By mile 20 of the bike all I could think about was if there were going to be doughnuts at the finish line. The thought of a doughnut seemed delightful. Sadly I had over 50 miles of biking and running in order to see if this wonderful rumor was true. It was early in the race and this triathlon was already getting hard.
This thought of a doughnut was occurring to me during my 7th long course triathlon. For those unclear about what a triathlon is, that’s ok. This is probably a strong indication of you being normal. Triathlon is one of these really silly and completely ingenious sports. It’s a race during which you swim, then bike, then run. In that order. No exceptions. There are other races that mix the orders up, but that is not a triathlon.
I use the word “ingenious” because the more of these races I do, the more I come to feel and realize how each event impacts the other. The swim impacts the bike, which then impacts the run. The three events when put together prove to be a great test of fitness. Typically all are performed as the heat of the day is ever climbing. Unlike most running races where you are starting early in the morning, the run portion of a triathlon starts much later in the day. And of course, the heat is usually a factor.
Similar to running races where there are 5Ks, 10Ks, all the way up to a Marathon, the world of triathlon has different distances. The term “long course” in the triathlon world refers to any race over 70.3 miles.
This 7th race of mine was a 70.3 mile race. Frequently called a “half.” Half of what you ask? I’ll get to that in a moment. The 70.3 mile distance includes a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run. This by the way, does not include the running you do from the time you get out of the water to the time you get to your bike. It also doesn’t include the distance from the time you get off your bike to the time where the run actually starts.
So back to the half. Well, it’s half of the other more notorious distance of a full-distance triathlon. 70.3 x 2 equals 140.6 miles. This distance is often called an Ironman. That’s a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run.
Now the term Ironman is actually a brand owned by the World Triathlon Corporation. And folks, it’s big money. No other race company can call their race an “Ironman” even if the distance is the same. I have actually done more full distance Ironman races than 70.3 mile halfs. I think it’s also worth saying that I have actually never run a regular marathon. The four marathons I have run have all been at the end of a full distance Ironman.
If there is one thing that doing a full Ironman will do to you is it will forever change your perspective on what “LONG” really means. This is probably one of the reasons why I have yet to find the motivation or “care” to sign up for a marathon. It’s just a long run after all.
Prior to race morning for this 7th long course race I was feeling pretty good. Training had gone well. Besides a sore knee that doesn’t bother me when I swim, bike, or run, I was ready to go. I even managed to stay rather fit over a 7 day cruise that I went on a couple weeks before the race. Me and the other fitness nerds were up early and in the ship’s gym staying fit – and running circles around that boat like champs.
The most notable difference with this race was my general blasé-ness about the whole thing. What used to cause great nervousness, is now much less. I’m a little disappointed by this as the race morning nerves was one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. The distance is just a number on the dial. The romance is gone, so to speak. I even had a few pieces of equipment break on me leading up to the race. This would normally cause great panic and I would quickly drop the cash to purchase new pieces of gear, but this time I let it go. You can even see in my race pictures the duct tape keeping my gear box together on my bike.
I arrived to the race venue the day prior to pick up my packet, rack my bike, do a practice swim, and generally get the lay of the land. Although I have done this race now three times, it is always good to familiarize yourself with the terrain. I had even predetermined where and what I was going to eat for dinner.
By 4:30pm I had placed my order and was on my way to pick up my dinner. This is all fairly sophisticated experienced guy stuff. Walking into a restaurant at 6pm the evening before the race trying to get a seat along with all the other athletes is a fool’s game. The experienced folks are in their hotel room with their feet up.
After dinner and around 8pm, I broke out one of my double top secrets to race morning. Applesauce. Yep. One pound of applesauce the night before helps to hydrate, fill up the sugar stores, and well, gets things moving if you know what I mean, the next morning.
I swear the hardest part of these races is the morning of. Here it is a Sunday, and I am up before my alarm goes off. The two alarms were both set for 3:30am.
Out of bed, banana, coffee, some cliff blocks, pretzels, Gatorade, and time to get dressed. The dressing process starts with a rather generous portion of lubricants. It’s fair to say, from about the mid-chest down to the mid-thigh I’m covered in body glide and Vaseline. No chaffing problems here.
