Cold. That is the best adjective to describe yesterday's race. Cold. Cold. Cold. Oh, and throw a few "Wet"s in there as well. Yes, the weather was absolutely miserable - perhaps even worse than I'd feared. But I survived and actually raced pretty well, all things considered. I finished in 5:33:58 and ended up second in my age group and eleventh overall. Here's the story:
I woke up yesterday morning and the very first thing I did was look out the window. I was shocked to see that not only was it dry out, it was actually relatively warm. I turned on the radio and heard that it was 56 degrees and rain wasn't expected in the City until evening - great news! I had my standard pre-race breakfast (oatmeal with honey, a little peanut butter and some protein powder, half an apple, half a grapefruit, and some Gatorade), then I took Charlie out for a short walk to get the car with me, loaded up my stuff and was off. I got up to Harriman pretty quickly and was all checked in with over an hour to get my stuff set up and do a little warm up before the race. It was a little colder up at Harriman than in the City, but it was still just in the low 50's and, while it was very cloudy, it wasn't raining. They posted the water temperature - 63 degrees. Fantastic - that was about 5-8 degrees warmer than I'd expected; a huge difference. While setting up I ran into Will Fisher, a fellow Brown alum who I ran into at the NYC Triathlon in 2005 (my first triathlon). He and I have kept in touch off-and-on over the last couple years. He's also doing Placid this year, as is another Brown alum who Will introduced me to at yesterday's race.
I went down to check out the water and it actually felt warm. I got in and did a little warm-up. Then sure enough, as we were standing on the beach listening to the pre-race briefing, it started to rain, lightly...
When the starter's horn went off, I was feeling pretty good. That changed quickly as I found that I couldn't get into a rhythm and was having some trouble comfortably breathing. I kept telling myself to relax and finally, about half way through the first 0.6 mile lap, I found my stroke. I started passing a few people and started to feel like I was cruising. The second lap went well and before I knew it, I was out of the water and running to T1. My swim time was pretty fantastic - 28:57 - which is a huge improvement over the 37:42 that I swam at Timberman last year. (After the race, I did hear some grumblings that perhaps the swim course was a little short, but I'm not believing it just yet - and even if was a "little" short, I'm sure I still materially improved over my Timberman time.) The rain had gotten heavier during the swim and in the 29 minutes or so it took me to do the swim, everything at my transition area set-up was soaked. That swim-to-bike transition took me a long time as I struggled to get my wet socks, leg warmers and arm warmers onto my even more wet body. Finally, everything was on and I took off.
I started the bike by taking a wrong turn (which cost me an extra half mile or so), but finally I got on the course. Like in the swim, I struggled at first on the bike to find a rhythm. The bike course started with a small climb, but then moved into a mostly flat section - it would have been a good time to ride fast, but I couldn't find that extra oopmh. A few miles in I did start to get rolling. About that same time I realized just how cold the bike was going to be. The rain was coming down hard and it felt like the air temperature had dropped. Of course, the wind chill wasn't helping. I felt like I was riding well, but not as strong as I'd hoped. The wet roads weren't a factor - I felt in control of the bike and didn't have to think too much of the road conditions. I got around to the big, "fun" descent and realized that I didn't have to be as cautious as I was worried I might have to be. That being said, the descent was not fun - in fact it was miserable. I didn't have to ride the brakes too much, but cruising down the descent at 25-33mph with my heart rate dropped to between 95-105, I was absolutely freezing. Shivering freezing. Having-trouble-using-my-hands-to-shift-or-grab-the-water-bottle freezing. (I have since heard and read about multiple people who dropped out of the race due to hypothermia-like symptoms, including one guy who actually had to stop during the descent and wait to be picked up by the race crew because he was worried he could no longer control the bike! Everyone agrees that the descent was a killer.) I was actually happy to get to that horrendous climb (which was horrendous - I mean struggling to go 7-8 mph) because it meant that the windchill decreased and my heart rate shot up so I could warm up a little. I didn't consistently push the lap button on my watch, but I think that my first three laps were each around 47 minutes. The fourth lap was slower, first, because I was nearly hypothermic and second because I had to stop to pee. The rain finally stopped somewhere around mile 55! As I rolled into T2, I felt happier than I have ever been to get off my bike!
