First Half Ironman race report (and a Sprint too!)

Been a while since I’ve been here but I really have had nothing interesting to say.  The last couple of months have been pretty frustrating, training wise, due to work conflicts and other stuff so the fact that I even followed through with this race was a big deal.  So I figured I might as well share my thoughts on it.


For my first ever half ironman distance race, I chose the Redman Triathlon in Oklahoma City.  Why?  I know, it ain’t exactly a garden spot…  But there were several factors.  First, this is a FANTASTIC race.  Well run, well supported and full of really good people.  From the competitors to the volunteers to race staff.  If you want a great race that is not an “Ironman” corporate race, this is the one to do.  Second, it was in conjunction with the Club Nationals, which our club always supports as much as possible.  So I knew there would be moral support and someone to be there to catch me if I fell.  Finally, I knew the route.  The bike is flat (but rough as hell) and the run is dead flat and multiple loops so you are always in a crowd.  The swim is in Lake Hefner, one of the aquifers for the OKC metro.  A nice lake with little boat traffic or garbage in it.  All of these things lined up to make it a no brainer.


Even though I was under trained for the race (two rides over 50 miles and 4 runs over 13 with NO sizable bricks in the plan) I even decided to make the most of the weekend and do the half on Saturday and the Sprint on Sunday.  This choice was not as crazy as it sounds and I felt MUCH better after the Sprint on Sunday.  MUCH… better.


So here we go.


In the days and weeks leading up to a big race, the reigning theory goes something like “Follow your F%$^%#g routine.  No changes.”


Yeah, whatever.


I had so many changes to my family and work schedules that several things became clear.  First, this time of year is IMPOSSIBLE to train in.  Between the scheduling issues and HEAT, it was incredibly frustrting and disheartening.  Where I travel to teach, you don’t exactly want to take your bike.  Most of the hotels are lucky to have a treadmill and forget about the pool.  And when I COULD run, it was 105 plus for over a month.


Carrying this a bit farther, another part of the training mantra says “make NO changes approaching race time”.  So the week before the race I swapped my saddle out for a different one and put Yankz back on my shoes.  Result?  Adamo saddles may be great for roadies, but for triathlon positioning (at least for me) they suck.  But it took me screwing up my seat position completely and riding a painful 30 miles (once I got out of position, my knees started screaming) to figure that out.  And the Yankz on my shoes?  They are just elastic laces, right?  How bad could that be?  Because of the different pressure points they put on your feet due to the loosening and tightening in different spots, I got foot cramps on the first two runs I did in them…




Did I mention this was all the week before the race?




The week before the race I really tried to sit down with myself and be realistic about what was about to happen.  I knew that my 6 hour time goal was shot and that I would be lucky to live through the entire race, much less have any hope of meeting a goal, so I changed my focus to finishing.  I just wanted to come across the finish line upright and under my own power and the big goal was NOT to land in the med tent.  Anything under 7 hours would be a win.  As for the Sprint, I didn’t really care.  I just wanted to finish.  Walking the run would be fine.


With those goals in mind, I started packing.  I had hoped my local bike shop would have had the nutritional supplements I liked in house in time for me to get some, but they couldn’t get them in time so I just went with Hammer Nutrition products.  They work OK and are easy to come by.  A friend offered me some of the other stuff (EFS) late in the week but I had already purchased the Hammer stuff so I didn’t use it.  The pack was nothing unusual except for the fact that I put my bike work stand in just in case.  I didn’t need it but it was good to have.  I packed a cooler and started hydrating.  Everything else was just normal for a race.  Bike, lid, shoes, wetsuit… etc.


English: Sunset over Lake Hefner in northwest ...

English: Sunset over Lake Hefner in northwest Oklahoma City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Travel day was Friday, which I met with equal amounts of excitement and dread.  I was glad it was finally time to get it on (or… over), but knew I wasn’t ready and don’t really care for the 450 mile drive.  But off I went.  The only thing eventful about the drive was that I usually make it in one stop to fill up the car and drain the bladder.  However my “hydration” plan backfired a bit and I had to stop SIX times on the way down.  Wow.


