Miami 70.3 was supposed to be my very first attempt at a half Ironman distance two years ago. I had prepared all year for that race and unfortunately came down with Pneumonia the week prior to it. As this same race coincided with the French fall vacation for the kids this year, I signed up for it as a late race to end the season. As it turns out, a good friend of mine – Michael – and my coach David decided to race it as well, accompanied by Fabienne, a teammate who made the London Olympics.
My preparation was far from ideal. After Kaprun 70.3, I quickly got back into training with little rest. The Thursday after the race, I joined a track session with the club and pushed too hard. Sure enough, I injured my left foot and have struggled to heal it since. Of course, instead of taking two weeks off and dealing with the injury, I kept trying to run on it and kept re-injuring it. As a result, over the next two months until Miami, my single longest run was a five miler and I had very little volume. Loosing both speed and endurance I was a bit concerned about finishing the half-marathon.
Of course, once everyone had returned from their summer break, work started picking up resulting in far less training than I had for Kaprun. Add to that terrible weather and volume and quality of training seriously decreased. Probably because of the weather, I also got sick. Just as I did two years ago, I came down with a bad cold two weeks before the race. The cold turned into a cough and I feared a repeat. However, this time around, instead of pushing through the training, I took some time off and managed to get better in time for the race.
So with all that said, I still intended to do this race. It’s a great race to finish the year with, and Miami is always loads of fun!
We had to pull the kids from school but in order to limit the impact, we left Friday so that they would only miss one day of school (they were bummed, trust me). We flew from Paris to Washington with the family and then I hopped on another plane to Miami that same day. This much travel two days before a race isn’t recommended and I paid for it a little bit I think but alas, that’s what balance is all about. I arrived late Friday, built the bike to make sure everything was ok and promptly went to sleep.
Saturday went by in a blur, I went for a ride with Michael and David and then a little jog to get the jet lag out of the legs. It’s always worked well for me to get a little bike/run in the day prior to a race with complete rest two days before. My foot felt fine and I spent as much time relaxing as I could. There wasn’t much else I could do in terms of training anyways so we sat by the pool chilling and loading up on water before going to check out the transition area.
At one point, we were checking out one of the pros’ bike and struck up a conversation. The swiss athlete was Jan Van Berkel who is a true ambassador of the sport! He told us all about his new sponsors Scott, Quarq, SRAM and Zipp and was a real pro in his behavior and amabassadorship. He comes from an ITU background and wasn’t selected by his home country to go to the Olympics after a disapointing race in San Diego this year. So, he took his short course speed and gave it a go at longer distance. Since June, he came in second at Ironman Zurich, First at 70.3 Gallway and second in Miami 70.3 and is lining up at IM Arizona in three weeks. If you haven’t checked out this talented athlete, you should! He has a goal of getting to Kona in 2013 and winning it in 2015…and he has the capacity to do both!
As I usually do before a race, I called my good friends Ben and Kim to talk strategy and planning and just to help me talk through things and relax. Because of my running limitations this time around and the heat we talked about pushing the pace on the swim and the bike and seeing how the run would feel. I needed to take it easy on the run anyways so this would be a good time to experience what a hard swim/bike felt like. I also wanted to test out a couple of heat management strategies such as using a visor to run in (I never have before), and looking at different options about ice and fluid intake on the run. Finally, we spent some time talking about the importance of being reasonable about the run. This wasn’t an important race for me so I needed to be strong about walking if my foot bothered me and not feel that I had to meet certain time objectives. So I refused to set out specific paces on the run so that I would not feel the pressure to perform on the run. In any case, with my (lack of) preparation and injury, international travel the day before and the heat, I knew going in that this would be a suffer-fest.
Because of strong winds related to Hurricane Sandy, they allowed us to check in our bikes the morning of the race or the day prior. I much prefer morning drop offs. They allow me to pump my bike prior to check in, get it fully ready, and have a more control over the unknowns. My night’s sleep however was terrible. I tossed and turned and probably saw just about every hour on the clock. 5 Am came in and I had my usual race breakfast of oatmeal and a banana, packed my gear and headed for transition. As I was headed to transition, I checked my e-mail and saw that Miami was suddenly a wetsuit legal race!!! It had never occurred to me to even bring my wetsuit and it appears that many people were just like me.
After my quick setup, I went to check up on David, my coach, who was racing as a pro. He wasn’t looking too happy. To begin, he also didn’t bring a wetsuit and that could cost him several minutes in the swim. To top it off, he had removed the CPSC sticker from his helmet and when the refs checked it, they deemed it illegal. He now no longer had a helmet to race in, not exactly an ideal situation to soothe the nerves… We were able to work through his helmet situation thanks to the help from two other athletes (one who gave him a road bike helmet and another who trader his own aero helmet for the loaner road bike helmet). Truly, Ironman athletes are incredibly generous! The wetsuit however, we couldn’t do anything about. So he, Matt Reed and another pro would race without a wetsuit.
We watched the pros take off and come back from the swim and then it was my turn to get ready.