My bike-to-run transition was also very slow. I simply could not use my hands. I fumbled with the clip on my helmet for a little bit and then actually had to ask someone to unclip my helmet for me. I stripped off the leg warmers, somehow got my shoes on and off I went. The run started great and I warmed up pretty quickly. Well, all of me except my feet, that is. My feet were frozen and my shoes felt like bricks for at least a couple miles. But, regardless of that, I was running well. Again, I wasn't consistently hitting the "lap" button on my watch exactly at the mile markers, but I know the approximate splits: I ran the first mile in about 7:30, then miles 2-5 in around 7:15 each, and miles 6-9 in around 7:30 each. The first nine miles were generally rolling, with a nice descent from about mile four to mile six. Part of the run was on a nice trail. I passed a couple guys who I remembered had passed me on the bike. Around mile nine all the fun stopped. From there it's a three-plus mile climb - and a pretty steep climb at that. So not fair. See the elevation chart below. My splits plummeted - 9:02, 8:13, 8:48. I had a gel in my pocket, but am convinced that it wasn't a fueling issue - I had taken in enough calories and didn't feel sluggish like that; my legs just didn't want to move. I only got passed by one person on the run - a woman who blew past me after the turnaround and was just simply gone - I later found out she was part of a relay and thus was fresh coming into her run (she did it in 1:33:09, which is very impressive regardless.)
Because there was a turn-around at around mile eight, I had seen who was ahead of me and I knew that I was in somewhere between tenth and fifteenth place. I constantly checked behind me and couldn't see anyone; I knew that it was all but impossible for anyone to catch me. I wanted to walk. I wanted to stop. But there was no way. The last 1.1 miles was a descent, but my legs were so cashed that I couldn't take real advantage - I did that last bit in about 8:20 (a little better than an eight minute/mile pace). My run was nine seconds faster than last year's Timberman run - I'd say that that nine seconds is really like nine minutes (well, OK, maybe five or so), based on all the conditions and the course.
Today I say a big "PHEW". I survived. And raced well. I have to believe that surviving that race gives me confidence to survive just about any race under just about any conditions. That was my last big race until Placid; now it's all about training and preparations. I'm not sure what today's race taught me regarding strategy for Placid - I paced myself fairly well and didn't have any real problems running after a brutal 57 mile ride. I do know that I need to be prepared for any situation - another layer on my top would have been nice yesterday; so I'll make sure to have all kinds of stuff in the transition area at Placid. My nutrition strategy worked - I confirmed that the InfiniT supplemented by some gels works well for me, and that 250-350 calories per hour is a good range.
I feel pretty good today. A little sore and tired, of course, but I can walk and think and I don't hurt that much more than after some of my longer training days.
Nine weeks to go. Bring it!
p.s. Assaf ran his 100 mile race this weekend - started yesterday at 5AM and finished today at 10:55:28AM - yes, that's 29 hours, 58 minutes and 28 seconds! Huge props my friend. Huge.
Endurasport Harryman Half Iron
Official Time: 5:33:58
Swim: 31:26 (22nd overall among individual finishers)*
T1: 2:14 (20th)
Bike: 3:17:20 (20th)
T2: 2:53 (24th)
Run: 1:40:06 (11th)
Overall place: 11/101 finishers
Gender place: 10/91
Age group place: 2/10
*My watch showed 28:57, the extra 2.5 minutes are the run from the beach to the timing chip sensor which was at the entrance to the transition area
Pre-race Brick - May 18
Time: 30 minutes
Average heart rate: 118
Distance: 2 miles
Time: 15 minutes
Average heart rate: 144
Course: Village, Washington Square Park
Conditions: Cool, windy, overcast
Harryman Half Ironman
Distance: 70.3 miles
Average heart rate: 135
Swim course average HR: 136
Bike course average HR: ~129 (first lap average was 134, second was 129, third and fourth combined was 124 - I'm not sure why it went down so much over the ride, I guess I just couldn't continue to push as hard)
Run course average HR: ~150 (stayed pretty consistent throughout, with spikes in miles 8-11, predictably enough)