Austin 70.3 Race Report

In my preparation for Ironman Texas in 2017, I wanted to do a half ironman this fall as a test race. I landed on Austin primarily because of how it worked with my family schedule and Austin’s proximity to Houston. I did Austin the first year the race started back in 2007, but a lot has changed about the race since then including the course and the race directors.

Saturday morning I had a tune up swim of 600m in the pool and then a bike interval set. The bike was really supposed to be on the race course, but I hadn’t built my travel schedule to accommodate that, so I did it on my trainer in the morning before we left town. A few weeks back, Kathy offered to go with me to the race, and I readily signed her up for the companionship and guaranteed awesome course support.

We arrived in Austin Saturday afternoon just in time to pick up my packet, check in my bike and see the swim start, where we ran into some friendly faces. After chatting we headed over to our hotel to get settled and organized all of my gear for the two transition areas, which was probably the thing that gave me the most anxiety just because it was so unfamiliar. For dinner, Kathy and I went to Picnik, which was a super amazingly Austin/Paleo dinner experience where we had lots of fun asking our waitress all kinds of detailed questions and counting macros as the same time. (Side note: Kathy and I might be a tiny bit annoying to have dinner with in that scenario, but that basically made it an extra awesome girls date, and I’m positive we weren’t as annoying as some of the customers our waitress must have dealt with on a daily basis.) The food was also delicious!

The next morning started early with a 4:30 a.m. wake up. I was nervous about traffic and setting up the two transition areas, so I wanted to be sure to have plenty of time. Turns out, I allotted PLENTY and it wasn’t a big deal, but it was the best way to handle. Run bag dropped at T2. Shuttle to swim start. Set up T1. Then wait. … potty … wait … and … wait …

The fog that morning was incredibly thick. You could see the water hanging in the air, but you could not see as far as the first buoy in the water. Once the sun was up at 8:30 a.m. and the fog hadn’t lifted at all the race directors cancelled the swim. It was going to be a 69.1 duathlon instead.

Since this was going to be my fifth half-ironman and really what felt like a training race, I wasn’t too upset. I was just ready to do something and move. The folks who had geared up for this being their big race were far more disappointed and I really felt for them. They started the pro athletes at 9 a.m. with a time-trial start. With 2,400 athletes to get out on the bike course, the age grouper started in pairs of two, but I didn’t actually start rolling until 10:20 a.m.

My coach, Jeremy Brown from Mind Right Endurance, had advised me in our race prep to be sure I had extra fuel for the time between breakfast and the swim so I wouldn’t start the race hungry, and I was so grateful for this advice. I’d had breakfast at 5:30 a.m. and had a morning snack, so I was in good shape to start the bike. During the time I waited in transition area, I talked to some of the other friendly faces I knew from Pearland and did some yoga quietly by my bike to stretch my hips and lower back. I’d done some dynamic warm-ups earlier before I thought I was going to swim, and with the very limited space in the transition area, I thought this was the best I could do.

The Bike

FINALLY it was go time. My goal on the bike was to keep my normalized power between 117–125w with no uphill surges lasting more than two minutes. Coach also advised me that this included the downhills, which I was supposed to work and not coast down. My nutrition plan included Tailwind and .25 chunks of Clif Bars along the way.

I started the bike a little hot just because of all the pent up anxiety, I think. I tried to make an effort to ease up a little, and was finally in a groove after the first few miles. Then it was just a matter of executing the plan.

I LOVED the bike course. It was beautiful and scenic and none of the hills completely killed me. I did run out of gears a few times and I realized that my rear derailleur isn’t getting into it’s lowest gears whether it’s on the large or small chain ring on the front, so that meant a few times I had to stand up to work the hills, but it was OK. About 30 miles in when it was really rolling is when working the downhills started to pay off. There were some riders that I’d been around basically the entire ride, but as I worked the downhills and went into the uphills with a ton of momentum, I dropped many of them, which kind of made me feel like a bad ass.

By mile 45 the fatigue started setting in, and I was starting to be ready to be done. At mile 50, you can see the signs for Walter Long Park where we started and the Expo center on the horizon and I just wanted to get off the bike. My legs were tired and you can see a noticeable drop in my power for those last five miles.

I finished up and ran to transition with my bike, and boy did my legs feel heavy running in with my bike. I dumped it and geared up for the run. I spent a few more minutes in T2 than usual just since it is a longer run. I wore my regular running shoes, sprayed sunscreen on my shoulders and back, took some salt tabs and ran off. I carried a bottle of Tailwind and two GUs with me. I also stopped a the first restroom I saw with out a line on the first mile of the run.

