Never Over 'til it's over
Kinetic Half Iron Distance Race Report
A race is never over ‘til it’s over. Even if you don’t know it.
In July of 2012, I decided that 2013 would be my attempt to qualify for Kona. I knew there would be a lot of training and focus if I were going to make that happen. I know that training is about consistency if you’re going to make a serious attempt to get fast and win races. So I knew that while I typically enjoy an off-season of sitting on my ass playing video games and watching movies, the winter of 2012/2013 would be a base training period. The fact that I was bridging between the Philadelphia marathon in November and the Goofy Challenge in January meant that my run training was already going to be very consistent. The National Club Challenge put on by USAT gave me the needed encouragement to get to the pool and set my bike on the trainer. I signed up for the Off-Season Spin program put on by DCTri which really kicked my ass and taught me a lot more about cycling and my body (controlling heart rate and cadence) than I thought possible.
Twenty weeks out from Ironman Austria (my chosen goal race, probably not the smartest choice but oh well), I began my build training, incorporating interval and speed work into my training. Hill repeats, those oh sooooo fun hill repeats, became a weekly sufferfest. Seven weeks out from the goal race would be my test to see how my training was progressing: Kinetic Half Iron Distance. Granted there wouldn’t be much time to adjust my training if the race didn’t go well, but I really enjoy this race: it’s well organized and supported, it’s basically local (meaning that I could do this on the cheap since the trip to Austria is going to be expensive), and the course is scenic. Bonus all around.
I drove down to Lake Anna on Friday afternoon, meeting up with the DCTri President on the way to caravan down to the park via the back routes to avoid I-95 traffic. Not sure it saved much time, but it was definitely less aggravating than sitting in a parking lot on the interstate. The only snafus we hit were caused by traffic lights. I don’t know why people outside the city freak out when they see a traffic light, but they seem to cause some issues out there. After picking up my packet, Ryan and I went out for a quick 30 minute ride on the bike course followed by a 2 mile run to loosen up the legs. I was feeling really fresh and relaxed. After that, we headed to the friends of a friend where we were staying for the weekend. We had pasta dinner and I, of course, enjoyed my pre-race beers (I won’t say how many I had), and then began I preparing my gear.
Up at 4:30AM the next morning, it was a quick breakfast of an english muffin with peanut butter and Nutella, a banana, and some orange juice. The forecast the whole week before and even the night before was calling for 50-60% chance of rain all night and all morning, but upon waking up the forecast had changed to just cloudy with minimal chance of rain. The major storms were staying to the west of us. Good start to the day! I was out the door by 5:15 to make the 15 minute drive to state park. I must have gotten to the race site at the perfect time because I was able to drive into the state park and be parked within a couple minutes while people who got to the park 5 minutes later had to wait 20 minutes or more to get parked. With the bike racked and transition set up, it was down to the swim start to put on the new wetsuit and wait for the race to begin.
Kinetic Swim and T1 - 32:57
Kinetic is a beach start and I always find these kind of fun. I was in the second wave, so I got to watch the first wave go off and then pass under the swim arch start. Six orange sighting buoys on the way out before the first yellow turn buoy. Looking at the line of buoys though some of them were blowing wide, so I made a note to swim to the left of the first two orange buoys, but then keep the next four on my right. That would keep me in line with the yellow. There was a 2 minute warning and then a 30 second warning and then the horn goes off. I was hoping for like a 10 second or 5 second countdown, but I guess not. Apparently some later waves just got a 2 minute warning and then the horn.
Unlike last year, I didn’t slice open my toe on the beach start this time, so I was off to a good start. I held to my plan for the first leg and midway along I noticed a red light from a rescue boat behind the yellow turn buoy. Right in line with where I needed to go, which made sighting MUCH easier. Around the turn buoy and onto the second leg of the swim: five orange buoys before the yellow, with a large gap between between the second and third. The water out here seemed much choppier and I caught mouthfuls of water a few times. While I do appreciate the rescue boats and jetskis on the course, I wish there was a way for them to get around without creating so much chop (or leave a film of exhaust on the water’s surface). I made the second turn buoy starting to feel a little sluggish in the water. I had on a new wetsuit and I don’t think “medium long” and “medium large” (both ML designations) are the same thing, so it might not be the right size (too late to change it out as I’ve cut it already and it doesn’t look like there is a “medium long” anymore). I thought I felt the weight of water inside my sleeves and legs slowing me down, but maybe that was just my mind playing tricks on me.
