On Sunday I raced my 13th half iron distance triathlon. When I signed up for this one back in November I didn’t have a goal in mind. As my training and racing season begun, I was struck by confidence and decided to race in the elite wave to see what I could do.
Race training lead up
I only had four to five weeks of focused training for this race with my spring marathon on May 11, where I had a 9 minute PR. I recovered insanely fast from that and was able to resume training days after it. First, I prioritized outdoor bike training after a winter of trainer rides. I road hilly routes and on yucky, windy days. As I added more running back into my routine it was all on trails since the High Cliff Triathlon run course is on trails. I incorporated speed work with tempo runs, half mile repeats and hill repeats on trails, which is much harder than road speed work. All of my long runs were on trails too. I had to trust that my slower trail paces were still benefiting my training.
It was a chilly 50 degrees, overcast and noticeably windy when John and I arrived at the park at 5:00am. Sorry-not-sorry, chilly weather in June makes me grumpy. I set up my transition area, ate breakfast of granola and almond milk in my car, warmed up, and then chatted with friends to distract me from the conditions.
This course is challenging in that it starts out very shallow, gets knee-deep, but then very shallow again. It’s tough to get swimming, and most people run the first 200 yards or so. When I finally settled into a swim it took a few minutes for my heart rate to relax from the chaotic start but swam fairly comfortably. In hindsight, I didn’t swim hard enough. On the stretch back to shore the water suddenly got choppier and I couldn’t see the bright orange buoys. Poor sighting caused me to veer off course a couple of times. And then the shallow, knee-deep, shallow depth tricked me as I was nearing the end of my swim. I got up and took my swim cap and goggles off too soon, I could have swum more into shore. Lessons learned here!
Since it was so chilly in the morning I opted to swim in my sports bra & tri shorts, leaving my aero top in transition. I had to wiggle into my aero top in transition.
Bike: 2:55, 19.1mph
It. Was. Windy. The wind was tolerable for the first 15-20 miles, coming at a slight one o’clock headwind, and then the course turned straight into it, up a hill. For what felt like forever I was riding 10 mph into the headwind, drowning in a mental funk. Wind sucks every ounce of joy out of me, it is my biggest weakness on the bike! Thankfully the course went back towards High Cliff State Park with a tailwind.
Fuel: 1 Gu, 2 packs of Skratch Labs chews, 1 Kings Hawaiian bun with peanut butter, 1 bottle of water, 1 bottle of Tailwind.
I regret taking the time to change into dry socks in hindsight.
Run: 12 miles in 1:50:56, 9:01 pace
Everything I did in training to prepare for this run showed up. The Timber Lane (of Ironman WI bike course) hill repeats I did last week, the countless trail miles, the open-field hot, sunny day grass running, and the more than 2-mile brick runs on trails were fresh in my head and muscle memory. I was able to run smoothly up the bluff with a minimal 10 steps of walking towards the top and resume running as soon as I saw the photographer up there. As I entered the trail system I thought, “This is my playground”.
The first split, including the bluff and bit of walking was 9:44. The second split was 8:36 resulting in an out loud “FCK YEAH!” fist pump in the woods. The course had every type of surface that I trained on. While on the open-field grassy portion I told myself to imagine that the guy 50 yards ahead of me was John during our run the weekend prior. Immediately after that thought John actually passed me, as he was the runner of a relay team. He was too fast to follow, but the timing was awesome.
My run felt so unbelievably strong, with moments of weakness sprinkled in. In those weak moments I reminded myself “this is my playground”. My splits ranged from 9:00-9:20s, and a fun 8:12 for the last one going back down the bluff. Near the finish chute there was a lady ringing a cowbell. She stopped ringing it when I passed her, but then a few seconds she started ringing it again which caused me to go into panic mode and sprint down the chute in fear of someone passing me at the end. There was no one behind me, she was just an erratic cowbell ringer!
Fuel: 1 Gu, water at every aid station, Gatorade at every other aid station.
When I finished I was bummed that I fell so far behind the elite wave that I started in. I was still sour about the wind too, ha! I’m really hard on myself. John noticed one of our friends who also started in the elite wave had an age group plaque and went to investigate. He noticed my name on the results sheet read 2nd in age group, which pulled me from my mini funk. Before accepting the plaque I double checked about eligibility in age group placing and the race director assured me I earned it.
So 6th overall female, 2nd in 35-39 age group! Though my bike mph and run average are PRs for the half iron distance, I’m not calling this a PR since the run is only 12 miles. It is worth noting that if it was a true 13.1 miles still I would have PR’ed the distance!
What I do know for sure is that the work I put into this race gave me a huge pat on the back on race day. Get uncomfortable in training, make it hard, and let race day be your playground.