Firmman Half Iron Race Report- Low Numbers Come with High Expectations

Pre-Race

The race was only about 120 miles away from home so I decided that I would drive up the morning of which unfortunately called for a 2:30am wake-up call so I could sneak in some breakfast and make sure I had everything before hitting the road.  Left the house at 3am and headed out to Rhode Island.  I did this last year when I raced Patriotman Half Iron in MA, and I had my best half iron ever so I figured why not do it again.  I hit transition at exactly 5am and registered and set my transition area up.  Upon registering I found out my race number for the day, number 3.  The lower the number the higher the expected placing, with #1 usually saved for the previous years champion.  Not sure why, but I'll take it.

After getting all set up I ran quick warm-up mile along the coast just to get the blood moving and check out the size of the waves.  I took a few pictures but they don't even justify how big they were.  I was thinking it was going to be a rough swim so I was prepared for the worst.  I usually like to get in the water and swim a bit before  but I decided against it since the waves were so rough and I wanted to conserve energy.   Since its a point to point swim we had to walk the 1.2 miles to the other end of the beach.

Swim  1.2 miles (29:46)

On the 1.2 mile walk to the swim start I  again noticed how choppy the water really was and realized I was going to have a tough time swimming out.  My guess is that there was a 3-6 foot chop at times which made swimming the 100 yds out to the first buoy quite challenging.  I usually enjoy these swims because I'm a bigger guy and I can power through the waves where as some of the skinnier guys get tossed around which puts me in a better position coming out of the water.   Since it was a smaller field this year they stuck the Elites in the wave with the 40 & over men which wasn't a big deal to me.  After the national anthem they sent us off.  I figured I would have more of a battle with the size of the  swim wave but I pretty much had clean water from the start.  However, what did surprise me is how tired I was just after swimming out to the first buoy!  I figured I would take it slightly easier on the way out since the waves were so big, but getting to that buoy seemed like it took forever,  and sighting over the chop made it more of a challenge.

Once I rounded the buoy I immediately felt different, and it seemed as if we had a current pushing us.  Sighting was quite difficult as the waves were so high that you could not keep the buoys in sight for more than a few seconds.  I somehow managed to keep on the buoy line the whole swim, but it wasn't easy.  I usually breathe to my left and couldn't understand why so many of the guys in the wave were way out from the buoys and further out in the ocean.  I'm not complaining because I had a clean swim, but maybe they knew something I didn't and the current was stronger out there?  I just kept drafting off the 4 or so guys that were on the buoy line with me, it was nice to be able to follow a pair of feet for once this year!  Finally got to the last buoy and turned back to shore, there really wasn't anything great to sight off of on shore so I just followed feet and hoped for the best.  I couldn't believe my eyes when it looked to me like I was coming out of the swim with the lead pack.  Me, Really?  I'm not that great of a swimmer so that's a big accomplishment. Coming back in the last 50 yards or so was rough as the waves were crashing in on us from behind and they really take you by surprise because you never know when or how big when you are facing the other way.  I got about 3 feet from the sure and I see a brown mess of murk. yuck.... Seaweed was bunched so close together it was like walking through a swamp, might have cost me a minute or so trying to wade through it after coming out, but I was still happy to see my first sub :30 minute half iron swim!

T1 (1:55) uneventful really, I was excited about my swim and ready to test my legs on the bike, so in and out!

Bike 56 Miles (2:39:04/ 21.1mph)

I got on the bike and realized it was going to be a very windy ride, however I have been doing a bike focus most of the summer so my legs were prepared for it!  I get out of T1 and I immediately pass 2 people, I get to the first set of volunteers and they shout out 10th place as I pass.  I had seen the leaders on the other side of the out and back so I knew they had about 5-7 mins on me at that point but I was stoked I was so far in front at that point.  Keeping in mind as I ride I focus on one rider and catching that one while still riding within myself.  As I'm riding counting 9th, 8th, 7th... then some guy flys by me like I am standing still, check the back of his calf and its a "T" well if I was only riding 56 miles maybe Id try and stay with him, but I let him go, keeping in mind that he wouldn't effect my overall standing, I just used him as a pacer.  I hit the 10 mile mark feeling great and right on pace for where I wanted to be.  Right around mile 11 or 12 someone else caught up to me and this time I kept my lock on him.  We played cat and mouse for the next 30 miles or so passing the other few riders that were in front of us.   Mile 20 came by fast, I was feeling amazing, 28 miles in I look at my watch and its right at 1:15, perfect exactly where I wanted to be. Made it to back to route one before the 2nd and final aid station which was great because I could see what looked to be like 2 guys ahead of us, so I'm thinking to myself ok, i'm in 4th place and I can totally hang with this guy riding with me so its going to come down to the run to take top 3.  I planned on turning up the heat a little bit on the bike in the last stretch to see what I was capable of before shutting it down for the last 1 or 2 miles to loosen up for the run.

