My redemption race
After wallowing in self-pity for a few days after Ironman Steelhead 70.3, and after the advice of a fellow coach, I decided to treat that race like a training day and move on. After about a week I signed up for another 70.3 race in Tawas, Michigan. The race is put on by 3 Disciplines, and is called the Sunrise Side Triathlon. The race features super sprint, sprint, Olympic, and half-ironman distances. The venue is billed as “flat and fast”.
We (my wife/chief supporter and I) arrived Friday evening for packet pick-up. It is a fairly small venue, but it was organized well. We quickly moved from station to station, first getting a wrist band, then a bib, then a T-shirt and swag, then the timing chip, and finally tattoos.
While I was getting tattooed, my wife wandered around and shortly informed me that due to the weather the swim was cancelled. The water temperature was 60 degrees, and the wind was blowing at 15 mph. That put the wind chill at around 40 degrees. I guess the previous year they had to pull 19 people out of the water because of hypothermia, and didn’t want to risk that again.
I was disappointed, but I can appreciate the race director’s decision. I also think that I will stick to inland lakes for future races.
Since I didn’t really know the area, and didn’t want to risk making a wrong turn again, we drove the bike and run courses. They were simple out and backs, and were fairly well marked. The run course was very flat, but the bike course had a few rollers and a couple of long inclines. Coupled with the high winds, it was going to make for an interesting race.
We headed back to the campground and tried to get some sleep. Actually, I was surprised that I slept very well. I didn’t have any pre-race jitters. In the morning we got up to eat breakfast, and found out that the power had gone out. Luckily it was after our phones had charged, so the alarm went off! I made eggs on the gas stove, but didn’t get any coffee.
Since we were only 5 miles from the race venue, and it was a small race, we didn’t get up very early. We arrived in town about 40 minutes before the race, found a spot to park within a block of the transition area, and got set up. I ate a banana as I was looking for Angie (my wife).
While we were waiting for the pre-race meeting to start, we un-expectantly ran into some friends. Their daughter was competing in the sprint race. And after some small talk, we discovered that they were staying at the same campground that we were, and were only 2 sites from us!
At the meeting it was explained again why the swim was cancelled. In lieu of the swim, we would be running 5 miles. Because of the change, and having to wait for volunteers to get into their newly assigned positions, the start of the race was delayed by about 15 minutes. Not bad, but when you are standing on the start line with minimal clothing in the cold wind, you kind of want things to get moving!
I’m not very good at seeding myself at races. I think I’m a slow runner, so I place myself in the middle/back of the starting grid. Unfortunately, as soon as the gun went off I realized that I miscalculated and was trapped. I waited about a quarter mile, figuring that it was a good warm up, but then decided that I would have to move outside the cones and get around about 20 people if I was going to run at a comfortable pace. After doing so, I settled in at about an 8:30 pace and had a fairly uneventful 5 mile run. There were aid stations at every mile with water, Gatorade, pickles, and bananas. There were also a few Porta-Johns along the way. Toward the end I passed my group of friends cheering loudly and taking pictures. That gave me a little extra boost before starting the bike portion of the race. I heard Angie cheering as I approached the transition area, and looked around to give her a smile.
(It seemed pretty odd having to run around a truck and fifth wheel camper like that, but I assume it was because of having to create a quick 5 mile course that wasn’t originally planned for.)
Unlike Steelhead, the transition area had plenty of room. I didn’t rush it, and actually probably took too much time. I wanted to be sure I had everything I needed, including rubbing Body Glide in all the right places if you know what I mean. I hobbled out to the bike mount area and headed out. Again I heard Angie cheering, and tried to smile in her direction. (I figure that she is probably taking a picture, so I might as well try to look good!)
As expected, the bike ride was tough in the gusting winds. We battled a cross wind the entire time. Cross winds don’t ever help…they only hurt your time. Sometimes we got lucky and there were enough trees to block some of the wind, and other times there was nothing but open field. During those times my eyes were watering so badly I could hardly see the road.
Since I believe that nutrition may have been my downfall at the last race, I switched to liquid nutrition this time. I filled a bottle with 3 scoops of Hammer Perpetuem, and marked it with a felt tip marker in thirds. I wanted to drink one third of a bottle every hour. I also had electrolytes in my two other water bottles.
My plan had been to stay under 160 watts for an average, and try to keep my heart rate in zone 2. I had averaged 150 watts at Steelhead, and felt fantastic coming off the bike, so I thought I could gamble a little here. I thought that with the “flat” course, I would have a little more speed that I did at Steelhead where I averaged 19.2. In the end, the course wasn’t so flat. According to my Garmin, there was about 1200ft of elevation gain, which was very similar to Steelhead. Coupled with the wind, I accomplished my goal of staying just below 160 watts, but my overall average speed was a little lower at 18.9mph.
