02 Aug 2013

A Journey 70.3 Miles Long

SET Athlete Eric Fahsl competed in the July 2013 Lake Stevens 70.3. This is his race report, taken from wwwEricFahsl.com

This past Sunday I competed in the Lake Stevens Ironman 70.3 triathlon (also known as a half-ironman) – a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, then 13.1 mile run.  The race was held in Lake Stevens, WA – a little bit north of Seattle.  This would be by far the longest (and largest) triathlon for me so far, with about 1200 athletes competing.  I was also still nursing and injured foot from a few weeks ago, which I think is a pinched nerve or some sort of inflammation.  It is getting better but definitely not 100%. I have been doing most of my running in the pool as of late.  Going into this race, I was hoping to finish in under six hours.  I figured I would finish the swim, bike, and transitions in four hours and give myself two hours to run a half marathon.  Normally this wouldn’t be much of a problem for me, but I’ve never swam + biked before running a half marathon and my foot is still a wildcard.

Alicia and I drove up on Saturday for packet pickup, bike drop off, and do a quick swim in the lake to check out the course.  Water temperature was 69 degrees – which is just about ideal for me, but potentially a little warm once at race speed.

Untitled Saturday – lots of bikes!

The morning of the race we arrive at transition and I start pumping up my bike tires and notice that my front tube starts to hiss once I reach 100psi.  Uh oh.  This is a new lightweight tube I bought specifically for racing.  Maybe the colder temperatures overnight (mid 50s) did something to this?  I take it over to the bike tech and he says it might be a loose valve stem, so he tightens with some pliers and the hissing sound is gone.  OK, problem solved, right?

Untitled Setting up transition.

Exit transition and head towards the swim.

Swim

Open water swimming has gone substantially better since the Olympic triathlon back in early June.  I’ve been able to swim faster, longer, and more relaxed – which had me feeling rather prepared for this 1.2 mile swim, which is kind shaped like a rectangle – you go out, 90 degree turn left, then shortly afterwards is another 90 degree turn left.  This event used a wave start, every three minutes a new wave would start.  The waves were by age group, so I started with all of the other 30-34 year old males.  Each person was required to get in the water from a dock and tread water until the gun goes off.  I position myself towards the back but near the middle…

And we’re off!

First three minutes goes pretty well – a lot of bodies around and not too terrible, but then I start feeling crowded and out of breath.  I start breaststroking and sidestroking to look around.  I fear getting swam over by the waves behind me so I move over to the side and try to get back into my freestyle – still not working great.  Once the faster swimmers in the wave behind me pass me I start to relax a bit and do more freestyle.  Soon I get to the first turn, I make it and then the next turn comes up, make it and then things start to go better.  I end up swimming freestyle the entire second half of the course.  After each buoy I pass, I read the number on it – knowing that buoy 8 is the end.  Soon enough I’m at the end and I think to myself – well, that wasn’t terrible, I think the worst part of my day is over.  My parents were there to see me come out and give me some cheers which was also uplifting.

Time: 43:57 (80% rank of all swimmers, that is – 80% of people swam faster than me) I was actually hoping for around 40 minutes, but given I stuck to the outside I probably swam a little extra distance.  Plus – I’m still not that fast of a swimmer!

0424_08584 Finished with the swim, heading into T1

Bike

Fairly smooth transition, though it was still cold out – still in the 50’s so I decide to put on my arm warmers which is a real pain when wet!  Roll out of transition and see my parents again and away we go!

IMG_5287 Coming out of T1

0424_16330 There should be bonus points for style.

I found the bike course really fun.  There were many rolling hills and scenic terrain – it would be hard to get bored!  Things are going pretty well on the bike, but then around mile 25 I look down and see a wide bulge of my front tire: “Shit, that tube leaked, I need to replace this”.  After a short climb around mile 26 I pull off to the side and start taking out my patch kit.  Rider after rider passes me, but one says to me: “It’ll be OK bro”.  And you know what, he is right!  I take out the old tube and put the new one in and get my CO2 cartridge ready.  Well, I suppose now is as good of a time as any to try it the first time.  Worked great, and I’m off!  After checking my GPS afterwards it took five minutes for this change.

