I did it. Officially became a Half Ironman in July. And I legitimately had fun doing it. I know, I can’t believe I’m saying that either!
I drove up on Thursday before the race, and I’m glad I did. It gave me time to get settled into the hotel and ready for the long weekend. I arbitrarily picked a hotel in a nearby town and I’m so glad. It really wasn’t far from the expo or the race site (because nothing is close to that!). It also was centrally located to a strip with plenty of dining options and stores if I needed anything. And the best part, my room had a large mini-fridge and small microwave. This was a useful luxury!
On Friday, I slept in and drove up to Muncie for the expo and race meeting. Downtown Muncie, how adorable. I got to meet up with a Twitter friend who was also doing the race and drove all the way down from Maine with his young son. Nice little father son bonding trip! We went to the first athlete meeting together. Then I finished checking out the expo and got some lunch before heading out to the
middle of nowhere race site to check out the course. Definitely glad I did that. There is no easy way to get to the race site and it’s pretty confusing. I did the race in reverse order, starting with a quick run, a short bike to check gears, and then a little swim to check the water and the sighting to the finish. The shallow part of the water has quite a few rocks, so I was really hoping we didn’t have a beach run start. After that, I drove the remainder of the run and bike. The run looked great, and those “rollers” weren’t going to be a problem. I confirmed the bike is in fact flat, but a lot of the course was really rough, so I kept that in mind. Then I drove back to the hotel to have dinner and an Epsom salt bath and get my gear ready for the morning.
Race morning: I knew that there is really only one road in to the race, so traffic gets backed up early. Therefore I planned on getting to the race site as soon as possible to when parking opened at 4:30am. I set the alarm for 3:15am, got dressed, loaded the car, and packed some coffee and breakfast for when I got there. I lucked out and got parking on the 3rd row. I hit the porta potties before transition opened at 5am. Then, I started unloading my stuff to take to set up transition. We were lucky that pre-race bike check-in was optional. I have separation anxiety from my bike. Also, many thanks to the nice volunteer who checked and topped off my air pressure in my tires! After getting set up, I went back to my car to relax and eat my breakfast and get my sunscreen started. We got word that the water temp was 75 so it would be a wetsuit legal race, which meant some extra Body Glide. While the pros were starting I got a little practice swim in to get used to the water. Then I was ready to go get in line for the start line chute.
Fortunately, we got to start a few feet into the water and get away from the rocks embedded in the sand. I was surprised how small my wave was. Usually my age group is pretty big, but this helped me relax about being in an aggressive swim wave/washing machine. I lined up on second or third row out on the edge closest to the buoys. When the bull horn went off, we started swimming. I felt pretty good. I did have one woman, who just wouldn’t leave me alone. I couldn’t tell if she was just being especially aggressive towards me or was doing a terrible job of swimming straight and cutting me off and yanking on my feet on purpose. I think I finally lost her when we caught up to the guys ahead of us about the second buoy and I trapped her between the buoy and the slower men. I had a hard time sighting on the swim because the line out to the first turn is at a diagonal to the left, and we started running into the slower men in the wave ahead of us. But for the most part it was manageable. About halfway between the first and second turn, I was swimming behind a line of about 3 people across. Then a guy wearing an orange cap (I think from the wave behind us) decided to swim diagonally across them. And I caught his heel directly into my left eye, shoving my goggle deep into my eye socket. I had to stop and adjust, and assess whether I thought I might actually have injured my eye. It seemed to be ok (I could see), but hurt pretty badly. But I was the furthest away from the shore that I could be so I had to keep going. I was just hoping it wouldn’t be all bloody when I got out of the water and they would make me quit my race then. I was also glad it wasn’t my nose. A broken nose is a definitely DNF, something I didn’t want. After the second turn, it started getting much more congested in the water as all the swim waves start catching up with the slower people in front of them. I was worried about the sighting since the sun is rising over the shore, but it actually created a shadow on the buoys and wasn’t that bad to sight. Plus there were enough people around me all going the same general (straight) direction back to shore. Once out of the water, I started running up the hill to transition. We were told there weren’t going to be any wetsuit strippers, but I saw a group of teenage boys who were more than happy to yank that suit off me, pull me back up and get me back on my way to transition. It’s amazing how efficient strippers are!
Transition 1 :
Tossed my wetsuit into my pile of stuff, grabbed my helmet and glasses, sprayed some sunscreen, grabbed my bike of the rack and ran to the “Bike Out” sign. I had practiced a couple times with my shoes already clipped to my bike and I’m glad I did. Our transition was in grass and it was much easier running barefoot and not getting grass or dirt stuck in my cleats. Though I almost forgot and started to mount before the line, but caught myself.
