Friday, August 3, 2007

My first Half Ironman

I wrote this shortly after completing my first Half Ironman at Lake Anna State Park in Northern Virginia on Sept 16, 2006. I hope you enjoy reading.

It’s Friday morning, the day before my first Half Ironman Triathlon. Well, the day doesn’t go so well. I had planned on leaving early enough to get my race packet and get checked in at the host Hotel in Fredericksburg, then arriving at Lake Anna State Park with enough time to set up camp and relax a little.

I’m a last minute guy, so here I am, Friday afternoon, running around the house trying to get all my stuff together. Heaven forbid I actually pack some things on Thursday evening. My wife Nikki is at work and I have both my son Logan and daughter Ansley at home. Needless to say, my hands are full, even without trying to pack and prepare for a Half Ironman. Between feeding them and playing with them, I have pushed all my race preparation tasks back. Then, for some odd reason, I decide that I need to package up and mail out two items we had sold on eBay. Could that have waited until Monday, sure, but I just had to get it done Friday. Instead of going to UPS and paying for the shipping labels, I have a bright idea to try and print my own shipping label from home. No big deal, I’ve done this numerous times. I checked the ink cartridge and was sure I had enough. Well, you guessed it, no more than a couple lines into the printing, no more ink. Since I had already paid for the label online, I had no choice but to print it at home. I spend the next couple hours driving around Mechanicsville searching for a printer cartridge while getting a couple errands done. With that finally printed and out of the way, I begin to load the Xterra with all my race gear and camping supplies. My bike is then racked to the roof of the X. I had wanted to leave my house around 4pm, but, of course, that never happened. Nikki called around 4pm and we planned on meeting at Chick-Fil-A about 5:30pm. Well, 5 o’clock rolls around and I still need to make all my drinks for the race, get them into the cooler, load the kids, and head out. When I’m all ready to leave the house, it’s about 10 of 5. Of course I have to drive by the UPS store to drop off those boxes. By the way, those packages missed the UPS pickup for Friday and didn’t even get mailed until Monday. Yeah, I was pretty peeved. I finally get to Chick-Fil-A to meet Nikki at 6:15pm. Nikki had been waiting for 45 minutes. Thankfully, she is rather patient about having to wait so long. Once we’ve all eaten, I hit the road. I need to be in Fredericksburg by 8:30pm to pick up my race packet and Lake Anna State Park by 9pm to get my campsite.

Driving up Route 1 is a very nice drive, not much traffic and a much calmer ride than being on I95. The drive took me close to 45 minutes. For the first time all day I was able to crank up my music and begin to really focus on the race. I knew I was ready. All the work had already been done and it was just a matter of execution.

I make it to the host Hotel in Fredericksburg by about 8pm, plenty of time to spare. Check in is a breeze, most of the other racers have already picked up their packets and are relaxing. Me, I still have a 20 minute drive to the Park and a tent to set up. I learn that evening that the water temperature is 78 degrees. That’s great news, as I’ll be able to wear my wetsuit. In the event that it somehow gets 1 degree warmer, no wetsuits. However, it’s forecasted to be cooler that evening, so I feel pretty good about the water temperature. I’ll have to wait until the morning for the official word.

I arrive at Lake Anna State Park and begin to find the check-in lodge in the dark. This proved rather difficult as I had never been there before and all the roads heading into the Park were pitch black. On the first pass, I completely miss the Park entrance. It’s a smaller sign than what I was looking for and there were no streetlights. After a few miles, I realize that I had indeed missed the Park and turn around. I finally find the check-in lodge with about 10 minutes to spare. They close at 9pm.

I drive around a little to find a nice secluded campsite, away from the restrooms and a decent distance from other campers. After all, I wanted a quiet, good night’s sleep. Once I choose a site, I take a few minutes to glance up and admire the beautiful starry night. Tons of stars are out tonight. I leave the headlights on the X so that I can see the campsite and set up the tent. I didn’t see any need to attach the rain fly onto the tent. After all, it was a nice, cool, clear night. Not a single cloud in the sky. I opened the screen window and the screen door of the tent to allow the cool breeze in. I inflated my air mattress and placed it into the tent. I had a small backpacking tent, so the twin air mattress took up the whole tent. No room for my bags, they stayed in the X. With my flashlight and sleeping bag, I headed into the tent to get some sleep.

