I’m fresh off my first half ironman race! I competed in IRONMAN 70.3 Austin last last Sunday, October 30th. After a week off after Age Group Nationals in mid-August, I put in a brief 10-week training cycle for the race. Cecilia put the idea in my head, and training for it followed suit – more on that here.
The Day Before the Race
I flew down on Friday afternoon so I had ample time to do pre-race scouting on Saturday. Cecilia picked me up late morning, and we drove to the race HQ at the Travis County Expo Center in east Austin. We were immediately struck that “everything bigger in Texas” also applied to the course – T1 and T2 were almost two miles apart! It was also hot – very hot – in the mid 80s and sunny. We picked up our packets, went for a swim, run, and bike, and got the heck out of the sun.
At our AirBnB, we further strategized fueling and hydration. Race day temps were expected to top out at 87 degrees, but the start was expected to be in the mid-60s. Preventing a glycogen and hydration deficit was paramount and something Coach Cane and I discussed. In hot weather, I like my race nutrition like my margaritas – extra salty! I taped three Hammer endurolytes to the back of my bib so I’d have them for the run. I spent another 20 minutes making the room look like T1 after the swim – my equipment, food, and even non-race clothes were sprawled out everywhere. We had three separate bags to partition our things – a race morning bag for post-warmup/pre-swim, a bike bag for post-swim in T1, and a run bag that we had to drop off in T2 before the race. Ultimately, I have no better system for organizing this than laying everything out and repacking it.
We woke up at 5:20am – not terrible for a triathlon – and drove to race HQ. We hung up our bags at T2, which had to be completely self-contained. Since we couldn’t lay out anything pre-race, I tore a hole in the bottom of my bag so my shoes would fall out. I completed this booby trap by putting my bib belt inside my running shoes so I wouldn’t forget it.
We took a shuttle to the swim start, which was dark and spooky. It was mischief night after all!
Cecilia and I, just 11 numbers apart, set up T1. I taped 5 gels to my top tube and pre-tore them all. I tore a few a little too much, and gel leaked out, looking like blood and tears streaming down my bike.
I set up two waffles and another gel on my towel to stuff down my sports bra in T1. Stuffing food in my sports bra is like having the most convenient portable shelf while on the bike and run.
We ran a short warmup and walked to the swim start to watch the pros – really just our friend Bec – to start. She was supposed to start at 7:30am, but it was 7:45, and they hadn’t yet started because of heavy fog on the lake. 8:00 rolled around, and then 8:15. At 8:30am, they announced that the swim was cancelled. I had little reaction, because when it came to the decision, I was like a frat house that didn’t pay its electricity bills: powerless.
They announced that the race would be a time trial start, with the same planned 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run.
With so much sitting around, you could feel the energy dwindle. I had to really psych myself up before it was my bike row’s turn to line up. Things started out slowly, with the pros starting every 30 seconds, but by the time they got to the 1800s, the bike mount line was our own little Vegas, where we could finally let loose. I actually remember that Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” was playing, and the line “(‘Cause only your good lovin’ can) set me free” and I was thinking “Yes! Set me free!” By this point, they were letting two competitors side-by-side leave every few seconds.
From the get-go, I could tell I had a different mindset, approach, and, let’s face it, speed, than everyone else. I had to frequently yell “on your left!” for the first 15 miles of the race. The crowds dwindled, and other competitors seemed to settle into the right-ish side of the road. As warned, I found that the rightmost side of the road was more bumpy from chip and tar pavement and patches in the road.
I found the course very easy to follow. Every five miles, the mile markers were in bright orange tape across the road. I couldn’t miss them even if I had a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 explode in front of my face. These markers reminded me to fuel, because as soon as I began the bike course, my Garmin fell right off my wrist. (The strap was being tied together with a hairtie that snapped.) So for the remainder of the race, I had no clue how fast I was riding or running. I consumed three caffeinated Clif Chocolate Cherry gels and two non-caffeinated Gu gels during the ride, as well as two Gu vanilla waffles. I had 36 ounces of half-Nuun, half-Gatorade (Limon Pepino – the best flavor!) and 20 ounces of pure Gatorade. The course was one loop, and I absolutely loved it. It was rolling in the best way, meaning that uphills were preceded by downhills that were easy to gain a lot of speed and momentum on. I pushed a bit harder on the downhill to get up and over the uphills with less effort.
One technical thing new to me for the distance was the water bottle exchange at the aid station, which I nailed. I coasted, snatched a bottle from a volunteer, chucked my old bottle, and plopped a cold 20 oz Gatorade in my bottle cage. I also nailed the garbage disposing on the course. The “last chance for trash” signs made me confident I was not littering, and I used the side pockets of my uniform top as temporary used gel receptacles – anything in there was disposed of whenever I had the opportunity. My Cervélo was functioning so well, too, after a recent tuneup from Brickwell, which I never take for granted!
