Annnnnd I'm back.
Well the season has finally come to a close with the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Sure there will be a few small races here and there like the Schaumburg Indoor Tri and the XC Challenge and a Turkey Trot, but nothing major. I ended the season on a semi-good note with my race over in Clearwater, FL.
A few weeks before the race, I had it in my mindset that I was not going to do this race just because I have never like the half-ironman distance. I had competed in three of them previously and struggled through all of them. But after getting involved with Gatorade and participating in a cycling study, I was forced to train hard on the bike once per week. I went in every Friday for 6 straight weeks and rode on a computrainer at 225 watts for 2 straight hours, then was allowed a 2 minute rest and followed that up with a 20k all out time trial. Let me say it was not fun. But as I continued going through each trial over at the Gatorade lab, I felt a little stronger and could feel that 2 hours was not that long of a bike ride. Jacqui convinced me that it would be a fun little get away to go do the race. She had school off on the Monday and Tuesday after the race so we figured we could go down for the race and then spend a little time out of the cold Chicago weather. It ended up being a great decision to race!
So leading up to the race, I felt like I was in pretty decent shape. I had two big problems though. One was that my swimming had been slacking. I was previously preparing for the Duathlon World Championships in Italy so swimming took the backseat for a while so that I could focus on my running and cycling. I tried to head over to the pool each day for the two weeks leading up to the race and that helped out a bit. The other BIG problem was that I was having severe IT band problems. What I am talking about is the illiotibial band. It runs along the side of your hip and connects down onto your knee. Well each time I tried to run, I was experiencing deep pain on the side of my knee. There were moments when I would barely walk after a short run. So two weeks prior to the Clearwater race, I had one run under my belt. And this run was down over at the Gatorade lab where I ran for 35 minutes and then a 35 min 10k. It hurt a lot to get through that run and there were many times when I almost stopped and said I could go no longer because the pain was so bad. I felt fine running a 35 min 10k..just the pain in the knee was very intense. So after that Gatorade experience, I was barely able to even bend my knee at all. I had serious doubts that I would be able to finish the 1/2 marathon at the end of the race that I had in a couple of days.
I just took the rest of the days off leading up to Clearwater in terms of running. I made sure to get some solid bike rides and swims in, but not impace on my knee at all. My flight took off on Thursday before the race and I arrived in Florida near the end of the day. My best friend John let me use his parent's condo which was situated right along the Gulf of Mexico! Very nice and very appreciated. It was about 10 miles away from the race site, which worked out because there was a trolley service that road up and down the main road to get me from the condo to the race area whenever needed. The first night I just got some food and watched a little tv to relax.
The next morning, I woke up and took the trolley down to the race site in order to get a morning swim in. I saw a few friends and hit the Gulf of Mexico up for a short swim. Wow, the salt was so strong and was making my tongue tingle! The water was about 75 degrees so wetsuits were allowed (Yesssss!). I only swam for about 15 minutes because I didn't want to tire myself out too much and still had a long day ahead of me. I checked in, got all of my bags, and checked out the expo before heading down the road to pick up my bike. I shipped my bike down to Clearwater because the airline was charging 150 dollars each way! I shipped it down to FL for only 30 dollars..so that worked out well! The only thing I was worried about was that my bike would be cracked or damaged from UPS.
I was lucky and nothing was wrong with the bike! I put it all together and gave it a test spin down the road. For a warm up ride I rode from the condo down to the race area and a little more for a total of 15 miles and then checked my bike into transition. Just looking at all of the bikes and shapely athletes was making me worried. There was a lot of good competition at this race! I sometimes wondered if I even belonged! I got everything taken care of and decided to should test out my run to see how well my knee would hold up.....bad idea.
I took off running down the road and was feeling great. No pain what-so-ever. Welllllll, you knew it was coming. After about 10 minutes of pain free running, it hit me. I barely could move and bend my knee and had to hobble back walking to the condo. I was very frustrated and made me even more nervous for the day coming up. I made sure to rub my IT band out and just rest it up for the big day. Back to the condo, I ate some delicious stuffed spinach and mushroom pizza..yummmmm. What a good pre race meal. I relaxed for the night and hit the sack with a lot of nerves running through my body.
Race day! I woke up pretty early and took the 1st trolley down to the race site. The first trolley was at 5:35 and it takes about 25 minutes to get down the road. Well the body marking and transition area closed at 6:30 am so I had to move! I sat there in the dark, pin drop quiet early darkness waiting for the stinkin' trolley to show up. 5:36, 5:37, 5:40...where was the trolley! I was about 2 seconds away from jumping in the middle of the street in front of a car demanding that they take me down to the race site. Well, the trolley slowly came rolling along while I stood there with a 180 beats/min heart rate sweating all over the place. The trolley took his time getting down there and by the time I arrived at the race area it was 6:15. I had 15 minutes to get my body marked, pump my tires, fix my rear wheel, and get my water bottles all in place. 6:31...I'm finished. I was the last one in the transition area and felt a huge sense of relief! I now had 1.5 hours until my wave went off. Figures...the last wave.
