Monday, September 8, 2014

Did I Shave My Legs for This?

No, that title is not referencing the 1996 debut album of Deanna Carter featuring the hit song Strawberry Wine.

I'm referring to the daunting task of attempting and completing a half-iron distance triathlon.

For those of you that don't know (and didn't care to click the link), this event consists of 70.3 miles of continuous endurance feats completed one after another with a couple of brief breaks just to remove a swim cap or put on some running shoes.  The first 1.2 miles is an open water swim, the next 56 miles are traversed riding a bicycle, and the last 13.1 miles can be run, walked, or crawled depending on how the participant feels at this point in the day.

For some reason still quite unclear to me, I decided earlier this year that it would be a worthwhile endeavor for me to train and compete in such an event.

I had participated in a few nearby sprint triathlons the previous year and found these to be exciting, but my hobbit-sized legs didn't really allow me to be very competitive in short races against other men who are built more like gazelles.  This may be the biggest reason I chose to attempt a 70.3 race.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges posed by a race with three sports, I believed a more significant challenge personally could be found in pushing myself to go long.  Thus, the 70.3.

The race I chose was the Goosepond Island Half Distance Triathlon.  I debated between this one and Toughman Alabama which was scheduled some time in August.  I figured I needed every week I could get to prepare so Goosepond won out.

The race took place this past Sunday in Scottsboro, AL near the Goosepond Colony Resort grounds by Lake Guntersville.  My supportive, encouraging bride and I rode up on Friday afternoon and dropped our daughter off in Tallassee where my dear mother-in-law took care of her for us.  (Which reminds me... my mother-in-law is better than your mother-in-law.)  We got to our hotel late Friday night and hit the sack quickly because we had plans to go check out the course and do a short swim in the lake early the next morning.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten that the Frantic Frog Triathlon (a sprint distance race) was taking place that day and we became "those people" as we tried to drive our cars through the middle of the bike leg.  We eventually managed to maneuver our way to a parking place and spectated for a while before doing our own practice swim.  Betty Clair was a bit nervous about this but was anxious to get some open water experience before she participates in her first triathlon this coming Saturday.

After our practice swim, we left to eat lunch and quickly came back for packet pickup and registration at 1:00.  After registering, we thought it would be prudent to drive the bike and run courses to see what I would be up against the following morning.  As it had appeared in the maps online, the bike course turned out to be significantly flatter than the rides I regularly do down here on the coast.  However, the run course presented more elevation changes than my legs have been covering recently.  This factor was a bit worrying because I knew that I would still be running when the temperature at its peak.  There was no turning back now, though

The next morning came quickly and I ate my routine blueberry bagel with almond butter but didn't have the stomach calmness to follow it with the banana I had also brought.  I have learned that is apparently just part of my pre-race jitters.  Betty Clair was insistent that I eat as much as I could beforehand, but my stomach was not quite agreeable with her recommendations and I wasn't even able to finish the entire bagel.

I set up my transition area with plenty of room to spare.  Apparently, the turnout for this race was down from previous years, so the transition area was about three times the size it really needed to be. Plus, all the "serious" triathletes had their bikes and gear crowded up right next to the bike exit, so the rest of us took advantage of the free space and basically had an entire rack for each person.  This was a nice luxury that I have not had at other events.

When it came time to line up at the lake for the start, I mentally began to go through my race plan one last time, which basically was "Take it easy and finish."  I had no misconceptions about winning anything.  My goal for this triathlon was to just simply cross the finish line.

