(This is a guest post from Jason Buckner)
I finished my second half ironman triathlon today and I did it over an hour and a half faster than my first! My first one was in Clermont so the hills don't make this a very fair comparison, but I was much better prepared for this one. My swim time was 33 minutes, the bike was 2:52, and the run was 2:03 for a grand total of 5:35:04 with transitions. I felt strong for most of the race, but I felt like I undertrained for the bike ride. For the first time, I can say that I enjoyed the run more than the bike. Overall I enjoyed the race, but the way it was run left much to be desired.
The day started early. We were up at 5:00, packed up all of my gear in the car, and were on the road by 5:45. The park was only about 15 minutes away and we were allowed in the transition area at 6:00. We got to the park and I set up my transition area. Instead of the bike hangers I've always seen at triathlons, they used slotted wooden stands that you put your wheel into.
After setting up my transition area, I put my wetsuit on and they did a pre-race meeting at 7:00. At the meeting, the announcer went over the basics, but when one lady asked him a question about the course, he responded with "you should have read your maps". Unacceptable. While I agree that people should look over the course ahead of time, when you're in the middle of the race, your brain is not functioning and good signage is absolutely necessary.
We got in the water around 7:15. It felt much warmer than I was expecting. It could have been the wetsuit doing its job, but it certainly didn't feel like the 68 degrees that they said it was going to be. The course was set up in a big rectangle around the lake. Two large buoys on one side and two smaller buoys on the other. The buoys were fairly close to shore, which meant the group was packed in a pretty tight area. This made it very difficult to spread out and get some breathing room.
After I rounded the first buoy, my breathing calmed down and I was finally able to get in my groove. Also just after the first corner, I sensed the sun just coming up over the horizon, which brought a sense of happiness and calm to me. The rest of the swim went really well and I finished in around 33 minutes. The way we had to get out of the water was a pretty steep incline instead of a ramp, which made exiting the water rather difficult. On to the bike.
My transition to the bike was definitely slower than usual because of the wetsuit, but it went smoothly. I got out on the course and, after the first mile or two, got into a nice groove. In the first mile, I dropped one of my water bottles, but that didn't bother me much. I just had to make my other one last to mile 20, where the first water stop was. As usual, my legs really didn't warm up for at least two miles so they were really aching from pushing hard.
The course was poorly marked. They used these tiny arrow signs that I nearly missed several times. When you're moving fast and your brain is not functioning at 100%, you need large, unmistakable signs that you can see from far away. Fortunately it was almost all right hand turns so we could rely on that.
It was a very rural course on 55 and 65mph roads and I got some really close fast buzzes. I eventually moved into the lane and just controlled it. I don't like doing that during triathlons because you're supposed to leave the left for passing, but I got sick of close calls.
I started to lose my momentum around mile 30, but was still able to maintain a pretty fast pace. At around mile 40, my legs were screaming at me and by mile 50 I was almost in tears from the pain and the headwind. "How in the world did we have headwinds in every direction?" I kept asking myself. I did a lot of focused breathing out there just to keep my mind and body in check.
Finally I got back to transition and I was almost in a stupor at this point. I had to slowly walk down the aisles of bikes to find my transition area, since they didn't mark the locations of the numbers. Kitzzy had to point my spot out to me and I racked my bike. I kept thinking to myself how happy I was to be off the bike and I had a renewed sense of vigor that I had finally moved on to the run.
The course was okay. About half of it was through an industrial park and the other half was around a lake, which allowed the wind to really kick up. There was a decent amount of water stops, but some of the younger volunteers were being kind of snarky, which annoyed me. After my first lap, they completely abandoned one of the crucial water stops that we passed four times so the runners were left to fend for themselves. I did not appreciate that at all.
I had some really good momentum almost the entire time on the run and cheered on runners as they passed. I even started pacing with this other guy and we actually had a nice long conversation. Turns out he lives not far from me, in Baldwin Park. Unlike my first half ironman, I ran the entire time, except through the water stops. I walked through them and took the opportunity to eat a Shot Block or two.
While I did much better than at my Clermont Half, I did not feel better. I think my bike ride put me in a bad place and the way the race was run put such a negative spin on the whole day. I'm proud of my accomplishment, but the way I'm feeling right now, I may just stick with Olympic-distance and shorter for the foreseeable future. I don't have the same sense of excitement as I did when I finished Clermont and I definitely won't be doing this race again. Maybe in a day or two I'll reflect some more on today and change my mind about doing another Half (or even go for a Full), but right now I'm just not feeling it.