Racing for Recovery Half-Ironman
Last Sunday was my A race for the year, the Racing for Recovery Half-Ironman in Monroe, MI. I haven't done a half-ironman distance race since 2007 and the last one I finished was this very same race where I set my PR at just shy of 6:03. I signed up for it again, because I knew there was a possibility I could go sub-6 on this course and because it is just too hard for both of us to be seriously training during the summer now that we have the little guy.
Unfortunately, my training was plagued from the get-go. First, I had to get over a hip flexor injury which had my run training ramping up more slowly than what was on the schedule. Second, I got two bad sinus infections that required antibiotics. The first infection was so bad I lost two weeks of training. And, I was still getting over the second on race morning. Crazily enough though, I still thought around 6 hours was achievable. My bike training had been solid and that is where you can gain a lot of time.
I talked two of my girlfriends, Paula and Bridget, into doing it with me. Paula and I had trained for Ironman Lake Placid together, so it was nice to get back out there with her both for training and racing. Bridget is new to triathlon, but she is always up for fun albeit crazy adventures. She never trained more than 1 hour a week on the bike, but figured she could gut her way through it. Her run and swim training were rock solid though. In fact, she is a fabulous runner who did a marathon just 2 weeks prior to the half!
Bridget's family and our family shared a suite at the local hotel. I think the kids enjoyed spending time together. Her daughter is just 1 hour younger than my son! The night before the race we went to a great Italian restaurant that Paula had found. The service was kind of slow, so Bridget and I took the kids to a playground across the street where we saw a momma duck sitting on a nest. But, I digress.
On race morning, I was still hacking up a lung but otherwise ready to get to racing. The water was nowhere as cold as I worried it would be, but was still a little shocking when we got wet pre-race. Bridget hadn't worn her wetsuit in a couple years and neither of us had practiced open water swimming prior to that morning. That didn't worry me so much, because I have swam in open water a bunch of times but I was worried about her. She must have been worried about it too, because she suddenly looked panicked, started crying and said she couldn't do it. I didn't want to put her through a miserable experience so told her that it was perfectly fine if she wanted to drop out. She impressed me though by saying that she hadn't trained in the pool so hard with me just to drop out now.
Before we knew it, we were off. The course has you go out to a far buoy, turn left to the next buoy, turn left again and head back towards shore where you make a right turn, swim parallel to the beach, take another left and then head back 500 meters to the exit. When we started swimming, my chest felt tight and it made me feel panicky, so I stuck to just breathing on my right side every stroke. I eventually was able to settle down and start alternate breathing. The sighting wasn't too bad for me and I did really well hitting every buoy dead on until the last 500 meters. Those buoys were the size of basketballs and I'm sure I added some distance to my race because I couldn't see them at all. As usual when I got to the end of the swim, I thought "thank god I didn't drown and now it is all downhill from here". I saw my friend Danielle and told her that I was never racing in Lake Erie again. I also told myself I didn't have to rush through transition if my 1.2 mile swim time was greater than 50 minutes which unfortunately it was. One of these days I'd like to swim well enough for there to still be bikes left on the racks.
Usually, the bike is where I can gain some ground back from my deplorable swim. I knew almost immediately that I didn't have the giddyup I needed to bike the way I usually can though. The road surface was deplorable also. The bike course has you go out 13 miles with lots of turns and then you do 3 10+-mile loops before heading back. I managed to catch Bridget who was about 5 minutes ahead of me after about 10 miles. I wasn't passing a ton of people like normal though. Not sure if it was because of the way I felt or just that the field of participants was also good on the bike. While Matt, Steve and the kids weren't at the swim exit, they were at the end of the 1st loop on the bike. By the time I saw them the next time, I had to stop at the porto potty. All the bumps on the road were not kind to my bladder or my lady bits. I told Matt as much and he told me to ignore that pain and get back to business. When I asked him how Bridget was doing, he told me Bridget was fine and not to worry about her (I thought it was code for she had dropped out which wasn't the case). He told me he'd see me next at the finish, so I hopped back on my bike for more bumpy riding. The last 6 or so miles were just plain hell and I couldn't wait to get off my bike. I did the math and figured I rode the 56-mile course at about 18 mph (exactly 18 mph according to race results) which was 1-2 mph slower than I hoped for. It was definitely not going to be a PR day.
I saw Paula running as I was coming in on the bike. Her husband told me that she was about 10 minutes ahead of me. I was hopeful I could catch up with her, so we could run the rest of the race together. Well, I did catch her around mile 4, but she was having severe asthma issues. I walked a couple minutes with her, but she shooed me on. At this point, we witnessed a participant passed out on the side of the path. Luckily, it was near an aid station so they were able to quickly get him help. After I saw that, I wondered if I was being an idiot running in this heat just "for fun" when I had a 14-month-old to take care of. My mantra became "I'm slow, but I'm fine." The heat was starting to take its toll as was the cold I was fighting. I told myself to keep running, but stopped to walk at almost every mile marker and aid station. At the halfway point, I told Danielle I wasn't sure I could run another loop. She quipped "Do you want me to run with you?" She just had hip surgery, so I knew I was being a ninny. It didn't stop me from sobbing when I saw Paula's husband though. I filled him in that she'd have to drop at the halfway point and complained again about the heat, but I kept on.
Now, remember I was convinced that Bridget had dropped and I knew Paula was dropping, so I kept on just so one of us would finish. My pace was slower than molasses. Most miles were around 11-11.5 minute pace, but I definitely saw some 13-14 minute miles. With about 2 miles to go, I saw Bridget on the out and back section. She looked darn good and was only about a mile behind me. I knew I needed to put on some speed or she could catch me. Eventually, I crossed the finish line with my slowest half-marathon ever and my second slowest half-Ironman ever at 6:40. Bridget crossed just 3 minutes later. Turns out that she tried to quit on the bike with about 8 miles to go, but her husband didn't know where she was to come get her, so she had to finish. Paula's husband told her to do what she does best and boy did she ever. She mowed down that run field on a day that had even the fiercest competitors suffering and almost caught me even though I had a 30 minute lead on her off the bike. Incredible! Can you imagine what she could have done had she actually trained for the race and not have done a marathon 2 weeks prior?!
Am I disappointed in my performance? No. Despite several setbacks in training, I still finished it. It wasn't pretty, but I didn't quit. Who cares what my time was? I can proudly tell my boy someday that his mom persevered even though she wanted to quit several times throughout the race.
I think I'm done with long course for now. I scratched an itch, but the training is just too much with the little guy. I want to be energetic for him not wiped out from riding my bike for 4 hours. I think I'll stick to short course for awhile. It'll be nice to be done with a race in less than 1.5 hours!
I'll leave you with a couple of pictures from the weekend.
The momma duck was just under the stairs he was climbing.
It was so nice to have my family there to support me!
Bridget and me with the kids
We both got sunburns (we are the whitest of white chicks!) despite reapplying sunscreen prior to the start of the run