Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Race Recap: 2017 Ironman 70.3 Ohio

I have had a few what I like to think of as "defining" races in my relatively short running/triathlon career.  My first 5K, of course, is one of them.  My 9-minute PR at the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach was another.  The Half Ironman that I competed in on July 30, 2017 might very well fall in the category of defining.  I wouldn't call it epic, like the other two races.  But I feel that it represents so much more than just "my second 70.3".

The weeks preceding the race were difficult, to say the least.  An acute bout of plantar fasciitis led to less running and even a full week off.  I was grateful to be able to swim and bike through it, but was so worried about making it through the race.  The end of the story is that I was pain-free on race day... the story of how I got to that point is another blog entry that I will write as soon as possible!

Ohio 70.3 is a point-to-point triathlon.  This means that there are two transitions, which can throw some people for a loop. I don't mind it at all, though.  It means less stuff to go through at each transition!  We had to set up T2 (bike-to-run) the day before, as well as rack our bikes at T1.  On race day, we were allowed to access T2 before we went to the lake, but it didn't work out logistically for me so I decided to skip that part.  I made the choice to park and shuttle to the beach site, as I was going to have to get myself home this year (Joe's late night fishing tournament--he wasn't home till 2 AM--meant that I was flying solo today and wouldn't have a ride home).  I slept pretty well the night before, woke up to my alarm at 3:56 AM, and had my relatively large breakfast of two scrambled eggs and two pieces of peanut butter toast (and a banana in the car on the way).  I was out the door before 4:30 and at the shuttle location by 5:00.  I love the fact that this race is so close to my home!  It makes everything easier.

Race day morning dawned about as perfectly as one could've scripted it.  Weather-stalking had been occurring for two weeks, and we were all thrilled to see the lower-than-average temperature projection of 80 degrees, along with light winds and no rain.  You never know what a July day is going to be like in Ohio... we've had tons of rain this summer... or the temperature could have been in the 90's easily.  My biggest fear was that the lake would be under an e coli warning, as it had been a few weeks prior, and they would cancel the swim portion of the race.  Thankfully, this didn't happen and the only question on race day morning about the water was the water temperature--would it be wet suit legal?  I knew that regardless, I wouldn't be wearing my wet suit at the race.  My friend Melanie and I swam in the lake twice the week of the race, and the temperature was perfect--mid 70's, no wet suit needed.  I truly don't like wearing mine, as it constricts my chest and makes me more anxious.  I've found that most of my friends who grew up in competitive swimming feel the same about wet suits.

The temperature of the lake on race day morning was indeed low enough to warrant the wearing of wet suits (a "chilly" 75.9 degrees--0.2 degrees cooler than the allowable temperature LOL!), which put smiles on the faces of at least half of the athletes competing that day.  The majority of triathletes will tell you that the swim is the most difficult part for them, and a wet suit is a saving grace for many.  I figured that if it made them feel better, then it was a good thing, even though it didn't matter to me.

The shuttle ride was uneventful; I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me, whose daughter was competing that day.  It made the ride go by quickly, and soon we were pulling up to Delaware Reservoir, the site of the swim and T1.  Our shuttle was there before 5:30.  I immediately started seeing friends--another thing I love about this race!  I knew so many people either doing the full 70.3 or participating in the relay this year.  It makes it fun and relaxing to have so many familiar faces around, especially when you're a bundle of nerves as I usually am!  I felt pretty calm, though.  Part of that was that my wave wasn't set to start until 8:08 AM.  I had plenty of time to get nervous!  

After getting body marked and setting up T1,  I had a good time finding and chatting with friends, spending much of it in the porta-potty lines.  I munched on a Honey Stinger Waffle (I swear, these are cookies in disguise!) and drank water as I waited... and waited.  
Melissa and me pre-race!
We watched the first wave start at 7:00, and then every four minutes thereafter heard another wave being started.  I considered a warm-up swim, but with the air temperature being under 60 degrees at race start, I was worried I'd get cold waiting to get back in.

