Last week was the Longhorn (half) Ironman 70.3 in Austin. I signed up for this race earlier in the year, when I thought this would be a focus race. But then an injury earlier in the year changed my schedule. Partly due to FOMO, but mainly cause I felt cheated after missing some trail running earlier in the year, I switched focus to the Palo Duro trail race later this month when a bunch of friends decided to join the training group for that race. So I decided to do this as more of a fun-run endurance replacement for a really long training run. I know that may sound disrespectful to those who seriously trained for this (and those who seriously trained were rewarded with times 2 or 3 hours faster than me). But the focus of my training was to be the Palo Duro race.
Two weeks before the triathlon, I got a slight sprain on my ankle during a trail run on the Greenbelt. It was the same ankle I hurt earlier this year. So I took two weeks off preceding the race to heal. The Palo Duro training schedule had a 25 mile run this weekend, but I figured substituting the Longhorn triathlon would work out well since it would give me some endurance training, while keeping me off the feet part of the time. I was considering even dropping out after the bike so as not to risk hurting my feet to improve my chances for Palo Duro.
I got up at 4:15am, weighed myself, ate, and then drove to the parking lot.
I got there by 5:15 early enough there was not much line for parking or for the shuttle bus to take us to the transition area. I was there a little two early, so I had plenty of time to get everything ready, and then found a bench to sit on and watch the sunrise. The start was delayed by 30 minutes due to parking problems. 5 minutes before the transition closed, the guy racked next to me could not find his goggles. I pulled out my spare pair for him if he needed it, but later saw he must have found his.
Some clouds had come in to block the sun from being in our eyes. The swim went well. I had joined a swim clinic earlier in the summer to re-learn the right way to swim, and it had the affect of slowing me down a little since I haven’t quite got used to it. I was expecting the swim to be a little slower than comparable races, but was happy to see I was about a minute or two faster than last year’s Cancun half. After the race, I heard the swim course had been 300M short because the wind moved some of the buoys, but during the race it made me feel good to believe I was faster than expected.
As I got on the bike, some from my past marathon training groups were by the side cheering. The first two miles went OK, but then my lack of biking practice started to show. I have run this part of the course several times as part of the Decker challenge, so I knew the steep hills were coming, but when I shifted down the gears just before the hill , apparently it did not take. Once I realized I was not in the gear I thought I was, I tried to correct, but dropped the chain early in the first steep hill. I pulled off the road and fixed it and manually put the bike in easy gear, but I still could not physically restart the hill climb from standstill. So I had to walk my bike up that first hill as a lot of cyclists passed me. To make matters worse, the course photographer was at the top to document the embarrassment. I got back on my bike and proceeded. I managed to snap one picture myself (yes, my lightest point-and-shoot camera was in my bento box) and then concentrated on maintaining a reasonable pace.
Aid stations were spread every 12 miles. I made an effort to be sure I emptied a bottle and a half between each aid station. When I passed through, there were plenty of volunteers and it was never a problem to grab a bottle as I rode by. I was keeping pretty good pace until after the half way point. Then there was a series of large down hills where my heavier body weight gives me an advantage and I got up to 25-35mph for a bit, dropping the group around me. But then on the later longer uphills they all caught up and passed me when I fell down below 14mph. The wind was against me during much of the first half, and so I was looking forward to it being at my back on the return trip, but the wind was really hitting diagonal so it seemed to be in my face for ¾ of the loop. I could feel my leg’s getting sore on some of the gradual up-hills of the second half, and so I backed off the pace to save my legs for the run. After all, my mind set was to not let this race interfere with Palo Duro, so I did not push as hard as I could have. I could feel my legs stiffening up, and so I kept the bike in an easier gear for the last few miles. Even with that I was still passing more people than were passing me.
As we came within a few miles of the end of the bike, we were again on part of the Decker Challenge course and I knew there were two big hills coming up. On the first one, I repeated my shifting problem and dropped a chain again while shifting down and had to get off the bike to correct it. With my legs a little like jello, again I couldn’t restart in the middle of the hill and so I walked the bike until the slope was less steep. Then on the last and largest steep hill I made it up OK.
I had decided before the race that if I felt any issues with my foot, I was going to skip the run and not risk injury to save myself for future events. When I had mentioned this plan to some other friends in the event, everyone said you can always walk it. But walking it doesn’t make the cutoffs. My foot was feeling good, so I started the run. I was pretty slow the first loop, mostly walking. Not because of my ankle, but because my legs were sore and my emphasis on trail running rather than triathlon/brick training hit me here. It was hot, but not as hot as most of the Texas summer and so this temperature in the high 80’s or 90’s was cooler than many recent afternoon training runs. Occasional clouds shielded us from the sun. The run course was two loops, with 1/3 on easy trail. The second half each loop was the Got Guts 5k course in reverse. The Austin Duathletes were manning one of the aid stations dressed in costumes and provided some good encouragement. As the end of the first loop I learned I was 30 minutes ahead of the half-way cut-off, but I figured I might be pushing the final cut-off which was 8 hours after the start of the last wave. I was not sure exactly how much time I had, but I knew since I was in an early wave, that would give me 8 hours and a few minutes. So for the second loop, I made more of an effort to keep running, although I could only manage to keep from throwing up a pace that was a little faster than my walking pace. I moseyed through the finish with a time of a little more than 8 hours.
I weighed myself after dinner, and found I had lost 5 pounds during the race, even after some replenishment. I knew most of this water loss would come back quickly, but after a week I am still averaging 2 pounds loss compared to before the race.
I had no ankle problems at all after the triathlon. My feet were feeling so good that I joined my trail running group for a Powerline loop run two days later. I ran that hard and was ahead of a bunch of people I am usually behind. It was one of my best runs in a long time. Then on the flattest part of the course, I rolled my ankle again and got a little swelling. It is a bit frustrating since I have been running better than I have in two years, but cannot stay off the injuries. So I am staying off my feed again. Palo Duro is still in doubt, but the travel is booked so I will be there and hopefully can do at least part of it. If not I will be there to cheer on my training partners. I had planned to go on to do either Sunmart or Bandera 50K’s, but now I am thinking about taking a few months off instead to let the ankle heal and build strength.