Friday, June 10, 2016

Ironman Raleigh

Ironman Raleigh was my first 70.3 back in 2013.  It was a really tough race on a very hot day, and I said I'd never do that one again.  Yet somehow last year I found myself signing up.  I guess it's that selective amnesia that allows us to keep putting ourselves through the same pain!  With the knee injury setting back my running, my longest run had been about 8.5 miles, and I knew the weather was going to pose a challenge. Those concerns left me feeling a bit nervous, but I still came into this with high, though tempered, expectations.

Despite getting up at 3:30 to get to Raleigh and take a shuttle to Jordan Lake, the morning was quite pleasant and I was feeling good going into the race.  After arriving at Vista Point, I got my stuff set up in T1 and then just relaxed and chatted with friends while waiting the 3ish hours until my wave start.

Unfortunately this photo does not reflect actual race conditions

It's an in-water start, so I found a spot on the inside around the middle of the pack.  I tried to calm my nerves, listened to the countdown, and we were off.  Despite the initial crowding and rush of adrenaline, I felt more calm than I have in previous open water races.  I settled into a comfortable pace and stuck to my line just inside of the sight buoys.  I thought, "wow, this is the best I've ever felt during the swim!" and just continued along.  After making my way around the first turn buoy, that thought quickly disappeared.  That part of the lake was very rough and choppy, and suddenly it felt like a completely different swim.  I tried to time my stroke and breathing with the ups and downs of the waves, and when I'd look up I saw several swimmers holding onto paddleboards and kayaks.  I felt my pace dropping and a mouthful of lake water led to some coughing, but I felt like I was still managing ok. Then *bam* a wave to the face knocked my goggles off of my eyes (but thankfully not off of my head altogether).  I stopped and readjusted them, but couldn't seem to get them quite right and the right side kept taking in water.  I paused a few times to try to adjust them, but didn't have any luck.  Between the waves and trying to use only one eye, sighting was a challenge, so I started to just follow a few people in front of me.  It was slow going, but I thought I must be well over halfway there so thankfully it will be over soon.  A few minutes later, I heard some yelling and looked up to see a volunteer on a kayak heading our way and pointing off to the left.  I stopped swimming for a second and heard that we were going off course.  UGH.  I drained the water from my goggles, spotted the turn buoy we should have been swimming toward, changed course was on my way again.  From that point until I made the last turn was a huge struggle, both mentally and physically.  I was upset with myself for blindly following other people and veering off course, I thought I might actually get sea sick, was coming way out of the water for sighting, and despite making swimming motions I didn't feel like that buoy was getting any closer.  I finally rounded the turn buoy and headed toward shore, thinking surely it would get easier.  Nope.  I kept looking but every time I checked the end still seemed so far away, and my thoughts were punctuated by a lot of words that are not appropriate for a G-rated blog. After what felt like an eternity, I got out of the water.  I saw almost 50 minutes on my watch, so technically I guess it wasn't "an eternity" but it was 8-10 minutes slower than what I'd been hoping for.  On the bright side, the swim was over.

First half: feeling comfortable and swimming well under 2:00/100
Second half: am I even going anywhere?
Official time: 49:33, 45th female 35-39.

I made it to my bike and was surprised that there were others still on the rack as well.  At least I wasn't last.  I probably could have hustled a little more in transition, but made it out and onto my bike in just under 3 minutes.  As disappointed as I was with the swim, I reminded myself that I had a bad swim in Williamsburg as well and still managed to PR there, so I just needed to focus on what I could still control and try to execute the rest of my race according to plan.


Thankfully the bike portion of this report is far less eventful.  My plan was to ride around 160W, and with the exception of the last split into downtown Raleigh, they all ranged from 158-164.  The ride starts mostly uphill and includes one 180° turn, so I knew I would be off to a slow start, but because I don't even have speed on my watch display I was able to avoid getting too caught up in that.  Once we made the turn onto 64 I settled in and felt like I was flying as I passed a ton of riders.  I didn't feel like I was working too hard, took in nutrition (3 packages of shot blocks) and hydration (mostly water) throughout, and felt great. There was one incident where I was cut off by another cyclist trying to get water and neither of us were able to grab one, but I managed to snag a gatorade further down the road and we avoided a collision so it all worked out.  I also lost the plastic top to my built in bento box and was stuck in a group of cyclists behind vehicular traffic a few times later in the race, but otherwise it was all smooth sailing.  I ended up averaging 159 watts (exactly the same as in my last half IM) and though it was starting to get warm was feeling optimistic for a decent run.

