This was possibly the weirdest race preparation I have ever done. I actually moved from Asheville to Carrboro, NC, over three and a half hours away, then came back to Asheville and stayed in a hotel with my mom (who was in town to help me move.) The next morning I had a surprisingly fantastic race experience, getting a PR on the swim and the run!
The race was billed as a “half” but the bike was only 52 miles so I can’t really compare my overall time in this race to my other half ironman distance races, but as I’ll get into, the bike was sufficiently hard to make up for those missing 4 miles.
So as usual, here is my in-depth race recap!
Lake Logan is a beautiful mountain lake 45 minutes from Asheville and made for an absolutely gorgeous race setting. I did the Olympic distance race last year, the half was new this year and I wanted to take part. Another addition to this race this year was that it became a part of a North Carolina race series meaning that it was sold out in both the half and Olympic distances, and it had a competitive field. Because of the location and the race being full, even though I left around 5am, I had to wait in line for a good 15-20 minutes to park my car. After walking from my car to packet pick up and transition, I was cutting it pretty close to the transition closing at 6:45 am. I got everything set up at my bike and went to body marking then had to run back to transition to get my race bib because the body marking people required it (even though my number was on my timing chip around my ankle.) It wasn’t the most stress free start to race morning. I found my mom and we walked to the swim start dock together. The sun was starting to rise around this time and the lake looked even more stunning, which had a nice calming effect on me. I told my mom what times to expect for me and told her not to worry about me in the water (my parent’s biggest worry every race) because this was basically my home course.
I found and talked to a few tri-club friends and took a quick dip in the chilly but refreshing water. The race was definitely wetsuit legal with a water temp of 68 degrees but I had been at the lake to swim earlier in the week and a couple weeks before that and decided on my sleeveless wetsuit. My swim wave was the second to last to start and after a few waves went I said bye to my mom and reassured her that I would be safe. A couple minutes later I jumped in the water again and took some deep nasal breaths while treading water, then the horn went off.
I found my rhythm immediately and barely had to swim around people to find my line, a straight path to the far away triangular turn buoy. The bright orange buoys drew me towards them seemingly like magnets, I saw them and then I was past them. When I got to the first of two turns I was afraid to look at my watch in case I wasn’t as fast as I perceived. The next turn had me going on a long straight away back towards the start and under the bridge to the swim finish. The water was a little choppier on the way back, but not much, my rhythm steady, my sighting on course and my shoulder not in any kind of pain. I hit the brutally cold water under the bridge and soon arrived at the dock ladder, pulling myself up and out of the water, many minutes faster than any previous 1.2 mile swim and even faster than some of my 1 mile Olympic distance swims. I was so thrown off by my fast time that I kind of dawdled in T1, not being super efficient with my time and getting off my wetsuit!
I knew the first half of the bike was going to be easier than the second half (or really the last third) because I had ridden some of the course and had friends who rode the whole thing. The trick was to push my speed a little bit on the first half but not burn out my legs before the climb and leave enough in my legs after the climbs to run the half marathon. For an Asheville course it really was pretty flat but there were a couple climbs I had to get into my small chain ring for. Some woman I was trading places with on the course complemented my climbing skills, which made me smile. I thanked her and told her I lived around here, (for Asheville I’m really not that great of a climber though!) I did leave her and others behind on the biggest climb of the day where I saw many people get off their bikes and start walking up the hill!
I didn’t mind the climbing; it was the next part of the course I didn’t like at all- the downhill. Oh did I mention I lost a contact around mile 30, so when the descent started and I saw a sign that said, “Caution: loose gravel on road,” I was not happy. My depth perception off, I had to descend a chip seal gravel road. I was 99% certain that I would get a flat (especially since I didn’t have time to top off my tires before the race.) But I survived that road without a flat or crash and was ever so thankful to transition back onto normal paved roads.
After another nice climb on the road back to the lake (on a newly paved road,) the course gave us a brief relief in the descent into transition. I finished this course in a little over 3 hours, in about the same time that I finished IM70.3 Boulder’s full 56 mile course. I think the course being 4 miles short was fully made up for with the added difficulty of the climbs.
