July 12, 2014.
This race was a big deal. It was a really big deal.
For the last 3 years, I have been slowly working my way towards Ironman Wisconsin. It has become an obsession for the last 22 weeks. I have been training really really hard, and my short course speed has dramatically improved. My long course results haven’t budged. My first ever marathon (18 weeks after I purchased my first pair of running shoes) is still my second fastest time. If you look at my 70.3 results (in order), they are:
There was an improvement from Steelhead to Kansas, but I could not sustain it.
I know that I should be happy just to finish (and I was). But, a full Ironman is to double the distance in 17 hours. You do not get extra time for being in an early wave. To calculate an approximate IM finish time, it is suggested that you double your average 70.3 time and add 1 hour. That is the best case scenario. For me, those estimates never work. I am always slower in the longer races. So, let’s be conservative and say I can finish a 70.3 in 7 1/2 hours. When estimating my full IM time, it would be 16 hours. That is dangerously close to getting pulled off the course. If I was having a bad day, bad weather, bike mechanical or anything else, then I would have no chance.
I needed a PR. I needed to prove to myself that the training was paying off. I needed a confidence boost.
Muncie is flat and made for speed. The lake is completely calm. The bike is on a flat closed highway. The run is a little hilly. If I could not PR here then I was in trouble.
Minimum goal for this event was under 7:00. I was hoping he to go under 6:45. Sub-6:30 was a dream.
This is the final Ironman 70.3 that is within driving distance and it was about 750 miles away. I drove up the day before the expo, and got to the expo the next morning. It was your typical IM event. They had a bunch of tents staked out in a park by the swim start. It was a beautiful day. I figured out the parking situation for the next morning (one lot was close by, and 2 lot that were further out…the near one would be filled early and would open at 4:30 am). Then, I headed to the registration tent. This is an IM well oiled machine. Reviewed my demographics, signed the waiver, got my bib/bike sticker/swim cap, then off to get the timing chip and then the swag (shoulder bag, tech shirt) and we get ejected right into the merchandise tent. I contained myself (a little). I got a t-shirt with all the participants name on it, a hat, a pint glass and a coffee mug. I then check out the exhibitors before going to the race-briefing to go over the logistics of the race.
I then decide to jump in for a swim. I have had little opportunity to do any open water swim practice this year, and there is a small area that is open to the public. I see a lot of IM swim caps out there. I complete 0.6 miles (half the distance) before packing it in. The water is warm, green and calm. It would likely be wetsuit legal on race morning (just barely). I then finish up by driving the bike and run course. The bike course has a 8 mile stretch out of the park with 2 miles on extremely rough roads. They tried to fill in all the potholes, but it was still terrible. I would have to be very careful on this stretch. This brought us to highway 35. This was the main “loop” of the course. The highway would be completely closed to traffic the next day and was about 10 miles long. We would complete 2 out and back rides on this road. Being a highway, the road conditions were much better, the road was wide, straight, and pretty flat. There were some small hills, but it was the flattest course I had ever seen. The run was hillier then expected. It was just non-stop small rollers. There would be 2 aid stations on the bike course (and we would hit twice each), and 6 on the run course (that we would also see twice). All aid stations would have Ironman Perform as the only sports drink (that my stomach can’t tolerate-so I would have to bring my own). All run stations would have ice and half will hand out cold wet sponges. After I was done with recon, I went to the Olive Garden for some carbs, and headed off to bed.
I was up at 1:30 am the next morning. I got all set up, checked out of the hotel, grabbed some breakfast and headed to the venue. I was the first one there, and got a parking spot about 100 yards from transition! Perfect!
My swim wave was one of the last ones to go, and I had over an hour from close of transition to me starting to race. So, I left all my swim gear in the car and set up my bike and run gear. Water was announced at 74.5F…wetsuit legal. I opted to wear a sleeveless. The water was plenty warm without the wetsuit but it makes me faster and I wanted to be competative today. I also have not worn a wetsuit all year (so much for not trying anything new on race day), and I know I will be wearing it in Madison.
The forecast was questionable. It would be overcast with storms to the west which may or may not get to us. Also, there was a chance of severe weather to the north. The swim would be fine. But some storms could hit by 11 am. Lightning would be bad. Rain would be better on the run then bike. Just had to be prepared for anything. Once transition was closed, I went to the car, got in the wetsuit, and headed down to the beach.
