Leading up to Racine, which would be my last 70.3 of the year, I had really only one goal and number in mind 4:30. This whole season that number was my goal and driving force in training. I worked hard since Raleigh to gain as much fitness as possible and figure out the few things that were preventing me from hitting that number. I needed to figure out the swim. My swim fitness was not translating to open water and never had. I also needed to figure out the run, and what was causing these cramping issues that were preventing me from running to my capability.
I had some of the best training of my life leading into the race. I was swimming faster than ever, albeit in a pool. I was able to take the cycling trip of a lifetime which I have a post on, but it is taking me a long time to write and is a bit lengthy. And I was also able to run very well in the weeks leading up to the race, unlike Raleigh a few months back.
However, in the week going into the race, I started to unravel a bit. As a soccer coach, I am very fortunate to have a job that allows me to stay active and be outside a lot But the week going into a race that you want to do very well at being on your feet and outside all day is not ideal. Between running 3 training sessions per day, walking to and from the fields, and working with the kids, I was roughly standing, walking, and running for 7-8 hours on Tuesday-Friday leading up to the race. You would think that with all the training that triathletes do that standing around and walking would not take that much out of you, and you would definitely be wrong.
I was able to get my workouts in, and they were far from awesome. Every single workout left my legs feeling like someone had taken a hammer to my thighs. I was sending panicked emails to Coach Liz, and failing to keep any semblance of confidence going into this race. She kept reassuring me that I only needed to feel good on Sunday, but I was feeling less and less confident that was going to happen.
Personally, I always try to see the good in things. It is hard to admit that during this week, I was digging myself into a mental hole. As a coach, I spend my life learning about, discovering, and personally encouraging others to stay away from that dark place and find a way forward. I was using every mental technique that I could think of to try to get out of this funk, but when every workout leading into the race makes you feel like crap, it was difficult. The only thing that was getting me past it all was knowing I did the work. You start to remember all the workouts that you did on completely trashed legs, all the times that you had to dig deep, and all the time that you put in. That cannot possibly disappear just because your legs don’t feel great.
The day before the race, I woke up and quickly got my bike checked on by a friend Chris who was also racing. I did a quick 25 minute ride and started the drive up to Racine. I arrived early, and for anyone doing that race in the future, I would recommend the same. If you get there before 11:00, you can get through check-in in under 5 minutes. If you get there after noon, it can take up to 2 hours. After check-in, I went to drop off my bike. All I can say is thank God the conditions on Saturday were not the conditions on Sunday. The wind was blowing from the south at about 20 mph and there ended up being tornado warnings at around 4pm. Racking the bikes was brutal. The wind was blowing the bikes around, and in order for them to stay in place, people had to tie their bikes to the rack. I used athletic tape.
After that, I went to swim in Lake Michigan where the race would be. I got out and started swimming away from where we would exit. It felt easy. I felt smooth and after 12 minutes I turned around to come back. This was where it got rough. The water going back was choppy. Like how it was 2 years ago when I swam a 50+ minute swim. Yes, you read that right. 50+ minutes. 50+ minutes as in the pro’s could have finished their swim, started over, and passed me again before I finished. It was stroke, stroke, mouth of water, stroke, stroke, mouth of water, REPEAT. I took me forever to get back to where I started the swim today even with the shortcut I took. I got out of the water feeling even less thrilled about my prospects of reaching my goals for tomorrow.
On the 10 minute walk back to my car, I started thinking. Thinking about all the excuses I was providing myself. Thinking of how I had taken all the work that I had done the months leading up to it, and allowed myself to let it unravel mentally in a few days. I realized that it was time to start putting myself back in control. Not to pray for this race to be easy, but work to find the strength to endure whatever was thrown at us tomorrow. I sent Liz and Amanda a text to see how to swim better in choppy water. People do it all the time. There had to be something that I just hadn’t figured out yet. Liz replied with 2 great articles, one which proved to be very helpful but not for the reason that I would have thought. Amanda gave some good tips and talked me through a bit.
The rest of the day was uneventful. I met up with my home-stay and great friend Paul, ate a good amount, messed around with him, his fiancé, and dog in their yard, and got to bed early.
The next morning, I woke up and actually felt like I had got a great night’s sleep. I ate breakfast and rode down to transition with Paul. I set up transition and prepared myself for the 3 hour wait until my wave start. The great thing about this morning was that Racine decided to get all of its bad weather out of the way yesterday. The wind was much tamer and the water was incredibly calm compared to yesterday. I sat around for a bit, went to the bathroom a few times, made some friends, did a swim warm up and got in line for the race.
Swim: 33:38 1:44/100m
We lined up for the swim and I positioned myself next to my friend Jon who was also doing the race. This was his first Half Ironman, but he is a fit guy. Stud steeplechaser in college and also has developed into a good triathlete. At USAT Nationals last year, he beat me in the swim by 3 minutes, so I figured that being next to him would be a good place to be. As soon as the gun went off, that plan was quickly tossed. I tried to find his feet but had my own foot grabbed and about 4 people try to swim in between us. I was wasting way too much energy trying to stay there and decided to just follow my own line as close to the buoys as possible. I was very slow going out to the first turn buoy. There were small waves, but I was having trouble catching my breath after being pulled under twice in the first 100 yards or so. I had to breast stroke a bit to finally get my breathing under control.
We hit the first turn buoy and I finally was able to get into a decent rhythm. I started passing people in my AG that had passed me in the beginning and started working my way around other waves as well, which was very new to me. I swam alone for the entire swim. I have almost gotten to the point in swimming that I am in open running races. I have become what I refer to as “slightly less than fast.”