Much to my surprise, I awoke to the sound of a light pitter-patter on the tent. I closed my eyes thinking that it was just wind or something, can’t be rain. Suddenly, the pitter-patter became louder and harder. I shot up, realizing that it was indeed raining. It just hit me that I did not place the rain fly on the tent. I checked the inside of the tent, sure enough, the floor was getting damp and my air mattress a little wet. I quickly zipped up both screens, grabbed my flashlight, and went out to the X to get the rain fly. I could only stare up at my bike, primed to race in its first Half Ironman, getting soaked. It was still locked on the roof as there was no place safer for it. In the rain, I attached the rain fly to the tent, re-entered the tent, and climbed back into my sleeping bag. I was getting really mad at this point, thinking that I wouldn’t get back to sleep, and never losing thought that my bike was on the roof of the X getting soaked. Then the sky lit up, yes, lighting, followed by distant thunder. In the next few minutes the thunder only got louder. I thought I was in for a wild evening in a very small tent.

“BEEP, BEEP, BEEP” my alarm goes off at 4:30am. I listened carefully to what was going on outside. Taking a deep breath, I was at ease, no more rain. I reset my watch for 4:40am for a little more sleep. I was pleased that, all things considered, I actually did get a good night’s sleep. Once up, I head to the X to grab a long sleeve shirt, as it’s a bit chilly. First thing I do climb up and check out my bike. It’s a little wet, but not too bad. Nothing a couple towels can’t quickly dry off. I drape my sleeping bag over the passenger seat of the X. No need to pack it up right now, it’s a little damp on the head and foot due to the rain on the inside of the tent. I deflate the air mattress, fold it up, and place in into the back of the X. Last thing is to pack up the tent, then head to the restroom to change into my race gear. My pre-race Cliff bar is tasting very good.

I arrive at the Lake front to check in and set up my transition area. I get my bike off the top of the X, dry it off a bit, and with my transition bag, head over to the bike check line. After the race crew checks out my bike, I get body marked. I take a big inhale of the dark black sharpie used for body marking. It’s one of those things that make a Triathlon memorable. Now I pick up my timing chip. I notice that Odyssey placed the chip on a neoprene band. That’s very good news as I really didn’t want to wrap a hospital type band around my ankle for the duration of this race. So, I’m all checked in and heading over to transition to set up. Before I lay everything out, I pick my spot and mark it with my bike and wetsuit. Then, I head back to the X to grab my cooler. All my bike bottles and juice are in there, can’t forget that thing. Once back, I begin to lay everything out. Bottles are placed on my bike and my Aerodrink bottle is filled up. My running fuel belt is then loaded with its four bottles. GU’s and salt tabs are already packed into the pouch of the fuel belt. Finally, my food for the bike leg is laid out. I’m all set and ready to go.

We get the official word that the water temperature is 78 degrees. Out come everyone’s wetsuits. I begin putting mine on. With my transition setup complete, it’s time to go. I grab my cap, goggles, and earplugs and head down to the Lake. A little warm-up in the Lake reveals that the water feels great. I’m so ready for this. I exit the water after my warm-up and look up the beach, wondering if Nikki and the kids made it there with my Brother-In-Law Kevin. All of a sudden, Kevin catches my eye. I’m stoked, Nikki, the kids, and Kevin have gotten here just in time. It was about 5 minutes until race start, my family is here, and I’ve never been more ready to get racing.

