Grab a cup of coffee, folks. This is going to be a long one. I won't have pictures until later. Steve's still fixing them up because he took over FIVE HUNDRED shots this weekend. He was the most amazing sherpa ever.
I was a huge mix of emotions coming into this race. I was excited to be racing my ninth half iron distance race, stoked to be doing my first official race with my Evotri teammates, and nervous as hell that I would fall flat on my face. I'd been working my butt off this summer for this race - literally and figuratively. I have been chasing this elusive sub-6 half iron distance ever since I came in at 6:06 on a short course at Chisago last year. That 20 minute PR planted the seed that maybe, just maybe, I could eventually see a 5 at the beginning of my finish time. I had major taper brain, though, and the last couple of weeks have been really rough on me mentally. In addition to having had a stressful couple of weeks at work, all I could think about was the workouts I missed this summer and how I may have thrown away my chance to really rock this distance. I trained more for this half than I've ever trained for a half. Having a coach has really kept me accountable, but it also magnified every workout I missed (even though Coach Tony was totally OK with a missed workout here or there). I was hoping that my Zipp 606s would make me that much faster on the bike. I've done a couple of time trials on them, but this was my first tri with them. I know as well as anybody, though, that sometimes it's just not your day - weather, wind, flats on the bike, horrible cramping... anything can happen out there. I think my biggest worry was that I'd put in so much time and energy this summer and still wouldn't see a PR.
Steve and I flew into Cleveland Friday and met up with our team for supper at a fun brewery. I'm always amazed that we are just able to pick up right where we left off. They are truly some of the best people I know. After driving the hour to Sandusky and the Cedar Point Amusement park, Rob, Michelle, and JP hit up the rides while Steve and I unpacked our car and reassembled my bike (I had to take it apart for the first time for air transport). Then we splurged on some ice cream, caught up with our roller coastered out teammates, and headed for bed.
Saturday was a flurry of checking our bikes in, registering, team activities, a quick, very choppy OWS, and a team meeting. At the meeting, I asked everybody to write their expected splits down so Steve would know when to be looking for people. I wrote down swim: 43, bike: 3:05, run: 2:05. I didn't know how realistic these times would be. I knew that the weather was expected to be cool, but they were also predicting a 10-20 mph wind that would be in our face on the bike return. I knew if I was going to break 6, these were the numbers I needed to see. That night, the team grabbed supper at a yummy Italian restaurant before grabbing a few last minute groceries and getting ready for bed.
Our alarm went off at 5 am on Sunday. Since we were in the park and just needed to take a shuttle to the transition area, we figured this would give us plenty of time to be on the bus by 6 and out of transition by the 7:20 cutoff. The full Rev 3 racers started at 7, but our swims wouldn't be starting until 8:30. I had layed everything out the night before and knew I had everything I'd need except my race belt. Luckily, the All 3 Sports tent had opened up early, and I was able to purchase one there. I slathered on the sunscreen even though the sky was full of clouds and we were all contemplating how many clothes we'd need on the bike.
We snapped a couple of photos before wishing Robby and Sweet luck. They were in the first wave, followed by JP, followed by Sara, Michelle, and me. Charlie and Lisa were in the waves behind us.
The swim is set up like an upside down U (the start and transition are not the same place). I was SO thankful that the wind had shifted. Our practice swim the day before had been a little rough - lots of chop, a strong current, and HUGE waves. This swim, albeit still in lake Erie, was a little smoother. I tried to draft when I could, maintained a relatively straight line, and swallowed a ton of water on the way back. I'm not sure if it was the waves or if I was just trying to go to fast and wasn't rolling far enough. I got kicked hard in the hand once but overall had an uneventful swim. I saw teammate Tracy, sidelined by some cracked ribs, at the swim exit and flashed her a smile. I ran up to transition and crossed the mat. I'm not sure what happened to the timing. I had myself with a 41:23 swim. The official race results list me as a 42:13. I had been secretly hoping for a sub 40, but doing it in a huge lake with some chop probably isn't where I'll see that.
When we started the race, air temps had been in the low-mid 60s. I had been mulling over what to wear on the bike all morning. By the time I got out of the water, it was 9:20, and even though it was still cloudy, I knew it would be warming up. I decided to just wear a band over my ears, gloves, and my regular attire of bike shorts over my tri shorts. I was out in 3:02.
