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Racine Half Ironman: Race Report

July 16, 2012

Before I get into my race report, I want to take a moment to thank my husband. Even if he doesn’t really understand what drives me to compete, and frankly would be happy if I didn’t spend so much time training, he knows being an athlete is important to me and he does his best to support me in his own way. And he’s my inspiration when I’m out there. When I was on that long lonely swim, I thought about him, and “took some strokes to make Jeremy proud.” When I was spinning along on the bike, I was singing some of his favorite songs in my head. And when I was really struggling from mile 8 on the run, I was thinking about how proud I would be to share my success with him — but I just had to cross the finish line first.

Overall, I’m very happy with my results. As to be expected after my first triathlon in four years, there are areas for improvement. But I could not have completed this race six months ago, and I finished yesterday. My race results: Swim (1.2 miles), 50:54. Swim-to-bike transition, 8:01. Bike (56 miles), 3:07:50. Bike-to-run transition, 7:59. Run (13.1 miles), 2:24:35. Overall time, 6:39:19. Division ranking (how I compared to other men 25-29), overall 119/167; swim 141/167; bike 133/167; run 119/167. I’m not that concerned with my ranking, I’m just including it because I’m amused that I ranked better on the run than the bike. I lost my pacing on the run, but that tells me even though I could have done some things better on pacing, relative to everyone else I didn’t do too bad.

I drove up with two other athletes from my gym who were also doing their first Half Ironman’s. They had both done shorter Tris earlier this year, so had some experience I didn’t. But we all shared common jitters of our first Half distance events. At athlete check-in, they had a race merchandise tent. I debated buying something, but decided I can’t afford much gear and I’d rather wait for Arizona! We then headed over to transition to set up our bikes. It turned out I was pretty close to one of the other guys from my car. It was threatening thunderstorms that night, so we found grocery bags to at least cover our bike seats so they wouldn’t be soaked in the morning (as it turned out, it didn’t rain). We complained about the inconvenience of needing to store our bikes outdoors over night, but in the morning we were very glad to not have to worry about dealing with getting our bikes to the course. We joined two other athletes from our gym for a pre-race dinner at Olive Garden. We were back to the hotel and in bed by 9:30, after laying our stuff out for the morning.

I slept very light. I think I managed to get 2-3 hours solid sleep, and the rest kind of drifting in and out of awake. We were planning to wake up at 4:30, but all kind of woke up around 4:15. Fortunately I felt no fatigue. I had gotten good sleep the two nights before which was critical. It took me forever the night before to get ready, as I double and triple checked that everything was in place. But I was glad that in the morning it meant I could just grab everything and not have to think about it. I did almost forget a water bottle with my carb-protein drink in the fridge.

We left the hotel by 5:05 AM and parked near the race course around 5:35. We were to transition by 5:45 and had until 6:30 to be out of transition. First stop, body marking (they write your race number on your arm and age on your leg in permanent marker). Then plenty of time to set up our gear by the racks. They had numbered spots for each bike at this race, so at least there was no fighting for “prime” spots, unlike many races. But they did not give us much room. I set up my area how I had practice. Only what I needed up front, my bag with extras back under my bike out of the way (extra tubes, extra food, my sandals, extra socks, other “just in case” gear that I probably wouldn’t need). After getting my transition area set up and taking a final bathroom pitstop, I met up with the other guys from my gym so we could make our way over to the start.

Above: Pre-race, on our way from transition to the start line. Left to right: John, Nick, Andy, Bob, Me.

The swim start was about a mile up the beach from the transition. The swim course went out from shore 75 yards, then turned and went parallel to shore one-way back to transition, and then turned into transition. Like many beginners there, I was glad that (as expected) the water was cold enough to be wetsuit legal. I was in one of the first waves to start, at 7:23. Some of the other guys I was with wouldn’t start for almost an hour. I watched the pros start (they went first at 7 AM) and had a packet of gu to top off my energy. A little after they started, it was time to pull my wetsuit on and get ready for my swim. I wore my wetsuit over my bike bib shorts, triathlon jersey, and calf compression sleeves. That way I could just peel the wetsuit off after the swim and have my clothes on for the rest of the race. I lost my goggles in my last practice swim before the race, so I was wearing new goggles. As the announcer called my wave to the start line, the butterflies formed in my stomach. I had been so busy all morning I hadn’t had time to think: am I really about to do this? Can I really get through this? Fortunately that thought didn’t last long. We lined up at the water’s edge, and at the signal we were off, running into the water.

I stayed on the outside of the group as we swam towards the buoys. I didn’t worry about my swim speed, just trying to relax and get a consistent breathing rhythm going. Within a minute of starting I was feeling pretty comfortable. I was back in the same relaxed rhythm I had been able to hit in practice. I was slower than most other people out there, but that didn’t matter. I probably made my swim slightly longer by staying to the outside, but I’d rather swim a little longer and not fight with the fast swimmers pushing on the inside. I had swam almost this distance in practice, but it somehow felt longer in a straight line than as an out-and-back. I only stopped once during the swim to adjust a goggle filling with water. The water was calm and there was little current, and we were swimming south so with me breathing on my right I always was looking to shore.

