After umteen months of training, race day finally arrived.
Umteen equals five, in case you were wondering.
Originally, I was training for IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga, but it was postponed to sometime in August and I’m not one to waste good training. By mid March, it became clear that the only proper thing to do was continue training toward the original date of May 17 and participate in a race of my own. However, after the cancellation announcement from IRONMAN I agreed to family obligations on that date so we moved the race date to May 23 and called it,
The TriRiot 70.5 Triathlon
70.3 was already taken by some other organization, hence the 70.5.
How It Went Down
I’m not going to claim that this race was completely unsupported. There was quite a bit of help from Lori, Hunter and Sami. However, aid stations were scarce (none) and tech support was scarcer. Competition in the form of other athletes was also in short supply. It was just me swimming, biking and strolling through hell… I mean running.
I did have the company of one friend whose name was written on my arm. Charles is not in very good health these days and I wanted to honor him because he loves this sport so much and has not been able to do it for so long. I talked a lot to Charles on the bike ride and perhaps that is why my bike time was pretty good.
Actually, I want to clarify that. I talked a lot to myself as though I was talking to Charles.
The Starting Line
Sami has been a very supportive coach. Her house is about 100 meters from a stair case that, quite literally, leads into Banks Channel. These stairs actually descend into the water during high tide.
Sami’s carport makes a perfect first transition area, and if you were to drive 1.5 miles South of her house, along the channel, you would find the swim start for IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina. This is an ideal location for the TriRiot 70.5 swim course.
Hunter, Lori and I arrived at Sami’s house at exactly 5:30AM: right on schedule. Unfortunately, lightning forced a one hour delay in the race start, so we just stood around in Sami’s carport for a while. Once the storm cleared, a beautiful morning came out and Hunter drove me and Lori the 1.5 miles to swim start.
Wrightsville Beach is a popular town this time of year. Vacationers enjoy violating the social distancing rules so the town passed an ordinance that limits parking as a measure of crowd control (COVID-19 precautions). The closest parking to swim start was too far away to drag the kayak Lori would use to support me in the water. To make matters worse, swim start was located on a private section of dock that belongs to the Hanover Seaside Club. We’re not members.
I was nervous enough about starting the race, but having to quickly pull the car over, unload the kayak, and sneak into somebody else’s dock was quite unnerving. For a moment I was not thinking clearly. I didn’t notice the mossy wet ramp that leads to the water as Lori and I carried the kayak down. Wet moss is slippery and WHAM! I hit the concrete hard and slid down the ramp. That got my mind back on track.
After helping Lori into the kayak, I swam out beyond the docks to check the current. A beautiful morning was unfolding in front of us with a mostly cloudy sky and rays of gold sun reflecting off some of the buildings in the distance. With the current assessed and the view taken in, I started the watch and began the TriRiot 70.5.
A strong current, calm water and minimal boat traffic made this swim one of the best experiences I’ve had in the channel. Sighting was tough, however, because I used goggles that I had never before used in open water. Normally, I use the swede style goggles for good visibility. However, my only swedes were badly scratched so I used a pair of Roka goggles that are great in the pool, but I didn’t see so well with them in the channel. My path ended up looking like a snake in a sewer grate instead of a straight line.
After 41 minutes and 14 seconds, the swim was done. I felt great, because after a two month period of no swimming, I was happy to have just stayed afloat. The arms did get tired and my form fell apart near the end, but I was done and ready to move on to the bike.
Off The Island…
Forty four seconds is what it takes to run about 100 meters and mount a bike. That’s all there is to T1, because I make it a habit to doff the wetsuit in the water.
Although speed is an important factor in a race, endurance races require strategy in execution: they require a plan. Two coaches helped with that plan. I’ve already introduced you to Sami. The other is Cristina, my nutrition coach. Between the two of them, I had a plan that gave me more confidence than Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s IPO. Once on the bike, it was just a matter of following the plan.
The nutrition plan was simple: consume 200 Calories per hour with Tailwind endurance drink. That filled three bottles on the bike: each one fortified with Base Salt. I also had an aero bottle with 20 ounces of plain water. The plan was to consume all four bottles (80 ounces of fluid and 600 Calories) within the expected three hour bike ride. Sometimes, you just can’t fit enough nutrition in your stomach. By the end of the bike ride, only 500 Calories made their way into my gut, because I was on the verge of that sick feeling you get when you drink too much sweet stuff. Feeling sick is bad enough without having to worry about going to the bathroom.
One big success is that there was no stopping to urinate. That’s because I did it while on the bike… twice. Kinda gross, I know, but it saved time and I cleaned the saddle very well afterward. Have you ever tried that? It’s not as easy as you might think.
