Monday, July 11, 2011

Ninety Percent Mental: Ironman 70.3 Muncie Race Report

Coming into finish sporting my
new BAFF team uni
The Muncie Endurathon is a race I've always wanted to do but was never smart enough to enter early and it usually sold out by the time I was planning my season (i.e., in May or June and never the year before). So imagine my surprise when three weeks ago I was able to register for its next incarnation - the Affresh Ironman 70.3 Muncie - while desperately searching for a drive-able half-ironman in July after DNS-ing the Mooseman 70.3 because of my broken rib.

After a four hour drive, my husband Jim and I rolled into Muncie, Indiana, on Friday afternoon, the day before the race, and we were immediately impressed with the super-fast registration process for this particular 70.3. The volunteers were obviously well versed in this process (or very well trained), and no one stood around wondering what to do. We were out the door in about five minutes and on our way to check out the race site at Prairie Creek Reservoir and check into our hotel.

The whole day/night before this race was a blur to me - I was still recovering from a week of late nights, and Jim was still jet-lagged from a week-long work conference in Honolulu. Neither one of us had the energy to do more than eat dinner at the hotel restaurant (which was quite good - the Randolph Grille in Winchester, IN) and go to sleep. At dinner, I expressed my doubt about this race: was it a stupid idea born of haste? Was I ready to tackle a 1.2 mile swim on my meager yardage since my accident? Was I even mentally prepared for this race?

When I registered for Muncie, my goal was a slot for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas. But on Friday, with high levels of mental and physical fatigue and seeing previous year's results, I decided to change that goal. Muncie would have to be a training race. If I had a good day, the Vegas goal might be attainable. The bike course was notoriously fast and my bike legs are notoriously slow. Then upon seeing the predicted high temperature near 90 degrees F, I was further discouraged. I told Jim everything would depend on how I felt on race morning - either I would feel surprisingly good, or the race would be a struggle from beginning to end. But at the very least, I would use the experience as a data point for racing in the heat.

Back at the hotel, we prepped my bike and race nutrition and decided we were too tired to stay up past 9:30. The 8 a.m. race start would give us a little extra sleep, but my usual pre-race anxiety was a non-issue. Several loud hotel occupants were not even able to shake me up during the night. We were up at 4:30 a.m. and out the door by 5:30 (there was a sprint race at 6:30 so we wanted to get there early to avoid a parking nightmare).

We arrived at the race site around 6 a.m. and were directed to park in a field along the main road to the reservoir. As we were walking to the start, we realized there were many parking spaces still available much closer to the start so Jim went back and moved the car while I proceeded to the transition to set up my bike. Everything went smoothly in set-up, and yes, I even remembered to put my bike in a low gear, check to make sure the bike computer was working properly and zero it out (this is not an extraneous detail - it will make a reappearance).

Wave 4 start
I met up with Jim, made a quick pitstop at a porta-john and went to find a place to sit down. It was just after 7 a.m. and we had gobs of time that would normally be spent getting my wetsuit on and doing a swim warm-up. But because the water was close to 80 degrees, wetsuits were disallowed. I was very thankful for this because my rib was not 100% healed, and it meant I wouldn't have to deal with getting the top of my DeSoto T1 wetsuit off (which would definitely be a problem with a broken rib).

At 7:30, I did a quick warm-up swim that felt much better than I expected. After my last swim at the pool was marred by fatigue and slowness, Saturday morning I felt surprisingly good in the water. I got out, stretched and waited for my start in the fourth wave at 8:10 a.m. with women in age groups 18-24, 40-44 and 45-49.

Surprised at my time, I had to do a double-take with my watch
when I exited the water.
The 1.2-mile swim was a long counter-clockwise rectangle. Jim urged me to start up front with the following statement: "even your slow swim will be faster than most." I decided to start in the front but to the outside left just in case he was wrong (this way I wouldn't impede too many people with my slowness). The water was very warm and unbelievably calm, and amazingly, I only had to tread water once to spot buoys on the way back when the sun was in our eyes. My swim went better than expected and I came out of the water in under 32 minutes, fifth in my wave with only one woman in my age group in front of me. The swim finish included an uphill run which put my time over 32 minutes as I entered T1.

My transition went faster than usual (no wetsuit!), and I was almost on my bike when I noticed something wasn't right. While running to "bike out," my bike computer (remember I checked it?) still had "00:00:00" as a time readout. After crossing the mount line, I did some exploring only to find that the wireless sensor had moved since I racked my bike, and I had to fiddle with it a bit. I don't think I lost too much valuable time, but it certainly caught me off-guard. When I finally mounted my bike, I rushed to get up to speed as quickly as possible.