As I was approaching the turn back to shore, I began thinking about transition. “Remember,” I told myself, “transition is part of the race.” You are going to move through this. I knew my swim felt solid, but I was still pleasantly surprised to look at the race clock and see 1 hour, 13 minutes in. I started 23 minutes into the race, so that meant my swim was only 50 minutes. Faster than I expected to cover that distance! (And, importantly, at that pace I will comfortably finish the Ironman swim within the 2 hour 20 minute time cap). When the water was shallow enough, I stood up and started running towards shore. As I ran, I took off my swim cap and goggles, and peeled off the arms of my wetsuit, leaving the swim cap and goggles inside one arm. I grabbed a clif bar out of my back pocket and ate 2/3 of it as I ran up the beach. On the way into transition, I walked through the water pools they had to rinse sand off. Then stopped for the wetsuit strippers to help me take my wetsuit off, and immediately after for sunscreen applicators to put sunscreen on my arms and neck. I was having a problem with my right contact from the water that leaked into my goggle, so I took a minute or two wiping it with a towel. Fortunately I got it back in position and it was fine the rest of the race. I also took time to put on fresh socks (the pros race sockless), bike gloves, and a wrist brace on my right wrist. I carried my bike shoes to the mount line because the speedplay cleats I have don’t do well when you walk on them. My transition was slower than I hoped for, but at least I mentally stayed in the race the whole time. I can probably make this a little more efficient, but for me, it’s worth the time for socks and sunscreen at this distance (a shorter race I might consider going without).

I felt pretty good on the bike. I was aiming for 18 mph, with 20 mph as my cap. My final speed was 17.9 mph, right on target. But that includes many faster miles at 20 mph, and slower miles when there were light hills or when I was rolling through aid stations and such. Critically, my pace remained pretty consistent throughout the bike (expected fluctuation aside). I tried to keep myself at 75% effort. I knew I had to conserve energy for the run. I was tempted to push hard up the hills, given my recent hard rides in the mountains, but I held back and took it easy. My practice in the aero bars paid off. For straight aways, that position is becoming more comfortable than sitting upright.

I also handled the aid stations okay. You ride through the aid stations and grab water, sports drink, gu, energy bars, and bananas from volunteers. As I approached the first station, I tossed my old water bottle (I had one nice bottle on my bike with spiz, the carb-protein drink I use, I would keep that bottle the whole race; the night before the race we got 24 oz disposable water bottles to put on our bikes, like the ones they would be handing out on course). I got one water bottle from the first volunteer and put it in a water bottle holder. But I just missed grabbing a second bottle like I planned, so I grabbed a bottle of sports drink. I don’t like the sports drink, but I wanted two bottles of fluid. Then I saw that they had another line of fluids further down the aid station, so I tried to get a second bottle of water. But in the process of trying to get the second bottle on my bike, I bobbled both it and the sports drink and lost them both. Oh well. At least I was pretty sure I had enough fluid to make the next station, so I just kept riding. I had also installed an aero drink bottle on my bike in the week before the race. This is a water bottle that sits between the handlebars and has a straw sticking up from it. When I’m leaning over on the aero bars, the straw is right by my mouth, making it easy to keep drinking. The aero water bottle has a mesh top, so I could squeeze water into it on the go, and also add my electrolyte tables to it. I had prepared an almond-butter sandwich for the bike and had that in a little bag right behind my handlebars on top of the top tube. I ate about 1/3 of that every hour on the bike.

As I approached the end of the bike, I knew my stomach felt a little fuller than ideal. If I was staying on the bike, I’d be fine, but I can process more food on the bike. I was a little worried for the run. I was doing okay, but just a little off. At least I felt hydrated and did not feel like my salt levels were low. I had been taking in lots of electrolytes. My first lesson for transition two is that I should work on taking my feet out of my bike shoes while I’m still on the bike (I can loosen them by undoing a spring, so can do that on the bike), and then leaving the bike shoes clipped into the bike when I get off. I ended up running in my bike shoes even though I didn’t want to run on my bike shoes. My second transition was definitely slower than hoped. I did take time to change socks and put fresh body glide on the soles of my feet. I’ve been having problems with blisters on the soles of my feet on long runs, so with how much my feet were sweating in that heat, the extra time was worth minimizing the chance of blisters. I also spent a couple minutes trying to change the sports mode on my GPS watch. The watch uses a touch-sensitive panel that works great at rest, but works really poorly when I’m sweaty and wet. Lesson learned: I should just let the GPS watch treat the whole race as one workout and worry about separating out events later at home. Don’t waste time playing with it. I also got fresh sunscreen on my arms on the way out of transition.

