Today I completed my first half iron distance race, the Half Vermont Journey, a part of the Vermont Sun Tri series. I really enjoyed it and had a nice day. They put on a great, very organized race and I would definitely do another.
At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to the race today. This past week has been the worst week of my life (literally), for reasons I don’t feel like delving into right now. But at this point, I was emotionally exhausted and very beat down. I didn’t know if I had it in me to wake up at 3:30 am, drive myself two hours (I was going by myself), race for 7 – 7.5 hours, and then drive myself another 2 hours home. Just the thought of it was overwhelming. But as I was wallowing in self pity, the great ladies on the health and fitness forum I frequent encouraged me to go and fight, and I’m so glad I did.
I woke up at 3:28 am, just two minutes before my alarm was set to go off. So I took that as a good sign. Dragging myself out of bed after only about two hours of sleep was sooooo difficult, but I kept telling myself I would feel much better once I got into the shower and woke up a bit. And I did.
After getting ready, taking care of the dogs (who were very confused as to why I was disturbing their slumber), and having my chocolate peanut butter green monster for breakfast, it was time to load up the car and head out. I hit the road by 5 am and headed up to Branbury State Park in Vermont.
I loved driving through the rolling hills with the fog and the sunrise. The whole thing was just beautiful. Eventually, I pulled into the park at 6:45 am (I made good time!), where I was informed by the woman checking names at the park entrance that I was “nuts” for doing a half ironman (all in good fun).
Probably. But aren’t we all?
I parked about 30 feet from the start/finish/transition area (one of the perks of doing a small race), checked in, and started unloading my stuff. Since I was so early (The half iron started at 8:45 am, but there was also a sprint starting at 7 am.), the bike rack that I was supposed to be on was completely empty (score!), so I grabbed the prime end spot and started setting up my transition area. This was my first race with Roo, and I got quite a lot of compliments on him as people were milling around and setting up. He is a snazzy boy.
Ready to go! (Well, except for pulling out my wetsuit – in the green bag.)
Once the sprint group set off on their swim, I got my wetsuit on and got in the water to warm up a bit. It was an absolutely spectacular day. The sun was shining, the water was like glass, and the scenery was beautiful. It was supposed to get quite hot (mid to high 80s) by the afternoon, but in the morning, it was just perfect.
Can’t ask for a better day than this!
I chatted with two other halfers who were nearby, which was quite nice since I was by myself. We were all back-of-the-packers, and tended to hang back on the swim start, so we milled about the start together.
At 8:45 am, we were off. For the sprint, they started everyone in waves. But since we were such a small group, we did a mass start on the beach.
For the swim, we swam straight out (maybe 300 feet) to the start of the buoy line, and then turned left (keeping the buoys to our left) and swam parallel to shore. All the way down the buoy line, turn around and come all the way back, then turn around and go alllllll the way back down, turn around, come about halfway back, and then pop out onto the beach (basically 1.5 loops in a big long oval).
Normally it takes me a while to get into my groove on the swim, but today I felt awesome almost immediately! I tried to hang back and get some space, but somehow I found myself in the thick of things pretty quickly after we turned to get onto the buoy line. I was on feet almost the entire time, so I got a little boost from the drafting, which was nice. I’ve never done that before. At one point, about halfway through the last time down the whole line of buoys, I ended up in a pack of 7 or 8 people and actually had some contact. This was actually kind of exciting. I’m usually off the back in the swim, just doing my thing. But today I felt like I was really doing well because I was actually up in the pack! This was the perfect chance to swim in a pack and get my first contact in the water. I didn’t panic at all because I knew this was a small group of people, and I didn’t have a massive crowd around me. The water was SUPER shallow (I could stand with my head above water when I was only a few feet from the buoy line), and it was a calm and crystal clear day, so sighting was easy. So bring it, bitches.
I ended up getting punched in the face just as we rounded the buoy to turn into shore. There were also people just off my feet most of the way who kept grabbing my legs. I may have kicked them a bit. (Honestly, I’m not sure.) But it was a good time for me to get used to it.
I came out of the water feeling great. A little tired, but overall, very happy with my swim. I didn’t see any clock as I came out, so at this point I had no idea what my split was for the 1.2 mile swim course. I later figured out that my swim + T1 time (combined) was about 47 minutes. So I’m guessing my swim time was around 42 minutes. Not too shabby!
I ran into T1, stripped my wetsuit (with a bit of trouble today, but not bad), cap and goggles off (they had leaked a bit on the swim, so I was very happy to take those suckers off), bike jersey on, socks and shoes on, helmet and sunglasses on, watch on (I didn’t use my Garmin today. It’s been having battery issues and didn’t want to worry about it. So it’s a cheapo Timex for me! I was surprised that I actually kind of enjoyed not having much data to focus on. It was simpler.), unrack bike and go!