MRTT Mamas rock!
At around 7:40, my friend Melanie and I noticed that they were starting to corral our waves (she was in 17, I was in 18), so we headed over to the beach.  I had a gel and downed the rest of my water.  I felt relatively calm at this point.  I positioned myself at the front of the corral, as swimming is my strong suite.  I chatted with a couple other women as we slowly moved forward in the line of triathletes awaiting to start their races.  At last, it was our turn, and the starter told us to wade out to the starting buoys.  I had remembered that this race had an in-water start.  What I'd forgotten was that the start occurred in a spot that was too deep for me to touch the bottom.  This shouldn't matter, as I wouldn't be able to touch for any of the swimming leg of the race, but it immediately caused my throat to constrict as I reached my toes down and felt nothing.  It's all good, I told myself... just tread water for 3 minutes and wait for the race to start, right?  Easier said than done when you're already feeling anxious.  My cool demeanor immediately escaped me.  I needed the race to start, stat.  Thankfully, it did, and with a blow of the horn we were off.

I was reminded immediately how much I hate mass starts.  This really isn't a "mass start", as we start with our age groups, but with 108 women in your age group, it was crazy-crowded.  Lots of kicking, arms flailing, etc.  I just prayed I'd escape the first 200 yards unharmed, and tried to breathe and relax.  The swim course is a large triangle, where you swim out for about 600 yards, then turn and swim parallel to the beach for about 900 yards, and then back to the shore for 600 yards (those distances are my best estimates).  I felt good for the first leg, and the buoy turn was uneventful. My watch had me at a 1:33-1:34/100 pace for the first 500 yards.  Definitely strong!  Then, we turned, and there it was... the sun.  Oh my goodness, I had such deja vu from the previous year.  I couldn't see a damn thing, and that includes the buoys as well as the swimmers around me. I knew they were there, from their splashing, other than that it was like I was blind.  I started using another swimmer who was going the same pace as me to sight off of... never a good idea.  Even worse, by that point I had caught up to most of the wave in front of me.  They had on orange caps (Ironman assigns cap colors based on your wave/age group), and the buoys were... you guessed it... orange.  So I couldn't tell if I was seeing a cap or a buoy when I would sight.  The second 500 yards was actually at a faster pace according to my watch (around 1:28/100), which shocks me.

At some point, I went off course, veering in towards the shore and almost hitting one of the kayaks (they were there to keep us safe and on course).  According to my Garmin, this added a good 300 yards or so to my race--only 5 minutes, blah!  I was frustrated and trying not to get too upset by the situation, but dammit, I wanted to do well, and the sun was making it near impossible.  It was during this part of the race that I got kicked pretty hard in the eye.  Of course I was wearing goggles, and while I saw stars for a second, it wasn't too big of a deterrent.  The third 500 yards was slower, around a 1:48-1:49/100.  I think this was when I was in my most confused state.  The final leg of the swim couldn't come quickly enough.  I happily made the turn and headed for the finish.  The water opened up quite a bit and I was able to actually sight and swim and get into my rhythm.  The fourth 500 yards was a bit better, back to a 1:46/100 pace, but still not as strong as I should be.  I was definitely getting tired of the swim!  I did a double-take when I started my run out of the water--my friend Jenni was right next to me!  So funny, we'd started the swim side-by-side and after all that, we finished side-by-side.  Apparently she'd been using me to sight off of, so she'd gone hilariously off-course as well.

My final swim split was 38:05, which I think includes a little bit of running into T1.  Last year's swim was 37:25.  I am not sure what my distance was last year, but this year my watch read 1.3 miles when I exited the water.  I need to figure out how to not let the sun bother me like it did, as I'm a stronger swimmer than my time indicates. 

