Monday, June 11, 2012

Race Review : Liberty 70.3

My first 70.3. The overall goal was really just do it. I had set some goals, but really this was just a step along a path toward a full 140.6.

The Training
The entire year has been leading up to do this. I spent a week tapering, and the taper had me feeling very confident. I also had a couple of PRs heading into this race. Physically I was confident I could meet my goals.

Packet Pickup
There were a couple of options for packet pickup, Thursday before, Friday before, or even race morning if you were so inclined. They did recommend that you not wait till Saturday morning, but I'm sure some people did. I went Thursday. I went up Thursday after work, the traffic sucked, but that's just traffic. Actually getting the packet was super painless, no line whatsoever. So that was awesome, the whole process took 5 minutes (plus the hour of driving each way :)

Race Morning
The race started at 7:30, transition opened at 5:30, so we figured getting there around 6 was going to be good.

Wake-up time
Breakfast of Champions
When we got to the race area, I had to pee like a man with a very full bladder so I made a bee-line for the portable bathrooms, which was already starting to have a line forming.

The SIL before we head to transition - read to race
We gathered our stuff up, and headed to transition. On the way over there were large signs "Body marking here" (basically) so we got in a small line where there were one or two body markers. Then some guy came over and said "Hey, head over to were those people in orange shirts are, they are also doing body marking." There were at least 10 of them, that was a much better idea. I recommend they move the sign next time, or move the body markers to where the sign is.

We got marked up, got into transition, and found a place for our bikes. There were not assigned spots, but we were there early enough to find spots easily.

There's my setup, seems pretty efficient
One of the best features of this transition area was built in land marks, they had flags on two sides of the transition area, so it was really easy to pick landmarks for where your bike was. We got especially lucky, since we had inadvertently put our bikes right across from one of the flags (not the ones that were marking rows.)

After we got setup, I had to go to the bathroom. Bethany had found a whole ton of swimming friends, so I just left. When I got back we checked out the lake, the swim looked killer long again. It was so far away I'm pretty sure I could not see the end of the swim, it was not a triangle, it was just a long out and back. Water temp was decent, but 74 is still wetsuit legal.

The Swim
There were four waves before me. We lined up, I took a spot in the middle front. I was really confident that I would have a faster swim time than most.

Some sort of USAT official was at the start sort of small talking with people, he was not the guy sending us off. The swim course layout was two lines of parallel buoys, the deal was swim to the end, turn, swim all the way to the other line of buoys and then back. Always keep the buoys on your right. So someone asks him, what's the course? And he says, you'll come out in the middle here. To which I say... no, if you see buoys on your left you're not in the right place. It's not like there was a huge amount of distance difference, maybe 20 feet, but they obviously did that to keep the start and finish separate and keep people from swimming into each other head on. He asked the guy sending us off, he confirmed always keep the buoys on your right. I heard that after that the official left and went somewhere else. That's good :)

So we got started, I took off at a similar pace I always do. Just keep it long and smooth. My wave was wearing white caps, I never saw another white cap, there wasn't even the normal rush of speed I usually see at the start of a race.

I started catching the slower people from the wave ahead of me long before the olympic turn around (which I assume is about 200 meters from the half turn around.) Before the first turn I caught the bulk of that wave. I passed them before the turn, made the turn and started back. Up until this time I was feeling pretty good, I had swum a fairly straight line. On the way back I swear the waves were blowing me off course, I kept drifting into the middle. Then again I was basically the only person doing it, so maybe it wasn't the wind :) I counted four different colored caps that I passed (none were white), I think I passed two big groups of people.

Overall the swim felt really long, not long as in distance, just a long swim. At the end I caught up to a guy who was walking in, he must have been in chest deep water. I just swam past him. My rule, don't stand up until you touch the ground with your hands. At that point the water is less than knee deep and getting out of it is pretty easy.

