Sunday, June 12, 2011

2011 Liberty Half Ironman

Last year, I participated in my first triathlon at Average Jo's in Perham.  It was a sprint triathlon and I had a lot of fun.  I figured if I could do that last year then this year I could step it up and do something a bit longer so I registered for the half ironman option at Liberty. A half ironman is a 1.2 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike ride and finishing with a half marathon (13.1 miles).

With all my long distance running events this spring, training for the bike and swim portions of the triathlon was largely done as cross training between my focused workouts on running. I've accumulated about 1000 miles of biking during the past 6 months but most of those miles have been short easy rides.  I had been swimming regularly until recently when finding pool time has been a bit harder with my event schedule.  I'm a stronger swimmer then I was last year, but going into the event I've lost a bit of my swimming fitness that I had a few months ago.

One of our running friends, Ray, was also doing Liberty this year.  We decided to drive together which worked out great for me because I could talk to him about all of the small details along the way.  Friday after I got off work, I packed up all my gear and drove over to pick up Ray.  As I waited for him to get all of his things together, I chatted with his wife Connie who I had run the twin cities marathon with last fall.  It was great catching up with her and hopefully we'll have a chance to run together this summer.  Once we had Ray's stuff packed up we headed back to our place to pick Erin up and were on our way out of town.

Finding the hotel was easy and as we walked in packet pickup for the race was in full swing.  Erin and I checked into the hotel first and then picked up my packet.  I quickly looked through it and saw some familiar and unfamiliar things. I recognized the timing chip and strap from other races as well as the bib number.  In addition to this I also found a bright pink sticker and a sheet of paper with my number on it that looked like it was meant to be folded over and stuck to itself.  I asked Ray about these items and he said the sticker was for my helmet and the other sheet of paper was for the bike.  Did I mention it was nice having someone there who had gone through all of this before?  We dropped our stuff off in the hotel and waited a few minutes for Ray's buddy to show up before heading out to get a bite to eat.  Since no one had a strong preference for where to eat, we decided to go to the restaurant right next to the hotel.  After supper, Ray and Ryan left to visit a local triathlon supply store and Erin and I headed back to our room. We decided to meet up with Ray at 5:00am the next morning to find a place to grab breakfast.

