As many of you know, my amazing wife is the director of volunteers for this race, and while she puts hours upon hours of work into this race well in advance of race week, the days leading up to the race are her biggest hands-on responsibility. For this reason, I took Thursday and Friday off of work. This allowed me to spend time with the kids "relaxing" while Molly took care of business at the expo and race site.
Thursday we went to get my bike fixed (broken pedal), lunch out (Fazoli's) and to see a movie (Monsters University), and just hung out most of the day relaxing before I went and helped Molly at the Volunteer Captains Meeting. While Friday was spent relaxing by the pool, hitting the expo, dropping off the bike at transition, and carb loading at Olive Garden. We really had a fun couple of days together.
Molly had the alarm set for a time that started with a 3 and reset it when she left for a time that started with a 4 (ugh). Baby sitter arrived at 4:40 and a granola bar and Gatorade later I was out the door to pick up a pro from her homestay. Had a nice chat on the way out, wished each other well, and worked on my set up. The swim was declared wetsuit legal with a water temp of just under 76 degrees. The air temp was around 61 at race start, so most opted for the wetsuit, including myself. Setup was uneventful and I saw very few people that I know, so I just did my own thing. This included going to the bathroom at least 3 times, and wading in the water before the pro start.
Once the pros were off, I got a real warmup swim in, and worked my way back to the start area. Pete and Amy (and dozens of other friends) are volunteering today and were the first to find me waiting in my swim wave before Molly came over and wished me well with a kiss. Once through the arch and ankle deep in the water the announcer took a moment to thank so and so from somewhere for being a firefighter, police officer, in the army, in the navy, being physically challenged, etc., and then he asks "Where's Christopher Day", as I raise my hand he tells the story of how I'd lost 100 pounds training for last year's race only to be denied the opportunity with the shortened distance, and had to complete Steelhead 70.3 to meet my goal, but was back for more this year.
The gun is off, and so are the 80 or so yellow caps, men age 35-39 last name A-K (ah, the joys of being in the largest age group) - I find a pretty good stride for about 5 strokes before I get bonked on the side, kicked in the arm, ankle grabbed, etc. This goes on for a good 150-200 meters before it spreads out enough to get into a real good rhythm. Head down, and moving well, it is about 900 meters across the lake to the furthest buoy, and I felt strong even as the age group (35-39, L-Z) leaders behind me caught up already and zipped by. I was passing different colored swim caps as well by now, so didn't mind, but the traffic and congestion at the turn buoy was tight. Swimming parallel with the opposite shoreline for about 300 meters is pretty easy with no current to deal with and it seems to go by pretty quick. But as we make the turn to head back to the beach, the sun is IN YOUR EYES and blinding to the point that you can barely see the hand in front of your face. It is at this point, that I'm sure I began weaving left and right and probably causing more contact with others than I should have, but most were very nice and even apologized like it was their fault. I counted down the buoys and found that my stroke count was pretty consistent between buoys, and when I finally hit the beach, I could not believe my watch - 40:54 - That is almost 5 minutes faster than I was expecting, and a sure sign that the wetsuit helps me be faster.
T1 - Volunteer surprise of the day as I was coming up the swim chute - wetsuit strippers! The Muncie Central Football team was smiling and anxious to rip that wetsuit off me, so as I got it to the hips I made eye contact with a couple and said "you ready?" which they lit up smiling and got in a ready position. I dropped to my bottom and rocked onto my back as they simultaneously grabbed it at the hips and YANKED - that sucker popped right off in less than 1 second! I sprung up and they threw it at me and I was running to my bike! Awesome!
Once at the top of the hill, Molly was waiting for me (smile) and I made the long jog to my bike. I had a little trouble getting my tri top on, but once I got my socks and bike shoes on, I was ready to roll 3:53 later.
Once I was clipped in I was taking inventory of how I felt and was surprised how relaxed I was. On one hand it made me want to push the bike early a bit, but ultimately decided to stick to the plan and be smooth and strong as long as possible. Working our way out of the PCR area and out onto 35 is a pretty easy mostly downhill ride and mostly on smooth roads, but once you hit the highway it is like a drag strip. It is so wide and bikes are coming by me like I'm standing still! Large majority are on aero bars and catching much less wind than I am, but I'm comfortable with my pace, and sticking to the plan. Once we get off the highway we enter a controversial new area where the road is not in good shape and is very narrow, so much so that for 3/4 of a mile it is a NON PASSING ZONE! Um, isn't this a RACE? Needless to say none were too happy about this, and were not willing to stay in line stuck behind someone going slower than they could, and ultimately many folks pulled out and passed (illegally). I took the high road and opted to use this time to drink more and eat more. Speaking of eating, my nutrition was spot on all day with one exception - I forgot to bring my Payday candy bar. I normally eat half of it at hour 1 and hour 2 on the bike, but I did have an extra granola bar in the bag, so I split it up and substituted it. It was messy but it did the trick.
