Exorcising Course Demons - Mightyman Half Iron Race Report

Background:

7 years ago they announced a new half iron race in Montauk, NY and it was my first race season.  At the beginning of my season I thought what a great idea to end the season in beautiful Montauk, by the end I was completely dreading my decision.  I'm not one to step down from a challenge and when i set my sights on something I go for it so once it was in my head it was game on.  In 2004 I had done my first half marathon, first sprint triathlon, and first Olympic triathlon.  So why not end the season on a high note and do a half ironman? Well for one I was new to endurance athletics, I had only been seriously running for a few months and I still could barely swim, especially distance.  I enjoyed riding my bike so that outweighed the negatives in my mind.  So after a season of 3 sprints I signed up for my first half iron. Little did I know what a disaster I was in for.

As for the race I did the swim in 44:51 which put me in the back of the pack and which was where I would stay all day, on the bike I had not 1, not 2, but 3 flat tires!  I had bought a new set of race wheels for the race and it turns out when I brought them in to the bike shop they installed the rim tape incorrectly, so every time i hit a bump I would pinch flat. Unfortunately it took me 3 more races to figure that out!   My bike was in fact so slow that when I got to the turnaround the volunteers were encouraging me to go into transition.  I'm not going to lie, I actually thought about it, but I would always know and that would stick with me.  After another loop my bike split for the day ended up at 3:53:19 a whopping 14.42 mph but surprisingly it wasn't the worst one.  On to the run which at this point  in my tri career was as weak as my swim.  I wasn't looking forward to it and I was one of the last athletes on the run course.  I had been on the course so long that they RAN OUT of water & Gatorade at some stations.  I was in bad shape as it was and not prepared to have to find my own calories/hydration on the run.  That's why those aid stations are offered isn't it? I spent most of the "run" dizzy, and barely able to walk straight because of my lack of nutrition but there is no way in my mind I wasn't going to finish even if I had to crawl across the line. I ended up crossing in 7:31:30 with a 2:50 run split a 12:58 pace which is basically the equivalent to a brisk power walk and certainly not a suitable race performance for a 23 year old.  The one bright spot of the day?  By persevering and not giving up I actually ended  up taking 3rd in the 19-24 age group by default. There were 3 of us and we all finished and even though I was about 2 hours behind second place I still got a trophy.  I didn't stick around to find out as I went back to the hotel and headed home disappointed in my first half experience.

Prerace:

I decided after 7 years to come back to exorcise the course demons that have been haunting me since 2004.  When I signed up I set a lofty goal of cracking the top 10 overall, I was in the bottom 10 the last time in Montauk and I wanted revenge. In the 7 years since the race I have lost almost 50 lbs and my fitness has dramatically increased.  I've learned how to swim (somewhat) and graduated to a love/hate relationship with running when it used to be all hate.  The half iron has now become my favorite distance and I was signed up to run #17.

Friday afternoon I got a text message from one of my friends, "can you do me a favor this weekend?"  " I just bought a new disc wheel and I want to see what you think of it".  Rudy knew I had busted my disc 3 weeks prior at my last race and was  hoping to help out, and the help was much appreciated.  I had been wondering  what I was going to do for a rear wheel solution and it suddenly fell in my lap.  The wheel was a little heavier than my Zipp disc, but was responsive and handled well on a test ride so I decided to race with it.  Thanks Rudy!

I decided to keep the trip short and sweet and drive down on Saturday and come back on Sunday.  It was definitely a tight squeeze as we had to pick up the race packets by 5pm and I literally got there at 4:59.  There was  no line so it was just in and out.  I ended up seeing one of my old training partners from 7 years ago who was also racing which was nice to catch up with an old friend.  I was also excited to have the support of my gf who has been a trooper all year dealing with me and my race craziness! One of the things I love about racing is being able to travel and see new places and there's no one I would rather share those experiences with!  When we finally got to the hotel it interesting to say the least; the room was so tiny that the bed was smashed against the wall, there was no a/c so we had to leave the window open for air, and we were in the back of the hotel facing a fence.  The hotel was not too far from the Sloppy Tuna night club and with the window open all night we heard the never ending bass of the music as well as drunken arguments until about 3:30am.  Considering a 4:30am wake-up for me I wasn't to happy that I was drifting in and out of sleep.