I ended up with a split of 2:41:50, for 20.76 mph.
T2 was uneventful, which means it was good. I racked my bike, ripped open my bag to let my shoes drop, switched footwear, grabbed my bib number, and left.
I started the run a little hot, temperature- and pace-wise. It was almost 1pm, 85 degrees, and entirely in the open sun. I saw Laurel in my very first, downhill mile, which really pumped me up, because, duh, amazing pro triathlete and 24th pro woman at Kona! I casually was like “hey girl!” like we were at the mall. Since the great Garmin Drop of Mile 0.5, I had no idea that I was running 6:01 pace, which, even for a downhill mile, was way too fast. I poured and drank water or Gatorade at every aid station, which were about every mile. I also kept ice in my sports bra, the storage for all things triathlon. (Thanks to college teammate Erin for the tip!) The run loop was three rolling ~4.4 mile out-and-backs, so I could see Herb six times! I let out a huge smile when I saw him, since I hadn’t seen him since before the race started.
I naturally settled in to my goal 6:45 pace, and at mile 4, I went to take my first salt tablet that I had taped to my bib. Well, those tablets aren’t waterproof, and all the water I was pouring on myself washed them out. I tried to drink more Gatorade at the next aid station, but by mile 7 and change, I instinctively yelled out “Does anyone have salt?” and 10 seconds later, my right hamstring cramped up. I pulled off to the side of the course and clutched it, which is right when my left one cramped up, and before I knew it, I was face down on the ground yelling, “Aghhhh I need sa….ooooohh!” A random passerby tossed me a packet of some kind of muscle relaxer, which I tried to make sense of, and then another man came to help, but since he had no salt and was racing, I shooed him off. Very soon later, a lady named Pam who had a few clients racing handed me a salt tablet. I jutted out my jaw and opened my mouth like it was Holy Communion, and Priestlady Pam put it in my mouth. She put pressure on my hamstrings and told me to get up and keep moving, even though it would “suck for the first few minutes.” All I could say was “ughh! I was doing so well!” (which is funny, because I had no actual data to tell me how I was doing). She walked, then jogged with me for a half mile before returning to track her clients. Angel Pam was my savior!
I ran timidly for the final 6 miles, afraid that at any second, my hamstrings might seize up again. It felt like I was running on sore hamstrings that typically loosen up the first few minutes of a run, but they wouldn’t. I walked through the next 6 aid stations, drank a full cup of Gatorade at each one, had another gel, and kept my sports bra full of ice. The aid stations were getting so backed up and crowded that I had to stick my arm between people and grab what I could off the table. When I wasn’t darting my arms through competitors, I saw Cecilia running in the opposite direction of me, so I cheered for her. Some expletives were involved, because I couldn’t believe how far ahead she was of me! This motivated me, but I didn’t consciously pick up the pace until I entered the final finishing arena, which was indoors!
I saw the clock, which meant absolutely nothing since I had only a vague idea when I started the race. And yet, I was still so full of emotion when I finished. I cried. I smiled. I hugged Herb and ugly cried. I soon found Cecilia, and we embraced and smiled. Actually, she found me and said “You ran so fast!!!” to which I said “You did so well!!!” It turned out Cecilia placed 2nd…overall and rode a sicknasty 2:20 bike split! That’s why we run and swim together :)
Oh, I ended up with a 1:34:43 run split, for 7:13 pace. It placed me 3rd in my age group.
We went to awards and the rolldown ceremony. I got the third and final slot for Ironman 70,3 World Championships for placing 3rd in my age group. I forked over the registration fee, which you have to accept or decline and pay for on the spot. The race is in Chattanooga, TN, which is practically local, so I’m guaranteed to do at least one half ironman next year!
I’d really like another shot at a half ironman before Chattanooga. Ideally, I’d like it to have a swim (heh), in cooler weather, and with a Garmin or some way to gauge how fast I’m running. I was surprised by the quietness on the bike and run course. I guess I expected more camaraderie among competitors, but I did feel the support from the spectators. I loved doing a race with a friend I had trained with. I loved that I didn’t let a cancelled swim, leaky gels, or a vanishing Garmin get to me. I loved being able to see Herb six times on the run. I loved that Coach Cane emphasized the bike during my build-up, and I averaged just 0.64 mph slower for 56 miles than I did covering 24.8. I’m ecstatic that my body held up so well while increasing my running mileage. Most of all, I’m happy that I was able to finish the race after looking like a beached whale, helpless and clutching my hamstrings in the middle of the run, filled with fear that I’d have to drop out. I cannot thank you enough, Priestlady Angel Savior Pam!
I’m even happy that I got to take home this special little souvenir, a longhorn-esque triathlon tramp stamp:
Come back soon, and thanks for reading, ya’ll!