Well I did my first half ironman on July 17th in my childhood home of Racine Wisconsin. The Racine 70.3. It was a blast and I learned a lot form the experience. A Half Ironman is 1.2 mile swim - 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. The swim took place in Lake Michigan which was quite warm at race time..65 degrees. It was also the first time I raced wearing a wetsuit.
I had planned on getting to Racine on Thursday night. However a hail storm on Wednesday damaged Frontiers planes and of course the only flight to Milwaukee that was canceled was mine. Frontier could not get me out or on a partner airline until Monday..which would be a little pointless. I did rebook on Air Tran for Friday afternoon and got to pay an additional $100 charge for my bike. Frontier is the only airline that does not charge an exorbitant amount for bike boxes. Getting in Friday night did not allow me to do anything I had planned on except for a quick dip in Lake Michigan. The water was warm and clear and most importantly calm. Saturday night my wife and I put my transition bag together with all my equipment. My friend Doreen told me to pack my salt pills in a baggie so they did not get wet. Since I was not going to wear my running singlet in the water I decided just to throw them in the pocket. By the way..I agonized over whether to buy a racing singlet ( basically a running jersey without sleeves) most of them are made for guys who top out at 160 lbs so the thought of my body in the singlet conjured up pictures of a pig in a blanket. I found a Pearl Izumi that actually seemed to fit and had to order it straight from the company since they only had 1 XL left in the company.
I actually slept pretty well the night before..didn't get up at all and was wide awake at quarter to five. My wife, daughter and I loaded the van up left my parents house and headed to the start followed by thirty cars with Illinois plates. Transition was fairly calm since the bikes had to be racked the night before. I had met three or four guys on Saturday while I racked my bike and I must say they were all pretty much jerks. No time to say hello or chat. I did meet two women - one from Germany and one from Denmark and we discussed the finer points of peeing in a wetsuit. Yes triathletes are a strange lot. However Sunday morning I was surrounded by first timers, guys my size and just genuinely fun people. They were all in my swim wave and we talked for 45 minutes about who would be coming in last. I took my jersey out and of course it was soaking wet. I had put a NUUN tablet in one of my water bottles which caused the water to shoot out the open drink spout. And of course the salt pills in my jersey pocket were now completely useless and a huge mess. Yes Doreen I will listen to you from now on. I was surprisingly calm. I think a lot of that stemmed from the people I met and the fact that the line at the porta pottys was surprisingly short. My swim wave left at 7:18 which was nice since the last wave had to wait until 8:32 to go.
The swim start in Racine is a mile away from the transition area. You enter the water to the North and swim the 1.2 miles back South. Thus all of us had to walk the mile down the beach to the swim start. It was actually fun talking to everyone for the 20 minute walk. Also my wife and daughter walked with us, took pictures and played the role of sherpa. The pros left at 7:00 then a couple of more waves until our wave at 7:18. I figured it would probably be 55 minutes for me in the water since I am not a great swimmer and I was still getting use to the wetsuit. I also figured I would be doing a little breast stroking. The water was perfect however I noticed that it was 7 a.m. I was just standing in the water and I was already sweating profusely. My plan was to start at the end of the wave and let everyone go out and I would follow up the rear as best I could. After a few strokes and nervousness I remembered to concentrate on my stroke and actually was keeping up with a couple of guys. I decided to "draft" off of one of them by staying in his wake. It worked pretty well. The water was super clear and I could even see the sandy bottom. I also noticed that I was taking quite a few less strokes then the guy I was following but staying the same pace and was not out of breath at all. The swim seemed to last forever but when I finally saw the red buoy signaling the turn in back to the beach I was stoked. I was definitely not the last in my wave and was only passed by a few of the elite athletes in the wave behind us. I got out of the water and was greeted by a 25 yard run through the sand to get to transition. Now being in the water for the better part of an hour does something to my equilibrium and the sand did not help mattes. However I actually jogged up the path to transition and the waiting wetsuit strippers who stripped my wetsuit off in no time flat. It was great getting to my bike and seeing very few bikes had already left. I quickly changed into my jersey and helmet and was on my way. I did not know it at the time but my swim time was in the 43 minute range. Much faster than I thought I would ever get.