I knew the bike would make or break my race. The wind was nasty at 14-21 mph, and it would be in my face on the way back. Since I was aiming for just over 3 hours, I decided to break the bike up into pieces and just aim for a goal of over 18 mph for each hour. This seemed to work really well. The course was beautiful - lots of orchards, farms, and little stands selling fruits and veggies. Some people had described the bike as flat. I definitely wouldn't label it as flat. There were a couple of medium sized hills but mostly usable rollers. It was a pretty fast course, though. There were a couple of roads that were really rough, especially on the causeway on the way out and back and one area that was chip sealed. I got passed a lot at the beginning, but I caught a lot of them back at the end. I kept waiting to turn into an impossible headwind. I was feeling so good that I knew there must be a horrible part coming up. You know what, though? It never came. The headwind on the last few miles on the way back was strong. I kept aero, stayed strong, and just kept pushing with a high cadence. Hour 1: 18.65 miles Hour 2: 18.37 miles Hour 3: 18.95 miles/1:02:43 hours (18.06 average). Data from my Joule:
Average power: 133
Average cadence: 93
Average speed: 18.31
Average HR: 150
Normalized Power: 139
Total bike time per the race results: 3:02:53 - an 18.37 mph average, the fastest bike split I've posted in a tri of any distance.
I got into T2 feeling like a rock star. I was on track for a PR and had just killed the bike despite a nasty wind. How appropriate, then, that as soon as I crossed the mat, a guy put a camera in my face like I was some sort of pro. He filmed me the entire time I was in T1. I racked my bike; ripped off my helmet, sunglasses, bike shorts, earband, gloves, and shoes; changed out my nutrition; snapped on my race belt, donned my socks and running shoes, grabbed my hat and was out in 1:32. All of the pictures that Steve got of me crossing the mat to the run show me trying to get my hat on.
Steve was cheering for me coming out of T2, and I could tell he was excited to be telling me that I could run a 2:10 half marathon and still break 6 hours. I was getting pretty excited myself and was ready to tear it up out there. I had had to pee since about mile 35 of the bike but knew I could wait until I found a port a potty on the run. By now, the sun had come out, and it was heating up. The run course was really pretty - out along the lake, weaving through town, and then back along the lake into the amusement park. One of my favorite parts about the run was that I got to see my teammates JP and Sweet rocking the course with only a mile or 2 left of their runs. I high-fived Rob out there and cheered in the other athletes who were heading in, including Tri Eric, who I'd just met that morning. I also got to see pros (doing the full) on their runs everywhere. It was so cool to be out there with them and to be cheering for local pro DKT as he attempted his first full iron distance race (he finished 3rd and took the series). On the way back in, I was cheering for all of the age groupers starting their runs for the full. I was feeling on top of the world and having a great run. With just a few miles left, I wondered if I should be pushing it more. I was still waiting to blow up out there since the run of my half in June and my half marathon in July both didn't go as planned. I was quickly realizing that my sub-6 goal was going to happen and wondered if I pushed it in just a little more if I could see 5:55. I never blew up. I just kept feeling better and better, and with 1.1 miles left, I started to hammer. Splits:
Mile 1: 9:16
Mile 2: 9:02
Mile 3: 10:17 - finally found a porta potty
Mile 4: 9:48
Mile 5: 9:30
Mile 6: 9:20
Mile 7: 10:26 - walked while eating, drinking, and getting some NUUN down - one hour to go!
Mile 8: 9:38
Mile 9: 9:32
Miles 10 + 11: 18:56
Mile 12: 9:35
Mile 13: 9:13
Last 0.1: 1:07
As I entered the finisher's chute, I felt AMAZING. I got a little choked up that I'd finally broken 6. When they called my name, a huge smile crossed my face. I threw my hands up and crossed the finish line.
Total Time: 5:55:56 according to the official race times, 5:54:30 according to my watch - not sure why they're so different. I suspect it's the difference in swim times. Placing: 14/39 in my AG, 50/267 women, 298/600+ overall.
I looked over to see Steve in his crazy shorts taking pictures and cheering his head off, just like he'd done all weekend. It was such a special gift to have him there. I saw teammates Michelle, Robby, and Sara right away, and we all chatted about our races. JP was off to catch his plane, but he'd come in 2nd overall. Sweet finished 6th overall, Sara had a specular PR, Michelle beat Rob in their throwdown by less than a minute, and Charlie and his beautiful wife Lisa crossed the finish line with smiles on their faces.
