I’m kinda over this race, so I’m not going to totally belabor it. I probably should, for no other reason than to save future unknowing fools who sign up for the Long Course thinking it “won’t be that bad” or that “everyone exaggerates how hard it is” or that it will be “good training.”
This race is hard. It is technically a Half Ironman distance (1.2 swim + 56 bike + 13.1 run), but the notoriety of its difficulty has kicked it up a notch in triathlon circles to “3/4 Ironman” status. I really hope that’s true, because I think I can do 1/4 more work than I did at Wildflower. Doing twice as much will be a real test of everything I am.
The bottom line is that I executed all of my race goals. I guess I can’t ask for more than that, right?
It’s a camping event, so no one really plans to be all that well-rested the night before. We had the luxury of sleeping in the van, so that helped tremendously. Greg’s pre-race plan is to make a smoothie the night before and set an alarm to wake him so he can drink it at 4 AM. It was really awesome that his alarm woke up me, the dog, and everyone else in our surrounding area… It took me awhile to go back to sleep, so I laid there and actually visualized my race. In detail. It sounds a little hokey, but I think it was extremely helpful. I would have forgotten two things for my transitions had I not done this! It also helped calm me to visualize myself crossing the finish line.
We got up with the sun around 6 AM and did all the pre-race things. Eating, drinking, bathrooming, making jokes, and finally collecting our things to head to the transition area.
Greg and Kidder’s wave started 25 minutes before mine, so I saw them off and got myself mentally prepared to do this thing. I started 1:20 after the first wave of the day at 9:20 AM. While it’s nice being able to have a somewhat leisurely morning, the down side is being out on the run course in the heat of the day.
There were only 75 women in my wave, so this “mass start” wasn’t that brutal. I’m a pretty good swimmer, as it turns out, and I’ve learned that it’s better to be right in the front of the pack going into the water. We’re allowed to swim around for a couple of minutes before our wave starts (after the previous wave) and I’ll tell ya, the water right there is pretty warm with all the athletes peeing one last time before the race starts. My biggest concern was getting my goggles in a spot where they weren’t going to leak or fog over.
The horn went off and we all ran into the water. It’s chaotic, but I’m not a panicky swimmer in this environment so it’s “fine.” My biggest problem was that my goggles were leaking and fogging over. I could not sight the first buoy at all and following the crowd is not always a good thing. I felt like I was way too far to the left, but got my goggles figured out and recovered from that. As is usually the case, it’s hard to get into a rhythm until that first buoy. Things tend to spread out from there and get easier, and that was the case this time.
I knew the lake had been choppy and full of debris (seaweed and sticks) at last year’s Long Course, but that was not the case this year. The water was really quite smooth and clear. Well, not “clear.” This is what you saw when you put your face in the water:
It was a good swim for me. I wasn’t killing myself out there, planning for a 35-40 minute swim. I got out of the pack of women in my age group and was passing people from three waves ahead of me, so I knew I wasn’t faltering too much. My Garmin was in my swim cap, so I didn’t have a way of knowing my time/pace. That was fine – I was going by feel anyway. A couple of times throughout, I thought to myself, “This is going to be the easiest part of your day, so enjoy it.” That helped to keep things in perspective and live in the moment. Not to mention fulfilling my goal of having fun!
I got out of the water and got my Garmin out of my cap as I stepped on the timing mat. 33:02. WOO HOO!
I was not pushing myself during my transitions. During an Olympic distance race, fast transitions can make or break your race. This wasn’t an A race, it’s a huge transition area, and I know I’m not going to be Speedy Gonzalez in transition at Ironman. I made putting on sunscreen a priority, and I’m glad I did!! T1 time = 4:44
My goal for the bike was to drink enough water and eat at the appropriate times to finish the race without GI issues, and to leave enough in my legs to have a decent run. I had gotten a professional bike fit the week prior and had done a long and hilly ride to test out the adjustments. I felt very comfortable going into the ride and had a solid plan worked out.
Everyone talks about the long hill that starts around Mile 40 of the ride — Nasty Grade. What no one talks about is the hill that happens around Mile 2. It may be even more difficult than Lynch Hill (that the Olympic distance athletes have to climb). I couldn’t believe how many people I saw walking it!
I had to pee starting around Mile 26. I have never even needed to pee on the bike, so this was a good thing. I knew I was drinking enough to stay hydrated! I tried to pee for over 20 miles and could not relax enough to do it. I can’t let my sphincter release while pedaling, obviously. I was close a couple of times, but no go. So disappointing! I even picked up an extra water bottle at the aid station for “clean-up.”
I had a good bike ride. I executed my hydration and nutrition plan, I paced myself and didn’t give in to hammering unnecessarily. I drank 20 ounces of water every hour and ate an almond butter-filled date every hour.
