Coming off the high of Ironman Texas and my first successful Kona qualification, I had planned two summer races. The first was the Vineman Full Aquabike in July, which resulted in a blown rear wheel and a DNF; the second was Lake Stevens Half Ironman in mid August. Given my unique lifestyle as an academic, I have a relatively flexible summer schedule, and for the past three summers have left Riverside to spend time with my girlfriend/life-partner Sarah in DC and Seattle. Thus, I had been traveling quite a bit since the end of the spring quarter, first visiting folks in Northern California, then traveling for a few research trips to the South. All of this made training a bit difficult for much of the month of July, although I did my best to get in workouts where I could. Also, in mid-July I spent a week at a statistics conference in Chicago and brought my bike. Somehow during the flight my power meter went bust, and I was basically stuck with a month of an inaccurate power meter, which made training less precise. Luckily, Stages replaced my existing power meter a few days prior to Lake Stevens.
For the month of August I was based out of Seattle before heading back to Riverside in early September after our annual political science conference. Seattle is a beautiful destination in the summer, usually not too hot or too cold. Thus, before Lake Stevens, I had begun to get my training mojo back a bit and felt quite good going into the race. I had taken two one-on-one swimming lessons during the summer, and had finally begun to notice some improvements in my swim after a sort of plateau for 2013-2014. Lake Stevens was my first M-Dot race back in 2011, and I was curious to see how my times would compare to my earlier attempt despite a significantly harder bike course. The other interesting aspect to the race was the professional field had been cut for the first time in 2015, as WTC reallocated its professional prize purses to fewer races. Looking at previous results, I thought a top-5 overall was a realistic possibility, and of course there is always something exciting about being towards the top of the field.
Lake Stevens is a beautiful course that begins with a series of age-group starts. I was in wave 3, with the M45-49 field taking up the first two waves. The swim course is mostly an out and back, with cords that connect the buoys together, making sighting extremely easy. The trick with the start is to begin front-left so you get onto the line as soon as possible. Of course this is also the most aggressive place. I lined up close to the front behind a guy who looked like he knew what he was doing. The gun banged and off we went. Compared to my two previous (both 2.4 mile swims) races I went out really hard hitting anaerobic capacity for the first 300 meters. I felt like I might be going too hard but after about 300 meters I realized I could hold the pace and that I was actually in the front pack for once. I fell in behind a guy who seemed to be slamming it and drafted off of him for the next 300 meters. Heading towards the first turn buoy I shifted to another guy who seemed to be going faster and stayed with him for the next 1000 meters or so. We were catching up and passing guys from the first two waves, which is always annoying but good for one’s motivation. On the return trip my guide seemed to be slowing so I moved around him and then slammed it for 100 meters trying to create separation. I then moved onto the sight line and slugged out the last 500 meters into the finish. I exited in 30:50 or so, my first 30 minute ½ iron swim (I had swam 28 minutes once but I’m pretty sure the course was short). Looking at the results, that put me in 5th place in my age group, and 73rd overall putting me into the top 7% of all athletes. For comparison, I swam 38 minutes in 2011, and was way back in the field at 39% overall.
All World Athletes were put up towards the bike exit where the pros used to be so my run up to the front was a little slow, mainly because the pavement is very uncomfortable so you cannot really run quickly. Very few bikes were taken from their rack and there were only two other AWA guys picking up their bikes. All good signs. I jumped on my bike and started hitting it. My legs felt good but not amazing. I was throwing out 260 watts-270 watts for the first five miles but then this settled down a bit more. I ended up with 252 normalized watts, a mark very similar to my other half ironman this year. Too bad, I was hoping for more watts but that’s how it goes. About 10 miles in some dude passed me and I passed him back. He then got me on a climb and I decided not to go with him. He was the only person to pass me on either the bike or run, and he turned out to be the eventual winner. The bike is beautiful, not windy, and not hot, but tons of climbing. It is one of the slower bikes I’ve done, as there are a few sections over 12-14% grade so you’re really going all out during those sections, which can get you later.