I arrived onsite without a problem and got checked in.  The check in process was flawless and well organized.  They looked at me a little odd when I lined up in the half iron line and then moved to the Sprint line though… 🙂  I will admit I did feel a little guilty about having two sets of race swag.  We got hats, towels, a carry bag (for the half) and other goodies.  A decent haul.


It was hot (94) and breezy as I made my way to my car to get my bike and set it up in transition.  We racked by race number (which is my favorite because it takes all the bickering and jockeying out of the mix) so I dropped my bike off.  The numbers were peel and stick which is new to me but they worked fine.  I just peeled my bib numbers off and stuck them to each other and then put them on my race belt.  I decided to wait until morning to set my transition up.  I found some teammates and we headed to the hotel to check in.


Our marvelous club and it’s cruise directors did a fabulous job of finding a good hotel less than 5 miles from the race site.  Easy access, good food within walking distance and nice rooms.  Love this club!  I got to my room and began dissecting my bag.  Ads and junk in one pile.  Good stuff in another.  Then I came to my race “tattoos”.  Temporary tattoos that you peel and stick to your body…

Now, see… this is where the difference between me and most triathletes starts.  If you have ever seen a real triathlete, they are clean shaven from head to toe (mostly), so these tattoos come right off with a little scrubbing and some baby oil.  Fuzzy bastards like me… not so much.  When you stick them on, they act like a band-aid.  When they dry, they pin down your fuzz so when you stand up it pulls the hair out.  ONE.  BY.  ONE.  It was lovely.  And then… when the race is over and you are exhausted and want to sleep, you try to wash them off and they pill up on the remaining hairs, usually grouping what remaining hair you have into bunches and then yanking them out altogether.

Let’s just say I’m not a fan…

Anyway.  I got my tats done and went to dinner with my friend Jessica (doing the FULL) and her mom (miss ya already Doc!)  Good to catch up with her.  She is doing very well and had a great race.  Some people wanted to go out and party but I decided to turn in early.  My allergies were bugging me a bit so I took some medicine and for the first time in a long time, I actually got a little sleep before the race!

Race Day

I made sure to go out and get some food the night before the race so I was up at 4:30 to get it all ready.  Protein (eggs, ham) and carbs (potato, bagle) plus more Gatorade made for a decent breakfast.  I put my kit together the night before the race so I had time to think about it.  Standard race setup only with more food/drinks for the ride and run.  I got to the race site at about 5:30 and it was still dark.  I put on my headlamp and grabbed my gear.  The promised shuttles never appeared so we walked AT LEAST a mile to get to the race site.  I wasn’t happy about this but figured it was a good warm up.  Once in transition, I set up, milled about and went through my routine of walking in from the swim and finding my bike, double and triple checking things like my helmet, shoes, bike set up (easy gear, brakes engaged, etc.) and then got the announcement that it was wetsuit legal so I began stuffing myself into my wetsuit.  I swear if I have one goal for next year it’s to make that wetsuit look loose…

At about 7:15 they called us all down to the water, which was the only really unfortunate thing about this race.  Due to the drought we in the midwest have been experiencing, the lake was frighteningly low.  All the sailboats in the marinas were laying on their sides and most of the marinas were landlocked.  In 2009 when we did this race as a club, the water was right against the shore.  But this year it was nearly 200 yards from the old shoreline.  Across dark red Oklahoma clay.  Lovely.  I just kept telling myself that everyone had to do the same thing and it would be fine.


The fact that this was a big race now became apparent.  There were over 500 half and full distance racers.  I had never been in such a big group (until Sunday).  After a little light hearted “no you can’t run the swim” joking around, we were called into the water by wave and the race was on.  My wave was the 5th to go off and by then, the other 4 waves had churned up a nice red streak in the water.  Even though the race director said we were not allowed to run, a lot of people did.  It was kind of sad, really.  How obvious could your cheating be?  No matter.  I found deeper water (relatively speaking, it was up to my chest… and I’m short) and at the horn I was off.

