Sunday, August 03, 2008

Race Report: My First Half Ironman

Barb’s Race is a women’s only half Ironman event that takes place in conjunction with the Vineman Ironman in Sonoma County. This was my first half Ironman. I’ve completed 4 sprint distance tris since last year, but no Olympic distance. I registered in April, right after Boston and spent the summer training. When I got laid off from my job at the end of June, I took the opportunity to make training my new job and worked my ass off. I peaked with about 16 hours of training and then tapered for two weeks.

Zach and I drove the 90 miles up to Windsor Friday afternoon and made it just in time to catch the 5pm meeting. After that, I got checked in and picked up my race numbers, shirt, timing chip, etc. Since the race has two separate transition areas, I was able to set up my T2 right then. I found a great spot at the end of a rack and left my running stuff: shoes, visor, fuel belt, water bottles. We then drove to our hotel in Santa Rosa, checked in, then went and grabbed dinner at Mary’s Pizza Shack downtown: a nice bland pasta, lots of bread, and a glass of wine. I went to bed and slept pretty good, besides the usual wacky pre-race dreams.

pre-race meeting:
excellent T2 spot:
sign on my bike rack:
that's the Bike In arch, my transition spot was right by it:
Zach putting the number on my bike:
cute shirt I got at the expo:
Since my wave didn’t start until 8:15, I got to sleep in until almost 6:00. We made it to the race start at Guerneville around 7:00. It was already sunny with no clouds in sight, which was an indication of the heat ahead. Often this area gets fogged in until late morning, but not today. I got body marked and made my way into T1 to set up. I racked my bike and set out my bike stuff: socks, shoes, helmet, and gloves. I immediately spotted (actually, she spotted me) Pamela (21st Century Mom) and visited with her for a bit about the course. She did the 70.3 two weeks before and had nothing but good things to say. It was nice to hear a positive review and I started to get pumped up. I also recognized Misty (Athena Diaries blog) and introduced myself and visited with her for a minute. As the race start drew near I used my inhaler, visited the porto-potty and then got my wetsuit on. With just a couple minutes to go, I entered the water with my wave and swam out to the middle of the river to wait for the gun.
on the drive to the race start:
walking down the road to the race:

setting up T1:
me and Pamela:
T1 spot:

visiting with Misty pre-race:
Swim: 1.2 miles

The water was 73 degrees and I felt super comfortable and ready to swim. This was the part of the race I was least nervous about. I’m not a fast swimmer but I enjoy it. Since it was a deep water start, there was minimal contact with other swimmers and I found my groove right away. I felt great. I had participated in a course preview about a month ago, so I had swam the entire course once before. That day, it took me 43 minutes, and I’d hoped to improve my time by at least a minute. However, it’s really hard to know how you are doing in an open water swim, it’s not like there are 100 meter markers or anything. So I just tried to swim strong and sort of pace off swimmers around me. Finally the beach came into view and I tried to swim hard for the last bit. I stood up and ran up out of the water and was thrilled to see my watch said 39:20! Sweet!!

that's me in the center swimming out to the start:
my wave about to start:
all smiles coming into T1:


I ran straight ahead following the volunteer’s directions to the wetsuit strippers. I had never had this kind of assistance so it was interesting. I had peeled my suit down to the waist, and they ordered me to sit down on my butt. Two guys grabbed the top of the suit and pulled it really hard, and I went flying! They told me to hold on, so I anchored myself to the carpet and they tried again, this time whipping my suit off me in one swift move. It was cool. I ran over to my transition area and saw Zach. I yelled out my time to him and he said “I know! Fast!” I put on my bike stuff and handed him off my wetsuit and stuff (it was that or they transported it for you, since we didn’t come back to this spot after this). I had four packets of Luna Moons emptied into my Bento Box, so I shoved them into my tri shirt pockets for easy access. Then it was down the carpeted strip and out of transition in a total of 3:31, not bad.

