Troika Tri: a Very Long Race Report for a Very Long Race
I can't believe that it was just two weeks ago that Jeff and I completed a half Ironman tri. Since we're both feeling a bit chubby and out-of-shape (a short jog feels difficult these days), it's hard to believe that we were up to the task.
To prepare for the race, I found a training plan on line that I then altered to adjust for what I felt was a better balance of bike-swim-run. I have my own formula for how much effort each type of workout takes (with 1 mile of swim = 3 miles running = 12 miles biking), so wanted my weekly training to be the same breakout as the event. Troika included a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run, so using my formula, I wanted my workouts to be about 10% swimming, 45% cycling, and 45% running. This meant upping the running and reducing the swimming of the plan that I found. I swam about a mile a week, although my reworked plan called for two. In addition to my regular bike commute, I lengthened the commute once or twice a week by 10 - 15 miles and rode on long ride every weekend, maxing out with a 60 miler. I ran 3 days a week with shorter runs of 3 - 7 miles and a longer run on the weekend, with a half marathon in the spring and a few 10 - 12 milers in the month or so before the race. I never quite trained as much as I had planned, but I did train regularly and did the long runs and rides more or less as scheduled. It got a bit old trying to fit in a long ride and a long run every weekend (with a few outdoor swims as well), but I never felt that I was a slave to the workout schedule or had to sacrifice too much to get the weekday workouts done. What I did not do, however, that I thought was necessary to successful complete the race, was lose weight. I initially planned to lose 15 pounds for the race (taking me from a BMI of about 24.5 to 22, from the heavier side of healthy to a the leaner side, nothing extreme). I never followed through with actually restricting calories, however, so I somehow managed to up my calories along with the exercise and gain a couple of pounds in training. Not very attractive nor very speedy.
Jeff faced his own training challenges, running fewer miles than me (by choice), and missing some bike rides due to a particularly rainy summer, a nail puncture in the foot, and a lot of long work days, nights, and weekends. (For those wondering why Jeff has stopped posting, it is probably due to the fact that he's been putting in extremely hours at work for many months now.)
So, as we headed to Spokane (just under 300 miles from Seattle) the day before the race, we were a bit apprehensive. We had made reservations at a hotel close to Medicine Lake, where the swim would take place, which was approximately 30 minutes outside of Spokane. The race meeting, however, was taking place at a hotel in downtown Spokane next to a large park on the river. We arrived at the race meeting just in time and spent ~ 40 minutes listening to rules we were fairly familiar with, hearing about signs of heat exhaustion (also not new information), participating in a very bad "Ironwomen Can't Rap" ode to volunteers, and a quick run-through of the bike course, which was really impossible to understand if you're not intimately familiar with the area. Finally, in the last few minutes of the meeting, we heard the details of the logistics of the race and the transitions. It was at this time that it slowly began to sink in that the race did not begin and end at the same place. While the race began 20 miles out of town, it ended at the park downtown, a few hundred yards from the hotel we were sitting in where most participants were staying. Moderate nervous butterflies in my stomach turning into flapping bats as I realized that we were logistically in a Very Bad Situation. We could either park near downtown and have to figure out how to get ourselves and our bikes to the race start, or park at the lake and have to figure out how to get ourselves and our bikes back to the car. There was a bus that left the hotel at 5:30 am to take athletes and their bikes to the lake, but we'd heard that there was a waiting list for the bus. As the meeting drew to a close with Q&A, I jumped to the back of the room to see if I could somehow scrounge up tickets for the bus. Fortunately, they were taking new names on the list and I bought two tickets. We tried to then get a reservation at the hotel to avoid having to drive there in the morning and find a parking spot (since the hotel wouldn't let non-guests park in their lot), but the hotel (and all others nearby) was sold out. So, we drove out of town to our now inconvenient hotel, set out alarms for 4:00 am (so that we could leave the hotel by 4:30 to arrive at the hotel at 5:00 to park and be on the bus at 5:15 so that we'd be sure to have a space before the bus left at 5:30 for the race that began at 7:00), and prepped out gear and food for the race.
