Swim Time: 49:35
Ironman Racine 70.3 was on Sunday, July 17th. It's about a five-hour drive from Springfield, Illinois to Racine, so Reindeer Mary and I opted to take off work on Friday and drive up there. That way we would have some time to get a practice swim in and hopefully get some rest.
Mary managed to injure her foot in a freak bike accident about ten days earlier, so there was uncertainty as to whether or not she would even be able to complete this race. I was worried about the forecast, which called for temperatures in the 90s and a heat index over 100.
We packed everything into Mary's vehicle and made the long drive. Despite a couple of detours, the Radisson hotel was easy to find. Packet pickup was at Festival Park, just about a block from the hotel.
I got Bib number 1161. Mary was 972. I have been to expos at some of the big races -- Chicago Marathon, Flying Pig, Indy 500 Mini, etc. You can get lost at those. This expo was small but well organized. We bought some posters, I picked up a cool coffee mug and a tee shirt with the names of all participants printed on the back. Mary eyed the Ironman Racine bike jersey. It was $70. We then decided to go for a swim off North Beach, where the swim would be staged.
Transition was about a mile from the hotel and it was a long hot walk. There were some questionable characters in the area and for a while it seemed someone was following us. It made me nervous. But we got to the beach without incident and tested the water. Cold but not unbearable. There were a lot of kids swimming in the water and none of them were wearing wetsuits. The water in Lake Michigan at this beach is very clear and you could see pretty far down. I saw some small silver fish slip past, and also a rotted dead fish that drifted just before my eyes when I looked up once.
Back at the Radisson, we enjoyed some beer and light fare at the Friki Tiki restaurant, then called it a night. There was a very cool Samoyed dog hanging out with his people there, and it turns out that one of them was attending classes at the University of Springfield.
Mary's family planned to make the trip, so I had reserved my own room for Saturday and Sunday nights. I was pleasantly surprised to be allowed a very early check in, thus beating the throngs of racers who would be trickling in as the day wore on. Got re-situated and we rode our bikes down to transition. Hot. So stinking hot. I rode in flipflops with no helmet and naturally ran into a couple of people from Springfield who recognized me practicing unsafe cycling.
You had to rack your bike by 8 PM and leave it overnight. A bit of cloud cover had blown in off Lake Michigan, prompting us to cover saddle and handlebars with plastic bags. I was also, for the first time, leaving my shoes clipped to the pedals and so I squeezed some ziplock bags over them. I stressed over this. Was it best to leave the shoes overnight or deal with them in the morning? Would they get wet? Did it matter?
We met up with some folks from Beginner Triathlete on Saturday evening at Salutes, an Italian restaurant on Main Street. Thanks to Ben (chasingkona) for organizing. It is always good to meet people IRL. In particular was Lena (lyoshka), whom I had gotten to know pretty well over the past few months. Lena is an amazing lady, her bike tire blew up into shreds and she still managed to finish the race. I would have thrown in the towel.
The portions were enormous. Like many of the people at the table, I ordered the lasagna and when it was rolled out it reminded me of a big tomatoey yule log. I probably could have eaten the whole thing but figured that would be a bad thing to do and just nibbled on the ends. Gave the leftovers to Mary, since I had no way to reheat it in the room. Mary's husband, Troy, purportedly has no qualms about eating cold leftovers.
Up at 4 a.m. I was quietly freaking out and went into full-blown OCD mode, checking and rechecking my gear bag. I had brought Fig Newtons and Triscuits and couldn't make a decision as to how many of each to carry. I was utterly stymied. Frustrated, I threw the entire box of each into my bag and met Mary and Troy in the lobby.
Setting up transition went all right. It was crowded, we didn't have a lot of space between bikes, but I had the "end of the rack" so had a few inches of extra space. Set out a Scooby Do towel and laid everything out on it. Rescue inhaler was in a pouch on my race belt, posed so that there was no way I could miss it before heading out. Rubber banded my shoes to the water bottle carrier so they wouldn't flop around and detach on the long trip to Bike Out.
