Well, I did it! Last Sunday (10/13) I finished my first half ironman triathlon, a goal I’ve been dreaming of for quite some time. When anyone asks how it went, I say something along the lines of, “It went well enough. It was fun until the last half of the run. And it was much harder than I expected.” I could end this post now and leave it at that. But this is my blog, so I get to write as much as I want.
On Saturday morning, Eric and I loaded up his car and made the 5 or so hour drive down to Anderson, SC. We made it to the race site just in time for the “mandatory” pre-race meeting. They went over all the rules and warned us about some of the trickier descents on the bike course.
I picked up my race number, timing chip, and goody bag. Everything was well organized and clear – and quick! Maybe we just arrived at the perfect time, but I didn’t have to wait in line for anything. Eric and I looked at the entrants list and estimated about 500 people were signed up for the half Rev. They were also hosting an Olympic distance race, with fewer participants.
Obligatory pre-race finish line photo
This race had two transition areas, one by the lake and one by the finish line. After I picked up all my stuff, we drove over to the lake so I could drop off my bike. Before leaving my bike, I went for a 15 minute ride on the first part of the bike course – and of course there was a big hill right away. Good to know, I suppose. After deflating my tires a bit so they wouldn’t burst in the sun (we heard a few blow), we drove the bike course. I had heard it was hilly and wanted to get a sense for myself. Conveniently, the route was already marked with pink duct tape, so we just followed that for 56 miles. The route was definitely constantly up and down, but I ride hills a lot anyway and I wasn’t too stressed about them. Maybe I should have been.
When we arrived back at T2/finish line, I went for a little 10 minute shake-out run on the first part of the run course. Simple enough.
After we checked in to the hotel and I took a quick shower, Eric and I met up with my parents for dinner at Summa Joe’s in downtown Anderson. Their food is made with local, fresh ingredients, and my Greek pizza did not disappoint! Anderson is about two hours from my parents’ house, so I was thrilled they were able to come cheer for me at this race. After dinner and a short walk around the small but cute downtown, complete with a Confederate Soldier Monument, we went back to the hotel and I began organizing all my pieces for the morning.
The basic pieces of my nutrition plan, which I magnificently failed at executing.
Our hotel had terribly dense and lumpy pillows, so while it wasn’t the best night’s sleep, I did get some sleep and I woke up feeling rested enough. Banana, oatmeal, coffee, down to the car to meet my parents at the finish line parking lot. My mom braided my hair and I set up my T2 stuff to start the run. Of note, I really liked how Rev3 had these wooden bike racks instead of the metal ones races usually have. It was much easier to prop the front or back tire in the cubby than to try not to knock over other bikes on a metal pole.
Then I took a shuttle from the parking lot to the lake. Spectators had to wait until all the athletes made it over, so I was on my own. I set up my bottles and nutrition on my bike and then was a bit frantic that I wouldn’t have time to pump up my tires. I didn’t bring my pump because they had said they’d have some available, but I will not repeat that mistake if I’m already going to ask Eric or someone to take my transition bag as well. I got in line about 20 minutes before transition closed, and I got my tires pumped with about 5 minutes to spare. Whew. Another cool thing about Rev3: everyone gets temporary tattoos of their race number and age, so you don’t have to deal with body marking in the morning.
By this time, Eric and my parents had arrived, so we met up on the beach for some pre-race chatting. I had never swam in my wetsuit, so I made sure to get in the water for a bit to feel it out.
Thanks for supporting me!
After the National Anthem and a prayer, the first wave of men went off. All women were in the fourth (and final) wave, so I had a couple of extra minutes to freak out. I had been approaching the race with the mindset of “this is just like any triathlon, except a little longer.” After all the race recaps I’ve read, let alone the 5 or so I’ve seen Eric and my mom do, I still felt like I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. I decided not to take my planned Gu right before the race. Probably a bad idea.
I assume that’s me with my arm waving at the camera.
My plan for the swim was just to minimize the amount of breaststroke I did and not swim any extra by losing sight of the buoys. My one mistake was not counting how many buoys we had to swim – the course was around a little jut of land, so you could never see them all at once and I had no reference for how far I had left to swim. After the first couple hundred yards, I had space to myself, so I settled into a very comfortable rhythm and made my way. At first the wetsuit seemed great – so buoyant! But with a water temperature of 76 degrees, my legs started overheating within about 15 minutes. I started to feel claustrophobic in my suit. While I don’t regret wearing the wetsuit for whatever time it may have saved me, I will keep this experience in mind the next time I have to choose whether or not to wear one. Weirdly, my hips started to hurt during the swim, which is never a good thing when you already have tight hips as I do. Maybe it was from lifting my head up to sight so often? (My neck also got pretty sore). Also, I think I’d like to try an open water race or two of this distance. The distance of 1.2 miles isn’t intimidating, but I had very little concept of how far it would feel in open water and how much effort I should use.
