Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Beach2Battleship Half-Ironman -- 11/7/2009

The Beach2Battleship 1/2 IM was definitely my "A" race on the calendar this year. The late season date was a good thing and a bad thing -- I'd had plenty of time to train, but also plenty of time to get tired of training too. Credit here to Coach Debi Bernardes for help keeping me focused when I was sick and tired of working.

But except for a couple weeks hurt by family business and an asthma flareup, training had been solid. I felt good going into the race, and I was confident I could knock my old 1/2 IM PR (5:41) down quite a bit. Competitively, it's been a good year for me, but I've stuck pretty close to home -- I was looking forward to getting out in a bigger race and seeing how I'd stack up.

Got to Wilmington the day before, and hopped around town picking up my packet and driving out to T1 (there are separate T1 and T2 areas). Dropped my bike off, and by then it was late afternoon. I skipped a tune up ride and run and we went off to dinner and then hotel check in. I relaxed the rest of the evening by taking a stroll down the River Walk and packing my bags.

Saturday was up and at 'em early. Carmel drove me down to T1, where I got marked, dropped off my T2 bag and put my bike gear in place. Then it was back to the car to stay warm. The morning was cold, in the high 30s, but temps were due to rise quickly as the sun came up. Finally it was time to go, and I caught the bus to the swim start. Got there with over an hour before the 1/2 swim started, but settled in and chatted with fellow athletes while sipping coffee from my thermos (got some envious looks for that). Talked to Brad Yoder, who looked ready to go (and I believe he got a PR, if I'm not mistaken).

A bit after 7 AM the full-distance racers zoomed by up the inlet. The swim looked like it would be as advertised -- fast, thanks to a strong tidal current. Then at 8:30 our waves started taking off, and finally it wast time me and the rest of the old guys at 8:55. The water was a bit cold but not frigid, and it was easy to settle in comfortably on the swim. I flew up the inlet, took a left at the big boat, and then spent a fair amount of time figuring out which way to go. After some unnecessary zigging and zagging, I got to the marina dock, and climbed one of the numerous ladders to get out.

Swim -- 27:12 (gotta love that tide!)

After trotting along the longest run to transition I've ever had, I got to my bike. The sun was up, and the air was warm -- the original plan of armwarmers and gloves went out to window. I stripped off the wetsuit, stuffed it and the rest of gear I didn't need into my bag, grabbed my bike and got going.

T1 - 5:50 by my watch -- slow, but about normal given the long run and the necessity of packing your wetsuit in a bag so it would get returned later.

Right away I felt strong on the bike. After a few twists and turns we settled into the first of many flat, fast segments on smooth 4-lane roads and headed north. A lot of people had started in the waves before me, but that gave me a lot of people to pass, and kept me feeling strong and confident. About 10 miles in the bike course rolled onto to I-140, a bypass road around Wilmington. This was heaven -- an entire lane of Interstate highway blocked off, smooth pavement below, and a slight quartering breeze. 90-100 RPM, 23-24 MPH -- the miles slid away underneath my wheels.

We turned off the bypass and headed north, with more good pavement, then turned west onto a 2-lane.My rhythm was still steady, and drinking and nutrition seemed right on schedule -- a drink every 15 minutes, with gels and eCaps added in at 30 minute intervals. My only problem was a constantly running nose -- the salt water of the swim was more effective than a neti pot at clearing out my nasal passages. Wipe, spit, rub my hands on my shorts -- the glamorous life of a triathlete!

Then the turnaround point and it was time to head back south. The breeze was no longer at our back, and had turned into a steady headwind. We retraced our steps, rolling south towards T2 at the battleship USS North Carolina memorial. The headwind was starting to pick up at this point, though not as badly as it did for the full distance racers to follow. Still, it was an effort to stay focused and stay within myself as the ride dragged on.

Finally a highway sign "Battleship 3 Miles." All right! Except for -- a bridge? A big one too, rising high enough to cross the Cape Fear River and let ocean-going ships underneath. Note to self -- pay better attention to the course maps next time. Not to worry -- I downshifted to the small ring, then up and over. Down the other side, a hard left onto a narrow road lined with spectators and suddenly the dismount line.

Bike -- 2:46ish (timing problems with the event, not quite certain, but about 20.5 avg.)

A volunteer grabbed my bike (new experience for me), and directed me towards my gear. A smooth transition and it was time to run.

T2 -- 1:42.

The way I see it, the run is make or break in a tri. My plan was to start steady, walk through the first four aid stations, then pick it up to the end. The run course takes you from the west side of the Cape Fear River, over two tall bridges, and then dumps you onto the riverfront of Wilmington, on the river's east side. From there, you climb south into a lovely city park, then turn around and retrace your steps back to the battleship.

I fell in with a smooth-running 30 year old woman and kept pace with her, successfully navigating the climbs over the bridges. I knew I'd have to come back over them, though. After 4 miles, I started cranking up the pace.

As we hit the turn around at mile 6.55, I pulled off to the side to brush off a pine needle that had gotten caught in my sock. Immediately I saw a "54" on the calf of a runner passing me. Now it was time to make a move. I matched stride and then putting on my best "hey I'm enjoying this" grin, I dug in and picked up speed.

"Don't look back" I told myself -- just keep going. I caught another AG runner -- "53." Then another -- "50." Mile 7, mile 8, mile 9. Now I was feeling the strain. My quads and calves were tightening up while I tried to hold form. I snuck a look back when I turned a corner. "54" was about 50 yards back, but "53" and "50" were gone.

Unfortunately, I was about gone too. At mile 10, I was feeling slightly nauseous, and my quads and calves started to seize up on me. I dropped the pace a little. Mile 11, and time to climb back up the bridges. I looked back -- 54 was still there, running steady.

Mile 12 -- the cramps were coming more often, and my pace kept slowing. The last bridge to climb was a struggle, and some stronger runners started to pass me. Finally I was at the top. And at the top 54 made his pass -- I tried to match pace but couldn't. A little deflated I pushed on, waved and smiled for Carmel as she took my picture and then did my best finish line pose as I crossed.

Run -- 1:52:16

After about 30 minutes of lying in the grass feeling ill I'm was finally ready for some pizza and beer. I'd hoped to break 5:10, but the last few miles killed that chance -- 5:13: 58 was the final total. In retrospect I was still happy -- I put myself in position to make my move on the run, and when I saw the opportunity I went for it. I got beat by 54 (congrats, Steve Thompson, of Chapel Hill, NC), but he had to earn it.

Icing on the cake was a nice plaque, carved from a genuine teak board from the deck of the battleship USS North Carolina, for 2nd place in the 50-54 AG. Pretty cool, and a pretty cool day.