The swim for me is always a big unknown.  I am no longer afraid of the water, in fact I’m quite comfortable.  But it is not automatic yet.  I still have to “think” about everything.  Breathing, rotation, body position, catch, pull.  And I find that if I get distracted my body doesn’t just take over and fix it yet.  So in a race like this the hardest part of the swim was just keeping focused.

I have never been mauled as much as I was in this race (until Sunday).  There was so much body contact, fondling and groping going on that I was sighting every 4 strokes just to keep an eye on people.  But the good part about this was that I was IN the scrum at all.  For me, this means that I was actually swimming fast enough to be in the group.  Not dropped like usual.  I was as comfortable as I could be and just kept telling myself to think body position.  Stay flat and let the wetsuit help.  Nice, smooth pull and then rotate.  This worked fine except for when I came up on someone who kicked my right in the face.  Not hard or on purpose but he was crossing me (my sighting was really good) from my blind side and I swam right into his feet.  It happens.  Once we made the first turn (counterclockwise olympic triangle) we were in deeper water and there was more room.  I actually got several minutes of good, smooth swimming in.  Then I came to another turn and was back in the scrum.  The swim in was uneventful save for a few minutes of actual drafting off of one of the faster women.  That is the first time I have successfully done that.  It was kinda fun!

Finally we sighted the finish of the swim.  I was thrilled.  I didn’t care if I came out last… I just swam 1.2 miles in a race!  Holy cow!!  Remember… Three years ago I couldn’t swim.  I  came up out of the water and there was our fantastic club, screaming and yelling for me.  Good stuff.  I ran by the strippers (who tried to maul me but I was too quick) and headed to transition.  My time for the swim was 47:20.  I wanted under an hour and was pretty happy with this.  I was really happy when I found out later the swim was 200 yards long!


My mantra was “slow and easy”.  there was no need to hurry.  Just get it right.  I got a little lost going to my bike but it felt good to see other bikes still in transition (my rack was full!).  I got myself set and trotted to the mount line.


From the first pedal stroke, the ride felt good.  My saddle was in the right spot.  In fact, I think it was better.  The usual fight I have trying to get my heart rate down didn’t exist.  I was breathing easy and spinning well.  The ride goes out across the dam of the lake and we had a little tailwind so it was smooth sailing.  I was carrying 22mph with very little effort.  At the end of the dam the course turns on to urban roads and then switches to suburbs and then quickly to rural roads.  This is, unfortunately, the worst part of this race.  I can’t tell you how many times I said to myself “Wow.  Look at all the water bottles on the ground!”  There was more orange paint on the road to warn cyclists about hazards than I have ever seen.  If you ever do this race I will warn you, Waterloo road SUCKS.  I will never complain about rough roads here in Boone County again… I swear.  The judges even took pity on us as we jockeyed for position to get around each other and avoid hazards, some drafting and pack riding was just unavoidable.  As was stopping to retrieve gear and spitting out teeth knocked loose by what I can only loosely refer to as a road.

The beating I was taking did slow me down and by the turn I was averaging just a tic over 19mph.  Since it was an out and back course, I knew what the next 10 miles held so I just spent most of my time avoiding hazards.  As we came back to the better roads I started checking my own systems to see how I was doing.  I had taken a water hand up and refilled a bottle so I was 3 bottles of hydration into the day.  Two with endurance formula in them and one of just water.  I wasn’t sweating that much and still felt like I was spinning fine.  Right up to the point where we turned back on to the bridge.  It was there my race went from great to “Oh no”…

My legs cramped.  BAD.  I was able to spin out of it but it was still there.  I was in full panic mode.  How could this happen?  I hydrated like crazy!  I didn’t drink alcohol or caffeine all week!  I ate well!  WTF!!!!???  I wanted to cry…  Not because I was cramping… but because I knew I still had a half marathon to run…  Bike average was 18.9mph.


After a nice, easy entry into the transition area, my legs cramped again.  I walked my bike back to the rack and took stock.  The cramps seemed to ease as I put on my shoes and run gear.  But then I was hit by an overwhelmingly urgent need to go to the bathroom.  Strategically placed porta potties saved my life, but slowed my transition down to almost 10 minutes.


