2016 Patriot’s Half-Iron Triathlon
5/15 AG 39/227 Overall
September 10, 2016 – My final race before Ironman Maryland was the Patriots Half in Williamsburg, which is put on by the Virginia Maryland Triathlon Series. This was three weeks out from IMMD, and I planned to race hard, but probably something more like an effort level of 99% instead of 100%. I was more concerned with making sure that I had my nutrition under control and pacing myself properly than in killing myself on the course. That being said, I’m super competitive, so I knew that I’d be pushing myself even if that wasn’t necessarily the plan.
In actuality, I was chomping at the bit to get to this race since it marked the end of a long, hot summer of intense training for IMMD. Karen and Erin had been working me harder than I ever had before, which culminated in 11-12 hour training weeks in August. Before I signed up for their coaching services I’d averaged about 20-30 hours of swim/bike/run training during the warmer months. From June through August of 2016 I’d averaged over 41 hours per month.
I usually had Mondays off, but Tuesday through Sunday was fairly hectic. The training weeks typically culminated with a 50-80 mile bike ride on Saturday, followed by a 20-30 minute transition run. Sundays were usually reserved for a long run of 1.5 to 3 hours in the morning, followed by a swim in the afternoon. Due to the heat and humidity, I’d typically try to start my weekend workouts as soon as it began getting light outside, which was around 5:30 a.m. I also wanted to get done at a reasonable time so that I could spend the rest of the day doing whatever needed to get done around the house. I did most of my long bike rides on the Capital Trail, so getting on the bike at 5:30 a.m. meant that the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m.
Leigh Anne was training for the Richmond Marathon, so our training schedules overlapped a bit, which had made things difficult. We did our best to stagger our workouts, but there were a few days when we both had long runs scheduled. Thus, one of us would run at the crack of dawn and the other immediately thereafter. The upside to getting the later running slot was sleeping in a bit. The downside was having to run in direct sunlight and sweating through your shorts in the first few miles. The training was hard and I was a near-constant zombie, but I made it through it and was excited that the Patriots Half signaled the end of heavy training and the beginning of my taper to IMMD.
Since the race was in Williamsburg, I got a room for the night so that I wouldn’t have to get up super early. We had dinner at a local Italian restaurant, and then headed back to the hotel. The kids were excited to hit the indoor swimming pool, but I stayed in the room to finish getting my gear together.
On race morning I got up and left the hotel around 5:00 a.m., and since Leigh Anne had met me in Williamsburg after work on Friday (and had her own vehicle), she and the kids got to sleep in a bit. I had no issues getting to the race site and quickly racked my bike and set up my transition area. A recent heat wave meant that a wetsuit legal swim was unlikely, but I’d brought my wetsuit just in case. I’d rather have it and not need it then vice-versa.
Swim: 40:27 (2:06/100m) 3/15 AG
Thanks to some helpful tips from Karen, my swimming had improved quite a bit, at least in the pool. My open water swimming experience is limited, and I was still getting used to swimming in large bodies of water. There are no lane lines to follow, waves and wake to deal with, and not to mention the strong gag reflex I have when non-chlorinated water gets in my mouth. My last attempt at 1.2 miles of open water swimming had resulted in a swim split of 43:15 at Ironman Raleigh 70.3 in 2015. I definitely wanted to beat that time, and like the Raleigh race, the Patriots Half water temperature was too high for a wetsuit.
The swim started at a beach a few hundred yards from the transition area, and I was in the first wave to go off. I positioned myself to the far right to try to avoid the mass of people, but I was only marginally successful. As soon as we took off, a mass of swimmers enveloped me and it was every man for himself for awhile. My heartrate went up and my goggles got hit, which caused a small leak in my left goggle. Instead of stopping to try to fix it, I just breathed to my right, which was fine since the waves were coming from my left.
The first third of the swim was pretty ugly, but after I passed the turn buoy for the Olympic distance swimmers (who were starting after the half swimmers) things started to get better. It was only a short distance from that buoy to the turn buoy for the half course, and I took a left turn and headed towards the middle of the river. After a short ways, there was another buoy to turn left around in order to head back the way we’d originally started. Things were still ok at that point, but I was still breathing to my right due to the water in my left goggle, and now the waves were coming from my right. Thus, I took in a few mouthfuls of water before I got accustomed to the change and timed my breathing with the waves better.
Not long after I made the turn to head back in, things started going well for me. I really got into a good groove, and it helped that I was turning my head back a little farther when breathing to avoid taking in water from the waves. In my mind, I was thinking about whether I’d be able to swim twice the distance in three weeks, and I was feeling pretty confident in that aspect since I was feeling better coming in than I had going out. Honestly, this was the first time when I wasn’t ready for an open water swim to be over, and I felt like I had just hit my stride when the water got shallow enough to stand.
There was then a short run to the shore, but the timing mat was pretty far up the hill away from the beach. Officially, my swim time was 40:27, but I was probably out of the water pretty close to the 40 minute mark. Either way, I was more than two minutes faster than my swim time in Raleigh, so I was happy with the effort.