The bike course in Racine is one or two hills and basically gentle rollers. The biggest issues of the day were the heat and the headwind that we rode into for the first 30 miles or so. I wanted to average 16 mph on the bike but had no idea how I would do. My bike was fitted with 4 water bottles and an aero bottle which I figured would provide plenty of hydration..I was wrong. The course was very fast at first and it was nice to get in the aero position and feel like I was really moving. Unfortunately I think everyone on the course was going even faster than me. The first 30 miles flew by and then I started to think..crap I have to run after this. Because of my history of hydration issues I drank continuously on the bike and took my salt pills. Every aid station I would pick up 2 more water bottles. I am chatty so had some conversations with a few people on the bike...one guy from Australia and another guy shared his peanut m&m s with me. I had one girl ride behind me and call me by my name. I was thinking that she must have been pretty impressed with me to look up my bib number and get my name before the race. Then I realized our names were on our bibs. I felt good on the bike but not great. I did see a little carnage on the course with three or four riders completely wiped out due to the heat. The heat wasn't bothering me that bad I was fully hydrated or so I thought. Although I had drank over 200 ounces of fluid I did not have to pee..and then thought it was a little weird when at mile 45 a slight breeze hit me and I began to shiver. That was about the same time I came up a hill and saw my wife, daughter and in-laws on the top of the hill cheering everyone on. It was very cool to see and they hurried and made it to the finish line to watch me there. Not that they had to hurry. I think I passed two riders and was passed by about 1500 or so it seemed. I did notice that the fitness of a lot of the women was not related to their body size or fat percentage but by how tan their legs were..yep you start thinking weird things out on the course. When I did come through the last miles on the bike you could see the runners.. A lot of them looked good and I was thinking crap..everybody feels better than I do..then a long line of people walking the course appeared..more than I have ever seen at a race. At that point I figured it would be a long day. My bike ended right where I thought it would with a little over 16 mph average.
Got off my bike..put the running shoes on..glared at my wife when I tried to put my hat on. She had used it the night before and has a head smaller than a childs..mine on the other hand is the size of a watermelon..thus my childhood nickname of melon head..Lets just say it wasn't fitting. I passed one woman and told her that she looked like I felt..she said she was packing it in and didn't go out on the run. There was an aid station immediately outside transition where I threw ice on my head and took in three cups of water. I started running and the legs were no there yet so I started walking with another woman. She said she had done Racine 4 times before and this was the worst weather. We actually passed runners while we were walking. She said she planned on walking the route because of the heat. Her walking speed was actually faster than my run. I told her I was going to try and run and took off. 5 minutes down the road I was walking again completely overheated. I ran/walked the first 4-5 miles and after that I knew that if I was going to finish it would be walking. There was no way for me to get hydrated no matter how much water - GU or salt tablets I took in. I had a large number of walking partners during the day and at one point it looked like a zombie movie with the number of walkers coming towards me and walking away. My Run time was horrendous..but I think if I would have pushed it I would have DNF'd. My shoes were soaked from peoples hoses and pouring water on myself to keep me cool. I ended up with blisters with two miles to go. When I got to the finishing chute I tried to run and my calves seized up with cramps..I have never had cramps before and never want them again. I heard my wife, daughter and relatives but didn't see them. Got across the finish line and after two minutes told my wife I needed to go to the med tent which was standing room only. I got my two 500ml bags of saline and felt 100 times better. We figured I was about 10 lbs light when I was in the med tent even though I thought I had drank huge amounts of fluid. My run was a complete disaster but I finished. My wife said they announced the heat index was well over 100 degrees for the race. I was hoping for a 3 hour half marathon and was even thinking 2:45 would be doable. However I ended up with a run in the 3:30 range..an Oprah Winfreying effort. The RESULTS show the train wreck that was my race. Actually the swim and the bike went well for me. Considering I have lost 35 lbs in the last four months and couldn't swim 200 meters or run 6 miles 6 months ago I am more than pleased. The only things I would change would be to get my fluids and nutrition under control to at least been able to cut 2 minutes or so off of my mile times. I also would have tried to find a way to run without my hat..I've got a great looking head and the hat just does not do me justice in my pictures..lol.
Overall I had a blast. My wife, daughter, relatives and friends following me on facebook rocked. I could not have gotten through the day without their moral support. Further I would have never gotten to the starting line without my wife Kristine's support for all the training hours and putting up with my stupid triathlon talk regarding GU..electrolytes..monkey butt..and weird drink mixes littering the kitchen My coach Suzanne Atkinson of Steel City Endurance also gets a big shout out along with my friend Doreen who has provided me invaluable tips on how to make it through the endurance events. I have also met a large number of wonderful friends the last couple of months who all have their own reason and goals for participating in this sport.
Lastly my Mom and Dad have provided me with the inspiration not to quit. My mother had a debilitating stroke when she was my age and for the last 18 years her and my father have had the strength to face everyday anew no matter what the challenge. For the last five years my mother has been "challenged" with breast cancer and has been going to radiation and chemo since the beginning of the year. Compared to what my parents have done and continue to do with a positive attitude this Ironman triathlon stuff is a walk in the park..with ice cream. Love everyone. Next race is in September. Hopefully the weather will be nicer. I have a lot to learn and do in the next few weeks. Like how to install a saline drip on my aerobars for the bike portion.