2019 Ironman Virginia 70.3
Race Report – Part 2
39/173 AG 204/1539 Overall
May 5, 2019 – The alarm went off around 4:00 a.m. inside the luxurious confines of the Holiday Inn Express – Williamsburg on race morning. A contact lens had rolled upon into my eye the morning before, and it’d been giving me a devil of a time all of Saturday. I was desperately hoping that it would come out over night as in times past, but it was still up in there and my eye was hurting badly. It was already going to be a long day, and I didn’t want to spend 5+ hours on the course dealing with an eye issue on top of everything else. Thus, I went into the bathroom and made one last ditch effort to fish the contact out of my brain. Somehow it came out, so I knew it was going to be a good day!
It had rained heavily overnight, and I was regretting not covering my bike seat with a plastic bag when I racked it the day before. After getting dressed, Leigh Anne and I hopped in my car to make the fifteen minute drive to the race site at the Chickahominy Riverfront Park. We had a parking sticker on the outside of my windshield so we wouldn’t have to take a shuttle over from Jamestown, and as I was driving, I immediately began to wonder if the sticker had blown off since it’d gotten wet. If it had, then we’d have to backtrack to Jamestown and then try to get on a shuttle, which would be a time consuming process. I half-convinced myself that the pass was gone since I couldn’t see it through my windshield, and I was already of the mindset that I’d have to dump Leigh Anne out and then drive back to Jamestown. Due to the traffic congestion, that would probably result in me barely making the swim start. Of course, my normal paranoia was way off base and we got into the race site without any issues.
We found Candace, Busher and Mills in the transition area, and after the standard pre-race prep, we donned our wet suits and walked over towards the swim start. Leigh Anne and Candace decided to make one last portapotty stop, so the rest of us said our goodbyes and pushed on into the swim line.
Swim: 33:42 (1:44/100m)
The swim was a self-seeded start, which began in a creek and finished in the Chickahominy River. I finagled myself into the line between the 30 and 35 minute signs, and it took about ten minutes or so from the starting gun before it was my turn to jump off the dock. It had rained a little bit while I was in line, but the rain had tapered off by the time I took off.
As soon as I put my face in the water I noticed that it was a very muddy brown color. I’ve swam in plenty of rivers, including the Chickahominy, but the water in the creek was probably the grossest that I can recall. The first 100 meters or so went fine, but then somebody hit my goggles and knocked them loose. I struggled to get them back on my face without any water in them, and they began fogging up soon thereafter. My lenses are slightly tinted, so between the overcast conditions, the tinting and the fogging, I couldn’t see for shit. That caused my anxiety to rise a bit, followed by my heart rate, which made it difficult to keep my breathing under control. This continued for pretty much my entire swim.
The sighting buoys in the creek weren’t quite as straight as I’d anticipated them, and I felt like I was constantly struggling to stay near the middle of the course. My inability to see much wasn’t helping either. I figured that I’d settle into the swim after the first few minutes, but I just couldn’t get comfortable and I couldn’t get into a good rhythm. It seemed like forever before I got to the left turn buoy to head south into the main portion of the river.
I did try to wipe off my goggles once or twice, but I was unable to get them to stay clear, and my swim downriver was pretty much as unpleasant as the swim up the creek. There was still a fair amount of congestion with the other swimmers, so I tried to stay off to the right to find some clean water. Eventually, I was able to make out the dock that marked the swim exit, but it didn’t feel like I’d ever get there. I finally made it to the dock and dragged myself out of the water, and I’ve never been so happy to finish a swim since I started doing triathlons. Its usually my favorite part.
There was then a run up the dock to the timing mat, and I officially finished the swim in 33:42. Oddly enough, my swim was a 16 second PR for me for 1.2 miles, but the wetsuit certainly helped. I’m not sure if there was a current assist, but we did swim upstream and then downstream, so any current should have mostly evened out. Still, it felt like a terrible swim, and PR aside, I feel like I left 2-3 minutes out there.
T1 involved a run up from the dock to an area that had wetsuit strippers. I’d already unzipped and had gotten my wetsuit down to my waist as I ran off the dock, and as I plopped down on my butt I heard Jill yelling at me from somewhere. I looked for her, but wasn’t able to find her, and by that point, my wetsuit had been pulled off my lower body so it was time to get moving.
There was then a long run around the side of the transition area, and then I had to double back towards the swim area to get to where my bike was racked. The ground was really wet and muddy, so I tried to wipe the mud off of my feet before putting on my bike shoes. It wasn’t too far from the bike-out area from my transition spot, and once I got onto the pavement and crossed the mounting line, I was off.
