2017 Kinetic Half-Iron Triathlon
8/29 AG 48/242 Overall
May 13, 2017 – My second triathlon of 2017 was the Kinetic Half-Iron distance race at Lake Anna, as put on by the Virginia-Maryland Triathlon Series. It was fairly early in the season for a 70.3, but I’d been training pretty much non-stop since the start of 2016, so I was certainly ready for it. I’d put this down as an “A” race on my calendar, so Karen and Erin brought me into it on fresh legs. Good thing, cause I’d need them for sure.
I’d heard rumors about the level of suckitude of the run course, which was three loops. The bike course had some hills too, but the run seemed to be what everybody was talking about. The transition area was near Lake Anna, and there was a long hill up away from the lake. You then took a right turn and ran down towards another part of the lake. Then it was back up the hill you just ran down, then down again back to the transition area. Essentially, 1 mile up, 1 mile down, 1 mile up, 1 mile down. That’s one loop – rinse and repeat two more times. The elevation profile is below, and as you can see, there’s not a lot of flat running to be had.
I run plenty of hills in my neighborhood, so I wasn’t overly worried, but I knew that I’d need to run conservatively in order to handle the elevation change without blowing up near the end.
Of more concern to me was the weather heading into the race. It was unseasonably cool for mid-May and it had rained quite a bit leading up to race morning. In fact, in my hour-plus drive to Lake Anna on race morning it was dumping rain, but the radar looked like the rain would clear out sometime around the start time. Nevertheless, the temperature was in the 50’s and it wasn’t supposed to get much beyond 60 after the sun came up.
When I pulled into the parking lot it was still dark, but the heavy rain had turned into a light drizzle. It was cold, and I was wearing a fair amount of clothing to stay warm. After grabbing my race packet, I rolled my bike into the transition area, which was nothing but a grassy/muddy mess. I took care to try to keep my shoes dry, but that was a losing proposition. I had to strip down to my trisuit in order to get body marked, and quickly bundled back up.
As I was getting checked in I ran into Jim Rosen, who was the only other person I knew who was doing the half. Jim was a couple of age groups above me, so he was starting in the swim wave after mine. I think I had a four minute head start on him, so if he caught me on the run then I knew that he was actually well ahead of me. I can typically out swim and bike Jim (not by much), but he runs like a deer, so we generally finish pretty close together. He beat me by 26 seconds at the 2016 Robious Landing Triathlon, but that race had been turned into a duathlon since the swim was cancelled. I wasn’t really racing Jim, but I knew that if I saw him stalking me on the run that it would give me a little extra motivation.
As race time approached, the rain was coming on and off and I changed into my wetsuit earlier than normal to try to get warm. Once the start time approached, I gathered on the beach with the other athletes and waited for go time.
Swim: 37:07 (1:55/100m) 7/29 AG
As noted above, it was wetsuit legal for the swim, which was a nice change of pace. My only other wetsuit swim had been at the Rumpus in Bumpass Olympic distance race in 2016, and I apparently had not learned to hike my wetsuit up high enough to keep it from restricting my shoulder movement. I was able to swim fine, but I think my shoulders got a bit more tired than they needed to be.
The water temperature was in the 60’s, but it felt warm compared to the cold air. I was in the first swim wave, and took off as soon as the horn sounded. I always try to position myself near the sides to try to get some clean water at the start, but there were enough people in my wave to make that difficult.
From the get go, I knew that I wasn’t going to have a great swim and my heartrate got jacked up pretty quickly. There were many times on the “out” portion where I had to pull up to catch my breath, and things only got marginally better coming back in. It felt like I was having a pretty poor swim leg, but when I finally looked at my watch when I got out of the water, it was reading 36 minutes and some change. Karen had predicted a 37 minute swim for me, so she was spot on. The timing mat was about 20 yards from the water’s edge, so my official swim time was 37:07.
As bad as I thought my swim was, it was still good enough for 7/29 in my age group. It was also more than three minutes faster than my last half iron distance swim at the Patriots Half in September 2016 – although that race wasn’t wetsuit legal. Thus, I was happy with my effort, but felt like I had a better swim in me than what actually transpired.
I was dizzy upon exiting the water and it took me a good 30-45 seconds for that feeling to subside. There was a fairly long run uphill from the lake to the transition area, and things weren’t made any easier by the muddy conditions. Upon reaching my transition spot, I sat on the ground and did my best to pull my wetsuit off as quickly as possible. I then had to fight to get socks onto my wet feet. Sometimes I ride and run without socks, but not in a 70.3. Particularly not a cold one. After finally getting my socks and shoes on, I threw on my helmet and then grabbed my bike and headed to the bike out area. My total transition time was over three minutes, but I felt like I made pretty good time, all things considered.