Death march.  Plain and simple.  Over 80 degrees and climbing, no clouds, breezy.  A really tough day.

I tried EVERYTHING.  First, let me just say that I actually ran all of the first 6 miles.  But the second half was so bad that I actually ended up with a 12:47 average pace.  Get the picture?  I took so many Endurolyte tabs I was WHITE with salt.  I tried gatorade, straight water, straight salt, sugar, Coke, solids, liquids… everything.  One thing I know now for sure.  Once I go into full cramp mode, the only cure is to stop.

Most of the cramping was in my calves.  It was tolerable enough to trot at times.  Even all the way up to about mile 9, but after that, any movement other than the dreaded shuffle of doom sent me into massive spasms.  I even tried running on the grass just off the trail, which helped for a while but then even doing that didn’t work.  I hit bottom at about mile 11 and just started the slow, painful shuffle to the finish.  By the end, I couldn’t even run to the finish line.  I tried but nearly collapsed due to cramps, which, by now had spread to my entire body.


I guess I looked pretty bad because nobody wanted to take off my timing chip.  I certainly couldn’t do it.  I think they were afraid I was going to barf on them.  Which was the only thing I didn’t feel like doing (yet).  Finally someone took pity on me and helped me get it off.  I staggered around for a bit until the spinning stopped and then I sat down.  Within a few minutes my hero appeared.  One of my teammates (thanks Becky!!!) came to check on me.  Her assessment was that I looked like crap.  …the truth hurts.  Because by that point I was dizzy and nauseated.  I didn’t think I could get up but the med tent was looking really good.  She suggested that I try a little Coke because my blood sugar might be a bit low (she said later that I was pretty grey).  I didn’t want it but was too weak to refuse so I took a sip…

And within SECONDS I started feeling better.  I let that one settle and took another.  Even better!  Within 2 minutes I was able to get up and walk out of the finish tent and I really felt pretty good!  I have NEVER had a problem with low blood sugar but that’s sure what it seemed like.  Maybe I will start making Coke a feature on my big races!  It didn’t fix the cramps though.  I fought those for the rest of the day.


A half iron distance race has been on my bucket list since I started doing triathlons.  I couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishment.  Some would look at the downside and say that it wasn’t a very good race, but given the conditions, my lack of training and overall fitness, I’m surprised it turned out as good as it did.  I met some great people and hatched a few plans on that course.  I cemented some bonds with friends and gained a whole new respect for the sport.

Will I do another one?

I have some other issues to work out before I can answer that.  My off season starts now and my sole focus will be on nutrition.  Conditionally, I will say yes.  But only if I can lose 25 pounds.  And even as important as that is, I also feel like until I can figure out a plan for in race nutrition that keeps me from cramping, I have no business being out there.  I’m just going to tear myself up.  I seem to have about a 4 hour limit on endurance.  Anything longer than that and I’m done.

So this off season will be all about food.  The right food.  The right amounts.  Learning good habits.  Finding the right fuel source for me.  Maybe talking with a dietician and/or a doctor about the dark side of triathlons (for me) and seeing if, after 45 years, I can finally learn to eat right.

The amazing thing about this race for me was how I took it all, mentally.  The old me would have quit at T2.  But that never even entered my mind.  I was going to take what came and I was going to finish.  Regardless of time or placement.  I never had any doubts about that and quitting never entered my mind.  For that reason alone I am glad to have done this race.  It let me know I was stronger than I thought.
Oh, and a few sentences about the sprint.  First, I felt TONS better than I thought I would.  Second, I averaged 19.1mph on the bike with NO effort.  Third, people from Oklahoma have NO idea what hills are.  Fourth, swimming with over 600 of your closest friends, who can’t swim in a straight line, is damned frustrating.  Fifth, the third leg of the swim was just that.  A leg.  We HAD to walk.  The water was only 2 feet deep.  It was a very odd sight.  Sixth, I RAN the entire 3 miles!!  At an 8:30 pace!!!  That actually sucks (for me), but it’s a heckuva lot better than the 12:40s I “ran” on Saturday.  Finally, CMC ROCKS!


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