Bike: 2:29:19 (22.5 mph)
The only plan that Karen put in place for me for this race was that she wanted me to bike as hard as I could and then see what happened on the run. There’s usually some pacing involved to save energy for the run, but Karen wanted me to basically treat the bike leg as a time trial effort. Somehow, that would give her good data to use for my pacing plan at Ironman Louisville in October – at least that’s what she told me. Since she was coming to spectate, maybe she just wanted to see a spectacular explosion on the run course since I’ve probably made one-too-many Canadian jokes at her expense.
As soon as I got on my bike, the heavens opened up and it began raining. Not a deluge, but not a light rain either. It was a solid soaking rain that would last until I racked my bike in T2. I honestly didn’t mind the rain, and its better than scorching sun (or wind), but I was worried about some of the hills and turns that would be coming towards the end of the bike course.
The IMVA bike course can be broken up into three parts. There’s the northwest section from the race site up to the neutral time area at the train tracks of about 22 miles. This is fast and flat, and is all on Route 5 until you turn right at the Charles City Courthouse to head north to Providence Forge. The second section is also pretty fast, and runs about 13 miles southeast from Providence Forge towards Toano on Route 60. The final portion is to the south after turning off of Route 60, and involves a lot of twists and turns, along with some pretty steep hills and rough pavement. The last bit is about 21 miles, to cap off the 56 mile ride.
As soon as I got out onto Route 5 I had to go over the Route 5 bridge, and then I took off and got into a groove. Heading northwest on Route 5 is very slightly uphill, but there was no wind to slow me down. There was a lot of bike traffic in the first five miles, but I was able to pass without any issues. I almost ran over two turtles, but that was the extent of the drama. Eventually, I got in with two or three other guys who were moving about the same speed, and we took turns leapfrogging each other. Motorcycle officials rode with us almost all the way up Route 5, and then stayed near us for another few miles after we turned right at the courthouse. We were all keeping the minimum 6-bike (Ironman) distance between ourselves, so nobody got a drafting penalty. Even at 6 bike lengths, there’s still a small drafting advantage, so it helps to ride with some other people.
My speed split for miles 1-5 was 21.5 miles per hour, which was great considering the fact that I had to come up out of transition and then go over the bridge. My split for miles 6-10 was 23.0 and then 23.1 for miles 11-15, so I was moving at a good clip. I felt great and was keeping my legs at the point where they were barely loading, but I was wondering if I could keep up the effort for a full 56 miles. In previous 70.3 races, I’ve always paced myself on the bike in order to leave something in reserve for the run. Had I been holding back too much? We’d find out soon enough – for better or for worse.
The course took a right turn to the north around mile 15, and I saw coach Karen and Mindy at the turn as spectators. There were some smaller hills in that portion of the course, but nothing major. I kept pushing hard on the uphill portions when some of the other riders eased up, so I kept moving forward through the field. I wouldn’t have been pushing quite so hard under normal circumstances, but I was still feeling good.
Just after mile 22, the course had a sharp 150 degree turn, which made everyone slow down pretty dramatically. Shortly thereafter, we went into a mandatory slow zone and crossed a timing mat into a “neutral time zone” since we had to cross a dangerous set of train tracks. Thereby, our official times stopped until we crossed the tracks and hit a timing mat on the other side. The “neutral time zone” was about a tenth of a mile, and it really compressed the field going into and coming out of it.
From there, we turned right onto Route 60, which was another fast portion of the course. The right lane was coned off for us, and passing was a little more precarious due to the cones and also due to the presence of a lot of vehicular traffic on Route 60. Since the field had compressed in the slow zone around the train tracks, there was also a lot more bike traffic to deal with.
While heading down Route 60, there were about ten bikers who were all moving similar speeds. I passed them all to start with and tried to leave them behind, but I just couldn’t get away from them. As soon as I got to the front, the rest came along single file in my wake. None appeared to be illegally drafting since they were keeping the necessary spacing, but it turned into a long line of leapfrogging. Basically, once you started to pass from behind, you had to go all the way to the front because otherwise you’d cut into someone’s 6 bike length space and then you and the person behind you could get nailed for illegally drafting. This continued for most of the way down Route 60 and was frustrating. Again, everyone seemed to be doing their best to not break any drafting rules, but it was too close for comfort. Another course marshal on a motorcycle did pass us during that stretch, and he obviously saw no violations because he kept on going.
