A little late, but what the heck. Saturday, September 10 was my last triathlon of the season and my first half-ironman ever. My wife also entered the race, so we both had the same training goal for the summer.
[B]The Race.[/B] The Lake Geneva triathlon is held in and around the city of Fontana, WI, on the western side of Lake Geneva, which is a large, clear lake about 1 hour southwest from Milwaukee. There are 4 race categories: Half-Ironman, Olympic, Sprint, and Super Sprint. The race bills its run courses as â€œtough.â€? More on that later.
[B]The Goals. [/B] As a beginner finishing my second season, and a generally slow swimmer and runner, my main goal was to finish the race. For me, this would mean consciously slowing down on the bike to leave something in the tank for the run. Based on workouts and previous race times, etc., I thought I would be pretty happy with 6:30.
[B]Race Day. [/B] Typical pre-race night of sleepâ€”not much. We were up at 3:50 and on the road shortly after 4:00. I ate my pre-race banana, cliff bar, and 2 bottles of Ensure on the ride. We arrived in Fontana around 5:00 and brought our bikes into a very dark transition area. We found some spots, hung our bikes on the wire, and walked a few blocks to pick up our registration packets, get marked, etc. The line for packet pickup was slow (we had opted against driving out to do this the night before) and we had about 20 minutes back in transition to get our stuff laid out and get ready to swim.
[B]The Swim. [/B] The swim followed an out and back course along a buoy line. The different race distances turned at different buoy markers and headed back on the other side of the line. Lake temps were comfortable, if a little on the warm side with the wetsuit on. All 230+ half-ironman competitors left in a single wave. I took my normal position off to the side and towards the back and headed out. Swim conditions were generally OK and the water was calm. Water visibility allowed you to see your own hands, and maybe a little more. I took a few bumps, but nothing serious. I was able to keep a steady rhythm, concentrate on form, and was careful not to overexert myself. The back half of the swim got a little more crowded as the slower half-ironmen intersected with the Olympic wave (which went off 15 minutes after we did). Given some previous times, I estimated I would have a 40 to 45 minute swim. I estimated wrong. Back in T-1, the chatter was that the swim was definitely on the short side. After finishing the swim in approximately 28 minutes, I agree.
[B]The Bike. [/B] Anyway, I dressed for the bike and headed out of T1. Most times that you bike away from a lake in Wisconsin, you are going to encounter some hills. I had done a practice ride of the bike course a few weeks earlier, so I was mentally ready for the single bad hill that came about 1 mile into the ride. (Note to beginners, in my limited experience, practicing a bike course is very valuable for planning your race. Knowing when to go fast, when to conserve, and where the tricky turns, tough hills, and bad road surfaces are can be a definite advantage--even if youâ€™re only racing against yourself.) This hill was a nasty little guy that was fairly short, but steep enough to be deeply uncomfortable to climb. On hitting the hill, I dropped into my granny gear (I ride a road bike with a triple) and focused on not sending the heart rate into the stratosphere. 2 or 3 riders were even more serious than I about going slow on this hillâ€”they dismounted and walked.
After the tough hill, the course opened up onto a series of nice rural roads. Wind was minimal, the weather was still relatively cool, and the few hills were all manageable. There were several bovine spectators along the way, some of whom I greeted in their own language with a friendly â€œmoo.â€? I think they liked that, although with cows itâ€™s tough to be certain.
Around mile 16, I passed my wife (who is a faster swimmer but slower on the bike). We chatted for a few minutes and then I went on ahead. We train together as much as possible, but when weâ€™re in the same starting wave, we race at our own paces.
The course had a lot of turns, which kept you alert. I donâ€™t think there was a straight stretch longer than 5 miles on the entire ride, and most were in the 1 to 3 mile range. Still, most intersections were manned with volunteers or otherwise well-marked. Around mile 41 or so, there was a 3 mile stretch along the state line with Illinois. Apparently, neither state wanted to take responsibility for maintenance of this particular road, because it was pothole-infested. Aid-wise, there were several (I think 3) bottle exchanges with Gatorade and water available. I refilled at one and carefully consumed my Gu, salt tablets, Gatorade and water at regular intervalsâ€”trying to get at least 300 calories per hour. I finished the bike with a 17 MPH average. Nothing spectacular, but steady enough to set me up well for the run, or so I thought. T-2 was not crowded, with all the sprinters and many Olympic distance racers long gone.
[B]The Run. [/B] Simply put, it was ugly. Those of you following Ironman Wisconsin have no doubt heard that it was a bit warm that weekend. By the time I was off the bike, the temps had definitely started to climb and the humidity was thick. I was also starting to feel the effects of my terrible night of sleep. The run was two 6.5 mile loops, each of which had 3 hills that were long and steep. One of them was even labeled â€œFrankâ€™s Killer Hill.â€? I thought that maybe it got that name because Frank had been killed trying to run up it, but another runner told me that Frank was a race organizer and still alive. That was somewhat of a relief. After an initial effort on the first slope, I ended up walking up each hill. Even that was barely enough to reduce the heart rate.
Right around mile 3, my wife trotted by. We briefly ran together before I conceded that I could not sustain her pace for 10 more miles. Darn. Thankfully, there were some shaded areas, as well as 5 water stops per loop. Still, my first split was a sickly 1:12 and it went south from there. The stomach was not happy. The stomach was even less happy after seeing another runner go by in a white jersey with a bright red stain on the chest, indicating a bad case of chafing. Poor guy. On the second loop, I fell in step with another runner who was in roughly the same boat as me. We were able to encourage each other for much of the way, running the flat portions and downhills. Although neither of us discussed it, when we made the final turn into the 2 block finishing stretch, we both picked up the pace. Despite my better judgment and all the talks I give myself about racing only myself, blah blah blah, I can never resist a good sprint to the finish line. This day was no exception. It turned out to be a poor choice. After finishing maybe a step in front of this guy, I felt pretty awful and needed a good 15 minutes to sit in the shade, pour water on myself, and concentrate on not losing my lunch. Final time was 6:31 and change. Not bad, but definitely room to improve. My wife kept her good run pace going and finished in 6:15. Her mom and sisters were at the finish line, and they took us out for pizza afterwards. We were both pretty happy with the day.