Monday, May 23, 2011

On May 14th, I raced the Kinetic Half Ironman. This race consisted of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run, and this was my third time doing this distance. It took me more than 8 hours to do the Augusta Half Ironman. Last September, I did the Patriots Half in 6:59:05. So, my goal was to beat that time, in spite of my bum knee, which had sidelined me from running and cycling for a time.  In my last race, I couldn't run at all because of my knee. This time, I would do the full race, which would give me a chance to test my race strategies leading up to Ironman CDA.  The swim, bike and run for Ironman CDA each will be twice as long as the swim, bike and run of the Kinetic Half. 

Swim--- I had three things I wanted to accomplish on the swim at Kinetic. First, at my last race, Bumpass, my calves cramped like crazy, and I wanted to overcome cramping. Second, at Bumpass, I swam right past the exit as though I were a salmon heading upstream to spawn, and this time, I wanted to swim straight! Third, I wanted to try out something that I will need sorely when I comes to my 2.4 mile swim at Ironman CDA. If you are squeamish, skip to the next paragraph. I wanted to learn to pee while swimming. After all, the Ironman swim should take me more than an hour and a half and will be followed by a day of exercise.  What could be more efficient than peeing in a large lake while swimming?

The day before the race, we had an open water practice in the James River. We practiced swimming in a knot, getting used to the notion that others may accidentally hit or kick you as they struggle to get space to swim forward.  Unbeknownst to me, Bruce Lee had signed up for triathlon training. I thought he was dead. One thing is for sure, he still has a kick!  And kick me he did, in the calf. After I got home I had to walk the dogs and could not convince them that it is customary to go "on a walk" and not move more than 4 feet past the door. OWWW

Race morning, I still felt the bruise from Bruce Lee's kick, and I worried it would make me cramp up. I tried several strategies to prevent this. First, I took a salt tablet before getting in the water. Thank goodness it was warmer than the water had been a month ago at Bumpass.

Most open water swims begin in deep water. This swim started on the beach: when the gun went off, we were to run into the water from the shore until it was deep enough to swim, at which point we were to do a shallow dive and begin swimming. This is the same format that will be used at Ironman CDA, so I was glad to get some practice. There will be one difference, though. At Kinetic, my swim wave consisted mostly of ladies over 40. Most would be much faster swimmers than I am; nonetheless, I placed myself in the middle of the crowd toward the front. Doing so scares some people because faster people will jostle you to pass you.  But it allows you to benefit for a time from the “draft” of the fast swimmers without much effort.  I take a risk, usually, and start out front.  For the Ironman, though, everyone (men and women, young and old) starts at once. When old ladies hit you, they tend to say “sorry!” I do not think the same is true for 20-something men trying to achieve their fastest time ever on an Ironman race. But for Kinetic, I started in the front, ran into the water and dove and swam right away. I was going super-fast for me, trying to draft of the naturally fast. Then I realized I was going way too fast, as though I were racing 300 meters and then going home. But I had to swim for 1.2 miles, followed by a long bike and run. So I slowed and got into a rhythm. This made me lose my draft off the fast lady, but I still felt good. I sighted well and kept in a straight line!

And what about the calf? Miraculously, once I got in the water it felt fine. I didn't cramp and I swam in a straight line. Two goals accomplished. And, about 300 meters from the exit, I accomplished the third goal. Hey, it was a really big lake and what do you think the fish do? I promise not to do this at the Y.

Result on the swim: 44:58. Improved by almost 15 minutes over the Patriot's Half I did on 9/11/10, in which my time was 59:21.

Bike.   At T1 (the first transition, between the swim and bike), I saw Holly and we rejoiced and exited together. I got on my bike and started up the hill, expecting Holly was right behind me. Finally I heard her approach. “Just think,” I said, “our husbands are probably just now getting out of bed and making a cup of coffee.” A deep voice answered, “actually, my wife is 3 minutes ahead of me. I think I’ll go catch her.” So, Holly was not there to keep me company on this long ride. I was riding alone.  And, to answer a question I was asked recently, I do not wear "ear buds" in my ears and listen to music.  Doing so is not permitted in a triathlon.  Besides, I like to drink in my surroundings with all my senses!

I especially like to see.  But this morning, it was misting pretty steadily, which fogged and clouded my sunglasses, which I wear rain or shine because they are prescription sunglasses. After a few miles of near blindness, I figured out that I could wipe the front of my glasses off with a finger and still see. Whew!

