No expectations: Grand Columbian race report

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Five years ago, I did this race as my first half-ironman. We’d just moved from New York and I was woefully unprepared. To my great surprise, I had an amazing time and learned how much I enjoyed long-course racing. Initially, when I’d decided to race it this year, it was going to be my A race. A chance to kick ass and take names. Unfortunately, life threw me a few curve balls this year and I wasn’t going to have the race I wanted. Despite the excellent advice of friends on this very blog, I decided to move forward with my plans to race the half-ironman, knowing it was going to be slow and probably very, very painful. I decided that I was going to roll with whatever the day threw at me, enjoy the race as much as I could and basically set a nice low bar to beat next year. ;-P

The logistics of this race are a little unusual. When we did the race in 2005, there were two transition areas, so you packed bags for each one and got them before each transition, rather than setting up one transition area. But now the race has only one transition area, but still has the bags. So, it’s like a mini-Ironman:

All right, a very mini Ironman. 😉 Luckily, I had experience with this type of transition, so I wasn’t too rattled. It also helped that the race started at a very humane 9 am. I got to wake up at a reasonable hour then wander over, drop off my bike/bags, get body marked and go back to the campsite for some breakfast and be away from all of the hub-bub. It was very pleasant and with my more relaxed outlook, I wasn’t even that nervous.

Before too long, it was time to head to the start line. They were starting all of the men, relay-swimmers and aqua-bike people in the first wave, then the half-ironman women five minutes later. This meant there were about thirty of us waiting for the gun to go off. There was a lot of good-natured joking about girl-power and how nice it was going to be not to have to brawl with the boys for position. Because of the smaller wave and the fact that I really wanted to be able to swim on that buoy line, I lined up toward the back with the plan of passing any crazy swimmers as quickly as possible.

This plan worked brilliantly, I was out clean and passed two women almost immediately. I stayed on the buoy line and passed people pretty steadily, as everyone was pretty much in a straight line. I finally caught up to a woman who was swimming almost exactly my pace/maybe a little faster, who I could swim with. This almost never happens to me, I seem to be perennially in between the too-fast swimmers and the t00-slow/too-zig zaggy swimmers. Plus, I had the buoy line to know that I was on-course. It was awesome.

We passed a few boys in the first wave (YES!) and rounded the buoys smoothly. The buoy line for the last leg of the triangle had drifted in, so it seemed smarter to leave the buoy line and try to swim a straight line into the finish. This was a good idea in theory, but probably not so much in practice. It was hard to see that final buoy and I’m not sure I didn’t swim a wider line that I needed to. So, I finally angled back into the buoy line and sprinted to catch up with the girl that I’d been swimming with. She was a little more ahead of me than she had been, but I got pretty close to her.

The beach is very rocky, which made the exit out of the water a little slower than I wanted. But I saw T/Luke cheering for me and once I made it onto the carpets, I was able to jog up to the changing tent. The mood in the tent was jovial and I was surprised by how many women were completely changing their clothes. I hurried as quickly as I could, but having the long run up to the tent and then stuffing everything into the bag definitely made for a longer transition than I would have liked. I did beat the other girls out of the tent and onto the bike.

The bike leg starts with about 2 miles of climbing, which is just plain rude. You have about 1/4 mile of flat to get used to being on the bike. Luckily, I knew this and basically just took it easy on the climb. Last time, I’d had to stop and rest – so even though it felt like it took me forever to climb, at least I rode the whole thing. The bike course was even more beautiful than I remembered. It’s pretty much all rolling, with very little flat, which actually helped me because there was never a time to dwell on how I felt. I just had to go with the flow.

At one point, I dropped my chain, which allowed my swim-buddy to pass me. She asked if I was okay and after I told her why I’d stopped she showed me how loose her aerobar was. (Alarmingly loose.) I caught up to her at the first aid station, as the volunteer there was saying they didn’t have any tools to fix it. I had my multi-tool in my saddle bag, so I stopped to help her. Her gratitude told me that I’d done the right thing, even if it cost me a few minutes. Before too long, the volunteer had it tightened and I was on my way.

I passed a few folks here and there and kept ahead of my swim buddy. I focused on drinking/eating and enjoying the scenery. The bike course is definitely challenging. It’s gorgeous, but there’s a lot of climbing and wind. Though I was trying not to set goals, I was hoping to come in under four hours and that didn’t happen. My legs were definitely feeling all of the climbing as I came into the change tent for the second transition, but I put my run gear on and headed out of the tent before I could think about how much the run was going to hurt.

Heading out on the run is always a mental hurdle for me. Even in training, I usually start every brick run wanting to quit. So, I put my head down and tried to focus on putting one foot in front of the other – running when I could, walking when I had to. It was about this point that I started wishing I’d done the aquabike instead. The run course is two loops, which is challenging, but most of it was on a dirt road that winds along a pretty lake next to this huge cliff face and was gorgeous. It’s undulating, so you could run down the hill, walk up the next one and so forth. On a positive note, I think I fueled well on the bike and my stomach was feeling much better than usual. I’d also brought my fuel-belt, so I had water whenever I wanted it and the aid stations were plentiful and had awesome volunteers.

As I was heading in from the first lap, I must confess that I thought about cheating and pretending that I was on my second lap when the volunteers asked me. My first lap was slow enough that no one would have been the wiser. There were so few folks out with me, heading out for the second lap was tough. But I worked on getting my head in the game and just did the best that I could. It took a long time to finish that second lap. In the end, there were only two people behind me and it was my second slowest time, (after the first Grand Columbian attempt.) But I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot for my next attempt and there’s really no where to go but up.

Final times:
Swim: 45:54
T1: 6:12
Bike: 4 hours, five minutes
T2: 3:41
Run: 3 hours, two minutes
Overall: 8 hours, three minutes

I am sad that T basically had to spend his birthday by himself and then taking care of me, but I’ll make that up to him later on. He’s the best husband a girl could ask for and I appreciate his support in this crazy hobby of mine. Hopefully, next year we can both be racing and kick some serious ass.

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