Short version: It turns out that if you don’t really train for a half-Ironman, then it’ll go pretty much how you’d expect it to go. My legs stopped working with 2.5 miles left to run. Between then and the finish, I went from second to fifth, which was excruciating — physically and emotionally. On the plus side, my legs worked for a lot of miles before that point. And, it turns out my five hour finish (5:08) may not have been as super slow as I thought; the race, itself, was also slow and long. (For the Big Kahuna aficionados, they’ve extended the bike course slightly.) Bonus miles!
Long version: When I’m really not excited about a race and can’t think of any possible reason I want to do it, I tell myself just to go through the motions. Just go through the motions of getting ready, setting up transition, warming up, standing at the start, and eventually the rest will kick in. It usually works.
Sunday, I went through the motions like I’ve done this before and eventually we were running down the beach to the ocean. I am, apparently, really fast at that, because I hit the water first. The crowd sorted itself within the first 20 feet. Then, it was me and a girl who was swimming quickly away from me. Right after I lost her feet, another girl went by me, and then it was just me. But, I knew I was swimming well. I could tell from the amount it hurt my arms and by how many guys I was passing from the earlier waves. I, actually, maybe for the first time ever, didn’t hate my life or the sport of triathlon during the swim. I knew I was swimming a PR, so at least there’d be that high note.
After coming out in 28:30 (yay!) and running the half-mile to transition in bare feet on concrete, I started the part of the race I was second-most worried about: the bike.
It wasn’t awful. It wasn’t great either. My heartrate monitor stopped working — no matter how many times I pressed “Find” on the computer — and I don’t have power in my race wheels, so I went by feel. Going by feel works really well if you know what that effort is supposed to feel like. I have no idea right now. Instead, I kept asking myself: Does this hurt? But, in a way you can sustain? Should you pass that guy up there? Probably, you should.
About 10 miles in, I saw someone up ahead hanging on the wheel in front of them, to such a degree that this person was coasting at points and at other times sprinting to jump back on the wheel. Typical, I thought, 45-year-old male behavior. Because that is who I usually see drafting. I rarely see the front women go deliberately out of their way to draft. For the most part, I see women just trying to deal with the men they’re catching and the men catching them and the general chaos that is triathlon when you’re a fast female in a mass race. Then, I realized this was a woman. It took me another 10 miles to catch her, after which she tried to hang on to my wheel for a bit.
At the turnaround, the woman in first came blazing through from farther up the road, past the turning point, yelling about having missed the police cars and cones and volunteers. Trying to keep her in sight was a new motivation, but it only worked for so long. Then, things got blurry for a bit. I’m not sure if it was partially the fog that was literally making things blurry or partially that we had reached the edge of my fitness, but I was struggling with that classic battle: I just want to be off my bike, but then I’d have to run. Lose-lose. Also, I was actually literally having a hard time seeing.
I was enough out of it that when I got to transition, I swung my leg over the back to dismount, still coasting in slowly, and I got my leg caught on the seat. I’ve never done that, even in practice, and I didn’t have the wherewithal to save it. The whole bike came crashing down on top of me as it, and I, tipped over and semi-skidded to the dismount line. I’d like to think at least some of the time in my not-so-awesome 2:47 bike split was used up by me pseudo-crashing and picking myself up.
But, still I was fine. Everything was fine. The run started out strong enough. I focused on high turnover and running steady. I told myself that I’d finally nailed my nutrition and wasn’t going to collapse in a heap somewhere in Santa Cruz — as has happened before. I just kept ticking off 7:15-7:30 miles. It was fine. Even when it got ugly around halfway, which happens for everyone on this course as you run around a never-ending field, I was still running in the 7:00s. Heading back up the long hill in the sun around 9 miles in, I rationally knew that I didn’t feel any worse than anyone else and, in fact, I felt far better than the last time I had been crying while stumbling up this stupid hill. No, everything was fine.
Obviously, abruptly, it wasn’t fine anymore. I’ve heard the phrase “the wheels came off” and I’ve even used it, but I don’t know that I ever fully appreciated what it meant before Sunday. I went, very suddenly, from running 7:30s to running 9:30s. My legs simply hurt. Every step the right leg screamed in pain, especially on the downhills. My legs wouldn’t bend. They wouldn’t move forward. They were done. I was still pretty fine aerobically, completely aware of the women closing on me from behind, but there just wasn’t much I could do about it. One woman, who actually started five minutes after me, passed me with 1.5 miles to go. She then put more than another three minutes on me in that last 1.5 miles. And, she wasn’t running that fast.
Eventually, it ended. I didn’t even walk, not even through that long stretch in the sand at the end, though walking might have been quicker at points.
The extra added bonus fun of doing a race you’re not physically prepared for is that when you push your body to that point, and it hasn’t had the appropriate amount of time to get ready, it really hurts. I have been in more pain since Sunday than after any race except possibly the Dipsea that first year. My dad said that I just wanted to see how far the tank could run on empty. And, I guess now we know.