I woke up at 4:30 without my alarm as I usually do on race day.  Its almost like second nature for me at this point, I get up have my Ultragen breakfast shake and start to prepare for the day.  We had about 90 minutes for transition to be open before the race and I wanted to be able to get a close spot so leaving the hotel by 5:00am was essential. We ended up getting a nice spot that was maybe a 5 minute walk from transition so that worked out perfectly. I thought they might have lights for us in transition but I was wrong.  I was relegated to using my flashlight app on my phone to set up my transition area in the dark which is not fun when you are already ridiculously squeezed in.  Once I was done I went on my usual pre-race 1 mile warm-up run to get the juices flowing and to asses how I was feeling.  It was a little chilly still but I decided to go warm-up in just my tri top and shorts which is all I would be racing in all day. Before I knew it they were closing transition for the athlete meeting and it was almost time to get started. During the meeting it started to drizzle and people were nervous that it might be a return of the rains a few year before that had caused organizers to shorten the bike course and athletes to run in ankle deep water on the run course, but it seemed to be stopping and starting.  After a brief overview of the course and they sent us off to the swim start and I was ready to get started.

Swim 32:06 (1:31/100 yds)

The swim is definitely my weakness and even though it hasn't always been my worst event it has always taken me work to get where I am.  For me the swim was always about damage control and trying not to lose too much time and energy while maintaining a decent position so I can attack when I get on the bike.  I had been swimming well in the last week so I was feeling good going into this swim and just wanted to see if I could improve on my normal position going into T1. The water was the perfect temperature and I was excited to get going.  We started the swim out to the start-line  and I took a few strokes to get acclimated and make sure my goggles were fit properly so I would be able to see.  I seeded myself in the front because I knew even though I might not be the fastest swimmer I wanted to try and grab a pair of feet and see how long I can stay with the front group.  The rain seemed to have stopped so that was a good sign.  The countdown to the start had begun 10 seconds.. 5-4-3-2-Go!!

A few guys shot out of a cannon and were way ahead of the rest of the field. I wasn't going to even kid myself and try and keep up with them, I did however start with a quick pace and found myself in the second group right behind them.  I thought to myself great now I can draft and save some energy, Sweet!  All of the sudden it hits me, I can feel my HR start to skyrocket, arms weak, hard to breathe with minimal propulsion in the water. PANIC ATTACK!  I haven't had one all season and in fact I haven't had one since Ironman Lake Placid 2009.  I slowed myself down and let everyone around me pass.  I calmed myself down by telling myself to relax and I also stopped kicking.  I've found that when one has a panic attack stopping the kick helps with getting the oxygen back into the lungs and the anxiety down quicker.  And since with a flotation device like a wetsuit on makes it hard to go under, not kicking isn't such a big deal.  After about a minute or two I was able to calm myself down and continue my forward progress.  I now had nice clean water to swim in but I had let a bunch of swimmers pass.  Once I was comfortable I methodically started to pick off the swimmers I had let go one by one easing back into the swim.  I got back to the task at hand, swimming 1.2 miles.  I was swimming mostly by myself which caused me to expend more energy, but I was able to hold a fairly straight line without any issue.  Once I hit the far turn buoy I was completely comfortable and in a rhythm. Right after the turn I passed a  a large pack of swimmers and kept on going. By the time I had made the final left turn to come back to shore I had managed to be back in the Front of the pack.  Now I felt great and was looking forward to the bike. The rest of the swim was pretty smooth and I ended up coming out of the water in the top 15 or so in my wave which was all men under 39.  You can actually see where the freak out happened swim if you click the link with my swim time below.

Swim 2004: 44:52

Swim 2011: 32:06

Out of the swim and ready to attack the bike!

