I decided that for my first half-ironman (70.3 mile) triathlon of the year I would participate in the MedExpress Mountaineer Triathlon in Morgantown West Virginia. After my stellar performance in my last 70.3 – I blew up on the run – I figured that I may as well build up my confidence by doing a nice easy race within the hills of West Virginia.
My race crew was expanded from Lis to include Ruan, a young friend of ours from New Zealand who was on his OE (‘Overseas Experience’). He had just graduated from the University of Auckland and was on his way to Canada to work for a year. He was with us for a few weeks enjoying the experience of the USA.
We drove up on Friday and started the weekend with a kayak trip on the Monongahela River in Morgantown. This was run by a fellow from the University of West Virginia who told the history of the area as we sedately, and I mean sedately, paddled along the river. There was another couple with us and she was celebrating her birthday so we stopped at a spot where she was surprised with champaign and we sang her the NZ birthday song. There were some fisherman on the river and when we asked what their fish tasted like they firmly told us that they wouldn’t eat anything from the Monongahela river as it was way too polluted. Great. In two days I was to swim 1.2 miles here.
Saturday was a restful day for me. We went about 50 miles from Morgantown where Lis had arranged for her and Ruan to go white water rafting. I declined to join as I didn’t want to run the risk of injuring something by being tossed from the boat. It was also a good excuse just to sit back and relax, reading a good book. Life had been very stressful at work lately. It worked out really well as all three of us had a good time!
We went into town so that I could collect my race packet and drop off my bike. The transition area was in the ground level of a parking garage. There was no formal bike check, normally they inspect your bike, and so it was quite quick to drop off the bike. I noted that there were some serious competitors here, as evidenced by the expensive kit they had! There were several professionals and their rack was resplendent with bikes that most triathletes lust over.
We had dinner at the ‘Blue Moose Cafe’. This was place that Lis had decided was ideal for vegetarians-just based on the name. “I know these things …” was all she said. The problem was that she was right! Great food in an eclectic atmosphere so I tanked up read for the next day. Showing what a small world it can be, a week later we found out from a neighbor that his mother lives in Morgantown and supplies desert to the Cafe.
Sunday morning arrived and it was an ideal day for a long race. It was in the low 60’s when we left the hotel for the transition area to set up my gear. I had been up earlier than everyone else and had an early breakfast. Lis and Ruan were going to see me off and then eat at the Blue Moose while I was doing the bike leg.
The transition area was completely unsupervised which meant that Lis and Ruan could come in and watch me set up. That was a good thing as I had forgotten a couple of things in the car so they kindly grabbed them for me. The bike area was quite cramped and someone had kindly moved my bike from the choice end position to an inward location on the rack. Very bad form.
After getting my gear laid out we went over to watch the start. The first wave were the professionals, but there were not too many of them. The start was from a brand new marina on the river. There were docks and the professionals dived off the end to start. The later waves all had water starts which are much more to my liking. It was still fresh and Lis appropriated my cycling jacket – I had a wet suit I could slip into if I got cold. It was fund watching the starts from the vantage point of the river bank and to have Lis and Ruan with me.
Eventually it came time for me to suit up and head down to the water. When I jumped in I was pleasantly surprised to find that the water was not cold. In fact, much warmer and it would have been uncomfortable to be in my wet suit! After being bashed and battered in the swim during my NY-Philadelphia triathlon I decided to hang back and not be anywhere near the front. Ruan got the great photo below which shows me under way.
The horn went off and away we went. In spite of my best intentions, I still got bashed around a bit. We headed down the river to the first buoy, hung a left across the river, followed by another left up the river. Eventually we came to another buoy, turned left, another left and it was homeward bound. Sounds easy – but it isn’t when the sun in blinding you and there are a lot of others around you trying to find the shortest line to each buoy!
I was able to get into my swim rhythm fairly quickly: 1-2-3 breathe etc. and had relatively few close encounters of the worst kind with other swimmers. I felt surprisingly good in the water-probably a result of all those 3000+ yard workouts at the DC Haine’s Point masters swim club that I had been doing before the race. It sure showed in my time: I took 7 minutes off my previous best time for a 1.2 mile swim.
