Soma Half Ironman TriathlonSwim 1.2 Miles * Bike 56 Miles * Run 13.1 Miles
October 26th 2008 Tempe, AZ
So there I was - pulling the wetsuit on 15 minutes before my wave was set to go off when I noticed my tri shorts were on inside out. Oh man, this is trouble. But wait, before we get into that…where am I? And why am I even wearing tri shorts?
The Soma half ironman in Tempe, AZ falls 4 weeks before the absolute key race of my season – Ironman Arizona and it just so happens to cover a lot of the same course so it was the perfect chance to scout the venue and test the fitness. The half Ironman draw about 1000 athletes and "Quarterman" which is run at the same time draws almost the same. A tremendous crew was assembled which included one of the ultimate best tri-buds who I haven't raced with in several years - Brady, aka Brado, aka The Run Pummeler, aka Brd Dhst.
Amongst others, the crew encompassed up and coming pro and one of the “hot” guys making the tri rounds MarkyV aka MVA aka Markus Van Akkeren “the fastest talking triathlete on the pro circuit.”
Owen the O-Dawg aka Oh-EE who is a man whose quads and calves speak for themselves.
Meg [insert as of yet unknown nicknames here] who amongst other claim to fames is known for fishing a stranded swimmer out of the water while waiting for her wave to go off at her last triathlon.
And late entry to the le posse – triathlete extraordinaire, Billy “the Kid” Edwards who I learned has been fleecing the Marine Corps out of millions by having them send him all over the place to race and train. Well, maybe not millions but it sounded like a great time!
And of course, the all time tri-babe….a triathlete herself but spectator and support crew master on this day, the Michael Jordon of triathlon spectating, my wife, Melanie.
At 5:20 on race morning, Billy and Brady met Melanie and I in the lobby and Melanie dropped us off at the race. I ran into coach Kirk who looked pumped and ready decked out in Sports Bean attire. It was dark and I had no headlamp so setting up transition was quite difficult and everything seemed to take longer than it should. Not surprisingly, I found myself rushing at the end and eventually kind of just leaving a pile of gear I’d have to sort through in transition during the race. I was running at tad behind but at 6:25 I was pulling the wetsuit on for the 6:41 wave start so I started to feel comfy…until (when the sun finally rose) I realized my tri shorts were on INSIDE OUT. I panicked. There was no way I had enough time to wait in a port-o-john to fix this. Was I going to have to race like this? Was I going to become an ASI Photos top ten most viewed race photo? Luckily, I snuck back into transition, found a vacant bathroom, changed and got back by the swim start with a few minutes to spare. A crisis and certain embarrassment had been avoided. Next time, I will make sure get dressed with lights on even if my wife is sleeping (sorry Melanie).
I was at the back of the group of 30-34 males that was my wave standing on dry land waiting to enter the water. I caught up with Brady and we posed for a picture with Owen and Meg. The pros were going off 1 minute before us, but they weren’t letting us in the water until they left. And so, at 6:40, about 100 guys standing out of the water had 1 minute to go in two single file lines down a set of stairs and swim 100 yards to the start buoy. When the starter announced we had 1 minute I looked at him and said “you’re kidding, right?” He just shrugged his shoulders helplessly. And so, just a couple of seconds after I jumped in the water, the gun went off and I was still 75 yards from the start of the race. Awesome. Simply awesome. This is exactly how I pictured my race starting.
Adrenaline kicked in and I just swam hard. I swam around and sometimes overtop of people. I was a steamroller. I didn’t purposely try to swim over anyone, but I was just pissed and wasn’t going to sit around waiting for the breaststrokers to thin out. I saw a bunch of white water about 100 yards ahead and figured it was the lead pack in my wave and plotted a course for that pack. "Raise the sails, mates, we are headed due lead pack!" I swam hard and made up ground. I got tired and stopped making up ground and then got more tired and lost a little ground. OK – plan B, "let’s plot a new course maties….just swim nice and steady." I felt good in the water. However, I completely misjudged the turn buoy and realized I was about 50 yards too far inside the course and had to swim way back to get around the buoy. Am I on Candid Camera? Nothing was going right. Heading back, there was not a buoy in sight. It’s a river, so you really can’t get too far off course but still, you want to make sure you are swimming where you are suppose to and there were no buoys at all. To complicate thing, there was a “quarterman” tri on the same course so when I eventually did see a buoy, I wasn't sure if it was for us or them. Basically, the swim was just frustrating, physically exhausting and pretty much the exact opposite of how you want to start a race.
