Originally, I had very ambitious goals for this race. But my training wasn’t where it needed to be to achieve them, so I picked a goal that was still challenging but achievable – a sub 7-hour half ironman. For many racers, this goal would be a terrible day at the races, but for me it had been a long-standing goal that I’d come close to once with a 7:11-something at Black Diamond in 2009. (And that was due to residual fitness from Ironman training.) As always, I also had a secret “pie-in-the-sky” goal that would happen if things went really well. For this race, it was 6:45. But we’ll get back to that later.
I actually slept pretty well the night before the race, which is unusual for me. But I still had the usual pre-race nerves and desire to barf, so there’s something to be said for consistency. We grabbed some breakfast from the hotel breakfast bar, which included a weird little machine that made pancakes and spit them out of a conveyer belt like thing in about a minute. They weren’t the world’s best pancakes, but perfectly edible when smeared with peanut butter and rolled with bananas. Then it was time to head over to the race site.
Things were much busier in the transition area than the day before. T took a break from playing Sudoku on his phone to take my picture:
I was having a hard time figuring out what to do with my bag, so I stuck it under my towel. Voila, a two-level transition area:
I lost the boy to the announcement of the Voodoo Donuts truck, so I wandered over there after the porta potty line to learn that apparently the announcement had been premature and there were now a small group milling around the truck. Including this adorable sight:
With my sherpa properly sugared up, it was time to wander over to the swim start to watch the pros start their race and get into my wetsuit. But first, a last silly pose for the boy:
Welcome to the gun show! They’d announced the water temperature at 72 degrees, which was greeted with great skepticism by everyone. The pros weren’t allowed wetsuits and I felt very sorry for them. Until they allowed us into the water to warm up and I discovered it was in fact warm. (d’oh… ) My long-sleeved wetsuit was going to be toasty… They had us all come out of the water and stand on the shore (Photo c/o Eric Wynn – ericwynn.org)
And then, when they blew the horn, we ran in and started swimming.
I started a lot faster than the last beach start at IMC and actually had a pretty good start for me. Not too far back, not too jostled and a straight line to the first buoy. My goal was to just have a nice relaxed swim and not burn too many matches. I found this amazing shot of the swim on the blog of one of the pro men – I actually remember seeing the helicopter responsible for this shot while I was swimming. (Photo c/o Eric Wynn)
Initially, I found a good groove and was actually enjoying myself. Then the mens wave behind us caught up with us and it got a lot more chaotic. I ended up moving wider of the buoys to get some clear water and regain my calm state of mind, which meant a longer swim than necessary. Oh well. Even with all of that, I still did the swim slightly faster than usual and about what I’d expected, so it was okay. Swim: 44:34
There was an approximately half-mile run from the swim exit back to transition. They had a place set up for bags where we could stash a pair of running shoes and put our wetsuits. I hadn’t known about this in advance, so I didn’t have a second set of running shoes but I did take my wetsuit off and stuff it in the bag. I was super dehydrated from the hot swim, so that run in my wetsuit socks was crampy and terrible. But soon enough, I was getting on my bike and heading out. T1: 7:57
I knew the bike course would be windy and I was not disappointed. Luckily, riding in Seattle has prepared me for wind, so it didn’t phase me too much. (The trick is to never expect a tailwind… ) The few remaining men who hadn’t passed me during the swim proceeded to pass me on the bike. (Fun fact: men who can’t swim seem to like to ride disk wheels… ) It was a little disheartening at first, but my plan was to take it easy for the first half of the first loop. There were a couple of spots that I had to speed up to pass people, but for the most part I stuck to that. I also got to see T heading out for and coming back from his run, since the course passed that close to our hotel.
I may have gotten a little too excited on the return trip, because the second loop was a little tougher. My key accomplishments with this race were not stopping at any aid stations and actually getting two water bottles handed to me by volunteers so I could refill while riding. (Previously, I was too chicken to pull this off.) I also did well with all of the u-turns, which I’d also been worried about. Despite the heat, I did pretty well with eating and drinking. As I closed in on the end of the bike leg, I started thinking about a smooth transition and a good start to the run. (I’ve been practicing visualization techniques in my training and was hoping they could work their magic today… ) Bike: 03:09
I was very proud of the second transition. It was smooth and focused, even while chit-chatting with the hard-core girl in the spot next to me. (I also had a way faster transition than her, which took the sting out of her blowing past me minutes into my run… ) I’ve been practicing my transitions, so it was nice to see the hard work pay off. T2: 2:38
Starting the run was just terrible. I had a terrible side stitch and it was hot. They also had us running through this hay field: (Photo courtesy of Eric Wynn)
I was alternately running and walking and trying to stretch the cramp out of my side. It was at this point that I completely lost hope and was certain that my sub-7 goal was toast and I was in for yet another half-marathon death march. (It didn’t help that I was being passed by the old, the infirm and a very heavy young man.) Finally, I gave myself a kick in the ass and forced myself to get going. Basically, the plan became to run as long as I could. At first, that was about six steps at a time, but eventually the side stitch loosened and I was able to run for longer stretches.
I passed back a few of the folks who had passed me and started picking points to run to. The run course was along the same road we’d been biking on, so it was hot and windy. I was able to see some of the 4 hour bikers come in and it reminded me of where I was last year, so that lifted my spirits. My cool-sleeves also really helped cool me off and several other racers said they were jealous of them. The aid stations were manned by very nice, surprisingly enthusiastic volunteers, who also really helped cheer me up. My favorites were a couple of 11-12 year old boys who offered to splash me and, when I said yes, DOUSED me with two cups of water. Talk about the perfect job for a couple of boys. 😉
I knew T was planning to meet me at the turn around point of the run, about the 8.5 mile mark and I was pleased to see that this part of the course had turned off of the road was on a shady path. My mom had also joined T, so it was cool to see them. T also got a pretty decent picture of me:
After leaving T and my mom, I was starting to realize that I was pretty solidly going to make my sub-7 goal and realizing that I also had a shot at the ambitious one. It helped motivate me to run more and I was actually feeling pretty good. (Relatively speaking, of course.) I was passing some of the folks that had bummed me out early in the run and using that to motivate me further. When I reached the last aid station, I knew that I had to put my head down and hustle. There was a super amazing volunteer at the last bend whose amazing enthusiasm and energy really helped my poor tired legs drive that last .1 mile.
The nice part is that you round a little corner and you come out to see the finish. When I saw that the clock was UNDER 6:45, I couldn’t believe it. I ran as fast as I could (not very) to the line. Run: 02:39
I was very emotional when I saw T and my mom. I really couldn’t believe that I’d beaten my goal. It’s the first time that’s ever happened. It’s also that curious blend of exhaustion, pride and pain that happens at the end of a long race. Here I am, after I pulled myself together a little bit:
The A.R.T. station was still set up and not crowded, so I had another session to alleviate some of the post-race soreness. It’s so much nicer to finish closer to the rest of the pack, usually things are pretty much closed down when I cross the line. 😉 TOTAL RACE TIME: 6:43:34
Of course, I have to give a huge shout out to the boy. Not only is he an amazing race sherpa, but his super awesome Christmas present was a huge part of my success today. I’m looking forward to getting him into shape to race with me at Grand Columbian later this year, so that he can share in some of the “fun.” (It will also be nice to have a training partner for some of the long, weekend bike rides.)