October Scottsboro, AL Half-Ironman

October 7, 2012 I raced in my first long distance triathlon, The Goose Pond Island Half Distance Triathlon in Scottsboro, AL. This was the inaugural race and is the final event in the Alabama Triathlon Championship Series. I have been racing in sprint, international distance, and off-road events for the past couple of years and felt ready for the longer challenges. Training involved the usual methods, but due to work schedule I frequently substituted a road ride for Sufferfest videos and other interval training methods on the trainer. Likewise, my longest training run was one ten mile run with the majority of run training also focused on bricks, intervals, and tempo runs. Once a week I would try to hit the Union trails for some higher cadence mountain biking and a brick run on the trails. This provided some nice variation to the usual asphalt.
I met up with an old high school friend the night before the race. We have frequently kept in touch through a common athletic interest. It would be his first HIM as well. He had demolished me at an Xterra event in 2011 (I was recovering from an injury) and I was eager for payback! He is a far better runner than me as he is an ex-collegiate decathlete, but he knew I was a better cyclist. He was convinced that he would catch me on the run. It was on!
Race day weather wasn’t the typical early October Southern day. It was sprinkling and a near record low that morning. Fortunately, I had come prepared with some extra clothing, but aerodynamics would suffer.
After a barely adequate warm-up, due to extra pre-race prep, I hit the water with my group. The water was much warmer than the air and it felt great. When the gun sounded, I took off and attempted to pace myself according to my strategy. Due to the murkiness of the water, I couldn’t keep an eye on my Garmin as I had planned and had to go by feel. And I felt great! The swim has always been my weakest of the three, but I had worked at it very hard this year. I noticed that I was actually passing people! Awesome! Upon exiting the water and beginning the wet suit strip, I glanced at my watch. I was way faster than what I had planned: 35:39. My first thought was: “You just blew your race.” As I worked my way through transition, I put the negative thought to bed and kept focusing on how great I felt. Cycling was next and I loved that. I was off. I hadn’t seen my friend yet.
I had received detailed beta on the course from a friend who had helped set it because I arrived to late the night before to ride it. Thank goodness I had. It was a fast, scenic, flat course, but had an incredibly nasty 2-3 mile stretch on the out and back that could seriously use some new asphalt. It was bone jarring as was a few if the railroad crossings. I even lost one bottle of fluid and would have been very worried about that if the weather had been warmer. I nailed my nutrition on the bike and due to the cool weather and relative lack of sweat loss, I had to get rid of extra fluid on the bike in a way I had only heard about before. Uncomfortable, but it kept me moving along.
I raced my planned negative split and in retrospect should have gone out a little faster and come back a little faster. However, I nailed my race plan for the bike and that was a victory. I was also ahead of my friend as I had passed him after I made the turn around. I spent the ride back calculating in my head how fast I needed to run to be sure I wouldn’t get caught. Bike split: 2:45:18.
I transitioned for the run easily, but was a little nervous as I had never in my life run more than 10 miles at one time. I would see if the interval training would work. I had planned to target my pace by heart rate and divide the race into quarters. My race plan was using a pace I had come up with in much warmer weather. As I ran off into the Goose Pond Campgrounds where the majority of the two loop course was, I was struck by the fact I was going faster than I had planned. I also felt great and kept pounding away and waiting for my friend to catch me, but I was pretty sure he wouldn’t. As I finished the first loop of a very confusing course, fortunately they had volunteers that did their job to point the way, I picked up the pace. As I neared the ten mile mark, I was waiting for my body to tell me to slow down, but it didn’t. As I headed into that final mile, I looked down at my watch. I was way, way ahead of my race plan and within reach of finishing below 5:15. As I neared the final hill before the finish, that mark barely slipped away as a twinge of cramping hit the hamstrings. I gutted it out and crossed the line with a run split of 1:49:45 for a race time of 5:16:11. I finished 11 out of 20 in a very tough age group of men seeking the Alabama Championship and finished 61 out of 206 overall.
For me, this was a success. Three years ago I was 35 pounds heavier and with a triglyceride count of over 800 was well on my way to an early heart attack. I had now successfully finished my first long distance triathlon much faster than I had planned. The training had worked. The nutrition was spot on. Despite the weather, the race plan was effective. Most importantly, I now knew where I needed to push myself to go faster. I was hooked and already planning my next 70.3 in 2013 while I was waiting for my friend who finished almost an hour after I did. I met him with a big smile and a cold drink at the finish line. I bet next time we meet, it will really be game on!