Monday, September 14, 2015

Patriot's Triathlon

Saturday I raced the Patriot's Half Ironman in Williamsburg.  Though it was primarily a tune-up/fitness check in my training for B2B, I did want to put in a strong effort and hopefully come out of it with a new PR.  My previous PR (5:20:45) was in Augusta in 2013, and that race had a current assisted swim and a standard distance bike (the Patriots bike course is 58 miles rather than the usual 56), so even though my goal of a sub-5:20 finish wasn't that big of a difference time-wise, it would actually reflect a pretty significant improvement.

The swim is in the brackish James River, with part against the current, then cross-current, then with the current.  Or so they say.  As anyone who knows me knows, swimming is BY FAR my weakest of the three disciplines.  Really, my swim goals are typically (1) do not die, (2) do not use up too much energy, and (3) try to minimize the amount of time you lose on everyone else.  This is usually assisted by my wetsuit, but unfortunately the very hot summer yielded a water temp of 81, which meant no wetsuit for me.  I knew that also meant adding another 5-8 minutes to my goal swim time, and most likely ended my shot at a PR.  

When I started the swim there was absolutely zero visibility and my heart rate skyrocketed. I am glad to have had the experience prior to my A race, but it just wasn't super fun. So I slowed down (even more, as my best pace is already slow to begin with) and tried to calm down and get myself together.  Maybe 5-10 minutes in, I felt more comfortable and settled into a slow but tolerable pace.  Unfortunately I realized I was the last swimmer in my wave, and that was demoralizing.  On the plus side, I wasn't being kicked in the face and had plenty of space to do my own thing.  After making the turn to head out toward the middle of the river, the chop really picked up and it was probably the roughest open water I've had to swim in throughout my incredibly limited open water swimming experience.  At least I was heading back in the right direction.  I hit the lap button on my watch as I exited the water and though I was disappointed to see 47+ minutes, I was also a little surprised because it seriously felt like I'd been swimming for at least an hour. 

Swim start the day before the race.
On race day, it was actually overcast and much choppier
The run to T1 was actually fairly long (.34 miles according to my garmin) so I had a little time to get my bearings.  As expected, my bike was all alone on the rack, and the majority of bikes in all of transition were already gone.  I actually try to look at this as the bright side of being a very slow swimmer - my bike is easy to find, I have plenty of room to get my shoes on etc, and the whole field is already in front of me, so I just need to get out there and chase them down.

I got on my bike about 51:30 into the race, which put me over 12 minutes behind my PR race.  Between that and the 2 extra bike miles, I decided a PR was off the table and just focused on staying in my target power zone (upper 150s/low 160s).  The course is not pancake flat, but there are no real hills either, and the skies were still overcast but it hadn't started to rain, so both course conditions and the weather were pretty favorable.  I stuck right to my plan and kept my power in the 150s and found that I was catching and passing people very quickly.  I don't have speed on my garmin display because I ride by power, so I had no idea how fast I was going, but I didn't feel like I was working that hard and couldn't believe the way I was flying by people.  The first 5 mile split popped up at 14:16, and I was very surprised to see that I was riding over 20 (which I know to be a 15:00 5 mile split) while feeling so comfortable.  This continued throughout the entire race - keep the power around 160, fly by people like they're standing still, get a boost when the 5 mile splits pop up in the 14s (or 13s!), repeat.  And all the while I really felt great.  I initially thought that a sub-3 hour bike split would be pretty solid (I rode 2:56 in Augusta and this was 2 miles longer) but around mile 50 I realized that I could come in well under that.  I didn't think it would hurt my legs to push just a little harder so I decided to pick it up through the 55 mile mark and then ease up/spin it out for a few minutes before the run (50-55 split averaged 168 watts and over 22 miles per hour).  I hit the 56 mile mark in 2:39 and started doing all kinds of fun math, including figuring out that I'd made up enough time to still have a shot at a PR.  The last bit was on a narrow gravelly trail, which made it necessary to slow down a bit, and I took that as an opportunity to briefly spin out the legs before getting to T2.  After 2:45 on the bike, part of me was happy to get off my bicycle (you can probably guess which parts) but at the same time I was a little sad that it was over because it was such a great ride. 

Holy crap, did that really happen?

I quickly changed my shoes, racked the bike and helmet, and headed off on the run.  My coach told me to come out of T2 relaxed and then settle in to something around 7:40 pace, so I worked hard to slow down my legs and not do anything I'd pay for later.  This was going to plan through the first mile (7:34) and a into the second mile (7:40-something), but then we turned off onto a trail through the woods and my GPS decided it didn't care to cooperate.  Without confirmation of my pace, I think I may have been running a little too fast, but my watch and the mile markers were way off so I really wasn't sure.  I tried to just run easy and I think for the most part I was close to the prescribed pace.   It was getting warmer and I started throwing some ice in my trisuit at the aid stations, which ultimately melted, ran down my leg and into my shoes, which made squish-squish noises for the last half of the run.  By mile 10 I was feeling fatigued and was definitely ready to be done.  My pace slowed for the last couple on the trail, but once I got back to the road I did all I could to pick it back up.  I knew that if I could run a 1:40 half marathon I would get my coveted sub-5:20 despite the horrendous swim, long run to T1, and extra 2 miles on the bike. With a final mile in the 7:30s, I very happily crossed the finish line with 5:18:55 on my watch. 

Official splits:
Swim: 47:46 
T1: 3:29
Bike: 2:45:33
T2: 1:36
Run: 1:40:37

2nd Female 35-39
6th Female Overall
Despite the terrible swim, I am really pleased with my race effort and am even more excited for Beach 2 Battleship.   T minus 33 days!!!

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