I watched the pro men and women take off, swim super fast times, and make their ways onto the bike course. I walked around a bit, ate some food, talked to some friends, and got the wetsuit in place. I was definitely ready to take off. My wave was the largest full of testosterone filled men aged 18-29. It was about 160 people, but wasn't too bad since I have been in much more crowded starts. The cannon was shot and I took off running from the beach into the ocean. I swallowed a few gulps of the salt water...that'll make you want to throw up. But then I found my groove and settled into a pace. I couldn't really find anybody's feet to follow so most of the swim I was off on my own. It was a straight out and back course..which I had trouble with because I was swerving side to side. My 1.2 mile swim time was 30 mins even ( my fastest 1/2 ironman swim). It might've been a little short since everyone had fast times.
Onto the bike...I was feeling strong and ready to roll. I quickly settled into a pace and was rolling along at about 25.5 mph for the first hour. Nothing too eventful was going on. I was switching back and forth with another athlete in my age group until I caught a group of about 30 men and women. Wow...cheating in a world championship event...I wonder how they feel about themselves. Well I go storming by this group of athletes at about 28 mph and what do you know...the leader hops right onto the bike of my wheel and has me pull them along. I can honestly say I have never been as mad as I was during a race before. So I am sitting there pulling them along at about 26 mph and then they decide I am going too slow and pull around to go in front of me. Well obviously they were drafting off of me, which makes it seem that 26 mph is easy. So as soon as they go around me the pace drops significantly. We are back down to 23 mph because the fool in front cannot go any faster. So I get frustrated and pull right back around to the front of the pack and try to hammer it hard. I am going 29 mph this time and what do you know..they grab onto my wheel once again and have me pull them along for another free speed ride. I was pushing hard and spending so much energy to try and get away from these people. I am serious, there were women in the late 40's sitting right on the wheels of these men. How can you race like that!? Not saying that these women cant ride this fast...but please. Ok maybe I am. Looking at the results, there were 40 year old women with faster bike splits than the PRO women!!! So of course I settled back into my 25 mph comfort and the group is having me pull them along until its too easy because they are drafting off of me. So the same thing happens...the go around and slow down because the leader of this draft-fest isn't strong enough to go faster than 22 mph in the front. Wow...I was so upset. I even dropped back out of the group to give myself space to ride my speed, but I would easily catch right back to the group, pass them, and have them grab onto my wheel again. I ended up stuck going back and forth to the front of this group until the bike ride ended. I was very tired because of my constant accelerations trying to break this group. I did not see ONE draft marshall out on the course and became very upset. I heard that there was a lot of drafting in this race, but I never expected it to be THIS bad. Sorry for complaining, but it seriously ruined the race for me. I would have been much faster on the bike if I did not have to deal with being passed constantly to end up slowing me down and then forcing myself to use tons of energy just to try and get away from the group. My bike split was an average of just under 25 mph..I should've been closer to 26 if I was able to race my own race w/out being slowed down by others.
Ok..enough of the bike. I hopped off and went straight into the changing tent. In my bag I had put 3 ibruprofen so that I could take them going into the run and hopefully take the pain away in my knee. I changed into my shoes, took the medicine, and off I went runnin'. I felt fine and was excited to not be on the bike with the cheaters. I noticed I was running a little hard and just wanted to enjoy the day. It was nice, sunny, and much better weather than what was back up in Chicago. My first few miles I averaged 6:30 pace. Sure that is slow for me, but I was being cautious b/c of my knee. To my surprise the knee felt fine and I was able to enjoy the run pain free! There was a very large bridge (~1.5 miles long) that we had to go up and over 4...yes FOUR times.
It was a very difficult bridge to go over especially when tired. I made sure to take in gatorade and water at the aid stops, but I was still feeling exhausted and had to walk through many of them. I took some coke at about mile 5.5 and noticed an improvement. From that point on I didn't have to walk anymore and could shuffle along. I started to pass many racers which gave me a huge sense of excitement. I was out there doing the thing I loved and didn't have to worry about the pain in my knee. I sprinted through the finish line after shuffling the last 12.8 miles to see that I had gotten a new half ironman PR by 14 minutes. My final time was 4 hours and 19 minutes. Sure I would've liked to swim, bike, and run faster...but I had a great time swimming, abt 1/2 the bike, and all of the run. I finished and still had energy which showed that I could've gone faster, but my training with the running leading up to the race was very limited. It made me think that I can do 1/2 Ironmans just fine and with continued training I will continue to improve.
Although I had a great time racing the 70.3 distance...I am still going to stick with the olympic distance tri's. They are my favorite distance to race since I am more speed oriented. I look forward to the long winter ahead to improve my fitness and surprise some people once next season rolls along.
The rest of the trip was amazing. Fun, sun, relaxation, amazing food, and a wonderful/best friend to spend it with. I layed on the beach most of the time, did some fun waverunner rental, and went to some great restaurants. I definitely didn't want to leave once it was all over, but we all have to get back to reality at some point. For now its back to the training and getting prepared for next season. I'm excited to see what happens in these next few months!
Make sure to check back as I will try to update how my training is going!