One of the things that Coach Katie keeps telling me is that a half ironman, done properly, hurts. Not in the sense of injury, but it should be uncomfortable. REALLY uncomfortable. Although I have been entering races for a long time now, I’ve never really been able to piece together “really uncomfortable” and “great performance.” The “really uncomfortable” part seems to be a prelude to “coasting on the bike” or “a lot of walking in the last miles of a marathon” and I have typically associated “great performance” with “being able to high five my friends and share a smile” as we cross paths on the run out and back. Earlier this year I was successfully able to combine the two at the Summer Open, a sprint tri in Longmont. Now was my chance to try to piece the two together in Coeur d’Alene for the Ironman 70.3.
One great thing about this course is that I am doing the full Ironman in August in CDA, so I was really excited – and nervous – to be taking on this course, which has a reputation for being really hilly, difficult, and last year was baked under 105 degree temperatures for the race. With that in mind, I set out with the following goals (among many) – some on paper, some in my head: (1) learn the course, (2) stick to my race plan as best I could, and (3) run – RUN – the whole half marathon, other than walking aid stations when eating/drinking. Learning the course was easy – just get out there, pay attention, and do it. Check. Stick to my race plan was under the theory that if I follow the plan, I will get the results I deserve. And, if I deviate, I will also get the result I deserve…but may not want. I am happy to say that I mostly was able to stick to my race plan. Sure, I deviated a little – maintaining over 190 watts going steep downhill at 40 MPH is not that easy (lets just say it didn’t happen). I also didn’t plan on stopping at an aid station on my bike (A) to use the bathroom, then (B) dropping my bike gloves in the toilet of the port-a-potty (no, I didn’t fish them out), and then (C) breaking the visor off my aero helmet. But I ate as much as I could tolerate, and drank what I planned and in the end, I am content with my performance on the bike. So, I’ll throw a check in here as well.
The run is where I really needed to put rubber to road on all of this – because you can fudge your way through the bike if you are reasonably fit and trained, but the run is where your flaws in planning and execution really get exposed. My mental goal was, in retrospect, modest – I would run the entire 13.1 (other than aid stations). Modest, but in the many 70.3 races I’ve done, I have probably only “run” the entire 13.1 once. It would at the same time allow me to push a likely-mental barrier, and also validate that I did a reasonable job of sticking to my plan. So modest sounding plan, but I think for important objectives.
The run started off calmly. I felt ok coming out of T-2, and as I settled in, started to feel better. A cheer from Ashley (my wife) and a couple of advisory-yells from Katie and I was off. I stuck to my plan through the first loop, and as I approached the second lap, I found myself in a pack of about 8 or 9 runners. Your options at this point are go left for the finish, and right for lap 2. In a short fit of negativity, I just assumed that the pack would all be going left and finishing, and I’d be the lone guy going right for another lap (based on some poorly reasoned assumption that they were fitter/faster than me). They all went to the right with me, for a second lap. It was then that I knew that I was in the mix of the race, and not at the back like I just assumed when I came into T-2 and saw a billion bikes already racked. Feeling good, I headed out and felt strong going out to the turn around at lap 2, and started picking off people. A few here and there at first, and then at the turn around I saw our coach on a bike near the course, encouraging me at random spots (that she would speed ahead to) to keep running strong and giving advice like “coke is magic!” and “keep picking people off!” On the last leg back (3.5 miles), I felt like I was passing dozens and dozens of people at a time. I didn’t deviate from my plan. Finally, made it back to the park between 12 and 13 miles, and was feeling tired, but got my last boost of energy. Went into the left lane to finish, into town, and down the finishers chute. So check!
This wasn’t my fastest 70.3, but it was my fastest half marathon within a 70.3 by 6 minutes. I wouldn’t say the run “hurt” – but it was probably more uncomfortable than I’ve ever been in any long run. The payoff? Katie dug through the results, and it turns out that I passed 23 people in my age group, 150 men, and 258 people overall on the run. As I turn my full focus to Ironman Coeur d’Alene (full) in August, I can say I am finally learning what it means to simultaneously go hard and race smart.