Friday, April 13, 2018

Texas Ironman 70.3 (Galveston)!

I just completed my second Ironman 70.3 ("half-Ironman") in Galveston, Texas!

It was different, but not too different than the first. In some ways it was more challenging than Austin, although I did manage to eke out a personal best, so I count myself pleased, although I've identified several areas where I can improve :-).

The Galveston site presented a couple more difficulties than the Austin one, viz., transportation of people and bicycles, as well as housing therefor.  The race site was at Moody Gardens, which has its own resort hotel, which we might have done if we had planned on going on Friday and staying until Monday.  Ultimately, we decided to drive down the morning before the race with our bikes, rent a house via Airbnb, and drive back the evening of the race.

Leaving Austin at 7 AM...
With two bikes on the back, three people (and one bike) in the car, and all our gear, we were pretty packed, but the drive only took about three and a half hours, even accounting for coffee breaks.

We drove directly to Moody Gardens to pick up our race packets and drop off our bikes.  The first thing we discovered when we arrived was that it was cold and rainy and the swim venue (Offats Bayou) was a bit choppy...

Under the triumphal arch the day before the race...
Registration/packet pickup was in a big white tent overlooking the bayou (the same big white tent Moody Gardens had used for a cool dinosaur thing a couple years back).

The white tent with dinosaurs five years ago...
The pickup and registration and dropoff were strangely inefficient: You wait in line at a first table to show your ID and USA Triathlon membership; then you go to a second table to pick up your waiver and other forms. Next, you go to a third table to fill in and sign your waiver and forms, and go to a fourth table to drop off your signed waiver and forms. Thereafter, you go to a fifth table to pick up your wristband and swim cap and bike and helmet stickers; go to a sixth table to pick up your backpack/goodie bag and T-shirt; and finally, go to a seventh table to pick up your timing chip.

Then you exit via the Ironman store and vendor village where you can wait in line to buy stuff.

Inside the big white tent
The course talk was outside and the rain had died down enough so that it wasn't all that unpleasant. Behind us was the paddlewheeler Colonel and a whole lot of choppy water with whitecaps. We were assured that the weather could be better the next day, however. No rain and significantly less wind, although there would be a headwind on the return portion of the bike route.

The paddlewheeler Colonel.
The swim course, with the finish right by the paddlehweeler
The Airbnb was a nice little three-bedroom cottage about five miles from the event site and across from a large cemetery.  It had a complete kitchen that would come in useful later that night when we couldn't get into any of the nearby Italian restaurants without reservations.

The house we rented
Cemetery across street.

Making spaghetti dinner
That evening, we gathered all of our gear and made dinner and looked forward to the race. I went for a three mile run around the nieghborhood to loosen up a bit, and then we made dinner.

I managed to get around five or six hours of sleep and only hit the snooze button once when the alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning. After a couple cups of coffee, a banana, and a bagel, we were off!

The temperature felt good: low fifties, not too much of a breeze. I decided I didn't need gloves, but would take along my arm warmers for the bike just in case. We arrived at Moody Gardens a little after six and discovered we had had to park about a fifteen minute walk from the actual transition area.  A remarkably long line greeted us to enter transition (for body marking), but since we had already done so, we were able to get in with only a brief wait and some judicious weaving through the crowd.

Testing out the wetsuit when I first got it.
There was then the ritual of putting on the wetsuit and pumping the bike tires and then transition closed! (We might have cut the timing a little close).

We then made our way separately to the swim start: they did a wave start by age group. You jump off the pier (see above map), hang around in the water for a couple minutes, and then swim like the wind when you hear the starter's horn.

The water was a nice 72 degrees, about twenty degrees warmer than the outside temperature. The water felt good, although it took a few minutes to get used to the waves and occasional mouthful of salt water. I felt pretty good, though, and noticed myself passing a lot of people.  More importantly, I managed to beat my swim time from last fall's Austin Ironman 70.3.

 Once I was out of the water, the wetsuit strippers were efficient and I had no problem getting to my bike (even without my glasses), stowing my wetsuit and taking off. Because it was relatively warm, I decided not to bother with my sleeves, and I wouldn't have worn gloves even if I had brought them.

The first half of the bike portion was glorious. The temperature was perfect and I had no problems staying in aero position almost the whole way.  Unfortunately, at the turnaround, I was made to realize just how much of a tailwind I had been benefitting from. The rest of the ride felt like I was pulling a mobile home...

Grimacing with miles to go...

Also about that time, the temperature dropped by about ten degrees, and it started to rain. And then my back started to hurt from being in aero position for so long.  In short, the ride back was completely miserable...But I managed to break three hours, which had been my goal.

In addition to the lower back pain, I got a pain between my shoulders, and every time I tried to stand up in the pedals to stretch, my legs felt like they wanted to cramp up.  And my hands were so cold I could barely move them to squeeze my water bottles.