Bike: 2:45:26 (20.2 mph) 4/29 AG
It was in the mid-50s when I got on my bike and I had chosen to ride without long sleeves to avoid the extra drag and time involved in putting on extra clothing. I was worried about being cold, but felt like it was JUST warm enough to get by. That being said, I knew that I’d be cold in the first few miles until I got my core temperature up.
The first mile was all uphill, and I immediately noticed a squeaking noise coming from my chain. I shifted gears, shifted in and out of the big chain ring and even tried half-shifting, but nothing helped. I decided to ignore the noise and hope that it went away, but it was highly noticeable as I trudged uphill at low speed.
Miles 1-10 were some of the most unpleasant miles that I’ve covered on the bike in a race. They were almost all uphill and into the wind and I felt like I was going nowhere. I was still trying to get warm, and the average speed on my GPS was depressing me. After mile 5 it read only 18.0 miles per hour and after mile 10 it was only up to 18.2. To make matters worse, my chain continued to squeal like a stuffed pig and I seriously considered stopping because I was afraid of causing damage. I didn’t know if the chain was rubbing and slowing me down, whether the wet weather was just causing lubrication issues – or something else entirely. I decided to keep going, but felt embarrassed every time I passed someone (or got passed) on a hill since we were going slow enough to hear the awful noise.
Near the 10 mile mark the course made a right turn and headed downhill for the next six miles. That did wonders for my mental state, particularly since the wind was at my back during that stretch. I was holding 23 miles per hour, and finally saw my average pace heading upwards. At the bottom of the decline there was a steep hill that sent me into my small chain ring, and then another downhill portion for about three miles.
The next 11 miles or so completed the first loop of the two-loop course, and went from miles 19-31. The suck returned once again, because that portion of the course was almost all uphill and into the teeth of the wind. I tried to keep a positive outlook, but it was a real struggle to get my bike up to 20 miles per hour. I felt like I was working hard, but just couldn’t get any sustained speed.
At mile 31 I took a right turn and was back on the portion of the course that was downhill and with the wind. Those miles went by quickly, and it was nice to see my average speed finally creeping up toward 20 miles per hour. The fun was over soon enough though, and it was back uphill and into the wind again until mile 49.
Mile 49 brought the end of the second loop, and the final 7 miles were mostly back downhill to Lake Anna. I continued to pedal hard since gravity was on my side, and by the time that I got back to the transition area, my average speed was 20.2 miles per hour. For some reason, I was thinking my my average speed PR had been 20.4 miles per hour at the Patriot’s Half in 2016, but in reality, I’d only held 20.1 miles per hour in that race. Thus, as crappy as I’d felt like my bike leg had been, it was actually a PR for me, and good enough for 4/29 in my age group. This was shaping up to be a weird race, and my perception wasn’t neccesarily consistent with my results. I guess the conditions on the bike sucked for everyone else as well.
Even though I’d warmed up enough to feel somewhat comfortable on the bike, upon dismounting, I immediatley noticed that both feet were numb from the cold. It made running difficult, and I struggled to get back to my transition spot. I got my shoes on and did my best to avoid the worst of the mud puddles in the transition area and then got out onto the run course.
Run: 1:56:41 (8:54/mile) 14/29 AG
My goal for the run was sub-2 hours and my stretch goal was to hold a pace of 8:45 mins/mile, which equates to 1:54:42. I knew that would be tough due to the hills, but I was going to give it a try since that’s what Karen had called for prior to the race. The problem would be pacing myself properly since I was unlikely to run many (or any) 8:45 minute miles due to the terrain. I figured that I would shoot for 9 minute miles on the uphills and 8:30 miles on the downhills. I also wanted to try to negative split the three loops.
Miles 1-3 (9:24)(8:29)(8:58)
Karen always wants me to run the first few miles slow, and given that the first mile was a nasty hill up and away from the lake, that wasn’t a problem. In addition, the sock on my right foot felt bunched up, so I had to stop and take off my shoe near the 1/2 mile point. In actuality, my sock was fine, my foot was just feeling odd as it began to warm up and was becoming less numb. By the end of the first mile my feet seemed to be getting back to normal, and I was glad to be done with the hill. Unfortunately, I’d see it again on loops 2 and 3.
Mile 2 was pretty much all downhill, and I stuck to my plan of shooting for an 8:30 mile by turning in an 8:29. I was feeling pretty good and began a small loop around some houses on the lake. At the far end of the loop the coursed turned back the way it came and headed back uphill. Mile 3 was mostly uphill, and I nailed my 9:00 minute plan for the uphills with an 8:58.