Official time: 2:41:16 (20.84 mph), moved up to 7th in my age group.

I felt a little unstable running in my cleats, so I took it down to a fast walk until I racked my bike. There were a lot more empty spaces now than there had been bikes on the rack when I left T1, which meant I'd passed a fair number of women in my age group while I was out on the bike and that was a nice confidence boost after the awful swim.  Quickly changed my shoes and was out of T2 in less than 3 minutes.


According to my garmin data, it was 82 degrees with 74% humidity and a "feels like" temperature of 88° when I started my run.  Knowing the weather was going to be a factor, I'd lowered my goals from mid-7s to high-7s in pacing the run.  A smarter person would have started out even more conservatively, as will soon become apparent...

The run is a double out and back, with a turnaround at roughly mile 3.3.  The way out is mostly an incline, then back down to complete the first lap, back up to the turnaround, and finally down to the finish. I felt good coming out of T2 despite it getting warmer and had to make a conscious effort to slow down off the bike (as usual).  I saw several friends out spectating (thanks for cheering!) and focused on just running steady from one aid station to the next with the intention of walking through each one just long enough to take in some fluids and maybe throw some ice in my tri suit.  I figured pacing in the high 7s with aid station walks I could still average in the low-8 minute mile range and put my finish time somewhere in the mid-5:20s.  Not a PR by any stretch, but given the conditions and the math I'd been doing, still a time that I would be happy with.

Part 1: Miles 1-3, from T2 to the turnaround

Some time during the 2nd or 3rd mile, I realized that I'd forgotten to put on my race belt with my bib. I could picture it there laying on the ground in T2 next to my bike, but in my haste to switch shoes and get out on the run, I never put it on.  Once again, my thoughts were primarily filled with expletives and me kicking myself over making such a stupid mistake.  The rules say "Failure to wear race number is STRICTLY PROHIBITED and may result in disqualification.  That capitalization is actually in the athlete guide - I didn't add them for embellishment - and I remembered reading that so I realized that it was a serious mistake. @#$&%!  Ok, just get to the turn around. You will figure this out...

Physical status: Getting hot but feeling ok. Feeling like I should probably eat something but nothing is appealing.
Mental status: Upset with myself and worried about the possibility of being disqualified.
Splits: 7:42-7:57-7:45.

Part 2: Miles 3-6, back toward the finish area

As I made my way back downtown I was more concerned about not getting a DQ than what I was actually doing and was not having much fun at all. My aid station walks were getting a bit longer, as I took the opportunity to cool off with the cold sponges and ice down a bit before resuming my run.  I also started drinking a little coke along with some water, hoping that the calories, sugar, and caffeine would help my energy levels since none of the food options (gels, pretzels, fruit) were even remotely appealing.  I think I was somewhere between miles 4 and 5 when I saw Anne with her bike, and stopped to ask if she might be able to ride down to T2 and ask a volunteer to grab my bib. Unfortunately she had to get to work, so I decided that I would just have to go back for it myself and hope that the race officials didn't notice in the meantime.

Physical status: Increasing temperature and decreasing energy level, but still functioning fairly well.
Mental status: Focused solely on bib retrieval since a decent finish time would be irrelevant if I were DQ'ed.
Splits: 8:05-8:09-8:39

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming...

From the initial run from T2 to the course (where athletes in earlier waves were already on their second lap when I started), I knew it was a few blocks from transition to the looped part of the course, but I wasn't sure how far.  When the rest of the athletes around me turned left to go back out for lap #2, I took a right and headed back to transition.  I told some volunteers by run out that I'd forgotten my bib and told them my race number and one went off to get it for me.  I found a little spot of shade to stand in while I was waiting, and a few minutes later the volunteer reappeared with my race belt and bib in hand.  With that problem solved, I then faced a new set of problems... including the day growing ever hotter, the task of getting going again after standing still for a bit, and trying to mentally move past the fact that my mistake had cost me valuable time.

