Feeling fit, well-trained and confident, I entered the Ironman Hawaii 70.3 event with expectations of achieving a PR at my 8th running of this event. My best time was in 2011 with a total race time of 6:20:45. This year, my time was 6:55.58–more than 35 minutes off of my best time. Here’s how it went for me.
The Swim. I had been humbled by last weekend’s Outrigger Swim, but also encouraged. I knew nothing could be as tough for me as that swim, and I was told that the new course at Hapuna would give swimmers a positive current for much of the course. My expectation was to complete the swim in about 45 minutes. But instead, I swam it in 58:45, 23rd place in my age group and 1390 overall. What happened? First, I swam off course a bit which seems pretty impossible. Instead of keeping the orange buoys close by, I drifted far left and had to swim in to the first turn buoy. Then, the swim in from the last buoy to the shore was exceptionally slow for me. I do not think the advice of “long strokes and glide” works in all cases. During my next training phase, I will be focusing on swimming, making that my primary focus for at least 2 months.
My bike is typically my strongest event, but yesterday’s conditions (or my skill in riding in these conditions) weren’t optimal for me to achieve my bike split goal time of 3 hours. After brisk cross winds in 2012, I was a little worried about riding a 404/808 combination in what looked to be strong winds again this year. Since there was no option, I set my mind to embrace the wind, ride with confidence and just go for it.
Halfway, at 28 miles, my time was 1:34. I knew I had benefitted from tail winds pushing me out towards Hawi, but I thought that perhaps they would be light going back and if I let myself fly down from Hawi and stayed focused, I could possibly get close to my goal. There were decent headwinds coming back, but I continued to pass cyclists (often saying “slow swimmer on your left!”) and worked hard to maximize the rolling hills to keep my speed up. I felt no cramping and my nutrition and hydration felt right on. I could particularly feel a boost from the EFS liquid shots when I took a squirt or two. But, the headwinds slowed me down and then that last “no passing” stretch into the Mauna Lani ate up several minutes as I was in a caravan of more than 8 bikes behind a slow rider. Nevertheless, I moved up to 7th position in my age group and 969 place overall with a bike split time of 3:15:10.
I expected the run to be my strong event this year. I have made real progress on my running speed and endurance, with miles logged in hot weather and the incorporation of weekly speed work and lots of hills. I’ve kept up my regular strength training to build strength in my core, hams, ad/abductors and glutes and my weight is down about 5 pounds from last year. Since I came off of the bike with no hint of cramps to come, even in my toes, I came into transition ready to PR the run. Making the change and leaving the chute out of T2, I felt super great. Strong, happy and ready to fly. And that was the case for about 50 yards. Then–AAARGH!!! My left hamstring pulled so tight I couldn’t take a another step. I stopped to massage it, with Mariane Marr also helping. At this time, I took three e21, 1200 mg of sodium, drank a bunch of Zipfizz and sprayed several squirts of a cramp spray I’d purchased at Ironman New Zealand into my mouth. (I thought I came prepared to beat any cramps that might appear.) The cramp worked itself out and I headed out, feeling good as new. And this was the pattern for the next 13.1 miles. Run, cramp, massage and take gunk, recover, run again. (If I could have run through the cramps I would have. When I have tried that, my legs have totally frozen up and I’ve fallen to the ground. Memorably during the bike leg at Ironman France, and at the Val Nolasco Half Marathon when I collapsed to the ground with about 50 meters to go to the finish.) During the running phases of this event, I tried everything I could think of to keep the cramps at bay–taking shorter strides, longer strides, running slower, running faster to make up time, walking down hills, walking up hills, singing, saying my mantras. But alas, nothing worked. Coming onto the final fairway, I thought I was good to make it to the finish if I just stayed steady. As I approached a group of fabulous Try Fitness supporters, there came a severe cramp in my right adductor. No cheering, encouragement or goading made the cramp go away. I did my routine for the day and then trotted in to the finish with a disappointing run time of 2:32:29. I kept my 7th age group place, and also amazingly moved up to 933 place overall.
I know that I focus on time and race position more than most age groupers, but I am motivated by the results of my races as a reason for the hard training I put in. Additionally, I am driven to qualify for the Ironman World Championships and if I am going to do that, I have to be focused on opportunities to improve. So, what action will I take from this experience? 1) I will significantly dial up my focus on swimming with more time in the water, more masters swimming and more weekly distance. If I had finished the swim still back of the pack at around 48 minutes, I would have saved 10 minutes and finished 4th or 5th in my age group. 2) I will look for and compete in some hot and long running events to test out various cramp solutions in race conditions, including new sports drinks, electrolyte supplements, tonic water, and pickle juice. 3) I will continue to work on my mental game. I was happy with my ongoing ability to stay in it, even with discouragement along the way, but there is always room to toughen up more. 4) My mom asked if I had talked to a sports psychologist to see if there was something going on in my head that was keeping me from improving my swim. I hadn’t thought of that, but what the heck? Know anyone?