What a weekend! This past Saturday was my first attempt at the half Ironman distance in Charleston, SC. This means a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. The race is put on by Set Up Events and is part of the South Carolina Triathlon Series. While not part of the larger “Ironman” brand, it makes for a more intimate atmosphere where you are able to actually get to know many of the athletes you are racing with.
We made the 2 hour drive to Charleston Friday and breezed through packet pickup. After setting up the bike in transition I headed back to the condo where I was staying with Rebekah, Timothy, Sarah, and my mother. It was very comfortable and a super convenient 4 miles from the race site. We had a nice dinner at a local Mexican restaurant the night before in order to keep steady with my “regular” diet. An early bedtime marked the night for me with a 4 am wake up time awaiting me for the morning.
The morning of the race brought a different meal for me since the caloric requirements are higher. So instead of having 1 Kattouf Kookie, I had 3! This made for a 1200 calorie breakfast about 3 hours before the race which I anticipated to be adequate. I headed down to Transition 2 with Timmy to set up and soon got on the shuttle to head to race start. The race start was at the KOA Campground in Mt Pleasant with the swim being a 2 loop course around the lake there. After a smooth setup, we were lined up at the start and awaiting the signal.
I got out to a smooth start and the goal was to have a steady swim that would not sacrifice the rest of my race. I noticed that there were a few athletes to my left and right but nobody was taking the lead. I had expected that there would be at least one stronger swimmer there to draft off of, but that seemed not to be the case for this race. I kept my pace and started to pull away from the others expecting that some might be trying to take advantage of a good draft. As we got to the first buoy I saw that only one person had held on. By the second buoy I recognized the swimmer as Peter Kotland, an older professional triathlete and former Ultraman Champion. Once I realized that I wouldn’t drop him, I decided to take advantage of his draft after we hit the halfway point. This provided me with a very easy effort for much of the remainder of the course. About 400 meters from the finish I pulled out to the side and picked up the pace a bit to put some time into Peter among the age group athletes that we were passing by. This made it possible for me to exit the water in first place, a great start to the race!
Once onto the bike I settled into a reasonable pace and made sure not to get too eager at the start. The course is super flat and fast and I was also fortunate to have a lead motorbike ahead of me so I didn’t have to worry about traffic or missing turns. All I had to do was sit in the aero position and focus on executing my race for 2+ hours. My goal power output for the race was anywhere from 270-280 watts which would be achievable, but not necessarily easy for me. I started at 270 and as I continued to feel good throughout the ride, I upped the power. The effort remained moderately hard and by the end my average ended at 282 watts. At about 43 miles into the ride while reaching back to switch bottles, I experienced a strong abdominal cramp. This lasted for about 20 seconds while I sat up and stretched out the muscles before I was able to get back down into the aero position. I felt this again while getting off the bike, but upon standing for a bit was resolved and didn’t surface again.
I was ecstatic to enter Transition 2 without having being caught on the bike and began the run not feeling great, but good enough considering the effort. I started at what seemed to be a reasonable effort for the long distance and didn’t notice any of the next athletes coming in for awhile. It turns out that I had set a new bike course record and built a substantial lead over the next athletes! The running felt slow at first but upon reaching mile 1 my watch spat out a 5:57 split. This was a huge surprise to me and I was hopeful that I could keep the pace, yet fearful that I had begun much too quickly. I backed down the effort a bit, but my run legs were coming around a bit and mile 2 came in at 5:46. At this point all I could hope for was for my legs to hang on. Mile 3 was my last sub 6 minute mile at 5:57, at which point the pace gradually started to slow. I came to realize that my lead was over 10 minutes when passing the next athletes on the double out and back run course. I knew at this point I simply had to survive and not blow up. The pace slowed to about a 6:30 pace for the second out and back which is closer to what I originally expected.
By the time I reached the finish I was very tired and glad that the race was finally over with a time of 3:58:18. I was extremely happy to break under 4 hours for my first half distance race. The course and conditions were ideal for a fast time but that doesn’t make the time any less significant to me. It turns out that I was over 15 minutes ahead of the next athlete, Nathan Buttrick, a current professional triathlete who is winding down his racing career due to family and career obligations. I spent the next few hours watching more athletes and friends come in who all seemed to be having a great race. I would say there wasn’t one unhappy person at the finish line!
This race was a huge success for me at this distance and gives me a great confidence boost heading into St Anthony’s Olympic and Chattanooga 70.3. If you would have told me even a year ago that I could average over 25.5 mph on the bike and follow it with a 6:12 min/miles for a half marathon, then I wouldn’t have believed you. Especially including a solid swim before. My competition for the next 2 races will definitely grow immensely, and include athletes from all over the nation and world! I’m excited to test out the waters and see what will happen!