I had a lot of time to hang out. I got a practice swim (first with the wetsuit), then found my coral and waited. It would be an in-water swim start. Go under the swim start archway (a wire that registers your chip info is buried in the sand) and wait in a coral. Once the previous wave is released, we then wade into the water. Five minutes between waves. Each wave has it’s own swim cap (ours was white). When we wade in, I stay towards the back. I try to avoid as much of the chaos as I can with a wave start. The siren went off and we were on our way. There was some contact fot the first 100 yards or so, then we got spaced out a bit. Water was very calm and I could find a rhythm with ease. I jockeyed for position with other white caps until the first turn buoy. Then I noticed a few hot pink caps, then all hot pink caps. That is from the wave ahead of mine. I had caught up to many swimmers who had a 5 minute head start. It was a bit of a confidence boost. I also saw a few (very few ) light blue caps (those were from the wave behind me). The pink to blue ratio was very favorable. I also started seeing, green and light pink (from waves even further ahead of mine…sweet). I then ended up behind someone who was doing the breast stroke the whole way. The issue I have with that is the whip kick…takes up a lot of room and can be painful on contact. As I tried to go around, his kick caught me in the upper arm. I was fine, but it was inches from my broken rib. I was a little shaken up, but passed him and found my rhythm again. By the end, I was struggling a bit. I am just not used to a wetsuit and will need to practice some more. Eventually, my hand hit some sand just underneath me. I stood up and crossed the timing mat. I didn’t realize it, but I had just Got a PR on the swim…by one second!
Swim Split-40:46 (old PR 40:47-IM 70.3 Kansas). 2:06/100m pace.
I don’t do transitions fast. I try too at sprints, but don’t bother at longer events. I got out of the water and went to the wetsuit strippers, then up (barefoot) a long gravel path to T1. They carpeted the path, but the carpet was old and thin. There was some protection, but not enough. Came down hard on a rock on my left heel and could barely walk on it by the time I reach transition. Sat down, dried my feet, got socks, cycling shorts, cycling shoes, helmet, gloves, sunglasses, Gatorade, a bit of a Cliff bar and made sure I had everything on my bike before heading out of transition.
Once at the “mount line”, I clipped in and took off. It was only my second race with the clipless pedals but I was getting used to them. The first short stretch out of T1 was a very rough piece of road. They filled in a lot of the potholes pre-race, but they were still bumpy and many smaller potholes remained (although, most were marked). Bottom line, you had to go slow and pay attention.
As I previously noted, this is a “stick and loop” course. The stick is the road that brings you from transition to the main part of the course (the loop). When the loop is completed twice, we ride the same “stick” back to transition. The nice thing about this course is that the roads were completely closed to motorized vehicles except for event vehicles. Nice to have toe road to ourselves!
Anyways, the first bumpy road lasted about a half mile and we made a turn onto one a less bumpy and I was able to pick up some speed. I looked down at my bike computer and I was going over 22mph. And, I was passing other riders…a lot of other riders!
At the 5 mile point, we hit the worst length of road on the course. Back to being slow and steady. It would be easy to lose control or get a flat on this stretch of roadway. Finally, another turn and I could pick up some speed. This continued a little bit longer (the stick was about 8 miles long) before we got to the loop.
The loop really isn’t a loop at all. It is a 10 mile stretch of closed highway that we would go out and back twice (so, we rode it 4 times). There was one aid station on each side of the road and would pass each one twice. The road was in excellent condition, was quite straight, and had very few hills. The hills that were there, were more like “false flats”…gradual inclines which could go on for awhile.
So, again, I tried to hammer the ride. I had started the race in one of the last waves so there were already a lot of riders on their second loop. Fortunately, there was plenty of room. So, once I catch my stride, I again see that I am frequently hitting 20mph or more. I am also passing a lot of other riders. Yes, I am also getting passed a lot, but the ratio again seems pretty darn good. I seem to have matched speed pretty well with another rider as we keep passing each other for one whole loop. He was usually ahead of me and I was using him as a pacer. I reach the first aid station and ignore it. The sports drink they offer turns my stomach, and I have plenty of Gatorade with me. I also cut up some Cliff Bars and had them (and salt tablets) in a bag on the crossbar of my bike…so I had no need to stop (I always find the bike aid stations to be the most dangerous place on the course, and I try to avoid them).
