Monday, November 8, 2010
Iron Star Triathlon (70.3) Race Report
This past weekend was the Iron Star Triathlon, which is a half iron distance race (i.e. 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run).
I went into this race with high expectations of having a good race, though I was a bit unclear of how to quantify those expectations. After a bit of thought during the pre-race taper period, I decided upon a way to put my expectations into numbers for comparison purposes.
I considered what would be a best case scenario race (it pretty assumes that I had the best race possible in each event) and I also considered a secondary scenario in which I assumed a slight improvement in each event from my best previous effort in each event (for reference my best half iron run time was in my first 70.3 race and my best half iron swim and bike times were in my second 70.3 race). From these I calculated a time in the middle of those two to be a reasonable, though still difficult, target goal time.
...........BEST CASE.......SAFE GOAL.......TARGET GOAL
With a PR time of 7:52:07 each of these represented a PR time for me, some of them by a wide and ambitious margin. Still this gave me a starting point for my expectations; and the truth was that while I felt mentally ready to make that goal, I questioned whether I was physically up to that challenge at this point. The good thing is that I do not let the difficulty of a goal get in the way of trying to reach that goal.
When race day arrived, I was also armed with my retooled nutrition strategies: bike bottle of unflavored Perpetuem in between the 2 - 3 hour period before the race and a Hammer Bar about 45 - 60 minutes pre-race, 1 bottle of Heed/Perpetuem mix or a flavored Perpetuem mix for each hour on the bike with 1 Endurolyte capsule each 20 minutes on the bike, and finally a bottle of Heed/Perpetuem mix for run hour #1 and then Heed/Accel Gel for the rest of the run as well as 2 Endurolyte capsules each 2.5 miles. Overall my nutrition worked out well, with 2 small issues which I will get into later.
Race morning proved to be cold (around 40 degrees) and the water was fairly cool as well. The biggest issues on the swim were low lake levels--I had to get up and walk in two areas for a combined total of around 150 - 200 feet (which I don't thin had any significant impact on my time.) and that visibility was low in areas. Due to some fog it was occasionally difficult to see the buoys. After hanging with the bustling crowd for a bit, the pack thinned out and I felt like I had a good, strong swim. In actuality, I had an outstanding swim where I finished in 39:55, which is the fastest long swim I have had.
I started the bike feeling strong and working on keeping my heart rate within a target range to avoid over-doing things on the bike and not having anything left for a decent run later. I had a strong first hour, even working to hold back a bit so I could stay in the right area heart rate-wise. In the second hour I could tell I was working harder and my pace slowed slightly. By the third hour the hills seemed steeper and the wind was definitely a stronger headwind, but I kept going according to plan. Finally, the last half hour was returning back to the starting point, which still had some hills, though less wind. I'd say I probably passed more people in the last 30 minutes on the bike than I did in the 3 hours prior. I expect that this was due to their using up too much energy up front and they were effectively limping back in at that point. My bike time was 3:30:45, which was slower than I'd hoped but still acceptable.
I knew all along the run was the "do or die" segment for me. Each of my last two half iron attempts resulted in much more walking than planned where I effectively only had the energy to just try to finish the race. I opened up with an attempt at a moderate pace and held a 12:02 pace for each of the first two miles. At this point I was holding strong and went into my plan to walk for a minute under 3 circumstances:
a) while I take in 2 Endurolyte capsules every 2.5 miles
b) while I go through aid stations
c) when my heart rate exceeded 165 bpm
This plan seemed to work well for me because, while I did not run fast, I did keep a fairly steady pace throughout as I finished with a 12:54/mile run pace with a time of 2:48:59. This was apparently a new run course (3 loops throughout the La Torretta Resort vs. an out and back course). The run was very-well supported by spectators and had 4 aid stations for each loop.
To wrap up my race, report I enjoyed the course. The bike route was more difficult than I expected, but not more difficult than I was prepared for. Most of the bike was pretty lonely other than the other riders, aid stations and cows, although a few dedicated souls did drive out to spectate the bike ride (like my OutRival Racing coaches!!). I have to believe that the overall success of my run may have partly hinged on not going out too hard on the bike as I followed the heart rate goals mapped out by Coach Michelle, as I had the energy to keep moving pretty consistently throughout the entire run. I found the run well organized and very well supported. All in all, I think this was a great race and would recommend it to others.
As to my time, I finished in 7:07:43, a 44:24 improvement over my previous best time at this race distance last April, easily ahead of my expectations as I capped off an exciting and fulfilling race day.
In looking back at my race experience, I learned a couple good lessons. The first is that I felt really good after the race (tired and exhausted, but still good) where in my previous 70.3 efforts I was run-down and and just happy to be finished and off the course. I feel that between my better preparation and my previous experience that I have learned how to run the race without blowing up before the end. The second was learned during the run. I ran almost 2 of the 3 laps of the run with Carol, a woman wearing a Houston Racing and Triathlon Club jersey (one of the clubs of which I am a member). We ended up next to each other by chance as she started her first lap while I started my second lap and found that we were running the same pace. We kept each other company over that time with occasional conversation. Somewhere in our second lap together Carol told me that so many people were cheering my name that I must know everyone out there. While I certainly did not know anywhere near "everyone", I did realize that there were a lot of people out there that knew me from various local groups (OutRival Racing, Team Strive and Houston Racing Triathlon Club), and their effect was magnified on a looped course. I came to realize that I was truly blessed by the support I receive from my friends.
In the past several months, I've given up a lot of sleep and family time with early morning workouts, though I still feel better for the efforts I have made this past year. Next year I raise the stakes by aiming at the Ironman distance, and I know the personal costs will seem high at time. However, I also know the reward of finishing will be worth it as well.