For the swim portion, I planned to hang back a bit in the beginning and swim on the outside edge of the course to avoid taking an elbow to the jaw in the melee of the mass start.  I am no Michael Phelps, so I was quite comfortable in sacrificing a few seconds to keep my goggles from being knocked off my head in the chaos after the horn blows.  Unfortunately, my swim plan was briefly put on the back burner despite following my plan as prescribed.  I gave it about 10 seconds after the horn blew to let the speedsters get a head start on me, but as I began my own swim, my nerves took a sudden jolt from the insanity of what I had just started.  For about 300 yards, all that ran through my mind was "What kind of idiot does this?" and "There is no way you can swim 1.2 miles with all these flailing arms and legs around you, just turn around now!"  Thankfully, I didn't listen to these thoughts and plowed onward with the swim.  I even cruised through the remainder of it smoother and quicker than I had anticipated.  According to my Garmin watch, I swam 1.41 miles in 51:21.  I knew I would add length to my swim by following the outside track, but this was still about 5 minutes faster than I had swam 1.2 miles in my only other open water experience of that distance.  Therefore, I was quite pleased with it.

As I exited the water and ran to my first transition (T1), I caught a glimpse of Betty Clair and saw the surprise in her face when she saw me emerge that soon.  It was kind of rewarding to see that look on her face.  T1 took about four minutes, which probably is longer than necessary, but I wanted to make sure that I had all my gear properly prepared before heading out for a 3+ hour bike ride.  I checked my water bottles, GU gels, socks, helmet, and glasses and then took off.

The bike portion was basically 28 miles out to the middle of nowhere passing corn fields and dove hunters amongst the beautiful hilly countryside of north Alabama and then following the same 28 miles back to transition.  As I mentioned earlier, the route was surprisingly flat for this part of the state, but my plan was to try and keep my average speed near where I have kept it on 56 mile rides here on the coast.  I finished the 56.92 miles in 3:23:25, which was actually a tad quicker than I usually ride (I'm not fast), but I believe I could have pushed it a little harder and shaved off a few minutes on the bike.  However, I was also largely pleased with this result and not being too aggressive ultimately helped with the run.

I came into the last transition (T2) still feeling strong and racked my bike, changed my shoes with some fresh socks, put on my visor and took off.  I made that sound quick, but T2 also took about four minutes as I ate half a banana and swigged some more Gatorade before exiting.  I knew that fueling adequately was far more important than trying to save thirty seconds or so by getting out quicker.

The run was possibly (and surprisingly) the most enjoyable leg of the race.  I ran a negative split for the 13.28 mile run by about 8 minutes.  There were plenty of aid stations that made it much easier than running long distances at home and gave me the opportunity to run better than I expected.  The biggest factor that made the run enjoyable was the constant encouragement and communication with the other racers.  People at races are typically nicer than the general public anyway, but there seemed to be a great amount of support being shared between racers all over the run course.  It definitely helped to keep me positive while the sun was beating down on my already crispy shoulders.  My run time according to my watch for the 13.28 miles actually ran was 2:19:40.  This was yet another result I was thoroughly pleased with especially considering I had to stop twice for restroom breaks.  Was that last piece of information too much?

My official time was 6:42:18 and can be found here if you want to see my official splits along with those of all the other racers.  I had guessed that it would take me around 7 hours to finish (again, I'm NOT fast), so beating that time was satisfying to me.

Overall, the experience was fantastic.  I have spent numerous hours the past six months or so training to finish this race and I had constant support and encouragement from my darling wife.  Without her, I couldn't have even finished a 5k.  I was also grateful to have her there as my photographer.

Do I have plans to do a full Iron-distance race now?  Check back in 10 years or so.  Training takes a LOT of time and I have had to make some sacrifices that I am tired of making.  I do plan on trying to maintain the 15-pound weight loss, though.  That chunky gut that was developing isn't nearly as attractive, although losing weight did force me to have to buy new pants for work.  I guess that's a good problem to have.

I also need to give a big shout out to my sponsors.

  • Fuji Bikes - For allowing me to acquire one of their fine products via Craigslist
  • Brooks Running - For letting me buy two NEW pairs of their shoes from local retailers
  • Singing River Healthplex - For letting me be a paying member for over a year now
Wait, I don't think my sponsors are very good to me.

And getting back to the title of this blog post... Yes, I did shave my legs for this.  Thanks for the advice, William.

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