Bike: 3:15:36

Pace: 17.3 mph

The Run

The goal for the run was to break it into 5Ks and do a controlled effort, so I could run hard for the last 5K. I started out and consciously kept backing off to stay within my parameters, but it was pretty quickly evident that it was going to be hard to control my heart rate, which was 145 the first time I remembered to even look at it. The temp was in the high 80s and according to Accuweather felt more like the low 90s with full sun and limited shade on the entire course.

Within the first couple of miles my HR crested up into Zone 4, which was really supposed to be my no go zone. In fact, it went up so fast, I didn’t really believe it was even accurate. I tried to run slowly, so it wouldn’t keep going up, but I still felt good, so it was a mental struggle. Until it wasn’t.

I did a Gu at mile 2. Kept drinking Tailwind. Grabbed ice at aid stations to shove into my sports bra to keep my core temperature down, and just tried to keep moving forward. I was doing pretty well through the first loop and into the start of the second. The crowd by the Expo center was fantastic. I saw Kathy, Ray, Julie and just tons of fans.

As I started up the hill toward the park, about mile 5, I realized where the problems were going to come from. My calves started to feel like the were going to cramp running up the hill. I decided the ultimate priority was to be sure that my calves didn’t full on charlie horse. I was afraid if that happened, I’d just be finished. Like not able to move finished. I was also getting mild chills. I wrote this all off to lack of salt for the level of heat. I was drinking the whole time, but I finished my Tailwind relatively quickly, and then didn’t have any more electrolyte supplements. It wasn’t enough. Gatorade makes my stomach my cramp, so I didn’t want to take any of that from the aid station. I asked to see if they had salt and a lovely fellow racer offered to share some of her Base Salt with me, which I SO appreciated. I swallowed it. My stomach was also locking up, so I tried to go to the restroom, but that wasn’t the problem. The stress level was just enough to make my stomach start to cramp too. Bonus: Stopping brought my heart rate down for a bit.

I took a second GU at mile 8. My heart rate was in Zone 5 by this time, and the rest just became a suffer fest. I kept getting ice water at aid stations and kept ice in my kit, and would walk a bit here and there to drop my HR down and keep my calves from cramping on the uphills. The chills were still present too and I could tell my GI system was done because of the stress, which is another reason I stuck with water. I would have taken more salt if I’d had it.

I was really just trying to hang on until the final last two miles, where I’d really hoped I’d be able to crank it up a little and pour it out. And for the most part that worked. I took an extra long walk break at the second to last aid station and then I ran as hard as I could for the last 1.5 miles. I passed at least three women in my age group and there was another ahead of me, I couldn’t catch, but I was ready to die trying.

I got to the finish line shaking and near cramping, but walking and nothing really hurt outside of sheer fatigue. I went to the ice baths in the medical tent and soaked waist deep for about 7 minutes and then it was off to meet up with Kathy, my ever-present cheerleader and photographer, and head home. Recovery tights, clean clothes and recovery drink had me in decent shape pretty quickly, and we stopped for Nathan’s Barbecue in Brenham, which was also awesome.

Run Time: 2:28:14

Pace: 11:30

Reflections

The more I thought about the race, the happier I was about it overall. I think the race plan Jeremy developed for me was spot on, and reflected my overall training. Key takeaways:

  • Prep with extra fuel for before the swim and extra long bikes. That made my morning easier and I wasn’t starving when I started.
  • Kathy. She was clutch in all the chaos and such a bright addition to the weekend. Also she got all my stuff from transition for me and had it loaded in the car before I even finished the race, which was awesome for our quick getaway after a very long day.
  • OMG the heat. I’ve been so focused on race fuel and carbs, I haven’t paid enough attention to electrolytes and fluids. I need to do some more math on those and just take in more electrolytes on days that are that hot, and always have some with me.
  • I think if I’d done the run even more conservatively I could have finished stronger. Maybe.
  • I regularly mobilize, foam roll, do yoga, get massages and see a chiro for all the niggling aches and pains that come up through training. I went the entire race with no pain and no tweaking injuries. I credit my self maintenance for that and I was so pleased with that outcome on race day.

Today I’m resting and already treated myself to a massage first thing this morning. I’m also still drinking a ton of fluids and thinking about what is next.

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