I did this same race 2 years before, it was my 2nd triathlon ever after only starting training 6 months prior. I had a good race given how short a time I had been training, but I melted down on the run and was disappointed with that. I finished in 5:22:13, good for 68th place in my age group.
Over the next year or so I was able to win my age group at most local tris I entered, but my run was always easily my biggest weak spot (even though I was putting in a good amount of running). Over the next winter I got my run mileage up to 40 mpw (barryp) in lead up to IMTX 2016. I had a decent race there but once again had a lackluster run. I placed 54th in my age group.
I decided then that I would not do another full Ironman until if/when I thought I had a chance to qualify for Kona, and set a long term goal of getting on the podium at an Ironman branded 70.3 as the measuring stick. I love the racing aspect of triathlon, not the completion part and the full just didn't feel like racing.
After IMTX I took a casual approach to training for the summer and focused on the bike, doing a trainerroad program and planning on doing a lot of cycling races. Well in the 2nd one I did two guys crossed wheels right in front of me and I went over the bars at 26 mph right onto my head. Cracked my helmet in two and got terrible road rash on my shoulders. But I was lucky that I wasn't more seriously hurt.
It took about a month for the road rash and my shoulder to completely heal before I could get back into the water. As a result I had a lackluster fall tri season and ended up just bailing on a local 70.3 I had signed up for before the crash. This way I was able to start my winter training plan early.
In mid-October I read the desert dude full on ass challenge and I started to work on getting my run mileage up. The goal was to work up to 50 mpw before the new year. During this time I only biked 1-2 times per week and swam 1-2 times per week. By mid December I was at 50 mpw, then the goal was to hold it there until taper time for Galveson 70.3 April 2nd. Once I was at 50 mpw for a couple of weeks I started ramping the biking and the swimming back up.
During my cycle focus the previous summer I saw considerable FTP improvement doing the trainerroad sweet spot plan. I decided to give their HIM plan a go (I only used their cycling portion as well as doing a brick when they prescribed it). When I did the FTP test at the beginning of the HIM build plan, my FTP was down considerably from late summer. I was a bit discouraged, but figured all of the run miles in my legs were probably the cause.
Over the next 4 months amazing things were happening in my training. My run was improving almost unbelievably well, and trainerroad was teaching me to ride at 85% of FTP for extended periods of time. I had never run a stand alone half marathon previously and my previous HIM best was 1:50. In February I ran a solo half marathon in 1:25:58 and I paced the first half way too slowly. Trainerroad has you do a tempo brick session every week. I was routinely riding at 24-25mph for 90-120 minutes and executing 5 mile bricks at 6:30-6:45 per mile.
At the beginning of the year I had written down some goals and had included the Ironman 70.3 podium on there but wrote that it was a stretch goal and probably wouldn't happen this year. A mere 2-3 months later I'm at a point to where I knew that if I executed on race day I was almost guaranteed a podium finish. I was in a state of almost disbelief, wondering if this was really going to happen or was I delusional. My best HIM to date was 4:53, and here I am thinking I'm going to do one in 4:20?!?!
Warmup / Swim
No real warm up as my race plan was to take the swim very easy, and expected to come in a little under 30 min. I wanted to go easy because I knew that if I could hit my bike power I would have a smoking bike split and be set up to just need to execute a good run to achieve my goal. I thought I needed somewhere between 4:20-4:25 to podium and if everything went as good as some of my training simulations I could get closer to 4:15, which could be good enough for maybe 2nd or 3rd.
What's the old Mike Tyson quote? "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face?" That is applicable here.
I never had a problem with fogging goggles, but of course prior to the start I cannot get my goggles to stop fogging. Then the cannon goes off and I take off at a very comfortable pace, forgetting that everyone thinks they're Michael f'n Phelps at the beginning of one of these things.
