Now that we’re settled in Austin, I’ve been excited to check out some of the new race options. I also aim to race MORE this year compared to last, and for me, that simply means not racing Ironman distance due to cost and the energy and focus that goes into it if you want to be competitive.
I decided to start the triathlon race season with HITS Marble Falls. HITS is known (at least from what I’ve gathered) as a “no frills” type of race company, but they also have the price tag to match – I only paid $150 for the half iron distance a few months out from the race. This is compared to a typical $250-275 for a WTC/Ironman 70.3 event. Combine the low cost with the driving distance for us (about an hour) and the fact that half iron is more “my” distance, and it was an easy choice for an early-season race.
My swim has been the bane of my existence since starting this sport and my progress has been agonizingly slow. Practically every time I’m making progress in the pool, I go race open water and usually end up very disappointed. Still, I have been improving; it’s just that my transition from pool to open water doesn’t seem to translate well. About a month before this race, I went and saw Colin Sully, a local swim coach, who filmed me, analyzed my swim technique, and gave feedback. With his drills and some of my own coach’s drills thrown into many workouts, I was seeing my fastest times ever in the pool, and they seemed to be at a lower physical cost. I was anxious to see whether I’d see legitimate improvement in the open water.
I’ve thought that perhaps because I see myself as a poor swimmer, I line up too far back and get on feet that are actually slower than what I’m capable of following. So this time, I just lined up right at the front and stopped being a baby about it. When it was time to go, I went out very hard and kept an eye on who I assumed were the good swimmers to my left. I managed to get on some feet and I basically stayed there the whole time. I had very little contact with others, and I’m actually not sure if I was even passed at all during the swim, which is not normal for me. For the majority of the swim, I was having trouble following the guy ahead of me. I’m not sure if he was poor at swimming straight but still a strong swimmer, or if I was just having trouble hanging on due to a faster pace than I could handle. I was hoping it was because it was a fast pace! The course was a counter-clockwise rectangle, and when we turned the final buoy for the boat ramp/swim exit, I kept looking to see if I could see the top swimmers exiting. I was much, much closer than expected to the swim exit when I saw the first guy run up, so this was a really good sign.
I ran up the hill to transition and my wife, Janée, told me I was 9th out of the water. I had no idea what my time was (no race clock, no waterproof watch), but a top 10 swim for me is unheard-of so I was VERY happy about this. I had a decent transition (love the stools, gear areas, and bike slots for the HITS races!) and headed out, passing three or four people just outside of transition.
The bike route starts with a climb of a couple miles, and it took a lot of holding back to try to get the heart rate under control. This is pretty normal while your body figures out what the heck is going on (after going from being horizontal and using the arms for propulsion to being upright and using the legs), but the uphill made settling in take a bit longer, especially knowing I was close to the front. Less than a mile in, I asked a traffic control cop how many people had gone through so far: “One!” Nice! I was already in second.
Around 5 miles in, the course turned west and the hill let up. I had finally caught a glimpse of the dude ahead of me, so that was encouraging. I now started getting more into my groove and gradually closed in on the rider ahead. I noticed right away that he took the steeper uphills much harder than I did (or he was a lot lighter). I got within range to potentially pass him somewhere around 12 miles, but I decided to hang back a bit at the legal distance to observe because I wanted it to stick when I passed. It was a little tricky since he was faster on the steeper uphills, and there were plenty of hills. I decided to pass him at 15 miles or so and I asked him our total time as I went by (this is how badly I wanted to know my swim time), I did the math, and realized it must have been somewhere between 28 and 29min. That’s huge! My previous best was mid 31s. That just about made my day right there, but hey, back to racing, dude.
I apparently picked a bad time to pass, because he re-passed me not long after and it was back to holding back to keep legal distance on the flat to moderate inclines and him getting a little ahead on the steeper stuff. Somewhere around 21 miles, I just decided to pass him and push it for a few minutes (it turned out to be 7min or so) at my threshold heart rate and that ended up doing the trick. I had close to a minute on him at the first turn-around and I was able to settle back into my own pace after that.
This was my first time having a lead/escort motorcycle – sweet! It was great having this reassurance that I was following the course correctly, plus it was my first time feeling just a little bit special while racing. I also got tons of support from the other racers on the out and back sections.
On the second turn-around, I saw that the gap had grown bigger to second place, and third place was several minutes further. The return trip to the main road was screaming fast after a lot of climbing into the wind, so I took that opportunity to apply some sunscreen (I keep a tiny bottle in my bento box). It was awesome to be coming back so fast, but it quickly changed when I got back to the main road and faced the wind and more hills.
I backed off on the intensity the last few miles or so and turned my thoughts to the run. The last 6.5mi of the bike course is also the entire run course and I certainly started thinking my goal of running under 1:20 was lofty after seeing how hilly it was. Either way, I’d try!
Off the bike and through the awkward chute to transition (narrow, over a curb, through grass, tight turns, all while trying to maneuver the bike…), I was a bit self conscious because all eyes were on me as the first person off the bike. I did a so-so job of not looking like a goof and it was time to see if I brought my run legs.
Bike split – 2:26:32
Split rank – 1
Bike fuel – 5oz of First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot per hour (400cal/hr, 1000 cal total)
20-30oz of water per hour
I was pleased to learn my legs felt pretty darn good. The start of the run always feels slow but is usually faster than expected. I think this is due to the fact that the last 2+ hours were spent at 20-30mph so suddenly being at 10mph seems awfully slow visually. A glance at the watch about a half mile in showed 5:40 pace – alrighty! I consciously backed off a tad and settled into my goal (6:00) pace. I still thought running under 1:20 was a kind of crazy sounding goal, but I certainly hadn’t given up on it.
Well, by 3 or 4 miles, the legs really came around and I felt the strongest I ever have in a half iron run with average pace continuing to hover in the high 5:50s. I was at the turn-around before I knew it after a super long downhill and I asked the volunteers whether it was officially the turn because I noticed the distance was a bit short. They confirmed and now it was time to head for home, but also time to tackle that wall of a hill. The steepest part of it was .7mi long and I consciously pushed the effort to try to maintain the average pace as much as possible. This was my slowest mile of the race at 6:29, which I was pleased with.
I believe this brought my overall average to 6:03 or 6:04/mi – not bad! I knew I needed around 6:07 a mile to squeeze in under 1:20 and I had already tackled the largest hill on the course. I was now confident I had it; not only the sub 1:20, but also the win after seeing the gap to second. The support from the oncoming racers was pretty awesome and only helped to bring me home strong, managing to get two more miles under six minutes. For the last 5k or so, the stress of the pace and hills did start to set in and I had to grit my teeth a bit and the mile markers felt like they were taking longer and longer to show up, but knowing I was going to win made this much more bearable. I broke the tape in a very surprising 4:14:59 and I am elated to start the year with an overall win!
Run split – 1:16:37*
Split rank – 1
Run fuel – 3 tangerine PowerGels, one at 20min, 40min, and 60min
Water at every aid station
This was my third half iron win since I’ve started doing tris, but I was particularly excited to have had a great swim set me up for a great race. A solid swim completely changes how the race plays out for me and I hope the trend continues! I also ran a personal best pace for the run course, but can’t say it’s a run split PR because I got the course at 12.75 miles. My pace was 6:02/mi, which would have worked out to right at 1:19 for an accurate run. To have done it on such a hilly course, I couldn’t be happier with the result! Official Results
Thank you to Janée, my coach Bettina (Racelab), Guayaki, and all of our stellar racing team sponsors for helping me chase my goals!: Rudy Project, First Endurance, Pactimo, Polar Bottle, Skins, and Nathan Hydration!