Yesterday was the big day - my 2nd half-iron distance event and likely my biggest test before the Big Kahuna. Get comfy folks, this is gonna be a long one. Oh, and you may want to check out my last post to get an idea of what my goals were.
The Night Before
By Friday afternoon I had completely lost interest in work, so I spent a good chunk of time combing through the weather reports and putting together a checklist of clothing and other items for the next day. On the way home I stopped at Target for a few last-minute necessities and got a funny look from the cashier as they checked out my purchase of Shot Bloks, Chocolate Milk and Vaseline.
Once home, The Wife and I decided to bail on making dinner for ourselves and ordered out instead. Enter: Chinese Takeout. At the very least it would be easy on my stomach and provide me with a few carbs for Saturday. After dinner I got to work on the checklist.
First, I cleaned and lubed the bike, tested the gearing, hooked up my new Podium Quest water bottle and tied on my race number. Next, I made five piles of gear: one each for before the race, during the swim, Transition #1, Transition #2 and post race. The swim, bike and run gear all went in my big orange tub. The pre-race gear went in the bathroom and the post-race gear went into a plastic bag. Then, I mixed up some Perpetuem and stuck my nutrition in the fridge. The last thing to do was load everything I could into the car so I didn't have to think about it the next day.
The last thing on the agenda was the little matter of hair removal. Well, one empty clipper battery and two razor blades later I was ready to go. My dome was smooth and polished, my legs were frictionless and my torso was completely hairless. It looked like a small dog had exploded in our bathtub and I now had the appearance of a pre-adolescent boy. Awesome.
The alarm went off at 4:30 the next morning. Ugh. I hopped in the shower for a few minutes to wake up. That helped. Then I suited up with my tri shorts and top, heart rate strap and warmups. Breakfast was a warm bagel with peanut butter, washed down with some Gatorade. I did a final check of essentials and headed out the door at 5:00. By 5:30 I was rolling into the parking lot at Baker Park.
I usually like to get to the course early for a race, and today was no different. I was fortunate to grab a spot in the nearest lot to the transition so that I didn't have to carry my gear too far. I grabbed a nice spot near the 'Bike Out' area so that I wouldn't have to run too far in my bike shoes. Over the next hour, I set up my gear, made a few trips to the port-o-pottys and walked around just kind of absorbing the experience. At 7:00 I met up with a few new friends from the Beginner Triathlete forums. Good peeps, not to mention fast - Steve and Ben even ended up coming in 8th and 9th in the Olympic distance. Way to go guys!
After the meet-and-greet, I finished strapping up my wetsuit and headed down to the lake for a little swim. The air temperature was around 60 degrees, but the water temp was close to 70, so I really only got cold once I got OUT of the water. A few minutes later, I watched the first wave (Elites, Clydesdales, Athenas and relay teams) head out into the lake. Three minutes later it was my turn.
Our wave took off and I aimed for the 2nd buoy. I started out on the slow side because I didn't want to get caught up in any thrashing that would only serve to frustrate me and not contribute to a faster time. After about 200 yards I hit a good cruising speed and started passing some of the guys in my wave that probably started a bit too fast and were starting to fizzle. It wasn't too bad, but there were a few clumps of dudes that were a chore to get around, but by the time we hit the first turn, things had thinned out.
On the return leg, the chop started to pick up and I felt like I was getting blown into shore. Every time I lifted my head to sight, I found that I had drifted a couple yards off course. At least, with the overcast skies, I didn't have to stare into the sun to find the course again. Pretty soon I was catching up to some of the swimmers in the first wave.
I usually don't like holding back on effort during a race. Frankly, I just don't have the discipline for that kind of thing. So, taking it easy on the swim was difficult. I kept reminding myself that today was about pacing, and having enough gas in the tank for the run. I trudged out of the lake and crossed the timing mat at 36:08. That was 3 seconds slower than my last (and only other) 1/2 iron distance race. That puts my 100-yard splits at 1:43. I'd have preferred to be closer to 1:35 or 1:40, but I'll chalk the slower time up to the wind and navigation errors. I was 63rd out of 248 for the swim leg, so maybe I did better than I thought. The only thing left to do was strip off the wetsuit and throw on my cycling gear before hitting the road.
The roads out in the western suburbs are the closest thing I have to a home course. I ride 'em several times per week and have ridden the course loop multiple times leading up to the race. There weren't likely to be any surprises out there. For the first 20 miles, I had two things on my mind - 1. Get my heart rate down and 2. Keep my cadence up.
My first heart rate check clocked me at 167 BPM. Uh oh. I shifted down a gear or two and took a couple of deep breaths. Eventually it got down into the low 150s. It wasn't the 135-140 that I was looking for, but I felt relaxed. This is supposed to be a learning experience after all, and who am I to argue?
