For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to do a half-ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run) just one week after the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship. I didn't realize just how little long course training I had done until I looked after the race. The last time I ran 13 miles was back in May and I've only ever ridden 56+ miles 6 times in my life! I mean, sure, I was in decent shape to get me through the 70.3 miles (or 71.8 with a long bike course and a mishap on the run...but you'll have to keep reading to hear about that 🙃), but had no idea how I would fare against the rest of the competition.
Swim- FOTW...kind of (27:52)
This was one of the few times I was actually looking forward to a swim! It was wetsuit legal, only slightly (about 1/4 mile) longer than an Olympic distance swim, and I was hoping, because it was longer, that the start wouldn't be a mad sprint like it normally is during shorter distance races. Well, my hopes turned into reality and there were about 4 or 5 of us (including my EMJ teammate, Justin Herrick) who went off the front at a hard, but sustainable, pace. Justin said that he would settle into “old man pace” (or something to that effect) after just a couple hundred yards and I was totally okay with that! After a few minutes, I went to take a breath and inhaled the wake from one of the guys ahead of me. For a split second, I thought I was going to drown. It was a literal inhale of nothing but water. Thankfully, I was able to keep my composure and not lose contact with the group. I was actually a little surprised that the other guys weren't pulling away from me. As we were coming to the end of the swim, I remembered scoping out how the buoys were lined up with the swim out area. The last buoy wasn’t right in line with the exit because the full distance athletes used it as their turn buoy. So, instead of swimming right toward the buoy, I took the direct line to the swim exit. I ended up coming out of the water in second place, but the guy who came out ahead of me stopped to have his wetsuit taken off by the wetsuit strippers. This meant that I was the first across the timing mat and technically the first out of the water (FOTW)!
T1- Stop yelling at me! (1:07)
As I came out of the water and ran around the guy who decided to have his wetsuit taken off by the volunteers, my buddy Eric Abbott started screaming at me. “Todd! Todd! The mat! The timing mat!” What are you talking about?? Did I miss something? I turned around, took my goggles off, and tried to see what he was talking about, but couldn’t figure it out. It turns out he was worried I was going to miss the timing mat that was just ahead of me because I had gone around the other direction (because of the guy laying in the middle of the path getting his wetsuit taken off). I crossed the mat just fine and got to my transition area pretty quickly. I decided to skip socks for the bike so I was in and out with the fastest T1 time on the day.
Bike- Good in the beginning and at the end…not so much in the middle (2:23:55, 23.7mph)
I pushed hard at the start of the bike and tried to build my lead. I wasn’t over-exerting myself by any means and felt comfortable. My Stages power meter wasn’t working (per usual), so I just had to go by feel. This is something I’m used to for Olympic-distance races, but not a 70.3. 56 miles of biking going only by feel could be dangerous because I’ve only ridden this far 6 times in my life! Oh well, not much I could do about it at this point…
At one point, I looked down at my rear wheel and noticed the skewer (the thing that goes through the wheel to keep it in place) was coming undone. So, I unclipped my shoe and kicked it back into place. You do NOT want this thing coming undone because the rear wheel could just slide right out the back (especially with the bumpy roads we had to ride on).
Because I was in the lead, I had the lead motorcycle to keep me company. Every so often, I would ask him if anybody was close behind me and every time, he would just shake his head “No.” Cool. “Well, I don’t want to kill myself so I’ll just keep a nice sustainable pace.” I thought.
Honestly, I just got a little lazy in the middle miles. And it showed because right before the halfway point, Justin came cruising by me. One minute he was there, the next he was gone. Like for real. In one minute, I could barely see him up the road. How the heck did that happen?? I shot a sideways glance at my now 2nd moto and just thought, “Dude, come on.” Had I known Justin was that close, I may have ridden a little harder, but there was nothing I could do at this point to keep up with him. It did encourage me to pick up the pace a bit, though.
Unfortunately, right around the 33-mile mark, I took a look down at my rear wheel and noticed the skewer was falling out of place AGAIN! And it was rotating even while it was locked so that meant it wasn’t tight at all. I had to make the decision whether to keep riding like that and risk the rear wheel falling off the back or stop and tighten it down. I decided it would be best to stop and fix it and to check my front wheel while I was at it.