The bike course was a lot hillier than it seemed at first. It was a 14 mile loop around the lake that we had to do four times. That was my only complaint with this race. Four loops got a bit boring. I wish they would change the course back to the two loop format they (apparently) used to use. There were a lot of rolling hills, and a few more significant hills – including the one around mile 11 of the loop. It sucked knowing that you had to do that thing four times. But I stuck with it and ended up feeling great on the bike! Starting on my third loop, the leaders started lapping me, which was a bit disheartening, but considering they were winning, that’s fine by me. I knew about where I was in the pack, and it was nowhere near the front.
I used the same nutrition plan as I tested out on my long ride last week and it seemed to work really well. I didn’t feel worn down at all during the bike, and nothing out of the ordinary on the run either. The bigger hills were a bit tough, but I managed to drag my butt and Roo up them.
I pulled into the transition area at 4:17:xx, making my bike time 3.5 hours. That means I averaged 16 mph on a very hilly course! I was thrilled.
T2 was quick – rack bike, helmet off, hat on, change shoes, change shirt (got to represent my fellow NMAs!), grab water bottle, and go.
The run course was an out-and-back, with 8 of the 13.1 miles being on the same roads as the bike, so the area was already very familiar. Going out onto the run course, it’s straight into an uphill, which stunk a bit, but I just chugged along and came up with a plan. My plan starting the run was to walk the big uphills to save my legs, and if there was no significant uphill, I would walk for two minutes every time I got to a mile marker to give my legs a bit of a rest.
For the first few miles, this plan worked very well. I managed 10:00 miles for the first few miles, but then the hills started winning the battle. That run course is hilly! Also, about 3.5 miles into the run, I started to pick up on a very unnerving sensation – chafing. In some very unpleasant places. Dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnnn. At mile 4, where the run course leaves the bike course and heads off on a dirt road, there was an aid station. Fortunately, the aid stations were stocked with big tubs of vaseline, so I made good use of that. The poor guys working the aid station were so nice when I started shoving my hand down my pants to apply it, and saying “I am SUCH a LADY.” No worries. All boundaries and bodily functions are fair game in endurance events. Nobody bats an eye or thinks twice about it.
The dirt road out to the turnaround point at 6.55 miles was hilly. I ran where it was flat or downhill, but spent a good deal of time walking (quickly). The hills combined with the chafing were making it uncomfortable, so I just ran when I could, and walked when I needed to.
Eventually, I made it to the turnaround point 6.55 miles into the run. It was exciting because things usually feel much shorter coming back – but no, not this time. Somehow, most of the 2.55 miles back to the end of the dirt road were uphill. Did the topography change between coming out and going back??? How did that happen???
I re-vaselined at another aid station around mile 7 (and probably scared the poor high school soccer team girls who were working it), and chugged along, slowly.
At this point, I started doing the math to get a sense of when I was going to finish, and I was shocked. I could still finish under 7 hours. I thought I would be between 7 and 7.5 hours on a good day! Not under 7! And the possibility of being sub-7 was including all the walking I was doing. That was awesome!
I pushed on, and ran/waddled (ow chafing) whenever I could, and walked the uphills. But at this point, I was trying to incorporate more running to make damn sure I got in under the 7 hour mark. Now that I knew it was possible, I was going to be pissed if I didn’t make it.
I ticked off the miles, and told myself I had to run it all the way in from mile 12 without stopping. At mile 12, I tapped the sign, got a little emotional, and ran it all the way in feeling very strong (and chafed). I would have loved to have my Garmin just for this last mile, because I imagine it was around a 9:00/mile pace. And I would love to know if that’s right.
I turned into the park entrance, ran past the cars at the gate, rounded the bend in the road, and saw the finish line. The clock said 6:44:xx. BOOYA!
I ended up crossing the finish line as the clocked ticked over to 6:45:04. I was absolutely thrilled. That made my run + T2 time 2:28:xx. Assuming I spent about 2 minutes in T2, that gives me a half marathon time of 2:26, which is an 11:08/mile pace – way faster than I thought I was going. I must have been booking when I was actually running.
After crossing the finish line, I was then immediately bummed that I didn’t get a finishers medal. I did, however, get a souvenir pint glass (Very nice, and more useful!). BUT, shortly after I finished, they started doing the awards ceremony. Considering this was such a small race (only 53 people), almost everyone ended up with a medal anyway – INCLUDING ME.
I ended up getting third in my age group! Granted, I think there were only 3 of us, but I’ll take it! I podiumed, dammit! I probably never will again, so I have to take what I can get.
Overall, I was ecstatic with how today went. I beat all my expectations for each of the legs, as well as overall. I couldn’t have asked for a better day – well, maybe with less chafing.
I used today as a test run for my full iron coming up in less than two months (aack!). The general rule of thumb for predicting your full iron time is to take your half iron time, double it, and add an hour. So that gives me an estimated full iron time of 14:30 – which would be absolutely fantastic. We’ll see!
I will definitely do another VT Sun tri. They put on a great race. I would like to do their half iron again, but not next year – I already have races planned around the same time as this one, but perhaps the year after?