There were a couple of small climbs towards the end of Route 60 and I took the opportunity to put in some extra effort to get away from the group on the uphills. I was successful that time, and by the time I turned off of Route 60, there were only two other riders in my general vicinity. That’s when the “fun” part of the course really began.
Miles 35-39 weren’t too bad, but then around mile 40 the road really narrowed and passing became dangerous. There were also some really rough patches of pavement, and one area was so bad there was another mandatory “slow” zone. There was a really steep hill immediately after the “slow” zone, and I saw several people walking their bikes up the hill. I managed to climb to the top without stopping, and then there were several more steep hills before the course dumped us back out on Route 5.
From there, it was a straight shot back to transition, and I was able to make pretty good time in the final stretch. I eased up a bit as I got close to the race site to get my heart rate down, and then coasted into the dismount line. My time was 2:29:19 for the 56 mile ride, which equated to an average pace of 22.5 miles per hour. That was a huge PR for me on the bike, and honestly, I never thought I’d be able to sustain that sort of pace in a half-iron distance race, so that’s a testament to the bike workouts that Erin has been punishing me with over the past three years.
With the swim and bike in the books, it was time to find out if I had anything left in the tank for the half-marathon or whether I’d overcooked my proverbial goose on the bike.
I racked my bike, sprayed on some sunscreen, changed my shoes and I was off. I debated on whether to bring a water bottle with me on the run, but due to the mild temperature, I decided against it. I’d just hit the aid stations for my fluids so I wouldn’t have to carry a bottle for 13.1 miles. I’d regret that decision later.
Run: 1:54:12 (8:43/mile)
Normally, I run the first three miles of the half marathon about thirty seconds slower than my goal pace and try to negative split the run. As I came out of transition, however, I looked at my GPS and noticed that I could go sub-5 hours if I ran a 1:50 half marathon – an 8:24/mile pace. My PR in a stand alone half marathon is about 1:45, so that was going to be a pretty tall task, and would amount to a significant run PR for me in a 70.3 triathlon. I’m not sure if I was giddy from my bike split or if I was just having delusions of grandeur, but I decided to just throw caution to the wind come out of the gates hot. It was already a “lets get nuts” kind of a race, so I decided to see just how far I could push it.
Miles 1-3 (8:22)(8:19)(8:23)
As soon as I took off on the run the clouds parted and the sun came out. It wasn’t super hot, but there was 100% humidity since it’d been raining all morning. The water on the ground started to evaporate, so it was like you were getting a steam bath as you ran. It wouldn’t be horrible at the outset, but the humidity would eventually begin to have its way with everyone on the course.
My legs felt surprising good off the bike, but there was a nice hill coming out of transition, followed by my first of four transits up and over the bridge. I was still making really good time, and its common to over run the first mile or two after getting off the bike since your legs are used to the fast cadence of the pedals. I kept trying to slow myself down a bit, but I was constantly hovering around an 8:20 pace. I typically run 9 minute miles (or thereabout) for the first few miles in a 70.3, so this was a significant pacing difference. It felt easy at the time, but I knew deep down that it was probably a bad idea and that the suffering was in the mail.
Miles 4-6 (8:32)(8:32)(8:34)
The run was a simple out and back on the Capital Trail that you did twice, so the run turnaround was just after the mile 3 marker. I saw Karen and Mindy just before and after the turnaround and was able to say a few words to them. I was still doing OK at that point, but the ease of the first three miles had come and gone. The pace was getting tougher to hold, and I was losing a bit of time at the aid stations to take in fluids. I was kicking myself for leaving my water bottle in transition since that would have allowed me to bypass (at least some) of the aid stations.
Miles 7-9 (9:04)(8:32)(8:44)
Mile 7 was slow because I hit the bridge coming back in and then again heading back out for the second loop, and climbing to the top was getting progressively harder. Running through turnaround point was also slow since it was in a grassy area, which had largely turned to mud because of the rain. As I headed back onto the second loop, a sub-1:50 half marathon (and a sub-5 hour race) was still doable based upon my run pace up to that point, but I already knew that I wasn’t going to be able to hold that pace much longer. Much less for another 6.5 miles.
Mile 8 started on the west side of the bridge, and I was largely able to keep it together. Still, I was really beginning to hurt, and my quads were losing strength rapidly. By mile 9, I was really beginning to slip fast, and I was falling into a well of pain and despair. I saw Karen and Mindy again just before the final turnaround, but I wasn’t really able to say much since I was getting into dire straights. Mile 9 was a respectable 8:44 pace, but I felt like I was running harder and harder, but was continually getting slower. Getting the nutrition and hydration that I needed at the aid stations was taking longer and longer as well, and my body was totally resisting getting back up to speed after slowing for fluids.