Mile 7 moving time: 7:59, elapsed time between 10 and 11 minutes.

Part 3: Miles 8-10, from T2 to the turnaround, take 2

Getting running again was a challenge.  I tried to think of it just as little pieces: run to the next aid station, catch up to the friend you see up ahead, get to the turnaround, but suddenly it was a strugglefest.  My walks through the aid stations were longer and I stopped completely a few times to dump cups of ice water on my head and finish my little cup of coke.  I caught a friend and we tried to encourage one another, but no one seemed to be having much fun by that point.  When I did get running again, my shoes were squishing and squeaking from all the water I'd been pouring on myself, so I stopped and wrung out my socks.  I could see my chance of a good time melting on the asphalt and yet I could not get myself to push any harder.

Physical status: Hit a wall.
Mental status: Hit a wall.
Splits: 9:02-10:11-11:08

Part : Miles 11-13, from the turnaround to the finish line

Once I made the final turnaround I kept telling myself that it was all downhill and I just needed to put one foot in front of the other.  I was disappointed in myself for the day's stupid mistakes (swimming off course, forgetting to put on my race belt) and for not finding a way to push through it.  I took walk breaks, more ice water mini-showers, and sipped more coke.  Around mile 12 a spectator was offering icy pops so I took one.  I slowed to a walk in order to eat it and part of me thought "You're almost done, just toss this and start running," but another part of me said "This is so cold and sweet! It just might be the best thing you've ever eaten in your entire life!"... the latter part won.  With a little less than a mile to go, I started jogging and told myself there would be no more walk breaks, and I actually managed to return my pace to the 8s for the rest of that mile.

Physical status: Hot, tired, ready for it to be over.
Mental status: Overwhelmingly disappointed.
Splits: 9:40-9:43-9:48

After making the last turn, it's about 4 blocks to the finish, and the wind had picked up giving us a serious headwind to run into.  There was a relay runner in front of me and as soon as we turned onto Fayetteville Street her hat blew off and she had to run several yards in the wrong direction to retrieve it.  I needed all the motivation I could find to not just jog it in and I knew she'd be right behind me, so I gave it what I could to finish strong without being passed in the finishing stretch.  My average pace for the last .34 miles was 7:46, and even though that's slower than my open marathon pace, it really felt like I was sprinting.

Official time: 2:00:52, moved up to 6th in my age group.

I was both happy to cross the finish line and unhappy with the way the day played out.  I missed getting in under two hours but somehow actually moved up a spot to 6th in my age group despite all of the walking and the detour.

Final time: 5:37:28
6/79 Female 35-39
78/664 Female
373/2283 Overall

Compared to 2013

Swim: 7 seconds slower this year. That year was wetsuit legal and pretty calm. In hindsight, I'm less disappointed in my time because several good swimmers I know finished in about 40 minutes.

Bike: 23:06 (2.6 mph) faster. The first year I did this I was riding a road bike with clip-on aerobars and thought 56 miles was a long ride. Between that race and this one, I have significantly upgraded my bike and I've ridden nearly 11,000 miles, so it's not surprising that my time would be quite a bit faster even though it felt quite a bit easier.

Run: 2:02 slower. The new course is much flatter and the weather was probably comparable (82 degrees at the start of my run each year, though this year was more humid), so even with the extra quarter mile and waiting for the volunteer to grab my number, I feel like I should have run faster and/or walked less.

Moving forward

I am trying to get over the sting of disappointment from this one and look at it as a learning experience.  I feel that I wasn't as strong as I'd hoped, either mentally or physically, and am still kicking myself because with a decent run I would've found myself on the podium in my age group. Fortunately my two A races for this year are not until the fall, so I have a solid 4 months of training ahead to prepare for those... hopefully my next 70.3 reports will have happier endings!

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