Even so, my goal was to try and be under 3 hours on the bike, and I did that.
I did another slow, purposeful transition, making sure to get sunscreen on my bald head. Because of the cold and wind, I had been wearing a long sleeve compression shirt over my tri-suit. But the sun was beginning to warm things up a bit, and I didn’t want to wear it for the half marathon. So it took a little bit of extra time trying to wiggle out of a wet compression shirt! I’m sure I looked every bit as sexy as I felt doing so.
I grabbed a Ucan energy bar, tucked it into my top, and saw Angie while exiting the transition. Did I smile? I can’t remember. By this time I didn’t care what the pics looked like.
(I’ll pause here and say that being a spectator is a thankless job. For the most part you stand around doing nothing, waiting for hours for your athlete to make a brief appearance, and then you see them, cheer like crazy, and then wait for more hours. But I am so glad that Angie is there to take pictures and cheer. It really does make my day brighter.)
Okay, why didn’t I care about pictures anymore? Well, remember those 3 water bottles that I drank on the bike? Yep….at about mile 45 I really had to pee. I remembered someone saying something about there being Porta-Johns in the transition area, so my plan was to use one there. Unfortunately, there weren’t any in the transition area. I knew that there was one at the first aid station at Mile 1, so that was my goal. Get there as fast as I could!
I was feeling good on the run, and was taking small bites of my Ucan bar every once in a while for the first few miles. My calves began to cramp, but not severely. I made sure to get Gatorade at every aid station, and when the cramps came on I started eating pickles as well. It must have worked, because I don’t remember them hurting after I started eating the pickles. The course was pancake flat, and my pace was good. I was doing great until at mile 7 mile knee buckled.
In almost every Olympic distance race I’ve done, my IT band has acted up in the second half of the run. I was concerned about it during the training season, but I never had any problems at all. As the miles added up, both on the bike and in the run, my legs felt fine.
But not today. I walked for a short bit (no pain) then started running again. But soon my knee collapsed again. “Run through the pain”, I thought. But when my knee would give, it would force me into such a contorted state that I was afraid that I would also twist my ankle. So it became a run/walk race. I figured out that I could run for 45 seconds before it would give out. I also figured out that it didn’t matter if I jogged or sprinted, it would only be good for 45 seconds. So for the rest of the race I pushed as hard as I could for 45 seconds, then walked, then pushed hard again. It was like doing endless intervals, but I was making progress. My mile splits were under 10 min/mile, so I wasn’t losing too much time.
When I got to the last couple of miles, I had another thing to think about.
“How long is the finish chute?”
“How many people are strung out along the route at the end?”
“How far can I run in 45 seconds?”
I surely didn’t want to walk through the finish chute, but I really didn’t think I could make it the whole distance. Should I walk past the crowds until I got within 45 seconds and then sprint? That would look silly!
In the end, I chose to run the whole way once I began to see people. I say “run”, but it was more of a stumble. All I could think was “don’t fall down in front of all these people!” I remember the announcer saying, “Here comes #71! Cheer him on, folks. The louder you cheer, the faster they run!” And I just wanted to laugh.
But I made it! I crossed the line triumphant!
The volunteers collected my timing chip, gave me my finisher’s medal, and pointed me in the direction of the food. I looked around for Angie, but didn’t see her. I ate some trail mix and grabbed a Pepsi while checking out the results, but they didn’t have anything up for the half-iron race. So I grabbed all of my gear and called Angie to meet up with her.
“Did I miss the end?” She asked.
“Uh…yep. Where are you?”
“I locked the keys in the truck and am waiting for someone to show up to unlock it. Sorry I didn’t see you finish. What was your time?”
I didn’t know. Since we didn’t do the traditional swim/bike/run, I couldn’t use the triathlon mode of my watch which records the various events and the total time. I had to use the run mode, then use my bike computer for the bike leg, and then the run mode on my watch for the half marathon. And I was so focused on not falling over, I didn’t even glance up at my time while crossing the line.
We didn’t have any internet access, so we couldn’t check the times on any website. I figured we’d go back to camp and find out the results when we got home.
Later that night we were enjoying a campfire with the friends I mentioned earlier. Their daughter had won her age group, so they went into town to collect her award. When they got there, they sent us a text saying that I had gotten second place in my age group! And I still didn’t know my time!
When I got home I checked the website and found out that I had beaten my goal of 6 hours. I finished in 5:54:02!