Half Full Race Report - By Ryan McGrath
After the 2012 Half Full Triathlon I had it in my head that I was going to come back in 2013, and I had only one goal: to win! I had such a great experience at this race that I knew I had to keep it on the schedule. This, of course, was despite the 40 degree temperatures and rain that left me miserable and with a 92 degree body temp in the med tent afterwards. The race has been around for a little while, but in 2011 the great folks at REV3 helped out with the timing. In 2012, they had an official partnership to help with the race management, and seeing as 2012 was my Year of REV (Knoxville and Quassy), it made sense that I would finish the season with a nearby race.
My general health last fall was weird, though, and I wasn’t sure about a late season half iron distance race. The course is on the same hallowed property of my all-time favorite, Columbia Triathlon, and due to space limitations in Centennial Lake, the swim is 1500m as opposed to 1900m, the traditional half iron length. The swim course is also run in the opposite direction of Columbia’s. The highlight of my day was getting to line up against none other than Lance Armstrong. Regardless of your opinion on LA, he played a huge role in increasing exposure and popularity of cycling, and is a major reason I ride a bike today. Not to mention I’d been following him since the mid 90s and I was just excited to race against him.
I had a decent swim last year, a pretty horrendous bike, and all things considered, a decent run, as I finished 6th or 7th. It also landed me 2nd in my age group, so in a year with few bright moments, that was something I was pleased to take away.
Fast forward a year and pretty much since Lake Placid I’ve been planning for this day. With the two previous editions featuring cold rain, I was resigned to the fact it would probably be a similar day. But then something strange happened toward the end of September – it kept getting warmer, and warmer. So warm that on race day the high was 87, which puts it in the realm of Eagleman weather! Far from “above normal,” this was straight up summer conditions. I’m not sure which I would have preferred, cold rain or heat. You see, last year most of why I was cold was actually my fault. While most donned at least arm warmers, but many had jackets and gloves on the bike, I went minimalist. And when I got onto the run I just wore my neon green speedo, thinking it would be hilarious (it was). If it had been a normal fall day, I could have been prepared with some layers. But heat, once you’re down to your skivvies, there’s nowhere else to go.
Throwing a wrinkle in my “get a win” plan was my best friend Mike signed up for it just a few weeks prior, after hemming and hawing over what to do in the fall. It was also his birthday, and his last race in the 30-34 age group. Mike is incredibly talented and, unfortunately right now, much faster than I am. But, we play the cards we’re dealt, so I had my plan of attack. My strength right now was my strength; I’ve been training well through August and September, have good volume in me, and was getting some speed back. My disadvantages were the short swim, which favors Mike, who can put a minute into me over 1500m, and the shortened bike course. Due to something with the police, they cut out 3 miles, so the course was 53. For me, every inch of this race was going to make a difference. I figured I’d lose 30-60 seconds to Mike in the water, and I needed a minimum of 3 minutes off the bike if I was going to hold him off.
By now you can see that my focus shifted to this heads up race that was created, and that will be important later. The day before the race we headed down to Columbia to rack our bikes, and it was hot. Joining us was our friend Christa, who was competing in the Olympic race – her first at the distance. When I got home, I sat in my house, turned the A/C on, and did nothing for the rest of the day. Despite the relatively late start of the race (my race wasn’t until 7:55), I still had to be there early for parking and transition purposes.
Sunday arrived and got down to the park. It was calm, and looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. It was a radical departure from last year’s race. I went for a 15 minute jog warm-up and by the time I got back, I was drenched. I struggled to get into my wetsuit, and put a few little fingernail cuts into my super-expensive Orca. Oops! There are a bunch of races going on so the Olympic goes first, with the Collegiate wave. Finally it was the Half’s turn, and two by two we go. Mike and I lined up at the very back. My idea is that if we’re going to have to pass people, may as well have to pass them all – I didn’t want to get beat by someone who started behind us (also important for later). With a quick fist pound, Mike and I tore into the water.
It was a beach start, and we sprinted in, passing two people on the way in. We both dove, passing another two people, and I think I passed another two before I even surfaced. Today was my day, I thought. I felt good, and was swimming good lines between the buoys. We were mostly going into the sun, which was very strong, and I was guessing quite a bit. Then my goggles fogged up and on the return I struggled to see. The only blip I made was towards the end, I nearly went into this concrete pier. I corrected myself and came out of the water. Brennan and Ed were there yelling splits at me, and told me I was 75 seconds down to Mike. What?! I couldn’t believe I had lost that much time. But here’s a stat: I swam 22:28, which was 92 seconds faster than I swam in 2012. Mike had swam 21:10, which was incredibly fast. The level of swimming was much more competitive this year.