After 39 minutes, I emerged!
Woo I caught someone from the wave ahead of me!
Feeling excited to have this part over with.
So elegant. I’ll look forward to a race with wetsuit strippers.
If there is a seamless way to mount a bike, I haven’t figured it out yet. I also really need to figure out my camera’s focus settings.
So the bike section. I started off relatively easy, as planned, but there were hills all over the place. I took my time settling in, taking a few sips of water, and shifting to the smallest gear for the hills. I had told my parents and Eric that I’d probably average 16 mph because of the hills, which would have me finishing the bike section in around 3 hours and 30 minutes. My goal for the bike portion was to go easy and set myself up for a good run at the end. Really, that was my plan, but I am not particularly great at sticking to plans. For the first part of the bike, I behaved. I spun easy up the hills, coasted the descents, and pushed the effort a bit on the flats. About 15 miles in, a girl in my age group passed me. I decided to keep her in my sights. That worked fine for a few miles until I hit a pretty rough concrete portion at the bottom of a hill and my Gu Brew bottle flew out of my rear bottle cage. My first reaction was to think of the race meeting the day before where they warned that if you dropped a bottle or trash, you’d get a penalty (or be disqualified – I forget). I saw at least 10 other bottles around me that must have had the same experience. But this was my electrolytes! So I rolled to a stop at the side of the road and ran back to get the bottle, which was right in the middle of the road. Of course, since we’d just come down a hill, I was now starting from a standstill on an uphill. And the girl in my age group was long gone. Perfect.
While intellectually I knew I shouldn’t try to make up for the lost time (a few minutes at most), I entered an hour-long debate with myself about my pace. “I should push the pace if I can, this is a race after all. But there is no good bike split if it’s followed by a bad run split.” And more along those lines. I kept reminding myself to look around and enjoy the experience of my first half ironman. A year ago I couldn’t even run 3 miles without knee or foot pain.
As for my nutrition, I was sticking pretty well to my plan of eating every 15 minutes, alternating 3 bites of Luna Bar and a Gu. Eventually I spaced them out more as my stomach was feeling full. I drank a sip or two of water every few minutes. And those electrolytes I stopped for? I drank maybe 3 long sips of those over the whole ride. Way to go, Allison.
The course seemed to get easier (flatter) towards the end, and I felt great for most of the ride. Eventually my neck got pretty tired of looking ahead while riding in aero, so I was ready to be off the bike. I finished in around 3:07, well under my initial 3:30 projection.
Coming in to T2. Thankful for not getting a flat tire.
Quick shoe change
And off for the run. Again, glad to have another leg done. My parents and Eric were (obviously) standing right next to my transition spot. I told them, “Ok I’m just going to go finish this thing.” I was a bit tired but happy to be racing. My first mile was a little over 8 minutes, and I felt ok but very aware that things would get worse.
About a mile into the first lap – I guarantee that speedy-looking guy behind me is on his second loop.
This run was easily the hardest part of a triathlon I’d ever done, and probably one of the harder races generally. My somewhat arbitrary time goal was to finish in under 6 hours, and I started the run with 2 hours and 10 minutes to finish. I also predicted I’d finish the run in around or under 2 hours. The first few miles flew by, and I was passing people. After half-heartedly trying to pee on the bike (yeah, people do it) and failing, I was thankful for the port-o-potty at mile 2. Then I started slowing down and didn’t know what to do about it. I tried to remind myself how much I love running and loved my long runs this training cycle. Not helpful. I thought of all the time and energy I’d put into training for this one race that I would be wasting if I gave up – also more depressing than helpful. I was hot, there was no shade, and plenty of other people were walking. I forced myself to run the entire first 6 mile loop, telling myself this was practice for Ironman Wisconsin next fall when I’ll pass the finish line halfway through the run. (Side note: I also spent a small chunk of this run debating how much I value the $700 I just spent on my Ironman registration and whether I care if I do the race or not. The answer: yeah I care, but it’s going to be a really freaking hard race.) As I started the second loop, I told my parents and Eric that I felt like I was going to throw up – they’re so lucky to know me. My mom, always the practical one, told me to just do it and move on. Maybe I should’ve tried harder to actually throw up, but instead I just sent calming thoughts to my stomach. I was taking small sips of water and Gatorade at each water stop, but I couldn’t bring myself to try to stomach a Gu. By the second loop, I started walking the aid stations, taking water, Gatorade, and ice. The volunteers were amazing. There were a lot of kids, and they called out what they had (water, Gatorade, Coke, ice, bananas, pretzels, Gu) so I always knew who to go to.
