"Two minutes!, wave 5", I heard the race starter say. Cap was on, wetsuit adjusted, goggles just had a bit of water trapped inside. Shake the goggles out, suction them back on.... wait, why did they just fall off my face? Uhhh.... oh #$%& they just broke! Cap off, get the strap off me, take a look. Plastic piece connecting the strap to the frame on the right side is cracked. No way to fix that. Oh I am screwed if I don't think of something. Can't swim in saltwater w/contacts for 1.2 miles. I'd have to lifeguard swim it... that would add at least 10 min. Ok, think of something now! Pull the right strap out of the connector in back... wow that just took a minute, the gun is about to go off. Ok, see if you can shove it through the frame where the plastic piece is supposed to go. Thank god that worked...quick knot. 10, 9, 8... put the googles back on, just one strap now, rest of it dangling in my mouth... 3, 2, 1 gun.
So I was thrown out of my zone before the race began. When newbies ask me for advice I tell them that 90% of the time, no matter how long you've been doing this, that something will happen that you didn't plan for or expect. The best athletes will adapt and adjust on the fly and roll with the punches while others let it bring them down. Experience, studying the sport and knowing how your equipment works is the best way to make yourself adaptable to different situations that arise.
Going into the race I knew I was fit and ready. Earlier in the week I had set a new personal record in the 5k run, my first time ever under 17 minutes, in an individual time trial. I had the confidence going in that my training has been working and I was ready to race well from a fitness standpoint. However, I was also quite tired from staying up later than usual for a few days as I built up Summer's new bike to be ready for the Collegiate National Championships, which was held the day before my race in Alabama. (she had a great bike split, by the way!) I had also very recently resigned as the head coach of the McFarland swim team, a team which I have had 3 great seasons with. It was tough to leave, and I will miss the team. However, it was the right decision... the stress of the season with my job was not good for me. This was still heavy on my mind as well. I rested the few days before the race and then Saturday got to follow the Nationals race online. I saw the team do very well (7th women's team, 13th overall) but noticed that almost all of them suffered pretty badly on the run. Why? It broke into the 90's with humidity in Alabama. They did great for a team from the north (1st overall team in the Midwest conference) but without the heat training as some teams had we couldn't run with them. My race wasn't going to be quite as hot (just low 80's) but it was humid and twice as long. That's a lot of time to fold. So in light of that my race plan was to hold back on the bike so that I made sure I showed up to the 13.1 mile run feeling good and well hydrated. If I ran to my potential I could make up a lot of time.
After a very crooked swim in which I probably added ~200m to the distance, I came out of the water in 28:40. I probably wasn't able to focus on my swimming as much as usual with my annoying goggles. But in the end 2 minutes isn't the end of the race but 10+ would have been so I'm not upset with my swim performance. On the contrary I'm happy with myself for minimizing my time loss and my goggle fix.
On the bike we had 20 mph crosswinds the whole way. It was one big out and back along the seawall next to the ocean. On Thursday I had to make the decision to bring my rear disk/front 808 combo or my normal training wheels. Speed or stability? Confident in my bike handling skills and thinking it would be a waste to go all the way to TX not to go all in, I showed up with my wind sails. (If I ever get rich or really heavily sponsored to have multiple race wheel sets, the best choice of wheelset probably would have been something similar to 404's... aero and fast w/out the wind issues.)
Overall it wasn't too bad. There were only ~3 miles towards the end where we got right up on the ocean where I thought I was going to crash about 5 times. I was trying to relax my upper body but my shoulders were definitely worked harder than usual trying to keep me in a straight line. Halfway through the sun came out, and I felt a significant difference immediately. I rode a 2:22 (23.6mph, a 56mile PR), with a huge negative split (1:17-->1:05) due to the slight tailwind on the way back. The winds did keep riders from forming packs as easily, and I was only passed once in the 56 miles. During the bike ride I went from 6th to 2nd in my age group. Due to lots of fluids, calories and electrolytes on the bike I got to the run feeling relatively good and ready.
If I had been really worried, I could've just increased my stability by using two disks like this guy...
Coming out of T2 a guy in my age group I had just passed jumped out and I was tempted to follow, but due to the heat and my lack of acclimation to it, I let him go and reminded myself that I'll cut through the crowds at the halfway point if I can hold it together. It was a good decision, as 400m later he was already behind me. I honestly felt good on my first of 4 laps, and my average for the first 3.2 miles was 6:15/mile. On a better day I feel I could've held very close to that. However, despite my best efforts the fact is I just wasn't adapted to racing in hot and humid conditions and I started feeling it pretty badly at mile 4. I did manage to keep it from spiraling out of control and held a steady 7:10 average the rest of the way in. It was incredibly difficult and I felt absolutely awful as I finished, but I am very happy with my 4:25 for 3rd in the age group and 15th overall amateur (field size ~2000).
It wasn't quite a PR (4:23) but that was set in better conditions and in the month of July. For a half Ironman at this time of year I am thrilled with the results. Yes I had in the back of my mind that a 4:16 was the elite qualifying time last year at this race and I think I am capable of that under better conditions, but I feel I raced tactically smart and very strong. Turns out that it took a 4:10 this year to go top 3 amateur. I did everything in my control to have a good race and that's all you can do. Besides a cool trophy and a pretty bad sunburn, I took back lessons that will help me (and hopefully others that read this) to do even better in future races.
Now that I'm back, it's time to get a half Ironman tattoo, like this guy....