Jenni and I discussing the awful swim
I was able to find my bike super-fast (I had a great spot, at the end of of the second rack of bikes in T1), and transition was pretty uneventful.  My time in T1 was 3:41, which was 15 seconds faster than last year (3:56).  I was on my bike before I knew it and heading out of the park and onto the road.  I spent the first few miles reminding myself to not dwell on the crappy swim that I'd had, and also holding tight on my bike.  The first four miles or so are on the test pavement of route 23.  Lots of bumps and rough road.  NOT FUN.  
Super worried face due to the rough road on 23
I saw water bottles, fuel, seat packs, etc.  I hate this part of the race!  I didn't let myself settle into aero position until we were off 23 and on 96, a much smoother road.  The first 20 miles or so were into a headwind of 5-7 mph, with a few little rolling hills.  Nothing terrible, but it did make it hard for me to go much faster than 17-18 mph.  I anticipated this, though, and knew I'd do better on the second half of the course.  It was glorious when we road on 42 south for a good stretch--that's where those 19-20 mph splits are from!  Such a flat, fast road.  
Happy me! I love how I look in aero!
The course starts turning after mile 40, and then we had to deal with wind as well as more rolling hills.  Most of the hills weren't hard--I think there was really only one "big" one, but it's still nothing terrible.  I was able to keep up a decent pace, even though I am the slowest turner in the world (I am overly cautious, but I don't care!).

Fueling on the bike went pretty well.  I had my bottle of Tailwind, which for some reason caused some burping that I wasn't used to.  I had 2 stinger waffles, as well as a gel.  I used my new front tube bag and was happy with how I was able to access my fuel quickly.  I refilled my water bottle on my aero bars on the fly (without stopping) at the second aide station and was pretty darn proud of myself!  I do think I should've drank more water on the bike... I came off the bike thirsty, and that shouldn't be the case.

Below are my splits for the race; I had my watch set to take them every 5 miles.  Next to the splits are my pace in mph, and my heart rate for that 5 mile interval.

17:31 (17.1)--162
16:06 (18.6)--159
17:20 (17.3)--154
17:21 (17.3)--150
15:39 (19.2)--149
14:54 (20.1)--148
15:25 (19.5)--148
14:38 (20.5)--145
16:04 (18.7)--149
15:53 (18.9)--150
15:31 (19.3)--152
3:42 for the final mile (16.3)--151
Overall time: 2:59:52--Average pace 18.67 mph 

Once my heart rate came down from the swim, I hovered in the high 140's and low 150's for the remainder, which is at the upper end of zone 3/lower end of zone 4 for me.  Within reason of where I should be in a race, so that's good!   I was super happy to meet my goal on this portion of the race--a sub-3 bike split!  Last year's split was 3:11:46, so I will take my 2:59!  I ended up 

The final mile of the course is on a small bike path, so it's required to slow down, but it makes for an easy transition into T2.  I was happy to see my best friend Tamara as I rode into the dismount area for T2!  Thus far the race had been pretty lonely.  A few friends were cheering at the swim/T1 area, and my friend Melissa had passed me on the bike.  I had passed my friend Jenni about 45 minutes into the bike.  But other than that, there hadn't been a lot of familiar faces.  T2 was uneventful... I got my bike racked, slipped my bike shoes off and my run shoes on, and was off again.  T2 split was 3:01 (compared to 2:44 last year).

Running through T2... I think I am already wondering how I will get through the next 13.1 miles.
As I exited T2, I was excited that I had crushed last year's bike split, and had dreams of a 5:45 overall time in my head.  I was at a 3:45 on the overall clock, and I really felt I was in good enough shape to run a 2:00-half marathon.  I grinned at my friends Chris and Carolyn (they were volunteering as sunscreen-sprayers), and started my 13.1 miles.  

Tamara took this in the first several hundred yards of the run.  Hence my smile LOL
Within a half-mile, though, I realized that this final leg would be by far the toughest of the day.  My legs never feel good off the bike, but today was even worse.  I was hot and tired and I hadn't even ran a mile yet.  I was also thirsty... SO thirsty.  Perhaps not enough hydration on the bike?  I filed that thought away and told myself that the first couple of miles off the bike are always crappy.  I kept hoping that I'd feel better. I walked the first two water stops, drinking water and Gatorade and pouring cups on my head.  It did little to help.  I finally decided at mile 4 to take a gel, and that definitely gave me a little more of a boost... but I still had to start peppering more of run with walk breaks.  Last year I was able to run the course with walk breaks only at water stops.  This year I was hoping to skip the walk breaks entirely.  Instead, by mile 6, I was walking for every uphill (and this course isn't flat).  I didn't know how I was going to finish the race, given how awful I was feeling so early in the race.  I knew my friend Tamara would be cheering for me at the end of the first loop (around mile 6ish), and she could see by my appearance as well as my slowing splits that I was on the struggle bus in a big way. 

