The short version... My first half iron tri is now in the books! As my first one, I didn't really know what to expect... I knew it would be challenging, but it was even more difficult than I'd imagined. It took everything I had, but I managed to finish and get in 5:58:28 - just under my goal of sub-6. Very happy, but extremely exhausted!
I was pretty nervous standing there waiting and looking at how far away the buoys were, but was able to calm myself down to a reasonable level as we entered the lake. It was an in-water start, and I knew that I would not be setting any speed records on the swim, so I stayed off to the side and in the back with a few others who seemed to have a similar strategy. At the horn, I waited a few seconds and then headed out on my swim, avoiding much of the melee that is a group swim start. Though it may have cost a little time, I think it worked out well in the long run, as I was able to basically swim by myself, avoiding being kicked/hit/swum over, and didn't kill myself by trying to stay with the pack. Plus the first portion of the swim is somewhat sheltered, so there water for the first third of the swim was pretty calm. This allowed me to get into a decent rhythm, keep my heart rate down, and not freak out. After we went around the first turn buoy, there were a lot more waves as well as some pretty large boat wakes, which made it quite a bit more challenging, and I was also starting to be passed by a bunch of people from the waves behind me. The waves were also making sighting more challenging, and I kept finding that I'd veered a bit off course. In the end, I'd guess that I swam 1.3-something instead of 1.2 because I just couldn't keep myself going in a straight line! Overall the swim went really well though, and I felt like I didn't expend too much energy and was just ready to start catching people on the bike and run. My goal was to finish the swim in 45-50 minutes and be on my bike around 9:00. I got out of the wetsuit, threw my swim gear into the transition bag so it could be taken to the race finish, got my shoes on and jogged almost the full distance of T1 with my bike (I was near the swim in and far from the bike out), got on the bike and was off around 9:03 - pretty much right on schedule.
The first few miles of the bike course are on an incline, and everything I'd read said to take the first few miles very easy, so I kept it in a really easy gear and didn't push up the hills at all. As a result, the first few miles were very very slow (in the 14-15 mph range), but it was part of my pace plan and I just accepted the pace hoping that it would pay off later. Once we made the turn onto 64, I finally stopped spinning, upped the gear and settled into a moderate effort. This part of the race is a great 3 mile downhill, so with only moderate effort I was able to average over 26 mph, which more than made up for the slow start in comparison to my goal pace of 18 mph. Quite a few people passed me (mostly with disc wheels and nice tri bikes, so I felt a little better about that), but I felt like I was steadily moving up in the race. Weather-wise, it was definitely warming up, but it still felt fairly comfortable with the breeze from the bike. I snacked on Bonk Breakers and sipped on water, trying for a steady intake of nutrition and hydration. Because of the heat, I was going through water more quickly than I'd expected, but fortunately grabbing bottles on the move through the aid stations and refilling my speedfil on on the fly was not as difficult as I thought it might be, and I never ran out of water. I saw Monte twice on the course, around miles 7 and 26, both while I was feeling great, so that was nice!
Somewhere between miles 30 and 35 the last of the clouds dissipated and it was getting really hot in the sun. But I just kept hydrating and eating, and as dictated by my pace plan, upped the effort from moderate to moderate-hard at mile 30. After the slow start and fast long downhill stretch, my pace was pretty much 15-17 when climbing, 18-19 on the flatter sections, and 20-24 on the descents. As we came through Holly Springs I saw Bex ahead of me and was pretty shocked that I'd caught up to her, figuring she had about 10 minutes on me after the swim. I went by her somewhere on the downhill around mile 36, and she passed me back (as I knew she would) on the climb at 38. I figured we'd go back and forth like that - me passing her going down and then getting overtaken on the climbs - but I never saw her again so I guess she stepped it up a notch for the last third of the bike! I took some enduralyte caps at miles 40, 45, and 50, and then a gu at 52 in anticipation for the run. Overall I felt pretty good coming off the bike, and finished in 3:04:22 - well within the goal range of 3:00-3:10.
