Auburn World’s Toughest Half: Race Report

I’m kind of pissed off right now and writing this pretty in the immediate, so it is what it is — ie. not super peppy triathlon.

Short summary: I biked like I’ve forgotten how. I’m worried I might have forgotten how. It was so bad that I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to finish the bike when I was only 1/3 of the way through it. Then, as I was coasting into T2 angry and miserable and wanting to throw up/piss myself, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t finish the run and would pass out somewhere and be eaten by rattlesnakes. But, I did finish. Right afterward, I was happy about this. ‘Go me. I kept it together enough, even after everything sucked so hard, that I still passed some people on the run. Yay. This has to be good for Ironman practice.’ However, the results say that I REALLY sucked on the bike and the only reason I passed anyone on the run was because I was so far back. Ugh. Ugh.

Long version: At least I swam good.

I swam a 30:50 (which included running forever through shin-deep muck at the end; stupid drought), which is not really a very impressive time, but I came out of the water so close behind the front two women — one of whom I know is a very fast swimmer — that I actually passed them in T1. So: win.

The thing about World’s Toughest Half is that it’s really tough and hilly. That’s fine. I was (sorta) prepared for this. I mean I didn’t actually look at a course map, but in theory I understood the concept. For the first 40′ or so I felt pretty good. I was racing off heartrate for the second race ever — Wildflower being the first — and I don’t think I understand it. I don’t know. My plan was to keep my HR in the low-mid-150s. That seems about right for what would usually be my half pace (170 watts). I don’t know. For the first 40′ my HR was right in the 150s and I was eating and drinking and powering up the hills and I felt good/ok. Two girls passed me early, but I did a mental check: ‘Should I go with them? No, not this early.’ And, then on one of the downhills my HR went down and it didn’t come back up as much. And, then, more and more. I simply couldn’t keep my HR up and it kept dropping further. I could barely keep it in the 140s at times. And I felt awful. By an hour in, I felt really awful. Was my HR down because I was going easier? I couldn’t tell. Sometimes, yes, I was definitely going easier. Sometimes, I’d stand and go as hard as I could and my HR’d go up to a whopping 148. Sometimes, I’d go harder and it’d go down. I tried to remember how halves are supposed to feel, but I couldn’t remember. It seemed like I was going as hard as I could (for this distance), but my legs simply had no power. But, maybe I don’t know what hard is anymore? The course is constantly up or down and on the ups I was almost going backward. On the downs, I was terrified of crashing.

Besides the fact that my legs were dead and my heart was sluggish and I felt awful, the other major problem was that there were lots of steep descents that went into sharp sketchy turns or long curvy descents that seemed gradual but suddenly would turn inward — and there was no warning when these were coming. There weren’t signs leading up to the sharp turns; there were volunteers at some of them but they were often stationed too late to know in advance or were preoccupied with manning traffic, etc. The roads were also open and full of cars. Some of the roads were incredibly busy actually. And, after a number of close calls and seeing someone almost get hit by a car, I got really nervous. REALLY nervous. I can not crash again right now. You know what happens when you get really nervous in a race that has lots and lots of long steep descents? You lose a lot of time. I was basically sitting up and braking constantly.

For about two or two-and-a-half hours, I was pretty sure I wasn’t doing as awful as I felt. And, I felt awful. I hate races where you’re basically by yourself and miserable. It’s hard to bring the race game face — whatever race game face I had today, which wasn’t much. Then, the last hour, I was actually definitely doing as awful as I felt. I just stopped even caring. I felt terrible. I’m not going to crash myself out in this stupid race. This race is stupid. All these people are stupid. Biking is stupid. I lost my race number stickers. I lost a water bottle of the back of the bike. I went straight through an intersection I should have turned at and had to flip around. I spilled so much gel that it congealed all my other gels packets together. My left knee and my right hip hurt on my bike. My whole bike started rattling on a downhill and I coasted trying to figure it out for a few miles — worried about crashing. I lost all motivation. One women, who only rode about 6′ faster than me, made up 2′ and put another 3′ on me in about the last 7 miles. I was over it. I was done. And, I really really really had to pee for the last hour. I was actually mildly pleasantly surprised that I finished the ride in 3:34, since I thought I had bombed out so hard that it might have been four hours before I could get off my stupid bike.

For a decent amount of time while biking I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to finish the bike. I knew I had to run when I got there — that was the whole point of doing such a long hard race: to practice finishing strong when things suck and are long and shitty — but, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to finish running. So, I told myself: ‘You’re just going out for a run, a nice long trail run. You go for runs all the time.’ And, that’s what I did. I wasn’t racing. I didn’t care. I was just out for a run on the hilly, rocky trails. A girl passed me in about the first mile and said if I needed to get by to pass her back just to let her know, and I said, ‘Yeah, no, that’s not going to be a problem. Definitely not going to happen.’ Sounds like the right attitude.

After walking alone up a long steep road in the sun, I suddenly was on an out-and-back section and it turned out there were people somewhat right ahead of me. And, I wasn’t sucking (too much in comparison). And, also, I was probably going to finish. So, then, I tried to start trying. I passed one girl. I gained on another. I told myself that was good enough, you got close to her, way to go Kelly, you’re not actually going to catch her. But, with less than a half-mile to go, she was right ahead of me. I decided I had to go for it and kicked hard (while trying not to throw up). I went from running like 8:45s to 6:00 pace and freaked everyone out. Perhaps I should have done that the whole time.

The results suggest I biked really really shitty, like 28′ slower than the fastest girls, and then ran pretty slowly too. That was definitely a shitty race.

Obviously, I don’t know why I’ve been biking well in training and not in races. I suspect I’m struggling to remember what race hard is. I also think I haven’t been able to find that race game face, the extra difference between caring when someone passes you and not caring. And, I’ve been having a hard time with heart rate and recovery. There’s been some workouts lately where I’ve headed out and simply couldn’t get my heartrate above 125. It may just be that my heart is crazy, which is true. But, I also definitely didn’t give myself enough time to do nothing after smashing my face in. The accident really fucked me up and my body’s been struggling to recover. It’s been an up and down battle. More down. But, I got through today and that’s something at least.

7 thoughts on “Auburn World’s Toughest Half: Race Report

  1. Ugh. That sucks. But glad to hear you were able to keep it together & finish.

    Also: “I suspect I’m struggling to remember what race hard is. I also think I haven’t been able to find that race game face, the extra difference between caring when someone passes you and not caring.”

    ^ This. This is my issue right now after basically a year off from racing.

  2. I find IM training also causes you forget how to race hard. Because well, IMs are about survival more than anything.

    Also 170W is nuts for a half-IM. I want that power. Also also, for reference, a power meter made all the difference in the bike leg for me at IM.

    1. Well, 170W should probably be more accurately described as ‘my former half-IM pace/current GOAL pace.’ Yeah, I usually race with power, except for all the times it hasn’t worked right, but I thought HR would work ok for IM. I just can’t figure my HR out!

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