Hard to believe that this was my 5th year at this race. The only other race I have done 5 times is Ironman Florida in Panama City Beach. I like the SC Half because it is only a 1 hour drive from my home, a challenging course with little vehicle traffic and a super race organizer in Set Up Events. Jeremy Davis at Set Up Events produces over 70 events a year and always puts on a professional race, well-organized, safe, and challenging. Thanks Jeremy.
I feel like I’ve been training and racing well lately, with faster times in recent races than last year, so I was hoping for a good result, maybe even a new PR on my 5th try on this course. But you never know with long distance races. Often it does not matter how fit you are, anything can go wrong, especially with Type 1 diabetes - see my disappointing disaster at the Rhode Island Half Ironman in July.
I’ve also changed my training somewhat this year with no Ironman and 4 Half Ironman races, reducing the volume and mileage and focusing on “quality” workouts. It also allowed me to spend more time with my baby daughter, Janna, time that I used to spend mornings, nights and weekends training. I also spent a lot of time working – as a lawyer, traveling for sponsor appearances, and motivational speaking, designing a new Finish Line Vision website and working on my Finish Line Vision motivational book! Yep, I’m a bit busy! (Guess that’s why it takes me some time to post race reports and update my blog!)
Walking into the transition area at 6:00 a.m. race morning, I immediately noticed that it was much more crowded this year, a lot more bikes and people milling around in the dark. I found out after the race there were 415 males racing this year, up from 315 males in 2008. That’s a big increase (25%) for one year. I could tell from all of the new faces this is no longer just a SC race. Athletes traveled from all over the southeast – Georgia, NC, SC, Virginia and Florida. I love the increased competition, it just means you have to go faster every year to place! More on that below.
If you read my blog and know anything about Type 1 diabetes, keeping my blood sugar stable is always a challenge in these long races. The several hours before the race are full of nervous energy and adrenaline, causing unpredictable affects on my blood sugar, and I also have to eat to fuel the race. I need to get insulin in me for the food, but don’t want to inject too much, but also not too little. With the starting gun counting down . . . it’s a high wire blood-sugar-nutrition-insulin-get-ready-for-the-race balancing act from 3:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.
Race day the weather was perfect. Cool temps in the 60s and calm. The water on Lake Greenwood was glass smooth in the sunrise. I was in wave 3, so all 80 guys in my division were in this wave. I started fast to get in the front group in the first 300 meters. Mentally I like to get out front early since swimming is my weakest event, knowing that I will eventually drift back a bit as the faster swimmers pull away.
After about 500 meters I started to feel a bit sluggish. Some days you feel swift and strong, and others sluggish. Today was one of the sluggish, so I concentrated on keeping good form, keeping the arm turnover strong and smooth. I was catching a lot of swimmers from the 2nd wave that started 4 minutes in front of me, but that always happens. No problems with sighting, waves or pummeling from other competitors today. Rounding the final turn buoy for the final 500 meters, I felt okay, so I pushed as hard as I could for the finish. I exited the water a disappointing 29th out of 80 in my division, but I did not know that at the time. But most of the times 5th to 40th were tightly bunched in the 30 to 37 minute range, so I was right in the thick of where I needed to be. I actually swam one minute faster than last year. Hard to compare swim times year to year because conditions change, buoys are often not placed accurately, etc. Swimming has always been my worst event, and this year was the same. Swim grade: C+
My Omnipod insulin pump stayed secure on my triceps during the swim. I can’t say enough about how great that is. As always in long course races, I paused in T1 to check my blood sugar on my super-fast always dependable One Touch Ultra meter, which cost me about 30 seconds to dry my hand, insert the strip and drop of blood, etc. It was a little high, 220 mg/dl. I did not want a repeat of the high blood sugar disaster at Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island, so I quickly gave myself a small 1 unit bolus on my Omnipod insulin pump. I also did not reduce my basal rate for this race. This is the first time I have ever raced a half Ironman without reducing my basal rate usually by 40% or 50%. Today I took the risk that a full basal injection would keep me from going too high, but not drop me too low.
I pushed hard on the bike the first 5 – 10 miles. I was not riding my disk wheel, since I seemed to go faster without it lately in hilly courses (see Tugaloo 2 weeks ago). At about mile 10 I realized that I had not grabbed my 2 gels (each with 100 calories and 25 grams of carbs) in T1. I had my high carb sport drink (56 grams carbs) in one bottle, and Gatorade (35 grams carbs) in another. I’d pick up another Gatorade at mile 30. I would do the whole 56 miles on those 126 grams carbs and water. In the past for a Half Ironman bike, I usually ate an additional 50-75 grams carbs from a couple of gels, or a Clif Bar, but I’ve also had problems with high blood sugar, so I was a little nervous if cutting back would be the right balance today.
I was picking guys off one by one, about every 2 minutes. No one was passing me so I knew I was staying on pace and moving up the field like I needed to be. About mile 25 I caught a group of guys, about 8 or 9, who looked like they were riding a road race pace line. As I passed them I could see they were clearly drafting. Really pisses me off when I see this. Maybe they weren’t trying to draft, but they certainly were not trying to avoid it. I gave one guy a hard glare as I passed him on his left, looking at him, then at the cyclist only about 8 feet in front of him, then back at him. The legal distance is 3 bike lengths, about 21 feet.
