Headwaters Half Iron
On Saturday, I drove up to Bozeman, Montana (4.5 hours away) to compete in a small, rural half ironman race, the Headwaters Half. There were 40 entries total, and I was the only one in the 19-and-under age group – as long as I finished, I would win! Anyway, it seemed like a good pick for my first Half, because (1) the registration fees were much lower than the big events, (2) it was close to home (relatively – living in the West, the scale of “close” becomes rather large), and (3) the course was supposed to be pretty fast and reasonably easy.
Point (3) was overthrown about a week ago, when the race directors realized that extensive construction over the road where the bike was supposed to take place would not be done in time for the race. Originally, the race would begin 15 miles west of Bozeman in Three Forks. So, they did the best they could and moved the entire race into Bozeman itself. Instead of a flat, fast bike course with one big climb at the turnaround, it was now a grueling mountain pass. Still, the swim venue wouldn’t be noticeably different, and the run course looked flat, so it seemed that there might remain a possibility for a nice low time. Also, it was at “low” altitude (i.e. 4000 feet above sea level, and I live at 6200). Yay!
Swim: 1.2 miles (+all of my swerving around), 40:02, 67oF (water), 55oF (air) I really haven’t been swimming much this summer, for a couple of reasons: First of all, the swim is such a small part of a triathlon, especially once you get to the Half distance, that it really didn’t deserve a ton of my time. Second, when living in one of the most beautiful outdoorsy towns in America, it seems almost a crime to spend too much time swimming laps inside. Anyway, I always have done perfectly fine in the swim, even before I started training with Coach Bill (although I improved immensely and noticeably throughout the school year while doing that training).
The swim course was three clockwise laps, with a funny stipulation that we get out of the water and run across a point of sand in between each lap (I think this was so they could keep track of us and make sure we all did the full distance – no fancy timing chips or anything at this race!). That was kind of a drag, definitely messed up the flow of things, but overall the swim was fine. The water seemed unbearably warm (they said it was 67, but I don’t believe them; either that, or my recent daily short plunges into our glacial meltoff river really have acclimated me to cold water).
So, I finished in something ridiculous for how little I’ve been swimming (~12th place overall, 3rd/15 women) and moved on to the bike.
T1: 1:45 – realized how much easier the transition is without numb fingers!
Bike: 56.6 miles, 2000 feet of climbing, 3:33, 55-85oF The bike was rather more brutal than expected, but I ride quite a bit so did reasonably well. The first 21 miles were mostly climbing, sometimes gradual, sometimes steep. Plus there must have been a few significant downhills (which I don’t remember riding down, but certainly remember riding back up on the way back). At the top of Battle Creek Ridge, there was an aid station where they gave us water bottles with water or Heed. As a side note, I had never tried Heed before (yes, I know, you’re not supposed to try anything new on race day, but I couldn’t help it), and it was DELICIOUS and didn’t even hurt my stomach during the run. I think watermelon flavored. Anyway, I think I’ll buy it again in the future. Also, I was excited for the bottles, because I labeled my own bottles with my name and picked them up after the race, and then I ended up with two more nice ones! I guess I’m a loser cyclist, because I really have a pitifully small stash of bottles.
Then there was an 8-mile descent/flats, then back up. I started swearing at the flies and bees that I suspected of wanting to sting me in hopes of stealing some of my Shot Bloks; maybe I was a bit crazy from lack of food/water, but they do sting me on a regular basis when I have sugary things in my back pockets.
Finally, I reached the top of the pass again and started a flying descent back to the transition area (with the exception of two particularly nasty and surprising uphills). My original time goal for the bike was 3:20, since I recently did a mountainous 110-mile ride that averaged 17mph and thus figured I could carry that pace into the triathlon. However, a combination of WAY more climbing than expected and not drafting with anyone made me miss it slightly, coming in at 3:33. Usually the bike is my strong point, but I think it must have been the strong point of a lot of these women because I ended up in 7th
Run: 13.1 miles, 2:30, 85-90oF
Oh, the run, how I’d looked forward to running a half-marathon after already racing for ~4 hours (not).
The first mile of the run, I felt GREAT. Psyched, I thought that it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as I had thought; I did a few big long brick workouts in the mountains, and this course was flat, and I felt relaxed and fast (for me).
After the first mile, I realized how hot it was outside, and I felt terrible. I know many of you probably don’t think that 85-90 is that hot, but you also probably don’t typically go skiing in May-June. I had fueled myself as well as possible during the bike, but I was just losing water like crazy. At the aid station, I had them put some ice into the water bottle I was carrying, but between there and the next aid station (a nasty 3 miles away), my drink was so hot that it barely helped at all. I started shivering, which seemed like a bad thing, so I slowed down and basically stumbled along until the aid station, where I replenished my ice. Surprisingly, I finished the first 6.5 mile lap in 66 minutes, which didn’t seem nearly as bad as I expected. (I am not a fast runner, but can usually manage a sub-2 hour half-marathon. However, for walking and stumbling a large portion of the course, 10-minute miles was not bad at all)
Second lap was worse. The course started with a 1.5 mile out-and back lollipop, which took me 15 minutes the first lap and 25 the second. It was dreadful, and I was trying to ration the liquid I took in because my stomach usually cramps up when I drink too much while running. After the aid station, I decided that that method wasn’t working, so I set little miniature goals every couple hundred yards and let myself drink sips of ice water upon achieving each one. Unfortunately, about 1.5 miles into the 3 miles between aid stations, my water supply was quite low and also quite hot again. I felt the shivers coming on, and a throat closing with despair at how far I had already come and how impossibly far the remaining 3.5 miles sounded. So I walked for a minute, then stumbled along some more.
