Monday, September 12, 2011

OBX Half Iron Race Report

I had never been to North Carolina's Outer Banks before, but there are plenty of cars around here with bumper stickers like "OBX", "12", "Salt Life", etc so I knew it must be popular. It's not the closest beach to us (Wilmington), or the most charming (Kure, Carolina), so there must be something special there.

Boy howdy there sure is. It's well documented that Kelley and I both hate the beach. We're just not beach people. But Nag's Head is amazing. Seriously. It's not overcommercialized like Myrtle Beach is, the water is cool and crystal clear, there were huge 8' high waves and plenty of surfers out there enjoying it. It's really a special place. If you ever get the chance to run the OBX marathon or get some vacation time down there, it will be worth the travel. OBX Marathon is a good bucket list item.

We got into town friday afternoon and made it to packet pickup about 5:15. It's right at a 3 hour drive from Raleigh. Got to see the transition area, picked up the booty bag (their term - it's a pirate theme) and headed to the hotel.

Saturday morning we got up bright and early, but not really early enough. I know the earlier we start racing it helps us avoid the mid-day heat. But geez waking up earlier on a Saturday than I do during the work week is still tough. And we did not avoid the mid-day heat. The TA closed at 6:45, we got there about 6:25, I got bodymarked and got my chip. Got my area setup, taped the gels to the top bar of Roberta, and was ready to race.

That was my first mistake. I only taped 3 gels to the top bar instead of the 5 I thought I was going to need, leaving the other two so I could throw them into the back pocket of my race suit in T1.

Hanging out before the start, the water looked really rough. I talked to a guy who did the oly last year and said it was brutal then too. The night before? The Old Swimming Hole was like glass. No current, not a chop in site. This morning? The ocean was angry at something.

All of the men doing the half started together. Half Women and all of the Olympic distance racers started in later waves. We had the countdown, and the race was on!

Swim 1.2 miles - Goal under 40 - actual 39:22 Success!!
2:02/100m pace is right inline with IMFL goals

It actually didn't start out with too much contact. The course ran counter clockwise, so the first buoy was on the left, and the tide/current was going to make us drift left. So I lined up on the right hand side of the pack.

The waves were coming in a rhythm. Once I was able to time that rhythm with my breathing it wasn't really that hard to get in good breaths. The waves were around 2' high, so I was getting tossed around pretty good. And when you look up to sight, and all you can see is a 2' high wave ready to smack you in the face it makes the buoys hard to locate. To make it worse I was completely alone. 65 men started at the same time and I couldn't find anyone.

I was either way off course or way out in front. Yea... way off course. I went right! Who goes against the current on an already treacherous course? This dumbass. I thought the tide was supposed to drift us left? So I went straight, and everyone else got dragged left. Eventually I did get my sights on a boat that was behind a buoy and make it to the first turn buoy. It was only a one lap course, so that was a long way out there. Made the right turn and we're swimming against the tide directly to make it to the second turn buoy. That actually went quicker than I expected, the course wasn't an exact triangle. That was a short side. Turned right again, and now I had the waves pushing me back toward the shore. Not the swim finish, just the general shoreline.

And I was staring directly into the sun. They had one of the big blowing men things going at the swim finish, but I couldn't see it. The sun was just starting to rise, it was just over the roofline of the houses in the background. So I had to go close to the shore, float along until the current pushed me past the finish line, then swim to it and get out. Thank goodness I used dark tinted goggles. That was really tough. Much harder than swimming in a lake.

Gasping for breath, I am so freaking glad to be done with that choppy swim.

T1: 2:44

There was a long run from the finish mat around a parking lot and back to the transition area. Some bikes were already gone, but for the most part the racks were still full. I started talking with one guy who started his watch late after the swim start, and he marked that we had been swimming for 44 minutes. So I knew then that the 5 hour goal was gone. Kind of got me down mentally for the first lap of the bike leg. Of course, it was wrong. So I have no idea how that worked. 2:44 is a pretty good T1 time. I'll take it.