As in, I am getting close to being above average, but I am not quite good yet. There are very few people that swim at this in between pace, so I found it very difficult to swim with anyone. I hit the Orange buoy which signified the half-way point. I looked at my watch and saw 18:00. I was actually really happy with that. I figured if I could keep this pace the rest of the way that I would come in around 36:00 which would be a 4 minute PR for this distance. I put my head down, focused on pulling through strong, and staying as flat in the water as possible.
I normally look at my watch way too much while swimming in these races. I simply want to know how much suffering in the water that I may have left. In this race, I just didn’t. Swimming seemed to be going alright, and I figured that the end would not come any closer regardless of how much I looked at it. I just kept my head down and kept moving along at my pace. I made the final turn and headed to shore. I swam as far as possible to the beach, and when I finally had to stand up, I saw 33:10. I was ecstatic/surprised.
I know that all swimmy people look at that time and could probably do it backstroke, but for me, that time was kinda a big deal. I saw my mom as I hit the beach and just said, “I have no idea what just happened.” I had beat my best ever time by over 7 minutes and really set myself up for a great day.
Bike: 2:25:16 23.4 mi/h AP: 222 NP:227
I got through transition as quickly as I could. I used the wet-suit strippers, because I am much slower without them. I got to my bike and got my helmet on as quickly as I could, popped on my glasses, and started running to the exit. I hopped on my bike and started to make my way up the only hill on the entire ride that you need your small chain ring for. I clipped in my right foot fine, and missed my left foot twice before just resigning to climbing the hill with my foot on top of the pedal before trying a third time, in fear of not making it up. I finally got up the hill and clipped in.
My goal was to take the first 10 minutes easy and then open it up from there. This turned out to be a decent strategy because we hit a decent headwind about 10 minutes in and I decided to up the watts that I had planned for a bit. I figured if I could go out against the wind a bit harder and cruise on the way back in with the free speed, that would leave my legs fresh for the run.
People kept talking going into the race about how poor the road conditions at Racine are. And don’t get me wrong, they are far from great. But if you live in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, you have most likely ridden in Fermi-lab, which is the exact same road conditions. I have ridden an 80 mile solo ride in Fermi, so I know bad roads.
In the article, I read the day before there was a quote that I thought was very applicable to this ride although it was meant for swimming in chop.
“Out in the lake, there are no such safety nets (or limitations, as we like to call them). You give up external control over your immediate environment in exchange for the (fun) challenge of interacting with the elements as they are. So you need to shift your locus of control internally. Namely, you need to give up trying to manage the water and instead focus on managing your reaction to everything.”
Thus, I switched my locus of control internally. No one was allowed to avoid the roads today, so the person who could deal with them the best was going to be the most successful on the day. The rest of the ride was fairly boring, which is not a bad thing. Watts were coming pretty easy and I was hitting my numbers. I debated on trying to push my effort up a bit, but I wanted to have a good run today.
I hit the halfway point at around 1:15, but knew that we would have a tailwind for the remaining half. I rode back and was able to pass a few people from my AG and was fortunate enough to not be passed by anyone. We got back onto Main Street and made our way through town to T2. I was really excited because I had hit 54 miles at 2:27 and was on my way to a 2:22 bike split. Except T2 was not coming as fast as I had hoped. After close to 57 miles, I rolled into T2 at 2:25.
Run: 1:26:25 6:35/mi
I ran through T2 as fast as I could. I got to the exit and, I hit my Garmin to see my total race time. I was at 3:04. This meant in order to reach my goal, I would have to run a 1:26 half marathon or less to break 4:30. This would be 2 minutes faster that I have ever run in a HIM, but with how I have been training, it was more than doable.
I set off on the run to chase that goal. We ran up the only hill out of transition which you have to run twice. Racine is not a difficult run course, but at miles 1 and 7 that hill is one that you have to take slowly. My goal was to take my first mile at exactly 6:30. I have cramped in every race that I have done at the HIM distance, and I was trying to do everything possible to avoid that today.
After the first mile, I dropped it down to a 6:19. Mile 3 was a 6:22. I had a few stomach cramps but nothing unbearable. I had not been able to pee yet despite taking in 1 more bottle on the bike that I had originally planned. This was worrisome, but I kept on pushing along. Then at the turn on mile 4, it started to get bad. Those types of cramps that make it really hard to breathe. I slowed down my pace and this cramp stayed until about mile 7. Most of my miles were in the 6:40’s and 6:50’s, but my goal was to not get above 7:00.
The cramps returned just as mile 8 began. I again slowed my pace and tried to push through. We got to the second turn around and I was struggling. Cramps on both sides and was starting to get light headed. I needed to run 19:25 for the last 3 miles to break 1:26. That seems so simple to me as I read it now. But at the time, it seemed impossible. I tried to go, but I just couldn’t get to the pace I needed. I suffered and struggle my way through the final 3 miles, and when I saw the finish line, I went at it with all I had left(which wasn’t much).
I crossed the line and stopped my watch. I looked at my total time for the first time since I started the run. 4:30:15. I just smiled. In a race that lasts multiple hours, 15 seconds can be made up anywhere. Could I have skipped an aid station or two? What if it didn’t take me so long to get started swimming? What if I had pushed the pace on the bike a bit more? What if I had found a way to avoid these cramps and run to my potential? What if I got through transition faster?
All I could do was smile and laugh. I was right there. There are still things I can do better and I know I will only continue to improve.
Today was a 7 Minute PR at this distance. I know there will come a day that every race I do will not be a PR, but until that day, I hope to keep pushing back that needle.
anf I could keep this pace the rest of the way that I would come in around 36:00 which would be a 4 minute PR for this disis in
Thanks for reading!