Full Race Report: South Carolina Half Ironman
Swim 1.2 miles: 00:56:40
Bike 56 miles: 03:45:55 (14.9 mph)
Run 13.1 miles: 03:24:09 (15.34 pace)
Total: 08:15:23 place 102 out of 107 women.
Last year I had planned to make this race my goal for this year, but then I got distracted by signing up for a longer race that was then cancelled. I decided to do this race only after completing the Tri-America race of about 3/4 the distance in August. After that I got serious about my training, doing a 60 mile bike ride each weekend and long runs of 9-11 miles. What I couldn't predict was the effect of a much less hilly bike course--there isn't any place to ride that flat around here.
I have twice done Festival of Flowers, an international distance race in June that uses the same basic swim and run course, so I knew my way around. I was careful to go down early enough the day before to drive the bike course. My husband went with me and drove, which allowed me to try to imagine how the bike course would feel. I kept to my usual routine from the international distance race--dinner at Ryans, stay at the Econolodge, a frozen quiche for breakfast. (I have type 2 diabetes so I can't load up on carbohydrates.) We got out of the hotel a little later than I wanted in the morning, but everything went smoothly getting set up.
The race started about 20 minutes late--they didn't have the turn buoys out on time. The air was cold (52 F at 7:30) and I couldn't face going into the water to warm up, even though I hadn't swum in my wetsuit since June. I was organized enough to carry a banana to eat before the start.
The swim start was in the water so I did get my face in the water before I started. The water was warmer than the air--I heard 76 degrees. There was a little bit of breeze instead of the usual dead calm. I wouldn't call it a chop, but I often got a wave in my mouth when I sighted. I started off at a moderate pace, following advice to find my groove during the first third. The elites had gone off course so the kayakers were making a particular effort to make sure we were going in the right direction. To my surprise I had a few people around me all the way to the first turn. After the turn the sighting was easier and I tried to push my pace more. That section was fairly empty, but in the third leg of the course I actually passed two people. That was exciting--I'm usually close to last out of the water. I was 98 out of 107 among women on the swim and ahead of 10 men. I was very happy when I came out of the water and saw a time on the clock that translated to about 56 minutes after my start. Someone kindly unzipped my wetsuit as I went past--I hadn't even started to think about it.
I didn't rush the transitions. I started my Garmin first, then the wetsuit came off fairly easily. I sprayed my arms and shoulders with suntan lotion. Glasses, headsweat, helmet, gloves.
My strategy for the bike was to not push the first 12 miles, which was the hilliest. The course is about 2,000 feet cumulative climb with no bad hills but enough up and down to give the legs a rest now and then. The middle section is really flat and I knew I wanted to push there. About 12 people passed me in those first 12 miles and I was amazed that I had swum faster than that many people (there was only one wave behind mine). I stuck to my strategy, not wanting to have tired legs at 20 miles. It worked--I was able to pass two of those people back and keep up a pace close to or over 15 mph from 10 to 40 miles (looking at 5 mile splits). Then there was a section of rough road and then when the road smoothed out again the most serious headwind of the day, so I worked harder towards the end for less than I had hoped. I rode mostly by heartrate; my Garmin says my average heart rate on the bike was 84%. I ate two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and wished I had somewhat more food and I took three salt/electrolyte capsules with most of four bottles of water. My legs didn't hurt until the last 10 miles or so, and despite that I speeded up again the last six miles when I turned out of the wind.
I'm not sure why my second transition was quite so slow, though I was distracted a little by a photographer who had come to take my picture for a book on sexual abuse survivors. I changed my shirt to one with short sleeves that would cover my shoulders and prevent chafing under my arms. I did forget my hat and go back for it, but I was only halfway to the transition exit when I remembered it. My legs didn't feel as badly starting to run as they had in August, but it was daunting to think I was starting a half-marathon.
The course was a double out and back so my first lap there were lots of people on the course. I walked some hills but was pleased initially by the pace I was keeping--I thought I might be able to hit 8 hours. I at a gel every two miles (up to 10) and a salt/electrolyte capsule every hour and used the potapotty once. Thankfully there was a cool breeze--the temperature was in the area of 79-81 from 1 to 4:30 pm. The second loop was lonelier, but I actually passed someone. When I started back the second time they had opened the road and many people were leaving the race--the awards ceremony must have just ended. There must have been 100 cars that clapped and cheered for me or gave me a thumbs up or honked to me or said "you go girl." At one point the cars were stopped and people stuck their hands out the window to high five me. I got such a charge out of that I didn't stop to walk during the last two miles. I wasn't as fast but I felt I was still running strong (for me). My two mile splits to 12 miles were at a pace of 14:47, 15:50, 15:26, 15:37, 16:23, 15:34. That isn't slower than my long run training pace. There was one point towards the end where I felt "I'm going to collapse soon" tired, but then it passed and never came back. The last little bit to the finish is an evil hill, but I got myself to run the last part of it.
The finish line was still up even though it was after 8 hours. I had to ask for a medal but I got one. I didn't think to ask about my age group (women 50-54) because I knew five had signed up. But it turned out only 3 showed up--I learned only after I got home that I was third in my age group. I miss my daughter (who is away at school) who would have listened to the age group awards and noticed that they only announced two people in my age group.
I felt emotional running those last few miles with people encouraging me, and told myself I couldn't cry and run. After the finish I didn't feel as emotional as I had expected. I had talked to someone a few days before about how doing triathlons had for me been a way of learning to like my body. Doing my first half-ironman was the completion of something.
After the race in August I was saddle sore and badly chafed under the arms. I took steps to prevent those problems this time and succeeded, even though the distance was longer. I'm sore today but not terribly so--I even rode my commuter bike to work (only a mile). I told my students that I don't usually brag about myself but I did my first half ironman yesterday and placed 3rd in my age group. They clapped for me. One was bright enough to ask "out of how many" and I got a laugh when I said "Three, but I wasn't last."