Since I had a pretty good swim, and ended up as one of the first couple-dozen people out on the bike that could mean only one thing: getting passed by a constant parade of carbon fiber and penis-shaped helmets. That's fine. I know those dudes are fast, and I hope to get there soon, but I've only been at this for a year and a half, so there's still plenty of room for improvement.
The weather continued to cooperate. Temps were in the mid-60s, the skies were overcast and the wind was minimal. It was a great morning to ride.
I set my Garmin to go off every 20 minutes so I would be reminded to take in water, Perpetuem and Shot Bloks. Then every 60 minutes I took in some Endurolytes to try to stave off cramping. This was working fine, but after 2 hours on the course, I started to get a little tired of Shot Bloks. I'll have to pack a better variety of food for the Madison in September.
At least I knew that I was sufficiently hydrated. By mile 40 I had to pee. Bad. So, I decided to 'drop ballast' at the next downhill. After a minute or two of meaningless stage fright (I mean honestly, I'm essentially alone on the course and I get stage fright? Seriously?) the mission was accomplished. I had baptized myself into triathlete-ism. Man. That felt GOOD, and I could finally focus on pedaling again.
The last 10 miles of the course were an out-and-back along the same course as the Tuesday Night Timetrial series. It gave me a chance to see my buddies on carbon fiber again as well as all the other cyclists that were hot on my tail. There's a nice long downhill to finish off the course which gave me a chance to spin to a higher cadence for a couple of minutes. Evidently, this is supposed to help you get your 'sea legs' back after cycling.
I hopped off the bike and monkeyed around with my socks to get them 'just right' before heading out onto the course. My legs felt, for lack of a better term, 'oogy', but at least they weren't cramping. A couple hundred yards into the course I was hit by the famous woodchip hill. It's a 100-yard long jerk of a hill with little or no traction. Blech. Once that we were directed onto a nicely paved trail and over towards Lake Katrina.
Just after mile 2 I saw the race leader heading back the other direction like a freakin' gazelle. Sheesh. If I could only be that fast. My goals were likely a bit more modest than his. I just wanted to take a few miles to find my groove and then try to keep my splits around 9:30 per mile.
The race organizers had their act together and had aid stations set up ever mile with water, Heed, gels and some other treats. At mile 2 I took a gel, but had trouble ripping off the top and decided to stow it instead. At mile 4 I grabbed a marathon bar, but looking at it made my stomach a little ornery, so at mile 5 I handed it to another volunteer and said 'here ya go, I changed my mind'. From there on out I stuck to Heed for calories and water (mostly poured down my back) to keep me cool.
A funny thing happened just after mile 4. Up until that point I had Kevin Quinn's 'Evolve' stuck in my head - you know to keep the pace. Go ahead, click on the link and tell me it isn't catchy. I'll wait. Okay, now. At mile 4 my Garmin told me that I just ran a 9:33 split, which was right in line with my plan for the day. Then I though to myself 'I love it when a plan comes together'. That made me think about Hannibal Smith, which in turn made me thing about the A-Team, until then, you guessed it. I had the A-Team Theme Song stuck in my head for the remainder of the run. Excellent.
My splits for the middle portion of the run surprised the heck out of me. At first when I pulled an 8:53 on mile 5, I thought that I should pull back, but my mile times continued to stay right around 9:00 through the 10th mile. During this time it started to sprinkle, then it rained, then it downright poured. I didn't care. I just kept running with a big stupid smile on my face. During the last few miles I was really starting to feel it - the fatigue I mean. I think I was finally running out of gas. The only thing left to do was be a big boy and gut it out through the finish. Here are the splits, including the last little fifth of a mile:
I hit the woodchip hill again (this time going down). The rain had made the ground even squishier. It was like running down a lumpy sponge. At the bottom of the hill, the course turned right to follow the shoreline - where I started this whole race, back when the Earth was still cooling. Then, I could finally see the finish line. I trotted in with the best form I could muster. I must have still been grinning like an idiot, because the announcer said something to the effect of: 'here comes Eric Bergstrom, and look at him smiling!'.
I broke the line with a time of 5:49, which was 11 minutes faster than my 'best case scenario' and a full 44 minutes better than the Square Lake 1/2 Iron last year. Better yet, my run time dropped from 2:53 to 2:04. Yippee!
At that point the work was done. I hung around for a few minutes to chat with some of the other finishers and volunteers. It's amazing how you feel like you can be friends with just about anybody after doing something like this. Then, I headed back up to transition and slowly loaded everything back into the car.
Before heading home, I checked out the post-race barbeque and snarfed down a steak sandwich and some fruit in about 30-seconds flat. Yummers.
Well, there you have it. If you made it through reading the whole thing - thanks. I'll be back in a day or two to talk about the recovery process. Later y'all.