Grueling probably best describes my day racing MiTitanium Iron Distance race Sunday.
I’m going to talk about the heat. I’ll mention the wind, the darkness, hills and road construction. But the real reason I didn’t have a good outing was because I didn’t really train for this race like I should have.
I hardly swam all season, never road more than 50miles and didn’t run more than 10. So I wasn’t surprised when my day began to crumble… I knew going in to this race that it was going to be painful, so I decided to change my perspective and look at it as an eye opener and beginning of my 2014 season.
The Saturday before the race I did about a 1/2 mile swim in Lake Versluis. It was a beautiful lake, very clam and clean. The water temp was 74ish and wasn’t expected to rise. Some athletes were saying it was too warm for a wetsuit, but I didn’t feel overheated at all.
After the swim I took time to drive the bike course.
The beginning of the course was filled with rolling hills. The first climb I came across looked ugly. It was a pretty steep incline, though not really too long. But the condition of the road was poor. The climb was loaded with potholes and big cracks. I’m glad I was aware of it ahead of time.
The big issue on the bike course was some surprise construction. The Race Directors had already networked with the city well ahead of time to make sure there would be no issues on the course. They were assured that roads wouldn’t be torn up until Monday (after the race). But to everyones surprise crews ripped up about 600 feet of road mid-day Friday.
The MiTi team spent hours Friday night assessing the situation and made plans not to change the course. They swept off the loose gravel and laid down a thick mat to make the spot ride-able. The road was closed to traffic as I was driving through, but Dave from the Priority Health Cycling Team was out there. He was working with the MiTi crews to assess the issue.
Dave was awesome, he showed me the mat they were going to use and walked me through the whole process on how they planned on dealing with several hundred riders abusing on race day. He was out there with his bike riding and re-riding to make sure it would be safe and effective.
I even took my bike over it a couple times.
The biggest pitfall with the construction was going to be momentum. This section of road came after a nice long decent, but the torn up section was on a climb. Time would tell what kind of difference it would make.
After the course I hit up the expo, got my race packet, racked my bike and headed back to the hotel before dinner then an early bedtime… 4:15a was going to come early.
Race morning I felt pretty calm. I checked my bike one last time and noticed it was shifting odd, I think it had been knocked over the day before. Thanks to the rockstars at West Michigan bike they adjusted the front derailleur and it was good to go.
Before you know it, it was time to race!
All of the full distance athletes started in one wave. As we got in the water, I got a little nervous when I saw how FEW people seemed to be starting in this wave! I kept telling myself that I’m not really racing these people. I’m racing MY race.
Then the horn went off.
I started the swim real easy, the plan was to build into it. I felt good the whole swim, only had a couple run-in’s with other swimmers and when it was all over I was only 1:02 off my IMWI time…. I’ll take it!
Because of the swim success I felt great going into the bike, early on I was averaging over 17mph and I was really enjoying going up and down the rollers.
Though my pace was where I wanted it, other riders were passing me like I was walking! It took a while before I remembered that there was also an Iron distance relay and aquabike in addition to the 70.3 racers. So at least some of the people passing me had the luxury (if you want to call it that) of leaving everything out on the bike course… I still had a marathon to go, so I’ll keep my pace.
Soon I hit the first climb with the potholes and cracks, It felt brutal. I was riding with a good sized pack which made it harder to navigate that hill. My legs were screaming. Since the bike was 2 loops I had to do this twice. Each time I got up to the top I expected to see Mike O’Malley handing me my piece of the Aggro Crag (10 points if you got that reference).
A while later I came to the construction section, again I was in a pack, which slowed down the climb. The mat that was covering the missing road seemed to be holding up great. Crews were there sweeping and maintaining it all day. It started as a gradual climb until the very top then it got steep, I took a solid few minutes to coast and recover after that.
Heading back in to town to begin the second loop my legs began to cramp. It was very hot and I forgot salt, but I was using Clif ShotBloks that had extra sodium to compensate. After eating a whole sleeve the cramps started to go away but with 56 miles to go, I was going to have to keep on this. Eventually I stopped at an aid station and ate a bunch of pretzels before grinding away at rest of the course.
The final 30 miles of the bike I felt horrible. My feet hurt, I was having back spasms and the wind had picked up significantly. I’ve never wanted to get off my bike so badly. This was when I first started thinking about dropping out of the race. My pace had slowed to the low 15’s, but it felt slower. I fought hard to finish that ride, and when it was all over I pained me to know that it was only 26.5 minutes longer than my IMWI time. With as bad as I felt I would have assumed an hour or more.
I took my time in T2. No part of me wanted to run, but I figured if I just hit the course hard, I could get it over with. For some reason (and I really don’t know why) the time I had in my head was 5 hours. My fastest marathon ever was 5:24 and that was Chicago in 2011, so that wasn’t going to happen.
I got on the run course and started running about a 10:30/mile. I think it lasted 3 minutes, my legs were dead and my back was killing me. As my Advil started to kick in I started running 5 minutes and walking 2 minutes. I’m not sure how long I kept that up, but eventually I dropped down to 2 on/2 off and before you know it I was only walking.
I must have thought about dropping about at least a dozen times. After the turn around the course was getting dark. The run course was closed to through traffic, but it was all in a residential area and there were spectators who were driving to different spots to watch. So there was quite a lot of traffic, but no street lights or sidewalks. I felt very uneasy, worried about getting flattened by a car.
I was wearing a reflective sticker but there was no light to guide my way unless I was nearing an aid station. It was pretty scary.
My feet were blistered, Advil worn off and I had 10 more miles.
Again I thought about dropping out.
It would be easy, stop at an aid station and wait for someone to pick me up… But I had gotten so far, I couldn’t let 10 miles get away.
I kept walking, hurting, swearing until eventually I could hear the main road that led to the finish. I wasn’t even excited, I just wanted to be done. I couldn’t even run. I waited until the last minute to start shuffling through the finish line (so that should be a good picture).
Luckily I parked close. After packing my gear and texting my family to let them know I wasn’t dead, I got in the car in time to see the last official finisher come down the final stretch.
Despite how my race turned out, I thought Michigan Titanium was a great race. The swim was beautiful, the course was challenging and it was well organized and run. My only criticism was the light on the run course, I was hard to navigate after dark and the cars out there were driving real fast. So with no sidewalk there was little room for error on a runner or driver’s part.
Bu I’d definitely race there again… In fact I think I’ll have to just to redeem myself!
MiTi 2014 registration opened up on Monday, so as I’m building my schedule for 2014 it’s something to consider. Michigan Titanium has also banded together with five other independently operated Iron Distance races around the country to form the Full On Triathlon Series starting in 2014, which is awesome.
Thanks again to MiTi Race Directors Doug, Ann and Andy (though I never got to meet Andy) for having me up to race, you put on an excellent event!
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