I didn’t rush to get through T1, but even if I had, it would have been at least three minutes long due to the long run from the beach to the transition area. I took time to put on my heart rate monitor and sunscreen, whereas I’d gotten burned pretty badly in Raleigh on the bike even though I’d put on a bunch of sunscreen before the swim start. It was then a pretty good run out of the transition area to the bike mounting line. After clicking in, I was off for 58ish miles on the bike since the Patriots Half bike course is about two miles longer than the standard 56 miles for a half-iron distance triathlon.
Bike: 2:54:18 (20.1 mph) 5/15 AG
The bike course was deceptively windy and I felt like I was fighting the wind for the first 36 miles since it was coming out of the west. Karen had told me to take it relatively easy for the first few miles, which was good since those mile were slightly uphill. There was also the Route 5 bridge near mile 6, which has a nice incline to it. After descending the far side of the bridge I tried to pick up the pace a bit, but it seemed like the wind was pretty much right in my face at that point.
Around the 11 mile mark, the course took a right turn off of Route 5 and I got into a group of about five riders. We stayed far enough apart to avoid illegally drafting, and it was a good thing too, since an official on a motorcycle went past us soon thereafter. It was nice riding with a group, but I felt like I was slightly faster than the other guys and was being held up a bit by not passing. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to overtax myself so early in the ride, and even a legal drafting distance gives you a small benefit.
Somewhere around mile 18 we came across the first of two aid stations. Even though I took a bottle of water in a handoff, I got through the station quicker than the other guys and took off on my own. From that point, I felt like I was on an island for the next 18 miles or so. I would come across another rider or two every now and again, but by and large, it was pretty lonely. I tried to stay on top of my nutrition, which consisted of a swig or two of Carbopro every fifteen minutes and a gel every hour. I had learned that 300 calories of Carbopro per hour served me well, so I had an 800 calorie bottle mixed for the ride.
At mile 36, I took a right turn back onto Route 5 and felt the benefit of the wind for the first time all day. The course was pretty flat at that point as well, so I decided to increase my effort a bit. A few miles down Route 5 a monster biker from a later swim wave passed me, so I decided to go with him at a draft-legal distance for a few miles. He was really moving, and it took some extra effort to stay with him, but it was worth it since we were moving at a pace that I’d have been unable (or unwilling) to sustain if I was riding alone. After a few miles I lost him on a slight upgrade and went back to riding solo.
At that point I was in the latter stages of the ride and was still enjoying the tailwind on Route 5. There was another up and over the bridge, and then a right turn to head back towards Jamestown and the transition area. Unfortunately, the sun had burned off the clouds, and a humid day quickly turned into a hot and humid day with direct sunlight. As I neared the transition area, the Olympic distance racers were already out on the run course, and they all looked unhappy. I tried to mentally prepare myself for the suffering that was coming my way on the run, and I took it relatively easy as I came back into transition.
Overall, I’d completed the 58.3 miles in 2 hours and 54 minutes, which equates to a 20.1 mile per hour pace. I’d averaged 20.07 mph in Raleigh on less training, but that bike course was completely filled with other cyclists, so I’d had the benefit of a lot more legal drafting. While it was hot in Raleigh, I don’t remember there being any wind, so I think that might have played a factor as well. I was pleased with my bike effort, but I had still been hoping for a slightly faster split. Then again, I was constantly telling myself not to overdo it with IMMD three weeks away.
Off the bike, some more sunscreen, and a then change of footwear and headgear and I was off. I saw Leigh Anne and the kids as I took a left out of transition, and for some reason, Jillian tried to hit me with a branch that she’d found. I’m not sure why, but perhaps she was as delirious from the heat and humidity as some of the people on the run course.
Run: 2:00:57 (9:14/mile) 3/15 AG
Only two guys in my age group completed the run course under two hours, and neither did it by much. The run was a total shit-show…pardon the language.
Miles 1-3 (8:51)(8:55)(9:04)
My goal for the run was sub-two hours, and Karen had given me strict instructions to run a 9:15 min/mile pace for miles 1-3. Unfortunately, I was not yet adept of actually heeding her advice, and my mind was telling me that I’d never be able to make up the “lost” time if I ran too slowly at the beginning. Thus, I overran the first three miles by a combined 55 seconds. I would hear about that from her after the race.
Due to the heat and humidity, I grabbed ice at the first aid station and stuffed it into my tri suit. I also dumped a cup of water over my head, trying my best to keep from getting my feet wet so as to avoid blisters. I’d repeat this process at every aid station thereafter until they ran out of ice around mile 7. Overall, the first three miles were ok, but I knew that the heat was going to take its toll later in the run.
Miles 4-6 (8:58)(9:18)(9:01)
Around mile 4 I caught up to a female runner who was beginning to struggle. She commented that she didn’t think she was going to make it, so I gave her some positive reinforcement and kept on. Near the 4.25 mile mark, there was a cool wooden bridge that is a part of the Capital Trail, and it was fun to run on it for a bit. It was actually quite long, and running on wood took my mind off the head for a little while. There was a turnaround with a timing mat and a porta-potty at mile 4.88, and after passing those, I headed back the way I’d just come to complete my first loop – on pace for a sub-two hour run.