Trying to squeeze out the last drop from my water bottle.

By the time I got back to transition, my hands were so numb that I couldn't operate the clip on my helmet. Putting on my shoes and tying my laces was equally an ordeal. It didn't help that my legs and abs kept cramping up when I bent to tie the laces.  After a ridiculously long transition, I made it onto the run course and my watch died.

But my legs felt good and I enjoyed the run a lot more than I thought I was going to on the return bike. :-). My pacing was a bit off and I came in somewhat slower than I would've liked, but it still felt pretty good.

Overall, I came in a couple minutes better than the Austin Ironman 70.3, which I'm pleased with (although I think my run could've gone better).

Mugging with the finisher's medal

Using the R8 recovery roller thing...
All in all, it was a great experience and I'd definitely do the race again. A big thanks to all the organizers, volunteers, sponsors, and first responders who made the event a success!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Austin Ironman 70.3! (Race Weekend!)

Okay, it's been a while, but I thought I'd finally post about the 2017 Austin Ironman 70.3 race weekend. :-). Like I mentioned in my last post, I felt fairly optimistic -- if anything I was a bit burned out on training.

The big kicker, though, was that the weather was forecast to be 38 degrees race morning, which resulted in a bit of last-minute anxiety, mostly due to the mantra, "Don't do anything different on race day." That is, it is unwise in the extreme to test out new equipment or clothing on race day. Unfortunately, faced with the prospect of a 38 degree swim and bike ride (and the fact that it would warm up quickly), we had to make some last minute adjustments.

The week before the race, I picked up a triathlon jersey that had sleeves, and borrowed some arm warmers from one of my training partners.  Saturday morning, I went for a five mile test ride and realized I needed gloves, which necessitated a trip to Austin Tri-Cyclist, where I was not the only one making such a purchase :-). 

I was still a bit concerned about the swim, but I had a wetsuit, so I figured I'd done all I could do. Still, I was coveting one with sleeves...
I next headed over to the Travis County Expo Center to pick up my swag bag, drop off my bicycle and gear, and check out the transition areas.

Our happy faces before we get out of the car into the cold...

 Next morning, three of us drove out together and arrived in the cold dark of the Travis County Expo. Center at around 5:30. Did I mention that it was cold? Eventually, we got on the bus to take us to the staging area at Walter Long (Decker) Lake. There, we put on wetsuits, met up with our other training partners, and shivered a lot.

Eventually, though, as the sun started to peak above the horizon, we lined up according to our projected swim times and prepared for the start of the race. I was still worried about the swim and the cold -- even though I was wearing socks (to be discarded just before start), my feet were starting to go numb and my arms were not happy either.

But then it was time! I ran into the water and dived in as soon as I could. To my surprise, it was actually pleasant -- the water itself was around 68-72 degrees, so compared to the air temperature, it was balmy.  The only real problem was that fog on the water and the glare of the sun were making it hard to see the buoys. About halfway through the swim I began thinking that the temperature really wasn't bad -- if anything, it was a bit too warm. 

Emerging from the water...

But then I finished the swim and stood and was confronted by the reality of confronting an air temp of around 40 while being soaking wet.  I grabbed my glasses from the special needs table and a nice man helped me get the wetsuit off. (This basically involved lying back on the wet ground, sticking my feet in the air and having him pull. Thank you, sir.). My time was a little slower than I would've liked, but I was fairly happy with it.

I made it to transition, took a big swig of water, swallowed the contents of an energy gel pack, and put on my winter cycling garb. Then I was off!

And it was frickin' cold.

Contemplating that wind chill...
 It was this weird Catch-22 where you want to go as fast as possible (for the race, of course, but also so you warm up), but also kind of are thinking that if you slowed down a touch the wind chill wouldn't be quite so bad.  I ended up spending the next hour shivering until the ambient temperature and I warmed up.
Now, I actually kind of like the bike route -- it's mostly country roads with little traffic, and I rode the route about a half-dozen times in training. The problem with it is that a number of the roads are not exactly well=paved. Bumps and potholes and patches proliferate, especially on Monkey Road. In fact, the dip where it crosses a creek is so bumpy that by the time I got there, there were at least a dozen water bottle scattered on the ground.

There were way too many hills, however :-).

Beyond that, the ride felt fine, although my back began to hurt about halfway through -- I wasn't used to spending that much time in the aero position, so most of the second half of my ride was with hands on the brake hoods. I made sure to stick with my hydration and nutrition plan, so I felt pretty good by the end of it.

Again, my time wasn't quite what I wanted it to be, but I was not displeased.

By the time I finished the ride, it was around noon and fairly warm, so I took the time to change from my sleeved singlet to a sleeveless one (Ironman rules require that you wear a shirt). 

