After a long race event, I always go over things in my mind to see what I've learned, to see what I might have done differently, or to see how I might improve the next time. Sometimes, its just to beat myself up with regrets over not doing what I had hoped to do or what I should have done or worst yet, why I even thought I could do it in the first place.
This time, however, I did exactly as I planned, and am just pleased to say that there were no obstacles to prevent that. Had there been, I probably would not have been prepared as well as I would have liked to deal with a longer time out there. But I do have observations I am going to put down in writing to hopefully help or add insight for someone else.
One thing that I feel has helped me tremendously this year, in transitioning from the swim to bike, has been increasing my swim mileage more than double than any other time in the past. At first it was a challenge, and I looked forward to it, but after months of going lap after lap after lap, week after week after week, it starting becoming a drudge, to the point where by the time I went on vacation in June I was totally sick of the swim! I saw my swim times for the half mile go up and up (meaning slower) in the process as I added yardage, but I was getting it done, regardless. But then I had to regroup, and find a new way to continue getting in my swim mileage, and that seems to be working now, so that I can continue on to the next phase of my training.
Never once in the swim did I feel tired or exhausted or like it was never going to end, so to me all the extra swim practicing paid off when you get through a hard swim and still feel ready for the bike. In the past, by the time I would get out of the water, I would feel almost exhausted, barely able to get to transition, let alone hop on my bike. And when I did finally get out on the bike, my legs would be dead. I am happy to say that in my two tris so far this year, no leg exhaustion.
The bike is always going to be my biggest challenge, and so far I haven't found any magic potion that will help me go faster. What did help in getting through a somewhat difficult bike in the race was again the week after week after week of long rides, with long for me being 50 or more miles, but never over 52. Just didn't ever work out to go more. Also 2 other shorter training rides in the week, either spin classes, on the trainer, or a short ride after work. The only thing I could do to hopefully improve would be more hills, or hill repeats, so I think that will have to become a part of my training for the next few months. Even on a totally flat course, hill training can only strengthen my legs to go faster on the flats (so I am told). I am sure in the race, had I had more hill training, that long uphill in the wind would have gone faster and felt easier. All in all, however, the only disappointment I had on the bike was that because it was longer than 56 miles, I did not make my goal time, and with the bad weather, that meant going over by 10 minutes.
While my legs weren't completely dead on the run initially, the hills took their toll, and again I knew more hill training could have been a huge benefit. While I made my projected run goal (barely), I could have surprised myself by finishing faster had I been able to hold on longer on the run. I realize the reason no one mentioned the run was hilly because to them, who train on hills all the time, it wasn't. Even Don, who has done this race many times, when I asked why he hadn't told me about the hills, laughed and said, "what hills?" So yeah, hills need to be incorporated. Not something any of us like to do at least not often, but if the end result yields a faster time in any future races, I'm willing to spend the time suffering a little now to make it easier later.
The fourth discipline here, as we all know. And, as you may or may not know, I am the queen of slow transitions. This time was worse than usual and again no exception for me. I can't say whether the weather played a factor here, since surprisingly my swim to bike transition was longer than my bike to run and it wasn't raining yet. Part of that, I realize, was the long hike to the transition and the bike, which I did not have returning on the bike. But still, if I could just learn to be faster in transition, I might actually beat someone in a race. When I total up my transition times and add the extra 10 minutes on the bike, I could actually have finished closer to 7:30 than 8 hours. Like I said, slow, I know. In a short race, transition times are a huge factor, but maybe not so much in longer ones. Still, I need to work on this.
I am talking about the sense of time doing the whole event. Not in the sense of how long it takes, but how it felt on each part of the race. You lose a sense of time, or at least I did, especially on the bike. In training, a 1.25 mile swim seemed an eternity in the pool, but in open water, open choppy water, open choppy water where you are trying to survive getting clobbered, time goes by quickly. I didn't feel like I was out there forever, and finishing in the exact time I predicted told me all the swim training gave me a good idea, not only of my ability to do it, but how long it would take. Easily I could have gone longer if necessary, and that too made me feel my training went well.
On the bike, in a race, I always get caught up in speed more than time and distance, where in training its all three. This time, with my computer going haywire, I eventually had to rely only on time and distance, which I think made finishing easier and took my mind off how long I was actually out there. It didn't feel that long. My comfort level wasn't surpassed, other than my sore neck. It went by fast in my mind, much faster than on a training ride where I basically do almost the same route week after week. In a race, you have that change of scenery factor which makes it seem like it is going by faster. Only when the course went long did I start going crazy and wanting to be done NOW. My training carried me mentally through the tough spots most of the way.
The run for me is always a race against the clock, the official race clock and my own goal clock. I know I will always be close to last, and have been last more times than I can remember, and while I accept this and am okay with it for the most part, I still don't like the feeling it gives me. I have learned, however, in my training this year, to go at a pace where I know I can finish, no matter how slow it is, and hope for the best. I have learned to break it down to know how fast I must go to make my goals. At this point, however, I am not in a position to go any faster. I know certain things I could do would help, but its not going to make me win my age group or even place ever unless I'm the only one or one of three in the age group.
If I had to grade myself on Half Ironman 101, I would give myself a B- in that I made all my goals, I survived, and finished without being totally wiped out. My shortcomings were the transitions and my inability to go any faster on the hills. Now I have graduated to the next phase.