Jul. 9, 2007

Half Man, Half Iron

Trouble ahead...Yesterday I raced in the Peterborough Half Ironman and lived to tell the tale. What an experience! I went into it with a chest cold that was just starting to clear up. I almost DNF'd on the bike (Did Not Finish). Yet I still managed to complete my first Half Ironman in 5:30:48. I think knowing that I had friends from my triathlon club "out there" either racing or cheering helped me pull my race back together when it felt like it was all over.

For the swim, 2 laps totaling 2 km, we were expected to pick a swim cap colour based on expected swim times. Using my recent Muskoka Long Course triathlon swim I decided to place myself with the white caps just behind the elite racers in their green swim caps. I was still coughing pretty heavily at this point, but determined to give it my best effort. At least I'd had a good night's sleep for once! It race was my first mass start and was an interesting experience. Lots of thrashing and some contact, but not too bad in the end. It was mainly a matter of trying not to swim over the legs of the people ahead of me. The water quality was good from my perspective, but the weeds were a bit thick early in the out-bound leg. First lap I was up amongst the green caps and I got a good draft behind another swimmer. Second lap my coughing got worse and I seemed to keep veering off to the right, which led to a longer swim and no chance of drafting. Coming up to the shore I found myself in pretty heavy traffic again as everyone tightened up to the racing line and I lost some time as a result. I was 6th out of 67 in my age group and 40th overall. My time was 32:05 (1:37 per 100m).

My first transition, out of the wet suit and onto the bike, was 2:13. Typical for me. I seem to take my time there as I usually find myself a bit unsteady on my feet from a high heart rate and switching to an upright posture.

Peterborough Half Ironman Bike CourseThe bike... the bike... 90 km of rolling hills. Part of the problem with being such a fast swimmer is that you start the bike before all the other stronger cyclists. According to the race results I was passed by 340 people! Yes, three hundred and forty. Disheartening. A good number of those passed me when I was walking though. Yes, walking. At about 60 km I started feeling a moderate pain in both of my buttocks. By 70 km the pain was intense and was having a serious affect on my pedaling. At 75 km I decided I had to stop and see if I could stretch my legs out. I just couldn't maintain a racing pace. Well stretching didn't help. I ended up deciding to start walking to see if that made a difference. After ten minutes or so I tried to ride but still had stabbing pains in my buttocks. After a few more minutes I decided to to try riding again, not to race, just to move. I guess I had recovered a bit because I was able to pedal but only out of the saddle. After 5 km of repeatedly pumping the pedals and then coasting I found I was able to race again and slowly picked up my pace. I was 49th out of 67 in my age group, 380th overall. My time was 3:04:52 (29.2 kph).

The bike time was actually close to my pre-race estimate, although I had expected a pace of 32-33 kph. Too bad about those 15 lost minutes. In the earlier stages of the bike leg when my placing had settled down I spent a lot of time swapping places with a couple of other riders. They'd pass me uphill, I'd pass them downhill. I passed one girl so often that I took the time to scrutinize her race number and managed to read the 10 point type so I could call out to her by name. Hi Amy from London!

The second transition, from bike to running shoes, was 1:46. A bit slower than my usual second transition, but the bike leg had been so traumatic I needed to regroup mentally. I didn't even know if I'd be able to run given the leg issues I'd had on the bike. It was nice to see some friends cheering me on after I dismounted my bike, that helped me get my head back in the game.

The 21.1 km run was way better. My stride was unaffected by the leg problems I'd had on the bike. I settled into a steady pace and focussed on getting through the first lap of 10 km. I saw my son Chris a few times on the run, he cheered me on and took a few snapshots. The run was hot but not unbearable. When the route, which followed the Trent Canal for a while, turned off the canal path there were four short but steep hills ( the geologist in me points out that they were probably "eskers") to be negotiated. Because it was a two loop out-and-back course this meant that there were 16 hills to be conquered. For the first lap I conserved strength and walked most of the hills. On the second lap I knew what I had left and on the return leg I put my hill running lesson from Lisa Bentley to good use and smoked them. Once again I had been yo-yoing with another runner for a while. She passed me uphill, I passed her downhill. I hope she wasn't disheartened when I started sprinting the hills at the end! The run course was challenging, but the part I found hardest was the two "near-misses" at the end of each loop. As you neared the finish line area the run course looped off around a big group of soccer fields and then brushed past the finish line before going off on another 1 km loop through an ecology park. The finish line was so close, yet so far, the whole time. One of my teammates was cheering on that last little pre-finish loop though, which gave me a nice burst of speed each time I passed. I was 15th out of 67 in my age group, 124th overall. My time was 1:49:53 (5:13 per km). Much better!

Peterborough Half Ironman FinishSo my final time was 5:30:48. I was 26th out of 67 for my age group, and 181th out of 580 overall. I guess I'd have to say that "all's well that ends well." I'll do a few more smaller races later this summer, but now its time to start planning for next year. Ironman Lake Placid in 2008? Better think that one through carefully! I have to say that I went into this race under-trained. I have plenty of work to do on my bike; I need to get stronger on the hills and just develop more endurance.

I had a short chat with Fiona from NRG Performance Training after the race and mentioned my leg problems on the bike. She suggested that I hadn't been taking in enough salt, possibly causing leg cramps, and/or that I might need to get my bike adjusted to fit me better. Food for thought. I never want to be in that situation again!

There was a bad bike accident on the course; I rode past two cyclists on stretchers on the return leg and after the race saw one of them at the finish line still in a hospital gown and cycling shoes. I encouraged him to limp across the finish line. Someone had dropped their salt tablets at the bottom of a steep hill and had stopped and turned around to pick them up again. She should have parked her bike and walked back, there's a reason for some rules, but didn't. The fellow I saw at the finish had hit her at high speed... He was scraped up and had a separated shoulder. I think she fared better although her helmet had shattered. Yike.

Listening to: Into Action by Tim Armstrong from A Poet's Life.

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