Bike 56 miles: Primary Goal under 3 hours - Actual 2:53:52 Success!!!
19.3 mph is faster than any other half iron time and faster than IMFL goal pace

Secondary goal: 2:45 fail
Ideal conditions target time: 2:30 fail

The bike course was two laps with multiple out and backs. Very few roads, it was completely flat except for one rise on a bridge, and very very boring. It was pretty easy to fall asleep on this course. We came out of the airport and had to cross a 3 mile long bridge with a hump in the middle, that was really cool. The other side had one long road to go down, mostly marshland that smelled really bad to a turnaround. Then back down the stinky road. Turn right this time at the end and get a little 2 mile out and back spur before you go back across the bridge and into the airport. Turn around and do it all again. Oly riders did one lap and didn't have the extra 2 mile spur. At the end of the long road (Mashoes Rd) and the small spur there was water bottle handoffs.

For most of the first lap I was still mentally out of it thanks to the swim and transition. I also realized I forgot to grab the extra 2 gels I was going to need on the bike, so I had to recalculate my nutrition. 3 e-Gels taped to the bike (150 calories each), and 2 bottles of super strength Accelerade. Plus 1 bottle of water to take with the gels and there were 4 water bottle handoffs, so I should be able to hydrate ok.

I knew I needed to take the first e-Gel when I got off of the bridge, that's about 6 miles into the ride and should be about an hour after the start of the race. Take 1 bottle of Accelerade on each lap, that was easy math. I have to cross the bridge 4 times - out (first gel) and back for lap 1, out and back for lap 2. So right before I go back on lap 2 I should take the other gel, that should give me enough calories to get to the first aide station on the run.

I still don't remember when I took the second gel.

It seemed like the first trip across the bridge took Turns out I was riding into a pretty strong headwind. It was so flat you could see things like the hump in the middle of the bridge, and they never seemed to get any closer to you no matter how hard you pedaled. I was riding naked having left the Garmin in Raleigh, so I had no idea how fast I was going or what kind of times I was looking at. I just knew I was ready to get off of that bridge.

The first time down Masheos Road I saw lots of halfs. Half of a snake, half of a frog, plenty of half birds. Put them together and you some freaky redneck roadkill stew. It was disgusting. And it smelled bad. There was mostly marshland on either side, a few houses but nothing spectacular. A couple of nice views of the inland waterway, but nothing compared to what we saw on the bridge or the run course. Just lots of long straight flat and boring.

It was the first time that I could see who was in front of me. Everyone had to make the turnaround on Mashoes, so I could count the people who made the turn before I did and know where I was in the race. I counted 14, but that was also a guess at how many riders were in a pack. Pretty good place to be.

Coming back down Mashoes road and back across the bridge all of a sudden the wind was behind me. That was really nice for a change. I pushed a higher gear, passed a lot of people, all was right in the world. I finished off the first bottle of accelerade and swapped it out for the full one right before the end of the first lap, and I dropped the bottle. Woah, I'm already short some nutrition. Had to stop, pick up the bottle I dropped, then get on with it.

Hit the turn around....

and back out for lap #2. This time I had a lot more confidence. I knew where the headwinds and tailwinds were, how to gear for the different roads, and where the dead animals were. Time to fly through the second lap! I was smiling again finally.

Judging by the time the pictures were taken, I finished the first lap around 1:27, and the second lap in about 1:27. Wait, that's the same. I swear the second lap felt faster. And that adds up to 2:54, which is about right. Ok, so we're going with the fact that I was smiling the entire second lap, and that's why it seemed faster. I swear I was pushing a higher gear and spinning harder through the second lap.

T2: 1:06.
Transition Goal: under 5 minutes, total T-time: 3:52 Golden!!

I did actually get my feet out of my shoes before hitting the end of the bike leg, so I ran into TA in socks this time. Threw on the running shoes, grabbed the other gear and took off. That might be my fastest transition time ever!

Run 13.1 miles: Goal 1:45, actual 2:13:08 Fail!