The bike course is over a lot of really rough roads. It took a while to get comfortable where I could start putting my feet into my bike shoes and then longer before I could reach down and lock down the straps on my shoes. The bike course goes out several local roads and through one neighborhood with moderately bumpy to smooth roads. Once you turn on to the main highway, it’s really straight, flat, and smooth. It was at this point that I got to see the lead male and female pro racers flying back the other direction on the course. After a few miles, we turn off on to really incredibly rough farm roads. There are several “no pass zones” but people aren’t observing them. Apologies to the really fast people who were stuck behind me. Then it’s miles and miles of relentless bumps and vibrations. I kept having to shove my aero bottle straw back down into the bottle, the bumps were knocking it up out of the bottle. I dodged numerous marked and even unmarked pot holes, ejected water bottles, and even an ejected rear water bottle cage (that poor person). I passed several people who were fixing flats. I took it easy on the bike. It’s not my strength and why burn myself out just to blow up on the run where I can really make up time. Plus, the whole goal for the race was to finish, not explode. After the turnaround point, I was beyond done mentally with the bumpy roads. I started singing songs in my head to try to get through it. It was difficult to fuel and hydrate with all the bumps and having to focus so hard on keeping a handle on the bike and dodging road obstacles. I think the other side of the road for the second half was actually a little bit better and not as rough. But I was definitely happy to get back to the smooth main highway and head my way back to transition. I even smoothly handled a water bottle handoff! I grabbed the bottle, dumped it into my aero bottle, tossed it before the drop point, and got in 2 tabs of Nuun to help with hydration and flavor! So glad I had those Nuun tablets in my bento!
I definitely feel like I dialed in my nutrition plan just right for this race. For me, my stomach doesn’t always tolerate a lot during the run and especially if I’m going hard or long in a race. So, the key is to get everything in on the bike. My plan was as follows (if nothing else it gave me something to do for 3 hours of pedaling):
Every 15min – sip of Nuun from my water bottle
Every 20 min – go up gear and pedal out of saddle for a few seconds
Every 20 min – fuel (On the :20 and :40 I took in a fig newton, on the hour I took a Hüma gel)
I managed to get my shoes opened and my feet out before dismount. I hopped off my bike and ran barefoot in the grass back to my transition spot. Threw off the helmet and sunglasses, grabbed a hat and my race belt that I pre-loaded with gels and my bib.
This was by far my favorite part of the race. Not just because it’s my strength, but I honestly had a good time! I was, as usual, very happy to be out of the saddle and back on my own feet. The course was great. It says it is a challenging roller course, but really it wasn’t hilly or what this Tennessean would call a roller. It wasn’t pancake flat (like the bike course), so it actually gave you a break from the constant pounding, and wasn’t enough of a roller to feel like you were climbing or breaking down a hill. Just enough of a change to give your different muscles a break. I started out at a great pace, maybe a little fast, but I was feeling good. After a couple miles we turned on to the out and back portion. At this point I saw a guy running back around his mile 11 with so many sponges stuffed in his tri top, he was easily taking a cue from that time I figure skated as Dolly Parton to “9-to-5” as a kid. It provided some entertainment for the start of the run. Eventually the miles ticked off. I saw some athletes from back home heading back and hoped I could catch some of them after the turnaround. My Coach had warned me to take it easy on the bike, but that most people go too hard on that flat course and leave nothing for the run. During the run I grinned from ear to ear (that’s never happened in a 13 mile run ever!) and just had fun. I bounced from water stop to water stop, grabbing a cub of ice and pouring it into my sports bra (seriously, “boob ice” is the best thing ever) and taking a sip of the cola they offered, with the occasional ice water dumped on my head just for fun. At the turn around point, I couldn’t believe I was already there and had to actually ask the volunteer if it was “for real.” She said yes, and I did a little hop and a dance right there, then kept running. After the turnaround, I caught up to many of the athletes from home who were running, said hi, and passed them. I think I passed pretty much everyone I was running with. I’m not sure I really got passed much myself. It felt great. I’m sure I looked a little strange munching on my “boob ice” in between water stops. I was feeling so good I almost forgot to take some gels, but managed to get down a couple of them. I’m not sure if it was the sugar and caffeine from the cola or just pure adrenaline, but I was all kinds of excited. As I got to the 11 and 12 mile markers it was hitting me that I was getting close to the finish. Not only was I going to finish my first Half Ironman, but it was also almost done. After 6 hours of racing (and countless hours of training), I was done. When I saw the 13 mile turnoff, I quickly threw out all the ice from my top, straightened my bib and hauled it in to the finish. I literally skipped and bounded to the finish line! My heart was exploding. I was so happy and a little sad it was already over, I was having so much fun!
My #1 goal for this race was to finish. I thought best case scenario, I could maybe pull off a 6:30. I finished the race in 6:09. It helps we had really great weather, and I trained hard. I took the course one step at a time and didn’t push myself really hard because ultimately I just wanted to cross the finish line. So, of course now I want to go back and try to race and see what I can really do on that course, with more determination and background of the course.