70.3, Half-iron, whatever…not sure what to call it.
This was the most fun I’ve ever had doing a race. Some of my best friends came into town to do the race and stay for the weekend, and a great time was had by all. There were some spots here and there where some of the guys didn’t feel very good, during the race and after, but it was a great experience.
If you’d told me 12 months ago that I’d spend the next year preparing to do a 70.3 and come in over 6 hours, I’d have been pretty bummed about that. But in the last 12 months I’ve come to realize that every course and every day is different. Even the same course can be drastically different on different days. You just have to deal with what you have on that day. It’s all about race management. Setting time goals doesn’t make much sense considering all the variables.
And this is the first time I’ve felt good about my race management at this distance. Put it this way…
I did the run under 2 hours, and my last 3 miles were at 8:20 and lower. Instead of slugging out a long walkish-jog while beating myself up over the horrible run split I was going to have, I spent the entire bike and the majority of the run holding back so I could empty the tank in the last 5k of the race.
That strategy paid off for me, and I’m sold on it.
Swim is the warmup, and you take what you get.
Swim is the warmup, and you take what you get.
Swim is the warmup, and you take what you get.
I felt great during the swim. There was some chop out at the furthest points from land, but I’ve been practicing open water and was fine with it. I thought I put in a solid effort, somewhere between holding back and going hard. Actually, I think I put in a 36:00 effort. I was surprised to get out of the water and see it was 47:00. Looking at the results, I only saw a few people in the 30s. Looking at their bike and run splits, the guys who made the low 30s on this course should be swimming in the 26:00 realm with no problem.
I guess what I’m saying is that swim must have been pretty long or there was some crazy current. My sources who wore Garmins during the race are reporting 1.4 miles. Honestly, the chop made it kind of fun and challenging. Everyone always talks about the challenges of run and bike courses. The swim could have been as smooth as glass, and we could have gone faster in it, but the little wrinkles made it interesting.
Whatever–everyone does the same course, and in the end I’m not racing other people. The swim won’t ever make or break my day unless they have to pull me out.
Both T1 and T2 weren’t horrible for me, but they could have been a little better. I think part of that is a result of having to bike check the night before. I much prefer a day-of bike check in so that I can pump up my tires and get the bike inspected and ready at the car with plenty of space and tools. Again, everyone had to do it, so it doesn’t really factor in if you’re competitive. It just isn’t fun dealing with that stuff in cramped quarters.
The funniest thing happened in T2 when I picked up my right shoe and noticed that it was tied. I KNOW I left my shoes untied. I looked at the shoe and realized that I’d accidentally left a junk running shoe from last year at my transition and put my good shoe in my bag. So I had to dig through my bag over by the rail and find the right one. Oh well.
Man. Maybe the toughest bike ride I’ve done. Granted, I’m not really much of a cyclist. But that wind was relentless and brutal, even for people who live in these parts and spend time in the wind. It was great to get a chance to ride around the launch pads and around KSC, but when the wind is beating on you for miles and everything looks the same, it can take a mental toll.
Just looking at my time, this effort seems horrid, but I’m actually very happy with my bike ride. I didn’t lose it. People were blowing by me in the beginning. Some of them were 70.3 participants, and some were from the Olympic and Sprint. I’m proud to say that I let them all go and didn’t chase anyone.
If the swim is the warmup, the bike is just your transportation to the real race.
I kept thinking to myself as people were passing me early on, “I’ll see you on the run buddy.” During the last 2o miles I was passing lots of slower sprint riders and began passing some 70.3 people too. My heart rate ran a little higher than I wanted for a big part of the ride, but I had to go hard enough to keep the bike upright.
I ate on schedule, and I ate a lot. I did cut back on the fluids because the heat wasn’t bad at all for most of the ride. The sun started coming out at the end, but the wind was the real enemy.
I’m very happy I didn’t have my speed showing on my computer or I may have talked myself into riding harder. This ride re-enforced for me how silly it is to expect yourself to hit some speed average every single day. I can ride this distance stand alone as fast as 21 mph with no problem, and on this course under the right conditions 20 would have been pretty easy.
But not on this day. I had to trust that 17.3 mph was going to set me up for a good run.
And this is what I was waiting for. I am a sub 2 hour half marathoner (stand alone) every day of the week, but I’ve never had a decent run during a 70.3. I know 2 hours isn’t exactly fast, but I’m 40 years old and weigh 195. I’m not ashamed to claim a 1:59:01 without swimming and biking beforehand.
This run was really nice. What the bike took away, the run gave back. Flat, scenic (except for the US1 section), and reasonably shady considering this is Florida.
My plan was to get off the bike and get into a quick cadence, which I did, once I got the right shoes on. I also wanted to run at about 143 for heart rate most of the way. I was actually averaging about 146-148 for most of the run, but I kept checking in with myself, and I felt great. So I didn’t sweat it. I was still holding back a little for the end.
I only ate one Gu and only stopped at 4 water stations for this run. I took in a ton of calories on the bike, and I’d planned on running a little dehydrated (thanks for that advice Coach Brett) to avoid having to stop to pee and save time on a bunch of water stops.
Around mile 8 I noticed I was picking up the pace a little, so I dialed it back. In retrospect, I think I would have been ok pushing a little bit at this point, but the plan was to coast to the 10 mile mark and then actually run a 5k.
