Sometimes I ask myself how I get talked into doing such crazy stuff, like competing in a Half Ironman when I’m in no shape to attempt a race of that length. If you don’t know what a Half Ironman is, it is a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run.
I have competed in a few of these races in the past, some with awful results and others with good results, so I know I can do it, it’s just a matter of how much I will suffer. So when my friend Jenny asked me if I was interested in competing in a Half IM, I thought, “oh heck, why not”. I should never make spur of the moment decisions like that, but of course it always sounds like a good idea 6 months out. After I agreed I asked a few more friends if they wanted to do it, and the only taker was Russ, I’m pretty sure it’s because he is as insane as I am and never thinks about the suffering this could cause in the future.
So we got a training plan from our friend Jeff, but none of us stuck to it very well, life just kept getting in the way of good training. I think Jenny worked the hardest and did more long brick workouts than Russ or I. The long bricks I did do, didn’t go well, it was mostly just me chasing Jenny and Russ and them slowing down and waiting for me to catch up. Going into the race, I was not feeling like all was going to be well, in fact, by race day, I just wanted to get it over with.So race weekend came and we carpooled to race. The race was in Ashland City, TN, but the closest hotel we could get was in Kingston Springs, about 18 miles of winding roads away. On Friday we drove directly to the race site in Ashland City to pick up our packets and get a good look at the course. The website said that the bike had challenging hills and that the run was flat. Russ said that he thought the swim would be flat also, thanks for that Russ, you were right. The bike course was two loops, so we decided to drive the second loop which was the last 31 miles of the course. We quickly decided that our estimated times we each had in mind, were out the window and that the bike would be more of a survival ride than a race. The hills were enormous, the first hill on the second loop was 6 miles long. There was maybe 4 miles of flat in the entire bike course. We quickly re-evaluated our strategy as we were driving to the hotel.
We typed in the hotel address in our GPS, which we call Karan, and Karen took us for a nice long sightseeing trip around the TN country side, it took us an hour to get to the hotel when it should have taken 25 minutes, but at least it was scenic. We finally got to the hotel, and as we were checking in, we noticed that women’s wrestling was on TV. We were making a few comments about the wrestler’s uniforms, like how do they wrestle in those boots with all that fur on them, I think we may have offended the desk clerk, we think he may have been really watching it. He did give us directions though, in case Karan decided to send us on the scenic route in the morning.Morning came early and by 5:15 we were on the road to the race. We got there at 5:45 and it was still dark, plus there was a really thick fog in the air. In fact we couldn’t even see the river when we drove across the bridge. We had to park about a quarter mile away from the transition area, so we made the long trek with our bikes and our gear.
|Jenny read to race|
|Russ ready to burn it up|
We quickly racked our bikes and started sitting all our stuff out, hoping that we didn’t forget anything. After about 5 trips to the Johnny, I realized I didn’t have my bike shoes out, so I ran back to transition and got them out.
|You can see the fog|
|Getting Ready to Race|
Then we started the waiting game. Since the fog was so thick, you couldn’t see the water, or the buoys or any boats in the water, we couldn’t even see the bridge and it was right near the start. So every 15 minutes the DJ would announce that the race start would be delayed by 15 minutes. As we waited, Mike and Kathy Wever showed up. They were in Nashville visiting relatives, so they came out to cheer us on. Mike was also planning on riding the bike course.
The later it got the more messed up things were going to be. There were 3 races, the Half IM, Olympic Distance and Sprint Distance, all to be raced on the same course with different turn around points. The swim for each was going to start when the swimmers from the previous distance race were finished. So the Half racers would finish and the Olympic would start, then when they finished the Sprint would start. Well because of the fog everyone would start one wave after the next, so the Cumberland River was going to be quite congested with swimmers. For slow swimmers like me that meant that there was just more of a chance for me to be run over by a faster swimmer. This was the case.By 8:15, we finally started, but as soon as we got in the water, the fog started falling again and it was really hard to see the buoys. At one point, I thought I was lost, I couldn’t see any buoys or any people, but then out of the corner of my eye I finally saw a couple swimmers. I really thought I was having a good swim, I felt fast, well fast for me and I was pretty sure I was swimming in a straight line, but when I was getting close to the finish the sprint swimmer merged in and I began getting swam over the top of. I had a bad feeling before the start that this was going to happen. Plus as I passed the last buoy, there was a cable coming off of it and I got my arm tangled in it, I had to stop and pull it out, but I still thought I was having a good swim. I came out of the water on the algae covered boat ramp that was really slick, but there were a line of people grabbing my arms and pulling me out, so it wasn’t too bad. I looked at my watch, only to find out that I had the worst swim of my entire life. Right then I felt defeated, I thought I was going to run into the transition area to find only my bike left there. As I ran to transition I saw Mike and Kathy cheering me on and they told me that Jenny was out of the water, but in a slower time than anticipated and that Russ had not come out yet. I felt a little better then because the swim had to be long, we all didn’t have a rotten swim day. Of course a slow swim for Jenny still put her 23 minutes in front of me.