At some point in the course, I made a sharp right at a country store and then zipped fast down an incline. I was FLYING. On the pre-ride, Holly had complained about a dip in the road around this spot. I had missed it then, but this time I hit it with such force in my seat it knocked my breath away. OWWWW. All I can say is it is a good thing I am not a man!

The bike course was not hilly compared to where we normally ride, but it was hillier than the Patriots race I did last September. There was really only one fairly steep and long hill. Because of my knee, I remained seated on this hill and took my time climbing. Others stood on this hill, which gives you more power to go faster, but can stress your knees. I let them pass me.

On the second loop, I was determined not to hit the dip. Darn it, when I came upon it, someone passed me so I could not get over. I could do nothing but go right over the dip. I stood and braced myself. WHOMP! It felt like whiplash! Soon after that, I realized my overall pace was almost 17 mph--very fast for me. Unfortunately, the second half of the loop is slower than the first, and I was slowing fast.  I started doing calculations in my head. I was determined to beat my time at Patriots, which was 3:23:28. I increased my effort to beat my prior time.

Bike Result: 3:21:34 versus Patriots of 3:23:28.  That was close.

Run. The run was the toughest part of this race. It was a three loop course, containing a number of hills, starting with a very steep hill. The hills made it a difficult course for everyone. It was worse for me because of my knee injury. Because of the injury, I had been instructed to walk up the steep hill at the start and down a steep hill at the end of the loop, but otherwise to run for 9 minutes and walk for one minute.  Because I had increased my effort on the bike, I was relieved to have a "good excuse" to walk up that initial hill.  People were cheering me on, encouraging me to run, noting the look of total exhaustion on my face.  "Gotta walk this hill!" I shouted.  "Doctor's orders!" 

As I did the first loop, I realized that there was another horrible hill on this route--not quite as steep as the initial hill, but probably three times as long. I tried to run up this hill, but my knee twinged. Ouch.  I decided to walk up this hill too, to save my knee. I noticed many other runners walking up this hill, with no bum knee on which to blame the decision.   When I got to the downhill at the end of the loop, I had a hard time walking.  Obviously I was giving up speed by doing so.  Would it really hurt my knee to run?  I was a good girl for two laps, but by the third lap, I decided to risk it, and I ran down the hill and onto the finish line.

My run time was 2:23:04. I was very happy because this was more than 6 minutes faster than my time at Patriots, which was 2:29:29. That was pretty amazing given that the Patriots run was flat as a pancake and I didn’t have the bum knee last September. It was only about 10 minutes slower than my time at the Shamrock half marathon (which was a stand-alone half marathon, and not a half marathon that followed a 1.2 mile swim and 56 mile bike ride.

Overall--6:35:51. I was faster than Patriots by more than 23 minutes, despite a bum knee and a harder course.  I was quite pleased.

My goal for the Ironman is to finish before the course closes. The race starts at 7:00 a.m., and you must finish before midnight or you get a DNF, for “did not finish,” regardless if you cross the finish line. This gives you 17 hours to complete the course. At one time, I worried about this limit. I am slow at all three sports, and what happens if I am having a bad day?

Conventional wisdom says that you can predict your Ironman time by taking your Half Ironman time, doubling it, and adding 10%. If you do this with my Kinetic time, you end up at about 14:32. However, the Ironman course will be harder--the bike ride is much hillier. So maybe 15 hours is more realistic, if all goes right. It does make me feel better to think that I have a little cushion built in, just in case something goes wrong.  I am trying hard to eliminate variables that could make things go wrong, to the extent they are in my control.  And, in the end, I will be happy if I finish in fewer than 17 hours!

My next big challenge is the Fletcher Flyer Century. It is a 100 mile bike ride in the hills of North Carolina. To sweeten the pot, Holly, Amanda and I will be riding an extra 20 miles before the official ride begins, for a total of 120 miles. It will be by far the longest bike ride any of us have ever done. And it will be rewarding because Holly, Amanda and I will receive the coveted “triple crown” for finishing this ride. The “triple crown” is awarded to those who have raised funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by completing a marathon, a triathlon and a century with Team in Training.

If you have wanted to make a contribution to my fundraising goal, now is the time to do it! My event is coming up soon, and I need to meet a minimum goal by then.  Every dollar you contribute helps meet the goal to cure cancer and to improve the lives of cancer patients and their families.

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