One thing I have learned to anticipate and even enjoy about racing in triathlons is the surprise of the unexpected. As I get more experienced in racing I am able to anticipate and mitigate the unexpected, but no matter how much I plan, there is always some unforeseen challenge. The longer the race the more likely something will happen to change your plan. The reaction to these challenges can be the difference between a successful race and one where you feel like you could have done better.
No matter how fast you go in a half ironman race you still have to travel a long way—70.3 miles to be exact. That distance comes with plenty of opportunities for plan changing events. Hopefully the challenges, both internal and external, can be successfully navigated, but that is all part of the race and why we spend months training and practicing. This past year I spent the majority of my training focusing on this race with the intention of going faster than I have ever gone. The Ironman Boulder 70.3 thankfully didn’t present a lot of surprises for me, just one new one, leg cramps.
In past half ironman races I have struggled with nutrition; figuring out how much is enough but not too much to eat beforehand and more importantly how much to attempt to eat during the race. I have typically overeaten during the race in an attempt not to dehydrate or bonk, but that plan has either left me with miserable stomach cramps or vomiting or both. This year with the help from my CTS coach Lindsay Hyman, I opted for the "less is more" strategy, eating minimal amounts and drinking considerably less than in past races. Our plan worked and I was free from intestinal discomfort for the entire race. That is not to say I was comfortable, just free of the past stomach problems.
The race started with the typical nervousness, but with each race this decreases and I am increasingly able to focus on racing and settling into my race plan. The swim was thankfully without incident- not quite as fast as I wanted but never the less I was out in better time than in previous races. Typically my slow swim gives me more ground to make up on the field. A quick side bar here: this year I am swimming in a fantastic new wet suit that I really like; I don’t have much to compare it to as my old wet suit was essentially a truck tire inner tube, but my new Aquasphere Phantom is amazing. I no longer get shoulder cramps after 500 meters and my swim times are better for it. And it looks really cool.
My transition to the bike felt fast but when I look back at the results I realize it would be one of the easiest places to make up some ground on the competition. The Boulder 70.3 bike course is a fast two lap course. The morning before the race I put my target time splits on my arm with a sharpie to look at on the bike and double check how fast I thought I should be able to go vs. how fast I am going. After the first and second laps of the bike course I was on target for hitting my prison-ink style times tattooed on my arm and feeling fairly good. The only surprise was some cramping in my quads that started late on the second lap of the bike.
I hit the transition from bike to run hoping that my increasingly cramping quads would stretch out while running, but unfortunately that was not the case. It usually takes me a couple of miles to find a rhythm and a comfortable pace, but in this race kept my fingers crossed that I would be able to keep moving. At about mile three I no longer felt like I was going to fall over and started to feel like I could find a comfortable pace. It was about this time that the leader and eventual winner of the pro women’s race, Angela Naeth, passed me. She was on her second lap and I was on my first—of course she started before me. This was enough of an inspiration to pick up my pace and run with her for the next few miles. Not surprisingly she dropped me after a while, but it was a welcome distraction to run with her while I could keep up.
I finished the race fairly strong, despite feeling like I was on the brink of completely cramping into a knotted ball rolling around in the dirt. I did slow down a little on the second lap of the run, but still managing to come in under the splits I had scrolled in sharpie on my forearm. I finished in 6th place in my age group and 51st overall, in a very big fast field. But what please me the most was beating my time from last year by 25 minutes! I went as fast I thought I could go, even with the miserable leg cramps. My next race I think I will continue to experiment with nutrition and maybe even try increasing my salt intake to see if that will alleviate the surprise leg cramps.