That was a great plan but at mile 40 the whole complexion of my race changed.  There were a few choppy spots of milled pavement on the first half of the course but once we made the turn back the pavement was TERRIBLE, I mean these were the worst roads I have ever ridden on period.  I still can't believe we were purposely made to ride on those roads, I spoke to one woman that had 4 flats because of them.. 4 flats?!    So here I am mile 40, 16 miles left lets get rolling.  Then a hear BOOM,  BOOM, Pfft.  That's not good.  I knew immediately what that meant.  I knew there was a SAG wagon rolling around somewhere, but I also know that they usually don't come to the pointy end of the field to check on things, so I knew I had to make a decision.  Here I am having the best race of my life and this happens,  immediately, I was deflated.  16 miles to go is a long way to walk, I never have DNF'd before and I wasn't going to start now.  I hit mile 40 averaging about 23 miles an hour and that was about to be drastically changed.  It didn't take me long to lose sight of the guy I was playing cat and mouse with.  My speed dropped from 23mph to 16.8 for the last 16 miles, and I was just trying to hold on and not get killed on route 1, riding it in with a flat.  The next 16 miles were atrocious, and the pavement was unbelievably bad.  I was so uncomfortable and had a hard time controlling my bike with the windy conditions on top of the choppy/milled pavement.  One thing I couldn't believe was how far ahead of the next few riders I was,  I waited and waited for people to pass me as I plodded along rt 1.  I'm not sure how many people passed me after my flat, but it wasn't that many and I would be surprised if it was more than 6.  The pavement was milled with numerous potholes and rocks and I couldn't wait to get off of it.  Fortunately it was mostly straight and nothing technical so I was able to finish without crashing.  There was one steeper downhill that I had to take very carefully but otherwise I was OK.   Took in the rest of my nutrition and prepared for the run.

 Bike nutrition: 2 bottles of EFS race cocktail and 1 400 Calorie EFS gel. 977 Calories total.

T2 (1:30) I usually don't take this long but since I knew I had no chance of catching the guys in front of me I took a few extra seconds to hit the porto-john.

Run(1:35:46) 7:18 pace

After my break I started running, I actually felt good  and next thing I know I hit mile 1  at 6:19.. oops.  I guess I was excited to finally be off the bike.  I'm not a 1:22 half marathoner when I didnt swim and bike first, so I'm certainly not running that today.  Even though I felt great I started to hold back, mile 2 had a slight downhill to it so I ended up passing mile 2 7:01, much better.  I settled into my pace and just forged ahead forgetting about the bike.  I was stopping at every aid station to walk for 10 seconds or so to get my nutrition down at some point one of the volunteers kids went "why is he not running", that stop might have been 5 seconds.  I was feeling great as I hit the 5k mark at about 22 mins which was right where I wanted to be.  The first few aid stations I took in only water and was getting my calories from my EFS gel flask.  10k came and went in around 44 mins.  My plan was to hit the 6 mile mark and then start on the coke around miles 6,8,10, & 12 and take in Gatorade if I needed it.  I hit the 7 mile aid station and I asked for coke, and they didn't have any.  Fortunately it was an out an back portion of the course and the guy working the aid station lived right there.  He promised me he would have it for me on the way back.  Now that is one awesome volunteer!  Unfortunately for me this is right around where I started to fade & overheat.  I ran a bit more and then I was forced to walk for about 2 mins.  I got a bunch on encouragement from guys coming the other way on the out and back, which was refreshing, but I needed a quick break. After 16 half iron-mans I know my body at this point and when to cool it, fortunately I was in a shady area and a 2 minute walk was just what I needed, to get going again.  Once I hit the turnaround I felt good again.  I ran back to the aid station and got my coke, I was back in business.

My pace had slowed from a 7:00 to around a 7:30 but I still was moving pretty well.  The next few miles went by pretty quickly as I knew I was almost done.  I had no idea where I was on an overall time standpoint because after my flat I really had thought I had no chance at a personal best. I just wanted to run and hopefully still be in contention for a decent finish time.  I ran the next 2 miles and then there was a decent sized hill that I remembered from the beginning of the race around mile 10.5 I decided to real it in and walk for 30 seconds or to to crest the hill.  At the top it was more up as we made a right and kept climbing but I was done walking. I knew there were just light rolling hills for the last 2.5 miles but I still had to deal with the beach finish.  To make the race a little tougher the organizers decided to make us run the last 1/4 mile of the run on the beach, which sounds like just as bad as it feels!  It's a tradition that has been around since they've been doing the race and I was dreading it.  I finally hit the beach and started to run on the sand in between all the people that were out enjoying the day at the beach.  They must think we are all nuts.  As much as I was dreading it I have to admit it was pretty cool to be cheered on by people who had just come out for a day at the beach and probably didn't even know what was going on. I came around the clock and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw 4:47. That was my PR for a half Iron before today.  If I only knew I was that close I might have pushed a little harder on the back end of the run and I might have beat it by a minute or two. I ended up running a 1:35 1/2 marathon which is only 4 minutes off my best stand alone.  I'll have to see what happens at my next half on Oct 2nd, maybe I can get it closer to 1:30 or under if I'm in contention for the podium.

Mile Splits:

6:19

7:01

6:59

7:00

7:04

7:12

7:14

9:14

7:34

7:26

8:10

7:31

6:57

Post Race Reflections

It turns out I came in 12th overall after all the struggles that I had today.  I had PR'd both my swim and my run, and if I hadn't flatted I would have probably set a bike record for myself as well. I figure the flat cost me about 12-17 minutes and that would have put me right around 4:30 which was my goal time for this race.  It would have bumped me up to 7th overall but there's no asterisks on results, so I'm no longer thinking what if.  I'm proud of myself that I didn't give up given the race I was dealt, and I was able to finish as high up in the standings as I did.  I did this race as a training race on the ramp up to the ITU long course world championships which is being held in November in Las Vegas.  I know now that my fitness is where it needs to be even though I have another 8 weeks or so to peak. I have one more race coming up on Oct 2nd and I've got a score to settle with that course.  It was my first half iron ever, and my most disastrous race. I've learned a ton since then and I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do!

Hanging with friends post race!