For the first time ever, I kicked off my season with a half iron. It took place in White Lake, North Carolina and had a reputation for being flat and fast. Pat had convinced me to join him for this race as he was preparing for Ironman Coeur d'Alene at the end of June. Seeing how I wanted to test myself at multiple half irons this year i figured if I was willing do to 4, I may as well do 5. It would also give me 2 opportunities to prep for Providence 70.3, my focus race for the first half of the season.
We ended up flying instead of driving because Pat was able to find a pair of cheap flights on Jet Blue. We arrived in NC on the Thursday prior, picked up our rental car and headed to White Lake. For those of you that have never been to White Lake, it can be summed up by saying time forgot all about it. Things tend to be a little outdated, however its still a nice town with nice people. After we checked in at Melwood Court we got our bikes built and headed out for a quick spin and run. Everything appeared to be in place and ready for race day.
Friday was spent in the hotel eating, napping, drinking, and repeating. We went to the race expo briefly, took a look at the elite wave list, researched the competition and finalized race plans. During our research we realized that this race was no joke. Not only did it have its past winners in the line up, but it included 2 of the top 4 male 35-39 year olds, and the 5th ranked 25-29 year old male. After we had had enough of our research we went to a local place for an early dinner and were in bed by 8:00.
Race morning arrived with dry skies and bit of fog over the lake. This caused a 45 minute delay due to poor visibility. Pat and I were concerned that we may not make our flight if things continued. We eventually went off at 7:40 with a visible swim course and no rain.
My plan for the swim was the same as any other race, get out in front. Just as in Florida, I won the race to the first buoy, however was passed by the eventual race winner (wire to wire win) by the 300 meter mark. At 600 meters I had a humbling experience as the top female swimmer came past me. I stayed on her heels until about the 1k mark at which point she dropped me. I remained in no mans land (this would become the theme of the day) until the end of the swim (which felt long). I completed the swim in 28:09 and was in third place. Made quick work of transition and was out on the bike.
Bike: My plan for the bike was to push my limits. Last year I raced both half irons with a target heart rate for the bike at 163. The plan on this day was to push closer to 170 (5 beats below my target HR for the run portion last year). As I hopped on my bike and rolled away from transition I saw Pat enter T1. If you remember, I previously stated that if I wanted a shot at beating Pat I needed to have at least a 5 minute lead off the bike. Having a 1 minute lead heading into the bike is not very promising if I hope to get off the bike before him. I tried settling into a rhythm however my HR wouldn't drop. I was riding in the low 170s and people were still coming by me. Pat passed me around mile 5 or 6 and told me he was having issues getting his HR to drop as well. I managed to keep Pat in my sights until about mile 25, at which time he disappeared ahead of me. With the exception of the out and back around mile 40, I figured I woulnd't see Pat until the turn around on the run. The bike continued to be a challenge until about mile 35-40 when the wind finally changed from a head wind to a tail wind. I had a tough time staying in the aero bars for the full 56 miles due to low back discomfort. Eventually T2 was in sight and I was ready for the run...or so I thought. By the end of the bike I was in 9th place overall. My bike split was 2:27 with an average HR of 173.
I ripped through T2 and headed out for the run course with a plan. Rather than racing at an avg HR of 175 like last year, I was going to see if I could hold pace at 180bpm. I feel as though I know my body well and I would pay close attention to any hints it would give me. I was able to hold sub 7:00 minute miles for the first miles, however by that time the pace had already slowed from 6:08 at the first mile to 7:08 at mile 6. In that time I had passed 2 people and moved into 7th place on the road. The pace kept creeping up mile by mile. The toughest part was the heat and humidity and lack of nutrition provided. On the bike they had only water, and on the run they had heed, water, hammer gels, and oranges. I have relied so heavily on powerbar nutrition (because it works so well for me) that I didn't want to chance stomach issues as long as I was still running. Around mile 7-8 my pace would occasionally dip below 7:00/mile which was very encouraging. I kept telling myself to keep moving forward, try not to walk. Even though my pace was slowing I still hadn't been passed by anyone! I guess everyone else was struggling with these conditions as well. My goal prior to the race start was to break 4:30 for the day. With 5K to go, my time was about 4:10ish. I would have to run a sub 20 min 5K to hit my goal. Even though I have done this before I wasn't sure it was in the cards on this particular day. I had 2 choices; 1)go for it, risk blowing up, but at least have a chance at breaking 4:30, 2)maintain current pace, try not to blow up, and finish with a respectable time. I went with the latter. Shortly after the 5K I saw someone else up ahead, it was Pat. I yelled ahead to him that I was coming and as I ran up along side him he explained he too was having a rough day. The heat, humidity, and lack of nutrition had left him with a serious stitch in his side. We both realized that this day had kicked us both pretty hard and we would try and finish the last 3 miles together. Anyone that knows me knows I like an exciting sprint finish. Not today. With less than a mile to go I started cramping up pretty bad, including some numbness in my right leg. There would be no sprint today. Instead, I'd finish alongside Pat ending a brutally hot and humid day with my head high and a new respect for early season half irons. Run time was 1:35 with an average heart rate of 183.
Final result was 4:34.04 and 8th OA. Overall I am happy with the end result. I went 4:34 last year at Prov 70.3 and felt much better. If I can suffer this much for a 4:34 in May I have much more confidence for Providence in July. Who knows, maybe even a new PR by then.
The rest of the day was just as exciting as the race, if not more so. Pat and I had to race back to the hotel, break down and pack our bikes, drive 2 hours to drop off the rental car, get the shuttle to the airport, get through security, and board the plane in 2:45 minutes. We broke down the bikes and got on the road by 1:50 (we were aiming for 1:15 latest). We made the 2 hour drive in 1:40 including a stop for gas and a wrong turn that added unneccessary mileage to our drive. Dropped the car off 20 minutes before they closed (by drop off I mean Pat essentially threw the keys in the direction of the representative as we jumped on the shuttle. We then hauled ass through the airport, checked our bikes (which we were told may not make it because we were so late), then rushed through security and sprinted to our gate. We got to our gate at 3:56 for our 4:15 departure only to find out ther was a 23 minute delay.
We returned to Boston safely and fairly quickly, however had enough time to enjoy a beer on the flight. Bikes arrived in one piece and just like that the trip was over. Now its on to some last bit of recovery before embarking on a 200 mile running relay with 11 friends this coming weekend. It will take us from New Haven, CT to Boston, MA. Hope the legs are ready for 19.4 miles less than a week after a crushing race. Guess there is only one way to find out!
See ya at Rev3 Quassy!