We were all running our own race and in training both Jenny and Russ were killing me, I just couldn’t keep up with them, so I was pretty sure I would be the last of the team to finish. I got my bike gear on, took an endurlyte and ate a peach cup then was on my way. I saw Jenny as I headed to the turnaround on the first loop, she had a lot of time on me. I made the turn around then saw Russ quickly catching me, he passed me at about 13 miles and he was just burning up the road, I tried to follow him, but he was gone in a flash. At about 20 miles there was a crash and I went past the racer on the ground at the same time the ambulance pulled up, I barely made it though without being hit by the ambulance door opening.I finally hit the turn to start the second loop and I knew how bad the hills were going to be. Just as I started up the 6 mile long hill, Mike Wever rode up behind me and he just hung off my left shoulder. I was pretty frustrated by then, I was disgusted with my swim time, and I knew I really sucked at hills, so my bike time was going suffer along with my body. I just kept chugging away, sometimes it would look like I was on a slight down hill, but it was just one those things they call false flats where it looks like its flat or down hill, but it’s really uphill. A couple times I thought I had a flat tire because my bike just felt so heavy. It was also really hot, well more like crazy hot, it felt like we were riding in an over. At one point I grabbed my water bottle and my hands were so sweaty that I dropped it, but Mike yelled, I got it and he stopped and picked it up then rode up to me and handed to me. That was the first good sign I got all day that things would work out.
On the the loop there was a small out and back portion, I figured Jenny and Russ would have already made the turn by the time I got there because they were so far ahead of me, but to my surprise I saw Russ, and that was the second sign that things weren’t so bad. Mike and I made the corner on the back side of the loop, where I knew for sure the worst hills were. We made it to the first one and I’m not sure what Mike said, but I think it was something like “oh my gosh, you have to be kidding”. We made it up and rode the entire hill, almost all the other riders were walking their bikes up. By this time I had started passing people, one or two at a time. I was counting and by the time I made it to the 50 mile mark, I had passed 17 people. I had also rode up three hills where people were walking their bikes and I made it all the way up. At 50 miles my demeanor started to change, from anxiety and suffering, to looking forward to being off the bike and on the run. I knew that at 50 miles it was pretty much all downhill for the rest of the bike leg and I was really looking forward to it. I was flying at about 30 mph for the last 6 miles and it felt so good.I rolled into the transition and looked back, I had lost Mike somewhere on the last uphill and was not sure where he was, but I was sure he could find his way back, so I wasn’t worried. I saw Kathy cheering me on from the fence around transition. She told me that Jenny had been out on the run for a long time, but Russ was only about 5 minutes in front of me. I had on my bike shorts and wanted to change to tri shorts, so I put a towel around my waist to change, but it kept falling off. Kathy asked if I needed help, but by that point I just didn’t care, so I just held it up the best I could and changed shorts, I think the crowd got a really nice view of a big white full moon. I hoped I didn’t get a penalty because they announced the there was absolutely no public nudity allowed.
I headed out on the run, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t catch Jenny or Russ, so I took my time and stopped at the Johnny, then got some water, took an endurlyte and ate another peach cup. It seemed like it took me ten minutes to get going, but I don’t know how long it really took.I started running out of the park, and I felt pretty good, my legs felt pretty good but, the ball of my foot hurt, I thought maybe my sock was wrinkled under my foot and that it would fix itself after a few miles. As I ran I calculated where I would see Jenny and Russ, because the run was an out and back. I figured I would see Jenny when I hit 5 miles which would put her at 8 miles, and russ at 6 miles which would put him about 7 miles. As I ran I kept talking to other racers and the people at the water stops. By the way, this race had awesome volunteers and great water stops, they did an excellent job. I started to realize that I was passing people, a lot of people and when I made it to the 5 mile mark, I didn’t see Jenny, then came mile 6, I still didn’t see her, then at about six and a quarter miles I saw her, she looked really hot and tired and she said she was having an awful run, but she was still on her feet and moving forward. She told me that Russ was right in front of me. I saw him just a couple minutes later and he gave me a high five and told me to run him down. That was really bad advice on his part, because that is just what I decided to do. I didn’t really pick up the pace, I just stayed steady and I pulled another endurlyte out of my shirt pocket and took it at the next water station. Then I just ran, soon I caught Jenny, who Russ had over took, it was about the 8 mile mark, then I just kept running. At about 9.5 miles I finally came up on Russ who had just stopped to get ice from a guy driving a gator down the trail. I started running with Russ and we ran together until about 11.5 miles then as we headed off the trial and back on the road, Russ dropped off behind me. I ran the rest of the way in forcing myself to just run from one traffic cone to the next and before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line. Just a minute after I crossed the line Russ crossed the line, then a minute after Russ crossed Jenny crossed. We all high tailed it down to the river and just sat in the river trying to cool off. We didn’t care that we were sitting in the green algae, we would have sat in anything to get cool.
We walked up to the food tent to see what they had left to eat and as we got there the awards for the Half were going on. Out of nowhere I thought I heard my name called so I walked up and checked and I had gotten 2nd in my age group and 1st place wasn’t that far in front of me, so even though my time sucked so did everyone elses. The heat and the hills take mercy on no one.
We went into transition and packed up our gear and had a couple “after the race” photos taken. We were all glad it was over, but I think we all really enjoyed ourselves, maybe not the entire race, but we all had our moments.
|We Made It|
|Jen and Robin team up to beat Russ|
Russ and I had done the Half IM distance before, but this was Jenny’s first and she did fantastic, Russ also took a bunch of time off his previous race and this course was much harder and much hotter. I on the other hand had the worst time of any Half IM I have ever done, but then again it was the hardest and hottest course I have ever run, so I’m pretty happy with my finish.Well we all said we would do another, but next time we will pick one in a cooler climate with no hills.
One last note, this race was one of the most well run races I have done, the police were everywhere and they were excellent, emergency services were always near and everyone one them were smiling and supportive. Other than the hills and the heat, I have no complaints.