For the swim, I wore my PZ3-TX swimskin from Blueseventy and I’m very happy with it. The self-locking zipper prevents any type of loose cord out there and allows the athlete to remove it easily with a quick flick. With a little help to zip it up at the beginning by Fabienne, I went off with my wave at 8:43. The Miami swim is by waves separate 4 minutes apart. As planned, I got right in the middle of it, first row, middle of the pack and as soon as the horn went off, I pushed the pace. I elbowed a few people, climbed over a couple of athletes and got right up in there. This is a strategy I’ve played with this year and it suits me well as a larger athlete and a better than average swimmer. The swimskin was certainly a very different sensation without a wetsuit: definitely less buoyant but a bit more free. Before the second turn I felt fine alternating my breathing between every two and three breaths and passing many of the prior waves. At the second turn coming back towards shore, I took a quick breastroke kick and felt a cramp in my right leg. Cramping this early in a race…this was going to be a long day. Nevertheless, I was happy with my 33:50 swim.
The first five miles of the bike are through the city. Though usually protected, there were a couple of wind gusts a certain intersections and a large flood at another due to high tides. After the first five miles however, you end up in a long flat road completely exposed to the wind. There is no way to hide in that wind, alone and heading right into it, the front half is a bit lonely. To break the monotony, I did see a LOT of drafters. At some point, I saw a group of 20+ athletes passing me just as if they were in a peloton. None of them even attempted to pretend they weren’t drafting, it was quite upsetting. And I must say that in these windy conditions, I would have loved to be in a peloton!
About 20 miles into the bike, I stood up from my saddle in order to get up to speed again and it hit me again. My quads on both legs seized up and I almost fell off my bike. I had never cramped up during the bike. There wasn’t much I could do, but I geared down and tried to increase the cadence drinking fluids and energy drink (I use GU) to try and flush the cramps. The higher cadence seemed to work a bit.
The turnaround however was great. With the wind behind our backs now, speeds picked up. For much of the way back I was maxing out my gear in 53/12 and wished a couple of times that I’d brought an 11-23 instead of my 12-23. I was able to push close to 25 miles an hour on average on the way back and that’s because I took it easy in the final 5 miles as we got back into town. With my cramps still bothering me, I was pushing higher cadence and less gear in order to loosen the legs but I knew that I’d pay hard in the run either way.
I got off the bike in 2:34 and change which I felt was quite respectable considering the strong winds. It wasn’t a PR but I had achieved my goal of pushing the pace and I knew the run would be rough. Basically, I was in the hurt box before even getting to the run.
I don’t think there was a single moment in the run where I felt good. As soon as I put my shoes on and took a few steps, my quads were unhappy with me. I started the watch, put my visor on and clenched my teeth. This was going to be long…
The first mile went by fast as it always does. Even with the cramps, I took off at 7:30 pace but it wouldn’t last very long – well, it basically only lasted a mile. After a mile and a half or so, you take a right turn and you see the dreadful MacArthur Causeway bridge which you will go over four times. The first one wasn’t too bad but the way back was much rougher with the wind in our faces.
On the positive side, the hydration stations were awesome. Essentially, you have some every mile or so and that was very much welcomed. Water, Ice, Coke, Perform, Bananas and pretzels at every station and of course, the volunteers were great! Because of the heat, I grabbed as much ice as I could but this time around, instead of putting it down my shirt, I went for the pants. The femoral arteries are nice and large right at the top of your thighs. They are great conduits throughout the body and placing ice alongside them acts as a quick cooler throughout the body. This seemed to be helpful for me and in addition to focusing on the neck and head, I was able to keep the body temperature down.
Half way through the run, I saw Fabienne and David – who had finished 16th – cheering me on and that helped me get through miles 6.5 to 8 before going back atop this long bridge. It’s amazing how you draw on little things during a race. A simple cheer can make a huge difference.
From a hydration perspective, I focused on Coke and water at every aid station. I truly believe in the magic abilities of Coke late in a race. Of course, once you start taking it you can’t go back but it really helps with raising your energy level, preventing bonks and I believe even with cramps. By the second lap and the fourth time up the Causeway, I was certainly happy to finish. My foot started bothering me around mile 11 but by that time, you’re hurt so much that it no longer really matters. I finished the half marathon in a respectable sub 2 hour performance. Not a record by any stretch of the imagination but I was happy to be done!
After the race, I joined up with David, Fabienne and Michael for some chill out time and we went out to South Beach that night for mojitos!
Overall it was a good race. I met my objectives to have fun and gained some more experience. I stuck with my race plan despite knowing it would likely hurt and that’s a very important aspect of my performance. I was very disappointed in the large quantity of drafters on the bike but very happy with the aid stations and the volunteers. I learned a few things about racing, and – as always – about myself. In fact, more than the athletic performance itself, it is often the self-discovery process that keeps me coming back for more.
My season is now officially over and as it turns out – because of hurricane Sandy – I cannot leave Miami for a few days. I guess there are worst places for some R&R!