Friday, October 16, 2015

Race Report: RyanMan Triathlon

It's been years since I've written a race report. Not that I haven't been racing. I guess I just haven't felt as if my experiences were worth "reporting."

This race was different for a few reasons.

First, it's genesis was in an outpouring of support for a fellow triathlete who, last year, had been training for Ironman Chattanooga. In the midst of that training, his young son was diagnosed, for a second time, with leukemia. The decision to not race in Chattanooga was a no brainer. His friends decided, though, that all of his training couldn't go to waste and hosted a full ironman distance event just for him. So, one very hot day in September, Ryan's father, Austin, completed his first 140.6 miles, with friends by his side every step of the way.

The RyanMan Foundation was born, and a little more than a year later, the first annual RyanMan Triathlon half iron distance race was held. The goal: support the fight against childhood cancer in Mississippi by raising money for organizations that lead that fight. This year, the money raised from the race was donated to Batson Children's Hospital.

Not only is the race for a wonderful cause, these people are my friends. I wasn't able to support Austin at his ironman last year, but I sure could be a part of this event.

Second, it's the only half ironman distance race in the state. And it's almost in my backyard. 

Finally, my brother chose to do this race as his first half ironman. I was so excited. Now, I wouldn't be the only crazy one in the family. 

Our Mississippi summer this year seemed to be extra hot. Ninety degree days nearly every day since May (or at least that's how it seemed). Next to no rain. Dry. Sunny. Hot. Humid. Training was brutal. And October in central Mississippi? At best, a crap shoot. Based on weather history, it could go either way...excruciatingly hot or kinda' cold.

And I was certain that there was no way the reservoir would cool down enough to be wetsuit legal. 

At first, the weather gods appeared to be smiling down on us. It would be sunny but temps and humidity would be dropping. On Friday morning before the race, it had cooled down. But the wind picked up and turned the water into a washing machine. Then, the cloud cover came. The wind got stronger. The temperature went down some more. David and I did a practice swim on Saturday morning before the race. It was miserable. And cold. The water had already reached wetsuit legal temps earlier in the week. It was steadily getting colder. We comforted ourselves by believing the weather forecast that called for sun and slightly less wind.

We were foolish to believe any such thing.

That morning, the wind continued unabated. Stupid weather app said 6 mph. It was easily 10-12 mph. It was cold (for us southerners, including my Floridian brother and sister-in-law) and in the 50s. All day it stayed in the 50s. The sun never came out. The water was measured at 64 degrees. Someone said 3-foot chop. (Pretty sure that was an exaggeration. But it sounded good.)

As I was putting on my wetsuit and reviewing my strategy for the swim (freestyle for 10 strokes, breastroke for 5 to find out where I was and settle down in the churn), the word came that the swim was cancelled. Not a good thing for the stronger swimmers among us, but a bit of relief for me. I knew, with where my fitness level was (not where it needed to be), the swim would exhaust me before even heading out on the bike. 

So, after a quick little 1.2-mile run, we hopped on the bike. My brother, David, was already 45 seconds in front of me, a lead he would continue to increase throughout the rest of the race. 

Knowing that a chilly run feels even colder on the bike, I kept my long-sleeved shirt on over my tri top. We started out right into the wind, and I immediately regretted not having my bike gloves, but glad I had put socks on, not that it helped a whole bunch. I had ridden the course 2 weeks before, so knew it was fairly fast. Rolling in parts, but nothing that was too hard to climb. Really, it was the wind that was the biggest factor. That meant not fighting it when heading into it and taking full advantage when it was at my back. It also rained on us a little bit. Even in the wind, I ended up riding the course faster than I had the 2 weeks previous. 

David was now 12 minutes in front of me. He had a great bike!

My hands and feet were frozen when I got back to transition. Took my time leaving transition for the run, not really sure I could do it. Walked the first couple hundred yards and then started a little shuffle that was right around an 11 min/mile pace. It was still cold and windy so kept that long-sleeved shirt on. I really would only warm up when I was out of the wind. My 11 min/mile shuffle-walk the aid stations strategy worked well for the first 8 miles, but right about then, my legs got the message that I hadn’t done very well in the run training department. Luckily, 2 of my friends from work showed up and stuck by my side for those last, very slow 5 miles. Everything hurt…even my arms! There was a lot of extra walking. Then, mind games, like running the next 6 light poles over the bridge. And, then, finally, it was done. 

David ended up running more than half of the distance on a sprained ankle. By the time I saw it, it was really ugly…bruised and swollen. He still managed a great run for a strong finish at his first try at the 70.3 distance. 

In the end, just looking at the bike and run, it was one of my slowest half ironman races to date. But I was pretty pleased, anyway, because I followed my race plan, and I really am still figuring out how to train for long distances again. I've had Hashimoto’s most of my adult life, but it's only been recently that it's begun to kick my butt. If I overdo it, I feel like crap for the next several days. It ended up dictating my training for this race and it mostly affected my run. Feel normal for a week, swim/bike/run a lot. Feel like poo the next. I had thought the Garmin 920XT would be overkill for me, but it has turned out to be an excellent feedback tool as it warns me about my recovery (“Good,” “Fair,” or “Poor”) each time I start a run or bike, and then tells me how long I should take before my next workout. I ignored it pretty much at first…just kind of a novelty…but it’s been fairly accurate, and when I am mindful of the feedback, I am able to train more effectively. 

Third place in my age group was a nice bonus to a great race that I will definitely do again next year. 

Once the race was over, everything picked up and put away, and everybody back home, I found out that Ryan is now dealing with another relapse of his leukemia. It breaks my heart that this sweet little boy and his wonderful parents have to continue to deal with such a serious, life-threatening illness, and all I can do is pray for them. 

So...that's what I do.


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