Neither Erin or I slept very well and I was up before the alarm went off.  I quickly packed up my stuff and loaded up our truck.  On my way out, I discovered that instead of the hotels normal 7:00am start to their breakfast they had it ready before 5:00am.  I called Ray and we decided just to eat here instead of finding a restaurant. As far as hotel breakfasts go, this one was good.  I had some premade french toast warmed up in the toaster with some sausage before heading back and making myself a waffle.  The breakfast area was packed when we got there, but quickly cleared out as the other athletes left for the park. We decided it was time for us to get going as well and followed Ryan to the park.
Ray and I before the start of the race in the transition area
When we got to the park we were directed to a parking lot and started to unload our gear to setup in the transition area.  We had to walk about a quarter of a mile from the truck to the transition area.  On our way into the transition area, volunteers were marking participants.  On our right arm, left shoulder, and front and back of our right leg was our race number.  Also on the right leg was an X indicating Ray and I were both doing the long course.  On back of our left leg was our age.  After getting marked we entered the transition area and Ray picked out a spot along the fence.  Erin was allowed to enter the area to drop off the stuff she was carrying, but after that she had to leave.  Since Ray picked out a spot by the fence Erin just hung out on the other side and could chat with us as we got ready.  We lined up our gear on the ground and put some sunscreen on before it was time to put on the wet suits.  This was only the second time I had mine on and it would be the first time I've used it in the water. We walked down to the lake and had a chance to get in the water.  It was much warmer than I thought it would be.  Ray and I swam out a while and I was happy with how the wet suit felt. I got out of the water for the prerace announcements.  When I got out of the water I ran into our old neighbor JJ.  We chatted for a bit before the announcements and then headed over to the start area to wait for the race to begin.
JJ and I before the race
Waving to Erin before we start
Ray and I were both in the third wave for the swim and JJ and Ryan were in the second.  There was 5 waves of participants for the long course and 4 for the Olympic distance.  Each wave was 3 minutes apart with the first Olympic wave waiting a few extra minutes after the last wave from the long course.  When it was time for my wave to start, I ran out into the water until it was about waist deep and dove forward to swim.  I got a few strokes in before getting hit by some splashing when I was trying to breathe.  This was one thing I was not prepared for.  When I did my training in the pool, I didn't have to contend with this level of traffic.  I tried to collect myself and started swimming again. My breathing wasn't as deep as it should have been and I felt a little panicked but I struggled along as best I could.  After I managed to start swimming and put my head in the water, I figured I should probably look up to make sure I was still on course.  I felt like I had been going straight the entire time, but when I looked up I had been heading off to the right by quite a bit and had attracted the attention of one of the kayakers. I tried to correct my course and when I looked up again it seemed like I hadn't made any progress.  I was feeling a lot of anxiety about the rest of the swim and thought  about dropping out even though I wasn't even a quarter of the way through the swim.  I was breathing quick and shallow and knew I needed to turn things around if I was going to finish the swim. A guy on a kayak came over and asked if I needed to rest.  I took him up on the offer and grabbed on.  The rules state that you can rest by using aid like this, but you can't move forward along the course while you're getting aid.  I took a few seconds to collect myself and tried to relax my breathing before heading out again. I decided that I was more comfortable keeping my head out of the water and being able to keep an eye on the buoys. After reaching the next buoy, I looked ahead and thought that this was going to be impossible for me.  The turn around for the Olympic course was still way out there and I needed to go past where that was. The field was starting to thin out as people from the waves that started after I did continued to pass me.  I was using my legs to propel me much more than I had intended to. Because I wasn't putting my head in the water to swim properly, I needed to use my legs if I was going to get anywhere.  I rolled onto my back and did the backstroke for a while before rolling back on my stomach and sighting the buoys again.  Even on my back, I was still pulling to the right and couldn't seem to stay on course.  Somehow I made it out to the buoys indicating the Olympic turn around and was able to finally get a good look at how much further I would need to go before I could turn around.  The swimmers I could see around me all looked like they were struggling as well which helped my confidence a little. Maybe I wasn't doing as poorly as I thought I was.

When I reached the turn-around I was feeling quite proud.  I had just gone what seemed like an impossible distance.  Now I just needed to turn around and do it again.  For some reason, once I turned it felt like I was hardly moving so I put my head in the water and tried to work hard to get going again.  I was still having problems breathing because of the waves, but I managed to feel like I was making progress again.  I stopped for another rest at another kayak and the guy gave me some words of encouragement.  He talked about how far he had gone paddling to this point and I had gone further than this since I was on my way back. The rest and kind words seemed to help and soon I was on my way again.  When I made it back to the Olympic turn around I met up with the bulk of the swimmers participating in that event.  In some ways it was comforting to have more people around again, but the trade off was more waves and the occasional bumping into people.  There was one guy who seemed like he was trying to occupy the same space I was and I had to take a few moments to spit water out and collect myself after our encounter.  I tried some more of the backstroke, but with more swimmers around me it didn't work too well.  I remember turning over to my stomach at one point and it felt like my brain did an extra turn.  I was feeling a little light headed and I wasn't quite sure why.  Fortunately, I was getting close to the end of the swim and tried to keep focused on moving forward.  As I neared the shore, I tried to see if I could start walking but wasn't close enough yet.  I put my head down and pushed hard again and soon enough I was able to start to see the bottom.  It felt great once I was able to stand up again and walk toward the shore.  As I left the lake, I felt a lot like how I imagine it feels being born.  I was lightheaded and dizzy, wet, and I had no idea what was going on.  I struggled to walk up the hill to the transition area thinking I should maybe be running at this point.  Then I realized running was not going to happen in the condition I was in and kept lumbering up the hill. I had given everything I had in the water and wasn't sure I could do much at all on the bike. I found Erin waiting for me and I asked how long I had been in the water.  She told me I was right around an hour and I felt a little encouraged.  I felt like it had been a lot longer and was happy that I was close to being on schedule.

