarding the bus to take us to T1, the race start about 1 mile away. I had a great rack position in T2 about 50 feet from the “bike in” which meant that although I would have to run clear across the transition are to get to “run out” I would be doing in in running shoes and not awkward stiff cleated cycling shoes.
I got off the bus at T1, got body marked with my race number, and set up my bike area. This took all of about 4 minutes. I had aired up my tires to 100psi the day before and with the rain I did not feel it was necessary to add any air race morning (since softer tires stick to the wet roads better). I put my helmet and sun glasses on my handle bars, set up my water bottles and clipped on my bike computer that I had actually remembered to take off the night before so it wouldn’t get rained on all night. The space next to my bike was empty – a no-show – so I laid my cycling shoes there with a small towel over them so they wouldn’t get filled with water if the rain picked up again. There was a steady light rain, so I wrapped myself in my fleece blanket and started looking for a place to get my wetsuit on.
Everything was wet and any place with an overhang that might keep you dry was already taken by the spectators who had gotten up before dawn to go stand in the rain for an hour and a half before watching their athlete run out of the water and get on their bike, then disappear for the next three hours. God bless the spectators!
Getting a wetsuit on it no simple endeavor. Getting a wetsuit on when you are already wet is damn near impossible. I wanted to get into my wetsuit before I was soaked. I found a picnic table under a tree. I was able to work my way into the wetsuit without ever sitting down, since the table top and benches of the picnic table were puddled with water. Good times.
I reluctantly handed my lucky Cartman pajama pants and fleece blankey over to the volunteers at Dry Clothes drop off, but I resolved that this would be the last hurrah for my ugly purple croc-ish nurse shoes. I knew would never make it back the the swim start to pick them up after the race, but I did not want to stand around in wet socks for the next half hour so they did not go into the Dry Clothes bag but remained on my feet until my swim start.
I ran into my super fast buddy Erin at the swim start where the swim waves were lining up and I made a few new friends while waiting for the race to start (it was delayed 15 minutes). One gal was doing her first 1/2 Ironman and had only just learned to swim so she was a little anxious about the whole process, so we calmed her nerves the best we could. Another was this gal Stacy who is from Dallas, but we see each other at races all the time. Her snazzy race bike with rented Zipp 808 wheels (cha-ching!) fell off her bike rack on the highway, then bounced into a ditch. When she circled around to pick it up, someone else had already taken it (I’m not gonna say stolen it, because if I saw a TriBike with 808s in a ditch I totally would have picked it up, then looked for the owner on Craigslist and I am hoping that is what happened here). She was able to get her bike fit measurements from her local bike shop sent to one of our bike shops and rented a bike in Austin the day before the race. No stress there (eek!).
Ironman has began letting the older athlete start in the earlier waves. Allegedly, these are the slow people but they usually start in the last waves. The race cut off times are based on the last wave start, so these “slow” folks start last, race in the hottest part of the day, and have the least amount of time to finish – makes sense, right? But for this race the pros go out, then the oldest men (over 55) started, followed by the oldest women. I ended up starting at 8:05am (7:50 + the 15 minute delay). By comparison, the last wave went out at 9:05am.
I was pretty serene at the race start. No swim start drama. No closed fist swimming. However, about 100 meters in my left shoulder started to do this painful “catching thing” where it feels like two bones that ought not be rubbing against each other catch every time I would stroke. I remember the doctor saying that I wasn’t going to make the injury worse, it was just a matter of pain tolerance so I soldiered on. I did seriously wonder there for a while whether I would be able to move my arm at all after the race, but then it just kinda stopped. Occasionally it would happen again during the swim but it was not constant which was nice. The swim is a big triangle marked by big buoys.
I was able to get in behind a gal who was about my same pace and stay with her during the first side of the triangle. Lost her at the turn, which is always bedlam, but drafted off a few other swimmers until I got completely lost and ended up far to the right of the buoys. It took me pretty much all of that leg to get back to where I was supposed to be. By this point the wave of dudes that started 5 minutes behind me was catching up, so every time I saw some guy go blowing past me I would jump in behind him and hang on until I was dropped. This third leg with all the fast guys was the most exciting which was nice since I have a tendency to get bored during the swim (just what every coach wants to hear I am sure).
Swim time was 40:19 at a 2:05/100. Not great, not horrible. Pretty much par the course for me this year.
I ran up the big hill and into transition, then all the way down to the third from last row, then 3/4 the way down rack. Yes, I was far from the swim in, but much closer to bike out. Not that I didn’t have to run a while in my bike shoes, but it could have been much worse. Then when I got out to transition, I still had to run a half block on asphalt to the mount line. I remember thinking this is the biggest transition area I have ever been in.
3:55 later I was on the bike.
It had been raining all morning so I was a bit nervous on the bike on the turns for the first 10 miles or so. I didn’t want to end up slipping on a wet road into a ditch. Also I had ridden the course about three weeks before. While I was very familiar with the course map-wise, I also know how bad the road conditions can be in that part of town, so I wanted to know where I really needed to watch out for wheel eating cracks (cracks wide enough for your bike wheel to get stuck in), pot holes, and middle of the road asphalt drop offs. There was one section of road that was so bad that I didn’t think there would be any way for them to mark all the cracks without a paint roller. How the hell are they gonna fix this for the race!? But on Sunday when I got to that section they had actually completely repaved about 1/2 mile of road. Yay!
