Perfect conditions, well organized, nice venue, and the race went really smoothly for me.
18th in my AG; swim 40:03, bike 2:37:08, run 01:39:58, total 5:01:04
Things that worked well (for me):
– Carry my own hydration and nutrition on the bike
– Start the swim real easy, pick it up at the ½ mile mark
– Wipe a thin layer of dish soap on the inside of the goggles to eliminate fogging
– Race by perceived effort
Things to improve:
– Do more long runs in training
– Wear more sunscreen
Got up at 3:30 and had a banana, granola, and coffee for breakfast. That was the last solid food pre-race; in the time until race start I drank a bottle of electrolyte replacement (100 cal).
Bikes were already checked into transition on Saturday, so there wasn’t that much gear to worry about. We got to Lake Stevens around 5:15 – there’s plenty of parking around the race start, which is very convenient.
I proceeded to prep my bike and transition stuff. I had put on new tubes and tires and was a bit nervous about having possibly pinched a tube – but everything looked fine. Nutrition for the race was 1 Clif bar (250 cal), 3 gels (3 x 100 cal), and a bottle of electrolyte replacement (200 cal) on the bike; a second bottle of more dilute electrolyte (100 cal) for the run.
Transition was in a parking lot just off the swim exit. There was some carpet layed out at the swim exit, but the rest of the area was asphalt. Fortunately there was no gravel, so running barefoot was no problem.
Starts were in waves spaced 4 minutes apart, starting at 6:30. My age group was up at 7:04. We were started in the water off the dock. It was a very relaxed start – 110 folks in my wave, spaced out along the length of the dock. The only hazardous part here was that the water was murky and only chest deep with rocks and other debris on the bottom. I jumped in expecting it to be deeper, and was lucky not to hurt myself.
I placed myself at the very outside of the group, since swimming is not my strong suit. The swim course was a straight line out, a short leg across, and then back in. Buoys were huge and easily visible, especially since the water was completely flat and calm. My swim was very uneventful. It almost felt like swimming in the pool, because most of the way I swam close to the buoy mooring line and didn’t even need to sight. I didn’t see much of my fellow swimmers, until near the end – partially due to murkiness of the water, partially because there was plenty of room. This made for a low-stress swim, though I didn’t get any opportunity to draft either.
My swim time of 40:03 was exactly what I had expected. I think I could take a few minutes off that time, but on the other hand it was helpful to come into T1 not being totally winded from the swim.
T1 and Bike
Transition was pretty clean, though I still cannot get the wetsuit off in one fluid motion like the experts do. 2:22 is good enough for me – I didn’t feel like I wasted any time. Thankfully there was no congestion at T1 exit and I was able to mount and take off unimpeded.
My plan was to be conservative on loop 1 and pick it up on the 2nd, if things were going well. But it felt so good to be on the bike and to be overtaking other bikers at a rapid clip, that I started out faster than planned. Once I had passed the initial crowd and settled into a steady pace I was still feeling good; so I decided to try and keep up the pace as best I could. Not a very scientific approach, but it worked out well for me, considering that I beat my bike target time by a full 20 minutes. I suppose I have always been a bit too conservative in the past.
The course was not closed, but luckily traffic was sparse and there were only a few problematic encounters with vehicles. The first was when I was descending in the aero bars at ~40mph and a black BMW decided to take a left in front of me into a gas station. The driver clearly underestimated my speed, but luckily there was still some room to spare and no emergency evasive maneuvers were required. I couldn’t stop myself from shouting a few choice words – though I’m sure the driver was oblivious. It was a good reminder to stay alert. The other situation occurred when several pick-ups and SUVs were caught behind a slow group of riders. A couple of faster riders including myself were itching to go past, and there were a couple of highly irregular incidences of passing on the right.
Dropped bottles were the other big hazard. You had to be on the lookout for these at all times. I believe the one bad crash I heard about was due to a bike hitting a dropped water bottle. But overall, it was a good course and, as far as I could tell, a clean race. I did not see any blatant drafting or out of control tempers. I will say that this race has a more serious and competitive feel to it than smaller, local events; but there was still a lot of supportive comments and good-natured ribbing between racers out on the course.
I was happy with my decision to bring my own supplies and not rely on aid stations. Predictably, there was some congestion and confusion going on around those, which I was able to give a wide berth. The morning was overcast and temperatures were comfortable, so 48oz of fluid was enough for me. I was able to stick to my nutrition plan and ate my bar about 1/3rd into the bike, followed by a couple of gels later on. I finished my electrolyte bottle, but couldn’t stomach the final gel and just left it on the bike.
Mile 35-45 seemed interminable, but then I found myself among a few fairly evenly matched riders and we traded places a lot. This helped keep me motivated and distracted from the physical effort. We finished strong on a flat stretch along the lake and headed into T2.
T2 and Run
T2 entry was good. I have not mastered a flying dismount, so I had to stop and unclip. But from there on things flowed smoothly and I was out of T2 in 1:35. I purposely did not take my bottle of electrolyte on the run. I was feeling just a tiny bit queasy and I felt like I could do 13 miles on whatever the aid stations offered.
The run was the hardest part of the race. I should not have been surprised; but I was, because the run is typically my strongest discipline. I was not prepared for how heavy my legs were, and what a mental challenge it is to keep on pushing yourself through those final miles. I found myself thinking about how I could get out of the next 70.3 that I had already signed up for in September. After 2 miles my legs felt a little better, but it was still a continuous struggle throughout the entire run.
The run is laid out as a 3.5 mile loop followed by a 3 mile out and back; then you repeat. You get to run past the crowd at the finish area 3 times, which is nice for the spectators and a great morale booster for racers. On the other hand it is tough to see competitors coming towards you completing their 2nd loop, while you are still on your first. But eventually the tables were turned, and I found myself on the last out and back and drawing closer to the finish with every step. Another racer in my age group happened to tell me we were at 4:30, when we still had about 3.5 miles to go, so 5h were suddenly within reach. However, I was pretty much spent at that point and going sub-5 didn’t seem as important as finishing the run solidly, without risking cramping or GI issues.
I maintained a pretty consistent pace overall and came in just shy of 1:40 for an overall 5:01.
This was my first ½ iron distance, so I had only a vague idea of what to expect. 5:30 seemed reasonable, and I was pretty close in my time estimates for the swim and run. But I was pleasantly surprised to have beat my bike target by such a wide margin, especially on a fairly hilly course.
It was a good experience and one of those rare races where everything goes according to plan. However, I think I might stick to shorter distances in future. 5h of physical and mental struggle are a bit too much for my liking; 1 or 2h seem much more reasonable. I guess this race showed me that I am not quite committed enough to triathlons to do the long distances on a regular basis. In case you’re wondering – yes, I am still going to do the Grand Columbian half-iron in September.