I have been on so many solo bike rides that I enjoy the experience of just being out on the road. Boredom is rarely a problem and, as I mentioned earlier, I did talk a lot to myself as though Charles were with me. I wish that I could help him through his pain as he deals with his current health crisis. Instead I behaved like a lunatic by talking and arguing with myself.
In one way, I was ready for the bike ride to end. In another way, I was hoping to keep riding. As T2 came into view, the ride faded into a beautiful memory of flying through Wilmington and the Pender County countryside. It was three hours, three minutes and one second between T1 and T2. I’m happy with that.
…And Into The Frying Pan
By the end of the bike ride, the sun was out in full and the temperature was quickly approaching 30C (86F). You know how coaches and trainers will tell you that the bike is the longest segment of a triathlon?
There are exceptions to that rule.
I walked and ran through a humid 30C run course with very little shade. Thankfully, Lori rode her bike along to provide company and support. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. The heat is only a small part of the reason the 13.2 miles took longer than three hours and nine minutes. My best time for a half marathon is around 1:50:00, and based on my training for this race, I predicted 2:10:00. I wasn’t even close.
As soon as I ran away from the bike, I could feel that this was going to be a long half marathon. Right up to that point I felt great. My legs felt great.
Pacing for the first several miles was planned to be an easy 9:45 to 10:00 per mile. Instead it was a difficult 12:00 per mile.
Doubt is a familiar feeling. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and the not so tough start doubting (themselves). That familiar feeling of doubt began to sink in at mile three which is far earlier than I expected. Feet and hamstrings were the first to feel pain, followed by the low back. Walking was quickly becoming an option. The brain must have been having a conversation with the body without me, because I made a conscious effort to pick up the pace, but that did not happen. As I approached Bear Garden Road (mile 3.5), I knew I should stop and assess my physical situation.
The road is called Bear Garden for a good reason and I’ve seen more than bear near this road. One time, on my way to work, I saw a huge alligator crossing the road near this spot. Did I mention that I live near a state owned game land? On this run, however, the only live wildlife we saw was a snake and a wild turkey.
Anyway, I stopped at Bear Garden Road and stretched a few muscles. Thankfully, I was able to start running again. The bad news is that I just couldn’t run by the time I hit mile four. The remainder of the race was a mix of running and walking.
Actually, I don’t know why I quit running. The pain was bad, but not so terrible. That conversation between the brain and body has to be moderated somehow. Training is supposed to help with this, but I may need stronger medicine like psychological intervention, electroshock therapy or my drill instructor from Army boot camp yelling at me the whole way. I do very well during training sessions and then when it comes time to race, the body and/or the mind forgets how to run. This is very difficult to describe.
Can I blame it on nutrition? Probably not. Compared to training rides, I consumed more nutrition and felt good with respect to gastric upset. Also, the run problems began immediately after the bike. Nutrition problems usually manifest themselves later.
Can I blame the heat? Maybe, but not completely, because I can work outside in the middle of summer all day long. Also, I’ve trained by running several times in the middle of the day with long sleeves. I like the heat. I do well in the heat.
Can I blame my workouts? No. The physical workouts improved my running over the course of the training season. I should be able to run a half marathon in two hours or less.
So what can I blame? I believe I have a mental weakness that needs to be addressed. My mental toughness is probably not where it needs to be. Whatever the reason for my poor run performance, Sami and I will get it worked out for the next A race of the season.
If you take away the crowds, the sponsors, the music, the announcers and the fanfare from a regular race, what’s left is yourself. You can not hide from your weaknesses and there are no age numbers to read on the back of every leg that passes you. The only thing that matters is what you can do with your training, your execution plan and the conditions of that day. No medals. No swag. Is that what you signed up for?
Years ago, when I raced a lot with Mike and Marty, the starting line was always a place to reflect back on the hard work that got me to that point. It was a combination of jumbled nerves, excitement and inner quiet waiting to explode at the sound of the starting gun. As Lori, Hunter, Sami and I talked in the carport before the race, I felt the same excitement. Knowing that I would be alone for most of the day did not make the race feel any less of a race.
Organized races with a large field of athletes are fun and worth the expense to me, but this race took endurance sport to a whole new level. I realize that I truly love the sport for the sake of the sport. I love the people and the rockstar fanfare, but without those, I still value the personal challenges that remain. One thing is for certain: I still have a long way to go to qualify for Kona and I’m looking forward to the journey.
Next scheduled race: IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga on August 23, 2020.
Stay to the right, pass on the left and keep on smiling