What’s a running blog for if not to post horrible race photos of yourself…
I’m not proud of what happened, but by mile 8 or 9, I gave up trying to run. I walked, stretched, walked, jogged a bit, walked some more. I tried to play games of walk until the fire hydrant, then run, but I instead I just picked another landmark to walk to, especially on any uphills. Then I’d slowly jog the downhills. I had long since lost the girls in my age group who were relatively close to me at the beginning of the run. It was awful. I ate a sport jelly bean and even that made my stomach more queasy. I think (hope) I ran the last mile into the finish. Finally I turned the corner into the finish chute and it was over. I finished in 6 hours and 5 minutes, meaning I ran the half marathon in 2 hours and 14 minutes.
After lots of water and Gatorade and complaining to my parents and Eric about how hard that was (again, I’m a delight), I got changed into dry clothes and collected my things from T2. And my treat on the ride home:
Peanut butter Oreo milkshake from Cook Out, of course.
The Rev3 organization puts on a fantastic race experience. Everything was well marked, there were plenty of awesome volunteers, and it had just enough hype without being overwhelming with anxious excitement. I would gladly do another one of their races and already have my sights set on one for next summer. I also love that they’re family and spectator focused, allowing kids to run through the finish line with their parents and fun things like that. Everything went smoothly (aside from my own issues), and I couldn’t have asked for a better venue and host for my first 70.3.
Post race analysis
I’ve now had a week to obsess over what I did wrong, either in training or in race execution, and over how the heck I’m going to complete a race twice as long. So far, here’s what I’ve come up with:
Training adjustments to make:
- Longer runs off the bike. My training plan never called for more than a 30 minute run after a bike ride, except for the one 2 hour run that followed a 30 minute bike ride. I want to build up to at least an hour run after a 2 hour bike. I could also hopefully test my nutrition better. A 30 minute run isn’t a great indication for how your stomach will hold up for 2 hours.
- Run more miles. I need to tally up the last month or two of data by entering it in Run Partner (wow this is a time I wish I logged my training better), but I am guessing I could’ve run more miles. I’m sort of ok with the lower mileage since I really needed to make sure my knee/foot stayed calm, but I want to add more next time.
- Maybe start heart rate training. I don’t have any way to measure my effort except by feel, which works with running when you spend every day fine-tuning your senses for that sport, but with three sports, I would probably benefit from a more quantifiable measure of effort. Probability of me actually using my heart rate monitor: low.
- Consider getting a coach. All these questions and uncertainties I have about my preparation and execution would probably be addressed by having a coach I could talk to occasionally.
- Train with a team/group. I’ve said it before, but I have so much to learn about triathlon, and the best way to learn is to be around people working towards similar goals.
- Fix my running posture! I mean, it’s embarrassing. I don’t know HOW to fix it though, so the probability of this one is low too.
- Race more often. I only did one sprint tri before this race. I plan to do two half iron races next year leading up to the full, and maybe some shorter ones too.
During the race:
- Ride easier. I have a hard time with this one because while I went faster than my estimate, I don’t know how I could’ve gone much slower. I really did spin the uphills easily, and I took the dangerous sections cautiously. I guess I pushed it too much on the flats, but it’s a race and riding fast is fun!
- Drink electrolytes. I probably should’ve worked harder on finishing that Gu Brew. I don’t know if it would’ve helped my run, but I doubt it would hurt.
- Pack ginger on the bike and run. I read on some triathlon blog that eating some ginger can settle your stomach, like a ginger ale would. I even went out and bought some over the summer. But did I even once think to bring some for the race? Of course not.
- Stop being a baby on the run. This one I don’t know how to do. I wanted to finish under 6 hours, but when it got hard, I decided finishing the race was enough. Next time, it won’t be. How do I light that fire when I’m 5 and half hours into a race? I hypothesize that my blood sugar was way low after not getting quite as many calories on the bike as I’d planned and no calories on the run. Maybe I should’ve taken some Coke to drink more often at that point.
Overall, I’m disappointed that I didn’t finish the run well, as I pride myself in being a strong runner. But then I’m disappointed that I’m disappointed, since I should be proud I finished the race. Hopefully this is what they call the “competitive drive”… I can’t wait for my next half ironman (actual race TBD), when I’ll know better what I’m getting into and have some better strategies to get under that 6 hour barrier and finish with a strong run.