Miles 10-12 (9:07)(9:00)(9:04)
Mile 10 finished just after the turnaround to head back in, and I felt like I was going into full-on blowup mode. Walking was becoming more and more enticing by the minute, but I was still able to keep running. Thankfully, the run course was largely flat, because when I did come across any sort of incline, my quads were revolting. Somehow I managed to keep my pace from ballooning any further in miles 11 and 12, and I guess I was spurred on by the fact that I was almost done. The run course was very crowded at that point, and I kept telling myself to be thankful that I wasn’t on my first loop like a lot of the other runners.
Mile 13 (8:49)
The last full mile began just before my fourth and final climb up the bridge, and I was able to coax myself to the finish since there was some crowd support, along with the promise of being done soon. I saw Leigh Anne near the end of the bridge for the first time since that morning, and she was setting out on her first loop of the run course. After crossing the bridge for the last time, I turned left into the park and ran through the muddy grass again. There was then a final stretch on asphalt up through the finishing chute, and I tried to muster a strong finish, but there wasn’t really anything left in the tank. I crossed the line, got my medal and then stumbled through the chute into the finishing area. Feeling as bad as I did, it was the first time in my triathlon career that wondered how much longer I wanted to keep putting myself through the torture of long course racing. Still, it was a massive PR for me at the 70.3 distance (~21 minutes), and I’d finished in 5:04:02. On top of that, it was a PR for me on the run by ~2.5 minutes, even though I’d gone full send on the bike.
After sitting in the grass for a while to collect myself, I made my way to the food tent to grab a Coke in an attempt to re-balance my blood sugar. I wasn’t feeling well enough to eat, so I went back to the finishing area to see some of my other friends and teammates finish up. I saw Clay, Busher, Mills and Candace, and then walked down to the run turnaround to find Leigh Anne at the time when she would be finishing her first run loop.
When she appeared at the aid station near the turnaround she looked hot and bothered, and I yelled, “great job, you’re halfway done.” There was some music playing, so Leigh Anne didn’t hear exactly what I said. Since I’d gently teased her about taking her sweet time at the water stop (that our kids were working) at the RTC Sprint Triathlon the week before, I guess she assumed that I was telling her to hurry up. Well…that didn’t go over very well, and she yelled at me to “shut up” and that her legs hurt. The spectator next to me looked a little surprised at the level of her vehemence, and since I’d signed Leigh Anne up for the race (her first 70.3), I was concerned about what might be in store for me when she finished. Later, she admitted to me that she wanted to physically harm me for the next three miles, but hey, I’ve had my own share of run course anger, so I wasn’t too surprised.
Eventually, Leigh Anne finished her second loop around the run course, and the rest of us ProK folks cheered her through the finish. She “ugly cried” for a bit after finishing (her words not mine) and then joined us in the post-race area. Her goal for the race was to finish under 7 hours, and she’d smashed that by finishing in 6:53:21. Thankfully, her desire to cause me harm had abated somewhat on her second loop of the run course, so I wasn’t physically assaulted after she finished. She probably won’t ever admit it, but I think she was ultimately glad that I’d signed her up for the race. I keep waiting for her to say that she wants to tackle a full Ironman, but that hasn’t happened quite yet.
Having had the chance to reflect upon my race for a while now, I’m thrilled with my 5:04:02 finishing time, even though I was toying with the prospect of going sub-5 hours for a bit. Twenty-one minutes is a massive amount of time for me to shave off of my 70.3 PR, and a good bit of that was time was saved on the bike. It takes race experience to learn just how hard you can push yourself without exploding before the end, and at IMVA 70.3 I learned that I could go harder than I previously thought. I rode a near time trial effort on the bike and was still able to PR on the run in humid conditions. I was dangerously close to having a full-blown explosion on the second loop of the run, but as bad as I felt for the last 4 miles, I was able to keep it (mostly) together. Had I eased into the run a bit more instead of running 8:20’s right out of T2, I think I could have turned in a little faster time. Oh well, live and learn.
The next race on my calendar was the Robious Landing Triathlon – the only triathlon I’ve done every year since I started racing in 2014. Its probably my favorite race, even though the swim is cancelled half the time due to high river conditions. Unfortunately, the 2019 version of the race would turn into a nightmare of a day.