Monday, August 30, 2004

I have just returned from England where I participated in the UK Half Ironman. For the uninitiated, a half Ironman event includes a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run. It was a fabulous event, held on and around the grounds of Sherbourne Castle adjacent to the village of Sherbourne in Dorset, southwest of London. Sir Walter Raleigh began construction of the castle in 1594. Upon his demise it was acquired by the Digby family who have owned the property since 1615.

Training for a half Ironman is less than half as difficult as training for a full Ironman. (See my post below for last year's full Ironman report.) The level of aerobic fitness necessary to compete effectively is much less than that necessary for a full Ironman. During the training process I seldom worked out more than 7 hours a week. That included a longer day on Saturday or Sunday. I think that once you have a solid aerobic base it does not take much additional effort to go further and faster. My longest run in preparation for the Half Ironman was 90 minutes and my longest bike ride was 2 hours. I did do some swims that were 1.2 miles. Those were mostly steady swims in the lake to just get the feel of swimming non-stop for 40 minutes or so.

In the race itself I was pleased to finish 4th in my age group. There were 13 individuals in my age group, which is less than typically shows up for one of these events. A recent event in Napa Valley had nearly 40 participants. My time was 5:57:04. I was particularly pleased with my 2:03 half marathon time, and my bike split of 2:57. My swim was slow due to a bad start and congestion at the start and along the course. The swim had two waves of 900 plus each and a real bottleneck at the start and at a couple of points along the course. I had swum the course in 33 minutes Wednesday before the Sunday race and was expecting a 36 to 40 minute swim in congestion. At it turned out, my swim split was 48. I was disappointed when I exited the water and headed for T1 (the vernacular for the first transition from the swim to the bike), because I knew that winning my age group was not in the cards with that swim time. Nevertheless, I beavered on and reset my goals to break 6 hours.

Initially on the bike it was very rough. The roads were generally rougher than anything I have experienced in a US race. Within the first mile I had lost my Hammer Gel bottle off my top bar and my electrolyte tabs from the baggie in my aero drink top. I was bouncing around. Things settled down and the pace was steady and strong. On the back side of the first loop there was a big downhill, which I love. In my aero bars I was flying, reaching 50.1 miles per hour, the fastest I have ridden a bicycle. At that moment, my bike started to cavitate. I have previously experience high speed vibration which is very intimidating on a finely tuned bike. This vibration was so severe that I was afraid I was going to lose all control of my bike and fly off the road. I was passing people and vibrating and it was very scary. My brakes wouldn't work. Finally I slowed and regained control. The balance of the race went fine. I did hold back on the second downhill, and didn't exceed 32 miles per hour. No vibration that time. After the race I discovered that I had broken a front spoke. I was very lucky. I think the fact that my wheels are deep dish carbon helped. If they had been aluminum they probably would have warped and lead to a serious accident. Regardless, I am having new spokes installed and thinking about new wheels for my bike.

The run was great. My legs were strong and my pace was steady. At a certain point I could see that I was going to come in under 6 hours so relaxed a bit. I felt great after the race and there was essentially no recovery time necessary. Now, I feel fit and ready for the next race. There are three before season end. I look forward to them.

It has been a great season so far. The UK Half Ironman was a joy to compete in. Next year I may consider the Half Ironman in South Africa or St. Croix. Maybe I will do England again.