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Marquee Half-Ironman (or really Duathlon) Race Report

Two weekends ago was the inaugural Marquee Triathlon.  Thanks to (1) nearly a day of straight rain and (2) the “catch all” that Tempe Town Lake represents, the City of Tempe required, the day before the event, that the race become a Duathlon (run-bike-run) due to heightened level of some bacteria known as eColi.  Sigh.  Red Rocks (the race promoter/director) just can’t seem to catch a break.  In 2010, they lost their two most profitable events (Nathan’s Triathlon and SOMA Triathlon) when the damn collapsed.

Personally, the loss of the swim very likely eliminated my admittedly small chances at an age group podium spot.  Even though a duathlon is running and biking, it really is a race for runners.  While I can run well, I am not (yet) a truly strong runner.  One fun thing though, given the cool weather, I was able to sport and represent my new P90X visor.  If the sun had been more intense, I would have been nervous about getting a burn on my melon without full hat cover!

Now, onto the race report…

Pre-Race

Nothing significant to report, other than the shocking stark look of a duathlon transition set-up.  Took my standard cheap towel, folded it in half, put it under the back tire of my racked bike, and placed upon it all that I would need that day.  Here’s the list:

Helmet

Gel Pack

Yes, two things.  I probably stared at it for a good five minutes determined to discover what my sleepy, clouded mind had omitted.  I guess that’s one beauty of the duathlon format.  Sadly, as I would discover soon, that may be the only beauty.  One other note, I would strongly urge all duathletes to engage in at least some warm-up.  As I learned, failing to do that results in odd feeling legs.

First Run – 5K

This was easy, as it should be.  I ran a mellow 7:20 pace, decent but not pushing it.  Felt comfortable and smooth.  Not much to say…

T1

Flew through this bad boy, which is rather easy when there’s nothing to do but don a helmet.  Total T1 time: 0:53 seconds, fastest in my age group and near the fastest of the day.  Entering T1, I was 16th in my age group but exiting, I was 10th!  Easiest way to make up 6 spots in history.

Bike

Here’s where the trouble starts.  Running first, I learned, loads your legs with lactic acid, how much depends on your fitness and your pacing. While I did not push myself, I did not take it easy either.  This causes even the best bike fit to feel “odd” and uncomfortable.  I have been riding my bike with the same fit for over two years and love it.  I do fitness tests with my Coach every three months to make sure all is working well.  I don’t know how to say it better, but the first 25 miles of the bike I was just uncomfortable.  My legs felt tight.  My right IT band was unhappy.  Even my feet were barking at me.

Regardless, I still did my best to maintain a consistent effort and intensity.  One of my revised goals for the race to work and work hard on the bike.  I didn’t have a specific time or speed goal, I just wanted to give a solid effort to see how that would impact my run.

Of course, like many races, things beyond our control occur.  Eerily similar to Ironman Arizona last year, I had another unlucky flat.  With about 10 miles to go, my front tire began to deflate.  I knew something was wrong, quickly determined it was the front tire, and was faced with a dilemma.  I could stop and fix it myself OR I could ride on the slowly flattening tire four more miles to a bike aid station.  Thinking I would receive a “Tour de France”-like tire change, I opted for the aid station.  That was a mistake.

Not only did I have to work extra hard pedaling a bike with on one working tire, merely maneuvering the bike became a bit of an adventure.  With each passing mile, the bike handled worse and worse.  Trying to avoid road debris was essentially impossible.  Possibly the worst though, was the complete lack of shock absorption.  Each minute crack or bump felt like I had ridden over a brick at about 100 mph.  It sucked.  Then, for the cherry, I came extremely close to crashing on the only turn to reach the aid station.

Upon finally reaching the aid station, I quickly explained that my front tire was flat and awaited a 20 second fix.  Departing over SIX minutes later was rather disappointing and unexpected.  Needless to say, if you have a flat front tire, fix it yourself.  Save the bike aid stations for serious mechanical issues beyond your expertise.  My average speed went from 21.1 mph to 19.9 mph.

