I woke up early Saturday morning, having arrived in Galveston the night before, and got to the triathlon location at Moody Garden to watch the swim waves go off for the sprint and Olympic distance tri's to get an idea of what I had in store for me on Sunday. There was a good chance of stormy weather in the forecast, and before the swim start could begin strong winds picked up. After some delay the swim was called off for safety reasons, and the races turned into bike-run races. These races were started similar to a time trial start, with bikers going off one at a time a second apart. This resulted in some starting issues, especially among the less experienced sprint racers who were crowding the bike mount line together and sometimes bumping each other as they could not clear the area quick enough. I think it took somewhere between 1.5 to 2 hours to finally get all the starting racers going this way. As racers were coming back in I stayed at the Houston Racing and Triathlon Club tent near the start of the run course. Several times I was able to cheer on racers I knew as well as many that I did not know. As the race cleared I had lunch and good conversation with some friends, and when those friends had to head out for other plans I sat with other friends and enjoyed the continuing conversation--most notably, talking with Stephanie about who was volunteering at the Half Ironman race as an escort to pro triathletes.
Eventually lunch ended and I went to the store for quick trip to grab a few items and then back to the hotel to start organizing for tomorrow. In a bit of an ironic twist I went to the local McAllister's Deli for dinner, and Del (who I spent time with at the race and at lunch earlier, plus Stephanie (also from lunch saw me and joined me at my table). After a good dinner and some more socializing it was back to the hotel where I had to finish preparations for the morning, as well as for packing to leave after the race.
Morning came early for me as I had set my alarms to be able to get to transition early to ensure I had plenty of time to set up. I took my time to set things up, changed it a bit for the available room and finally went back to the same setup I had practiced. After finally finishing I walked around the transition area a bit and chatted with the occasional racer before I headed out towards the swim start, making one last pass by my area just to make sure nothing had happened to my stuff. It was during this period that I noticed my stomach felt a bit unsettled for a while, which almost never happens to me, though it seemed to pass in a bit. While waiting to line up for the swim start I spotted, and was spotted by, my friend Heather and her husband Jeff. Meeting up with them gave me the chance to pass the time chatting for a while instead of just waiting on the start and feeling the nervous energy. Finally it was time to get up to the dock to join my swim wave.
I had already put on my race-issued green swim cap and goggles, and then off I go and hop into the water for the swim start. I find an open spot slightly outside without being too far off the start line. This was my second Half Ironman race and also my second open water swim of this distance. I found a fairly comfortable pace and, for the most part, stayed on a good line that didn't stray too far off the marker buoys. I saw a lot of racers weaving quite far outside, but I felt I kept a decent line on the markers nearly all of the race. After swimming the trapezoid shaped route I exit the swim in around 52 minutes, officially 53:49 which I think must include running up towards the transition area and stripping off the wetsuit. This is longer than I wanted, but still faster than my October time. I carefully walk through the muddy ground as I enter the transition area to prevent a slipping injury and then head off for my bike which is near the center of the transition area. I get my things on and get going out of the transition area and out onto the bike course, again cutting off a couple minutes from my October time.
The first mile or so of the bike takes us out to Seawall Blvd. and then we head down the length of the island. I start the bike route with a headwind that slows me down, but I try to to pedal at a strong pace that I can maintain without feeling like I was overexerting myself. It was in the first couple of miles that I noticed that my heart rate was at least 10 beats per minute faster than I would normally expect, which was not good. Along the way out to the turnaround, there are some strong gusts of a crosswind that cause me to come out of the stable aero position several times to ensure my stability. As I am getting close to the turnaround point I notice that the headwind is breaking up a bit. Unfortunately for me, the winds appeared to have shifted somewhat so that they now appeared to be more of a crosswind with a partial headwind for me on the way back. As I was nearing the end of the bike, somewhere around mile 48 - 50, I remember tiring a bit but I kept on working at a sustainable rater until a had just a couple of miles left where I slowed a bit to give my legs a bit of a break before the run portion. However, the final bike mile was right into the wind as I returned to the race site. I was overall happy with my bike ride considering the windy conditions, and I also executed my nutrition plan pretty much on schedule. I finish the bike in 3:33:09, which was about 6 minutes improvement over last October's time. Overall, I was able to negative split the bike, with second half being a little more than 4 minutes under the first half's time. The biggest downside was my heart rate stayed about 10-15 beats per minute higher than I would expect, based on my exertion level; so because of this I did not quite push my effort as hard as I wanted. After returning to transition, I make for a relatively quick transition in and out, and then get headed out for the run, again cutting off time in comparison to last October's race.
