A little over a year ago, when I was laying on my back watching my knee being operated on, I decided I needed a big goal to ensure I'd work hard coming back. A Half-IM sounded about right -- a big chunk to bite off, but hopefully not too much to choke on.
Though I'd run several marathons in the past, it'd been almost 10 years since I was within shouting distance of 4 hours. I'd started doing sprint-distance triathlons the year before, with a couple of solid BMOP finishes in my age group. If I wanted to do well at the 1/2 IM distance, I could see that I had a lot of work to do.
I chose to do the Eagleman Ironman 70.3 as my race. It has a stellar reputation as a well-run race with a big field. That appealed to me -- if I was going to train for it, why not make it a big event? Eagleman is also flat. Real flat. So flat that the only uphill (as the joke goes) is on the swim.
I came into the race feeling pretty confident for my first crack at the distance. I'd hired a coach, Debi Bernardes, who got me back on the road and whipped me into shape all through the winter. By April I'd seen a big step up in my performance at the Kinetic Sprint Tri and the Charlottesville 10-Miler. I was 20 pounds lighter than the year before, was cycling further and faster than I ever had, and overall was feeling pretty good for a 48-year old guy.
On race day the weather came through in grand fashion. A little bit of a breeze, but cool and overcast -- great race conditions.
I settled into the swim in great fashion. Felt smooth, keeping a good stroke, nice and relaxed.
Until I realized I was going way off course to the left. I corrected that and immediately went off to the right. Back and forth, all the way to the turn, getting a pretty good pummeling as I crossed traffic. Ended up swinging way wide on the turn, charting my own course towards the bridge.
Pretty frustrating -- I felt like I wasn't getting the best out of the swim leg. It's not that I'm a great swimmer, but I usually more than hold my own in the tris I've done so far. This swim was causing me more problems than I was used to. I tried to get the negative thoughts out of my head as quickly as I could. A minute or so here wasn't a big deal, just relax and get out of the water in good shape.
On the return leg I finally got into a good sighting rhythm -- head up every 8th stroke, sight the buoy, keep going. The current was with me on the return, and pretty quickly I was at the boat ramp. On my feet and up the ramp I went, getting a quick shower from the local fire department and making the long run to the transition area.
Time: 35:16, 82 out 157 in my AG.
After the long run to T1, I got out of my wetsuit in pretty good fashion and hit the road on the bike. My heart rate was way up, so I took the first few miles just settling down into a rhythm, holding back, and settling in. Plenty of miles to go.
Plenty of miles to watch people pass me. Pretty soon there was an endless parade of Cervelos, Felts, Kuotas, triple spokes HEDs, disk wheels, and Zipps zooming by me as we rolled out of Cambridge into the rural countryside and the quiet beauty of the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge (great scenery if you like marshes.) I'm not too much into the gear, but I have to admit I was starting to get a little envious of the fast-looking rides that were blowing by me. Oh well, race your own race. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and with some luck I'd see some of them later on the run.
The weather was cool, and I had a slight tailwind as I rolled south. I felt pretty good as my heart rate settled a bit, though I had an ever-so-slightly queasy feeling in my stomach that stopped me from drinking as much of my InfiniT as I should have. I'd pay for that nutritional mistake later.
Meanwhile I settled into the rhythms of a long bike ride, breaking up the distance with the routine of stretching, drinking, eating, counting down the miles. The parade of the speedsters had slowed and I began to pick off a few of the slower riders from my AG and other waves. As I turned back to the north and into a slight headwind, a red-jerseyed 47-year old Cervelo rider and I began playing tag, passing each other when the other lagged, until I finally let him go.
Finally back in town. Passing the runners already on the course, whipping through the city streets and rolling to a stop a the dismount. After three hours of gliding through marshland, it seemed incredibly busy and chaotic. Into T2, rack the bike, and pull on my shoes -- I'm ready to go.
Time: 2:57 -- 112 out of 157 in my AG
Trouble right away. As I started jogging out of T2, my right quad muscle started to cramp up. I hold the world marathon record for bad leg cramps, so I knew this could turn into a very big problem if I let it. I thought back and realized then I'd only drank about 2/3 of the InfiniT I'd taken with me on the bike. I'd let the cool weather and my queasy stomach limit my intake. It was a mistake I'd never made on my long training rides, and I'd always avoided leg cramps. No such luck today.
Best to play it safe. If I pushed it here it could be a long, long run. As it was, I was on schedule with a little cushion. I backed off on my speed, taking frequent walking breaks and stay focused on going one mile at a time. It helped that, even at my reduced pace, I was reeling in runners from my AG every mile. Nothing like a little positive incentive.
So, one mile at a time I kept grinding it out. I felt great, but I knew I had to be conservative. Walk through the water stops, take 20 steps when the muscle twinges, take 30 seconds walking every 8 minutes. When you break it down like that, 13 miles doesn't seem so long. Surprisingly soon I was nearing the finish, passing the lovely bayside homes and turning for home. Into the chute I hear the announcer calling my name and give the obligatory fist pumps for crowd. One more smile for the camera and I'm done.
What a day.
Time: 2:02:18 -- 79/157 in my AG.
Overall -- 5:41:37 -- 82/157.
Epilogue : My goal for the race was MOP for my AG and 5:45, so I'm pretty pleased. Despite the leg cramps, I picked up 21 AG places in T2 and on the run.
Special thanks to Coach Debi for the great training plans, advice, and the post-race beer!