Kansas 70.3 Race Report by Jon Mullen
After the long months of training and building, my first half ironman had finally arrived! This race was set in the cute little town of Lawrence, KS—home to the KU Jayhawks and the surrounding community. The town was awesome and the couple I stayed with was amazing and let me crash on their floor for the weekend (thanks Lindsey and Xavier!). Now onto the race…
After working through various minor injuries over the last few months, I only had a few weeks of the volume needed to perform well at the half-Iron distance. This meant that while I had an idea of the splits I wanted to hit, I had to be realistic and just roll with the punches if the splits weren’t happening. Coach Winston was confident I could hit the splits, but a lot depended on weather/course conditions. All I had to focus on was keeping my pace in check and fueling. The forecast for race-day was an 80% chance of thunderstorms and rain starting at 5am. With no idea what was going to happen for sure with the weather, I arrived at Clinton State Park for the race relaxed and ready to get through the day.
This race was set up with 2 transition zones about a half mile apart so early arrival was necessary to get the Bike/Run transition set up then hike down to the water to set up the Swim/Bike transition (this pretty much accomplished the warm-up for the day). While I have been training well for the swim portion, I’ve only done 2 open ocean swims and didn’t wear a wetsuit for either of them. Since the wetsuit adds buoyancy in different places, it changes your body position in the water a bit… definitely NOT the best idea to have the first wetsuit swim of the year be in a race. By the time the race started the wind had picked up to a steady 10-20mph—turning the lake from glass into almost whitecaps. Since the swim started from a boat ramp, there wasn’t any place to warm up. It was jump in, swim to the start line and go! A couple hundred meters into the swim, it began to feel like I was actually swimming in the ocean instead of a lake. Sizable waves were pushing everyone around and making it necessary to time each breath with the waves so you didn’t inhale a face-full of water. With this being the first wetsuit swim of the year and a pretty rough set of conditions, I knew I probably wouldn’t hit my ideal split, but would be happy just to get out of the water in one piece! Upon exiting the water, I had a bit of trouble finding the zipper strap on my wetsuit and staggered toward my bike while trying to extricate myself from the suit.
With the swim leg done, the bike leg commenced. I had checked out the course profile in the race packet, but didn’t drive the course the day before the race (recommendation—recon the course whenever possible).The profile showed a pretty lumpy course… and it wasn’t lying. There was a pretty solid headwind leaving the reservoir, which quickly turned into a tailwind when the course changed directions for its first of 2 out-and-back legs. The first hour flew by and the constant rolling hills didn’t sting too bad. After the first turn around, the wind made its presence known. It wasn’t a gusty wind, just a steady breeze—enough so that the uphills were tough and you had to pedal on the descents to maintain speed. Given that I have mostly been training on roads that required constant power output (longer climbs, etc), the profile of this course required far above threshold efforts to get over the hills then far below threshold until the next hill. This repeated cycle started to hurt after a couple hours and I was pounding food and water to get my system ready for the run.
Rolling into T2 knowing that the bike took way more out of me than I was planning (and I was 10min off my goal pace), I wasn’t sure how the run was going to feel. I’ve only run one other half marathon, so this was going to be an adventure either way. The course was 2 laps with one bigger hill per lap and a few small bumps (largely considered ‘flat’, but after a mega-lumpy/windy ride any elevation change felt like a mountain). After focusing on my pace, putting one foot in front of the other and getting re-hydrated the miles began to tick by. The first trip down/up the hill was not a pleasant experience and took most of the steam I had left to get over it. As the next couple miles rolled by my pace began slipping and I was going slower and slower and seriously wishing the race was done. After recognizing that what I was experiencing was a ‘rough patch’, I knew that I had to do something different to try to shake it. Every aid station I passed I grabbed as much water as I could and as much Coke as I could. From my years bike racing, any form of soda in the last hour of an event will revive you no matter how far gone you were before. It definitely held true today, and by the time I had started the second lap I was feeling way better—I was actually starting to have fun! I had accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to hit my split, but at least I would finish and be able to take what I had learned and be able to perform better at my next 70.3. As the miles ticked down, my legs were finally deciding to work and I was able to pass a couple of guys in my age group going down the stretch.
I ended up finishing in 13/100 in my age-group. While I wanted to do better in my splits and overall placing, I was just glad to have survived my first 70.3. The lessons learned from this race include: practice open water swimming BEFORE the event, pre-ride/drive the bike course, train for the specific topography of the course/conditions. The next week will be spent recovering then it will be time to get back on the horse and start building up for the Boulder Peak and the Boulder 70.3!
Thanks for reading!