Getting out of the water, maybe that guy is the guy I swam by. He's undressed at about the point I stood up

All smiles. Amanda and the kids were standing at the end of the swim. And I heard a friend yelling for me before her swim started.
The trip from the swim exit to the transition was up a big hill, there were stairs and grass. I was all prepared to sort of jog to transition. But when I got the stairs there was a whole string of people walking up the stairs, so I followed suit. I made sense to me, 5 and a half hours isn't a sprint. So I took it easy, jogged to my bike when we got to the top of the hill. I took some time to reapply sunscreen on my face and hands and took off.

The Bike
The weather called for temperatures starting in the low seventies climbing to the low 80s during the bike with 15 mph winds from the south-southwest. The bike course is 8 miles straight south, then east for a bit, then south, then west for a bunch, then east back to the middle, south for a few miles, then west and then east back to the middle and north for 8 miles. I'd say basically the report was right, except the wind was mainly from the south. So heading south it was really noticeable, heading east was awesome.

A note about this course - it was controlled wonderfully. There weren't many intersections but where there were they were very well controlled. There were tons of volunteers who were all very friendly. Probably the best run bike course I've been on.

I started the bike with three bottles. One of Powerade, two of water. The plan was to switch out the powerade bottle for Heed at the three bottle exchanges on the course. Per the advertised instructions: "3 bottle exchange stations will be located along the course at approx. mi 18, 30 and 44. Water and HEED replenishment drink will be available at all bike aid stations courtesy of Hammer Nutrition" I also had a gel, a gel flash with about three gels in it mixed with water, and a protein bar. The extra gel was a just in case, if I took much longer than I had expected on the bike or something like that.

I picked a pace I was happy with, it was near my goal pace, maybe slightly faster. Basically I was focusing on not pushing up hills too hard, and keeping steady. Some people were passing me, I was passing some people. I was trying to watch from people in my age group, now I don't know for sure but I think I was 35 minutes into the bike when the first one passed me. That's the best part of the a fast swim.

I got to the first bottle exchange and had successfully depleted 20 ounces of power-ade. That's about 100 calories. They gave me a not quite full bottle of heed in exchange, the bottle was larger than the one they gave me, but not quite as nice. It's actually the junkiest bottle I've ever used. At first I actually had trouble getting drinks from it. Eventually I figured it out.

Onward, some time after that I hit the roughtly half way mark, time to eat the bar. Up until now I was on my nutrition plan. I was running low on heed, I knew I'd run out before the next bottle exchange which was unplanned, but I had plenty of extra water to cover the gap, so I wasn't worried about dehydration. The plan was to drink water with the bar anyway. So I whip it out, tear it open...bobble... on the ground. I did not stop and go back for it. 200 calories dropped. I had actually forgotten about the gel by now, but then I saw it in there. 100 calories found. So I was a little bummed now. I was running low on heed due to a partially filled bottle, and I dropped some calories. Put it out of my mind, keep pedaling.

Near the turn east I was catching a guy who had decided to ride all the way to the left of the shoulder we were riding in. It was one of those nice full sized shoulders, perfect for bike riding and not getting run over. USAT rules, no passing on the right, so I pulled up behind him, yelled on your left, he didn't hear me so I pull out into the lane and yelled it again when I was overlapping his back wheel. It was about this point that a guy driving by decided that I was the rudest person ever and started honking and cursing and swerving wildly like he was going to run me over. We approached a right hand turn, and I swear that guy considered getting out of his truck and give me a talking too, thankfully the intersection was controlled by police and they waved him through to make room for us.

We hit the turn east around, and ... oh the sweet speed. I know for sure I looked down once and was doing over 30 and not coasting down a hill, just with the wind false-flat speed. I started picking people off left and right. That lasted for probably 10 miles, then back south... into the wind.

The next water stop should be coming up... I've been out of heed for about 15 minutes. But there it is, I toss the old empty and pick up a new ... not full bottle. Disappointing, I can tell by weight it won't last me till the next exchange, it felt lighter than the first one. No matter, keep going, steady pace. At this point I was passing people more regularly, I must have caught some slower people from an earlier wave. I was being passed too, but nothing to be worried about.

