Last weekend I raced in my first half-Ironman distance. I learned some valuable lessons in the build-up and during the race, and thought I would share them. As for the race itself, it went fairly smoothly – I swam, biked, and ran what we thought was possible, and won my age group.
How (not) to prepare for your first half-iron distance race
1. Get sick. I started my pediatric rotation 8 weeks before Timberman, and by the end of the first week I had a bad cold. I got 3 colds and strep throat in a 5 week period. The week with strep throat saw me train for a whopping 3 hours, and the next week was only 7.
2. Work a lot. For two of these weeks I was on inpatient pediatrics in the hospital. I was at the hospital by 6 am every morning, 6 days a week, working 70 hours both weeks. Most of my workouts were subpar and the fatigue from not sleeping enough showed.
3. Do all of your run workouts in 90+ degree weather. I am not a morning person when it comes to running hard. I can study and swim hard in the early hours, but put me on a track and I run easy pace. So, I was left doing all of my track workouts in hot and humid Richmond weather. I did not hit my times for 4 weeks straight, and only in the last 2 weeks did things start to come together.
4. Be in the midst of a study month for a big exam. I am taking Step 2 of the medical boards at the end of August, and have thus been studying as much as possible. I tried studying in the car before the race, but all I got was carsick.
5. Forget about an important interview. I scheduled a residency interview for August 13th a few months ago. I knew it was August 13th. I also knew that I was supposed to leave Richmond August 13th to drive to Timberman. It was not until 1.5 weeks beforehand that I realized those were the same August 13’s! I quickly rearranged my travel plans to accommodate the interview, and it went well, but I would not recommend it.
How Olympic racing is different from long course racing:
1. Number of participants. I have gotten used to starting in the elite/open fields at most races, and usually have clear water and roads. On Sunday, I was the 18th of 22 waves. I started passing people after 200m of the swim, and never stopped. I have no idea how many people I passed on the bike and run, but it was pretty constant. With the increased numbers, there was also more blocking and drafting I had to avoid. Multiple times I came up behind a group of people riding across the road, chatting. I also came up on draft packs. I made a point to surge past them so no one got on my wheel. I also might have added the occasional reminder that they were not following the rules.
2. Course logistics. Technical courses suit me, but with that comes many turns during which I had to slow down and get in line to get through.
3. I can get through a swim without seeing. Within the first 100m of the swim, my left goggle started to fill with water. I swam as long as I could until my contact got really irritated. I then had to finish the swim (about 1000m) with my left eye shut. I wasn’t sure if my contact survived the water, and I also couldn’t sight well with only one eye (which looked into the sun), so I relied on the direction of the masses. Luckily, my contact was still on my eye at the end of the swim and I didn’t have to re-situate it!
4. Competing with the unknown. In an olympic, you generally know who your competition is. During, I knew where the other 25-29ers were, but had no idea about the other age groups. I found it very hard to compete against people I didn’t know of. One girl in another age group beat me by 6 seconds! Never stop pushing in a half-Ironman race.
As always, thank you to my mom for flying out to Richmond for the weekend to support me, the Endorphin Fitness and Richmond community that represented with me, and all of my sponsors – USMES, Scott Bikes, XTerra wetsuits, Primal Wear, Osmo, Rudy Project, and Zipp Wheels.