Monday, September 24, 2007

Black Diamond Half-Iron Race Report: Nutrition Lessons

Black Diamond Half-Iron Distance: First up, the good news: I set a PKPR (post-kids PR) for this distance at 5:39:42, and an all-time PR at this distance on the bike course at 2:52:11. I also had the 2nd fastest women's swim split. Given that I had very low expectations going in, with only two bike rides over 50 miles this summer, and one long run of 12 miles or over, I am extremely happy with my overall performance. I'm especially excited about my continued improvement on the bike in every race this year. The bad news: other than my lack of training, I was really held back by poor race day execution (transitions and details) which led to a nutritional crisis and almost my first DNF ever. You would think after 21 years in the sport, I'd be above these stupid little mistakes, but you would be wrong on that one.

So, on to the race. It was very cold on race day morning. I had expected it to be cold, but somehow it felt a lot colder to me than I had even expected. So after heading out on the bike to warm up before the race, I second-guessed my original plan of wearing my cycling jersey and arm warmers and instead decided to wear a jacket. I don't have any really good tight-fitting cycling jackets, so this was a painful decision for me, knowing I was sacrificing aerodynamics for comfort. I definitely think I need to get some cold-weather gear if I'm going to race longer distances this late in the season again, especially in the fickle Northwest. This jacket decision had consequences that rippled out later in the day. Since I was wearing a jacket and not my jersey on the bike, I decided to pin my race number onto my running shirt and not wear the race belt to hold my number. I've always raced with a race belt, so this was a departure for me (mistake #1). It would also mean I'd have to grab some gels for the run and hold them in my hand instead of having them in my belt. I made sure to put them by my running shoes so I wouldn't forget them.

I was worried about the swim being too cold, as the lake was 61 degrees on race morning. That turned out to be a non-issue though, and my new Blue70 long-sleeved wetsuit worked like a charm. I added a neoprene cap and was toasty and felt smooth and fast. With only one woman out ahead of me, I wove through the slower men from the preceding heat to a very nice swim split. It was slower than I estimated (30:47, when I predicted :28), but since everyone's splits were slow I think that was a swim course issue and not my personal speed. I was the 2nd woman and 13th overall swimmer.

On to the transition. Pulling on my jacket proved to be ridiculously difficult. Should've practiced it with wet arms, I had practiced arm warmers over and over, but again it was a last-minute decision to change. This left me with a very slow T1 of 3:37. On the other hand, I felt toasty warm and comfortable on the bike, even if I looked ridiculous in floppy jacket and aero helmet. However, the helmet kept my ears nice and warm as I had hoped. The bike course was really lovely. Smooth roads over most of the course, and the rolling hills that make me feel right at home. I felt powerful and kept a nice steady pace, rolling into a 2:52 bike split, which was 3 minutes faster than my estimated time. My nutrition felt spot on, and I was well hydrated and (here comes some TMI) even managed to pee on the bike, eliminating the bothersome porta-potty stops that slowed down my Ironman and last HIM bike splits.

T2 was not especially fast as I did change socks, but 2:11 was reasonable given the distance through the transition area that I had to run my bike. It was worth it to have comfortable feet on the run. I started out the run by keeping to my goal pace of 9:30. I didn't overamp the first couple of miles like I did last time at this distance, and was very happy with how my run course was going. There were some short, steep hills that were definitely a bitch, but I felt okay. At 30 minutes into the run however, I reached for my first gel and realized I forgot to grab them and I wasn't wearing a belt. There were no gels on the run course at the aid stations, only Heed (made by Hammer) and water. I decided to walk through the aid stations and try and drink more Heed than I normally would to keep my carbs up and blood sugar stable. This worked really well through mile 8, and I was having a pretty nice run. My first 6 miles was spot on a 9:30 pace at 57:03. After mile 8 however, the aid station (you pass it multiple times on this course) ran out of Heed and only had water. I still had almost 50 minutes to go and this worried me. Mile 9 went okay, but by mile 10 I was feeling slightly queasy and shaky. After that, I could definitely feel the low blood sugar taking hold and I hit the wall hard. I felt so shaky and my heart was hammering very hard, so I walked for awhile and tried to determine whether or not it was healthy to keep on or whether I should quit.

I've never DNF'd in a triathlon once in over two decades. But my pounding heartbeat and headache worried me. Passing out after the Ironman last year with such low blood pressure and dehydration had given me a good scare and worried me that I was able to push on for so long in that race with my body obviously failing. This is what was going through my mind on the Half-Iron course. Should I go on? I finally came to the conclusion that I was experiencing low blood sugar and not dehydration or anything life-threatening. So I started running again. Although the last two miles were very scenic, ending up on a lovely trail around the lake, they seemed to stretch out in a sort of miserable haze. I passed a couple of people who were experiencing very similar things and were walking, so I know I wasn't the only one caught by surprise when the aid stations ran out of carb drink.

In the end, I finished with a run split (2:10:56) only a bit faster than my last HIM run (2:12). I know I'm faster overall now, so this was pretty disappointing, and although I didn't have a lot of mileage under my belt, I think I could've done better if I hadn't messed up my nutrition. It's a good lesson to re-learn though, don't change things up on race day. If you remember nothing else, keeping your nutrition going in a long race is paramount.

Overall, I'm happy with my race. As always, the longer courses teach you a lot about racing, the importance of strong strategy and consistancy, and how tough you can really be. This one hurt worse than it should've, and I know I won't forget those lessons anytime soon! But on the bright side, I'm faster at 41 than I was at 38 and that's nothing to sneeze at. I'm also only a few minutes away from my all-time PR at this distance that I set at age 25. Maybe next time...


Donald said...

Congrats on a great race! I agree with your whole philosopy of long course racing.

Deanna said...

Wow - congrats on an amazing race! You overcame obstacles - from trying something new on race day to depleted aid stations - and still had an awe-inspiring time. Great picture, too!

Margie said...

Robin, you know what strikes me the most about this? That you didn't once complain about the logistics and blame it on the aid station. It would have been so easy for you to imply that "if only someone had done their job right" things would have been different, but you keep the focus squarely on the parts you had control over.

You pretty much rock. :-)