At about mile 10 I came around a corner where I could see there were quite a few wheel-eating cracks. I rounded it wide and saw that two other cyclist who much have gotten there shortly before me weren’t as observant. Both were on the ground in the ditch with police and I can only assume ambulance on the way. I later heard they were both pros. 😦
Once I got through the initial 12 miles, the road straightened out and I was able to ride more confidently. Also since it had not been raining things were also starting to dry out a bit, although we still had complete cloud cover. The course start with about 15 miles of hills, then it flattens out for awhile. When you get to monkey road that’s just a hilly, chip-sealed, pot-holed disaster, but luckily a short road then it flattens back out again all the way until the last 4 or 5 miles. I really like this course by I don’t know why and everyone I know hates it.
Oh, maybe this is why:
That doesn’t look nearly as flat as I recall it being.
I didn’t see anyone I knew on the bike, but I kept at a good pace and tried to avoid drafting when I would come upon those inevitable clusters of riders that seemed to be a bit too close to each other. My buddy Cassidy was a race official tasked with nailing folks for drafting so I wanted to make sure I didn’t give him any reason to have to red card me with a four minute penalty. I fear he would have enjoyed that way too much.
The course seemed to be going by pretty fast and I was trying to make sure I kept up on my nutrition and hydration as mistakes with food and drink on the bike are magnified on the run. I thought I was doing pretty good . Since it was cool and damp I didn’t need as much water as on a dry/hot day, and I got down a few gels and a Clif bar (but after the race I realized I hadn’t drank as much as I had planned – oops!).
I felt really good on the bike until the last 10 miles or so when my neck and shoulders started talking to me. I hate to get out of the aero position when there is a bit of a headwind but occasionally I would have to in order to stretch. But these last few miles are where folks are kicking it in and that alone gives me incentive to stay on my game.
Bike time: 2:51:48 at 19.56 mph
I hopped off my bike at the dismount line and started to walk it in since I could not run uphill in my cycling cleats, then I just took off my cycling shoes since I can run in socks. I overshot my rack since it was “right there” but not by much, went back, racked my bike, changed my shoes, doffed the helmet, grabbed a water bottle, race belt and visor and ran out of transition two in 3:32
The clock at transition said something like 3:55:00 or 3:59:00, I remember it was really close to the 4:00 mark. Now remember I started at 8:05am which was 15 minutes late, but also 20 minutes after the pro wave began the race. The official race clock was set to the first swim wave start. So I need to subtract 20 minutes from the clock, but because we started the race 15 minutes late I was utterly confused. Do I add or subtract that 15 minutes? So for a 6 hour race, that’s be ….. um … (counting fingers) 9, 10, 11, 12, 1, so 2? Ok, so I had been on the course how long? 40 on the swim, a little under 3 hours on the bike. Or was I 40 or 35 on the swim? So was that 4 hours a 4:15 for me? So I need to run in 2 hours? Less? Hypoxia is a wonderful thing. It can occupy my brain for hour with a simple math problem that I was never able to solve. Serious, I never figured it out but for some reason I thought if I could run in 2:07 I’d still be under 6 hours. Please do not ask me how I came to that conclusion (hey, it’s right in a very general sense).
My run mantra has always been, “just get through the first three miles.” this is because the first three miles always suck and then once I get into a rhythm it becomes a lot easier to run but it is almost always at mile 3 or 4. So I tell my brain to suck it up for the first three miles before we decide that this is impossible. So I started running and reminded myself to get through the first three miles. I passed mile marker #1 and I felt, well, I felt pretty ok. Actually I felt kinda good. I had run the first mile in 8:24 (which is usually way too fast for me) but it was also downhill and I felt good. I guess it was the cool temperatures and the cloud cover.
The run course is three loops up and down Decker Lake Road and in and out of the park and the Expo Center, but it’s kinda hilly:
Yet, I felt surprisingly good on the run. I do like the three out-n-back lollipop loop format, as once I get through the first loop , on the second loop I tell myself, “After this you’re on your last loop!” I have no idea why this works for me:
At the beginning/end of each loop is “tent city”. This is where any family, friends or team who has one of those 10×10 pop-up shade tent thingies can hang out and cheer on their peeps, every time they come through. So I got to see all of the folks I know who did not do the race but were volunteering in the morning and decided to stick around, and my peeps who came out to see people they actually knew were doing the race! And I got to see them 5 times! Then because most of the course is out and back I also got to see the three friends I had on the course multiple times as we passed and in some cases (Erica) get lapped by them, so there’s that.
By the last loop, I remember telling myself only two more big hills, because two of the hills were much longer than the rest and really sucked. I ran out to mile 10, into the park, then passed mile 11 coming out of the park. “Only two miles and two hills left. You can do anything for two miles. You can do anything for 20 minutes.” These are the things I told myself to get through the end of the race.
Since I had completely lost my ability to do math, there was no point in even looking at my watch (so I didn’t look), I just put one foot in front of the other and knew I was just about done with my entire triathlon season. These last two miles were “it” until next year. I wasn’t gonna fizzle out now.
I ran the last 2 miles at about an 8:30 pace. Woo – hoo!
Run time 1:57:51 and a 8:59 min/mile.
My total race time was 5:37:25, which is almost 6 minutes faster than my previous fastest half iron. So I am super psyched about how well this race went for me.
By the by, after I ran through the finish line, got some water, and started looking for a place to sit down and catch my breath, I saw Coach Jen. When you race you are given a timing chip to wear on your ankle. Every time you run over a timing matt the chip sends a signal which is recorded. When I saw Coach Jen about 4-5 minutes after I finished the race, she was able to pull up all my recorded times from the timing company’s website. How ridiculously cool it that? Coach Jen was reading me my run splits before I had even had time to sit down. Back in the day, there would be a guy with a clipboard recording times and race numbers at the end of a race, then you would have to wait to receive a print out of your finish time in the mail the next week. The interwebs, is there anything it can’t do?