So Sunday I became a Half Ironman!
Pre Race: We had a heat wave in Chicago last week, and there were a few things I wasn’t too smart about (namely more cycle-commuting than necessary in the heat) and worked to let my muscles recover the rest of the week. I also worked to keep my shoulder in check, with a chiropractic massage on Wednesday, and KT-Taping on Saturday before Mike & I headed up to Racine.
After a lunch at Apple Holler (road trip must anytime we head further than Pleasant Prairie), we arrived in Racine with just enough time to check in & then hear most of the pre-race talk. I wish I’d had enough time to hear the full talk, as I think a lot of the swim comfort is based on knowing the conditions and planning how you’ll react to them. Instead, I made it just in time for the bike & run.
I did run into Kelly & Amanda and we then went to check our bikes in together next. After some scoping out the transition area and photo-taking, we parted ways to check into hotels, get settled, and then meet back up for the Chicago Tri Club dinner. Nothing crazy, just some Italian food at one of the only Italian restaurants in downtown Racine.
Race Day: I was up at 4 AM ready to go. Coffee, eat breakfast, get my water bottles ready (out of the hotel freezer – smart move!) and get dressed. When we arrived at transition, I got my space set up, walked the space from the beach to Swim Out (the entrance to transition), went to the bathroom, and then Mike & I walked up toward the Swim Start about a mile north of transition. I got some Zico coconut water from Tommy at the Vision Quest tent, which was good for my nerves and keeping a little sugar going through my body. I am glad that I did a brief warm up in the water to get acclimated to the waves and the water temperature. I swam out to the closest buoy and back. It was much chillier than I’ve recently been swimming in, so glad I got that in!
Swim: My swim wave started at 7:28, and I watched the pro’s and earlier waves go off first. I was able to see that people were getting pushed away from the buoys as we headed out, so I positioned myself to the “inside” and about third row of swimmers. This seemed to work very well for me. When the gun went off, we ran out into the water, did some dolphin dives, and then began swimming.
I feel like when I swim I may not have much variety of speed, but I can keep going. I kept moving, and soon thereafter came upon swimmers from the wave in front of us. One point two miles is a while (43 minutes for me), and I passed the time counting the numbered buoys (7 yellow, then 7 orange), and seeing what colored caps the people around me had. About half way through I started seeing caps from the waves that started after me, and I tried drafting off of them.
It was a bit choppy overall, but I wasn’t too fazed by it. I had several choppy swims in training, and the choppy water on race day actually favored my strengths: the waves were only coming from the side I don’t breathe on, I’ve trained to breathe every stroke (so it’s not a big deal to skip one from a bigger than average wave), and I was breathing to the same side that the buoys were on so my sighting was much easier than normal. There was only one short moment where I swallowed some lake water and immediately felt nauseous. I popped upright and after a moment the feeling of seasickness subsided.
I exited the water very smartly, and walked up the beach to keep my heart rate from spiking too much. I ran on the boardwalk, dipped my feet in the baby pools to get sand off of them, and was stripped of my wetsuit by two champ volunteers. On my way to the first transition!
Bike: Racine’s bike course starts with an uphill as we leave the beach area for town. I mounted my bike & clipped in like an expert, which I only call out because I heard from Mike later about a lot of more experienced triathletes trying to attempt flying mounts or shoe-less mounts and having issues pedaling up the hill. I was in the right gear and went going w/o any problem. My goals for the bike were to: 1) not have any technical or execution issues (i.e. major nutrition fail or bike crash), and 2) to keep my heart rate around 150, with 160 being the upper limit.
My heart rate immediately starting on the bike was way higher, so I spent a while trying to get it to go down. I saw Kelly within the first mile or two and it was nice to catch up with her for a few minutes while we were close enough together. We leapfrogged for a few miles, and then finally I passed her (initially very happy) although I kept expecting her to pass me again sometime.
