Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Rohto Cooling Eye Drops Death March race report

aka Ironman 70.3 Hawaii

Well, it wasn't a great race but I finished.

I slept surprisingly well the night before. I was probably asleep by 10:30, I only woke up once at 1:30, then woke up at 4:15. I fIght the 5:15 shuttle to the starting area and was in Transition around 5:30 so all of that ran very smoothly.

The race director (who is also the local weatherman) promised us a calm smooth swim on race day but it was very windy. People kept saying "it's just windy because the sun is coming up. It'll calm down soon." Well I saw the sun come up and the wind kept blowing so these people definitely didn't know what they were talking about.

I went through the port-a-potty lines three times. They were very quick and easy.

The Swim

This race is pretty unique for its distance because the swim is a mass start; most non-full-Ironman races have wave starts based upon the age groups. The starting line for the swim was perpendicular to the shore, but you could choose to stay on land, wade out a bit in the water, or do a full deep-water start. I think the deep-water start is a great way to stretch out and relax before the race so that's where I was. 

The start was a little awkward; the race announcer kept telling people to make sure they didn't drift forward of the starting line. He kept saying "swimmers, get back behind the line... Get back... Back behind the line..." and then the canon went off. No countdown, no "on your mark...", just all of the sudden "oh, I guess we're racing now."

There was the usual kicking and punching and grabbing associated with a mass start but I held my ground pretty well. In spite of the wind, the water seemed pretty calm to me. There were a few swells here and there, but the practice swim the day before was much worse. Normally, I am terrible at swimming a straight line but since I could alway see the ocean floor I could use that to sight. It was probably the straightest open-water swim I've ever done.

Normally, the beginning of the swim is pretty violent but things thin out near the end. I don't know what happened, but I got caught in the middle of a group for the last quarter-mile or so and was banging into everybody. I couldn't pull in front of them, I wasn't about to slow down to let them get ahead, so I just fought my way to the bitter end.

I felt pretty good about the swim. I kept a steady pace and was not tiring out yet (which I guess means I wasn't working hard enough.) I was expecting a 45-minute swim, and came out of the water thinking I might have done 40. I was surprised to see the race clock say 49:00. Not really disappointed, just surprised.


The transition area is a little unique. Like the full Ironman, you are given a race bag to put all of your gear into. But like shorter races, you are given your own personal transition area. Here's the catch: you're not allowed to have anything on the ground next to your bike. So you either had to hang stuff off your bike or keep everything in the bag. It was a little awkward and as a result I forgot to put body glide on my feet. That would cost me later.

I made a "Thank you Ironman Lottery" sign which I had pinned to my bike jersey, but it tore off as I was pulling it out of the bag so I had to re-pin it. That was a dumb waste of time on my part. There was a long uphill run from the beach to the bikes, so I'm not too worried about my 8+ minute T1 time.

The Bike

I knew within the first 5 miles that something was off with my bike race. Here's the thing: in any triathlon, the swim is my worst leg and the bike is my best leg. So I'm towards the end of the people coming out of the water but then I make up a lot of ground passing people left and right on the bike (well, on the left anyway.) This time, I wasn't passing a lot of people. Was I simply really far behind after the swim? Was this just a much stronger field? I started comparing the terrain and conditions to some of our training rides: the winds had calmed down, we hadn't hit any hills yet, fairly cool temps... nope, the problem was me, I should have been going much faster.

I skipped the port-a-potties going through T1, and I thought I could feel my lottery sign flopping a little too much against my back so I pulled over at the rest stop around mile 20. I did my business, then asked one of the volunteers if she could fix my sign. She replied "what sign? There's nothing here." So somewhere along the Queen K highway there's a neoprenewedgie sign blowing in the wind. It made me sad that I wouldn't have it during the run, because I think it would have been a nice conversation-starter as people were passing me.

Speaking of wind, the Hawaii Ironman is famous for its difficult winds and I've seen plenty of footage of riders leaning at 45 degrees against the crosswinds. I don't think we were that far slanted, but I definitely found myself leaning pretty far over in order to stay balanced. The problem wasn't so much leaning into the wind, but when the wind suddenly stopped and you had to straighten up quickly - now THAT'S when I was most unstable.

There's a steady 5-mile climb up to mile 30 which was slow but I can't really say it was a bad climb. And the turn-around was right at the top of the hill so you immediately went from sub-10 mph to 30+ mph.

Overall the scenery on the bike was neither good nor bad, it was just kind of "there". Oh sure, if you drove out in your air-conditioned car and then pulled over for a picnic the views would be stunning. But on the bike it just didn't seem to matter much. You just sort of get numb to it after a bit. We ran into the race director for the full Ironman after the race, and he told us that the course we did today was the hardest part of the 140.6 course. But the rest of the full Ironman is on the really long and boring lava fields so that may be a problem in October.


Nothing happened. Dropped off my bike, put on my sneakers and went. I forgot to put body glide on my feet in T1, and forgot again in T2.

The Run

Much of the run was through an immaculately groomed golf course. We didn't even stay on the paved paths; there were little flags marking trails across the grass. Many people didn't like running on the grass but I do 90% of my running on horse trails in Griffith Park so I loved running on the soft ground. There were a few very steep climbs through the golf course, but they were short and manageable.

When we weren't on the golf course, we were running along the roads around the resort. There were many out-and-back segments so were able to see new friends and old throughout the run. One of my new buddies was this crazy 79-year old German dude. He came up behind me around mile 5 and just threw his arms around my shoulders. At first I thought he mistook me for someone else, but no, he was just really friendly. Out of the blue he just asked me if I knew what "halbstarke" meant. I did not. Apparently it means "half strong" and apparently that's how he felt. I asked him what the German phrase for "quarter strong" meant because that's how I felt. We passed each other back and forth a few times for the rest of the race, doing a bit of chatting each time.

The absolute low point of the entire race probably came to me at mile marker 7. By this point I was already doing a walk-a-mile, run-a-mile, walk-a-mile pattern, with the walking miles a tad longer than the running miles. I walked from mile 6 to mile 7. Mile 7 is a significant point in a half-marathon, because the you can tell yourself "all I have left is a 10k". It's a very well-known, concrete distance to wrap your head around. But when I came to mile 7, it hit me: if this was October, I would have NINETEEN miles left to go. That concept was inconceivable to me. There was no way I could do another 19 miles. Even though I only had 6 miles to go, I was focusing on the 19.

We had been warned about a 3-mile section of the course called "the road to hell". It's a straight 1.5 miles out and then back along what felt like an old abandoned road. No shade, no scenery, just death everywhere around you. And yet, it turned out to be one of the strongest sections of my run. There is a downhill slope on the way out so that recharged the batteries a bit. But the odd thing is that I ran the entire UPHILL road on the way back. I think I got a bit of a psychological boost because I crossed the 10-mile mark at the bottom of the hill.

I stopped several times during the run to shake the rocks out of my shoe which were really bothering me. I couldn't figure out how they kept getting in. Turns out, they weren't rocks but blisters on my feet which felt like rocks. Remember how I forgot to put Body Glide on my feet? This was the result.

After almost 8 hours of racing I crossed the finish line, not very happy with the day. Basically, I never got into the "race zone" and felt like I was just going through the motions all day. But I DID beat the crazy 79-year-old German.  



Blogger Cman said...

I was there with you brother. I had a better than average swim (for me) and I had a great bike leg but as soon as I started the run I knew I wasn't going to do well. I think the Big Island weather takes more out of you than you know.

10:30 AM  

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