Starting to feel the legs...
The run wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, although there were again too many hills :-).  I was pleased at the number and size of the aid stations -- water, electrolyte drink (Gatorade, iirc), Clif energy gels, Coca-Cola, and Red Bull were all available.  

I was definitely feeling my legs, but my quads didn't feel like they were going to seize up like they had when I did triathlons in the 90s -- all that training paid off, I guess :-). I managed to make it through without slowing to a walk (other than at aid stations, because I can't drink and run at the same time) and ended up with a run time that was comparable to my stand-alone half-marathon times.

At the finish line!
My final time was 5:50:36, which I'm pretty happy about. My goal had been 6:00:00, although I did think that 5:45:00 was not out of the question. :-).

Finisher photo! And medal!
The gang...
All in all, it was a great experience. I got out of my comfort zone, made some terrific friends, learned how to most efficiently change a bike tube, and never once thought, "I can't believe I'm paying to do this." (Okay, maybe once...).

After the race!
Celebrating the next day with Coach Peri!

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Austin Ironman 70.3! (The training post)

Never actually saw anyone on a horse
So after having completed my first triathlon in 20 years, I decided to sign up for the Austin Ironman 70.3 on October 29! It's a "half Ironman" distance race, meaning it's a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run. I figured the swim's only a little longer than an Olympic distance tri and the bike and the run are only about twice the distance, so why not?

Even better, the race was just outside Austin, so I wouldn't have to travel. The swim was in Decker Lake (Walter E. Long Lake), the bike was a 56 mile loop almost out to Elgin, and the run would be in the park by the lake and up to the Travis County Convention Center.  I was a little concerned about the hills (having run the Decker Challenge Half Marathon more than once) but decided that that was what training was for.

That started in June, not long after the Capital of Texas Triathlon. Yes, training would be through the height of a Texas summer.  And every time I went out, I would remember Noel Coward's line that "[m]ad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun..."

My training program was based Triathlete Magazine's Week by Week Training Guide and involved nine workouts a week. I didn't completely adhere to all of the mileage suggestions (some weeks doing more, some less), but mostly kept to the program of two a days.  

By early August, the mileage was starting to pile up but it didn't seem particularly efficient (and also was getting a little tedious), so I decided to join the triathlon training/masters swim group at Pure Austin Gym and, really, it was the best decision I made in the entire process.  The awesome Coach Peri Kowal leads two swim workouts a week, mostly in a pool but also including two a month in the Quarry Lake, so participants can get used to open water swimming. (Also, during the summer, the gym does a Splash N Dash (Swim 750k, then run 2k) once a month; it's good practice for the whole "group of people in the water, don't get kicked in the face" thing).
Quarry Lake
Somewhat to my surprise, the group was a mix from beginning triathletes to multiple Ironman (and Kona) finishers.  Everyone was enthusiastic and supportive, even when insufficiently caffeinated during the Thursday morning (6 AM) workouts.

Insufficiently caffeinated
Best of all, there were a number of folks for whom the Austin Ironman 70.3 was to be their first half Ironman, as well, so we fell into an ad hoc training group of the equally blissfully ignorant, typically doing our long bike rides and BRicks together on weekend mornings. It was great having a mutual support group and not just when we got flat tires...(Incidentally, if you get a flat in Texas, watch out for fire ants).

Anyway, here are some pics of the process:

Training happens even when you're away on business
Igloo coolers are our friends!

Monkey Road really needs to be resurfaced
Don't drive off with your cell phone on the roof of your car
The gang poses after a long BRick
Starting the run after a 40 mile bike ride...
Kevin and Alec hamming it up...
My first shoes to come with an instruction manual
Celebrating Coach Peri's birthday!
Sights you see along Town Lake
More sights...

About to test out a wetsuit
Went through a lot of these...

Feeling punchy three days before the race...

On the whole, training took a lot of time and work and there were moments in early October when I was really ready for race day to arrive. OTOH, I'm also happy I had that extra three weeks of training....

In the end, I was really glad to have been able to do race-distance open-water swims in the Quarry Lake and to bike the race route. I think we ended up riding the route about 5-7 times altogether and it was helpful not just for putting in mileage but in learning where the potholes and seams were. Also, the BRick workouts were really helpful -- when I had done triathlons in the 90s, the bike to run transition was always terrible. This time, not so much...but that's for another post :-).

I finished training feeling cautiously optimistic -- I'd put in the time and the mileage and the BRicks and the intensity and worked out my nutrition and hydration requirements and figured out how to change a flat tire without getting bit by fire ants in under ten minutes.  We had generally accounted for every possible variable and had kept in mind the mantra, "Don't try anything new on race day."

Except that having trained through blistering heat and humidity of Texas in the summer and fall, the weather was forecast to be 39 degrees at race start... 

So, how did that go? Well, I'll do Race Day Weekend in another post...

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