Sunday I competed in my toughest race so far: The 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run of Ironman 70.3 Austin, also known as the Longhorn half. It was my first "half distance" triathlon (being exactly half of the famed "full" Ironman), but won't be my last. While I'm not entirely pleased with my overall time of 6:42:15, I am pleased with my bike performance, and that I finished at all. I never really doubted that I would finish, but I wish I would have been able to actually run more than I did. Pressure in my stomach made anything faster than a walk with brief jogs painful.
At some point after CapTex, I decided (with the encouragement of my even crazier triathlon friends) to sign up for Austin's longest race, with a total distance more than twice that of any prior race. I've documented in this space my rather busy racing schedule since then, along with a number of long rides. In addition to that, I have been working out nominally 6 days a week: Rock climbing (for strength/flexibility/fun) and swimming Tuesday/Thursday, running Wednesday/Friday/Sunday and cycling on Saturdays. Two of those Saturday rides were of the Longhorn course to get in some recon. Both times I had a decent amount of company to join me (so to speak, it got stratified quickly). The first time, I hammered it a few times, and at the end I was barely able to walk, let alone run a half marathon. The second time, I rode much more evenly, and afterward ran two miles of the off-road portion of the run course. The run wasn't pretty, though- I walked most of the way up the hill known as "quadzilla." Somewhat negating my prep work, in the two weeks between then and race day, they went and patched the worst of the roads, and changed the run course from two to three loops, removing the off-road section and quadzilla.
As the days went on last week, I got more and more frazzled. I wasn't really nervous about the race itself so much, more the logistics of it. This was the first race I've done with separate transition areas: "T1," swim to bike, was by the lake; "T2," bike to run, was by the arena which held the finish line. Parking was closer to T1, and everyone was bussed to the lake. It was a "clean transition," nothing was allowed on the ground (other than one bike wheel). There was a morning clothes bag drop, but bike pumps weren't allowed in them. What should I wear? What is the water temperature? Do I want to wear my wetsuit? All these thoughts, and many others, were swirling through my head, particularly on Friday. I quizzed my two coworkers who are veteran Ironman competitors. Things were coalescing in my mind by Friday afternoon.
Once I was actually on site Saturday it all pretty much made sense, and plans were in place. I got out there later than I had originally hoped, around noon. I figured it wasn't a big deal, I didn't really have any plans for the rest of the day, but then I got inside and saw the registration line snaked around, crowding out the expo booths. Packet pickup itself was a series of steps: Get a release form, fill it out, turn that in, get timing chip and bib, get a t-shirt, test the chip, get a strap, exit through the gift shop. Once I had all my stuff, I went back to my car in order to execute the next step: Bike check-in at T1. First, since there was a mechanic at the expo, I had them fix my front brake, which I had noticed during my 20-minute ride that morning was a little askew. It turns out that not only had I put the pad the one pad on crooked, both front pads were in upside down. The mechanic was really nice and had it fixed up in no time. At that point in the afternoon, while there was still a huge registration line, enough people had gotten through that there was a huge line of cars going to the lake. Making it worse, a road that would have made the trip much shorter was inexplicably closed. There was a poor volunteer waving people to turn around who gave me sort of a "I think it's kind of silly too, but this is what I was told to do" expression to my exasperated "but that's where I need to go" expression. I got parked near the lake and took my bike into T1. I took a few minutes to get the lay of everything before heading home. Instead of taking a nap in the afternoon like I should have, I dropped my Fat Boy off at the Harley shop to get a service in before a road trip I'm taking next week. I had my now traditional dinner of a vanilla milkshake, got all my bags prepped, and went to sleep around 10.