After the second turn, there were four orange buoys before the swim exit. Usually there is a huge wavy thing or an arch at the exit to sight off of, but there wasn’t this time. So I was aiming toward vague white tents on the shore and keeping the orange buoys to my right hoping I was going close to the right direction. I got close in and could see volunteers with orange flags at the exit. I had my line of sight and kicked it into high gear. I got into shallow waters and started to run out of the water. My left hamstring almost cramped up on me as I stood up, but luckily it didn’t. And of course, I forgot to hit LAP on my Garmin as I crossed the mats into T1; but hey, at least I remembered to start it this time.
The transition was pretty uneventful. I think it was probably pretty slow as I remember kind of daydreaming for a second as I was pulling my gloves on and staring at the wetsuit still around my ankles wondering how I was going to take it off. I came out of my daze and got my wetsuit off, bike shoes and new aero-helmet on, and I was off running with my bike to the mount line. I finally remembered to hit the LAP button after I was riding away from the transition area. Oh well. Hit it twice and it’s ready to record my bike.
Kinetic Bike - 2:24:03
The bike course for Kinetic was new this year. The first 30 miles of this course I would be racing sight unseen; the second half was part of the course from previous years. I had heard it would be rolling and fast, so I was looking forward to it. This would also be my first time racing in a very aggressive setup (TT bike, race wheels, and aero helmet), so this would be a novel experience. On the road out of the park, I focused on bringing my heart rate down into a reasonable zone. I don’t train with power (I can’t afford that setup; that shit is expensive!), but I do monitor heart rate and cadence. The display for my Garmin bike shows: Time, Heart Rate and Cadence. Speed is essentially an afterthought, although since I have my Garmin set to lap at every mile, I can do some math in my head to get an idea of how fast I’m going.
Once up the hill and heading out of the park with my heart rate settling down, I dropped into aero position and began attacking the course. I knew being in the second wave and a fairly strong swimmer that I would be near the front, but I didn’t realize how empty the roads would be on the bike! In the first 10 miles, I passed about ten people, but then it became no-man’s land on the course. I rounded a curve near mile 12 and saw a Bike Rack rider circling back on the road ahead. He saw me and then took off down the road. I caught up to him and he said “I thought I had missed a turn!”, I laughed and replied that I thought I had too. That’s not to say the course was not well marked. It was. The turns were incredibly well managed by cops and volunteers. It’s just that there were long stretches of just going straight on down the road. No markings need. Just pedal and go!
I passed more people than passed me, which is still kind of a novel concept for me. I was passed by two guys who would go on to be 1st and 3rd overall for the race. I kept my heart rate in zone 2 with the occasional spikes into zone 3 and low zone 4 on the hills. I kept my cadence in the mid 80s and downshifted when I saw that it was dropping. In the last 15 miles, I got passed by some guy who was really concerned with how many cyclists there were ahead of me. I replied that I had no idea. I hadn’t seen another cyclist in forever. I made it back into the state park and down the hill to the transition area. Feet out of the shoes, leg over the saddle and balancing on one pedal, I was off the bike in a flying dismount and into transition. Yes mom, I was running in socks. Good thing I own a large supply of socks because I am sure I will wear them out quickly, but I’m not one for sock-less cycling and running.
Kinetic T2 - 0:54
Brick workouts, gotta love them. I’m off the bike at the dismount line and I’m ready to run. No wobbly legs. No hesitations. The legs are ready. I get my bike back to the rack, pull on my running shoes (my Mizuno Elixirs: LOVE THEM!). Why stand their and put on my visor and race belt when I can do that while running? I’m off!
Kinetic Run - 1:25:34
Out of T2 and it’s a short out and back before beginning the loop. I get to the turn around cone and notice that my bib number had come off one of the holders. I pause and fix it and then take off. That guy who was worried about how many people were ahead? I passed him in the first mile. The nice thing about this run course is that there are out and back sections (which let me see how many people were ahead of me), and it is three loops (great for seeing your friends and teammates). I made it to the cabin circle near mile 2 counting like 10 or 15 runners ahead of me (I lost count, okay? Hey, apparently I can’t even count to 300 yards correctly in a swim relay!). But I didn’t know how many runners were on the backside of the circle when I started it. Whatever the number, I knew I was in a good place and was already set for a Half Ironman PR with a decent run.