Almost as soon as I stopped, another rider came by me and asked if I needed air to pump up my tires (thanks for asking, Tay!) I told him I was good, but was pretty upset that ANOTHER person had passed me. So much for that big lead I thought I had.
I actually think that stopping gave me a bit of a second wind. Just stretching my legs out was a nice break from sitting in the same position for so long. I passed Tay about one minute after getting back on my bike and rode pretty strong over the last 20ish miles averaging 25.2mph.
At one point on the back half of the bike, a course volunteer told me I was about 3 minutes behind Justin. Okay, that’s not too bad. I *might* be able to catch him on the run IF my legs can hold it together. There were 2,041 feet of elevation gain so that was a big “IF”
According to my watch, my moving time on the bike was 2:22:53 so my stop cost me almost exactly one minute.
T2- Wait, what?? (1:00)
I definitely wanted to put on socks for the run because it was getting hot and blisters would be inevitable without them. As I was running out of T2, I heard my dad yell “30-seconds back!” Wait, I thought I was 3 minutes behind? I literally turned around, quizzically looked at him, and said “How far??” Yep, just 30-seconds down. I must’ve had a good back half of the bike! 2nd fastest T2 only 3 seconds behind Justin.
Justin’s time- 0:57
Run- Where’s the turnaround?? (1:28:10)
I couldn’t believe that I was only 30 seconds down after being 3 minutes back on the bike. One of the volunteers said that all I had to do was run about 2 seconds/mile faster than him and I would catch him pretty quickly. Psh! Forget that. I could see him right up the road and put in a good charge to catch him as fast as I could. Maybe not my best idea ever, but I caught him before the first mile was over. Mile 1 time- 5:43. That was definitely too fast to sustain so I slowed down and stayed with Justin for a while. I could tell my quads were on the verge of cramping and just wanted to keep that at bay. It was nice to talk with him for a bit on the run, but he told me to go ahead so I went.
The run was a 2-loop out-and-back course (so out-and-back, out-and-back). This was brutal because after the first out-and-back that turned around right by the finish, you had to do it again. No thanks, I’ll just be done after the first lap please!
At the far turnaround, I had opened up about one-minute on Justin and we were about 10 minutes clear of the next athlete. As I was coming back to the turnaround near the finish, I saw a sign, but no spot that was clearly marked for the turn. I ended up running right to the finish chute before asking the volunteers where the turn was and they told me it was all the way back at the sign I had passed about 200 yards ago…great. So, as I was running back for my second lap, I saw Justin doing the same thing and told him the turnaround was right behind him. My one-minute lead was now reduced to 10 seconds.
Justin was a great sport about it, though, because he told me that I could just cruise to the finish and he didn’t want to win that way. At first, I thought he might be playing mind games with me. You know, lull me into a false sense of security and then pounce! Fortunately, I have a great teammate and he stayed about 10-15 seconds behind me the rest of the way. In fact, every time I would take a peek behind me at the aid stations, there he was. I kind of wish the turnaround disaster hadn’t happened because it would’ve been fun to see how that second loop played out. I was starting to get tired and Justin was still right behind me. I put in a bit of a charge the last mile to see if I could drop him, but no dice. Even a 6:30 mile at the end of a long hot day and I still couldn’t shake him.
I ended up crossing the finish line just 12 seconds ahead of Justin to win the race and boy was I glad to be done. I hugged my mom and dad, took a quick picture with Justin, and “jumped” right into the kiddie pool filled with ice. It felt as amazing as it looks!
I kind of liked the 70.3 distance, but it would be nice to do one actually having trained for it!
Thanks as always to my parents for being my cheering section and support crew. It’s always great to hear you guys on the course, even when you only get to see me for 30 seconds during the span of 4.5 hours.
Thanks to Coach Barb for somehow miraculously figuring out how to get me through this race after doing the national championship last week in Omaha.
Thanks to all my sponsors: Every Man Jack, Roka, Gu, Felt, Enve, Louis Garneau, Sock Guy.
And thanks to Ritch for letting me borrow his ENVE wheels. I’m pretty sure they must’ve come from Jimmy John’s because they are “Freaky Fast!”