.5 miles from the finish, my calf gave a couple of spasms, and it felt like the bottom of my foot was going to seize up – electrolyte depletion or something? I was glad to almost be done, before my body freaked out any more. Crossed the finish line in 6:47, in 7th place out of the 12 women finishers (several dropped out during the run)
My overall goal had been sub-6, readjusted to sub-6:30 once the course was changed…Not good, but considering I almost never run in temperatures above even 70 degrees (since I run in the mornings when I wake up, when it’s usually around 40-50), surviving a run in the heat was an accomplishment.
1) Buy a sleeveless wetsuit someday
2) Get some HEED watermelon
3) Always have a depleted water bottle so there is an excuse to take a new free one at an aid station
4) Doesn’t matter how much I push on the bike, I’ll always feel like crap on the run anyway so may as well go all out (as long as I’ve done enough brick workouts beforehand)
5) Bring along a race crew or someone who is willing to drive around and dump ice or ice water all over me when I vainly attempt to run in the heat (or, alternatively, perhaps I should do my longer races in the spring, fall, or winter, when it’s cold)
Friday, July 16, 2010
Patriot Half Ironman Race Report
Saturday, June 19, 2010
East Freetown, MA
The pre-race officially started Saturday, May 22nd after a week of finals. Having the Patriot Half Iron on my calendar gave me an excuse to resume a structured training regimen, so with four weeks left before the race, I scrambled together three solid training weeks + one week of taper--during which I eliminated my daily coffee and piece of cake at noon, what a shame because I didn't even have time to enjoy my rejuvenated caffeine tolerance during race morning.
At 3:50 AM on Saturday morning, I woke up, and after the usual "why the f am I doing this to myself", crawled out of bed and 90 minutes later, found myself registering at the race area in East Freetown, MA. I absolutely love pre-races. It was early in the morning, the sun was rising on what was going to be a cloud-free day, the dew was still on the grass, the music was perfect, and as usual, everyone was subtly eyeing each other in the transition area. Man, what a great time. Did I mention that I love pre-races?
Swim (1.2 miles ?)
Wow, 1.2 miles drawn out by buoys on the water seems disproportionately long. The conditions were nearly ideal: water temperature in the mid to low 70s, small waves of competitors, calm waters, and only two turns.
I'll spare you the details of the swim--long story short: I never got to latch on to a reliable set of feet to draft off of, but found a good rhythm pretty quickly and never felt the triceps burn I typically feel after awhile. Thank you Mrs Taper.
Bike (58 miles)
The course was fast. Again, nothing extraordinary to report and I don't want to bore you with uninteresting anecdotes. I held nearly constant pace throughout the two relatively flat 29 mile laps, passing perhaps 50 people while getting passed by 4 tree-trunked-legged men. I'll reetirate what I wrote in my Collegiate Nationals report: a strong bike is crucial to a good overall time and I'm very grateful that I spent hours and hours on the bike--it pays off! As they say, "cycling is a blue-collar sport; you gotta crank out the miles." Notable criticism of other athletes' strategy: unless you feel particularly uncomfortable grabbing bottles at the two aid stations (they offered Heed and water), you shouldn't need to carry more than two bottles--that's a lot of extra weight! Food-wise, while I usually don't eat much during training rides, I forced myself to 2 gels and 1 powerbar. Other notable comments: plain vanilla powerbar >> tropical fruit powerbar AND next time I need to remember to open the powerbar beforehand instead of fiddling with the plastic and going over a pothole that nearly swallowed my bike FOREVER.
Run (13.1 miles)
Again, I am very fortunate: everything went smoothly. It was a very hot run with long stretches of road in the sun, but overall, my pace remained consistent--while on the flats. Running around the Charles has not gotten me used to hills so I slowed down way too much on the course's several rollers.
I have to admit that I distinctly remember hitting the mile 3 marker and thinking that I was really looking forward to this run being done. Not the greatest positive attitude, I know. As cliché as it sounds, I just took the run mile by mile and tagged on to people as long as I could--although most of the run no one was within 100 yards of me. Other cliché thought: in the moments I just wanted to stop and walk, I thought back to other long training runs during which I had felt much worse but didn't stop, and knew that I was physically able to continue running--I had no excuse to stop.
The numbers are one thing, sensations are another. Overall I felt very happy with the race, and especially, as I've mentioned [too] many times, very lucky. So much can happen in a 4, 5, 6 hour race, so many things that are completely out of your control, unaffected by your preparation, and luckily, I experienced none of those--everything went according to the plan. I was never exceedingly sore, thirsty, or hungry and finished the race with a solid quarter mile 'sprint.'
I am happy to have chosen the Patriot for my first HIM as it was low-key (no major pro contingent), cheaper ($180 instead of $225 or $250 for other 70.3 HIM), extremely well-organized (numerous volunteers, I never had to stop at the many intersections, good food, etc), well located (60 min south of Boston), and a pleasant event. Furthermore, the bike leg being flat allowed for fast times and therefore, a nice confidence boost for future long course triathlon training. I would strongly recommend it for any first timers. And, admittedly, I had a great time with Kristin and all the other triathlon peeps.