Ironically, my two biggest concerns for the race were (1) that I was much fatter that I wanted to be and (2) how I was going to get enough nutrition to get me through the race without GI distress or the dreaded bonk
. At this point I was too late to address the first issue, but took care to plan for the second. The upside of getting up so early was that we could eat before the race, something I almost never do in normal races. Even before a marathon, I won't eat more than a partial energy bar and some gatoraid. For this, however, because of the length of time I'd be on the course, I knew that I'd need some real food both before and during the race. We packed bagels with peanut butter and bananas to eat on the bus before the race. We then filled our bike water bottles with diluted (50%) gatoraid and our bikes' bento boxes
with Clif mojo bars (great balance of protein and carbs and the most real-food-like and tasty energy food I've ever eaten), dried apricots, and a package of powdered drink mix to add to the water we'd be given on the course. For the run, I packed a few of my favorite gels (again, Clif brand
, because they use brown rice syrup which I think is more digestable than the corn syrup that is in other brands), knowing that there would be water and more energy drink on the course. The plan was to drink 3 bottles on the ride and then stop at every water stop (located almost every mile) on the run course.
Now that we'd locked down our logistics for the next day, we began to relax and had a huge dinner at the restaurant in the parking lot of the hotel: baby back ribs, pasta alfredo with crab, baked potato, green salad, corn on the cob, and nice red wine from a local Idaho winery (I'd never had wine from Idaho before, and at $19 a bottle, it was a tasty steal).
We arrived at the hotel the next day with plenty of time to find a good parking spot and load out bikes on the bus. Nervous, we didn't do much talking, but were lucky to have very nice and chatty guys sitting behind us. One had done the race for the first time last year and the other was a first timer like us. They had a nice mixture of humility and humor that helped us relax and build confidence that this was something achievable for mortals.
As I write, it seems a bit odd that I've written so much and haven't even gotten to the race yet, but it's actually reflective of the process of a long race like this. I'm convinced that anyone can do something like a marathon or a triathlon as long as they are willing to put in the time to train. If you've really committed yourself to the preparation, the race itself is just a tiny fraction of the pain and sacrifice you face. Such is how Troika went for me.
Race day was the first time I'd swum with a full wetsuit (not the best idea), and as I began to swim I was amazed at how light and fast I felt. Any scepticism I'd had (and there was a fair bit) about the time-saving properties of a wetsuit dissolved within seconds of beginning that swim. I finished feeling good; it seemed as we reached the second half that others were struggling to finish, their effort level increasing, while I felt like I could swim all day at my easy pace.
As I got on the bike and started the ride, I felt great. After months of training at least 6 days a week, post-taper fresh legs were a novelty. I had to really work to keep myself at a reasonable pace (18 mph average seemed reasonable), especially as some women began to pass me on the course. The ride was really scenic, spent mostly rolling past wheat fields and finishing through a hilly park that took us into the City.
Starting the run, I again felt good. I passed a whole lot of people the first few miles and got several comments on my fast pace. I was running between 8 and 8 1/2 minute miles, which was way too fast. I slowed down after mile 3 and tried to hit ~ 9 minute miles. I started to feel some pain around mile 6 but didn't feel bad (like counting down the minutes) until mile 9 or so. Since I expected to feel that way at mile 1, I was pleasantly surprised.
I finished the race in 5 hours and 45 minutes, 45 minutes faster than my expected time and goal of 6 1/2 hours. I was 5th in my division of 25 women 30 - 34 years old and 118th overall in a field of just under 300. I finished feeling really great about my time and my race, and already plotting how I'd do this faster next year (not much more training, but riding with aerobars and running without those extra pounds, I think I could cut 15 minutes off my time).
Jeff finished successfully as well, with a fast bike ride and a painful run, as he had expected from his training. We drove back to Seattle sticky (no showers to be found), smelly, tired, and sore. But very very happy to be done with the race we'd worried about for months.