There are certain things that will stop you in your tracks during a long race. Chaffing is one of them. Avoiding chaffing also makes for a much easier recovery and avoiding that painful post-race shower.
I get down to the race site, and at around 6:30am the National anthem is playing, quickly followed by my age group’s entry into the water. This is always a unique experience. Entering a body of water early in the morning puts your game face on real quick. Sun has just come up, kayakers, rescue boats, and jet skis litter the swim course – all for us athletes entering the water.
I really wish there were more pictures from the athlete’s perspective from the start of these races. Looking from the water at the crowd and scenery is awesome.
Now I’m treading water for about two minutes prior to the gun going off. Athletes are looking around at each other somehow trying to make space and determine who might be the stronger, faster swimmer. No one loves getting swam over or knocked into, but it is part of the sport.
I have become a pretty decent swimmer over the past couple of years, but it goes without saying that not being in front of a former division one swimmer is usually a good thing. Let those kids go first.
Bobbing up and down listing to the announcer:
“Stay behind the buoy.”
I’m only hearing parts of the dialogue as my head goes up and down from the water line.
Gun goes off.
Aggressive kick forward and a reach into the water of one of my hands to get my body moving forward and positioned UP on top of the water.
Calm feet, toes together, face down, and pull back hard with each stroke. The first few hundred yards is a battle for space with the other athletes.
We would swim out a ways and then make a hard left turn pointing ourselves towards a large highway overpass. This was a really cool landmark to be swimming towards. One of the challenges with any open water swim is navigation. Even with buoys marking the course, having a large landmark to aim for really helps.
I am one of the lucky folks who has access to a lake to train in. It has proved an invaluable resource for triathlon. Training in a pool is about as adequate as running back and forth up and down your driveway in preparation for a running race. Except it’s worse.
Where a pool has nice clear water and a painted line on the bottom to guide you, the open water offers neither. The bottom of this particular river was black as mud. I could barely see my outreached hand under the water. Because of my lake, I am extremely comfortable in this environment.
The swim was moving along nicely. I bumped into a few folks from time to time but quickly moved through my age group pack and found some open space. As I was getting over a cold I did manage to give a few coughs under water while still maintaining my breathing rhythm. Add one more trick to the list of useless triathlon skills. A skill no less.
About half way through the swim I was running up against the back of the pack from the first wave of younger athletes. They had a 5 minute head start but I was now passing them. I then realized that as I was swimming my fingertips were hitting the bottom of the river. This was strange, as I was out in the middle of the river. The tide must be going out. Before I knew it I had to stand up and do a few dives in a new direction to try and find deeper water. Open water swimming is always an adventure.
A bit more shallow water swimming as I neared the end of the 1.2 miles. I then carefully climbed up the boat ramp and ran off to find my bike.
Swim time: 30:53
Running into transition I am always a bit nervous about finding my bike. I personally think my bike is special and looks uniquely mine, but there were about 1,200 other bikes all racked to convince me otherwise. They all look the same from afar. But nonetheless. I ran down the correct row and found my bike.
Bike shoes on.
Gels in my back pocket.
Off I go towards the mounting line, which is where you get on your bike.
From getting out of the water to getting on my bike, 1 minute 52 seconds. Not too shabby.
One of the biggest differences between a full distance triathlon and “only a half” is the bike. And specifically how you pace the bike. During a full distance 112-mile bike, I’m playing defense the entire time. No mistakes. The pace has to be perfect. Hold back. For a half, I’m on offense. Push the pace.
Dare I say, as a non-beginner and someone who is slightly towards the front of the pack, I start pushing the pace of the 56 mile bike right from the start. The pace is slightly uncomfortable from mile one.
On this particular day, my legs felt kind of heavy on the bike. Was it the swim? Were my glutes just tight? What gives? Regardless of how I was feeling, I pushed the pace anyways. Ignoring how I felt I entered into that world of discomfort sooner than I wanted to. For the beginning portion of the bike it felt almost cool out. Jumping on my bike wet from the swim is a great way to help cool off. I’m always a little puzzled when I see people actually toweling off after the swim. I have only done this once and that was because the air temp was in the 30s and I didn’t want to freeze.
