Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Half Ironman Double Part 1: Steelhead 70.3

Six-word recap: Panicked in swim, still went sub-6.

Ironman Steelhead 70.3
August 9, 2015
7:00 am
1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run

It appears I only write race recaps.  The vacation to Tennessee was great except that on the ride home Sunday I started feeling the beginnings of a cold namely I was stuffy and my throat was scratchy.  My father-in-law was fighting a cold the whole trip so I wasn't looking forward to battling the same cold.  I hoped a lot of rest and fluids would help me feel better quickly because I had a race coming up in one week!  Monday through Wednesday was miserable.  Working out was out of the question and after work I would pretty much come home and face plant on the couch because I was so exhausted.  I knew it was really bad because I didn't even have an appetite :/

My body finally started to come around on Thursday and I was able to manage a 50 minute bike ride and a 30 minute transition run.  Nothing too hard but I wanted to at least move my legs!  I definitely noticed the lung congestion though and so I kept pounding decongestants and expectorants.  Friday was a rest day as usual before a half Ironman.

Saturday I woke up feeling a little bit better.  The cough was fairly persistent though I felt like I could breathe well.  This time I used a list to pack my bags so I wouldn't forget anything like at the Door County race.  My coworker Heather and I were carpooling up to Michigan together so I drove to her place and then relaxed in the car.  Earlier in the week, I had assumed it took about 5 hours to get to Michigan but Heather informed me it only took less than 3 hours!  Shorter drive is great with me!

Check-in went smoothly and we opted to rack our bikes Saturday as well.  At Steelhead, you had to option to bring your bike the morning off the race but racking on Saturday cut down on the hassle on race morning.  Heather's dad recommended covering our gears with a garbage bag due to the blowing sand and that turned out to be a great idea!

We walked around and checked out the expo and I bought some BASE Salt.  I've been wanting to try out salt for endurance events for a while now and I like to ignore the "nothing new on race day" rule.  Do as I say, not as I do.

Heather was kind enough to let me to stay at her aunt's lake house.  So we were able to cook our own dinner and relax and go to bed early.

Check out the view!
Sunday morning started off bright and early at 5 am.  I stuck with the standard breakfast of bagel, peanut butter and a banana plus a cup of coffee to get things moving.  The whole group headed over to the race start to get the rest of our gear set up.  Things were going smoothly but I did feel a bit rushed.  Heather and my wave start was at 7:12 am so we did not have very much time after transition closed to get through the bathroom line and get lubed and wetsuited up before it was go time.  I didn't have time before our start to get into the water--a decision I soon regretted.

Pre-race smiles
Steelhead is a beach start so I lined up about halfway down at the front and got ready to swim hard.  The gun went off and I took off into the water, the goal being to get in the front half of the pack.  I swam for about 100-200m before I could not catch my breath and started to panic.  As soon as I tried to put my face in the water I would freak out so I tried back-stroking for a bit to catch my breath and calm my heart rate. I honestly thought about quitting and kept asking myself how I was going to explain to my friends that I had to drop out.  I alternated those thoughts with "You are an Ironman, get it together!" It took until about the first turn buoy for me to calm down and begin to swim normally.  I'm still not entirely sure what happened, I think the combo of chest congestion and feeling like my wetsuit was too tight in the chest sent me into a tailspin of panic.  Once I was able to relax the swim went very well and I passed many people who passed me at the beginning.

Unfortunately, Steelhead doesn't have wetsuit strippers so I ended up stopping at the beginning of transition and taking off my wetsuit.  It was a long run to the other end of transition where my bike was and it was much easier to run with it off!

After the swim, I was worried all my hopes of going sub-6 were gone. But I decided to see how the bike went before giving up hope.   The bike course is fairly flat so I concentrated on getting into a rhythm and getting my heart rate in my goal range.  As always, I was getting passed, but I reminded myself to focus on my race.

I was able to settle in well and started hydrating and eating early.  Since the weather was cooler, I decided to take my BASE Salt about every 10 miles. The bike course was fairly uneventful for the first 20 miles.  The middle part of the course was on a fairly bumpy road and that got a bit irritating after a while.  About halfway through the course, groups of young fast men starting flying by in packs.  They had finally caught up from their later swim start.  I hope the course officials saw them and penalized a few of them because the drafting was ridiculous.

Not much else of significance occurred on the bike course.  I did drop a bottle of Gatorade because I wasn't paying attention when I put it back in my bottle cage--oops!  Around mile 50,  I started to feel ready to get off the bike and start the run!  A quick check on the time and I knew sub-6 was still in my reach.

Coming into transition was a little bit of a mess, there is a long slow zone and the person in front of me was going a little too slow and people tried passing when they should not have.  In the end it was fine, but I didn't enjoy that part of the course.  Bike in was in the same end of transition as swim in so again I had a long run through transition with my bike.  I opted to leave my bike shoes on the bike and run through in just my socks.

I started running too fast right away and had to reel myself in a bit.  My goal was to run about a 2:15 which is about 10:18 miles and use the same method I used during the Door County Half Ironman--run 1 mile, walk 30 seconds and take short breaks during the aid stations plus walk up any big hills.  The weather was perfect that Sunday and the cooler temps (70s!) were really helping me! I was still taking water and ice at almost every aid station though.

The run course is a lollipop--you go out, run two loops, then come back in on the stick.  The first loop went very smoothly for me and I was running well and keeping my pace in the high 9's and low 10's. Around the end of mile 9 and mile 10, the distance started to wear on me.  Even gradual inclines made me want to walk and go easier but I kept to my loose plan and kept chugging along.  Plus I took a gel and that helped boost my spirits a bit.  At mile 10.5, there is a fairly steep hill after coming out of the Whirlpool campus and I, along with most everyone else, walked up the hill.  At the top, the woman running next to me said "Okay, we are at the top, time to run again!"  I really needed to hear that right then and it gave me a boost! I started running and after realizing how close I was going to be to 6 hours, I started booking it!  I was on a mission and I did not want to miss out on going under 6 hours by only a few seconds.  I felt so good, I was able to skip my walk breaks during the last 2 miles.  I ended up pulling a 9:38 pace for mile 12 and a 9:29 for mile 13 out of nowhere! That is very fast for me at the end of the race!

I came flying down the chute and was so thrilled when I knew I clenched the sub-6 finish.  I've been chasing this goal for 2 years now and it feels so good to finally get it.  

Heather and I with our medals!
After the finish, I needed to sit around a bit to regain my composure, but then I limped back to the finish line to see Heather and my other coworker Ben cross the finish line!  This was both of their first half-Ironman and they both did so well!  Heather's goal was to finish under 7 hours and she knocked it out of the park with a 6:39 finish.

Swim: 43:02 (2:13/100 m)
T1: 3:24
Bike: 2:55:16 (19.2 mph)
T2: 2:19
Run: 2:13:24 (10:11/mile)
Overall: 5:57:25 (33/98 F25-29) 

The whole gang
Admittedly, I have not had the best year of training but I have been working on speedwork more.  That plus the huge base I had from Ironman Wisconsin last year has really helped me.  And I think it is another lesson in not giving up on myself when things get tough.

Celebrating with my medal and Mtn Dew
Cost: $225
Pros: PR-friendly course, all the regular Ironman amenities, free lodging
Cons: No wetsuit strippers, large number of participants
Would I do it again? Despite the slightly higher cost, if this fits into my schedule I would do it again!
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