Of course, this draft pack tried to stay with me as I got in front. As often happens in races, this group would pass me, slow down, and I’d be forced to re-pass the whole group, only to have the dance repeated again. I tried several times to blow by them and establish a break, but each time after about 3 minutes, I’d hear a bike behind me and here they’d come, passing me again. Finally I decided just to let them go and ride a safe distance behind them, hoping a draft marshal/referee would show up to start handing out penalties and break them up. After about 10 more miles of watching them about 100 meters in front of me, I was pleased to see a draft marshal sneak by me on a super quiet Honda Gold Wing motorcycle and creep slowly up behind the group. I admit I got devilish pleasure watching the marshal sit just behind the group for about 5 minutes with his pad and pen out, taking down race numbers. Thank you! I just wish he had been there at mile 25 rather than mile 40.
With the group broken up by the marshal hanging around, I began to push hard for the last 15 miles, gradually picking each one of them off before the finish. My quads starting cramping really tight, just like in Rhode Island, making it difficult to stand on climbs, so I stayed seated a long as possible. I finished the bike in 2:28, averaging 23 mph, 3rd fastest bike split out of 80 in my division, and 20th out of 600 overall. (FYI, the fastest time in my division was only 3 minutes faster at 2:25 and that athlete clearly spent the whole ride drafting since he received 2 drafting penalties!) It was the fastest I have ridden this bike course, even 9 minutes faster than last year. Bike grade: A-
My blood sugar in T2 was 230 mg/dl (checking cost me another 30 seconds). Still a little high, but not the 300 it was in T2 in Rhode Island. My stomach felt fine, so I gave myself another quick bolus of 1.5 units of insulin, and took off on the run. I knew the run would bring down my blood sugar more than the bike, so I planned to eat a gel about every 20 minutes.
I felt pretty good starting the run (okay, “good” as you can after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56). Legs really tight and sore, but thankfully no stomach upset. I concentrated on holding about a 7:15 – 7:30 pace the first 6 miles, and assessed my position. I felt like I was currently in the top 3 in my division, and somewhere near top 30 overall. But I also knew there were some speedy runners behind me, and some fast guys in other age groups who started in waves 4 and 8 minutes behind me who were closing the gap. I ate a gel at mile 1, starting the long 1 mile stretch on the open road. I made the turn around at mile 3 and felt good heading back to transition. I was passed a couple of times in the first 4 miles, but I also passed about 5 guys as well. Making the turnaround at the half way point back at transition, I was hurting but still holding pace. Then at about mile 9 I got a horrible cramp in my side. I tried not to think about it, focus on good breathing, and hope it would pass. Fortunately it did after about 10 minutes.
Heading back on the open road at around mile 11, a guy in my age groups passes me, but I could not stay with him. This was as fast as I could go. At mile 12, I grabbed a cup of water at the last aid station and another guy in my age groups slips by me. I guess he had been gaining on me for some time. I did not know my placing, but assumed I had no chance at the podium if I let him go. For the next 200 meters, I ran about 10 meters behind him, trying to stay hidden behind another athlete between us, hoping I could find the energy to re-pass and then open a gap.
I was going to be at my limit for the final three quarters of a mile so I could not go too early or I’d never hold it. I also wanted to pass him with enough speed that he’d not be tempted (or able) to stay with me. This is the bluffing game in endurance sports – running and cycling. You have to make these passes look effortless, like “ho-hum, I could cruise this fast for another 10 miles so don’t even think about trying to stay with me,” even though my body feels like it’s about to explode.
I made the pass with about ¾ of a mile to go, then just started visualizing the finish line(shameless plug for “Finish Line Vision” – yes I really do that in races!). I was running at my absolute limit, but I was trying to hide it well. I visualized the finish line, the relief to sit at the finish with my daughter Janna. With about 800 meters to go I glanced over my shoulder and saw I had opened about a 50 meter gap and he was charging hard to stay with me. I kept pushing. With 400 meters to go the gap was now 100 meters so I felt like I had him, and concentrated on holding the pace to the line. I crossed the line in race time of 4:51:06. My 13.1 mile run split was a disappointing 1:43, three minutes slower than last year. Those 3 minutes (plus 1 minute for checking blood sugars in both transitions) were the difference between 2nd and 7th place. Run Grade: B-
My blood sugar at the finish was a stellar 140 mg/dl, so I was loving that. I could tell it was in the normal range most of the run – no nausea or weakness. Blood sugar grade: B.
Even though my 4:51 was the fastest time I’ve done on this course, my placing was the worst ever, 7th out of 80 in my division, 41st out of 600 overall. That time would have placed me 14th overall in 2004 and 2005, 28th in 2006, and 26th last year. Definitely shows that good competition from the southeast US has found this race. Overall all race grade: B
Next for me is the biggest race of my season, the Half Max US Long Course National Championship near Las Vegas, NV, October 18. See you then!