I reach the turnaround and the timing mat. I do a quick glance at the computer…I am killing it!
As soon as I turned around, I noticed that I had a tailwind (although the headwind on the ride out wasn’t bad) and the ride back seemed to be even faster. I did feel the headwind a lot more during the first leg of the second loop. I think I was able to stay pretty consistent on the loops, losing a little speed and working harder when I had the headwind. I did not stop at any of the aid stations. I did have to stop for a minute at the start of the return trip on lap 2. I was drinking Gatorade while riding, but not enough. Ditto for the Cliff Bars. I did not feel that I could safely take the salt tablets while riding and I was well overdue. So, I pulled over and attended to those needs. I then wrapped up loop 2.
As I was finishing up the second loop, I looked at my computer and figured that I had a chance to go sub-3 hours on the bike (my previous personal record on the bike was about 3:25), so I hammered the stick as much as I dared with the rough roads. I pulled into transition pretty confident that I had succeeded.
Bike Split-2:57:57 (old PR 3:25:35-IM 70.3 Racine). 18.88 mph.
Yet another slow transition. Got my bike racked up, off with the cycling shoes, cycling shorts, helmet, gloves. On with the hat and bib. Forgot the sunscreen, but volunteers at T2 exit had that covered. I did have to stop at the porta potty which had a line up.
T2 Split- 8:50
As soon as I started to run, I could tell that this would be ugly. Maybe I pushed myself to hard on the bike, but it was hot, muggy and pretty hilly. Fortunately, the sky was overcast. The course was a 6.5 mile out and back basically looping around the south shore on the lake. There were a lot of trees for shade (wasn’t needed due to the clouds).
By the 0.5 mile mark, I was walking up my first hill. That was a bad sign. I had brought a Gatorade bottle with me and I took a little sip. My stomach could not handle any more then that. There would be aid stations at every mile. Good. I would need them. At the first aid station, I poured water over my head, poured ice down the front and back of my shirt, and wasted a minute trying to open a Bonk Breaker bar (I gave up, could not open the darn thing with hands slippery from sweat and sunscreen). I opted for a banana instead.
This pattern continued for the first 3-4 miles, and I was wasting too much time in the aid stations. Then, I could sense a change in the weather. There was a bit of a cool down, and the wind was picking up just enough to give us some relief. I found my stride. For the rest of the run, I would be running…and only slowing down in the aid stations.
The sky was definitely getting darker by the time I hit the turnaround. I knew rain was a strong possibility (not a big deal) and lighting could be an issue (a much bigger deal). That also pushed me to move faster. I did not want to get pulled from the course after what I had done so far.
With 5 k left, I started to feel a little rain. Hardly any actually. A few drops and it stopped. I kept plugging away. The hills never fazed me after the first couple. At every climb, I continued my stride passing a bunch of walkers in the process. I looked at my Garmin. 6:30 finish time was a certainty. 6:15 was possible. But I would have to maintain my pace the rest of the way.
Finally, I approach the finish chute. I knew the sub-6:15 was mine. It was a massive PR.
Run Split-2:16:03 (old PR 2:24:52-IM 70.3 Muskoka). 10:23/mile pace.
Finish Time-6:13:51 (old PR 7:06:23-IM 70.3 Kansas).
I improved upon my PR by 52:36. I got a PR in each discipline. My training is paying off, and it was exciting to show up to compete, not just to complete. It was also a perfect storm. I am at my peak IM training. I doubt I will ever achieve this level of fitness again (it’s just too much time and too demanding). It was also a course built for speed with ideal weather. Seriously, how often does a cold front come in just as you are starting the run? How often is the water just warm enough to allow wetsuits, but not require them. Nope, this PR will never fall. I knew that on the course and it pushed me to do my best. It is a performance that I am thrilled with, considering that I was a couch potato just over 2 years ago. And, it gives me a huge confidence boost going into my ultimate goal…Ironman Wisconsin.