I don’t like short course triathlons because I am not fast. I hate speed work and a race of say, a 400 meter swim, 10 mile bike, and 3 mile run sounds awful because you are sprinting the entire time. However, a 70.3 mile, or half ironman, sounds fun. This weekend’s Miami Man Speedway Half Iron confirmed it.
The goal for this race was a systems check to see how my Ironman Lake Placid training is going. I am on the minimalist plan, where I am training just enough to start confident and finish smiling but not trying to beat any time. It’s a different strategy and I needed a race to test it out. In truth, I hadn’t heard great things about the Speedway Half but the timing was right and I decided to go for it.
Most of the bad reviews I heard were about the swim and the weather. I’ve had pretty crappy swims before, so that wasn’t a problem; and it’s May in Miami … it’s going to be hot. I figured between the heat and wind, it could be a good parallel to the struggle I will find with the mountains in Lake Placid. I wasn’t afraid of a little discomfort.
Turns out, I actually liked the race which takes place in a race car venue, the Homestead Speedway, about an hour south of Miami.
You think Florida, you think ocean, but Homestead is farmland and no real beach around. The swim is actually in a man made lake inside the Speedway, created to get limestone to build the banking for the racetrack.
The lake is a small rectangle, and the half iron distance triathletes swam two loops, stepping out midway to cross a timing mat. The visibility isn’t great but not because it is mirky water mixed with sand or sediment. The water was actually very fresh and clean while the temperature was just right. It’s very deep; that’s what makes for the poor visibility but I thought it was delightful to swim there. If I am not mistaken, the water is from the aquifer and naturally filtered. I’ve done races where you can taste gasoline and sunblock, not here.
We had a water start, meaning we first enter the lake and float around for a minute or so until the gun start. As soon as it went off my group, the orange caps, zoomed past me. Holy crap they were fast! Granted I was next to my friend Adriana who placed first overall, but people were flying. I began to kick myself for not swimming more than once or twice a week. But then I thought: “they might have speed but I have experience and I know what pace I need to keep to stay strong throughout.” It wasn’t crowded, and soon I found my rhythm; about a quarter mile in I began to pass people giving me the confidence boost I needed. I swam in 39 minutes: not stellar, but good enough given the work I’ve put in.
Transition is actually close to the swim which made T1 a delight AND faster than usual. I got on my bike and took off.
The first part of the bike is fun as you ride two loops in the actual speedway track. I am not a big NASCAR fan but it’s neat regardless. You then head out to the back roads of Homestead where there are mostly palm tree farms. The course is 100% flat but the wind can be tough and annoying. Though people were complaining about it, I had gotten my butt kicked in Ironman Arizona with 25mph head winds so this did not seem too bad. Plus, we changed direction often so headwind was quickly paid back with tail wind.
The race is on the same road many cyclists use to ride on the weekends therefore I saw lots of packs out there. There’s room for everyone, and I was cheered by several friends on their regular Sunday ride. Again, people were zooming by in the first miles and I told myself “they have speed, but you have experience, race your race.” I hate to gloat but when I passed perfectly fit men on the second loop, the guys who blew by me before, I inwardly smiled. When it’s that hot, fifty six miles takes a toll on you. I know that from being beaten by the heat more than a couple of times.
I felt strong throughout the bike, and know I’ve improved with all the Computrainer training I’ve done at the Ultrabikex Studio. But I am a little shaky on my bike handling skills as I am riding mostly indoors. I need to get out there a bit more.
The half iron bike course is two loops but with only one water station. It was not enough and it’s my only complaint about this race. Sunday was in the high eighties with no cloud cover at that time. I went through my water bottles and was not able to get the hydration I needed. I considered stopping by an ambulance parked along the course and ask for water, but gutted it out instead. I did have salt tablets which I always use as I sweat so much, but by the time I finished my second loop I was completely dehydrated. I had chills, goose bumps, and though I wasn’t woozy because I did have my salt pills, I had an unsatiable need for water.
The water stop was close to the bike finish. I could no longer wait, and instead of just grabbing a bottle on the go, I stopped and drank two entire water bottles. I just couldn’t get enough in. That made it an interesting run after a 3h:05 bike.
What T2? I barely remember it. I told someone about needing water and then just started to run.
I was eager to test my 2:30 minute run/1 minute walk intervals in a race as my friend Amy warned the problem might be the water stations. If I stop at water stations during a run interval it will mess up my times. But when I started the run, I was STILL thirsty even if I had just downed two entire bottles of water. I took salt pills and made myself waddle to the next water station where I downed at least three cups of water, and I was so dehydrated that the water stations, though plentiful, could not come fast enough. A very friendly guy offered me some of his water from his water bottle, and I took it. I’m not sure I would’ve made it without his help.
My timing was indeed off because I had to stop at each water station and drink significant amounts. Until someone at mile 6 gave me a water bottle to take with me. GLORIOUS. I could run through a station if I was in a run interval, and know I wasn’t going to die of thirst 100 meters down the road. I became independent of the aid stations and was able to finally keep my 2:30/1 intervals. From there on things turned around, and I managed to pick up some relative speed. Amazingly, my stomach was not a mess from all that water; I was feeling strong(ish). I turned my attention to the athletes by cheering those who were on their way back, passing me or being passed by me. I love doing that. It makes me feel a part of the race and keeps me out of my head. The only internal thought I had was “run the mile you are in.”
At mile 11 I met up with Ironman Lucas, one of the ThumbsUp teams. Lucas is a boy who has autism and has had two brain tumors. He was being pushed on a chair by his mother Lynette and volunteer Douglas. They were on their first loop while I was finishing but I ran with them for a little bit. Lynette twisted her ankle and went to get it bandaged so she could finish the race with her son, while Douglas and I kept running.
I kept my intervals, and Douglas caught up to me each time. As we approached the finish, my walk interval came up but he told me I couldn’t walk now, and instead picked up the pace a little bit. He then said: “see that sign? It’s mile 13. That’s when you sprint.” That was the last thing I wanted to do. But as we passed the sign he began yelling my name. I gave Douglas a high five and somehow began to sprint to the finish line with both of them next to me. As I crossed, they continued on to their second loop.
I couldn’t have asked for a better finish. After all I have been through with ThumbsUp, from starting it to letting it go, finishing with a team Ironman Lucas team made it amazing.
In the end I was sunburned and hot, but otherwise fine. I looked at the rankings and couldn’t believe I came in third place. I have never placed in my age group because the women around here are such amazing athletes, but at this small race I made it to the podium.
Would I do this race again? YES! The race organizers are aware of the water issue on the bike, and told me next year there will be an additional water stop on the bike course. That was the only drawback of the race. Yes it is hot. But I don’t mind that challenge and think it’s probably great training.
So as far as systems checks go, things are on course for Ironman Lake Placid. I am not ready yet, but the mileage picks up considerably from now on. I do know that if my Coach got me to this finish line smiling, as long as I stick to his plan there’s no reason I shouldn’t finish Lake Placid smiling too.