Well, I did it, I finished the Longhorn 70.3 Half Ironman race this past weekend, and I even beat my goal time as well! As promised in my earlier blog entry, here is my review of my race experience at my first 70.3 event.
For me the race started on Friday as I packed up my stuff and drove to Austin to meet up with Heather and Del at the race expo. I checked in, looked around and heard part of the fist pre-race briefing, and afterwards Heather and I found each other. Del and I were both staying at Heather's house that weekend with her family, and Friday night we enjoyed a nice homemade dinner, had some good pre-race conversation and watched a movie.
Saturday started early, although I technically slept in a bit considering when I normally wake up on Saturday to train. Heather and I did a short brick workout (roughly 3.1 mile bike/.8 mile run) before eating a light "pre-breakfast" as we were heading out to the race's pancake breakfast afterwards. Following the pancake breakfast we placed our transition bags in T2 at the arena (all T2 items had to be placed into a bag and be set at your site, no pre-staging of items)and then we went to the lake to set up our bikes and bags at T1. I think Heather and Del went for practice swims while I spent my time visually planning out my transition. Afterwards we went back to the arena to listen to the full pre-race briefing and then back to Heather's house for dinner and off to an early bedtime (technically I stayed up until just after 10:00 working on email and going through my clothes for tomorrow).
Sunday came early at 3:15, but I got up about 5 minutes later and got dressed. I ate a bit of oatmeal and an energy/protein bar and packed up for the trip to check in. We actually got to the arena a bit before they opened up. We turned in our "special needs" bags at an area where we could access as we started each loop of the 3 loop run. We caught the buses to the swim site and waited for body marking, after which we were allowed to set up our T1 area.
Then we waited for 2 hours until the race stared by talking, rechecking the transition area, visiting a memorial to an athlete who was killed recently with his wife while on a bike ride together, and warming up...in other words, we kept ourselves occupied. Around 7:30 the first wave went off, and I excitedly waited for my wave (10 of 16) to begin.
Swim: Being a slower swimmer, I started in the back of my wave and pretty much stayed there. The lake was a good temperature and I swam without a wetsuit. I found myself veering out to the right several times on the counterclockwise loop, which is unusual because I usually drift to the left more than the right. Del passed me on the swim at a turn buoy and called out a supporting word to me (he started in the wave after mine). In the end I finished the 1.2 mile swim in 56:27, which I felt pretty good about since my goal was 55:00 minutes but I also figure I must have swam an extra couple hundred yards with my misdirected swimming.
T1: I took my time to get going right out of transition and exited in 5:56. My goal was 5:00 minutes, but I took the time to make sure I was good before I left.
Bike: This was without a doubt my favorite part of the race, even though I had some unusual troubles. I had a plan drink a 24 ounce bottle of Gatorade and eat an energy bar every hour, and that pretty much served me well. I think I actually drank between 4 and 4.5 bottles during my ride, which is greater than my plan, but I think I needed that extra nutrition and I felt good with that. I had no problems with the bottle hand outs as I rode by the aid station and thought those areas were generally well run by the volunteers. I tried to make a point to say a word of thanks to a number of the volunteers as I rode by them. While riding I found the time to slow down a bit on occasion and enjoy the scenery, seeing cows, horses, people, scenic hills, pastures... I really enjoyed this. Since I was unfamiliar with riding real hills like the ones I was experiencing, I experimented with trying several riding strategies for climbing the hills. Around mile 20 I had my first problem,I noticed a sharp sting on my upper left chest area and I noticed that I had flown into a bee and gotten stung. I shooed away the bee and moved on, not a major problem. After mile 30 my bike computer seemed to be reading incorrectly, I figured the sensor moved out of position a short bit ago at a bump in the road or the train tracks I had recently gone over, In either case I chose to ride on and not stop just to fix it. I knew I was riding at a pace that would put me about 25 minutes ahead of my planned rate, but since I did not want to overdo it too early I slowed down after mile 40, although it's hard to say exactly how fast I went. I was averaging about 15.8 mph through the first 30 miles and I finished at a 15.3 mph pace, so I figure that I averaged about 14.2 mph over the last 16 miles. I may have been better off stopping so I could reset my sensor to keep track of my pacing, but in the end I was fine. Late in the ride around mile 51 or so I had a couple of moments where I started to question my ability to continue to move the pedals, but I gathered myself and pushed on past that point. I finished the bike in 3:39:11, well ahead of my goal time of 3:55:00.
T2: Given my satisfaction with my bike ride, I took my time to situate myself (including putting on my Garmin GPS and heart rate monitor strap) and somehow spent a leisurely 7:40 (goal was 5:00 minutes) in the second transition zone, although quite a few people actually took longer than that! Running out of transition 2 and heading into the run took us into the middle of the arena and out to the run course. As I ran through I could see some of the faster early starters already finishing.
Run: The weather had been cooler earlier, and then it was cloudy, but now it was staring to get warm, but that doesn't really bother me, although I am now glad that I did stop and apply some sunscreen before leaving T2. The run was a great set up on a 3 loop course with a fantastic support base of multiple volunteer booths over an extended area at both the near end and far end of the loop from the arena. I reminded myself that my main goals were to finish and to enjoy myself, so I decided on a pace to run 1 minute then walk 1 minute, plus walking all uphills and running all downhills to keep my heart rate down and my attitude positive. I enjoyed interacting with the various volunteers and other racers. I also got to see the familiar faces of Heather and Del several times as we approached each other while going opposite directions on the loop. I was a bit surprised that I kept my upbeat attitude all the way to the end of the run as the last half loop got really tough, although I was more surprised that I averaged a 14:27 pace on a modified 1 minute run/1 minute walk plan. I finished the run in 3:09:22, where my original goal was an even 3 hours. I knew that I could have gone faster on this part, but I certainly would not have enjoyed it as much as I did!
Final Time: 7:58:38, My real goal was just to complete the event, but I am so happy to have met my personal time goal of 8:00:00 as well.
Overall, it was a very difficult experience but a very rewarding one as well. I am already considering my next 70.3 Half Ironman event for next year. However that will have to wait, for now I look forward to returning to my training after an appropriate rest period over the next few days. I still have a couple half marathons to finish before year's end with another PR goal to go after...