Regardless of the delay caused by the flat, I had still accomplished goal Number One: work hard on the bike and enter T2 with fatigued legs.

T2

Just like T1, I moved with extreme alacrity and haste.  I was in T2 1:13 (3rd fastest in age group) and, much like T1, went from 16th place to 12th place.  Easiest way to make up four spots EVER.

Run

Now, the real fun began.  Once the swim was cancelled, my main objectives were to (a) work hard on the bike, (b) run like I have never run before, and (c) have enough in the tank to kill the last two miles.

I used the first mile to simply warm-up the legs, starting at a 7:30 and constantly having to pull back as my pace decreased.  Once that mile was done, I let my legs go a little and, according to my Polar, was running between a 7:15 and 7:20 min/mile pace for the entire first loop.  I took a small swig of water and each or every other aid station, unzipped the top half of my race kit, and poured water on my head at each aid station.

Passing my awesome family at end of Loop 1

Even though I was clearly running hard, I felt good.  I don’t really know how to describe it.  The air was cool.  The sky, while sunny, was clear but not hot.  Even in the early spring, the Arizona sun can be a withering glare.  My feet, clad in their new racing flats, felt light and fast.  Having no background in running before 2009, I can easily say this was my most enjoyable race run to date.  Yes, I was working, but even with the effort, I still had a grin plastered on my face.  Seeing a low 7:00 pace and feeling that good was pretty amazing.

At the start of the second loop, I pushed even a little further.  According to my Polar, my pace decreased to between a 7:05 and 7:15.  That may not be fast to some, but that’s moving quickly to me.  As this lap progressed, I could feel the extra intensity creeping.  My legs began to get heavier.  My breathing became a little less smooth.  My HR began to creep higher and higher.  Even so, I still was running strong and trying to give a little good energy to my fellow racers as I passed some.  One of my favorite things about triathlons is that most competitors are good, nice people.  When you give a little positiveness on the race course, it almost always comes back to you.

With about two miles remaining, I dropped the hammer and prepared for the ultimate test of the day.  This race, while fun, was important to me mostly for testing my abilities and fitness.  Would I have loved to have been on the podium for my age group?  Of course.  But, the reality was that, without the swim AND with the flat, that was not possible.  And, frankly, that was ok.  What I really wanted from this race was to learn a little about my progression as a triathlete.  Had the many, many mile sprints, cruise intervals, tempo rides, etc., yielded results?  Had all my reading and learning about the mental side of racing meant anything?  Would I, on race day, be able to bring it, when it mattered most?  These last two miles would be my testing grounds.

Dropping my pace to a 6:45 was challenging.  My legs simply did not want to accelerate.  They pondered rebellion, but ultimately relented in the face of certain defeat.  After just a couple of minutes, and likely not even a half mile, they had again raised the call for an overthrow.  I felt like I could actually perceive the lactic acid accumulating in my muscles.  They began to feel heavier and less responsive with each passing moment.

But, I held strong.  I flew and glided along the ground, like gravity was a force against which I was not bound.  My legs turned over and over, despite screaming requests to stop.  I ran down the last male athletes I could see, even though I wanted nothing more than to lie down.  The finish line was just beyond the Mill Avenue Bridges and I swear those bridges were at the end of the prototypical ever-expanding, never-ending scary-movie hallway.  They constantly seemed to recede further and further into the distance no matter how fast I tried to run.  Thankfully, I did ultimately reached them, turned left into the finishing chute, and sprinted my way to my first sub 5 hour half Ironman (or lame-o-rama duathlon.)  I also had a couple of other firsts: I ran the entire 13.1 miles, I ran a negative split (second half being faster than the first), and I ran the last stretch (2 miles in this case) as fast as possible.  Exceedingly stoked with all of those!

My final time was 4:55, good enough for 10th in my age group, out of 37.  Can’t complain about that!

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