Pick up some water at the aid station, take my second gel at the bike, refill the Profile HC system, then toss my gel and the water bottle in the trash at the end.  Feeling invigorated now!  The second half of the bike course was much hillier than the first, including one somewhat steep hill mentioned in the pre-race briefing – Ingraham.  I didn’t find it THAT steep, I think triathletes just generally suck at hills.  I passed probably 25 people in about 2 minutes on this hill (weighing only 126lbs has its advantages at times) and roll on till the finish of the bike.

0424_02112 Rolling along

Time: 3:06.29, 18.02mph average (50.7% of all bike times, right in the middle) I had a long-term goal of completing a half-iron bike ride in three hours, and if you subtract 5 minutes for my flat from this I would be pretty close!  So I’m pretty happy with this time.

Entering transition I see my parents again and put on my socks and running shoes then head off.

Run

Well, let’s see how the foot is.  I start running and feel the standard discomfort, but it doesn’t really get any worse.  Interesting.  Either it’s been warmed up from the bike, it’s actually healthier, or the rest of my body is so tired the foot discomfort isn’t as distracting as it normally is … but I’m able to have a pretty good run.  My plan is to start off slow and run faster the second half of the run vs the first – the problem is I can’t run slow enough!  I was trying to start off around 8:20-8:25 minutes per mile, but I’m running 7:35-7:40 minutes per mile, and I have to REALLY scale it back to get above 8 min per mile.  Also, I have to pee really badly, fortunately there are (limited) facilities at every rest station.

The first four miles were really really fun – I passed a number of people, the course directed us back into downtown where there were a number of spectators, lots of kids putting their hands out to give high fives – people reading the name on my bib saying “Great job Eric” … all of this at a very relaxed pace.  Well, around mile 4 the course starts to head uphill and that relaxed feeling starts heading away.

The run course is a two-loop course, so as I near the end of the first loop there is a very disheartening sign – right for the finish line, left for the second loop.  UGH – I’m starting to feel fatigue and I have to do the exact same run again. Plus my stomach is now feeling empty.  I take my second gel on the run (with caffeine boost) and after about five minutes I’m feeling better.  I then look at the overall time and realize if I can run six miles in about 65 minutes I should break six hours on the day – shouldn’t be a problem even if I need to walk a little bit – super uplifting.

0424_06454 Around mile 8 of the run

After a few more minutes I look at my watch and I’m working decently hard to hold that 8:20 pace.  I mentally prepare for that last big hill coming up and focus on short-term goals – OK run to this orange cone, now this one, now this one, don’t look up at the hill.  Before I know it, I’m at mile 12, with just over a mile left of the day.  Even though that last mile was probably my fastest, it sure seemed the longest.  I take the right turn to enter the finishing shoot, and with a big smile I’ve completed my first half Ironman.

0424_10887 Entering the finishing chute

Run time: 1:49:47, 8:22 min/mile average (34.6% of all run times, or faster than 65% of others)

Total time: 5:46:25 – 543rd out of 1166 finishers – well under six hours :)

0424_20567 Complete! (My wave started 14 minutes after the clock started)

IMG_5311 Finished!

Lessons Learned

So what did I learn from this?  In no particular order:

  • If you have a hunch there is a bike mechanical problem, get it fixed before the race.  After I got home and inspected the tube there was a separate VERY small hole in the tube – this is probably what was leaking the whole time.
  • Changing a flat is not the end of the world.  I lost only five minutes
  • I can survive a big(-ish) swim.  I also stayed fairly calm even when things weren’t going 100% to plan
  • I should have refilled my water bottle at the 3rd bike aid station – I was nearly out of fluids with 8 miles to go on the bike
  • I rock at the climbs during the races (at least compared to everyone around me).  This is good because Ironman Canada will have a few nasty climbs.
  • Calf compression sleeves worked great, first time I’ve worn them for more than about 30 minutes and I’ll likely continue to do so for long runs
  • Pacing on the run – really need to pay attention to this right out of the gate so at to not overdo it.
  • None of the three events went perfect, and the race was still a pretty big success.  If I expect the unexpected, dealing with it mid-race won’t be as stressful.
  • Nutrition was just about enough, but maybe I’d want a little more on the bike:
    • Swim: 1 Clif shot gel 5 minutes before
    • Bike: 3 Clif shot gels + 1 bottle of 325 calories mixed with Carbo Pro, Herbalife, and 2 Nuun tablets
    • Run: 3 Clif shot gels at miles 4 (was supposed to be 3 but forgot because I was having fun!), 6, and 9
  • 70.3s are fun!  Looking forward to doing another one!

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