Sunday, August 03, 2008

2008 Whirlpool Steelhead Half Ironman

On Saturday I completed my longest endurance race yet, the Steelhead Half Ironman. The official distances of a half ironman are 1.2 mile swim + 56 mile bike + 13.1 mile run, which is why it is also called the Ironman 70.3.

Shortly before the race started I was walking to the beach with Jason and Rob and we commented on how rough the water was. There was a strong northeast wind and waves were probably 2-4 feet. We figured the swim would be a little harder but possibly faster because of the strong current pushing us. As we were talking and gearing ourselves up, we were notified that the swim had been cancelled! We were all bummed.

When the swim is cancelled the race is changed to a duathalon. A duathalon is a run, bike, run. So the swim was changed to a 2.1 mile run, and then we completed the normal 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. Now we were going to attempt an Ironman 71.1, but running 2.1 miles is much different than swimming 1.2. Oh well, what can you do about mother nature?!

With the last minute course change, my heat didn't start until about 9:00 am. Rob and I ran the first 2.1 miles in a fast 17:05. I had a quick transition and then jumped on the bike. The transition area is crazy. There are approximately 2,000 bikes in a small organized space and everyone is switching gear as quickly as possible. This is how each bike is racked, with the seat resting on a metal bar.
The bar stretches a few hundred feet and bikes are crammed together.
And there are a whole slew of rows just like this. What a scene.

My bike ride was great. The first half of the ride was into a decent wind and more uphill than downhill. The course was very good with nicely paved roads and rolling hills. I was able to stay comfortably in the aero position for a good 40 miles. As a reward for the tougher first 30 miles, we had the wind at our back for the ending and a nice downhill stretch. That really helped me rest my legs in preparation for the run.

At mile 40 of the bike I suddenly had sharp pains in my toes and rear end. I could hardly stand it and wasn't looking forward to the next hour of biking with that pain. But, as quickly as the pain came, 2 minutes later it left and I was back to "normal" (as normal as you can feel after biking for 2 hours).

My bike goal was 3 hours and 15 minutes, a 17 mph average. I crushed my goal with a 2:56:44 and a 19.01 mph average!

My legs felt like rocks as soon as I got off the bike, but by the time I was out of the transition area they were loose and felt fine to run on.

The run started out well and I had a great pace for the first 5 miles. I was probably averaging 8:00 to 8:30 miles. At mile 5 I felt the fatigue starting to set in and slowed. By mile 8 I was in trouble. My energy was draining fast and the mid day heat was getting to me. I didn't want to disappoint my cheering section at mile 10 so I forced myself not to walk and I steadily continued on.
After seeing my fans at mile 10 Erin rode on a bike next to me to make sure I made it to the end. I generously walked through the mile 10 and 11 aid stations and was in rough shape. Erin tried to encourage me but at that point, the motivation must come from within. It was all willpower the final 2 miles and I didn't stop at the mile 12 aid station because I didn't think I would start again. There was a big downhill at mile 12 and I had talked myself into walking when I got to the bottom, but by that time I could almost sense the finish line so I kept moving my legs.
As I approached the end my adrenaline picked up and I was able to semi-sprint the final quarter mile. The finish line was at the beach and we had to run through a couple hundred yards of loose beach sand, which was miserable but it added to the jubilation of finishing. I didn't quite hit my running goal of sub 2:00:00 but finished with a respectable 2:05:46 for a total race time of 5:21:53!!
My other thoughts on the experience:
Fans: I literally had the loudest cheering section out of all 2,000+ athletes. Erin, Evie, Tom, Lisa, Laura, Stacy, Nate, and Sarah all came specifically to watch me. They positioned themselves along the run course so that they could see me 4 different times and every time they yelled encouragement as loud as they could. Several of the other athletes made comments like "who is this Randy guy?" One guy got sick of it so he told them that his name was Rob so that they could cheer for him...and they did.
Run Course: The run course was pretty crummy. It was 2 loops around the Whirlpool campus which was frustrating because the whole 1st lap I was dreading the 2nd lap. Also, several sections of the course we ran along the shoulder of a road with car traffic.
Companions: It was great to have a couple friends competing as well. We had to arrive at the transition area by 6:00am but our race didn't start until close to 9:00, so it was nice to have people to hang out with to pass the time. Rob and Jason both did very well. Rob finished in 5:08:13 and Jason in 5:32:41.
Eating: For such a long event, you need to figure out how to get food into your body. Your body's accessible energy stores run out during a race this long, so you need to replace some of them. The best time to do it is the bike. I figured I'd eat as much as possible during the bike, but I didn't realize how hard that would be. I had a peanut butter sandwich at the start of the bike and was able to choke down 2 power bars, some gummy-bear type energy snacks, and a gu pack. I had more food packed but by the end of the bike the thought of eating sounded so bad it made me want to throw up, so I couldn't eat any more. During the run, eating sounded even worse so I only had 1 gu pack. I'm sure more calories would have helped, but I just couldn't stomach the idea at that point. I hadn't expected that to be a problem.
Overall Time: I'm confident I could have beaten my stated goal of 6 hours and am disappointed I didn't get the chance. I figure my swim would have taken about 40 minutes (23 more minutes than the first run ended up taking) and my first transition would have been about 2 minutes longer. Factoring in another 5-10 minutes for added fatigue at the end I would have finished in 5:50 +/- 5 minutes. I guess this just means I'll have to do another :)
Comparison to a marathon: I felt this race was harder to train for than a marathon, but easier to complete. With 3 long and unique events, you have to put a lot of training time in for each. With marathons you can run 2 or 3 times a week and be ready in 3 months. With a half ironman I had to train for each discipline 2-3 times a week, meaning I regularly did two of the events in a day. I did 7-10 hours of training a week compared to 4-6 hours of running per week for a marathon. The actual race, however, spreads out your muscle usage. At the end of the run I wasn't dying because my legs had nothing left. I was dying because my body was out of energy altogether. My running muscles didn't shut down like they do at the end of a marathon.


Blogger Jason and Melissa said...

I also found your cheering section to provide a lot of energy and support. But to be honest, I wasn't all that bummed that the swim was cancelled. It would have been difficult to swim against the whitecaps to get 100 yards out from shore.

7:23 PM  
Blogger Slicy said...

Wow, that's friggin' incredible, man.

I'm all for the Team P90x. However, I already purchased it and it is in my house now. I have not opened the box and started yet, I think I have to try to get in a little better shape first, I'm not sure if I can handle it. It looks a bit intense. Currently I have sore leg and peck muscles... 1 from playing kickball (you know that 12 minutes of play time a WEEK ago!) and my arms hurt from... er... well... from ping pong. Thus I think 1 round of P90 may end my life, I'm not sure. Though I think a partner to help cheer eachother on and keep motivated would be awesome.

Lemme know whatcha think

8:46 PM  
Blogger dbrok said...

Randy, nice job completing the duathalon!

Good news, your blog is finally working properly again on GRNow

2:57 PM  

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