The next 15 or so miles went fine, I was out of heed, looking forward to the next water stop... which never came. It actually occurred to me when we got back on the part of the course I knew that unless they put one up that wasn't there when I went by the first time there must not be another one. It was at this point that I hit a sort of emotional low. I had missed the bar, and I was a bottle short. That's a 300 calorie deficit, and I'd be taking in less fluids than planned. At least I had taken the gel, so I was really only 200 in the hole, but still. So calorie deficit, and not fully hydrated. It took me a while, but put it out of my mind, keep pedaling. The last 8 miles were with the wind, it was a glorious ride, mostly above 20 mph. At this point I have raised my overall pace to over 19 mph according to the garmin. So I was happy about that. It did cross my mind that if I had pushed it too hard it might come back to haunt me on the run, you know what else crossed my mind. I want to get off the bike, I was bored, and ready to do something else. The group had spread out enough there weren't really people anywhere around me.

I ride into transition, in front of me a guy gets off his bike lifts it over his head and cheers. Someone says "the race isn't over..." I trot by not really interested in that conversation. But it was a funny situation.

In transition I dump the rest of one water bottle on my head, take my helmet off and dump some more water on my head. I was roasting. A swimming friend who did the Olympic race told me the run was hilly, but mostly shaded. She said "respect the hills, walk up the big ones. I saw many good runners resting on the hills, it will be faster to take those short walk breaks." She also mentioned that I was about 5 minutes after another lady, she thought I'd probably catch her (I did not.) I grab my gel and head out.

Heading toward the run-out. Amanda and the kids were there cheering loudly.
The Run
So remember the "out and back" map I shared in the preview? Well, a couple of days before the race they sent out another map, and it had the correct course on it. It was an out and back. So at least eventually they got the map right. I don't really understand why couldn't get the website right, but whatever.

They had a water stop immediately outside transition. I walked through it, took two cups of water and my gel. The original plan was to take the gel later on the course, but like I said I was running at a calorie deficit, so I was trying to make it up. Plus I was planning on taking calories in on the run using the stuff they had at aid stations. Not heed though because I needed some other flavor in my mouth or else I was going to barf. Luckily: "Aid will be available approx. every mile along the run course and will be supplied with Water, Heed replenishment drink, Cola, Hammer Gel, Carbohydrates and Endurolytes"

At this point I'm feeling pretty good. I still have yet to feel that odd feeling that the bike to run transition is supposed to give you. I just started out. The first bit was totally shaded, I was feeling good, I don't know what pace I was holding. I mean I glanced down and just thought that it was acceptable, within plan. Then the first hill, it wasn't monstrous, so I decide to just run up it. My heart rate skyrocketed, it was nuts, I took the advice from transition and started walking. I took my heart rate after a bit and figure  I'm in zone 4, no good. Walking is a good idea.

The hills were non-stop. On the flats I felt fine, downhills fine, but on every hill my heart rate skyrockets and I end up walking. At times it felt like I was easily splitting time between walking and running due to just the hills. We hit two more water stops before two miles. So far just water and heed, the water is chilled, but no ice. At least it's cold, I am also walking through aid stations. At this point the shade is a little more sparse, a lot of running in the sun. It is very hot.

Mile 2, I hit another low point. I have been walking way more than expected, if I can't get my act together the run time is really going to suffer. I am thinking, there is no way I want to ever do this again, let alone twice this. I honestly consider turning around at the 10k turn-around and calling it a day. I glance down at my watch, surprisingly I'm not actually off pace yet. I must be holding a decent pace while running. So I push on.

I go past the 10k turn-around - for the next three miles it's pretty much the same story. Walk up every hill, run the rest of the time. Walk through the aid stations drinking water, I get a gel at mile 4, at this point I guess it's worth pointing out that until then the only thing available was water and heed. Right about mile 6 there is a water stop, and I am about to stop when I overhear someone say "the turn around is right around the corner" so I run by thinking that I do the turn around and then grab some water. That's runner brain working, non-running brain knows that at 6 miles, there's a little more than 1/2 a mile before the turn around. So there's a miss, thanks for nothing "overly supportive runner."