As in T1, I had a long way to go with my bike, as I was racked on the far side of the transition lots near the run out. Switched the helmet for my visor, changed my shoes, and headed out on the run right around the 4 hour mark in my race, exactly as planned, leaving me 2 hours to finish the run and make it in under my time goal.
According to my Garmin, I was running too fast, which is pretty common off the bike, so I made an effort to slow it down. As I came to the first aid station, the mile 1 clock read 6:57, but my watch had me only at 0.9, so either my watch was off or the course was short. Either way, the first mile was way too fast, but I was hoping it was the latter, and that the 1 mile marker was just in the wrong place. Shortly after that I saw Sara, who was riding her bike to follow me along the run course, and Caroline, who was energetically cheering for me in the middle of the street. I stopped a the porta-potty just before mile 2, had some issues getting my wet trisuit back on, and then took out one poor woman who was running by much to close to the door on exit, but didn't lose a ton of time and even with the stop the second mile was 9:14. Mile 3 continued the long incline on Hillsborough St, and I finally settled into what seemed like a reasonable pace at 8:15. I passed Monte, felt tired, but tried to smile and just keep passing the people in front of me who were already in what looked like a death march through the heat.
As we turned into Meredith College, I was starting to feel really hot and negative thoughts were starting to creep in. I walked through a shady spot at the mile 4 aid station, drank some more water, and stuffed a cup of ice into my trisuit. The ice helped some, but the water was just sloshing around in my stomach and I realized that I wasn't sweating anymore. I knew that was not a good sign at all, and started to wonder if I was even going to be able to finish. Fortunately Sara was there, offering encouragement and telling me to just take it easy and not worry about my pace goals. That was key, as from there on out I walked up all of the hills on the greenway, walked through all of the aid stations (located at every mile), and kept loading ice into the suit and pouring cold water on my head. I sipped a little water, but didn't drink much as anything that went in just sloshed around for a while and caused more discomfort than anything. As I did the two loops of the greenway, I realized that nearly everyone was walking up the hills, and I was actually passing people even on the sections when I was walking. At the top of one hill there were firemen with hoses spraying cold water on people, and I think I told them they were my best friends. Though I wasn't feeling great, I was a lot better than I had been at mile 4, and I felt ok running the downhill and flat sections, especially in the areas that were shaded from the sun. Sadly I could see my time goal going out the window as I was averaging just under a 10 minute mile through the middle 5 miles of the race, but at least a DNF didn't seem as likely as it had a little earlier. As I came off the trail and back onto Hillsborough, Sara was there waiting and accompanied me all the way back. I'm not sure how she managed to stay upright on her bike going that slowly, but I was really appreciative of the support! As we neared the top of what was pretty much the last of the inclines and the 10 mile aid station, I heard a familiar voice - Ellen! She hadn't told me she was volunteering, so as I got closer and could see that it was actually her, I was so excited to see another familiar face that I ran over and gave her a hug (I was really gross then - sorry, Ellen) only to then see Allie running toward me with cold sponges and realized that Sarah, Caren, Karen, and Allison were also out there cheering - and they had even made a sign for me! This was seriously the best surprise I could have imagined at that point, short of learning that the run was actually 10 miles instead of 13.1.
Seeing my friends was a great boost, and Sara reassured me that it was all downhill from here and I was almost done. I also realized that if I pushed though the last few miles I still had a chance at finishing in under 6 hours, despite the miserable slog through miles 4-9. I did walk up one last hill, but otherwise just concentrated on my form, passing people, and FINISHING. According to the official results, I ran the last 3.8 miles in 31:18 (8:15 pace), and despite some rough going, finished in 5:58:26. Though at several points on the run I questioned why I ever thought this was a good idea, I am really glad that I did it.
Bike: 3:04:22 (18.2 mph)
Run: 1:58:50 (9:04)
AG Ranking (out of 82)
Gender Position - official results: 130/580
After swim: 390
After bike: 252 (23 women who were slower on the swim passed me, and I passed 161)
After run: 136 (2 women passed me, and I passed 118)
So thankful to have had such wonderful supporters out there - I don't know if I would have finished without you guys, so THANK YOU!