Chattahoochee Half-Iron Race Report

Disclaimer:  My apologies to anyone who reads this..It is on the long side.  But it helps me in future races to record my thoughts as they are fresh.  Thanks to my iphone and David M. for some of the pics.

My day racing around Columbus, Ga started early.  I got up at 0400 and began getting everything together.  I was up late the previous night organizing my race gear.  Despite getting down here a day ahead, I still was a little behind?!

Call it OCD or extreme preparedness, but I tend to research each race comprehensively.  After taking a wrong turn at Frank Maples Tri 2 years ago, I now make sure I know the course in detail.  This turned out to be an excellent strategy this weekend.

I got some info on the race venue from old race reports, tri forums, and much appreciated insider info from Trey R (he did Oly course last year) and Jason B (local).  Thanks folks!  I drove most of the run and bike course Friday.  I’m glad I did because the course was not marked very well and several racers took wrong turns.

My hotel was in North Columbus.  Turned out to be great location close to restaurants, Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods.  All the places I would likely visit.  I even got my prerace dinner at Piccadilly (a informal Decatur Tri Club Half-Iron ritual).   It took 10 mins to get to transition on race morning.  Not much traffic at 0500, Ha!  Parking was plentiful and close.  As it turned out there was only going to be about 100 racers.  Small and cozy start list, eh?  I call it my Elite, Invitation-only Race.

Bumble-Bee ready to go:

The event staff moved transition under an alcove.  Forecast was for rain, but the weather was beautiful.  My wave on the swim was scheduled to start at 7:08.  Yes, I got there early.  A little heads-up from a local reported that the bike racks were first-come-first-serve, so I wanted to have my pick.  If I have a choice, I always pick a rack close to the bike exit, preferably on the end.  It’s quicker to run longer without a bike than with, in transition.  There is also more room at the end of the rack for wetsuit, etc.

I got my gear all situated, took a nature break, downed a gel, and some water and walked down to swim start.  Wedged myself in the wetsuit, donned the lovely pink swim cap, and put my goggles on.  There was some current visible.  So, I knew I was going to take it easy going downstream.  Soon we were off.  I sprinted a little to get ahead of the wave.  There were 16 in my 40-44 wave.  I was cruising along until crossing over a very shallow area…I mean I couldn’t even take a full pull with my arm.  I was right on the buoy line, so I muttered crap and with several others stood up and  walked maybe 20yards.  It was really too rocky to walk comfortably and too shallow to dolphin dive.  So I got back in the water and just front crawled along the water.  Had to be in wetsuit to pull this off.  I remembered my prerace observation of shallow water.  Oops, foreshadowing.

In I dive. What form!

But thankfully, we got to deep water again, and I pushed a little harder to the turnaround buoys.  We turned back into the current.  The race website promised little to no current after the turnaround.  I will disagree.  Man, it was tough.  I was able to draft off a couple swimmers for a while but kept loosing their feet.  My arms were getting tired but I didn’t feel like I had exerted much.  I was psychologically getting down sighting on the banks and not seemingly make any progress.  But I just kept my head down.  Tried to get small in the water and move to the finish.  Eventually got there and struggled getting up the “stairs”.  As Trey R observed, they were slime covered concrete steps.  Could have used a few volunteers at swim exit to help you out of the water.   I hit the lap button on the watch and saw 29:41.  I was pleased.  I was shooting for low 30s.  Nice to have a few minutes to play with at end of the day.  T1 was quick.  In and out in 1:31.  I still claim I can get out of my 2 piece Desoto T1 wetsuit faster than anyone in their one piece.  Try me, Ha!

That’s me exiting the swim on far left next to Sarah (more on her later):

I enjoyed the bike course if truth be told.  We had a little of everything.  I’ll pass on biking along the Riverwalk again.  It really is designed more for walking traffic or leisure riding.  It was narrow and too twisty to accommodate a bike race in my opinion.  The rest of the course had a few small climbs early, flats around Fort Benning airport, rollers into the country, and longer climbs at the turnaround.  Final totals had a pretty accurate 56miles with about 2200ft gain.  So it turned out to be a tougher bike course than I anticipated.  Most of climbing was in the 20+miles around the turn-around.  That section felt very much like Oak Mtn State Park.  I got to mile 28 in 1:24ish.  I realized going along that it wasn’t going to be a superfast bike split.  Just too many bigger rollers + riverwalk.  It seemed like we had a headwind going out also.  I was mentally fine with that halfway split.  I knew going back would be a little faster.  I still had my main goal of running well in the back of my mind.