So I'm getting thrashed around by a bunch of knuckleheads, can't see sh!t, and to top it off the first 500y or so of the swim are almost directly into a 20mpw wind. I think I swallowed 3-4 massive gulps of seawater and swam all over the place in that first leg of the swim and was definitely not relaxed and taking it easy.
Finally I make it to the first turn, which is about a 150 degree turn back the other way. At this point I realize that I need to stop and clear my goggles because I have no idea where I'm going. I had to do that 3-4 more times. So now we have the wind at our back, and most of the knuckleheads from my wave have died out and I'm able to find somewhat of a comfortable pace and settle in. I still feel like I'm working too hard though. Then what seems like a long time later I get to the first orange buoy which means I'm only halfway, I was like WTF!?!?!?!! Then I start having to weave through massive groups of people from previous waves. Anyway, I've rambled on enough about the swim. It sucked. I worked way too hard.
Then when I finally reached the swim exit, I stood up and my left hamstring cramped hard. It took me 20-30 seconds to get my leg straightened out and running. With all of that going on I never saw the race clock so I didn't know what my time was.
Swim - 30:10
Running out of transition I recognized the only guy I knew who I'd be competing with for a podium spot (didn't know what any of the others looked like). As soon as I was on the bike I went around him almost immediately as I try to get up to speed as fast as possible.
The course starts with a few turns so I try and keep as much speed through them as possible then try and settle in on the first long straightaway. I immediately notice that my HR is through the roof at 175. My max is 189. This freaks me out big time. I knew I worked harder on the swim than planned but I didn't think I worked that hard!!
After settling into what felt like HIM power I noticed I was only hitting 230w instead of 250w that I had been doing in training, but I was still going roughly 25 mph. I decided to just stay at 230 to try and let my HR come down quicker and then re-evaluate. After about 10 miles my HR was back down to 150ish which is high zone 2 for me and where I had been on all of my training rides.
The wind was pretty much straight crosswind, but I was still going 25 mph on only 230w. I wasn't sure if I was getting a little bit of tailwind or if the few things I changed for race day made me a little faster. I knew from best bike split that it's better to take it a little easier with the wind and push a little harder against the wind, so I figured if I made the turnaround and noticed a decrease in my speed I could try and pick it up to 250w.
On the way out to the turnaround I was constantly passing people. A few times when passing larger bunches I'd look back to clear my move farther left, and I'd see my competition was hanging out way out of draft zone behind me, maybe 25m? At some point close to the turnaround I noticed he wasn't back there anymore and got a jolt of adrenalin from that!
After making the turnaround, my speed decreased, but only ever so slightly. I really wanted to have a good run and at that point knew I was going to have a smoking bike split regardless, so I decided to keep it at 230w the rest of the way. Other than almost crashing when reaching for my behind the seat bottle (big gust hit me at same time) and missing a bottle hand up, the ride back was pretty uneventful. I was all alone for most of it.
I did miss a bottle hand up but I was still able to consume 3 full bottles of water and 2 flasks of EFS liquid shot on the bike, and I never noticed any HR drift. So I was feeling prepared for the run.
When I got back to Moody Gardens I looked at my garmin and it said 2:12. I was beyond excited to get this run underway! I was not delusional!
Bike - 2:13:23
It's all about the RUN
Finishing the bike I was so excited to get this half marathon started. I had always struggled on the run, always. But my training had gone so well I thought this race was going to be different. In training I just tried to get into a smooth effortless pace and relax. I usually ended up being 6:30ish. I figured I'd start out somewhere between 6:30-6:45 per mile. I really wanted to break 1:30 on this run, let's do this!!
Then I ran out of transition and it happened. My right hamstring and left quad were quivering, on the brink of cramping. I was devastated, my race was over. I was delusional after all. :(
But they never actually cramped. I just tried to run as easy as I could to keep the cramps at bay. I was very surprised to look down at my watch and see that I was still running around a 7min mile. Ok, that's not too bad! I may not run 1:30, but I can still have a pretty good run!