I woke up at 3:15 Sunday morning. I actually got more sleep than I thought I might, but still not as much as I would have liked. I ate my usual cornflakes, gathered all my gear, and drove out to the race site, getting there about 5am. I brought my run bag over to T2 and familiarized myself with the layout, and did a little walk-through, visualizing what it would be like later in the day after the bike. I didn't realize the bus pickup was over near T2, so I had to go back to my car to get my bike and morning bags and head back to the other side of the arena to get on a school bus over to the lake. I found my bike again in T1 and got my bottles set up: Three bottles of electrolyte/sugar drink I had frozen overnight, and filled my aero bottle (which I had left on the bike overnight) with water. I set my aero helmet on my bars and sunglasses inside, as I normally do. Since nothing was allowed on the ground, I had to leave my socks and shoes in the bag, hanging from my saddle. I put my race belt in there as well. My nutrition consisted of six gels of various brands and flavors and a Clif bar in my bento box, and six gels on my race belt. I also had about a dozen salt tablets in my race belt. Everything was in place well before 7am, and I had little to do but kill time until my 8:40 start time. I went for a short warmup jog at some point, in my sandals. I made my way to the start area to watch the pros go off at 7:30, and a few subsequent waves before heading to the swim exit to watch the first pros come out of the water at 7:54. That was when it was time to put my phone away and really start getting ready. I got my wetsuit, cap, and goggles out of the morning bag I had been carrying around, and put in my casual shorts and shirt, tied it up, and dropped it in the bin. I had been feeling quite calm and not nervous all morning, until about 8:20 when it was really getting close, and I was putting my wetsuit on. The adrenaline started flowing in those final pre-race minutes. My heart kicked into gear. At 8:38, they let us across the mats and into the water. I only went about waist deep, enough to get wet and get my goggles ready. Then, at 8:40, they sounded the air horn...
Being a slow swimmer, I started in the back and to the right side (the triangular course was in an anti-clockwise direction) to be on the outside. My theory was that, since I breathe on my left side, I would hopefully see swimmers while breathing and not have to look up to sight as much. It was about 10 seconds from the sound of the horn to when it cleared out some and I actually started swimming. It wasn't utter chaos, but I did run into a few people in the first hundred meters or so. It seemed like people weren't swimming in the same direction. This was definitely true in my case, when I found myself right next to the first or second buoy. Other than zig-zagging around, I was doing okay with a steady, moderately paced, freestyle stroke. The water temperature was a perfect temperature (officially 73 degrees, but might have been colder in the deeper water), cold enough to wear a wetsuit and not overheat, but not so cold numb extremities. For some reason, possibly an omen of what was to come, I got a cramp on my right side, near the bottom of my ribcage. I've never had that happen to me while swimming, and it kind of worried me at first. I switched to breast stroke for a few minutes, the pain went away, I switched back to freestyle, and it didn't return. That all happened on the first leg, before the first turn. After making the turn, I wound up doing the second leg wide to the right of the buoys. I wasn't so far that the kayaks had to rein me back in, but it was probably enough to add some meters to the swim. I didn't have anybody I could really follow or pace behind, so I was relying on my own sighting. After I made the second turn, there were more boats along the final leg, and were situated to funnel the field to the exit, and try to keep people out of vegetation to some extent (unlike the first leg, where I was almost afraid of getting tangled up in it). Since I was more concerned about navigating, I switched to breast stroke for the final 200 meters or so. I'm about as fast in breast as freestyle, so it's not a big loos of speed, it just uses the legs more, but the sighting comes for free, so to speak. I exited the water with a 49:34 split, slightly slower than I had hoped, but in the ballpark.
I took off my cap and goggles and started taking off my wetsuit as I jogged up the hill to transition. Three quarters of the way up, a volunteer stripped my suit off and sent me on my way. I got to my bike, put on my socks, shoes, helmet, and sunglasses. I shoved my wetsuit, cap, goggles, and towel I used to dry my feet off with in my bike bag. I carried my bike over the grass to the exit of transition. When I threw my leg over the saddle, I knocked off one of the two bottles I had behind my seat. I grabbed it, took a swig, put it back on the bike, and started away, clipping in after a few pedal strokes.
As expected, I passed bikes the entire length of the course. Only two bikes ever passed me, and the one I went back and forth with several times. I think in the end I stayed ahead of him. While some of the cracks in the road had been filled, in my opinion, it actually made them worse. Instead of a crack that might actually have caused a problem in some cases, there was now a mound of fresh greasy asphalt. Fortunately that was only a couple of the road segments, and I was able to navigate around it. On most of the course, the other bikes kept to the right, and it was easy to pass them, but later in the course on some rough roads, bikes were all over the place. In some cases I took some risk to pass them kissing, riding or even crossing the yellow center line. Most of the roads were technically open to cars, but with no traffic on them. There were a few cases where there was a car slowed down by a slower rider that I passed (similar to the Wurst Tri). The worst traffic, though, was around the third water handup, which might have been mile 30-something. I wound up passing two sheriff's cars on the right side, and waving some volunteers out of my way in order to keep from slowing down. Toward the end of the course, where the roadway was slightly more than two lanes wide, they had put up cones to try to keep car and bike traffic separate. That was a good idea, except the places where the bike lane was not quite wide enough for two bikes. I only had to go into the "car lane" once or twice to pass other bikes. It was somewhere around mile 28 that I passed the only person I knew who was doing the race. I gave him a little shout out as I went by.