By that point, however, I was really beginning to feel the heat and decided to take one of the sodium capsules that I’d stashed in the rear pocket of my tri suit. Unfortunately, they had both dissolved since I was sweating so much, so I was totally out of sodium. I made a mental note to buy tiny Ziploc baggies for IMMD so as not to run into the same problem.
Miles 7-9 (9:14)(8:55)(9:28)
I hit the turnaround point for the first lap at mile 6.5 and got my wristband to prove that I was on lap two. Shortly thereafter, I hit an aid station and learned that they were out of ice. Not good. Mile 8 was mostly shaded so I kept it together reasonably well, but the wheels started coming off once I got back into the direct sunlight around mile 9. Mile 8 was completed at an 8:55 pace, and would be my last sub-9:00 minute mile for the day. Mile 9 was completed at a 9:28 pace, and I felt like I was roasting.
I wasn’t the only person struggling, and everywhere I looked I saw people walking. There had been a lot of people walking in Raleigh in 2015, but percentage-wise, this was definitely worse. Even though the temperature was slightly lower than it had been in Raleigh, the humidity was much worse and was reeking havoc on the field. I wanted to walk as well, but decided to try to hold out as long as possible and to only walk the aid stations long enough to rehydrate.
Miles 10-12 (9:37)(9:48)(9:48)
Miles 10-12 were hot and painful. My splits continued to climb and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to run a sub-two hour half marathon unless I had a miracle recovery – which was not in the cards. On the upside, I was passing a lot of runners who had wilted into walkers, but I was really overheating. It was also around Mile 12 that the Bodyglide on my chest (i.e. nipples) had worn off since my tri suit had been completely soaked for the majority of the run. Thus, not wanting to be immortalized in race photos for having bloody streaks on the front of my tri suit, I unzipped it and pulled it down to waist level. It seemed as though I was one of last men of the course to go that route, whereas a lot of the other guys were bare-chested early on.
Near mile 12, I exited the last shaded portion of the course and was finally headed back towards the finishing area. My brain knew that I was almost done and began shutting down my body. My cardiovascular system was still good to go and I had no problems breathing, but it was getting harder and harder to get my legs to turn over.
Miles 13 – 13.1 (9:51)(7:46 pace)
As much as I wanted to run the last mile at a faster pace, I just didn’t have anything left in me. In fact, it was all I could do at that point to keep from walking. At mile 12.1 I passed the turnaround point for loop one and was thankful not to be one of the people who still had to do another loop. At mile 12.5 there was a right turn to head back to the transition area and I saw a guy who was doubled over in pain. I asked him if he was okay since it was odd to see someone stopped like that so close to the finish, but he said that he was and told me to keep going.
The last half mile was a mixture of agony and elation, but I was able to speed up a little as I ran up the finishing chute. I saw Leigh Anne and the kids off to the right side cheering for me, so I tried to finish strong. I was able to run through the finish line, but flopped down on the grass shortly thereafter.
I’d finished the run in 2:00:57, which was less than one minute shy of my goal time. Given the weather, that was pretty good (for me), and I was actually 3/15 in my age group for the run. I typically swim and bike pretty competitively in my age group, but then slip down the standings in the run. Its pretty much unheard of for me to do as well or better in the run than I did in the swim or bike, but I was 3/15 in the swim, 5/15 on the bike and 3/15 on the run. Thus, it looked like I tolerated the heat of the run a little better than some of the other guys.
One other interesting note from the run was that Leigh Anne witnessed a finisher a few minutes ahead of me falling, stumbling and crawling up the finishing chute. He was overheated and probably depleted of sodium, and it took him several minutes to make his way through the last 50 yards. After getting across the finish line he didn’t know where he was, so they ended up having to get the paramedics for him. Kudos to him for even finishing, but it kind of shows how brutal the heat and humidity were that day.
They had craft beer in the finishing area, and normally I would have knocked back a cup or two to celebrate. The race had taken its toll on me, however, and I couldn’t think about drinking alcohol at that point. After an hour or so of recovering, we all headed back to Richmond and a Slushee at a gas station on Route 5 helped fix me up a bit.
Ironman Maryland was three weeks away and I was ready to taper into that race and to try to finally become an Ironman after three years of progressing through triathlons. I was hoping for cooler temperatures in Cambridge, but sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Ironman Maryland wouldn’t have the heat of the Patriots Half, but that didn’t mean that it wouldn’t have challenges of other sorts.
Unfortunately, a lot of the other ProK racers had done Ironman Louisville together in 2015 and weren’t doing a full Ironman in 2016, so other than Jim Rosen, I didn’t know anyone who’d be racing in Cambridge. Busher’s racing season was scheduled to end the next weekend at Savageman, but IMMD wasn’t sold out so maybe there was a chance that I could convince him to add one more race to his schedule. Only time would tell.