Grand Columbian 2007 – Half-Iron

Short version:
I had another great race and beat my goal time of 5h.
            16th overall, 3rd in my age group 
            swim – 36:30, bike – 2:44:38, run – 1:34, overall 4:59:34

Long version:
After completing the Lake Stevens 70.3 race I had no desire to repeat the experience. The 1.2 mile swim was fine, and the 56 mile bike was actually fun – but following that up with a 13 mile road run was miserable. However, I had already signed up for the Grand Columbian … and having finished Lake Stevens in 5:01, I simply had to make another attempt at breaking that magical 5h barrier. Who knows if I’d ever have another chance to do so.

So Wendy and I set out Friday morning on the 4½h drive to Electric City. I had booked accommodation at Skydeck Motel many months ago, so we were able to secure a prime room with a grand view of Banks Lake and the race venue. The weather was fine and conditions seemed perfect for race day… until we saw the smoke from the 10,000 acre forest fire burning just north-west of the lake. Unfortunately, the wind is typically from the north-west in the morning, so there was a thick haze of smoke over the run course and part of the bike course.

At the 11th hour, the race director decided to move the run and bike course to avoid most of the smoke. While this was a sensible decision, it meant that we were now facing an unknown and slightly longer bike course, as well as a tougher run course (hilly roads instead of a flat trail). It was 8pm by then, but we decided it was worth the effort to drive the new bike course to see what I was going to be up against next morning. It was definitely a good idea, as it prepared me for a couple of tricky railroad crossings as well as the long grind of highway 155.

The half-iron race started at 9:30 am; a more civilized time than usual, since we first let the full-iron athletes complete their 2.4 mile swim that they had started at 7 am. The lake was calm, the water was clear, and the water temperature a pleasant 68F. With just a couple of hundred competitors, the swim was stress-free. Sighting was a bit tricky since buoys were spaced quite far apart (and some of the intermediate sighting buoys were drifting out of line), but I was able to finish in a great time (for me) of 36:30.

T1 and T2 were a bit unusual, in that we were required to transition through the changing tent and bag all our gear. This procedure made sense with the original course, where gear needs to be transported between T1 and T2, which are quite far apart; but on the changed course T1 and T2 were in the same location. Transition times were consequently a little longer than at Lake Stevens.

The bike ride took us up onto the plateau above the dam, across the rolling hills of the plain, then back down along the shore of Banks Lake to Electric City. Wind is always a big concern around the Columbia river. We did encounter some head and side winds, but fortunately nothing too bad. The rough surface of the roads proved to be a bigger challenge. Highway 155, in particular, tested everybody’s mental and physical fortitude. Overall it was a non-technical course and we were riding the aero-bars most of the time, without any opportunity to change up the pace and position. I did what I could to try and stay loose, but glutes and hamstrings were soon feeling very sore. But with that 5h goal in mind I kept pushing and turned in a ride time of 2:44. Given the circumstances, I felt good about the time, even though it was longer than my Lake Stevens bike split.
As in Lake Stevens, I did not rely on bike aid stations at all. This worked well for me again – I did not have to slow down at the stations and I felt I was getting adequate hydration and nutrition.

The start of the run was a little easier this time, since I was prepared for the overwhelming feeling of fatigue and better equipped to deal with it. It was still tough, due to the heat and the hard surface. Soon, I stopped even thinking about my 5h goal and just focused on keeping up the pace as best I could. Ice cubes were a very welcome refreshment at the aid stations. I chewed on them, held them in my hands to cool down, and put some under my hat too. At the very least they distracted you from less pleasant physical sensations for a while. I was relieved and elated when I found myself within sight of the finish line after 4:58h. I was able to pick up the tempo one more time and sprinted into the chute, achieving my sub-5 goal with 25 seconds to spare.

I felt pretty bad immediately after finishing. Apparently I had not been breathing well and deep breaths were quite painful for a while; possibly the smoke also contributed, though I did not really notice it during the race. Luckily that cleared up within 30 minutes. This was definitely the hardest effort I’ve put forth in a race to date. As in Lake Stevens, my first coherent words were ‘Never again!’. We’ll see how long I stick to that resolution this time.

Lessons learnt:

  • practise drafting skills on the swim
  • do longer rides in the aero-bars to prepare for this course

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