I traded places back and forth with Sarah (officially met her on the run).  She would stand and hammer up the hills while I sat up and spun.  This was my strategy.  I was happy to let her burn those legs.  As it turned out, she was a climber.  I let her go (I eventually caught back up with her on the flats, wink-wink!).  The return trip to T2 was quicker.  Seemed like we had less climbs and on the flats the tailwind push us a little.  My legs felt good.  My back was a little tight though.  I just stood up on the pedals and ran 10-20 secs to loosen it up.  It was my plan to do this periodically anyway to keep the muscle cramps to a minimum on the run.  I learned from racing the Gulf Coast Half last year that 2+hours down on the aerobars using the same muscles continually without break was a good recipe for leg cramps on the run.  However, I thought this would be less likely as my overall endurance on the bike is much better.  A 50+ mile ride at tempo is less stressful to the muscles now.  Training is paying off!!!

The Bumblebee brought me home in @1:21.  Still not smoking but steady.  My bike set-up was for aerodynamics primarily.  I had my Zipp 808FC on front and Zipp 900 disc on back.  It is the fastest wheelset  I have.  I always ride with the disc if I can regardless of terrain.  It is not a barrier to climbing and rarely am I bothered with crosswinds.  I went naked without a flat kit (local bike store didn’t have a replacement Vittoria Pit stop can).  I’m eventually going to get a wheelcover for my Zipp 808FC rear.  Then I’ll just run those wheels as they are carbon clinchers.

So my final bike split was 2:44+.  That’s OK for this course.  But I was glad to leave some time out there.  I was looking forward to the run.  I knew I was pushing a big watt number for me during the bike.  My FTP(Threshold Power) is @265.  I planned on riding at about 80% of this.  This would be a very conservative number to save my legs.  However, the course demanded more watts so I sat on the bigger number and went with it.  Ended up with a normalized power of 226 watts or 85% of my FTP.  This was a good lesson learned about racing with power.  It’s good to have a power plan but you still need to listen to your body.  Sometimes, your legs just have more on a given day.

Yes, I did the quick math in my head and knew if I could run well, I would PR this distance.  I fumbled around in T2 at a pedestrian 1:33.  In retrospect, instead to mentally focusing on my transition routine, I was dreaming about my run.  Another lesson, one step at a time, always.  Never get too far ahead of yourself.

I exited T2 in a group of 4 runners.  Two of us broke off running 7:30s.  I ran ahead and then Sarah(remember her?) came up behind me.  We ran in tandem for 2 miles or so.  My legs felt heavy as they normally do for the first 2-3 miles.  I just  keep running because they will eventually loosen up.  I ran with a handheld waterbottle.  The run aid stations were only going to be every 1.5miles and I tend to drink alot.  It also has a pocket for my 2 Roctane gels and a pill container with Hammer Anti-fatigue pills.

I’m coming up to mile 3 turnaround.  Sarah is behind me, drafting obviously?!

I coaxed Sarah into running with me.  I’m normally very taciturn but during races I love to chat.  It makes me run faster and is a good distraction.  She was happy to run along with me as I rambled about nothing in particular.  For example, the topics spanned Long distance tri racing, cycling on the Natchez Trace, weather, her mother’s lobster hat, and the Boston Marathon.   Yes, it did occur to me that if I had the breath to talk, I should be running faster.  We paced each other very well up until mile 9 running low 7min miles.  The run course was a two loop.  I kept drinking and took my gels and pills.  Never had any cramps.  Mile 9 was slower at 8:00 pace.  I could sense Sarah was fading a little.  I felt bad.  My legs still had some juice so I slowly eased ahead.

This was when I left my excellent pacer:

It immediately occurred to me that the last 5k was going to be tough.   Sorry, if this sounds like a bad Nike commercial.  But, I kept thinking that pain is temporary, pride is forever.  My new mantra, I think.  I always liked, “Pain is weakness leaving the body”, too.  Last 2 miles I just kept ramping up the pace and turnover.  Didn’t take long to make the final stretch.  Felt tired but happy to finish strong.  Looked at my watch and saw 4:54.  PR at this distance by 17 mins.  My run split was 1:36:44.  Not sure if run was a little short or not.  Either way, it was sub 1:40 run at least.

That’s what you want to see after 5hours of racing!!

It was good enough for 9th overall and first in age-group for this small race.  Got a nice coffee mug for finishing, a huge cool plaque, and a gift card.  By the way, my running buddy,  Sarah M from Chicago, Ill, won the women’s overall by a staggering 34 mins.  Good on her!

My take home lessons were great this race.  1) You can never plan a race, review the course, etc enough, despite how many looks your spouse may give you.  2) Having a bike power/pace plan is smart but don’t freak if your legs settle into a higher or lower number, i.e keep your mind open.  3) I can run a fast half-marathon after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56…next time we can push the pace some more… maybe.

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