At this point some guy I have been shadowing for about 5 miles finds someone he knows on the side of the course and pulls off to talk to them, I never see him again. Not in front of me, not on the way back. I have no idea what happened to him. It would not be surprising to hear that he just called it quits. I mean I really feel like the run was terrible, soul suckingly hard.

On the way back to the water stop I missed we approach a hill, I slow to a walk and a lady trots up behind me and then walks about 5 steps behind me. We chat for a bit, she says in a 70.3 and a 140.6 you earn every mile. We agree the hills are killer. We get to the water stop, I grab my two cups and start walking. I kid you not, she put both her hands on the table and just stopped. I didn't stop to see if she was ok, we were at a water stop after all. She was fine though, she passed me about a mile later, she never got further than 20 seconds up though. So, I have now seen every aid station. Here's the adjusted list of what's available: Water and heed and one stop with gels. Not awesome. I take some heed at the next stop, about toss my cookies, that stuff is nasty. Don't get me wrong, my stomach feels fine, I just need something other than bland energy drink at this point (hint: that's what the coke is for.)

So the run presses on, all the walking is really cutting into the time. I am WAY over my estimate. If I the pace stays steady though I am only about 15 minutes off on the run. I think I had about 15 minutes early on the bike, and if the swim went well then I'm actually even. When I figure that out my spirits are actually pretty lifted. Even with all this walking I may actually salvage my goal if I don't crash. Some things that are running through my head - I'm not sure the heart racing is normal. I'm also not sweating that much, but it is clearly hot. I mean when I'd run out of the shade it felt like someone just opened an oven door. At one point I thought the hot breeze was actually my breath blowing back in my face. That's not what was happening, but that's what it felt like. On the flip side, even though I am walking up every hill, so is almost everyone else. At one point I look up a rather large hill and see eight or nine people in front of me all walking up the same hill. So that makes me feel a little better. This is around mile 10, three miles to go and I'm starting to think maybe the race isn't that bad. Don't get me wrong, it's hard, but I'm no longer tossing out my ironman goal and trying to dream up something else to do with that $600.

From then on it was just a mental battle. Push myself to run, walk up the hills, try not to get too discouraged if someone trotted by. I was not passing anyone, but I would get passed every once in a while.

Near the end I started re-catching a woman who had passed me in the first two miles. She was in BAD shape. She would run a ways, then stop and put her hands on her knees and stand there for a second, I'm pretty sure she was crying. I didn't catch her, when she was running she ran just as fast as I did. I came close, but she didn't come back into view until under a mile to go so I didn't have much time to catch her.

The Finish
The path into the finish was totally shaded, and a slight downhill. It felt great. The end was in sight, I didn't feel like death.

All smiles! I swear I worked hard!
The kids both ran out, the boy turned back, but the girl attempted to run with me. She didn't have shoes on and at this point we were running on gravel. So I picked her up and carried her across. The finish photographer took a couple of pictures, that one might be worth getting. We'll have to see.

I looked back, the clock said under 6 hours, but I didn't know what that meant because I couldn't remember how far back I had started from zero.

Sitting near the finish, I sat down at the first non-rocky place I found. Amanda asked if I wanted to go to the blanket which was about 20 feet away. No thanks, I'd like to sit here and not move for a while.

Amanda brought me a monster energy drink per my request and a candy bar. The drink tasted great. Finally some flavor! The candy was also good, but my stomach felt a little odd and it didn't feel that good to eat, so I only ate half. Between her and Bethany I also go three cups of heed which I rejected, if I never have to drink that stuff again I will be happy.

I wanted to lay down, so we moved to the blanket. I was BEAT!
There was tons of love from our little group We hung out at on the blanket for a while, Amanda AND Bethany got me food, at the same time. There was water to drink and lemonade. It didn't feel terribly hot. It was nice to be done, and loving being around family.

I found some people I knew and talked for a bit about the race, confirmed that the run was terrible for everyone and that made me feel better. Perhaps I hadn't just crashed, perhaps we all had. Either way at that point I'm willing to blame it on the heat and hills.