I stuck to the plan. When I hit the 10 mile mark feeling great, one word went through my head…
I didn’t break into a sprint or anything, but I kicked it into that “fun hard” Zone 3 gear right out of the gate. I didn’t hit Zone 4 until I was at about 1.5 miles to go, and at that point, there was no way I was letting up. As my HRM was beeping at me to slow down, I couldn’t help but remember being in this situation last year with 8 miles to go and feeling completely out of control.
This time, I was in control. I was refusing to let my heart rate down instead of trying to find a way to get it down. And I was passing people like crazy. Probably not as many people as I was passed by on the bike, but a lot. And there’s something empowering that pushes you even harder when you know what those people who are walking feel like and know that you feel great.
I held a pretty even pace for the last 1.5, and I think I averaged no more than 8:15 pace for the last 5k. Again, not blazing fast by any means, but at the end of a 6 hour day, I’m pretty proud of it.
Seriously, I’ve been in sprints where I couldn’t muster a 26:00 5k.
For the first time in a long time, I crossed the finish line with an un-forced smile on my face and ecstatic with what I’d done on the day. My slowest 70.3, but definitely my best performance. It was great to feel good enough to stand in the sun and cheer my friends in to the finish. We lost one guy to exhaustion on the bike course, and he was proudly walking around with a bandage over his I.V. wound.
Hey, at least he left it all out there. Maybe if he’d actually trained… 😛
I’ve heard some complaints about water availability and food selection at the finish line, but I didn’t see a problem there. But I’ll ask it again–can’t a man have just one cold-cold beer after these events?!?! I think it’s a great way to get some calories back into you quickly, and may have kept us from having to call for medical assistance later that night.
Now, Onto The Logistics and Details
First of all, let me say that I am very appreciative to the Smooth Running team for putting on an event like this here in Brevard County. It’s so nice to be able to do a big race and sleep in your own bed. And the opportunity to race at Kennedy Space Center is one that isn’t going to come around very often.
And I love local race directors. All of them. If for no other reason than the fact that they are willing to stick it to the man (WTC) for their homies. We need more local race directors who are willing to put in the work it takes to put on an event like this.
But (you knew that was coming), I’m going to be honest and put some things out there that you should consider if you want to do this race, especially if you’re traveling for it. I live within driving distance, and I’d happily pay the same entry fee to do the event again just as it was this year.
Here’s where I’m going to be a little critical–and these are the arguments others have, not me. For the fee charged to do this race, there shouldn’t be many (any?) hiccups. That’s just a reality of the market. There can’t be long lines for packet and chip pickup. That’s just not acceptable to some people at this price point when there are other choices nearby a couple of weeks later for the same cost where these things NEVER happen.
Communications with course information and schedule have to be clear and arranged well in advance. You have to realize you’re dealing with a lot of Type A people here. This isn’t a sprint that folks can just show up and do one morning and then wonder later what they’ll do for the rest of the day. A half-iron distance race takes months of planning and preparation from a participant. It’s fair for them to expect all the details to be handled and communicated early on.
Not really my complaints, but complaints some others have expressed. Just being honest and putting it all on the table here.
I’m not competitive, even in my age group, but if I were I’d have been pretty anxious about the fact that there were no timing mats out on the extremities of the course. I’m fairly certain that 99% of the athletes who enter these events want to do the whole course for themselves and would not dream of purposefully shorting the course to get an unfair advantage.
But if you wanted to cheat a course, this one was easily cheated. I get it that there was probably no way to get timing mats out onto KSC. Fair enough. This was a very unique opportunity to ride that course, and if that couldn’t be done logistically, that’s just part of it.
One of my friends visiting somehow rode only 40 miles. He’s not sure where he turned wrong, and he’s not at all upset about it (he was actually appreciative for the chance to get out of the sun earlier), but how many other people made similar mistakes? Yes, it’s the athlete’s responsibility to know the course (which he didn’t), but the final published course and the race day course were not exactly the same. For those of us who did take the time to know the course, this was a little confusing. If I’d ridden shorter or longer because of a last minute change and unclear course markings, I’d have been pretty steamed. As it turned out, the change got us the distance we needed, so I’m cool with it.
But on the run, it would have been pretty easy for someone who was so inclined to run about .75 miles, sit in the shade and drink a few beers and take a nap for an hour and a half, then get up and trot to the finish line with a very nice run split. Again, I don’t think anyone did that or would do that on purpose, but the opportunity was definitely there. There really should be timing mats at the turns, if for no other reason than people want to go back later and analyze their splits.
Again, a bunch of A-type people.
Personally, I LOVED this event. I actually feel like the organization was pretty impressive for a race this size put on by a small local crew. If you are the kind of person who lets a few little things like the ones mentioned above absolutely ruin your race, maybe you should pass on this one.
But honestly, you probably have a few things you need to work out with yourself on a long run as well. That’s between you and you.
I mean, we’re not playing for money here, and there are a million mistakes I made that negatively affected my performance *cough pizza cough*, so I can overlook a couple of small ones by the race director.
Regardless, I want to end by saying that the volunteers were extremely helpful and friendly, and the turnout on the run course (no spectators allowed on the bike course) by the neighborhood locals was great. The Brevard County Sherrif’s Department did a tremendous job of keeping everyone safe on the US1 stretch, and the roads were closed for us everywhere they could be. I’m especially thankful for the medical team that assisted my buddy off the bike course and got an I.V. in him. This is not the kind of guy who is willing to DNF over something trivial, and they had him feeling right by the time I finished.
I can’t wait to do this race again. It’s officially my favorite triathlon.