I was passing people in Greg’s age group — they started 25 minutes ahead of me (and they’re men)!! Nasty Grade wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be, but I will admit that the last 10 miles of the ride are the hardest. As I was descending Nasty Grade, I saw the medical helicopter landing just up ahead. Someone else was not having a good race… Greg said that he saw the athlete still laying on the ground when he passed by. I don’t know what happened or what became that guy.
I finished the bike in 3:14. Again, this exceeded my time expectations. I didn’t feel totally spent, I knew I wasn’t dehydrated (as is usually the case), and thought I was in pretty good shape to tackle the run.
My 4:32 time in transition is extremely slow. I’m not sure why. I don’t really care.
So this is obviously where things fall apart, right? Good swim. Good bike. And for the first few miles, things were working out according to plan on the run.
I had to stop to pee right out of the transition area, but that was expected. The potty stop took 56 seconds. I adopted a Run 3 Minutes/Walk 30 Seconds plan starting around Mile 2.5 — which is right about when the hills started to become a problem. This was a good solution and was working well. When I was running, I was running reasonably fast. The walk breaks brought my heart rate down and gave my legs a break.
And then somewhere around Mile 4, this happens:
That hill is no joke. Add in that it’s 2 PM on an 81-degree day and it’s like living in Hell. I don’t think there was a single person running that hill while I was on it. I’m actually not sure which is more demoralizing: that EVERYONE is walking it, or if you see some crazy-ass superstar running it (especially if she’s in your age group). There was chatting amongst us, mostly commiseration. It helped pass the time. And then, when you get to the top and start running again, you think that everything is going to be okay — until you have to climb the next super steep, albeit short, hill.
The whole thing fell apart for me right there. FIVE MILES IN. It’s hard to even want to start running again on the relatively flat parts. I looked at my splits and knew I could finish within my goal time of 6:30 even if I walked most of it. But I didn’t want to be out there that long; I wanted to finish as fast as possible. I started running again and found a couple of people who were going at a pace I could handle. My biggest problem on the run is not being able to pace myself. When I’m running, I’m running fast. Too fast. So I stayed with them awhile, but let them drop me as I walked through an aid station and stretched my right glute.
From then on, my MO was basically to walk all hills and run the downhills and flats. There was a lot of self-talk, and most of it was reasonably positive. I have never been more certain about finishing Ironman than I was on that race course. I was in a similar situation to where I had been in past races (dying on the run), but in this case it wasn’t because I had hammered too hard on the bike or because I was dehydrated.
It’s because this run is a Bitch. With a capital-fucking-B.
I vowed to remember how miserable this 2 hours of my life was and to NEVER EVER sign up for it again (unless in a relay). I thought of Greg and Mike and wondered if they had suffered as much as I was suffering now. I remembered Greg saying last year that he would NEVER EVER do this race again, and how he had to eat those words and do it as a “training race” for Ironman.
There was a male college student around Mile 9 wearing nothing but a sombrero (the race was on Cinco de Mayo). He wanted to high-five me after slathering sunscreen all over his naked body. No thanks.
The later water stations offer Coke and it’s an effective tool for several reasons (fizziness, caffeine and sugar). I declined this time. Some nice college kids were offering beer. I thought about it, but declined. I WAS EXECUTING A RACE PLAN, DAMMIT!
And then, Mile 12. The top of the last hill, and where I knew I’d see my friends. I came trudging up that hill and threw them my water bottle mentioning briefly, “I want to die” as I passed them and started to run. From there, it’s 1 mile down a steep hill into the finisher’s chute. I have never been more thankful for gravity in all of my life.
I finished in 6:15:20. A full 15 minutes over where I thought I’d end up at “somewhere around 6.5 hours.” It wasn’t a fast run. It wasn’t a fun run. It has left a bad taste in my mouth for over 10 days now. But I also didn’t have any stomach issues during the run or after finishing. I didn’t have any chafing. AND I FINISHED.
I made it out of the post-race food fest after eating more than I’ve ever been able to stomach and hobbled down the stairs to the transition area to pack up.
I couldn’t get in touch with Greg (coverage is spotty at best in this remote area), but had planned ahead and brought my bathing suit to take a cold swim in the lake. That helped a little and then I entered the famed “4th Event” at Wildflower — trekking back up the hill to our campsite.
There, I enjoyed refreshing post-race beverages with my friends. It is always so fun to exchange stories with the other folks competing. Greg and Kidder did the Long Course. Martz and Joe did the Sprint Distance (<– they’re smart). The van provided the perfect lounge setting.
I took a week off to recover. I was asleep by 9 PM every night and slept in until at least 7 every morning — no 5:37 AM wake-up calls for early swims. I did do recovery runs on Monday and Thursday and a quick ride on Wednesday, just to keep things moving.
Now, we’re on to the Real Deal. I’m 3 days into Official Ironman Training and had to laugh when I looked ahead to this weekend’s training: Saturday – run 16-18 miles on rolling terrain + Sunday – ride 80-100 miles. Wheeeeeeee!