Everyone would be kicked out of transition at 6:30. I tried to find Mary but she had vanished, rapture-style. I picked up my wetsuit and marched slowly up North Beach, following the others. It seemed too early to be getting to the swim but I didn't really know what to do with myself. You had to hike nearly a mile and there were no porta potties at the swim start. It was already very hot. People who were wearing their wetsuits were sweating.
I sat on a big concrete pier for a while. There was at least a bit of shade here, but soon that grew too crowded and hot. There was a nervous, tangible energy in the air. I put the wetsuit on up to my waist and went to sit in the water, where I sat and looked out at the peaceful Lake Michigan. It was really beautiful. I felt perfectly calm and ready for the day to begin. I put my ear plugs in.
I heard the announcer say something about Wave 12 on deck. Holy crap, I am in Wave 15! I had zoned out for too long! I would miss my wave! It would be embarassing and bad.
But the volunteer holding the Wave 15 sign had just stepped out into sight. I worked my way into the crowd of "mature" athletes, all sporting Florida Green swim caps. One lady danced and sang and high fived people as they joined the wave. I wish I had found out her name, I saw her later on the run and she was clearly struggling but still smiling.
Our wave went off at 7:59 on the dot. There was none of the aggressive "run and dive" stuff going on, most just waded out until the water was waist high and started swimming easily. I kept it slow and stayed mostly to the far left. My swim went great. After my DNF last month, I was very concerned about what the day would bring. The clear water was wonderful and I had no issues. It got a little scary when the faster swimmers from the waves behind mine caught up and passed me, but the clear water made it easy to stay out of the way. A guy in my wave was panicking and thrashing around a few feet away, it took all my mental fortitude to not get rattled from the drama. The earplugs helped immensely.
Just before standing up, I moved off to the side into shallow water, sat down and peeled off the wetsuit. This worked like a dream and had the added advantage of allowing me to cool off in the water before running up the long stretch of sand to transition.
Transition was crowded around my area and it seemed it took forever to get out of there. I made sure to take a hit off the rescue inhaler. For the first time I had left my shoes clipped to the pedals and rubber banded them to the water bottle cages. This worked very well since there is a short but steep hill right out of transition with no way to get a running start. I rode with feet on top of the shoes to the top of the hill.
The race wheels were great. They didn't necessarily make me go faster but did seem to save the wear and tear on my legs. The course was very crowded. You had to be very careful about not drafting, as it was easy to creep up too close to the cyclist in front of you. Portions of the road were not in good condition and people were losing water bottles right and left. I was carrying two water bottles in cages and a Profile Design bottle between the aerobars, which I repeatedly filled up.
At one point my spare water bottle launched itself from the cage, never to be seen again.
Around mile 40 I could tell the heat was getting to me. It was in the 90s with a heat index over 100. Had some minor stomach cramping and had to ease up on the fluids. At the last aid station, I dumped a bottle of cold water over my head and down my back.
Passed a gal who was vomiting uncontrollably. She would puke, ride a few yards, puke again. It was hard to watch.
The last mile of the bike parallels part of the run and as I drew nearer to transition, I could tell people were suffering from the heat. They seemed to be shuffling rather than running. I was not looking forward to this part at all. Transition went fine, I took another hit off the inhaler and headed out.
There is a pretty decent hill right at the very start of the run and the race photographers were stationed there, catching people at the halfway point. I made sure to be jogging and smiled, then walked once I was past the camera. It was just plain hot and not much shade. Homeowners along the path had set out sprinklers for the runners, and I took full advantage, dousing my head in the water every chance I got. I jog/walked the first 7 miles, then had a bout of lightheadedness, complete with a burst of stars. It came out of nowhere. Now I understand how people in marathons can be running along and simply crumple to the ground.
After the head rush I walked. It was a long six miles but I had plenty of company and talked to some amazing people out there. I talked to a firefighter who was doing the entire 70.3 in his fire gear. I met a young man who had lost 170 pounds and was fighting diabetes. I saw a young woman with an artificial leg who was struggling bravely. Every single person at these events has his or her own story. They are all inspirational.
When the finish line was in sight, I picked up the pace and jogged across the finish line. It was my slowest time for a half marathon but somehow I didn't care, the feeling of satisfaction at having simply finished was compensation enough.