The run to transition is long, it’s uphill, and it’s on the asphalt road. I couldn’t remember how I did it last year, but I figured it would be infinitely easier to run uphill without the wetsuit on, so I stripped it as soon as I got out of the water. I proceeded to run up the road, passing a lot of people, and got into transition right as Mike was wheeling his bike out. I felt like I was flying. I got to my bike, put on my helmet and started to run out. Was I forgetting something? I hopped on my bike and guess who had the fastest T1 of the day? This guy! I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever had the fastest T1. At 1:48, it was considerably faster than most, too.
It also meant I got on the bike within spitting distance of Mike. Side note: he did use the bathroom in transition, slowing him down a bit, which I found out later. Anyway on the bike and rocking my green speedo, no top, I felt like a champ. There was one guy sucking my wheel for a while, in a very uncool way, before he got dropped. I let Mike float out front for a bit before passing him around mile 7 or 8. He passed me back, I passed him, and then he put in a monster move up this steep hill – the kind that requires a huge amount of power. I didn’t respond, and it wasn’t until about mile 22 that I went by, and that was it. Good news was I felt great. Bad news was I was definitely warm, and not getting in enough fluid.
I was racing this whole time without a watch, and obviously don’t have a computer on my bike so was just racing. It felt great. Onto the second lap and I think it was here that I was passed by someone wearing an Adventures for the Cure kit – but he was in the relay. I was riding strong, probably didn’t get in enough calories, but felt fine coming off the bike. My split was 2:25:55. For 53 miles, not 56, but still I figure at that rate of speed it means I rode about 17 minutes faster than I did last year in the cold rain. There was virtually no wind this morning and the roads were dry, so it was a good day. I believe it was the 4th fastest split of the day. I have pride in my bike, so would have preferred that #1 spot, but this made up for Chesapeakeaman.
Into T2 and it was another speedy transition at 54 seconds. There were only a few that were faster, and I ran out, sockless in my K-Swiss flats, spraying myself down with a water bottle. I saw Brennan and Ed again, who reminded me to run smart. And so I did. Instead of going out real fast, I held back, kept my heart rate low. The course is two 6.5 mile loops, and it’s hard. I looked across the lake and saw Mike, who I figured to be about 2 minutes back. Turns out he was 1:30 or so back off the bike, and lost another minute in transition. Still, I wondered if it would be enough.
I kept the pace comfortable and was getting water on and in me every stop. It was definitely warm out there at this point. I knew I wasn’t running very fast, but I was steady. At one point I saw the Duke University team riding back to their cars and was about to make a disparaging remark, but then they cheered for me and I thought “I can’t be mad at you.” Just then I looked back and saw Mike flying down the hill. This was mile 5. Oh boy. He went by with ease, and by the time we got around for the first loop, he had put a further 30+ seconds into me. At this point I had Brennan, Ed, Andy (who raced the 5k), Amy, and Christa (who crushed her first Olympic) cheering for me. And over the PA was Avicii’s “Levels,” so that pumped me up for a few minutes.
But man, was I feeling it. I’ve never had a good race when it’s been over 80 degrees and today was going to be no different. By mile 8 I had stopped sweating and moved into survival mode. I was walking for stretches of every mile, and stopping at aid stations to douse myself in cold water. Who would have foreseen this day a year ago?! All the time I was out there, it was interesting – I wasn’t in bad spirits, and time was still moving pretty quick. I wasn’t having a particularly good run, but I wasn’t hating life. I made it back into the park and with a half mile to go saw Brennan. At this point his jogging pace was my race pace. I was pretty dizzy and noise was painful. I crossed the line in 4:35:10 I think with a 1:44 run. That was a 9 minute de-provement from last year (1:35).
I had finished 6th…again…but Mike had managed to win by a scant 13 seconds. He was the 3rd person to cross the line, so the guy that crossed first thought he had won. And that, my friends, is why we started last.
After the race I didn’t feel great, but I certainly felt better than I normally do after 4.5 hours competing in those conditions. We hung out for a while to wait for awards, and then went to Wendy’s. I was happy for Mike, and as I’ve had some time to contemplate this performance, it was easily my best performance of the year. I had a goal, which was to compete for the win, and I put myself in the best position on that day to do so. There wasn’t much I could have done differently that would have changed the outcome. And so I got to thinking about what’s going to drive me and motivate me to continue competing in 2014 and beyond. That’s where my friends play a big part. I like competing with, and against, my friends. We’re fortunate to be pretty similar in abilities (on our good days) and so next year I want to do fun races with my friends almost more for bragging rights. Sure, there are times when I need to race by myself for different goals, but I’ll assess those. For now, I just want to get back to enjoying what I’m doing.
As far as the Half Full race is concerned, if you’re not familiar with the race, or the cause, check it out. Ulman Cancer Fund (www.ulmanfund.org) is the group that puts on this great event. Their mission is to improve the lives of young adults who have been stricken by cancer, educating them and their loved ones and giving them the hope they need, or the help they need, to continue to live full lives. You can see more information about the event at www.halffulltri.org as well.
Just two more stops on my fall race train!