Miles 4-6 (8:33)(9:17)(8:41)
The first third of mile 4 was still uphill, and then I took a left turn to head back down towards the transition area to complete loop 1. I was holding together well when I started the second loop at mile 4.5, but then it was back onto the nasty hill out of transition again. I began to see some people walking up the hill, but I ran a slow steady pace and was able to get up it uneventfully. I was certainly starting to tire, but was still in a good place mentally and physically. By the time I hit the 6 mile marker, I was headed back downhill towards the lake loop again. I had averaged 8:54 minutes/mile up to that point, but I still had more downhill to run on the first half of loop 2. Thus, I was a pretty much on schedule, particularly since I planned to run loop 3 faster if at all possible.
Miles 7-9 (8:50)(8:57)(8:53)
By this point in the race, the miles were not lining up perfectly with the uphill and downhill portions, so pacing became a bit more tricky. The hills continued to take their toll, and not just the uphill portions. Running downhill taxes your quads, and after a while they get weak and feel like they want to give out. By the time that I finished mile 9 I was getting pretty tired, but had completed my second loop. Loop 1 took about 38 minutes, and loop 2 took 38:37. It looked like my plan to negative split was going out the window, and hopefully I could keep from blowing apart on the final loop. If I couldn’t hold an 8:45 pace, I definitely wanted to come in under two hours on the run.
Miles 10-12 (9:09)(8:38)(9:37)
My last trip up the hill out of transition was pretty brutal, but I was able to keep running. There were a fair amount of hill walkers by that point, so I was encouraged by the fact that I didn’t need to walk. I got to the top of the hill, took a right, and then it was downhill to the lake loop one last time. I felt like I was doing well, all things considered, but I do recall seeing some really strong runners on the course.
After running around the lake loop for the final time, it was back uphill (for the last time!), and about halfway up the hill I saw Jim running down the other side. He’d started about 4 minutes after me in the second swim wave, so I knew that I’d have to finish at least that much ahead of him to beat him. He looked good when he went by and he is a super strong runner. I tried to do the math in my head, but was unable to figure out how much of a lead I had. Nevertheless, I knew that it was going to be close, and kept trudging up the hill, but with a little extra motivation.
Mile 13 (8:24)
I completed mile 12 at the top of the last hill, and then it was just a downhill run to the finish. I tried to pick up the pace as much as possible, but my quads were pretty much shot at that point from the neverending hills. I managed to dish out an 8:24 mile, but given the elevation loss, I would have hoped to have done a bit better. When your legs feel like they could go out from under you at any moment though, you can only do so much.
Mile 13.1 (7:53 pace)
After reaching the bottom of the hill, I got to turn right into the finishing chute insteading of taking a left to begin another loop. There was a 100 yard run on some fairly wet grass and then it was finally over. I’d done loop 3 in about 38:04, so I was happy that I’d been able to rally and keep the wheels from coming off. Overall, I’d put together an 8:54 min/mile pace, which was only 9 seconds off Karen’s target. That was a PR for me, and I was very happy with that performance, given how much I felt like I’d struggled on the bike. Had the course been remotely flat, I felt as though I’d have been able to hit those 8:45 minute miles. As noted above, however, there were a lot of strong runners out there, so my run was only good enough for 14/29 in my age group. I’ve still got a lot of work to do with my running before I can compete for an age group podium in these larger races.
After finishing, I turned and waited to see Jim finish. He came in shortly thereafter, but it turned out that his overall time was about two and a half minutes more than mine. Nevertheless, my time of 5:25:51 was only good enough for 8/29 in my age group, but Jim was 2/17 in his age group. We both left the race site before the awards ceremony, but I think they ended up mailing him his award.
In reflecting on this race, I still have mixed emotions. On the upside, I PR’ed in all three disciplines, and the conditions on the bike and the hills on the run made those discliplines very challenging. Even though I PR’ed on the swim (in a wetsuit), I still felt like my swim wasn’t what it should have been, and I’d failed to keep my heartrate under control pretty much the entire time. That led to way too much breaststroke in order to catch my breath. I was still getting used to open water swimming, and still hadn’t gotten completely comfortable in a wetsuit.
I was most proud of my bike leg, turning in a ride that was 4/29 in my age group. I’d dealt with a chain that was squealing so badly that I’d considered stopping, and I was able to fight off the cold and the negative emotions and keep pushing – even when I thought that it was going to be a bad ride. As for the run, I ran well (for me), but I’ve got some real work to do there. My 2016-2017 winter regimen with Erin produced big gains on the bike, and I’m determined to have similar gains on the run after my 2017-2018 winter regimen. I’m sure that Karen will be up to the challenge.
So, I’d say that the 2017 Kinetic Half was a success for me, and since it was early in the season, I still had time to make additional gains before my next half in early September, followed by Ironman Chattanooga on September 24th. In the interim, however, I’d signed up for the Powersprint Triathlon (as a bit of an afterthought), which was only a week away. Thus, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to recover, and hopefully that quick turnaround wouldn’t be problematic. I’d gotten second in my age group at the Powersprint in 2016, and I hoped to make the podium once again if I had any juice left in my legs after Kinetic.