I came into T-2 feeling taxed but ready for the run. The weather was heating up but it was not really hot. I overheard that I was in 5th place, and was pretty sure I was second in my age group. I put on my compression socks but that took a little extra time because they are so tight. I didn’t really care that I was losing a bit of time (although I should have because some guy beat me by six seconds), but will have to change my setup for Kona. I started running and the fans got behind me for the first ½ mile, which is always a nice boost. I was running strong, putting numbers in the low 6:20s for the first four miles. During this time, I passed one guy and he was the only guy I passed all day (well, I passed other people on the second loop). About four miles in, there’s a long incline that you go up, go down, then turnaround and go up and down the other way. This dropped my average pace down to 6:26, which gradually increased over the rest of the run, with a final pace of 6:30, my old marathon pace.
My second loop was about one minute slower than the first, which isn’t too bad. By the time I hit the second loop a lot of other runners were out on the course and it simply became a passing game. It feels good to be the guy passing, as opposed to the guy getting passed, which was my experience at 70.3 Worlds last year. I took a few gels on the course, but mostly lived off of Gatorade and Coke. The kid volunteers loved it when I came smashing through grabbing everything, splashing everything about, blowing snot rockets, and generally, not giving a fuck. I also had my Base salt, which I’d pop every 20 minutes or so to ward off any potential cramping, since once that happens it’s hard to bounce back. On the last out and back I was eager to see where my place was relative to the four guys ahead of me. There had been some movement up front, as I had made up ground on a few of them, but also lost ground on a few of them. One of them ran a 1:21, and the other a 1:22. I came in at 1:25, a pretty consistent result for me. While I’m still waiting to get down to a 1:21, as I think that’s possible given my standalone PR of 1:15, I was very pleased with the result given the fact that I hadn’t been running quite as much this summer (travels). The last mile is basically downhill and a straightaway along the lake. It’s really quite beautiful. I started feeling some cramping in my right Achilles/calf, so shifted my gate a bit the last half mile, but managed to keep up a fast pace.
Coming into the finish line is always a great feeling, mainly because you can stop running, and in this case eat some pizza. I was very pleased with my results, and wound up with a 4:32, which is quite fast for the course (in 2011 I posted 5:00 on an easier course). The winner posted a 4:28, as he put two minutes on me in both the bike and run. Less than 15 seconds separated third, fourth, and fifth. I had hoped I would be able to get into the mid 4:20s, but my bike was just too slow to bring down the time. I chilled for a bit, talked to some people, then went and watched Sarah come around after her first loop. She was looking quite strong, and had posted a 40-minute swim, and 3:18 bike. Her swim was about 10 minutes faster than we thought, but her bike was a bit slower than I wanted. Getting the bike right is a very hard thing. I then saw her come in strong to the finish line, posting a 1:54 run, which was about what I thought she’d do if she hadn’t overcooked it. She came in at 5:59:52, which is awesome, because a sub-6 hour ½ ironman time is really fast for a first-timer, especially on that course. Several other people from the Greenlake Triathlon Group and Seattle Triathlon Club were out on the course, so I cheered them on, especially my man Bigsby who does way too many ironmans.
In the end I came in fourth overall out of 1,025 starters. As my former coach Aaron Scheidies once said, “I’m on my way to becoming really pretty good.” As I stated after the race, this was my best all around race (good placings in all of the disciplines), but not the most excruciating. There was never a point in the race where I was cooked and had to dig really deeply – everything was controlled. While I feel a bit cheated, as it’s fun to tell the excruciating stories, I think it means I’ve really dialed into my body and have learned to race right at the edge without burning too many matches. I qualified for the 2016 70.3 World Championships in Australia, as an automatic qualifier (as opposed to roll-down), which means I got a coin and a hat. I now wear the (trucker) hat ironically and carry the coin with me.
Up next is Kona in early October, followed by Ironman Arizona in November. I am not at all looking forward to competing in two ironmans so close to one another but I’ve been registered to do IMAZ since last November, and was unsure whether I would make it to Kona. Without a doubt, these will both bring a fat dose of humble pie. I will probably take some time off triathlon after that, and may not do a full next year so I can concentrate more intensely on my research, although not having an ironman to look forward to/focus on will be weird, since it’s basically been my non-work guiding force for the past four years.
By day I am a political scientist studying campaigns, public opinion, and race and ethnic politics. By early morning and/or night I am an endurance athlete.