Today was amazing. Really. After Wednesday’s long day of travel, I wasn’t feeling super, but I was feeling better Friday and Saturday morning I just had a little tightness in my hip. For all the challenges, I felt like I would do well today.
It was chilly in the AM as I stretched, warmed up and did all the usual pre-race stuff. Then I got to watch the swim finish of the full iron athletes who started at 7am. At 8am, the pro waves went off and they looked fast as expected. Before I knew it, it was the ITU Age Groupers turn to get wet.
SWIM. I got into the 66 degree F water, which isn’t bad for wetsuits, but a good 18 degrees cooler than what I was used to. So yeah, it was cold. We waited a few minutes to wait for the pro men to come through and start their second lap of the two-lap 4k swim. Then we were off. My plan was to stay strong, but relaxed. Work hard enough to stay warm. I got my sights on the yellow turn buoy and swam away. Wait…that would be away from on course. Doh! I swam really wide and hung a left turn and angled myself back in. Oh well. It’s a long day, so no worries. As I drop back onto course, someone finds my feet and my draft. He stays there for at least a full loop when I got tired of him tapping my feet every time I sighted and took a turn wide, with a breastroke kick, and he pulls through. At first, I think I’ll get a draft myself, but he didn’t kick and I found it easier to swim next to him, instead of behind. Worked fine. Only other problem during the swim was my right hip flexor feeling very tight. Otherwise, I felt strong and great, and my split confirmed it – 59:30.
BIKE. The temperatures were still quite cool as I exited the water, so I had decided to change into dry clothes with the addition of arm and leg warmers and gloves and toe warmers on the shoes. My transition took nearly 7 minutes, but oh well I’d rather be comfortable instead of shivering for the next several hours. Within a couple miles, we hit the main climb of the day – Almira Grade. It’s 800 feet of gain over about a mile and a half. A decent climb, but nothing too bad compared to the mountain rides in the NC mountains. I had my 25×11 cassette on and had tried the climb out on Thursday, so everything was fine, albeit a leg burner going into it cold that way. After that, we’re up on the plateau, with rolling terrain of wheat fields, rocks, sage brush, and more wheat fields. Wheat as far as you could see, and you can see a really long ways there.
Although the forecast called for low winds (0-1 mph), apparently the air up on the plateau didn’t realize that. The breeze started to pick up that first hour on the bike and by the time I was descending the ridge in the middle of the plateau, there was a brisk tailwind which turned into a 90 degree cross wind when I made the next turn. It was a little dicey riding the rough chip and seal roads on long, rolling descents with sustained 15-20 mph (I’m guessing) winds with some gusts.
We made our way into the wheat town of Almira where I see Gary with his camera. He yells “15 seconds!” Fifteen seconds to what? I have no idea, but there’s an aid station where I stop quickly to exchange bottles. I roll out of town up to the long stretch on Highway 2. This 17 miles of the course is uphill a short ways, followed by a long, gradual descent. This is the part we all were eager to reach and just FLY. Except– that wind was now a HEAD WIND. I saw two cyclists ahead but didn’t make a move to close the gap going up a hill and into the wind. Seemed like wasted effort with so much of the race still ahead of me. I just kept my effort steady and was glad that I had no speed indicator working on my bike for racing. I think it’s best to not know in these cases. Better to race by feel. Gradually, I did reel the female in red whom I later figured to be professional Ruthie Vessler. It appears she was having a bad day. I said “hello” and moved on. I then passed the guy in blue later.
I then turn on Hwy 155 which has gorgeous scenery of glacier carved cliff faces and blue-blue water of Banks Lake, which is the dammed up Columbia River. Oh, and wheat growing in the valleys. Oh so much wheat. Good thing I’m allergic to wheat! There was one point where there were airborne pieces of what I presume to be the remnants of recently harvested wheat and I get a piece in my mouth while chewing on one of my bars. I spit the bite out just in case it was a wheat kernel. Crazy that I have to do that.
I pass one more guy on the 1 mile climb on Hwy 155 and roll into town. I’m feeling the miles by now and let off the throttle for the final 10k. I’d also be very interested to visit a porta potty because I’d had to pee for the last 40 miles or so. That’s the thing about racing in dry, cool conditions. No sweat! In town, the Half Iron competitors enter the same course from another road and I follow behind at least double the necessary bike lengths to cross the Grand Coulee Dam and into T2. My bike split is 120k in 3:51:20– a 19.3 mph average. The speed doesn’t look terribly impressive, the but the course is tough and on rough road surfaces. The big surprise is that I had the fastest bike split out of all the females– pro’s included. All that riding is paying off.
RUN. They rack the bikes for you and hand you a bag of all your T2 stuff and point you to the changing tent. I liked that, it was cool. I change into my run gear, take off the extra layers, find the porta potty and I’m on my way on the run. 30k. 18.6 miles. Yikes. Here goes. The first mile is down hill to the river level, then it’s almost completely flat, gravel road in an out and back format. All 3 events share the same run course, so there’s plenty of company. I actually feel pretty good on the first lap, save this one part where I feel a little light headed. I take some Cliff Shots from an aid station and feel better.
Before we can start lap two, we climb the hill we descended earlier, but up a steeper path. I heard several complain, but it’s no worse than the hills at Umstead where I do my long runs, so it was par for the course for me. I head back out on the second loop a little worse for the wear. I hope that I don’t hit the wall, because I don’t know that I was able to do enough run training for a strong run of this distance. I keep taking Cliff Shots, drinking water and putting one foot in front of the other. I notice I feel lightheaded again in the same section of the path as last loop. I find this to be weird, but it passes.
I see the pro women out on the run and can’t really tell where I am compared to them since I started 25 minutes later. I think I’ve got Allison Hayden beat, but can’t tell with the other pro. Doesn’t really matter, I just want to be happy with my preparation and race execution. I don’t even notice who else is in front of me out of the ITU age groupers. I know there aren’t any females, so I don’t pay any attention. I finally make it to the 20k marker and think, 6.2 miles to go, I can do this, that’s a regular training run at Tobacco Trail. I feel like I’m running slowly of progressively stiffer legs but I continue to pass people, so maybe it’s not so bad. With 6k to go I am so ready to be done. Keep the feet moving, keep going. With about 1k to go, I see my husband with several others on the bridge over head. I blow him a kiss and head up the hill one last time. The course then runs you by the back side of the finish line then further uphill for a couple blocks, around and back down for the glorious finish. I finish in 7:31:25. Third finisher out of the ITU Age Groupers. Apparently, I was closing in on one fellow who sprinted up the final hill so he wouldn’t be caught. I never noticed him until we talked after it was all over.
I had a phenomenal race and, much to my surprise, I even beat all 3 women pros. That’s pretty crazy. I liked the race distance, although it’s tough, it’s not devestating. Maybe ask me again in a few days. The race is well run and has full support of the community.
Unfortuantely, this 4k/120k/30k distance will no longer be the offical ITU long course distance. They are changing it to double Olympic (3k/80k/20k), which is a good distance too. However, the Grand Columbian race director has a thriving 1/2 Iron distance and doesn’t think changing it to the double Olympic would be well-received because it makes the swim longer and most triathletes don’t care for that. So this might be the last year of this distance. We’ll see…
Here’s some pictures from the Race Day.