I raced my first half Ironman race this weekend, and have lived to tell the tale. My wife Krista made the 7 hour drive with me to cheer me on to make it all the more special, with several friends from our local triathlon club, BEAT, racing as well. My goal was to finish the race in under 7 hours (ironically, the time it takes to drive from Nashville to Augusta). So did I reach my goal? You’ll have to read on to find out.
A couple quick notes for those unfamiliar with half Ironman races or Augusta. A half Ironman starts with a 1.2 mile swim, then goes to a 56 mile bike, and finishes with a 13.1 mile half marathon. I started training in March for this. Over that 30 week period, I swam 67,353 yards (over 38 miles), biked 1594 miles, and ran 339 miles. That’s not a lot for a triathlete, but pretty good for a human.
Regarding Augusta, I learned that it was named after Princess Augusta of England, and is pronounced “Awww-gusta”, like you feel sorry for it. And to an extent, you do- they have this incredible looking downtown on Broad Street that reminds you of Disney’s Mainstreet USA in it’s clean, old-timey feel, but probably 60% of the storefronts are empty. However, the people and volunteers we met there were incredibly nice and helpful. You really root for the town and hope that hosting the largest half Ironman race in the country helps in the rejuvenation of the area.
My goal time for the swim was 58 minutes. The swim is perfect, in that you don’t even need to know how to swim to finish it. It’s a lot like being in a ‘lazy river’ with floaties. You swim with the Savannah River current the entire way (as compared to some where you swim in a circular pattern or out-and-back) with a pretty fast current pushing you along. It’s a wetsuit-legal race, which means you don’t have to make any effort to stay afloat since you’re wearing buoyant wetsuit. Last month, it took me 45 minutes to swim a 0.9 mile Olympic distance race. For this, it took me 34 minutes to swim 1.2 miles. Shocking. I was at 34 minutes, 24 minutes ahead of schedule. (Note: Before the race, they announced they’d have some girls who would be strippers for you after you got out of the water. But not that kind of stripper. Wetsuits are notoriously hard to get out of by yourself. For the big races, though, after you come out of the water and get your arms out, you let down on a mat and two people ‘strip’ the wetsuit off you, saving you a minute or so and some potential frustration. It’s still funny to say, though.)
My goal time for the bike was 3 hours, 40 minutes with the first transition, about a 15.5 mph average. The bike course is hillier than you expect, but in a gradual way. There aren’t any steep sections where you have to stand up and mash on the pedals for five minutes. My goal was to keep an even pace and not chase anyone on the bike, so that I wouldn’t burn myself out. About 10 or 15 times I had to stop myself from speeding up to catch someone who passed me. I just had to keep at my own pace. 56 miles is a lot, so you have to keep your mind going a bit. Your first name is on your number bib on your back, so as I passed women, I’d say their name and something encouraging (the women who were passing me were too fast to say anything to). For the guys, I’d usually drop some good-natured trash talk. One guy and I kept passing each other, and had some pretty good banter going (you’re not allowed to ride side by side, so conversations are for a few seconds every few miles). Finally, about 40 miles in, he had to stop at the side of the road and answer nature’s call, and that’s the last I saw of him. After that, I pushed pretty hard and finished at 3:20, 20 minutes ahead of my bike goal time, and 44 minutes ahead of my overall swim + bike goal.
My goal for the run was 2:14 minute for the 13.1 miles and 3 minutes transition time, a 10 minute per mile pace. The run is incredibly flat, and does a modified two loop course down and around Broad Street. One of the highlights was at the beginning of the two loop run, where I saw Krista cheering for me on the side of the road. I flipped my visor bill around backwards, and gave her a big kiss as I passed. A guy running behind me yelled, “Well done!” I turned around and replied, “And I didn’t even know her!”
There were a lot of spouses with kids lining the roadway, too. They’d been selling cowbells, and I saw a little daughter pause her ringing long enough to ask her dad, “Do ants have ears?” If they do, that anthill she was by was in for a long day.
The first half of the run went perfectly. I wasn’t pushing the pace at all, and was running about a 9:30 pace, and I intentionally had to slow myself down. Then the cramps hit. First my right hip. Then my left quad. I was stopping at every water stop to get pretzels, water, and Ironman-aid, or whatever they call it. Eventually, I’d just stop by the rest stations and chat for a bit, trying to work out the cramps. Then my right calf and my left calf started to cramp. The frustrating part was that I still had energy- when I was running, it was probably at a 9 minute pace or so. Finally, when I was just 0.2 miles from the finish line, closing enough to hear the music blaring and people cheering, I got my worst cramp. My big toe completely curled under my foot. It was bizarre to see. I had to take off my shoe and pull with both hands to get it to stop cramping. I knew Krista and friends would be at the finish line, and I wanted to run down the final stretch instead of limping, so I took an extra couple of minutes to stretch out my foot. I was able to turn the corner and gingerly run the last 100 yards, finishing the run in 2:24 minutes, and 11 minute pace, 13 minutes slower than my goal time. I finished the race in 6:22, 38 minutes faster than I’d planned. Overall, I finished in 2,194th place out of 3,335 racers, and 309 out of 416 men in my 35-39 age group.
I raced this half Ironman, and am running the 200-mile over-night, over-mountain Ragnar Relay race to raise money for Servants Heart Ministry. If you’d like to donate, please do so here: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/robert-dublin/teamshm. Thanks!
*photos by Sherri Kerstetter