This 70.3 race is my first half-distance Ironman race of the season and technically my first half-distance Ironman ever since the swim was cancelled at the Poconos 70.3. I headed down to Lake Anna with my wife and several members of the DC Tri Club on Friday to avoid a long drive on the morning of the race. Eight of us plus a dog stayed in a nice little cabin near the lake. After picking up our race packets, we hit up the local grocery store for pre-race and race day nutrition - you know, those healthy foods like Krispy Kream donuts and chocolate chip cookies along with a nice pasta dinner to carb load. Between the grocery run and dinner, I managed to get in a quick open water swim to test out my sleeveless wetsuit. I was getting tired of messing with the wetsuit sleeves, so I upgraded to a Blueseventy Helix sleeveless suit which is working quite nicely.
After stuffing ourselves on carbs and hanging out for a bit while we got our gear prepared for the next day’s race, we all decided it was time to hit the sack around 10:30 p.m. to try for a good night sleep. Like the night before most races, pre-race day jitters, a strange bed, and a very warm room (in part thanks to one of the other guys in the cabin turning the air conditioner off during the night) made sleep difficult.
Race morning came early (4:30 a.m.), and we headed out around 5:10 a.m. after a light breakfast of eggs and cheese danish. The race started at 7 a.m. and we were parked and ready by 5:30 a.m. Imagine my horror when I realized I left all my gear at the cabin, 20 minutes away. Talk about boneheaded mistakes. My wife drove back to get my stuff while I checked in, got my body markings, and racked my bike. She was back in plenty of time with my stuff, so the first mini-crisis of the day was averted.
The weather for the day was spectacular. The high was in the mid-70’s and sunny. The race start was delayed about 15 minutes while we waited for fog to clear over the water, but we got good pictures and made sure everything was ready for race start, including a quick jump in the lake to get that panic feeling from the first hit of cold water out of the way. Water temperature that morning was about 70 degrees. For this race, we would be swimming 1.2 miles in a triangular course with the swim buoys on our right following a beach start. I was in the fourth wave, males 40-44 years old.
After the national anthem, the horn sounded and I was off. For the first time, I actually passed people on the swim portion although breaking through the crowd in front of me was difficult. Eventually the crowd began to thin, and things went pretty smoothly from there. Unlike the Olympic Distance race I had done at this lake two weeks before, this race was going quite smoothly - no fogged up goggles or breathing problems from a recent cold. My goal for the swim was 50 minutes, and I did it in 51:50. Not considered a fast time by most, but pretty good for me who sucks at swimming.
I came out of the water feeling pretty good and headed for T1 which is where things started to take a turn for the worse. I tried to put on my bike jersey after peeling off the wetsuit. I had decided not to wear the one piece tri-suit for this race and didn’t want to wear the jersey under my wetsuit. Turns out this was a mistake and a lessoned learned. Every time I tried to put the damn thing on, it would get twisted. I literally had to try four different times before I finally got it on. After that and getting my shoes and helmet on I finally grabbed my bike and headed out of T1 with a horrid T1 time of 00:06:38.
The bike mount area for this race is at the bottom of a fairly steep hill so I made sure my bike was in a low gear. After getting on and clipping in, I began to pedal up the big hill still feeling pretty good and then it happened. Not two minutes into the bike portion of the race, I heard one of the worst noises you can hear in a race, a loud POP. I was close enough to the transition area, that I thought some kind of starter gun had gone off. No such luck, my front tire had just blown. I had done a Century ride the weekend before where I first started experiencing tire problems. It had been the back tire then, now the front tire wanted a turn. One good thing about having the flat the weekend before, I had practiced my tire changing skills. About the time that I got the old tube off, a gentleman in a SUV pulled up and asked if I needed a pump. I don’t know how many of you have ever had to change a flat but I can tell you it is easier to do with a pump than those C02 cartridges, so I said sure. At first I thought he was a SAG driver associated with the race, but as we installed the new tube I realized he was just someone there cheering on his wife. I was a little concerned I might get penalized for accepting outside assistance during the race, but at this point I wasn’t going to tell him to go away. After getting my first of two spare tubes on the wheel, the gentleman began to pump up the tire. Unfortunately he pumped it up a little too much and ended up popping it. Now down to only one spare tube, I quickly changed out the second busted tube and asked if he would mind if I inflated it. After thanking the gentleman for his help, I was finally back on my way. My Garmin was set so that it would stop timing if I wasn’t moving so I didn’t know for sure how many minutes the flats had set me back. What I did know was that I had no more spare tubes left, so if I got another flat I was going to be SOL.