On the second half of the swim, I did manage to catch a few pros including swim extraordinaire, Billy Edwards. I was completely shocked at the swim exit when the announcer called out “here is our first amateur…” I have no idea how I pulled that off, but instantly, all that frustration melted away.
So, apparently at these triathlon things, you are supposed to wear a helmet. I managed to run out of T-1 with no helmet and as I was mounting my ride someone notified me of that fact. Shizzle. Back to T-1 for the lid and more time wasted.
This was one of those rides that from the first pedal stroke life was good. It was effortless at times and everything felt natural. I wanted to hold somewhere north of 300 watts and I was pushing 320 and it felt easy. The first loop was flying by and…oh, speaking of flying by….bike extraordinaire Billy Edwards flew past me about 10 miles into the bike. I thought I could stay with him for a while but a while turned out to be about 4 miles of really uncomfortable riding before I finally had to get back to reality and let that man go. He was cooking. The first loop flew by and by the second loop, the quarterman folks were spilling onto the course and things were super congested. I got really frustrated with the people cruising on the left lane, sitting on wheels or just generally slowing things up. Most people were really nice, but there were just too many people on too small of a course. The next two loops were pretty uneventful. My watts stayed consistent and I ended up riding more watts than I had at a sprint race 4 months earlier, so it was nice to see some improvements had been made. Sadly on the course, I saw MarkyV dealing with a flat tire, but he put his woes behind him at least for the short period when I passed him and gave me some solid encouragement that really motivated me.
I held on to first place in my age ground heading into T-2 (which was smooth, believe it or not). I managed to get out of there with all the required gear and nothing as far as I could tell was embarrassing. I have really been working on my running and so this race, more than anything, was about the next 13.1 miles. The first few hundred yards did not feel all that great. But after a few minutes, I remembered what I had told myself about the race….that no matter what….no matter how I felt, I was going to come out of T-2 and challenge myself. Even if I blew up, it didn’t matter. I just had to get out of my comfort zone and at least give myself a chance. So even though I didn’t felt like I could do it, I forced myself to pick it up and I realized that it hurt….but it hurt anyway so why not go faster when you hurt!?!? 1 mile became 2 which became 3 and suddenly I was convincing myself that I could do this. I was running low 7 min miles and they were coming 1 after the other. Each mile was a total guessing game. Can I do this for 1 more mile?? I don’t know. As I went I gained strength both physically and mentally.
However, there were sharks in the water. I knew Brady was out there and I finally saw him on the out and back. I was about a minute up. He is a strong triathlete and the fact I held him off this long was very encouraging. MarkyV caught me and offered some words of encouragement…”nice footstrike….elbows in…” I’m not sure if I have ever laughed that hard in a race as the few minutes we spent running together…talking about finger carrots and stuff are good for that. He eventually faded off in the distance ahead. The heat was picking up. Temps were suppose to get into the 90s, but it was probably still in the 80s while I was running. Hot....nobody was trying to fry an egg on the asphalt. Brady finally caught me right the midway point exactly in front of where Melanie and Owen had parked themselves as spectators. I never like to be passed but it was worth it for a quick walk down memory lane where this scene has played out (too) many times.
As Brady passed he said “Don’t give up” and those words stuck with me. The second loop was much rougher but the miles still went by 7:22, 7:11, 7:18….. The heat was picking up and at every aid station I grabbed 2-3 cups of water and took a shower. I took about 2 Endurolytes per hour and start getting cola where I could. A blister started to form on my right foot. It was painful, but by now everything hurt so it wasn’t going to stop me. It turned out to be really big and nasty and I can’t walk now but at the time it was just another thing I was telling “thing, I will deal with you at some point…but right now I am just going to pretend you don’t exist”. At mile 12 I still had gas and poured all I had left into the run and clocked a 6:54 final mile. Up the final hill I saw the posse on the sidelines bringing me in. Billy yelled “Pump those arms!” which I did and it seemed to carry me up the hill an into the chute. I have never ever felt so good on the run. I think I could have run more if I had to and I think I actually could have even run a little faster if I had to. It was a half IM PR and half IM run PR. It was really a breakthrough. Brady was there at the finish and we did a quick race recap over a bottle of cold water.
In the end, Brady was 2nd and I was 3rd in our AG. I managed a 4:26:01 with a 30 minute swim, 2:15 bike and 1:36 run. Sure, a lot of people would be embarrassed to post a 1:36 half on a training run, but for me who has posted a 1:48 and a 1:54 in the 2 half IMs I have done this year, I was more than pumped. Next stop, Ironman Arizona.