When I got into transition I racked my bike, grabbed my Tufts running hat, energy chews, and slipped into socks and my newest racing shoes, Mizuno Wave Hitogamis. I had to run on gravel and grass before getting to the main road for the run, where I would make two out and backs, uphill on the out, and downhill on the back. I started running and chatting with one woman who I’d seen on the bike course. We kept up a nice sub 10 minute per mile pace, much better than my start at Boulder.
The weather was just overcast enough to keep the temperature down in the mid 70’s and keep us out of the sun for the bike and run, meaning I wasn’t sunburned after this race! With those conditions, I did grab water at the aid stations but I didn’t feel like I needed lots of hydration (I only went through one bottle of Nuun and one water bottle on the bike.) Just before the first turnaround I saw some of my friends on the Girls on the Run staff who were womanning the aid station, then I got to see them again after I turned around. It is always fun to see people you know along the course since most spectators stay in the transition/finish areas. I felt like I had a decent downhill pace going, almost 9 minute miles, possibly less. There were some fast women out on the course so I still got passed but I’m pretty sure it was only be people already on their second out and back.
When I got to the transition area we had to pass right by the finish line and run a lap around a field, so more running in the grass and gravel, before starting our second out and back. The only good part about this was seeing some of my friends who had finished the Olympic distance race who could cheer me on, and seeing my mom. My mom is the only spectator I know that cheers me on by saying “I love you!” instead of “Way to Go” or “You’re kicking ass!” It’s weird but effective as it makes me smile and chuckle a little.
I started the second climb up, looked at my watch, and noticed that I had been running a little over an hour. Woah, that was a fast almost 7 miles. I’m big on negative splits and figured that if I could keep 10 minute or under pace for the uphill then I could definitely go faster on the downhill and have an almost 2 hour half marathon! Keep in mind my stand-alone half marathon PR is 1:59:57, barely under 2 hours. I steadily progressed uphill, and then I passed a friend who had been 10 minutes ahead of me at the first turnaround of the run! Then after I turned around at the top, I passed another friend! No offense to those friends who were struggling, but that really gave me a boost! I ate the last of my chews and let my legs stride downhill at a sub 9 minute pace. It started to rain which felt pretty refreshing. I focused on my deep nasal breathing. I passed more people. I felt incredible, I was in the zone.
I turned to the finish and ran over the gravel road and under the finish banner and stopped my watch. I ran a 2:02 half marathon off the bike. Then I looked at my overall time on my watch, 5:54 (5:54:44 officially.) I wasn’t expecting to do very well, I was definitely not expecting to have my first sub-6 hour finish!
I’m going to take a few moments to look back at the run-up to this race: I did IM 70.3 Boulder 6 weeks before this race; I had sporadic training and lots of traveling for those in between weeks; I hadn’t run for longer than 6 miles since Boulder; I moved cities and my exercise consisted of moving lots of furniture and boxes on and off of a moving truck the 3 days prior to the race; and I slept in three different beds/a couch in the three days before the race
But here’s what I did in the run-up that worked out really well: I ate really clean with my biggest meal at lunch time the day before the race; additionally I knew my nutrition plan on race day and stuck to it; I did a lot of 30-45 minute slow paced runs at a low heart rate with a focus on deep nasal breathing in the three weeks before the race; I also did a lot of hiking the weekend before the race; and finally I took advantage of the Asheville Triathlon Club’s Lake Logan weekly organized swims.
I guess I could add to that by saying I had absolutely no pressure on myself to hit a certain time goal, I was doing this race purely for fun. Now I have been told by other racers that the swim was a little short and so was the run but I don’t really care. Even if the swim was .1 mile longer, it would still be a PR, and if the run was .4 miles longer, it was still be a PR run! And I still would have probably had a 6 hour overall time! So can I compare it fairly to my other races, absolutely not, but you can’t compare different race courses to one another anyway because they are all so different and the conditions are all so different. Can I still call my swims and runs personal bests and think that I had a great overall race, abso-freaking-lutely!