By now it was just before noon and probably in the mid-80s and humid (the high for the day was 87). I still felt like I had energy, but my legs felt lightly fatigued and I could tell the heat would be a problem. My stomach was also a little tight. I hoped I could run through it, but I wasn’t sure. My target was 9-10 minutes per mile. I was at the lower end of that target for the first three miles, slowing to the upper end of that target for the next three miles, and then slowing further. Aid stations were about every mile, so I started out running between stations and walking at stations. I drank water at every station, dumped ice water on my head, dumped ice in my cap and down the front and back of my jersey, and squeezed cold sponges on my shoulders. Since I was trying to let my stomach settle, I only had water the first two aid stations. Three miles in I finally had a gu, and also a salt stick cap (I brought those along in a plastic bag in my jersey). The halfway point of the run is at the finish line: it’s two laps, so on your first lap you run almost to the line and then have to turn around! I still felt strong at that point.

But then around mile 8 I bonked. Over the next mile, I went from running all but the aid stations to mostly walking. Bonking is when your muscles run out of glycogen (basically sugar) to supply them. I had been consuming enough calories, but probably too many of them were in solid form, so my stomach couldn’t process them fast enough. So now my body didn’t have energy, and my stomach was too full. Oops! Over the rest of the race, I still had a lot of water at aid stations, but I also had some defizzed cola (sounds gross, but when you just need quick sugar in the bloodstream, it’s really good), sports drink, pretzels (mmm, salt!), gu, and a banana. Around mile 10, I began to partially recover from my bonk. My stomach was beginning to process the gunk in it and I was getting some sugars back to the muscles. I was able to run again, but then my stomach cramped up really tight. And that made it harder to run than the bonk. So I walked another mile. Then finally by mile 11 I was feeling better. I was able to run most of the last two miles, except for a little bit when my right foot cramped up pretty bad at the ball of the foot. Fortunately that resolved itself fairly quickly. Overall, my run pace was 11:02 minutes per mile. So actually not that far off of my 9-10 minute mile target. And even if I did better on my nutrition strategy, racing in that heat for that distance is always going to be really tough.

Going down that finisher’s chute was incredible. Hearing them call my name out, seeing the blue Ironman finish line, crossing the line, getting the medal right past the line. And then they also gave us Ironman 70.3 Racine workout hats. I was glad I didn’t buy a hat the day before! This one was better than any that were on sale, and it was “free.” I walked right past the chip-return station, and fortunately a volunteer grabbed me and said “let me take your chip off.” I did remember to tell her that it was my own ankle strap and not the race-provided one, so I got that back. As I continued walking down the post-finish line chute in that post-race daze, a medical volunteer looked at me and asked if I needed any medical help. I asked if she could give mental help. She laughed and said sure, but like Lucy from Peanuts, she’d have to charge five cents.

I walked over to transition to take off my shoes and get my sandals. I drank two bottles of water. I walked around dazed looking for my teammates — both those that did the race with me, and a few of the other Ironman group who cycled up from Chicago to Racine to watch us. After walking around dazed for a bit, I decided I needed food and could find them later. I went to the food tent and got bananas, oranges, potato chips, a veggie sub, a bagel and peanut butter. Carbs, potassium, sodium, protein. Then I went and sat down. I didn’t even notice I had sat down 15 feet from my teammates, but they were behind me. As I was finishing my first round of food, and feeling partially recovered, I saw my teammates. I turned my chair around and joined them. Two of our teammates were still out on the course, so I just sat and relaxed, talking some, but mostly just kinda sitting. I got another peanut butter and two more veggie subs and more water. By the time the other guys from my gym finished I was feeling partially human.

Above: me post-race, after finding my teammates

Eventually we made our way back to get our bikes and gear and on to the cars to head home. My calves cramped up when I took my compression sleeves off. When I finally got home, I decided to go buy three bags of ice and take an ice bath. So glad I did that. My legs felt so much better after that ice bath. Still really sore, but not cramping and no direct pain. I had some friends over for a movie and pizza. Pizza is completely off my diet, but that night I wanted pizza, and post-race I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted! I was back to my diet today.

As I said, overall, I’m very happy with my results. This reassures me that our training plan is working. I was fine on the swim, even though I’m not spending a ton of time in the water. I felt good on most of the race. And I had the power I needed for the race. I’m also really glad I did this race, even though I was the only one from my Ironman group who did it. The whole group is doing the Dairyland Udder Half triathlon in three weeks, which is the same distance, but is not an official Ironman event. By doing Racine, I got to experience an event with the same general race setup as Arizona (even though half the distance). This is especially nice for the same aid station setups as Arizona (in terms of how aid stations work, what products they will have). After how much I hurt from Racine, part of me asks why I’m doing Arizona. But I also loved it, and more than anything am looking forward to Arizona!

125 days till Ironman Arizona.

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From → races, training

2 Comments
  1. Justin permalink

    Congrats on your race, and time! I’m also doing IM AZ this year – it will be my second full IM. It was very hot on Sunday – which makes your time even better! Based on your race report you’re well on track to having a successful day in Tempe! (Nutrition really is the 4th event in long distance triathlon!)

    • Jeff Kosbie permalink

      Thanks! Nutrition is definitely an event unto itself, especially when it gets really hot. I sweat a lot so I particularly need to make sure I’m getting electrolytes back into my body. Did you do Racine as well this past weekend? Good luck in IMAZ this year, only four months to go…

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