Thursday, June 9, 2011

Grand Rapids, Michigan Half Iron Triathlon – June 5, 2011 – Race Report

Race Details:

Swim – 1.9K
Bike – 90K
Run – 21.1K

I decided to do this race when I found out a number of the Ironman Austria group members were going, and also when I heard a friend of mine from Waterloo, Henrique Reis (Rique) had decided to sign up as well. At least that meant I had someone I could go down to the race with. Travelling that far for a race solo is a bit boring. Only after Rique and I had signed up, another buddy from Waterloo, Scott Dickie also decided to race.

The timing of the race worked well; given it was a month out from IM Austria on July 3rd. The only tapering that took place for the race was the break from training I did on the Friday and Saturday before the race travelling down there.
 Rique picked me up at my place nice and early Friday morning. Unfortunately Scott had other commitments Friday night, so he had to come down on his own Saturday morning. Rique and I had wanted to get to the Grand Rapids race site mid day on Friday so that we had a chance to go check out the swim course and maybe take a tour of the bike course. After getting the bikes on the roof rack and all the gear in the car, we finally took off from New Hamburg about 7:30am Friday morning. The weather this day was fabulous and the drive to Grand Rapids was uneventful. After about a 20 minute delay at the border and a quick restroom stop, we made it to Grand Rapids around 1pm. Once in Michigan, the one thing we did notice were the large number of deer that had been hit and killed on the interstate down there. I’d say there were at least 10 that we counted on the way to Grand Rapids. On the way back, there were 11. That’s for sure because we counted. That’s much more than you normally see driving in Ontario. Maybe we do a better job of cleaning them off the side of the road when they are hit than they do down there?

Anyway, after arriving, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at a restaurant just outside the hotel, then threw our wetsuits in the car and drove down to the race site which was about 10 minutes down the road in a small town called Ada. After doing a quick review of the swim start area, we decided to drive the bike course. This isn’t something I normally “have” to do, but it was good none the less. We got to see what the road conditions were like and the big hill that was around the 30K point of the ride. There were also a number of train track passes that we had to make, so seeing the condition of these was also a good idea. The bike course is a simple out and back, so once we reached the turn-around point, we decided to just head back to the race site, rather than retrace the entire bike course again.

Once back at the swim start, we put our wetsuits on and tested out the waters. It was definitely not clear water, but at least it wasn’t cold. It was in the Thornapple river watershed, which we were told was one of the cleanest rivers around. That was good to hear, but it still didn’t make it anything like a Muskoka open water swim. After about an 800m or so practice swim, we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. Rique and I ended up getting some Mexican burritos for dinner that night. We thought this was a safe call since it wasn’t the night before the race.

On the Saturday, Scott arrived from Ontario around 10am. We met him in the lobby and then the three of us all went back to the race site so he could see it and get in a swim himself. After this and checking out a bit of the bike course one more time, we grabbed some lunch and headed to the expo/race kit pickup. This was a pretty small expo and the one thing that was strange is that they decided to do body marking the day before the race. Didn’t seem like a good idea, and I’m pretty sure the hotel would agree when they saw the bed sheets from us Sunday morning...strange.

After the race kit pickup, we met up with some of the Ironman Austria group members at an Italian restaurant for our pre race dinner. I stuck with my whole wheat pasta, bread and salad that I feel comfortable eating prior to an endurance type event.

By the time dinner was done and we were back at our hotel, it was nearly time to hit the sack. The three of us did our final race bag packing and then went to bed around 10pm.

We were all up shortly after 4am for the 7:15am race start time. After grabbing some coffee and some food in our room, we packed the bikes and made our way to the race site and transition zone. We had to park a fair distance away and use a trolley service, but this all seemed to work out fine. Once in transition, the biggest issue were the mosquitoes. They were out in FULL force this morning, attacking everyone. It was crazy. Luckily I was able to come across someone with some bug spray, so I put a bit on which seemed to help.

Once everything in transition was setup, I grabbed my wetsuit and headed to the swim start for a quick warm-up and the mandatory athlete’s meeting at 7am. They counted absolutely everyone that went in the water which is a good idea, so they can count the number of people that come out. Anything less than the same number would be a bit of a problem. They don’t seem to do that in any of our Ontario races.

At 7:15, a very “casual” race start began. They simply said 3, 2, 1 GO! No horn or anything. That was different! So on that note, the race was on!

They had broken the start into only a few waves. The first was the 39 and under and second was the 40 and over. With only about 375 registered in the half iron race, this made for a pretty spacious swim start. There wasn’t much “washing machine” action taking place in the first couple hundred meters, which was good. I was able to just find my own line and start swimming. The course had a slight bend to the right for the first 900m or so, where it turned left for 50m and then turned left again for the remaining 1K back to transition. The first 400 meters or so of the swim seemed to be against a decent current as it came around a small corner of land. This part of the swim seemed to take the longest to complete, but once past this point, I made a bee line to the first turn buoy. Things seemed to be going well, but I couldn’t find anyone to get a good draft off of. I just swam on my own for the most part. By the time we hit the first turn buoy, it was nice and spread out, so I just focused on taking good strokes. Once on the way back, it seemed like we were with a bit of a current and didn’t have to fight the water as much. Things felt very good at this point, so I decided to pick up the pace a bit. Once I made it back to land, I took a quick look at my watch and was happy to see it was just less than 32 minutes. That was more or less what I was hoping for. I was a bit surprised to see Scott just ahead of me as we ran through transition. That was a great swim for him as well, and I think he even surprised himself. My only issue in transition was when I thought I lost my goggles. I often leave them inside my right swimsuit arm when I take the suit off. When I got back to my bike, they weren’t in there which pissed me off, but luckily a volunteer had seen me drop them and ran them back to me. I thanked him for returning them, and then set off on the bike.