It was early in the run that I became acquainted with what it feels like when the metaphorical phrase "when the wheels come off" happens during a run. It was early in the run that I noticed my heart rate spiking high (180 beats per minute) and I had to quickly give up on my run 5 minutes-walk 1 minute plan. I scale back to run 1 minute-walk 2 minutes in order to find a pace that allows my heart rate to decline enough during the walk breaks that I am not spiking out the heart rate during the run. I find this disappointing as I felt that I was on pace for a significant overall time improvement from last October's effort, but in the end I also felt this change was necessary if I wanted to be sure to finish this race. I am feeling miserable as I settle into my new pace, not feeling much of anything except for hot and tired, part of me just wants to stop and walk out the entire run but I tell myself that maybe an easy pace will help me feel better after lap 1. As I can to each well-stocked aid station on the course (nearly 1 for each mile of the course) I find a rhythm where I get some Gatorade, then water, then cold wet sponges, then an orange slice, some potato chips and/or pretzels, more Gatorade, more water, and maybe another cold wet sponge before heading out again. It turns out that today is the hottest day since the end of last summertime, and nowhere near anything I have trained in for many months. As I complete lap 1, I realize that I do feel a bit better and I raise my run pace slightly to 1:10 run-2:00 walk. I continue the round trip again, eventually seeing my friend Heather near one of the spots where runners are passing in opposite directions. She hollers to me asking how I was doing, and I muster up the strength to yell back "good", which was a big lie at that point. The race spectators and volunteers did a great job of motivating the runners along the course, something I really came to appreciate as I circled the course repeatedly. I continued to feel slightly better finishing lap 2, so I increased my pace to run 1:20-walk 2:00 for this lap. This race was certainly not getting any easier for me, but at least I was feeling better a little bit at a time. On this lap I was occasionally able to respond to spectators and volunteers and thank them for being there. As I came to start the final lap, I did not adjust my watch's interval timer, but I did generally run for a bit longer than the 1:20 set on the run timer. Also during this final lap, I felt up to having short conversations with fellow runners still on the course to encourage them to keep going. At one point I see Heather again and tell her that I feel as good as I lied to her about earlier (although I am fairly sure what I actually said sounded nowhere near that intelligible). The last half of the last lap felt pretty good. Even as completely exhausted as I was feeling, knowing that I was certain of a PR time waiting for me at the finish line was a great feeling, even if it wasn't going to be by as much as I had hoped. I completed the run portion in 3:16:45, which was around 7 minutes slower than in the October race. I did end up keeping a fairly stable, though slow, pace for the run(though I think I came about a minute short of a negative split on the run).
My official race finishing time was 7:52:07, which was still an improvement over my last Half Ironman race by close to six and a half minutes, which does give me a new PR for this distance. Even though I did not do quite as well as I expected, I am still happy with my performance. I was hampered by weather conditions beyond my control (which is always part of the triathlon experience) and had a day where my heart rate just happened to be higher than normal (which can happen to anyone on any day), but I recognized these items and felt that I responded properly to them.
Please don't read this and think I only had a day full of problems, because a lot of things went right for me. I had my fastest ever swim of the 1.2 mile distance and I had my fastest ever bike of the 56 mile distance, neither of which were under ideal conditions. I had to do a lot of things well to finish this event and I do recognize that. One of these days I'll be taking on the challenge of the Half Ironman race again, and maybe even the full Ironman distance farther into the future, though for right now I feel I learned some lessons over this race that will help make me a better triathlete at any distance.
Overall, I have to say that I had a great time at this event and with the time I spent with old and new friends, and that the total experience goes far beyond some tough race day conditions.