by Jennifer Borst
This is my second triathlon season. I began the art of learning to swim period, but more specifically, freestyle, in January of 2014. Last year consisted of sprint triathlons, with Cyman in September being my first Olympic. This year, Ironman 70.3 Racine was my A race, and my first half Ironman.
I started training the week of November 10th and put in 36 weeks of planned workouts. I had a couple weeks of prep and getting started, and then spent several weeks going from base weeks, to build weeks, to peak weeks. These weeks were designed in four week increments. Week 1 was step back, week 2 built with a few more hours, week 3 was longer yet, with higher intensity, and week 4 was the longest and most intense.
I did suffer from the stomach flu twice over the season as well as a bout with food poisoning. When I was able to continue with my plan, my coach allowed me time to recover, but then picked up my intensity to get me back on track. I used Training Peaks for the training plans. My coach loaded workouts, I followed the plan. We were able to make notes back and forth to each other and it was perfect. If you have not trained with this program, I am an advocate.
The plan I followed proved to be perfect for me. Racine was tough, but I finished. I had been in the water Saturday morning, the day before the race, with fellow tri friends from Ankeny and the water was 64°F. Swimming in Lake Michigan is more like swimming in an ocean and is nothing like Iowa lakes. The first few hundred yards felt like a mile. I wasn’t moving in the water and the waves were making it difficult to breathe. The rolling sensation was overwhelming and at that point I began questioning my ability to handle 1.2 miles the next morning. However, once we all turned around we talked for a moment about how bilateral breathing was going to be pointless in this race. Breathing on your right side would be the only option. This was great news for me, as I only breathe on my right, and the buoys would be on my right. So I settled down on the way back and attempted to make my peace with the waves.
Sunday morning the water was calm and cooler… down to 60.4°F cooler… I stood on the beach looking out at the water debating for the first time since my first tri if I really wanted to do a practice swim or not. Nope. I didn’t want to. Steve and Jamey Cox found me and explained that wasn’t an option. Apparently the cold water has a way of smacking you in the face and not allowing you to breathe… so I got in. Four degrees had made a huge difference. It was COLD.
The waves started at 7:00 a.m., going out every 3–5 minutes, with over 100 athletes in most of the waves. My wave was the 10th at 7:33. I am a slow swimmer. I mean, really, really slow. That being said, I positioned myself in the front quadrant of the group. I knew the fast ladies would take off and anyone slower would not catch me.
I could see the buoys clearly for sighting purposes even though the sun was bright at this point. There were three buoys going out that were yellow, a red right turn, followed by more yellow buoys until you reached the halfway marker. The buoys turned orange at that point until the last red buoy turn.
I had a fantastic swim. A breaststroker managed to kick my stomach… but I stayed focused and kept swimming. I chose to stay away from the crowd and found a clear path. Aside from getting my leg grabbed one time (Yes, that person received a swift kick), I had peaceful swim. I rolled with the waves, found my rhythm and just swam. The cold did not bother me until about halfway. I found my entire core becoming very cold and my feet felt frozen. I kicked enough to get blood flowing and stopped when I felt my heart rate starting to climb. The water became super choppy at the end when everyone was trying to get to the finish, but I stayed calm and had my fastest swim yet.
They did have wetsuit strippers. I did not take advantage of this, as I am pretty quick getting that bad boy off on my own. Plus I thought if I sat down… I may not get back up. So off with the wetsuit, on with my sunglasses, helmet, and shoes. Go.
Brutal. Bumpy. Hot. Hilly. I had heard about “the hill” at the beginning. Again, we rode this Saturday morning, so I felt prepared. There were people getting off and falling off their bikes trying to get up this hill. Gratefully, I was not one. I had the easiest gear on and took off.
The bike felt great until a little over halfway. It became insanely hot and the wind had picked up. I was watching my power and was trying to follow my race plan. Which, put simply, was to average 134 watts. Less if I was struggling, and more if I was feeling good. The plan was to keep my heart rate below 160 bpm. This is where I had a technical difficulty. My Garmin Edge was showing everything except my heart rate. So I defaulted to power. My heart rate was on my watch, but I hate flipping through screens while riding.
I had Carbo-Pro on in my Speedfil water bottle system (which I love). I had put ice in it, but it had since melted and was warm. I also had three Stinger wafers and Stinger chews. I also used an electrolyte tablet in my water. This all proved to be perfect. I did grab a bottle of cold water at two aid stations just to have a drink of the cool water while riding.
The end of the ride was the most difficult. The bumps felt worse, the wind was picking up and it was getting hotter. But I finished.
Legs were shaking coming in. Racked my bike, swapped my bike helmet for my visor, grabbed my fuel belt, and sprayed on more sunscreen. Out the chute.
I carry my water bottle on long runs. I don’t like to, but I cannot master the art of sucking water out of those cups without choking. Plus, again, I had Carbo-Pro in my water. I also am quite picky. I want my water when I want it and not have to rely on aid stations.
My run plan was simple. Don’t go out too fast. I have a problem this year with shooting out of the gate too fast. "Miles 1–3 stay at 9:00, 3–6 8:55, 6–9 8:30, and if you are feeling good, go kill it. But keep your HR under 170 until at least mile 9. Or you may not see 13.1."
I got this! Oh wait, I’m only at 0.25 and dragging… and again, it’s HOT!!! There are two brutal hills. Steep hills. Did I mention they are steep? And you get the pleasure of doing both of them not once, but twice! Two loops.
The miles were well marked, which is good for me, because my brain doesn’t count loops well when I get fatigued. :) Please, don’t ask me about Hickory Grove this year, just go look it up.
I did go out fast. I shot out at 8:13. I was talking out loud to myself at this point. “Slow down. You have to slow down.” So I did. Way down.
I had three salt tablets I was supposed to take every 30 minutes. I dropped my last one. I stopped at every water station to have them refill my water as well as dump one on my head. I stopped to get two sponges to tuck into my top to cool me down. I also took two chews every three miles. My coach warned me that mile 9 may be the “embrace the suck mile.” It was. Likewise with 10, 11, and 12. I did attempt to suck down a few swallows of a GU… which I only resort to for a turbo boost.
I wasn’t sure I was going to see mile 13 at one point. That run loop is long. It is tough. People were walking the hills. I was told Saturday morning I would walk the hills, if not the first time, for sure the 2nd time. Of course I took this as a challenge. I ran those hills, both times. Clearly I gave up some time at water stations, but in light of the heat, it was the right choice.
Crossing a half Ironman finish line was the proudest, and hardest fought for moment in my history of racing. This race was no joke. It was not easy. The training time physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding.
While mostly enjoyable for myself, it is not for those who lack dedication. It took a time commitment from me as well as from my family. As a mom of 9 and 5 year old little boys, the schedule had clear demands that I had to fit in. Typically at 4:00 a.m. They biked with me on multiple runs to “pace me.” I have been doing two out of the four (swim/bike/run/strength), six days a week.
I have an amazing coach, Greg Grandgeorge, who took care of the analytical aspect and training plans. He told me what to do, I did it. He was tough, but is clearly a triathlon genius.
I would highly recommend this course to anyone wanting to do a half Ironman. It is definitely on my radar for next year. As well as some better padded shorts for that bike ride!!!
Full results from Ironman 70.3 Racine can be found on Ironman.com.
Photo Credit: Luke Borst