putting on bike gear in T1:
heading out of T1:
clipping in:
Bike: 56 miles

I was all smiles after my stellar swim, so I started the bike leg off with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. My goal for the bike was 3 hours 30 minutes, which is 16 MPH average. I had also covered most of this course on that Course Preview day and averaged 16 that day, so I hoped to replicate that effort. I easily hit about 19 MPH on River Road and held it for the first few miles. Over the next few miles after that, there were some rolling hills and I adjusted my speed accordingly. I covered 16.5 miles in the first hour, which I was very happy with. The second hour of the ride included a lot more rolling hills and quite a headwind as we headed north. I was discouraged to see I was going about 14 MPH or slower, but I thought to myself that I will probably get a nice tailwind on the second part of the course. Sure enough, after turning east for a few miles, and then south, my speed picked up a lot. I was going 20+ MPH for a while and then noted that I covered 16.2 miles in that second hour. I knew I had the big Chalk Hill coming up, but would also have a nice tailwind so I figured I would get my goal of 3:30 for the bike. I continued to hammer at 20-25 MPH with the tailwind’s help for several miles. Oh, and somewhere in here was a sweet long downhill that I hit 35.8 MPH on! I took a bottle of water from each aid station (there were 3) and ate my Luna Moons every time I thought of it. I would end up eating all but 2 of them, so almost 4 packets. Finally I arrived at the hill, but I still had tons of energy and made quick work of it. It wasn’t easy, and it was getting hot, but it wasn’t bad. Then it was a long downhill and then several flat miles back into town. I noted that I covered 16.5 miles again in the third hour and was well ahead of my goal! As I approached the Windsor High School (which is the location T2 and the Finish) I realized my bike computer was reading the course a little short (which I think is more of a bike computer issue than a course issue) and I was even more ahead of schedule than I thought! My big smile got even bigger as I made the corner into T2 and my watch said 3:19:01 (16.9 MPH).

coming into T2:

I took my bike right over to my transition spot and hung it up. I changed into my running shoes and put my visor and fuel belt on, which was loaded up with more Luna Moons, a water bottle, and my inhaler. I also grabbed another water bottle which was filled with Clif Shot Juice. I saw Zach and he said “You’re ahead of schedule!” I was really having fun. I headed through the huge transition area to the Run Out sign, but made a quick pit stop at a porto-potty. I knew I had to go and figured I’d rather have the time included in my transition rather than my run split. Plus, I took it as a good sign that I was hydrating properly. I jogged out of transition in a total of 3:16.
running my bike to my transition spot:
racking my bike:
seriously, a scary big smile. I might actually be shouting something at Zach but still:
and off I go to run a half marathon:

Run: 13.1 miles

This is where the smiles stopped. Something I hadn’t realized on my little bike ride was that it was a warm day. Real warm. I ran the first mile in about 9 minutes, then hit the first aid station and ditched my bottle of juice (it was annoying to carry plus it was all frothy and warm). The second mile included a little hill. Taking a cue from the girls in front of me, I walked up it. Didn’t feel too bad, and walked through the second aid station to take water. The second mile was done in about 9:08. Midway through the third mile I passed the “2nd Lap Turnaround” sign and looked forward to doing just that in a little while. I should explain that the run was an out and back which you completed one and a half times.

After the first couple miles, it started to get ugly. It was really hot, and there wasn’t much shade. I was really tired. There were more hills, which I walked. I walked through every aid station, which now included hoses to spray off the runners. I finally hit the turnaround at about mile 4.4 and was toast. The next several miles were very rough physically and mentally. I started taking walk breaks that had nothing to do with hills or aid stations. I started to feel woozy and noticed I had goose bumps. It got hotter. The mile markers disappeared so I had no clue what my pace was. I felt like quitting. Those aid stations seemed to be way more than one mile apart! I got sprayed down and drank multiple cups of water at each one, which helped for about 2 seconds. A couple stations were handing out ice, which I dumped down my shirt, and that helped for about 2 minutes. I didn’t want to eat any more Luna Moons so I randomly took food at the aid stations including bananas, orange slices, and a Fig Newton. I wasn’t eating much but I was drinking lots of water. Even so, I was getting dehydrated and feeling bad. The one good thing about the run was that all the other ladies were so encouraging! We were saying “good job” and “you can do it” to each other and it felt really sincere. I saw Misty again and talked to her for a minute, she had bike troubles and had turned in her timing chip, but was finishing the run anyway. Amazing! Besides the camaraderie, the run continued to suck. I was really worried that I would blow what had been a great day so far. I figured I would have to walk a lot of the rest of the run and that would negate my awesome swim and bike times. The truth is, I was running a really good pace when I was actually running, but I was taking a worrying amount of walk breaks.
Finally I was back at the turnaround at T2 and I saw Zach I also saw the finish line, which was mean. A “Second Lap” sign directed me to run just past the finish chute and back onto the course. A volunteer handed me a rubber bracelet that indicated I was on my second lap. As I passed back by Zach I asked him to run with me for a minute- I needed to vent. Basically, I told him that I was tired, I was hot, and I may end up walking the rest of the way. 4.4 miles seemed an impossible distance. He was encouraging though and I felt a little better. He told me later how funny it was to see how drastically my mood had changed in that short period of time. It was kinda funny to me too, but mostly sad and disappointing.
what happened to that smile?:
passing through T2, feeling miserable:

I started doing kind of a walk-run thing and just focused on finishing. At some point I finally saw a mile marker and realized I was still ahead of my 2:10 goal (10:00 pace) so I was relieved to know I could afford the walk breaks to some extent. I took more water and oranges and ice from the aid stations and enjoyed my 2 seconds of relief from the hose water. When I hit the “Lap 2 Turnaround” I showed my bracelet and said “YAY! That’s meeee!” and the volunteers shouted with joy for me. I have to say the volunteers had been so awesome the whole way- really encouraging and helpful. I was psyched to finally be on the home stretch. I did walk a few more times but I was running longer in between. Finally I rounded the corner with about a half mile to go and chatted with a girl that was also almost done (a lot of the ladies were still on their first lap). I told her I was going to try to not take any more walking breaks, and I didn’t. I rounded into the parking lot and with great pride followed the “To Finish” sign. I looked at my watch and my smiles all came back to me. The announcer said my name and the large crowd cheered! I heard Zach yell out and I crossed under the finish with a run split of 2:07:49 (9:45 average pace).

finally finishing!:
got my medal:

Final time: 6:12:59

6/29 AG (25-29)
38/202 Overall (All Women)


I got my medal from Barb herself, the cancer survivor for whom the race is named, and Zach took a couple pictures. He gave me a big hug, which was very nice of him considering I was soaking wet from the hoses and the sweat. They had some showers set up so I stuck my head under it. I was officially soaked to the bone! We walked over to the computers that displayed finisher times and saw my official finish time and my AG place. I couldn’t believe my finish time! What a feeling! I was so happy. I watched the finishers come in for a couple minutes and recognized several athletes. Some of whom I’d been pacing with since the bike. It was kind of cool, like we had gotten to know each other a little. It was also kind of cool to see that I’d beat them, ha ha. Eventually we made it over to the food tent which was an impressive smorgasbord. I took a bunch of food, but I didn’t eat much of it. I retrieved my bike and other stuff and we headed to the car. The thermometer on the car read 99 degrees, which was great validation that it really was super hot. Those things can be off by a little, but it was easily in the 90’s. We went to a pub and had some real food and a couple of beers. Some local biker guys congratulated me on my race and asked me about it, it was cool. I told Zach that I really like that part of racing- the glory. I ate it up.
quick shower:
post-race food that didn't get eaten:
post-race beer that absolutely got drank (along with a few of his brothers):
(yes, Zach takes pictures of me sleeping a lot.. kind of creepy right?)


During the worst parts of the run and right afterward, I decided there is no way I would ever do an Ironman. I really meant it. Not surprisingly, my logic began to falter and soon I was saying that I would really need to work on my run and “if I ever do a full, I would do it in a cooler climate.” Really though, I’m in no rush. It is still one of my long-term goals, but I have a new level of respect for the distance. It’s not to be taken lightly. In the near future, I can’t wait to do another half! I loved the distance and I think it suits my abilities well. There are a few up in Oregon that I’m going to look at and I’ll probably target one for late summer next year. I learned a lot about what I’d need to work on and what to do differently. I think I could do great at the distance! I’m ecstatic about my first half Ironman and really really proud.

My next event is another marathon- CIM in December. Actually, my next event is moving to Portland at the end of the month. Those things should keep me busy for a while and I’m looking forward to a change of pace. Specifically, I’m looking forward to the straightforwardness of run training. Sweet, simple running. I’ve missed it.


*aron* said...

oh my gosh jen you did sooooo amazing!!!!! GREAT JOB and CONGRATS!!!!!

the heat always really gets me on runs too... but you pushed through and killed your goal :) wooo!!!!

so excited for you!!

so you are still planning on doing CIM?? i am ready to sign up now that #1 is done :)

Anonymous said...

WOW, you did an awesome job. Congratualtions. Way to push through the run. You should certainly be smiling with that finish time.

Good luck with the move.

Arcane said...

Congratulations Jen! You met all your goals on a really hot day. Well done! That's quite the accomplishment considering that you've only been doing this for only a short period of time.

Marathon Maritza said...

congratulations!!!!!! You are awesome and I am so so proud of you! Way to stick it out when things got tough and come out on top!!

:jazz hands:

Michele said...

wow!!! I knew you would smash your goal and you did. awesome job.
I see ironman in your future.

Bob Gentile said...

sweet long downhill that I hit 35.8 MPH on!
weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee :)

WOW what a great re-cap Jen and the GOOD NEWS is you can totally get the running back to were you want it cause you are an awesome runner....EVEN though I think you kicked ass with an under 10 min pace with walk breaks and being so hot...