We showered, grabbed some supper, and finally used the two free passes to the park to ride the Raptor, Top Thrill Dragster, and the Magnum (twice). I was so excited to be on the coasters that I'd been in awe of over the past 2 days that I was literally running through the park. When E Speed suggested that maybe I'd sandbagged the race a little, I started to agree. Today, 2 days later, I'm still sore. Not sure if it was the overzealous roller coaster chasing, the travel time yesterday, or the race finally settling into my muscles, but I'm not walking normally yet :) We watched the end of the full for a while before heading back to our hotel so we could be up early Monday for travel.
I know a lot of people are looking at this as a future race. Here are a few additional comments that I have.
* We stayed in Hotel Breakers. It wasn't too expensive (~150/day for a double room). It is a big hotel, has 3 pools, plenty of restaurants, and a shuttle to and from transition. It does not have a continental breakfast, and it would be best to bring your own. We had a fridge but no microwave. Food for Steve and me got pretty expensive over the weekend.
* Unfortunately, even though transition was only 1/4 mile away via the beach, biking and riding along the road between the hotel and the parking lot where transition (~2 miles of driving) was was not allowed, and they strictly policed this. You had to either drive or take the shuttle.
* We flew Southwest. It cost $50 each way for bike transport, much less than other airlines. We then rented a car. You'd need one to get from Cleveland to Cedar point (around an hour drive) and to get back and forth from transition to your hotel. Many of our friends drove, but the 12 hour travel time would have made it impossible for us to get back in time for Steve to teach class on Monday.
* Our race entry came with 2 free passes to Cedar Point Amusement Park. Extra passes were $29 through our hotel and I believe $39 through the race. The passes were good for Sat or Sun. We waited until Sunday night, and within an hour's time, got to ride 4 rides that normally would have had a 1-3 hour wait each. Some of my teammates took advantage of the deal they offered for racers and volunteers for Friday night. For $15/ticket, the park opened many of their big rides for 3 hours. My buddy Robby sprinted around the park like a little kid and rode coasters until his heart was content with literally no lines. Had I planed better, Steve and I could have arrived earlier to take advantage of that offer. By the time we got to the park, unpacked, and reassembled my bike, we ran out of time.
* As a half, this race was AWESOME, especially on the run. Since it was about 4 miles out and 4 miles back with around 5 miles' worth of loops in the middle, there was a lot of opportunity to cheer on and see other runners who were on the run for the half and on the run for the full. This is one of my favorite parts of an out and back. I could see how this race could get pretty lonely on the run for the people doing the full, though, especially on the second lap of the run.
* The volunteers for this race were top notch, especially for this having been a new event. There really wasn't a lot in the way of spectators. I suspect that this will change as the race matures, more locals know about it, and transportation for families improves.
* The numbers I heard were that the full had around 400 people and the half had around 800. With only 400 people in the full, the finish line was pretty sparse both with the numbers of racers coming in and spectators waiting there.
* I would highly recommend not leaving until Monday if you are able. Our hotel closed at noon Monday (off season, only open on the weekends), so we wouldn't have been able to stick around much after that. It was really nice to be able to enjoy the park, see the finish line, and not be rushed, especially since our race didn't even start until 8:30.
* The Rev 3 corp is doing a top notch job at competing with the WTC. They really are trying to make it about the athletes and their families again, which is so good to see. They took our pictures to show up on the huge screen at the finish, we had name tags at our spots in transition, and racers could cross the finish line with their families - just a few of the touches they put on the day.
*That being said, this is still a growing race. It didn't have quite the spectacle or crowd support as IM Moo, the only other 140.6 I have experienced to compare it to. As a half, it's one of the best ones I've ever done.
* The only complaints I have about the race were a few roads on the bike (mentioned above), porta potties for spectators were needed at transition and the finish area, and the finish area was a little hard to get into for spectators. Had it been easier and had there been bleachers for people to sit on, I suspect the crowd would have been bigger as the 17 hour cutoff approached for the athletes doing the full. Otherwise this truly was a great race.
* This was the first time I've raced with a 30 on the back of my leg (my races earlier this year were not USAT sanctioned). My birthday is in 3 weeks. If this is what my racing will be like in my 30s, bring them on!