As mentioned, the bike course is an out and back that was kind of in the shape of a fish hook. The first 30K was pretty flat before climbing a decent set of hills for about 3 or 4K. After that, it flattened out again to the turn-around point and coming back the exact same route. As usual, getting on the bike after the swim, my heart rate was higher than I would normally see in training rides. This is always the case, and nothing I’ve come to worry about. What I tried focusing on was my power and that my heart rate wasn’t getting any higher and that it eventually settled into a comfortable range.

As usual, the first 5-10K of the bike, I was passing a fair number of athletes. There wasn’t too many in front of me though, since my swim was decent. About 2 or 3K into the bike, I passed Scott, who managed to get out just ahead of me. I believe at this point, he was having a few nutritional issues that he was working out. I felt very comfortable on the bike, despite averaging about 275-280 watts for the first 30K. I watched this closely in conjunction with my heart rate as I wanted to make sure I had legs still for the run. On the other hand, I was curious what I could do and the impact it would have on the run. In my two 180K training rides to date, my power was only about 220-225 watts, so I was well above this. I felt comfortable though, so I just kept pushing. Since the trend to the turn-around point was uphill, I knew the watts were likely to come down slightly on the way back. In the end, they fell to 265 watts, but this is still pretty decent, and a lot higher than I’ve done in training. I think this tells me that I can likely hold a slightly higher average wattage in my Ironman race, compared to what I have been doing in training. This is likely due to the “race” effect.

Nothing else too memorable came out of the bike ride. At one of the turns, some of the volunteers were not doing their job and sent some of the leaders off course for a slight bit. Given the fact that I was pretty comfortable with the course, I had no issues, and proves that it is worth the time to study the course in advance. Once back to the race site, my Garmin had the course just slightly long. According to my Garmin, I had covered the 91.12K in 2:24:51 at 37.8kph. I was quite happy with that, and quickly racked my bike, got on my running gear and started the run.

Grand Rapids Half Iron Garmin Bike Details

Based on the number of athletes I saw ahead of me at the bike turn-around, I figured I was in a top 10 spot. The run course was a two loop course that was about 11.5K per loop. For the most part it was flat, but there were two “moderate” climbs on each loop. I switched my Garmin over to monitor my heart rate and not worry at all about my average pace. I wanted to run this much like I might the marathon in Austria in a few weeks. I tried to keep my heart rate similar to where it was on the bike. This was in the high 140’s. I focused on a nice turn-over, some forefoot striking and a nice steady pace. The only time I felt like I was working hard was when I was climbing the hills.

Over the first 5K of the run, I think I passed about 3 or 4 half iron competitors that came off the bike before me. To my surprise, at least 2 of them were in my age group, so that was good news for sure. When we started the 2nd loop, we had to run around a small park. As we exited the park and got back on the street, a volunteer told me that I was in 4th place. I wasn’t too surprised at this given the position I thought I was in when I started the run, and the number of people I passed on the first loop. However, not more than a minute later, another half athlete passed me to push me into 5th. He was going at a pace much faster than I wanted to run, and since the difference between 4th and 5th didn’t really mean anything, I just let him go. I wanted to keep a steady pace. Finally, I completed the two hill climbs on the second loop and knew at this point, there was only just over 3K to the finish line. It was then that I decided to pick up the pace a bit, knowing the race was almost over. I did a quick check over my shoulder to see if anyone else was gaining on me, but there wasn’t. I just wanted to finish the race feeling strong, and that is what I did, doing the last three K in 4:15, 4:17 and 4:09. Crossing the finish line, I felt pretty good and still had plenty left in the tank. I completed the 21.1K run in 1:33:12 which works out to a 4:25/K avg. pace and 5th place overall for now.

Garmin Rapids Half Iron Run Details

I quickly grabbed some food and water and proceeded to get my gear all packed up in transition. After that, I went back to the finish line where the results were being posted. Luckily, nobody in the 40+ age category that started 3 minutes after my wave did better than me, so I did hold onto my 5th place finish overall, and 2nd in my age group in a total time of 4:34:35.

Later, I ran into Scott and eventually Rique, and we all packed up our gear and bikes and started heading out. Scott also finished 3rd in his AG, and lucky for us, we were able to just grab our awards, well before the official half iron awards ceremony.

After getting back to the hotel, we all chilled out a bit, taking a dip in the hotel pool and using the hot tub. Later that day, the three of us all had some dinner at the Outback Steakhouse, where I enjoyed a large pint and a big steak. Both well deserved!!

The next morning, we packed up pretty early and headed back to Canada. Overall, I was very pleased how this race went and with a few more LONG training sessions before the Ironman Austria race on July 3rd, I feel I should be ready. I’ve been asking myself if I’ve done enough training for Austria, and although I think it would have been nice to have a gotten a few more long rides and runs in; I think I should be ok. We are now only just over 3 weeks away, and I’ve been feeling pretty good (I hope that is not a bad thing). Only time will tell, and right now, time is flying!! IM Austria will be here in no time at all!