T1 2011 2: 43

I don't remember if there were any differences in transition between 2004 and 2011 I can only assume that they made it longer and made us run around the side of transition instead of straight through the middle like they had in 2004.  That's really the only thing I can think of that would have made my T1 almost a minute slower. On a side note as I put my glasses on the humidity was too much so they fogged up immediately.  I quickly took them off and shoved them in my pocket.

T1 2004: 1:55

T1 2011 2: 43

Bike 2011: 2:36:31 (21.3 MPH)

Starting the bike I was on a mission. I had no idea how many places I had lost in the swim but I was determined to make up as much as I could.  There were two races going on simultaneously(half & Olympic) so it wasn't as easy as just counting people I passed, I had to look for red number tags.  I passed a bunch of people right out of T1 but I think only about 2 of the 20 had red tags on.  I remember the first half of the course being slightly hilly so I paced myself on the way out.  It starts with about a mile and a half steady climb then you have about 5 miles of rollers before you start the climb to the lighthouse.  There aren't any major hills but there are a few decent sized ones going out and coming back.  I continued out to the lighthouse and I saw the lead car which looked to be maybe 5-7 minutes ahead of me.  I was counting red numbers on the other side to determine how far back I was.  I got to 10 before I had to go around the rotary at the lighthouse.  I figured they couldn't be too far ahead of me and I was in a good spot, but I wasn't sure how many more there were or if I even counted correctly.   It was right around there that I hit a bump and my 400 calorie gel flask flew out of my pocket.  I looked around and I didn't see where it went and I wasn't about to stop and look for it as I was gaining momentum.  However it was a major problem that I just lost 42% of my caloric intake for the bike leg and little did I know how much it was going to end up costing me.  I kept forging ahead passing more people but unfortunately they had white bib #'s so they wouldn't effect my placing on the half iron.  There were certain points on the bike heading back from the lighthouse where the wind was in our face and so strong I felt like I was going nowhere.  After you get done with the rollers by the lighthouse you have a relatively flat stretch with more out and backs so you can see your competition but the winds at some points were making me want more hills!  With the strong winds I was getting tired but still picking off athletes in front of me little by little.  As I hit the turnaround for the second loop I heard a "you are doing awesome Nick" cheer come from the crowd. I still had no idea where I was in the overall but I had to be close to the top 10.   Analyzing the data I came into the first 28 miles averaging 22.37mph I felt good and was determined to pick up more.

Coming in to the turnaround for Lap 2!

Going into lap 2 I knew what to expect, where the hills are, the winds were the strongest etc.  I had passed someone shortly before the turnaround and he was trying to stick with me.  He passed me back climbing the first hill after the turnaround but I am significantly heavier than most triathletes so on the way down I passed him with little effort and didn't see him again.  At this point I realized I was definitely in the front because there wasn't many people left on the course to pass.  At the top of the first roller there was a spectator who told me I was in 6th place.  That was the first time I knew how close to the front I was, and it gave me a burst of energy.  I was just about where my gel flask had fallen out so I attempted to look for it as I rode by, but still couldn't find it.   I hit the rotary again and was on my way back into town to hit the flats and the out and backs.  There were a lot less people on the course the second time around and besides the few people that were in the back of the pack in the Olympic race and the very few people I lapped it was pretty lonely for stretches. I would see people coming the other way on the out and backs but not many in front.  The winds had picked up so it was slightly harder to and I was in a 400 calorie deficit from where I normally would be.  I had one guy pass me from the 40-44 age group around mile 50.  He was the only guy to pass me all day and stay in front of me.  In my head I now knew I was in 7th place.  Around the last out and back mile 53 or so a bunny came shooting out in front of me and almost ended my race, I swerved around it and thankfully both the bunny and I were unharmed.  I rolled into T2 happy and ready to run.  My speed dropped from to 20.3mph on the second loop which was party due to a increase in wind speed but also having to work with 400 less calories.  Regardless I had the 10th best bike split on the day. You can click on the 2011 link for in depth details on the bike leg.