Back to the doughnuts. Once I weaved my way past several people, I settled into a group of riders who were all going at the same pace. Sitting on the front few inches of my bike seat (that is about as wide as three fingers across) I now had some space to think. I mainly wondered when my legs would feel better. The burning sensation from the waist down I was feeling from the pace was continuing to grow. But that’s all just usual triathlete stuff. Most importantly, my mind slipped away to a post I saw on Facebook.
The race has a fairly active Facebook page where athletes and organizers post questions and information. Just prior to the race I saw a post claiming that there would be Krispy Kreme doughnuts after the race. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now that I was in my “slightly uncomfortable” state at only mile 20 or so on the bike, the doughnuts were all I could think of.
Was this post on doughnuts accurate?
How would they keep the doughnuts from melting in the heat post-race?
What kind would they have?
I wonder how many I could manage to eat after the race.
These were all the thoughts running through my mind as I sailed down the road.
Until then I would focus on that ever important 4th sport of triathlon. Nutrition. It was going to be very hot out by the time I hit the run course. I was drinking 20 ounces of Gatorade every 30 minutes as well as taking in several gels and cliff blocks along the way.
For the first 47 miles I averaged 20.8 mph. The last 9 miles I pushed 21.4 mph.
Total bike time 2 hours 39 minutes
Dismount the bike, run it back to my rack, helmet off, bike shoes off, socks on, running shoes on, race number on, grab my garmin, and off I go. Total time from bike to run was 2:41. A little slow.
The great thing about triathlon races is all sorts of injustices are made up for on the run. The two athletes I saw on the bike course clearly working together drafting off of each other (totally cheating) would be chased down on the run course. There are countless athletes who put up a good show on the bike, but have nothing in their bag of tricks for the run course.
It’s easy to forget during the course of a triathlon that this is not a bike race.
The run always seems to become a battle of keeping your world as big as you can until it becomes ever so small. Meaning, leaving my bike and taking those first few steps onto the run course, I’m thinking of how to pace the first three miles. By the last three miles I was trying to convince myself not to walk and making deals with myself to make it to the next landmark in front of me.
There isn’t much to say about the run course. My pace was dictated by my very sophisticated, “I’m going to puke” pace o’meter. And my nutrition was dictated by, “My hands are tingly and I might just pass out” o’meter.
All just normal stuff.
I did see two people puking on the side of the path. More concerning to me was a snake that I ran right past. Eek.
I ran almost step for step with another athlete for the first 7 miles. This might have been a mistake as my pace was slightly too fast with numerous sub 8 minute miles. Every aid station was a cup of water over the head, Gatorade in my mouth, and if there was ice available, I put that in a plastic bag I had with me. Did I mention it was hot? Running with a small bag of ice is a great secret to surviving a hot run.
I kept thinking to myself how much easier these races would be if I didn’t really care about trying to beat my previous time.
You might assume that a full Ironman would be more painful than a half. In some ways that is true. You surely suffer a lot longer in a full – both in training and during the race. By the end of a full, you feel as if you could fall asleep mid-stride on the run course. But crossing the line of this “only a half,” I was burning with discomfort from pretty much my ears down to my feet.
Run time 1 hour 50 min
What did all of that give me? Well, it gave me an 8 minute personal record.
Total Time 5:05
I finished in 50th overall place out of 357 half athletes and 10th out of the 35 athletes in my age group and gender.
Of course, as soon as I recovered for a bit I was on the mission to find me some of those doughnuts. Folks, I wish this story had a happy ending but it doesn’t. There were no doughnuts to be found at the end of this race. Was it somehow all just a dream? Had I imagined that Facebook post? Maybe those were just the Triathlon Gods shining down onto a racer who was suffering at mile 20 of the bike. Doughnuts are a pretty good motivator.
In the 7 years of doing triathlons I have actually never gone slower than a previous race. I suspect that’s going to be a hard record to keep if I keep signing up for these things.