Once off this stretch of road, it doesn't get much better as the country roads are still very bumpy to the turnaround. I averaged 18.36 mph on the first 28 miles out. Coming back was the exact same situation in reverse. Bumpy roads. No passing, and super fast highway! And I enjoyed the tailwind as well! The first OOPS of the day came as I grabbed a bottle of water at the last aid station (roughly mile 43 I think?) and with one good drink, I DROPPED IT...and to make matters worse, the other bottle I was carrying was empty! Therefore NO FLUIDS for me that last 13 miles coming in! I was freaking out and of course like anything that you don't have, your mind decides that you want it that much more! There's a pretty good climb at mile 52-53 that I dropped into my easiest gear to grind it out, but didn't burn up the legs too bad, and by the time I reached the dismount line, I actually negative split the bike by averaging 18.64 mph coming in (thank you tail wind) Total bike time was 3:01:37 and while I really wanted to go under 3 hours, I'm still faster than I was in Steelhead, so I'll take it!
Jogging into transition and have another Molly sighting (that girl is everywhere) she asks how I'm doing so I reply honestly "I've been better". And it's not just because of my legs...but it's because I've had to pee for the last two hours! (ironic given the lack of fluids I've had the last 30 minutes) I refused to pee on myself during the bike (even I have standards), but once I changed my shoes and exchanged the helmet for the visor, I lucked into an open portapot in transition - Have you seen the Austin Powers movie where he pees, and pees, and pees (click to view)...yeah, it was like that! 3:13 later (:45 of which was spent in the bathroom) I'm on my way (lighter than ever)
I can not tell you how or why, but I felt AMAZING coming out on the run. Maybe too good! My first mile was a 9:35 and my legs felt surprisingly fresh, but I also knew there was no way I could hold that pace. Aid station 1 was my favorite. The big sign said "soak city" and the dude with the hose was waiting on us! Amy was handing out water there (no clue how she got there), and Pete was tooling around in a gator for athlete support. Pete spotted me and slammed the gator into park and bum-rushed me with a high-five. Said I looked strong, and I felt strong clocking a 10:21 second mile. As I climbed the hill to the turn near mile 3, I took my first walking steps up the hill and as I gutted out a 10:50 third mile. The back was aching and the hamstrings were tightening, and I knew it was time to put race strategy into play early. The plan was to walk the aid stations, and walk the uphills, but this was not supposed to start until the run back at mile 7, but I knew it needed to start now. I was taking lots of fluids and ice as the heat was really turning up at this point it's going on noon and the sun is baking me! I used a combination of counting cones (run 2 walk 1, run 3 walk 1 - thanks Pete) and forcing myself to run hard on the downhills. I know at this point that with 10 miles to go, a 12:00 pace will take me 2 hours and the math tells me it will be a PR. So, I used the Garmin setting on my watch that told me what the pace on my current mile was and committed to running EVERY time it showed my pace was over 12:00 and allowed myself to walk EVERY time it showed my pace under 11:30 - Check out how consistent the results were due to this on miles 4-11: 11:51, 11:56, 11:50, 11:36, 11:30, 11:23, 11:22, 11:47 - At this point I have ran the most strategic race I know how and when I finally find Pete again, he repeats himself with how strong I look. I decide that I can run more than walk, and really push myself for a strong finish. I know that I will PR and now I just want to crush it. Mile 12 was 11:13 and mile 13 was a 10:57, and of course I find it in me for a sprint finish for a half marathon time of 2:26:33 - ahead of my goal, and faster than Steelhead last year!
I'm anxious to see the official post race photos as I think I was smiling pumping my fist, but was really so delirious I can't be sure. As I find my wife in the crowd for my post race hug and kiss, she turns and points to....MY PARENTS.... SURPRISE.... SHOCK... AWE... and TEARS! You have to understand, my parents have NEVER seen me finish an endurance event. They've never been to a marathon or half marathon, let alone an Ironman event, and to my surprise, they greeted me at the finish line (more tears) In truth, I broke down, but think I was too dehydrated to actually produce a tear. Lots of hugs and kisses (even as disgusting as I was in that moment). I'm struggling to stay on my feet. I know I have blisters. I know how bad my back hurts. I know if I don't keep moving the hamstrings will tighten quickly and the rest of the day will be miserable, so we waddle around together and make our way to the food tent. Finally able to meet up with others I was anxious to hear how everyone else's day went. Many had great days. First time finishers, Personal bests, and joyous reports all around. While others didn't have good days. Injuries, DNFs, and unfortunate confrontations that will leave lasting scars.
The results compare very favorably to Steelhead from a year ago. I have no complaints about the day at all. None.
Volunteers were amazing.
My friends and family were amazing. And now we have just 6 weeks left to push on to the full distance. Many have said that when you finish 70.3 you will think to yourself how will I ever go 140.6 - I can honestly say I'm not thinking that way. It will be an incredibly long hard day, but today was the confidence builder I needed. My fitness level is high but my determination is higher.