Monday, June 14, 2010

Liberty Half Ironman

This past weekend I traveled up to the twin cities to participate in the second biggest event of the my 2010 racing season. I was racing my one and only half ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) of the year, and after having finished in 5:01 and change the year before I had really set my sights on a sub 5 hr finish this year.

I got into town Friday night. Whoever came up with the idea to have packet pickup at the host hotel is a genius. The line was long when I got there so I checked in, went to my room and ate my subway sandwich, and came back later when things calmed down.

I haven't had good luck with quiet hotel stays and this was no exception. A few people were having quite the loud conversation out in the hall at 1 in the morning. Grrr!

I woke up early and mixed up a couple of bottle of gatorade endurance for the bike. Then I ate my bagel and peanut butter and had a banana followed by a Clif bar on the drive to the park.

I was glad I packed a sweatshirt because it was chilly in the morning. As I set up transition I wondered if I should have packed some arm warmers for the bike. Too late now I guess.

At 7:00 I met up with a bunch of the Minnesota BTers, which was nice because racing out of state I didn't know anyone. It's always nice to know a face or two along the way.

I threw on the wetsuit after that and thought I'd go test the water before the pre race meeting. Just a few hundred easy yards to get the arms moving. Afterward I proceeded to shiver my butt off waiting for things to get started.

The Swim:

I was nervous and excited waiting for the start. I had some pretty high expectations with this race, and it was going to start with shaving a few minutes off my swim time from last year. No pressure, right?

Things started off well. No more than your ordinary jostling for the first few hundred yards. After that I was able to comfortably fall into pace. I couldn't find anyone to draft off of so I just swam as well as I could.

It was a long haul out to the turnaround, especially after hitting the Olympic buoys. The distance between those and the half iron buoys seemed much greater than last year. Oh well, I kept the arms moving and rounded them pretty well.

The way back went well too. At one point I managed to catch the feet of a blue cap (wave after me) and draft off of her for several minutes before she finally dropped me for good. After that I just cruised into shore.

Overall it seemed like a solid effort and I felt like I held a steady pace throughout and wasn't gassed at the end.

Initially, running up to transition, I was a little upset at the time. I was hoping for 34 minutes, but now, after looking at the overall results I'm pleased. Top 20% overall is good for me and I even had the fastest swim split in my age group. I guarantee that never happens again.

Time: 35:02
Pace: 1:40 / 100 yds
AG Rank: 1/11
OA Rank: 47/235

T1: 1:24

This was a good T1. One of my better wetsuit exits this year. Time was the 11th fastest of the day

The Bike:

Self control was the name of the game here. The plan was to bike just a wee bit slower than last year in an effort to give my legs a chance to run. Now, it wasn't like I was just going to noodle along for 56 miles. I still hit it hard in spots, but not quite as hard as I could have.

The first thing I noticed was that I was cold. Yeah, those arm warmers would have been nice. The feet were cold too. I kept telling myself that at least it would be nice running weather later.

The second thing I noticed was how lonely the course was. I followed one guy out of transition, but didn't see anyone else for the first 8 miles or so. I didn't pass a whole lot of people during the whole ride and really was only passed a handful of times. At least the course was well marked and the volunteers were helpful so I always knew which way to go.

The nutrition plan was a simple one, but effective. 3 shot bloks every half hour with sips of GE and water in between.

I finished the first loop and checked my time. It was a little slower than I was hoping for so I decided to pick it up a little that second loop. I would probably describe the effort as comfortably hard, if that makes any sense.

At one point it tried to mist a little bit, which was only a little irritating. Thankfully the heavy stuff waited until I was off the bike. It looked like there was a pretty stiff wind out of the north too, but I don't think it affected me too much. The course is pretty protected with trees and hills, unlike Iowa where the flat, endless miles of cornfields offer no protection at all.

I got a little off the nutrition plan that second loop as I was starting to feel a little full and really didn't want to eat anymore. I did manage to down all of the GE I had so that was a good thing. Once I reached the Homestead hill for the second time I happy because that meant there was only 6 miles or so left!

That 3 mile out and back section was nice. Turns out there were other riders out on the course, not just the few that I had encountered the previous 50 miles. Soon enough I was winding back into the park and hopping off my bike.

My goal coming in was a 2:40 split and I pretty much hit that right on. Four minutes slower than last year, but planned that way.

