by Patrick Wright
This race was my second ever half-ironman. I'm clearly only half an ironman myself, particularly in the 'ability to endure pain and suffering' department!
The race was in Santa Cruz, with the start/finish on the beach right next to the boardwalk. It went something like this:
I started in the 4th wave of swimmers. Each age group of racers goes
off 5 minutes apart, under 30 men first, then 34-34's, then women under
35, then my lot,
the 35-39'ers. Each wave has a different colour swim cap, so you can tell who you're really racing against. The swim distance was nominally 1.2 miles: about 20
minutes for the fast folk, or up to an hour for the slowpokes. All the waves get mixed up, but there's plenty of ocean out there for people to get by.
The course took us from a beach start out just west of Santa Cruz wharf,
round a buoy somewhere in the middle of Monterey Bay (at least it felt that
another buoy east of the wharf, and then back to the beach on the east side. I started mid-pack, and settled pretty quickly into a steady stroke. There was about a foot high swell, so it was tough to sight on the buoy ahead at times. I kept myself between two guys who were working steadily, and soon we started passing people from earlier waves; first the silver caps of the women who'd started 5 minutes in front, then a few white caps from the 30-34 men.
At last I reached the turn-around and started to chug back towards shore. Where possible, I would draft off someone in front of me, as it takes a lot less effort to swim right behind someone than to forge your own path. The trick is to find someone going just faster than you. For a while I tailed a guy who seemed to be going well, but he also liked to switch from freestyle to breaststroke periodically, presumably so he could check where he was going. Each time he did that I'd crash into his feet!
The swim started to feel really long. The swell east of the wharf was
bigger than it had been on the way out, and my feet went numb from the cold
water (about 60 degrees). A few red caps from the wave behind came by us.
It took seemingly forever to get to the beach. At last I stood up in waist
deep water, and tried to run out of the surf. I immediately cramped, and
had to hobble up the beach. I finished in 44.31; everyone's swim times were
slow, because the course was more like
1.5 than 1.2 miles.
I had to jog about 300 yards from the water to my bike. My legs started to respond to brain input after maybe a hundred, and by the time I got into the transition area, I had my wetsuit half peeled off. I managed to get my legs clear with rather less wobbling, thrashing and swearing than normal, and was quickly away to start the ride.
The bike course starts with a short, steep climb up from the beach to the cliffs above, then runs through a residential neighborhood before hitting highway 1. There were riders everywhere, all going at widely varying speeds. The ride was flat and windless for the first 7 miles or so. I made good time, passing lots of riders from earlier waves. I also focused on eating and drinking to replenish what I'd burned in the swim. I've started using a water bottle which mounts between the aerobars on my bike, and has a long straw and an open top. You keep the bottle replenished from others you carry on your frame. This worked very well except that, whenever I hit a major bump in the road, a tsunami of cytomax (sports drink) would slop over the top of the bottle and shower my legs. I got good and sticky as time went on.
Soon the road began to get hillier, with 100ft high climbs every mile or so. I found that I could power up these without having to slow down too much, although a headwind sprang up as I headed north. I went through the 20 mile mark in just under an hour, but by now the wind was gusting strongly, and there were fewer people ahead to chase. Fortunately the road flattened out somewhat for the last 5 miles to the turn-around at Pigeon Point, so I held my speed.
On the way back, with the wind behind me and the sun now shining, my feet finally un-numbed themselves, and I started to really power along. I made great time, and the views were glorious. I was still passing people, although occasionally some wiry old guy would come up and pass me. I got back to the transition area in 2 hours 37:33, averaging a little over 21 mph for the whole distance.
The suffering started immediately after I laced up my shoes. I grabbed a bottle of cytomax that I'd prepared and jogged out of the transition area, only to be confronted by 600 yards of sand. The run course starts out across the beach and under the pier, before turning up the hill towards the north. By the time I'd stumbled across the beach and up the hill, I knew this was going to be ugly. I managed to hold a steady 8.30 mile pace for the first 4 miles, drinking occasionally from my bottle. Things were feeling a bit wobbly, but I was keeping it going.
The wheels came off dramatically when I crossed some raised railway tracks. I tried to run across them, lifting my legs higher than my usual stride. My left thigh cramped hard. I spent about 30 seconds limping about, trying to stretch it out. Once I'd broken the groove of running, it was all too easy to stop and walk when things got painful. This happened with depressing frequency for the remaining nine miles of the run. Two things were bothering me - a general feeling of nausea, and a constant stitch in my right side. Oddly, the stitch was worse going downhill than uphill.
I finished by retracing my steps across the sand and sprinting under the finish banner. I got through the run in 2 hours 3:06, the slowest half marathon I've ever run! I ended up 228th of 692 finishers, and 55th of 117 finishers in my age group. I was glad just to finish!
I love doing these long events. They are a real challenge. If I could only get my running act together, I'd be pretty good at these races, so I guess that's what I'll be working on. I foresee a winter of long, long runs, the odd swim, and maybe a marathon at the end?