In my run training, I have made it a practice to not look at my Garmin during the run. It’s on and collecting data, but I want the data for analysis afterward, not during. I have tried to make it about my perceived exertion and how I’m feeling. I was feeling great and so I dropped into what felt like a comfortable but aggressive pace that was sustainable. On the first time down the path from the campgrounds, I jumped across a four foot black snake halfway across the path. I’m sure I screamed like a little girl when I realized what it was, but I’m okay with that. As I headed onto the second loop, the field started filling out and I started seeing teammates (both DCTri and Snapple). High-fives, low-fives and all sorts of encouragement passed between us. I made sure to thank the volunteers every time I ran by, and by the end I had them cheering “GO SNAPPLE!” each time as I ran by.
While the three loop course is great for seeing teammates and friends, it’s not great for judging who’s on the same lap as you or ahead of you or behind you. This year they marked you every time you completed a loop. I actually had to stop after the second loop because the mark the girl put on me was right atop the first mark. I was like “no way, I want a definite second mark,” so I ran back to get another one. I was in my 12th mile when I passed an older gentleman who asked if we had passed the 3 mile mark yet. I replied that there was no 3 mile sign. He goes “Are you sure? Are you on your first or second loop?” I almost felt sheepish in replying that I was on my last one. But not knowing who was on which loop (unless I wanted to stare at a runner’s hand for markings), I didn’t know how I was doing relative to my age group and overall. I was passing lots of people and not being passed by a single person, but unless they were my friends and teammates, I didn’t know where they were in the field.
I crested the last hill near mile 12 and kicked it into another gear as I knew it was all downhill from there. I had had a great run and was set to pull a personal record on the Half Ironman distance by a long shot.
Kinetic Half Iron Distance Triathlon Finish Time - 4:23:26
Age Group: 1st out of 57
Overall: 10th out of 478
I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face knowing that I had set a personal record at the half IM distance by almost 20 minutes and I guessed that I was somewhere in the top 20. I knew that despite having a mediocre swim, I had had a great bike and run, but it wasn’t until I looked at my Garmin later that I realized that I had also set a half marathon PR by 10 seconds. Not a half marathon in a Half IM race, but any half marathon! Crazy!
So why do I call this “Never over ‘til it’s over?” A lot of people believe that a triathlon is won on the bike since it’s where you spend the most time. Typically more time than the swim and run combined. But the finish line is at the end of the run, not at the dismount line. Throughout the race, I really had no clue where I was in my age group even though I had a decent idea where I was overall. That didn’t stop me from pressing the run in order to be competitive in my age group. When I looked at the results board at the race site, I was STUNNED to learn that I had won my age group. By 90 seconds. I totally did not expect that.
When I looked at the splits from my age group later that evening, I noticed that the guy who came in second in my age group had a 2 minute faster swim and T1 split and a 7 minute faster bike split than I did. So heading out onto the run, I was in second place by about 9 minutes. That’s between 1 to 1.5 miles behind. That’s a huge gap to overcome. But by running a half marathon about 10 minutes faster than him, I passed the guy somewhere in the crowd of runners and managed to win my age group. Granted this knowledge was all hindsight, but that still means that you should never give up until you cross the finish line. I learned that the hard way at Savageman 70.0 last year. I was set to PR by a long shot and was incredibly happy with how my race was going so I decided that I could walk up the fire road on the second loop. After coming back down and entering the last mile, I was passed by a guy in my age group. Apparently I was in first place in my age group up until that moment; I had no idea. He went on to take first in our age group by 90 seconds. Maybe if I had run up the fire road, I could’ve maintained my first place. Now I'll always remember: it’s never over until it’s over, even if you don’t know it.
So that’s my story for Kinetic Half Iron Distance triathlon. My debut triathlon as a Snapple team member. Perhaps I set the bar too high in my debut! How am I supposed to better an age group win? An overall win? Not likely! But you never know, races aren’t over until the finish line.
On the Sunday after the race, I brought my bike and trainer out to the lake again to watch the Kinetic Sprint Triathlon. I set up at the top of the road to the parking lot so that I could see cyclists go out and come back and runners head up the hill. I got to see many DCTri club members and cheered them on as I did my recovery ride. There were two blind athletes and a double leg amputee on the course as well. That was amazing to see. Once I was done with the ride, I went down to the finish line and got to see the daughter of the friends I had stayed with cross the finish line of her first ever triathlon. It's always wonderful to see people cross the finish line of their first ever triathlon. I think we all have that special place in our heart for that first one, at least I know I do.
Category: Bryan Frank