I arrived in Racine at about 5:00 to get my packet. It was a pretty uneventful drive and expo. Jen and Payton had to stay home because Jen had a baby shower to attend in the QC on Sunday. I went solo on this trip. After getting my packet I drove about an hour to the suburbs of Chicago to stay at a friend's house. They weren't in town and I had trouble getting in and was worried about having to sleep in my car the night before a race...all the hotels in the area were booked due to the race. By the time I registered just a week ago there was nothing left. Thankfully a neighbor had a key and let me in. I was a little worried about this race because my achilles tendon has started hurting again. It started after a speed workout on Thursday night. Friday I took the day off and I did a 2 mile easy run from my buddy's house and it hurt just as bad as Thursday. I made my mind up that I was going to race hard even if it hurt. I believe it's important to plan ahead in these situations. You either have to plan on racing or not racing. If I would have decided to quit if it hurt I'd be setting myself up for failure because it would have given me an excuse for a lackluster performance. My decision was that I would race through the pain and if it gets worse and turns out to be my last race of the year so be it. I was able to get a good pizza dinner and then had my best night of sleep yet before a race...a whopping 4.5 hours before I woke up at 3:15 a.m. I quickly gathered my things and made the drive to Racine for the 7:03 start. Upon arriving I got my body marked and did a quick mile warm-up and some drills. My achilles was still not feeling well. I wasn't going to let that effect me mentally however because I'd already decided to race through it and evaluate the damages later. Following the warm-up I grabbed my wetsuit and goggles and headed on an easy 1.2 mile jog down the beach for the point to point swim start.
SWIM: I started in the 2nd wave. The first wave was all the pros and elite amateurs. Typically I race in the elite amateur division but since this was my first 1/2 IM I decided to go in the amateur division. I was guessing there were about 40 men and women in the Elite/Pro wave. Since this race cut out the big prize purse for the pros this year there were only two that I know of that showed up. At 7:03 the swim began with a long run through the water. We started on the beach and had to swim to the first bouey to start but since the water was so shallow most of the way out was high knee running and dolphin diving. Just before the bouey the water got deeper and the swimming started. It was the roughest start I've had this year in terms of the amount of contact. I got kicked and had my feet pulled on many times. I tried to swim hard to get out of the mess and within a couple hundred yards it began to separate. I felt great on the swim but it could be because I was one of the first guys in my wave. That's the biggest difference for me from the Elite waves to the amateur ones. In the amateur waves I'm one of the better swimmers but against the Elites I'm one of the worst swimmers. I found a set of feet that I was able to draft behind for the majority of the swim and it went by very quickly. I gained some confidence when I passed a few guys from the elite wave since I don't normally make up time on the faster guys in the water. I exited the swim with a time of 24:26 which ranked 94th out of the 1,200+ competitors in the race.
BIKE- I had a goal on the bike of averaging 24 miles per hour. I got this from looking at last year's results. I knew the course was very fast and we were racing in ideal conditions. It was cool, overcast, and little to no wind. I chose to ride with the Zipp 1080 front wheel and the Zipp disc on the rear. This Zipp wheelset is extremely fast and the conditions were perfect for it. It took me about 4 miles to get my average to 24 and just after that I was passed by a guy from the Elite wave that I had passed in the swim. He wasn't riding much faster than me so I let him get about 5 bike lengths ahead of me and then settled in behind him. USA Triathlon rules do not allow riders to get closer than 3 bike lengths. That is called drafting and it carries a 4 minute penalty in the 1/2 Ironman race so I made sure to stay back so I wouldn't have to worry about a penalty. More than anything by staying fairly close without breaking any rules it is a mental advantage. It lets me focus on staying relaxed because I feel like someone else is setting the pace. I stayed behind this guy for the remainder of the race. At times I would lose focus and the gap would open up considerably and then I would have to work really hard to close it back down. There were a number of aid stations on the ride which was something new to me. My inexperience showed when I hit the first water bottle exchange. I slowed down to 15 mph for the handoff of a bottle and when I hit it of course it went flying. I had to slow more to get one. Speaking of something new...nutrition in a 1/2 IM is important and I didn't know how much I should eat so I overpacked. I brought 5 Hammer Gels, 4 Power Bars, 3 packs of Cliff Shot Blocks, 3 packs of Jelly Sport Beans, and one Cliff Bar. I think in total it was over 2,000 calories. I didn't end up eating all of it but did manage to get most of it finished by the time I got off the bike. The course had a lot of turns and it was actually a pretty boring ride because after passing a lot of guys early on it started to spread out by the 25 mile mark. I finished the bike leg (which my computer measured six-tenths of a mile short) in 2:16:18. My bike ranking was 6th of 1,200 with an average speed of 24.7 mph.