You ROCKED this Half-- COngrats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

21stCenturyMom said...

OUTSTANDING! Going 6:12 in that heat is just rock star perfect!

My volunteer job on the bike course was on a part that was only for the Full Vineman. If only I had known. I missed you out on the run but you didn't miss me - you rocked it! Congratulations!

Ewen said...

Great report Jen, and photos - the sleeping one is the best ;)

You said you'd be happy with under 7 hours! You well and truly beat your 'A' goal. 6:12:59!

The run sounded unbearably tough - 90s+ is extreme, especially after a fast 56 mile bike ride.

Well done again. Enjoy the brief change to sweet, simple running :)

N.D. said...

Great job!! In time, you can do the ironman!!

KK said...

GREAT job, congrats on a fantastic race. I loved the part you wrote about loving the glory-so true, keeps us motivated for more.

It has been so fun to read about your training and the culmination of it all in this race-you are a total stud! And 6/51-that's an awesome finish!

I have no doubt you can and will do an Ironman one day, but yes, it will be great to just get back to sweet simple running in the meantime. There is something great about that, isn't there?!

Congrats again!

ShirleyPerly said...

What a FANTASTIC race you had -- CONGRATS!! How in the world did you learn to swim so well in less than a year??? I'm amazed! Can you share with us more about your swim background and training? I know a lot of runners who really struggle to swim and would probably be very interested, including me!

jahowie said...

Congrats!! You are one tough cookie!! 6th place in your AG is nothing to scoff at either. Great job!!

SJ said...

That's awesome! Great job!

Sarah said...

Giddy up! Congratulations!!! I loved reading your race report - Hooray for an awesome job on what sounds like a really tough day! You rock Half Ironman!

Gotta Run said...

My goodness girl... you rocked that race and then some. I am SO impressed!!! That was some serious heat and you still turned out an impressive time.


Portland bound... now that is cool!

I see a full ironman in your future for sure.

Paul said...

Holy pictures! Great race!! I agree the half distance is still a race and a lot of fun. This ironman stuff takes up too much time ;)

Petraruns said...

Wow Jen that is just amazing! What times and in that heat? Incredible stuff. You should be SO proud of your wonderful achievement. And I've been meaning to comment (I know I'm crap) on your move to Portland how very exciting (and maybe a bit cooler?) I was just reading in Gourmet that they have cycle through coffee shops there - how cool is that? Just rest easy now and relax - you've just done something completely amazing. I am in awe of you!

Nitmos said...

Well, you smoked your race goals. Way to go! Beer. Sleep. Sounds like terrific post race recovery.

Eric said...

1/2, you are a "tridiva" :-)

McBrideFarm said...

Wow, Jen! Congratulations!!! You did so well. :) (Of course I knew you would...) You smashed your goal, and got 6th in your age group?! Awesome.

Kelly H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelly H. said...

That is amazing! Congratulations. Don't you just hate the heat?! Aren't you glad you did finish, and didn't give up?

kelsalynn said...

HELL YEAH GIRL!!! That's awesome! I got chills reading your blog... it was so exciting to read how it went, stage by stage.

You should be so incredibly proud of yourself. I know I'm pumped for you and cannot believe how strong you are- both physically AND mentally!


Eed said...

Wow - great job!

I want to hear more about these wet suit strippers. I like the sounds of that.

Steve Stenzel said...

NICE JOB!!! Great splits, and way to break that goal on your run! You rocked it!

And I take photos of Pharmie sleeping in the car all the time. She makes me delete the ones of her mouth hanging open...

Congrats again!!!

(and never say "never" regarding IM...)

GB said...

You madwoman! You are so fricken awesome, Jen! I am in awe! Congratulations on kickin' booty on your first HIM. I am so impressed!

And the picture of you crashed out in the front seat says it all. You rock!!!

Chris said...


Huge congrats on finishing a half ironman (ironwoman?). Running I can do, biking I could do if I tried, but swimming is a chore for me. Great job on doing all three so well!

Also, late congrats on the move to Portland! My dad and two uncles live in Eugene, so I've been to/through Portland several times. It's an awesome city; one of the very few big cities I would ever consider living in/near. I've heard good things about the Portland Marathon and hope to run it someday. Good luck with the move and job hunt!


Michael said...

Jen, you are so AWESOME! Congratulations...I walked the last SIX MILES of a marathon once, just to get the medal and avoid a DNF on my did the right thing!

P.O.M. said...

That is a great report. Way to push through at the end. YOu're awesome!