Bike  2004: 3:53:15

Bike 2011: 2:36:31

Off the bike and coming in to t2 hard!

t2: 1:07

Coming in to T2 I went to put on my sunglasses as the sun had started to come out only to realize they were launched out of my pocket just as the flask was.  I wasn't too happy to find them gone.  The volunteer at the gate told me I was in 6th, Erica told me I was in 7th. I wasn't sure who was right but all I knew is that I didnt want to lose any more places on the run.

t2 2004: 1:26

t2 2011: 1:07

Run : 1:38:48 (7:30/mi pace)

Off the bike and on a Mission!

As a heavier guy I have a little more trouble than the skinny guys when it comes to hilly courses.  I weighed in at 185lbs before the race so I was already at a disadvantage. I started the run and I could still see the guy in the 40-44 age group that passed me. I decided that I was just going to let go and try and stay with him as long as I could.  Mile one 6:39, mile 2 6:40 and yet I was still :30 seconds behind him.  Once I hit murder hill the first time I lost him for good.  Mile 3 I had slowed to a 7:43 pace to conserve energy up the hills which were all bundled in the same section. One athlete passed me but he had relay marked on his leg, and he looked super fresh so I let him go. I was trying to take in enough calories to make up for the ones that I lost on the bike, without taking in so many that my stomach revolts.  For the first loop I alternated water and a  sip on my EFS gel flask once I hit the bottom of murder hill I switched to Coke every other aid station. I hit the midway point around 47 mins and I had so far held close to my goal, only one athlete had passed and it wouldn't count against me in the overall so I was still in 7th place.   They gave red bracelets out as you ran through transition for the second loop so I collected mine and was on my way.

I felt good going into the final lap and I had a strategy.  I was back to running a 7:13 pace and I felt good.  I started passing a few runners as they were headed out for their first lap and quite a few noticed my red bracelet which gave me more confidence and energy to keep going.  Once I hit murder hill again I took it a bit easier than the first time to keep my heart rate down.  Running up my HR seemed to skyrocket so I ran up, walked the "flat" part, and ran to the next crest. My pace here slowed again this time 8:38 and 8:44 my two slowest miles of the day.  Once I hit the top of murder hill on the way back I let loose.  I gave it everything I had for those last 2.5 miles 7:14, 7:03, and the last .1 into the chute was a 6:45 pace.  I crossed the line so happy to get revenge on a course that owned me I emphatically grabbed the finish banner and  threw it towards the ground prompting the race announcer to call me a tiger!   I ended up finishing the race in 4:51:12 in 7th place, and 2 hours 40 minutes faster than I had covered the same course 7 years ago.

Run 2004: 2:50:05

Run 2011: 1:38:48

Post Race:

I found Erica and sat in the lake for a few minutes since the water was definitely cold enough to deliver ice-bath like recovery.  Once we did that I got my compression gear, and my EFRT podium gear and we went to grab lunch.  They told us awards would be done around 3:30 and they hadn't posted the results yet so I cleaned up my transition area hoping for the best.  I had met my goal of finishing in the top 10 but I also wanted an age group win.  It turns out I ended up taking 2nd place in my age group by 18 seconds.   Apparently the athlete that had finished just before me was second off the bike but struggled on the run.  I was gaining on him from the beginning of the run and he saw me closing hard at the end so he picked it up and was able to hold me off.  Since I was so close to him with all the out and backs I actually never saw him all day.  It just goes to show you what a difference a few seconds can make in a race.   I am happy that I was able to come back and take on a course that gave me so much trouble at one point.  Looking back to the swim I think part of the reason for my panic attack had to do with the unnecessary pressure I put on myself going in to the event.  It was probably unnecessary but I wanted to have the perfect race.  After seven years of racing I should realize by now that the perfect race doesn't exist, perfection comes from how you deal with the adversity that you are dealt with on race day.

Post Race Lake "Ice" Bath

Erica and I enjoying the post race atmosphere

My Old Training Partner and I With Our Awards