The Results

Goal Actual
Swim 29:55 29:40
Bike 3:00:00 2:50:18
Run 2:01:00 2:14:20
Total 5:36:00 5:39:17

The swim – That's basically right on pace. The best part about it is that time leaves me feeling just fine. It turns out I finished two minutes ahead of anyone in my age group, and that time is fast enough for top 10 overall.

The bike - 10 minutes on the bike is significant. According to the race site that's a 19.7 average, a full mile per hour faster than I planned. I think it's more like 19.4, because I think the course is just a little under 55 miles (based on the garmin.)

The run – What can I say? The run felt like a train wreck the entire time. But I noticed that everyone else was on the same train wreck. It's plausible that it was just hard. I heard when in transition picking up my stuff that the run had 700 feet of climbing in it. Sure that's not much for someone who runs lives in a hilly area, but we don't. I've been on bike rides that have less climbing than that. And up until this week we've been running in 55 degree weather. When we got in the van, it's thermometer said 91. That pace is 10:16 per mile, a full 1:15 per mile slower than I was shooting for.

Closing Comments
Overall I am feeling ok about this race as a performance (I did better than average by almost 20 minutes). I'm not sure I would change anything. Things happen. I could plan on bringing more nutrition on the bike, just in case. I could plan on brining my own run nutrition. But you know what? I'm not sure that had anything to do with my mental state or have much to do with my performance. Things weren't going my way, but I still came within 3 minutes of my goal. I turned in a very fast swim split, I went faster on the bike than I thought I could have. If 19.7 is right, that's faster than any race last year except a sprint. Even if 19.4 is right, it's still in the same rank. So I'll take it. So it comes down to the run, I lost 15 minutes off my goal pace due to walking. If I had let up on the bike and only met my goal (I knew I was way ahead of pace early, with 25 miles to go I was already over 19 and I was just going faster,) maybe the run would have gone better. But guess what? 19.7 is not that impressive compared to the field I was in. That bike split was only good enough for 24/35 in my age group. To get to half way I needed to shave another six minutes off the bike and then another 12 minutes off the run. So I could have spared the bike, added 10 minutes and (maybe) gotten 15 back from a faster run, but overall that get's me nowhere, I ended up 8 minutes back from the next guy in my age group. To move up one spot in my AG I need both.

Event commentary - I was very let down about there being three bottle exchanges on the bike course and then only having two. I planed my bottles based on having three. I'm not saying three is a requirement, but if you're going to say you'll have it then you should have it.

I was also let down by the run description. Again, I planned my nutrition on the idea that there would be more stuff. Again, I probably would have done more carrying if I had known that there was just water and heed.

The group that put on this race I pretty small I think, and I think it showed on this race. It was a new venue for them, and they didn't really update the website well enough. The course maps were wrong (are still wrong) on the website. The course descriptions were sometimes wrong too.

Having said that, the swim course was very well laid out, the bike course was excellently manned, there were a million very friendly volunteers, the food I had was good, and I think it was free. The race people were very responsive to emails and have an active facebook page.

So there are pros and cons, for me the cons outweigh the pros a little, because nobody plans a race on volunteers and post race food, they probably do plan races based on what's available on course.

I cannot say it enough times. Amanda brought the family out for the entire race, they cheered every time they saw me, we hung out after the race. I love seeing them, and loved spending the afternoon with them. It's also great to have done a race with Bethany, even though we didn't do the same event it is nice to see people you know on the course, and have someone to talk to before and after.

Some pictures of the family, because I think it's great that we were able to do this as a family and it's not just me out doing something for an entire day while they do something else.
Before Bethany's swim. Apparently the family was around before I left on the swim. I didn't see them though till after.

The baby looking super cute

The son - looking a little bothered

The oldest girl, looking very happy

My lovely wife, taking in some sun

Hanging out by transition. Based on the shade I'd guess this is very close to the run out

Sisters playing, it looks like there was a wardrobe change for the youngest though.

Next up, sprint triathlon in two weeks. And right now I'm leaning toward another 70.3 in six weeks.


Amy said...

Heed is gross. Just my had a great race aside from the suckiness of the run.

Jeremy said...

Thanks! Overall I know I did really well, that's just a lot to process in 6 hours :)