There was a lot of activity, since a full iron distance, half iron distance, and sprint were all going off. I got there early, setup, and then waited on the beach for my wave. The water temp cooled down to 78 degrees, so this was a wetsuit legal race, and I brought along my sleeveless. Technically under 84 degrees is wetsuit legal, but between 78 and 84, wearing a wetsuit disqualifies you for age-group prizes. Not that I have this problem. ;)
Not much to say about the swim, other than it took 45:24. I was hoping for a few minutes faster than that, but I am pleased. Realistically, my swim isn't holding me back.
Exiting the swim
T1 was 4:34, an excellent time given that I removed my own wetsuit, slipped on bike shorts over my racing shorts, and didn't rush at all.
My strategy on the bike was to try to average 18 mph: spin up hills, and strategically coast and rest when appropriate. It was overcast so we got a break from the direct sunlight, if not the humidity. The first 30 miles or so are flat with gradual inclines and declines, and then the course turns onto the "Mammas and the Pappas", a hill before Buckhill Road. Buckhill features four hills, which are annoying because they are spaced far enough apart you can't take any speed or momentum from coasting down one into the next. Plus, the second hill of the series is the tallest, which hides the last two. I've ridden this before and knew of the extra hidden hills, but your mind plays tricks on you when you crest one hill and see just one more to climb. A few people were off their bikes walking up, while others choose to veer all the way across the road and back. Fortunately with my compact chainrings and 10 speed cassette, I was able to spin up pretty well!
I made pretty good time, and pedaled along, knowing the next major hill was Sugarloaf. This was tough, I switched into my lowest gears and spun as best I could, all the way up. I happened to notice it took me 2 minutes 30 seconds to climb Sugarloaf. But, no getting out of the saddle, no veering back and forth, and no walking, so I felt good. After that it was just a few rollers back to transition.
My bike ride was about 3:10:03 which I am extremely pleased with. I averaged 17.9 mph on a reasonably hilly course, and even better, had moderated my fluid intake so I didn't spend any time in "T3" (so to speak). I went through three bottles of sports drinks and 2 gels. Unfortunately I probably undernourished.
Almost done with the bike
T2 was 3:02, another good time for me. I am methodical about transition and don't rush for fear of forgetting something.
This is where it got ugly. At this point, I was 4:03 into my race. I needed a 2:27 half marathon to finish at 6:30. This is normally very realistic for me, but it was not to be today.
After about 3 steps outside transition, I picked up a minor side stitch that I just couldn't get rid of. I ran along as best I could, and hit the 3 mile aid station in almost exactly 30 minutes. I decided to take stock and do a hydration test. I'll spare the details but lets just say it wasn't good... crayola yellow. I walked back to the aid station, carefully sipped some Gatorade, and then jogged off to the course turnaround, about a half mile away. At the turnaround, I was forced to walk, because the side stitch became a general abdomen tightness plus some aching back muscles joined in. I decided to walk back to the aid station, let my heart rate come down, and regroup with some water and electrolyte tabs. I managed to get to the 5 mile mark at almost exactly 5:00 into my race. So I had 1:30 to go 8.1 miles; again, quite reasonable.
But, I wasn't feeling good at all. The side stitch on my left side wouldn't go away, I felt slightly bloated, and got the occasional cold chill. I know feeling bloated is a sign I took in too many fluids, past the point I could process them. I also know getting a cold chill while running in 85+ degree weather at 90% humidity is a sign of something bad. ;) Since I never felt dizzy and my legs were OK, I continued on. I found a pace that was slightly faster than walking, that held the various stitches and stomach cramps mostly at bay. Except, they flared up once in a while and I had to walk for a bit anyway.
I decided to try for the 6:30 finish, but see how things were going at mile 10. So I hoofed it (so to speak) and got to mile 10 at 6:05 in my race. At this point I realized 6:30 isn't realistic anymore - I can run a standalone 25 minute 5K, but that wasn't going to happen for the final 5K of this half iron. By this point I had to breathe shallow, otherwise I would cramp up all along my side. I shuffled along, picking up sponges and water and gatorade at the aid stations. I drank a mix of water and gatorade, walked, and continued on. With about a half mile to go I picked it up and finished at 6:47:07.
To recap: first 3 miles were 10 min/miles; next 2 were 15 min/miles; next 5 were 11 min/miles; last 5K was 42 minutes (~13:30 min/miles).
This was by far the most difficult run I've ever done, standalone or in any event. I never felt this bad during the marathon at IMCdA! I was a bit disappointed I couldn't even manage a 2:27 half marathon, but I know I tried as hard as I could, getting to 10 miles by basically grimacing in discomfort the whole way.
Starting the run
The good news is I didn't need medical attention - just some stretching, fluids, a little bit to eat, and I felt a lot better. My legs were sore but not cramped. I collected my stuff, then returned to the finish line to see the GFT winner, Joe Bonness, an age group legend. This guy is 50 and did the full iron just under 10 hours, winning it outright. Last week he did IM Hawaii and came in 2nd in his age group. Next week he'll be at IMFL where he hopes to qualify for 2006 IM Hawaii. Whoa! He's friendly; we shook hands, spoke briefly, and then I went off for a massage. :)
I did enjoy this event and thought it was very well produced by Sommer Sports. For an independent iron distance (and half iron) race, it had the same level of course support I saw at the IM's I've attended. The only difference I noticed was the expo was smaller and the finisher's chute wasn't as jammed with people. But hey, friends and family are really what a finisher is looking for. My only complaint would be about the 3 or 4 mile section of the run course near the end, where there is no shoulder and the road was fully open to traffic.
The course wasn't completely flat. Granted, the elevation here varies from 100 feet to 300 feet, but still, the last half of the course had plenty of small hills and rollers.