In addition to traffic woes, the wind was a lot stronger than the forecast I had seen. For the first hour, it seemed like I might have been going too fast. It didn't feel like I was putting in too much effort, but my speed seemed like it might have been too high, and because of the adrenaline I was expending more energy than what my legs felt. It turns out the wind was blowing west to east, giving me a tail wind for the first 25 miles that I didn't really feel until the course turned north. It also seems possible that there wasn't really any wind up to that point, and that's when it started gusting, because I was never able to pinpoint the way the wind was blowing. Every time there was a turn and I would think I was going to get a tail wind, it would smack me in the side of the face again. I never really figured it out, but fortunately it was rarely bad enough to blow me around the road or feel like it was really slowing me down. It was more of a nuisance to me than anything.
I didn't drink as much of my electrolyte drinks as I should have. I drank out of one of the ones behind my seat a number of times, the one on my frame a couple of times, but mainly I was drinking water. I don't think I drank one full bottle of sport drink on the whole bike course. At water stations two and four, I took a bottle of water. I squeezed most of it into my aero bottle, and the rest on my head and back. I ate four gels on the bike, about every 45 minutes. I thought about having the Clif bar, but didn't. My bike split was 2:49:27. I'm kind of ticked I missed a 20mph average by so little: My official average speed was 19.83 mph.
When I dismounted I knocked both of the back bottles off. I wound up dropping my bike when I went to grab them. I left my shoes attached to the bike, and the walk to my rack was worse on my feet than I had expected. Somehow my landmark for my spot was a little off. My recollection was that I was at the start of a blue blob (spray paint around a broken section of pavement), but when I got there, my slot was in the middle of the blob. I took off my helmet, put on my running shoes, and started on the home stretch.
The first mile went great, a 9:05. I slowed down a little the second mile, but I knew that if I could hold that pace I would finish right when I wanted to. I knew I was in trouble before I finished that second mile, though. My stomach was hurting, very much like it did during Lake Travis Tri. I felt gassy and bloated, but not like there was anything sloshing around my stomach. I walked almost all of the rest of that loop and the two subsequent ones. I made sure to jog a little bit every mile to try and keep my mile times under 15 minutes. I at least kept moving all the time on the first loop, but the second and third loops I stopped at several of the aid stations long enough to finish a drink. I tried everything I had available to me: Salt tablets, anti-gas pills, cola, ice... Nothing helped. Of course it's possible my stomach might have been able to sort itself out, but I kept throwing crap into it, and it couldn't figure it out. I got encouragement from my coworkers IM and MM, who were out at separate water stops. I never really felt like I had to pack it in and quit. I didn't feel that bad while I was walking, it was just when I tried to run. Because I wasn't running, my legs weren't feeling bad. I had been consuming calories, so I had energy. On my third loop, the number of people left on the course, and the number of spectators, had dwindled dramatically. It was obvious there were lots of people behind me who would never catch up, but it still kind of felt like I was going to be the last finisher. Finally, after more than two and a half grueling hours, the finish line was in sight (not literally, it was inside the arena). I was close enough that I could mind-over-matter the stomach pain and run again. Once I went through the threshold of the arena, and the air went from the 90 degrees outside to cool air conditioning, I kicked my pace up to (what felt like) a full sprint to the finish line. There were people cheering. The announcer called my name out. It was glorious. My run split was 2:56:04, much slower than I had hoped for. I don't know that I had any hope of hitting my overall goal of 6 hours, considering my best (and only) half marathon time is 2:08:54, but it was still disappointing.
I had an ice cream and a lot of fluids before attempting to gather my stuff. I was tired, but not totally drained. I got my bags and bike, and headed home. After a shower I went out for some dinner. Much like after Gannett Peak, I had one of the most delicious pieces of prime rib ever. I only ate about half of it, though, and took the rest home. I pretty much went right to bed after dinner.
I felt pretty good on Monday. My legs weren't that sore. Coworkers were congratulating me. That might have been the "denial" phase of grieving, however. On Tuesday I felt down and really disappointed with my time. I happened to get a link to an article about dealing with a poor race result, and realized that what I felt was pretty common, and relatively normal. By the end of the day I had reached "acceptance," and came back to at least feeling okay about finishing something only a very small portion of the population would even consider doing.
I had a pretty light week of workouts. As usual, Monday was off. On Tuesday, I skipped swim in order to get caught up on some things around the house. I ran a few miles on Wednesday and Friday, and did a full swim session on Thursday.