Getting out of the wet suit took a little more effort then I would have liked.  I remembered to take my timing chip off first, but had trouble reaching the strap attached to the zipper.  Eventually I found it and started to pull the suit off.  My balance wasn't the greatest at this point and I stumbled a bit.  My plan was to eat a nutty bar and take a 5 hour energy, but I forgot all about the 5 hour energy with as tired as I was.  I made sure I put my helmet on first so I didn't forget it and get disqualified.  I started to walk my bike to where I could mount up.  The bike course begins with a hill climb and I took it easy to start off with.  Knowing that my time in the swim was close to what I was expecting, I thought I had a good chance to make the cutoff for the run if things went well.  I figured I'd hold back for the first loop of the course on the bike and then try to pick up the pace the second time through when I had a better idea of how much time I'd need to make up.
Heading out on the bike
The course was well marked and most intersections had people stopping traffic so slowing down was unnecessary.  The hills were more then what we have around here, but for the most part the terrain was friendly.  The up and down did make it a little hard to figure out how well I was pacing.  I could look at my overall average pace, or my average for the current 5 mile section, but it didn't help much as the up and down hill would wildly swing my current pace. There was a good amount of other participants around me on the first loop. A few people were doing the long course with me, but most were doing the Olympic distance and only needed to do one loop.  Near the end of the first loop there is a steep hill.  At the top of the hill you turn right on your first loop and left on your second.  As I approached a volunteer asked me which loop I was on and I told him.  He told me to go right and said he would see me in just a little bit for the second loop.  I thought he was a bit optimistic but appreciated the encouragement and pushed on into loop two.

I picked up the pace a little on my second trip around the bike course.  At this point there weren't too many other riders around me, but most of the time I could see at least 1 other rider.  I started to pass people and felt good about my chances of making the cutoff.  The first half of the second loop continued to go well for me.  After getting halfway on the second loop I started to fade.  I had gone through the water that I had with me and was anxiously awaiting the next bottle exchange.  Unfortunately, I knew it would be a while before I would get there and started to back off on the effort I was putting in.  In addition to being behind on hydration, I was getting very sore from the swim and being on my bike for so long.  I could feel a little bit of cramping near my hips but it didn't get too severe.  As I continued my ride, I ran across other bikers who were just out for a ride on a beautiful day.  Most of them wished me good luck as they passed me and it was nice to hear some positive words when I was hurting so much. The further I went the more and more I needed to get off the saddle to climb hills.  As I climbed, my legs burned but the downhill gave me a chance to rest and the burning subsided. When I reached the steep hill, I dropped it all the way down to first gear and did everything I could to keep going forward and keep the bike upright. At the top of the hill I made the turn to do the out and back part of the course.  I was thinking I was way behind everyone, but going head to head was a little encouraging to see other people who were a few miles ahead of me.  I was looking at my watch and doing a little bit of math and I started to realize that I would miss the cutoff. I rode the rest of the course without the volunteers at the intersections as they were pulled at the cutoff time. I pushed through the rest of the bike and arrived back at the transition area.  Erin was there to greet me and I asked her if she had seen volunteers pulling people off the course when they got back. She hadn't seen them doing this, so I had a little dilemma about whether to continue or not. Based on the condition I was in, I decided that calling it a day would be the safest option.  If support was pulled from the run course, I would not be able to make it and even with support, I was behind on my hydration and could easily get myself into trouble.
Coming in after 56 miles
After deciding that I was done for the day, I changed into some more comfortable clothes before heading over to the finish line to drop off my timing chip.  After that, I headed over to where they were serving food.  Erin told me about how she's been smelling them grilling for hours.  I wolfed down a couple of mini burgers before heading back for a couple more. It was amazing how delicious they were.  We then went back to the finish line to wait for Ray.  As we waited, we saw JJ finish.  I went over and congratulated him and chatted briefly about how it went.  A few minutes after he left we cheered as Ray finished.  When he saw me his first words were "I'm sorry."  We met him at the end of the finish chute with his jacket.  It was a little cold in the park and I figured he'd want it right away.  We went over the food area and I talked a little about how it went for me.  I was a little disappointed in my DNF, but it was hard to feel too bad about what I had accomplished.  I'm amazed that I was able to complete the swim and after all of that exertion, bike 56 miles.  I need to come back to this event and finish the half iron man, but I'm sure it will happen.  I learned a lot this year and will be able to improve next time I try.

1 comment:

  1. I admire the hard work and training that goes into this event. It is an accomplishment to finish the swim and the bike! Good job Jon!