On the first out and back I noticed that my competition wasn't that far behind me, probably less than a minute. Then on the next out and back he was closer. Shit! There wasn't much I could do. After that first mile around 7, I was running about 6:50 for the next 4 miles or so.
I had never been in position to care where the other guys were in my age group before, and I had planned to teach my wife how to track the race and give me updates when I saw her. But with all of the pre-race excitement and activities I forgot. So other than the one guy I recognized I had no idea where I stood the entire race.
Onto the 2nd loop, and that first out and back I noticed that I had put a little time on the competition, nice! I wasn't running quite as fast but it was a humid day so figured if I could just keep it at 7 I'd be in a good spot. The next out and back he was way farther back, woah!! I had to concentrate to keep my pace around 7 but was able to do it.
Onto the 3rd lap and I was just counting down the miles, trying to keep my pace up as best I could. I'd notice that I was down to 7:20 and try and pick it up. I'd feel like I was running harder/faster but watch still says 7:20, damn. I just did my best to hold it together. With about a mile left I was finally able to get the pace back down to 7.
I didn't know what my time was from the swim or my transition times so I wasn't sure exactly where I was going to come in for overall time. I knew that I started 36 minutes after the clock started so was just hoping to finish before the clock read 5:00. I was too out of it to look too closely at the clock but knew it was well under 5:00!!! Yes!! I was ecstatic!!
Run - 1:31:58
Walked over to my family with my arms up in celebration! Asked my step-dad what the clock said when I crossed the finish line, he said 4:54 something. After some quick math, that's sub 4:20!! (official time was 4:18:58) Holy shit!!! I'm on the podium for sure!!!
Since my family was clueless how to track the standings I grabbed my phone from my wife's bag. I pulled up the IM website and noticed that I was 1st in my age group off the bike (holy shit!! - there's a trend building here...) but the run was missing the splits from the 2nd half. I was immediately thinking about the run and could not remember anybody in my age group passing me on the run. But there were 3 waves for my age group so that didn't mean much other than I beat everyone in my wave.
I then pulled up the app that I meant to teach my wife how to use. Entered my name and it pulled up the splits and listed me as 1 the whole way through the run! HO. LE. SHIT!!!!!!!!!!! Is this for real??!?!?!?!! We were all in disbelief.
Finally about 20min later the IM website updated and listed me 1 after the run!!!!! I could not believe it. In fact I did not believe it until 4pm that afternoon when I got my 1st place MDOT. I must have refreshed the results a couple dozen times from noon to 4pm.
I still really can't believe it. I knew I was capable of that time but never once dreamed it would be good enough to win. There were a couple of really fast guys that didn't show up, but I just tell myself that if they could have beaten me that day they would have showed up. ;)
What went well
The desert dude full on ass challenge. I went from a floundering runner, to where I'm disappointed with a 1:32 because I know I have a much better run in me still.
Trainerroad teaching me to execute a race simulation every week. I not only learned how to hold higher power for long periods of time and still be confident in my ability to run after, but I also learned so much about hydration and nutrition by doing that. I was able to take in 2x the amount of calories on the bike than I was previously. And I don't think I had ever run a HIM before where I wasn't dehydrated the majority of the run. Drink early and drink often both on the bike and the run.
What didn't go well
The swim. I think all of the problems I had on the bike and the run were due to swimming too hard. I don't think I necessarily swam too fast, I just wasn't in a relaxed state. I don't know. I do know that I need to spend more time training the swim and more time in open water. My swim was always my best discipline with respect to placing in my AG, and at this race it was easily the worst and yet it still almost derailed my race. I guess I need to stop neglecting it now, even though I think I still have more time to gain on the run. I also need to put in a little surge at the start to get clean water so I can relax. I knew this but don't know why I forgot. I guess it's because I used to always surge and then feel like I swam too hard. I guess the trick is to surge and then really make sure you slow down once you're clear. I'm open ears on that.
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