There was a moderately long run along to the transition area and it was lined with supporters which was a nice change from most races. As you can see from the photo below, I was stil smiling – I knew I had a good swim time.
For some reason I really fumbled in the transition to the bike. Normally I’m OK but nothing went right. People came in after me and departed before me. A bad sign. I had even forgotten to take off my cycle shoe cleat covers, but fortunately I realized this before I hopped on the bike! I managed to get myself together and out the door where Lis and Ruan cheered me on. Then it was off on my favorite part of a triathlon. While I was cycling the hills, Lis and Ruan went and gorged themselves on a buffet breakfast at a nearby hotel. They claimed later that they thought of me with my energy bars as they were hoovering up the food, but I somehow doubt it.
The bike course was a two loop leg. We went out of town across the river, then followed the river for a while, before heading inland up some hard hills. There was an Olympic distance race at the same time and their bike course overlapped ours. At one point we had to do a sharp turn while they went straight. I passed a fellow after that and noted that he had grass hanging off his rear quick release skewer. When I asked him what was up he said that someone had overshot the turn and done a sudden U in the road just as he was passing by. He ended up in the ditch. It. was then that I noticed the blood on his hands and the road rash from when he had come off. Ouch. I wouldn’t want to do 40+ miles biking and then a 13 mile run with those sorts of injuries.
The countryside was lovely with farms and very little traffic. Eventually, we reached the turn around which was just inside of Pennsylvania. This was particularly badly situated, as it was around a blind corner so you suddenly had to stop with little warning. Fortunately, many of the riders heading back warned those coming up–but not always as evidenced by the people who overshot the turn.
We headed back into town but I didn’t see Lis and Ruan. The second leg was much like the first, although I backed off a bit after mile 40 to save something for the run. I parked my bike and tossed on my shoes to hit the road. My T2 time was bit better thankfully.
The run started off on the path along the river. There were a lot of people around the transition area which always helped. My legs felt good and I soon kicked into my target pace of 8:30/mile. It was sunny and very hot so at each aid station I got water which went over my head. I was very careful with drinking as I had a slightly upset stomach. For some reason my regular nutrition plan hadn’t worked well on the bike and after an hour of riding I had stopped taking anything. Felt like I was going to have a ‘return meal ticket’ as the Australians would say.
We ran along the river to a turnaround and then it was back towards the finish area. I saw Lis and Ruan there sitting down and reading and I said hello. They had wondered what had become of me. After passing the finish area we ascended up a gradual grade–was probably an old railway line–before turning up a VERY steep hill. The grade must have been 12%. Many were walking but I just put my head down, increased my turnover rate, and took shorter steps. Worked well and I was soon at the top – huffing and puffing mind you!
The race then took us along some streets with a lot of up and down before we passed the transition area for lap 2. I was feeling very good with my run but I was still worried as I had blown up around mile 10 in my last 70.3 race. By mile 9 I decided that I could stomach something besides water so I had a few energy chews. It was the first energy I’d had for some 40+ miles of racing and it felt good. As I passed Lis and Ruan the second time I told Ruan to meet me in 30 minutes before the finish line. It was then up the railway line, up the hill and the homeward run.
I felt really good and was able to increase my pace for the last few miles. In fact, I did the last mile in 7:03, helped in part by the downhill. This showed I was too conservative with my pacing and should probably have gone for 8:00 or better as I had in my previous races, but it’s amazing how blowing up affects one’s confidence and I’m glad I was overly careful.
Ruan was waiting for me and he ran in with me for the last half mile or so. He was shouting out inspirational comments until I told him to shut up. After 70+ miles with the end in sight I didn’t need any inspiration! He managed to grab a few ‘action’ photos as he ran beside me…
We crossed the line together where Lis got the photo below.
It was a good race and I felt much better than on my previous races. I was still able to walk and smile!
My times weren’t great, but I had put behind me the blowing up on my last race so have my confidence back. Best of all, afterwards I shared with Ruan the joys of his first visit to a ‘Dairy Queen’. Had to stoke up on carbs …
- Swim: 33:31 154/293
- T1: 4:29
- Bike: 2:48:31 99/293
- Run: 1:50:35 100/293
- T2: 1:24
- Total: 5:18:30 90/293 11/32 in age group