I swear the run in the end of a half ironman has got to be one of the hardest things to keep consistent. By this point in the day, it was really heating up. Well over 90 degrees at this point, and my legs were already pretty gassed. I'm still running naked, left the garmin at home. So I have no idea what kind of pace I'm keeping, but I'm pretty sure I went out there too fast.

The run course started out by going through this field around the airstrip. There's not even a suggestion of shade there. Not even a little 2' high seedling of a tree in sight. Just a path cut through the middle of an airstrip.

When we leave the airstrip and head out onto the roads it gets interesting. This is a straight out and back course, run out 6.55 miles then turn around and head home. Aide stations every mile at the mile markers, so that's really nice. It felt like the first aide station came at me really quick.

The second aide station also came up really quick. Don't know if that was a short mile or I was running too fast. The course was filled with Oly runners too, and half runners. The bike course also had tons of oly people on there. So after the first half turnaround on the bike, I had no idea how I was placed. Right after the third mile marker/aide station, the oly turnaround point kicked in and the course got a lot less crowded. The third mile went by pretty quick too.

Funny thing happened when I got to the mile 4 aide station. It was manned by a bunch of lazy teenage girls sunbathing and one person handing out water. But they were playing a Slow Runner CD in the background! Since very few other people would recognize my brother's voice I thought it was both ironic and inspiring. I tried to ask the girls if that's what it was, but I couldn't form complete words at the time.

That fourth mile of the run was, I think, the longest slowest mile I have ever run in my life. At least until the 5th mile came up. Seriously, I was only having to walk the aide stations until that point but then the wheels started coming off and I could barely stand. I think heat exhaustion was kicking in, it felt like I had stopped sweating. That's never a good sign. I ran when I could, walked a lot, and tried to maintain proper form the whole time.

The mile 5 aide station had towels on ice, and so did mile 6. I took one each time and it was the sweetest relief ever. I hung onto that towel and it was fantastic. Having finally cooled my body down some, I could run for longer stretches of time now. And since it was only half iron people on the course at that point, there was a lot of people walking and I knew where I was placing. When I hit the turnaround at 6.55 the volunteers said I was still in line for a top 20 finish!

I got passed a few times on the way back in, and passed a few others that were walking more than me. It was still also a struggle. The course turned on to some greenway somewhere in mile 5, and that brought a lot of shade. So part of 5, all of 6, and part of 7 were mostly shaded. That also helped bring my core temp back down. I started sweating again in mile 8. That's when I knew I would be ok.

Then it was just the mental game of forcing my legs to push through the muscle soreness and lactic acid. I can't really describe the kind of pain you get running in a half iron. It kind of makes you want to run your legs through a tree chipper/grinder just to get rid of them. But you know everyone is out there suffering through the same pain and you're still passing people so you must be feeling better than them. I start moaning uncontrollably sometimes. Plenty of times I felt like I was just going to fall over, or walk off of the side of the road.

I turned one corner on the roads and there was a house with a huge muscadine trellis growing with really old vines. That smell took me right back to my grandparents farm, they grew muscadines and I grow them now in the front yard (mine aren't old enough to create a smell yet). Suddenly I felt better.

Went back through all of the same aide stations as before, the teenagers weren't all quite as lazy this time. I just like making fun of lazy teenagers. They weren't actually slacking off on the volunteer duties, all of the volunteers were really on the ball. Before you know it, or before I was fully conscious of what was happening, I was back onto the air strip heading for the finish line.

Overall: Goal - break 6 hours - actual - 5:50:11 Success!

Secondary finish goal was 5:45 - almost there!
Everything went perfect finish time: 5:0x Fail.

Overall top 20 finish: Not quite.

22/65 overall men, 7/18 age group M35-39. The next two fastest people in my age group only beat me by 40 seconds. So I didn't get the overall or age group placement that I wanted, but it was really close. They had four men break five hours this year. Take out my extra 30 minutes of walking during the run course (5:20:11) would have put me in seventh place overall and 3rd in my age group. But we all had to walk the same course and deal with the same heat.