I was expecting Muncie's 56-mile bike course to be be mostly flat for two reasons: (1) when we drive to Chicago from Cleveland, we always laugh about the fact that Indiana is actually flatter than northwest Ohio - something that seems next-to-impossible until you see it, and (2) last year's bike times were incredibly fast (the top age-group women averaged over 23 mph). And it was. Mostly flat.

In the first 10 miles of the bike leg, I passed at least three women and ended up completely alone for many miles. By the time I saw another biker, I think I told him how relieved I was because I had begun to believe I had veered off course. On the longer out-and-back part of the course, there was a gradual uphill into the wind (wind speed was about 10-15 mph) during which I struggled to get my speed much higher than 19-20 mph, and I expected to be passed by a horde of riders at any moment. Instead, I rode by myself the whole time, and when I was finally "with" the wind on the way back, I reached speeds in excess of 25 mph. But still, I expected to be passed at any moment. It never happened.

During the last ten miles of the bike leg, I started to prep mentally and physically for the run. I made sure I hydrated well because it had gotten very hot. I knew if I was winning my age group off the bike, all I had to do was run smart. I kept repeating to myself: "don't do anything stupid on the run" (such as go out too fast).

T2 exit - I'm still wondering where everyone is
After five final miles against the wind, I was surprised to find  a grand total of three people had passed me - and none of them were women. My bike time was 2:33 (my fastest ever for 56 miles). When I reached transition, the first person I saw was Jim. I heard him say "great ride!" and it was then I realized I was, indeed, having a good race. Now all I had to do was keep it together on the run and manage a pace between 7-7:30 per mile. As I ran to rack my bike, I kept thinking "keep it together, go out easy" as I put on my socks and shoes, grabbed my gel and hat and took off. Jim gave me the thumbs up and I turned onto the run course.

The Muncie 13.1-mile run course is nothing like the bike course. It's HILLY and rolling. My first thought was: "am I still in Indiana?" But despite the hills, in classic Disaster Magnet style, I did the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I had been telling myself. When I got to the first mile marker, I looked at my watch only to see the following time: 6:04. ARGH!!! I slowed WAY down to a 7:30 second mile.

For the next 11 miles, my splits were all over the map. Like on the bike, I was completely alone for the entire run with no one to chase, and I was finding it next-to-impossible to remain mentally engaged in the race. There was very little shade, and the only relief from the near-90 degree heat was to pour ice water over myself at every aid station. I found myself lollygagging through three of them because I kept forgetting to take out my electrolyte capsules (Sportquest Direct's Thermolytes) until I was grabbing a cup from a volunteer. But the volunteers were fantastic and made sure runners had everything they needed. They even poured ice water on me when I asked them to.

In the last few miles I caught the first woman in the 55-59 age group (the legendary Laura Sophiea) and managed to pass two pros before finding my way to the finish with a run time of 1:34. I wasn't thrilled with it or the fact that I disengaged mentally during the run, but it was good enough to get me a finish time of 4:44, an age group win, 12th female overall and that coveted slot for Las Vegas in September.

In retrospect, Ironman 70.3 Muncie gave me some new information. I learned that I could get a good night's sleep before racing. I learned more about how to race in the heat. I found out I'm much faster on the bike than last year - having a comparison on a flat course gives me even more confidence in my speed. Biking will probably never be my best leg, but my splits are now a little closer to the fastest age-groupers than they were last year. And coming off the bike without a huge deficit to make up on the run will give me an advantage in the future because of my tendency to do stupid things like take the run out too fast to make up the difference as quickly as possible. (Jim put it more bluntly in the best quote of the day: "You won your age group despite the fact that you f***ed up the run.") Knowing I have to make up five minutes on the run is an infinitely easier mental task than being in a state of desperation of knowing I have to make up ten.

But most important of all, I learned that attitude is everything, and it would seem that my race day can be whatever I make it.


  1. I think the last line of your blog should be printed on everything you wear !! It should be your FB status !! It should be a bumper sticker on your car !! You should tattoo it on your cat !! :-)

    That statement reflects a real racing maturity.

    Way to go !! (and nice race too!!)

  2. Wow, personally I think you raced unbelievably well! I'm very impressed! My husband did that race, his first triathlon, so we were there cheering and boy was it a hot day.
    Way to now you're doing Vegas in September and Kona in October? You make me tired!