The unknown can be scary, but it is also very exciting. My coach told me the day before the race that, “Sometimes, I think a little fear of the unknown is okay. Keeps us in check!” and I couldn’t agree more. I went in to Pigman with many unknowns. My last half distance triathlon was at Worlds nearly one year ago. I can’t even tell you when the last time I biked or ran 56 miles and 13.1 miles, respectively, in training. I’ve been struggling with 30 and 40 minute runs at 7 minute pace and 60 to 90 minute easy bike rides. The projected temperatures race day were expected to reach mid 80s with heat index in low 90s, which is first time competing (or doing any hard workout in training) in that type of heat since IM Texas. Training has been a struggle last 2 weeks; so much so that my coach prescribed 2 (!!) complete rest days on Friday and Saturday. I’ve never taken 2 days off before a race. My last two weeks of training (not including races (AGN and Pigman)) have been 2.5 hours and 3 hours, respectively. So, needless to say, race day was going to be a complete mystery to me, but I was ready for the challenge and to push myself as hard as possible.
Times are, most of the time, irrelevant in the swim. This was one of my slowest times ever for a ½ Ironman distance swim, but arguably my best swim in any race yet. I mentioned after AGN that I thought I took good lines and sighted well. I can confirm that I did indeed take great lines at Pigman. After the front group of 4 swimmers established themselves (which I assumed would be the 4 pros racing), some athletes started veering right toward the sight buoys instead of directly to the turn buoy. So, I took my own line since I was surprisingly feeling pretty good. After the first left turn, I took a direct line again to the second turn buoy while most drifted right again. After the second left turn, a front group established and I was in it!! I couldn’t believe it, a group of 5 (3 men and 2 women) was the “lead” pack in the water behind the group of 4 that I pretty much just dismissed as I figured all 4 pros would be in it. As we approached half way, we did a 180 degree U-turn and headed back the same way, only slightly to the outside of what we just did. I figured at this point I would surely fade with my lack of quality swimming in the last month or so, but I was going to try my best to stay #5 in this pack and not get dropped, and it worked! Surprisingly, the pace wasn’t overly quick and I knew if I could just stay on the back and follow bubbles, that I could make it all the way with this group. With about 300 meters to go, the group put in a surge and all of a sudden my bubbles were gone. I quickly recognized the change of pace and put in a surge of my own to latch back on to the back of the pack. With about 100 meters to go, the pack did the same thing, but I was ready this time and responded instantly. This swim shocked me. My typical race in the swim usually goes something like, start fast(ish), try to find feet, get on feet, quickly fall off of feet and slowly fade all the way to finish. Not this time. This is by far my favorite swim in a race; and for once, I enjoyed the swim leg and raced it hard instead of just fading the whole time.
Last bit of reflection before starting the race.
Nothing special in either transition. T1: was run uphill from beach to grass to concrete where transition was set up, took Roka swim skin off, put Rudy helmet and sunglasses on, grab bike and run up a slight hill through transition to mount bike. T2: Normal stuff. Decided to wear socks on the run for once and wrapped a towel around neck that’s designed to cool you off in hot conditions. Not sure if it helped at all, but I know it didn’t hurt.
We went two miles out of park/campground area to main road, then four – 13 mile out and back loops with two U-turns per lap and one big hill that you do both sides of on every lap as well. Other than that hill, it was pancake flat; you just had to deal with the wind, which was headwind going south and tailwind going north. The last couple laps of headwind weren’t fun. I pushed (probably too hard) early on to try and preserve some of my gap I earned on the swim as I knew some good cyclists were coming from behind. Nothing too exciting happened during bike. I just stayed on top of nutrition, hydration, and definitely electrolytes throughout the bike.
Course was roughly four – 3.25 mile loops in the shape of a T. Out of T2, it’s flat then downhill to dam, U-turn, uphill and flat back to main intersection, then go to small eyeglasses like loops (see Garmin file if you’re interested) in campground, back to main intersection, down toward transition to do a U-turn, then do it all again. First loop was just ok, really didn’t feel very good at all. It was definitely starting to get very hot and I just told myself after first 3 miles to hit 6:40-6:50 pace and keep it steady. After running the 2nd and 3rd mile in 6:48, I knew podium and cash prize (top 5) was out of reach as I was in 8th overall and a long way from 5th. I just wanted to keep my pace steady, finish strong, and not blow up. Second loop was definitely better than first loop and I even ran a 6:27 and 6:28 for mile 5 and 6, respectively, which one of those miles included the lone steep (ish) uphill section. I noticed after the second loop and approaching half way that I wasn’t sweating on side of face anymore and my forehead was dry too but it had salt crystals on it. Uh oh. Not good. Instantly, flashbacks of IM Texas crept into my mind and I debated if I should slow my pace (since I was running faster than self-prescribed 6:40-6:50 pace I wanted to hit) or to just continue on and see what happened. Fortunately, I noticed I still was sweating on my arms and hands, which gave me reassurance that I could manage this issue and not have to slow my pace. At this point I was already taking in a ridiculous amount of electrolytes compared to previous races, but after noticing no sweat on face, I increased it a little more. I was also already walking through both of the aid stations each lap and taking 4 cups of ice water to drink and pour on neck/towel to cool me off. Now, I started taking in 5 or 6 cups. Pace was surprisingly still good and although I was hurting, I was still able to push and keep my pace right around 6:40 for miles 7 through 11. I still felt good half way through the last lap, but by the time I reached mile 11, the wheels were starting to fall off. I barely squeaked under 7 minutes for mile 12 and just tried to finish strong, which I did with a 6:38 last mile. This is one of my slowest half marathon’s ever, but I’m beyond thrilled with my effort. It was really hot out there and I was able to keep my pace steady and not fade much at all.
Overall: 4:18:18. 7th overall, 3rd non professional.
Absolutely pumped! Had one of my slowest swim and run splits I’ve ever done in a race, but I checked off all three major unknowns going into the race and this gives me a ton of confidence going into IM Chattanooga in just 6 weeks. I still have a ton of work to do, and not enough time to do it in, but I’m confident I can still perform very well in Chattanooga. It won’t be easy by any means, but then again, I’m not sure an IM is ever easy.
My parents are amazing and I’m so grateful for them. They made the trip with me, woke up entirely too early to get me to transition, walked a good 8-10 miles to cheer me on (2 miles out of park to main road to watch bike, plus back to watch run), and endured the heat throughout the day, took some great pictures, and gave me (and other athletes) tons of encouragement while we were suffering on the run. It was also great to meet Team Every Man Jack teammate Justin Herrick (couldn’t race due to getting hit while biking just last weekend) and his wife Danna (who was 3rd female overall, fastest female run split, and 5th fastest run split overall behind the 4 pro men in 1:23!). I can’t wait to track them both in Kona this year.
My dad took a ton of great pictures, so below are a few more pictures of my race.
Pack of 5 half way through swim. I’m the last one with arm straight in the air, might want to work on that.
Exiting the water
Very little shade or protection from the sun on the run course
Trying to stay cool and walking through all aid stations to make sure I got enough water. Only 2 aid stations a lap made it tough.