The race course consisted of two loops and was fairly flat. A few hills were nothing I wasn’t used to in my regular training rides. My original goal was to complete the 56 mile bike portion in under three hours. For the first portion of the ride, I ended up riding with some of the guys with the fancy disc wheels. They were already on their second loop while I was still on the first, but it gave me something to focus on. I would pass them then they would pass me. This went on for a bit - helps pass the time and beats riding out there all alone. The second loop got pretty lonely though. I was making good time on the bike but had a lot of ground to make up after the slow swim (normal for me) and dealing with the flats. As I started on my last 15 miles of the bike ride, I noticed my front tire was feeling a little funny. It didn’t really feel like a flat, but it didn’t feel quite right either. As I made the next turn, I realized it was in fact a flat. The tire wasn’t totally flat like before but it definitely had lost a lot of air. I was faced with the possibility of my first DNF. I had no more spare tubes and even though the tire wasn’t completely flat, could I honestly expect to ride 15 more miles on this thing? As I made the next turn, one of the cops directing traffic yelled out “Your tire is flat” as I rode by. I thought to myself “no shit” but just kept on riding. I finally decided to pull over and fully assess the situation. It dawned on me that even though I didn’t have any spare tubes left I did still have some C02 cartridges, and since this appeared to be some kind of slow leak I decided to pump the tire up and hope it would last long enough to finish out the ride.
At this point, I really wasn’t concerned about time and just wanted to finish the race. I started riding again but at a moderate pace, especially on turns. Going into the aero position was no longer an option either at this point. Amazingly though I was still able to pass people but with my focus on the tire and just finishing, I was no longer bothering with nutrition and apparently I even racked up my first penalty as I got dinged 4 minutes for some kind of position penalty. The best I can figure is that I was concentrating more on my tire and less on if I was riding too far left. In fact I stayed away from the right side of the road because it was bumpier road than in the middle.
I finally made it back to transition after taking the final downhill super-slow. I felt my tire again in transition and it was very low on air again. My official bike time ended up being 3:18:34 plus the 4 minute penalty. My Garmin, which didn’t count the time I was stopped changing tires, said my bike time was 2:53:25 including the slower pace for the last 15 miles.
Once I got my bike remounted and my running shoes on, I was off to complete the last leg of the race. My T2 time was 00:02:54. After dealing with all the flat tire issues, I was feeling mentally drained. I felt like my overall time goal in the neighborhood of 5 1/2 hours was now out of reach, so all I really wanted at this point was just to be done with the race. The run consisted of the same loop three times for a total of 13.1 miles. You start out by running up this monster hill which I knew. Little did I know that this run course was nothing but hill after hill, much of it in the glaring sun. As I completed the first loop of the run, I started to experience some cramps in my upper back. I don’t know if this was caused from dehydration or by a new pair of Newton shoes which had been fine on shorter runs but now seemed to be bothering my feet on this longer run with all these hills. Either way, it was dawning on me that this was not going to be an easy run. Having done the first loop, I now knew exactly was to expect for the next two... hills and lots of them. Halfway through the second loop, knowing I had a bunch more hills to run and figuring my goal time was totally screwed, I was finding it harder and harder to convince myself to keep pushing myself through these back cramps. Finally, I started walking. This may be mental more than anything, but once I start walking in a race I find it that much harder to start running again. Things start tightening up and it just gets harder and harder to push myself. I spent a lot of the last half of the run walking. My final run time was 2:32:10 making my total race time a dismal 6:56:04.
This was not a time I was terribly happy with. I was very happy that many of my friends who also did this race had PR’s and very good races, but I couldn’t help feel a bit discouraged.
Many of the people who stayed at the cabin the night before headed for home on Saturday, but my wife and I stayed through Sunday with two friends. That morning, I woke up around 5:30 a.m. and decided I wanted to do the Sprint distance race starting at 9 a.m. I originally had not planned to do this race but felt I needed some kind of redemption from the day before. It wasn’t really about the time, but more about I wanting to have a problem-free race. I was beginning to feel like I was cursed or something. Most my gear was still in the car, so I got up, kissed my wife, and headed off to the park to see if race-day registration available. I also needed to see if I could get my tire fixed. The answer to both was yes. The bike technicians were able to get my tire fixed up and gave me a new spare tube. This was the first time I had ever done a Sprint distance race which consists of a 750 meter swim, 18 mile bike, and 5k run. I didn’t really have any major time goals in place but wanted that problem-free race. My legs felt a little tired from the day before but overall I felt pretty good. The weather like the day before was fantastic. The water temperature was 68 degrees, a couple degrees cooler from the day before. I did the swim in 19:46 which I was pretty happy with. Like before, not a fast time but good for me. I went with the one piece tri-suit for this race which gave me a better T1 time of 00:03:54.
The bike course was different from the day before. Obviously a shorter distance but they threw in more hills to make it a little tougher. I did it in 54:04. More importantly though, I had no flat tires.
The run consisted of one lap similar to the laps from the day before. In other words, hills. I managed to do it 24:38. Not bad for a hilly course and considering I just did a half Ironman race the day before. My overall time for the Sprint was 01:44:38.
Obviously, a Sprint is not the same as doing a 70.3 race but it was great getting a problem-free race under my belt and will hopefully set the tone for the rest of my season. Next up is the Columbia MD Olympic distance triathlon next weekend.
For one final first for the weekend, I met four-time Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington at a book signing for her new book that afternoon. She was great and gave me some advice for my 70.3 race in Hawaii coming up next month.
Oh and a big shout-out to my wife for supporting me this weekend and for taking tons of great pictures.