The swim is outstanding. I felt like I was on autopilot. The only thing I had to think about, was aiming for the two buoys. The swim course was an upside down triangle, the point being on the beach. Not once did I have to tread water or use a different swim stroke. It was all freestyle, the whole swim. I’ve never felt better while swimming than I did that morning. I stayed a little to the outside to avoid the commotion from the main field. This proved to be very beneficial to me as I was able to remain consistent with my stroke. I even caught the draft of a few others on the outside that had the same idea as I. After the last buoy I turn it on a bit, heading back to the beach. Once I can touch the bottom with my hands, I stand up and begin to peel the wetsuit off. When it’s halfway off, I pull my cap and goggles off, followed by pulling my earplugs. A quick glance at the race clock, WOW, I’m in at 39 minutes! I’m so stoked at this point, I was thinking it’d take me close to an hour, but I know I have a lot more racing left. Sitting in T1, I peel the remainder of my wetsuit off. I grab my food for the bike leg and stuff it into the pockets on the back of my race top. Once the rest of my bike gear is on, I head out of T1.

Out of T1, and on to my favorite leg, the bike. The course is a two lap 28 mile course. Once I mount the bike and climb out of the finish area, I begin to settle into a rhythm down on my Aerobars. I begin to eat a half of my first Cliff bar. As I’m putting away the other half, it hits the road. That extra half was the extra I had packed in case I needed it. I realize that I must now pay close attention to the rest of my food so I don’t lose anymore. The bike leg is beautiful, great country roads and very scenic views. I’m on top of all my nutrition and hydration. Having my watch timer set is really helping me eat when needed. I’m drinking all the time and refilling my bottles at the water stops as needed. It was a rolling course with a few very nice flat sections to fly. I was flawless while on the bike. No maintenance issues or flats at all. I hit a very smooth rhythm and was able to remain consistent throughout. There is one killer hill that is set after you ride down it and pull a tight u-turn to climb back up, no momentum to climb back up. It’s very close to the turnaround, slowing up all the riders to about 10 MPH, and it’s definitely a quad buster. I can’t wait to climb this the second time around. At the turnaround, I’m able to see Nikki, Kevin, and the kids all cheering me on. 28 miles down, 28 to go. I actually felt faster on the second lap and spent a lot of time on my aero bars, in the aero position. That steep climb was very fun the second time around. All the athletes were helping each other up that final climb with words of encouragement.

Heading back into transition, I’m feeling really good. After dismounting the bike, I roll over to my spot and get the bike racked. I take off all my bike gear and get into my running shoes. I take a few seconds to catch my breath and say hi to the family as they are watching me from the side. Putting my hat on, grabbing my fuel belt and race number, I head out. Only 13.1 miles to go. Out of T2, I grab a Red Bull, and I’m on my way.

I begin the first of a two lap 6.55 mile course. After a few sips of the Red Bull, for a good sugar kick, I toss it. No way am I going to finish the whole thing, seeing as I never drink caffeine and don’t want to begin today. A few miles into the run I have to pull over into the woods to relieve myself. This is a good thing as I know that I’m getting enough fluids. The run course remains inside the Park and is a very nice run. Mostly flat, with a few tough climbs. Again, I’m staying on top of my nutrition, GU’s on the run, and keeping well hydrated. I feel a little bad as I approach the turnaround and my family notices the struggle in my face. Some great cheering, and encouragement from my family, boosts my spirits. Only 6.55 miles to go. I’m feeling much better on the second lap, knowing that I’m really close to finishing. I hit the 10 mile mark, only a 5K to go, I’m going to finish my first Half Ironman! I can’t help but to speed up, I don’t want anything left in the tank. I want to feel like I left everything on the course.

As I crest the hill and begin the final descent, I can see the official timer. I’m going to finish under 6 hours. Well under my initial goal of 6 ½ to 7 hours. I’m stoked as I cross the finish line in 5 hours and 51 minutes. I did it!! I’M A HALF IRONMAN!! 70.3 miles!! I can’t even begin to describe the emotion that came over me upon accomplishing something this big. To work hard all year long for that one big race, then have the absolute definition of a perfect race, is far more than any words can describe.

1 Comment:

Peter said...

What an awesome story!! I just finished my first half in Steelhead over the weekend and am looking to do a full sometime in 2008. I look forward to reading your blog!! Good luck and do work son!!!