Time: 2:40:23
Pace: 20.95 mph
AG Rank: 5/11
OA Rank: 46/235

T2: 0:52

I missed my foot with one of my shoes, but other than that it was speedy. 3rd fastest of the day. It helps going sockless on a HIM run. Maybe I need to learn how to put my shoes on, which is sad because I probably should have learned this about 25 years ago.

The Run:

Coming out of transition and heading down that first hill I was surprised at how good my legs felt. Last year they were screaming at me immediately. That was a good sign.

My race number was rubbing annoyingly on my leg so I wrestled with it trying to get it in a better position. In the process I knocked one corner out of the clip so as I was running up the treacherous woodchip trail I was trying to get it clipped back in. Eventually I had to come to a complete stop because my fingers weren't working. Not sure if it was the stop mid-climb or my relatively fresh feeling legs, but that climb was so much easier than last year.

After that I settled into as steady of a pace as I could, considering all the mico climbs and descents on the course. Seriously, no real flat sections so to speak of, but no deadly climbs either. I just kept the legs moving, enjoying how good I felt.

After the first few miles I couldn't help but check my watch to see how things were going. At that point I had two thoughts: Wow, you are killing this run and please don't blow up later. My stomach still wasn't real happy, but I managed to take in Heed and water, and a couple of gels later on.

I passed a few people along the way and there was a couple of guys that just flew past me, including the second and third place guys in my age group. The final couple miles out to the turnaround I had a heck of a time catching up to a woman ahead of me. As I really narrowed the gap I remember thinking how it wouldn't be such a bad thing to hang out back here, but I had a pace to keep. It was funny the number guys running back that encouraged me to go "catch that." I finally did just before the turnaround. Bye, bye pace booty.

I took another look at the time. Sweet merciful crap! I've got 56 minutes to make it back and still break 5 hours! Hot diggity dog!

No sense lolly-gagging on the way back. I continued to push the pace. Mist turned into a steady rain and the wet shoes started to give way to a couple of hot spots on my feet. The risk of running sockless I guess. It was nothing too debilitating though, and I plodded ahead.

With just 3 miles to go, I could feel the legs starting to tighten up a little. I had to increase the effort level to keep the pace up, but with just a 5k to go I knew I could get away with pushing a little harder. The goal now was to see how far under 5 hours I could go.

With less than a mile to go I heard footsteps coming up behind. No way I'm getting passed this close to the end. I picked it up. Quite a bit actually. I came dangerously close to taking a header down the woodchip trail, slipping in the mud.

At the bottom the trail straightens out for the last few hundred yards to the finish line. I was surprised to see that the woman I had passed 6 miles ago pull up alongside me. Of course I did what any male would do in my situation, that is speed up. And not just speed up, I was pretty much sprinting, and there was still a long way to go to the finish line. She matched me stride for stride too. I'd surge ahead, then she would, and back and forth. All the while the crowds along the way were going nuts and cheering us on pretty loudly. After 70.1 or .2 miles of racing we still had enough to burn it into the finish.

I edged her out at the finish and she was a good sport about it, sharing a laugh with me afterward. I told her I really didn't need to be doing that at the end of the race. I thought she was the overall women's winner but it turns out she was part of a relay. Either way I congratulated her and then headed out in search of food. What a fun finish to a great race.

Words can't explain how pleased I was with this run. 12 minutes faster than last year and less than 2 minutes off my stand alone half marathon PR. That's a tough run course too. Hardly any spectators so it's just you against your mind for 13.1 miles. It was nice to finally have a HIM run that lived up to my potential.

Time: 1:33:30
Pace: 7:08 / mile
AG rank: 3/11
OA rank: 23/235

Once I stopped moving and the rain really started in I was freezing. Made the executive decision to get my stuff out of transition before attacking the post race food. It absolutely downpoured as I grabbed my stuff out of there and I was shivering the whole time. I actually sat in my car for about 15 minutes before the rain let up. Then I went and hunted down the post-race food.

Final stretch put on a top-notch race. The volunteers were fantastic. As I approached the run aid stations they would yell out ahead asking if I wanted HEED or water. You don't get that kind of service at larger races where the aid stations are overrun with runners. I never thought I'd come back for a second time, but this was really the only HIM that worked out with my schedule this year. At least I know if I come back a third time I'll be well taken care of.

Final Time: 4:51:08
AG Rank: 4/11 (missed 3rd by just 2 minutes!)
OA Rank: 31/235

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