RUN: When I began the run someone told me I was in 7th place. I knew the guys ahead of me had a 3 minute head start so I was probably a little higher than that. This was when the big question mark would be answered. I wondered how my leg would hold up. I grabbed my Garmin GPS watch in transition to help keep me from going out too hard. I looked down a 1/2 mile in and saw I was running 5:45 pace...too fast! I slowed down a bit and got into a very good rhythm. My achilles tendon was hurting but I was going to keep going regardless. I knew I was having a great race and wanted to gut it out no matter how bad it hurt. My goal for the race was to go 4:13. I thought if I raced very well I could go 4:09. Now I was in a position to go 4:04 if I could hit my goal pace of 6:10 per mile. The run course was a double out and back. I would have plenty of chances to see where everyone was at. I began passing guys within a couple miles and my average pace was under 6:00 per mile. At the first turn I was in 5th but was closing on the top 4. At that point the leader was well ahead and had the race locked up. By the time I got back to the start line to begin my 2nd loop I was in 4th and had closed the distance on the next two guys to 2 and a half minutes which actually meant I was ahead of them since I started 3 minutes back. I continued pushing the pace. At times I thought my achilles hurt a lot and other times I didn't notice it whether the pain subsided or I just quit thinking about it. At this point I knew I was going to have a great overall time barring a major setback. I didn't take any nutrition during the run since my stomache was still grumbling from all the gels and shot blocks I took in during the bike. I took a few sips of water and Heed every couple aid stations. I stayed in my rhythm and continued running sub-6 pace through the finish line. I passed one more guy and came within 8 seconds of the next one. I crossed the line in 4:00:58...well ahead of my goal time. My run time was 1:18:06, just 16 seconds from the fastest of the race. It ranked 2nd and my average pace was 5:58. For the race I finished 2nd overall. The winner was Blake Becker, a well-established pro triathlete from Wisconsin. He was 3:54:04 but I believe would have been faster if not for some bike problems he told me about after the finish. 3rd place was the guy I almost caught from the Elite wave at the end of my race. He finished in a time of 4:03:51. Complete results with splits can be found at http://www.premierraces.com/Results09/HFPRacineHalfOverall.html (Notice the fastest run time of the day was a 4 minute 1/2 marathon...pretty sure that's a mistake. Either that or they were running so fast no one saw them. Actually I timed a 1/2 marathon in the car to pass time and I hit it in 10:50 on the drive to Racine...yes the solo drives get really boring)
This race reaffirmed to me that the 1/2 Ironman Distance will be my best chance to hit a pro qualifying standard next summer. I need to sign up for a couple 70.3 trademarked events and have a great race to do it. Lots of work needs to be done between now and then. I need to improve in all three disciplines. As for the achilles...it's really sore right now and I plan to have it checked out this week. I had planned to take Monday and Tuesday off before the injury happened but I'll try to find out what is wrong and then decide where to go from here. Either way I'm happy with the outcome of today's race and the last 2 weeks have been my best races ever. If this is it for the summer...it's been a great journey and I'll rest up and resume it when I'm healthy. If this injury heals quickly I'll be hitting the training hard in a week and then trying to peak for the Chicago Triathlon on Aug. 30th. Thanks for reading. DREAM BIG!