56 miles goes by pretty slowly. I felt great for the first half or so, but really lost steam and motivation on the 2nd half of the bike course. I wanted to keep going, but my legs didn’t want to keep spinning. I’m not sure what fully happened there – if I should do more distance training, if I got too tired of the bumpy roads and my body was rebelling, or if it was a hidden nutrition fail, but I was just tired and my garmin stats show it. I did get cheered up a bit seeing some people from the Chicago Tri Club in the last 10 miles or so of the ride.
Notes on course nutrition & aid stations: I pretty much rocked these! I was very nervous about doing my first bottle exchange, but it was fine. My only complaint was that the plastic water bottle was actually pretty flimsy, so after I started drinking from it, I had a hard time with making sure it would get back into my bottle cage. These are great bottles for pushing into speedfills, but not so much for regular bottle cages. I actually had to stop just to put it in so I wouldn’t litter. I then threw that bottle out at the last aid station to get some Perform (Ironman gatorade).
Run: Going into the run, I was ready for it! I felt good, but got depressed very quickly when I saw the hills I was going up within my first mile. I walked up the hills, as I also had a goal of keeping my heart rate around 150, and not more than 160 and I wanted to try and keep within that. For the first loop, I employed a “30 step walk break” that I was doing mostly just through the aid stations every 1.5 miles or so. This helped me keep going, but not tire out too much. After my first mile with the 2 hills & a potty break, the rest of the course was pretty flat.
But it is two loops! So after about 6 miles, we are back at the start of the course, which is also the finish line of the race! I knew this and wasn’t surprised or demoralized. I also got to see my “entourage” at that point as Mike was there with our friends Ali, Peter & Dave! The three of them came up from Chicago just for the day to watch me finish! I finished the first loop averaging about 12:10/mile (including a bathroom break at the very beginning). I had full expectations of “negative splitting” my half marathon…
That went out the door. I went up the hills the second time, and it was hard again. I made a friend though, a guy named Will from Minnesota who was doing his second HIM. Talking helped keep me motivated, but I think I started walking a bit more when I met him. I did start running again and left him only to catch up to my friend Renee from CTC! It was her birthday, so I walked and ran with her. We had a grand old time, although I do think we ran a bit less than had we been by ourselves. It was hot out, and we stuffed the cups of ice they were giving out down our sports bras, into my cooling arm sleeves (AWESOME!) and into the pockets of our shorts.
We had made up grand plans while run/walking to finish together holding hands. Unfortunately that did not happen, as once I began to pick up speed on the final descent I knew I wasn’t going to be able to slow down easily. Sorry Renee.
Finish: Felt so good!!! It was a surreal experience to finish and have such a big thing be done. I think I thought I was going to feel worse. You walk around a bit, and unlike at other races, there wasn’t a ton of food “right there” at the finish line so I got my water, my medal and a finisher’s hat, and was like “now what?” I hugged Renee & then found Mike who told me I could get ice at the medical tent. The med tent was awesome – two bags of ice w/ no questions asked. They even taped one onto my knee which was great – I could then get up to leave and not need to hold both bags!
I met up with Mike and the “entourage” (as I started calling my peeps – I loved that they came out for the event!) and we chilled out. There was post race food of subs (I didn’t eat one, but gave it to Mike), chips & orange slices. We also headed over to the Vision Quest tent and snagged some beers & Muscle Milk, and then to the Chicago Tri Club picnic table to chill & catch up! Xtina was sweet and brought me swedish fish.
Ironman Racine 70.3 was an incredibly well organized race with tons of volunteers & local support. It is costly, and somewhat large, but much better organized than the Chicago Triathlon (which is 10x bigger in terms of participants). I would definitely do this race again if the cost & timing fit in with future plans. Course support, directions, and nutrition were top notch. Swag was very high quality as well – a nice finisher’s hat, a tech tee, and the best drawstring bag I’ve ever seen!