To put this in perspective, my PR came from the Beach 2 Battleship in 2009, a 6:31 overall time with a 2:42 half marathon split. So it's a 41 minute PR and a 27 minute run PR. Last year I did the Patriot's half in 6:55 thanks to a horrid swim time, and hit the same 2:42 run split. So it's over an hour faster than last year's time. So while I still see room for improvement, I also have to recognize how far I've come.

Overall this was a fantastic race and I would not hesitate to run it again or recommend it to anyone. They run an Olympic, half iron, and sprint distances in the same weekend and if you've never been to the OBX before it is a must see destination. It was well organized, the volunteers were great, and everything happened the way it was supposed to happen on that day. Where else are going going to bike over a 3 mile long bridge?

They say you can double your half iron time and add an hour to get a fairly accurate predictor of a full ironman finish. Doubling 5:50 is 11:40, plus an hour means I can expect to come in somewhere under 13 hours for IMFL. I'm still going to keep 14 hours as my goal time. Well, after the initial goal time of just finishing.


Unknown said...

Seems to me that these half iron events must be great training/learning events on the way to iron. You have improved a lot over the years and you are on target for a nice finish at IMFL. Keep at it!

Amy said...

Nice job - and great report! I think about doing an OBX event from time to time (my inlaws are there - free place to stay!), and this just nudges it a bit further up the list.

Unknown said...

Dang it! I need to see the Outer Banks. Great review, and great time! Just hearing about that heat in making me tired.

RockStarTri said...

Great job. You are set up perfectly for Panama City!

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Nice work! You are a machine, dude. I am uber impressed. you make me want to go to the Outer Banks, too!!

Georgia Snail said...

Nice work, CJ. Considering the conditions, that is still a solid run time! Keep up the good work.

Theresa @ActiveEggplant said...

Wow - that run sounds absolutely brutal! Good for you for pushing through & knocking out such a GREAT new PR!!

I must say - I really like how you have your main goal, a secondary goal & a "perfect conditions" goal. I was so bummed after my last sprint because I had an awful performance & was nowhere near my goal times...but it was super hot & windy, so my bike & run legs were much slower. Had I given myself a secondary goal I might not have been so down on myself after crossing the finish line.

Dare I say this recap is making me actually consider a Half Iron someday? ...but I guess I need to get through my first Olympic before I consider that...

raulgonemobile said...

Wow, great race, and a great report too! I've never been to OBX either.. probably should, just to see what it's about.

You can really see that your training is paying off big time. congrats!

Being Robinson said...

wow, congrats on a huge PR. sounds like a tough race, but way to kick its ass!

Karen said...

What a great race - congratulations! The heat really does change things in a race. Nice job :)

Al's CL Reviews said...

Great race, Congrats!

Sophie @ threetimesf said...

Great PB effort John! Keep up the good work :)
ps - LOL @ the pirate theme!!!

Katie said...

what a great day of learning about racing! wow! that swim looks gorgeous, and awesome bike split!

Wes said...

There's a lot to be said for huge PRs, but a bunch of small steps (with PRs) is good as well. so... sub-6 is a nice stepping stone on the way to Iron.

A friend did Louisville and averaged 17.5 mph on the bike, but he ran a 4:13 marathon with 10 minute miles up to 18, then 9 minute miles after that. Beautifully done. You're gonna have an almost pancake flat bike at IM FL. This was a great learning experience for you on the path to Iron

Anonymous said...

Congrats!!! Good to have the wiggle room-you never know what might come up on the Big Day!

Badgergirl said...

Congrats! Sounds like it was a great race. Can't wait to hear how IMFL goes!

Alisa said...

You really did fantastic! What an improvement.

I'm hoping you'll do a "part II" of how you got fast. I'm definitely interested.

You really looked great out there.

Question: What aerobars did you get for Roberta? I'm curious as I've considered looking into some.

Unknown said...

thanks for a very complete race report. very informative. good luck on your full IM goal!

Unknown said...
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