First half of the race splits:
Mile 1--8:46

Mile 2--9:00
Mile 3--9:45
Mile 4--9:44
Mile 5--8:58 (that gel helped!) 
Mile 6--10:48 (and then the walking started)

I was still so thirsty, despite making sure I was drinking as much as possible at each water stop.  I grabbed ice whenever I saw it, shoving it down my top and pants.  It offered a brief respite... the course is more sunny than shady, and other racers mentioned seeing the tar actually melting in spots.  The best part about the second loop was that I knew where I'd see my friends who were out there cheering me on, and I knew which water stops would have the much-needed ice!  At one point, I remember looking around me and thinking how it appeared that I was in an episode of "The Walking Dead" (a TV show about the zombie apocalypse).  Everyone was either walking slowly or trudging along, heads down, seemingly "dead".  I could tell I wasn't faring any better.  I just could not get my legs to GO.  I started to wonder if a PR was possible.  The first loop, I didn't think it was.  So much walking... but with 5 miles to go, I realized that if I could average 11 minutes per mile, I'd have a PR.  I continued to run when I could, and walk when I couldn't.  I talked to a couple of runners en route, but most of us were focused on survival and had nothing left for conversation.  

Second half of the race splits:
Mile 7--10:13
Mile 8--10:19
Mile 9--9:55 
Mile 10--9:18 (the gel at mile 9 helped here!)
Mile 11--10:17
Mile 12--10:31
Mile 13--9:38
Final 0.25--2:12 (8:55 pace)
Overall: 2:09:29--avg pace 9:46/mile (2016 time--2:03:41)

Posing for the camera as we entered the stadium!

I honestly wasn't sure I would finish the race up until I entered the stadium for the final short run around the track at Ohio Wesleyan.  I wanted to kneel down and praise God for letting me finish the race!  Instead I continued to trudge (maybe a teeny bit quicker) toward the finish arch.  I noticed the man ahead of me flexing for the finish line photographer, so I decided to do my own arms-out pose.  

Finishing pose

The relief is all too apparent on my face

I barely had the strength for even that!  I was so very happy to cross the line and have that coveted medal around my neck.  

Me and Erin (she rocked her first HIM!)

Never have I wanted to quit a race so badly.  I found Tamara immediately and spent the next hour eating, sitting (ahhhh...), and chatting with friends.  

So grateful for this girl's support!

The heaven of finally not having to be upright!

Me and Melanie post-race

My trek back to my car is a super-duper-long story that I will only tell people if they ask me about it on a run... it almost took me longer to get to my car than it did to run the half-marathon in the race.  UGH. It was for sure the worst part of the race... and that is saying a lot, considering how bad the run was. I was so happy to drive home and eat pizza and drink Coke and SIT.  I tried to bask in the glow of the 5-minute PR (overall time: 5:54:04--last year was 5:59:32) I had achieved, despite the fact that I knew I could've gone faster.  I've spoken to many who didn't run that day that commented that it "wasn't that bad out".  The high temp during my run was 81.  It was sunny.  Remember, the tar was melting!  Yes, it could've been much worse; after all, we are talking a July afternoon in Ohio.  But every single person I know who ran the race (including the relay runners) commented on how difficult of a run it was.  STRONG runners who can power through anything!  I spoke to my coach at length after the race, and a few days later as well, and he mentioned more than once how impressive my run was, given the conditions.  So I will take it... but I'm my own worst critic, and I know I have a faster race in me.  1/3 of the race went as planned (the bike)... and while immediately after the race I proclaimed that it was my final half Ironman, I know that I will be back next year!  After all, I've done the first two Ohio 70.3's... I can't miss #3 now, can I?  

You may wonder why, at the start of this blog, I called this race "defining".  It is because I truly didn't think I was going to make it.  I didn't think I had it in me.  I had to summon up so much from within to finish the run.  So much negative self-talk that I had to answer to.  But at the end of the day, I did it.  It sure wasn't pretty, but it happened anyway!

Final stats: 
26/108 AG

119/608 females
606/1798 overall