37 Weeks of Ironman Training: Ironman 70.3 Ohio Recap

Just 3 weeks after my Rev3 Olympic Triathlon, it came time to do my first Ironman branded race, the Ironman 70.3 Ohio. Otherwise known as a half Ironman.

This was a big one. Not only was this race scheduled to kick off my Peak Phase in my 1 year Ironman training program, but the distances for this race, were much closer to my training distances. Unlike Rev3, which served as a good “see what it feels like to race” warm-up, this 70.3 was going to prove a much bigger physical challenge. Here, I’d be tested with:

  • 1.2mi Swim
  • 56mi Bike
  • 13.1mi Run

I had completed more than each of these distances in training, but in some cases not much more. My longest bike has been 70 miles, longest run 16. This is all to say I knew I could complete the distances, but things like nutrition, hydration, and physical fatigue would come much more into play this time around.

Coming out of my 2:31 Olympic triathlon, I knew that an absolutely perfect race would get me close to 5 hours. I set an upward cap goal for myself of no more than 5:30, but thought it would be pretty cool to go sub-5 in my first ever half.

Saturday: 1 day out

This was an early, and very long day. Waking up at 3:30am to have some time to drink coffee and eat something, before my sherpa Mom came to meet me. At 4:30am, we had packed the car, and began our 6.5 hour drive north west to the middle of nowhere great state of Ohio.

We had to leave so early, because not only was check-in on Saturday, but the check-in process was infinitely more complicated than it had been for the Rev3 Olympic.

For starters, I had to attend either a 12pm or 2pm athlete briefing (12pm would be cutting it close with drive time), drop my bike off to have my rented wheels mounted (opted to rent carbon Zipp 808 wheels to save some time, more on that later), and drop off bags at 2 (yes 2) different transition areas, miles apart from one another. Oh, and at some point I had to eat, relax, and get to bed at a reasonable time.

We arrived around 11:30, and after seeing the line for check-in, realized there was no way we were making the 12pm briefing.

So we waited in line, and I made my way into athlete check-in.

This was a relatively painless process, except here, I learned that the water temperature was currently measuring 78.5*, 2.4* hotter than is allowed for a wetsuit. Great, no wetsuit again. Oh well, such is life.

I collected my packet, swim cap, bag, shirt, and timing chip, then made my way back to the car to grab my bike. We took the bike straight to the wheel rental tent, and dropped it off to have a set of Zipp 808 wheels mounted for race day. I opted to do this, because a set of carbon aero wheels, for 1, cost north of $3,000, and 2 would provide a huge advantage to me in terms of aerodynamics, and reduced power needed for the same speed. I figured I’d test it out here at the half, and if it really did make such a difference, I’d rent them again for the full Ironman Maryland in September.

We still had about 90 minutes until the 2pm athlete briefing, so we took care of some other chores before hand.

The Ironman village was set next to Selby Stadium, the athletic complex for Ohio Wesleyan University. The field inside the stadium would serve as T2 (run to bike). Because of this, we were instructed to drop off a bag next to my place (noted by bib number) containing everything I’d need for the run: shoes, socks, gels, and race belt.

By the time I did this, my bike was ready, and I was able to get it back in the car before 2pm, since we’d have to take that over to T1 (miles away) after the briefing.

The briefing was useful. It went over details about the course, Ironman rules, nuances of the day, etc. Getting many unanswered questions answered in such a forum, always helps with confidence come race day.

After the briefing, we made our way about 15 minutes north to Delaware park (in Ohio…), where I would drop off my bike for the night, and also where I got my first look at the swim course. The below picture was actually taken in the morning, but you get the idea.

We wrapped up at T1 (swim to bike), headed out for a bite to eat, then headed back to the hotel and were asleep by 8pm. Big day ahead.

Sunday: Race day

Another busy, long, and tough day awaited me on Sunday. Lots of challenges not experienced during the olympic race, but all great learning experiences too as I make my way towards Ironman Maryland. I’ll take you through my day, expectations, results, and general takeaways from my 70.3.

3:50am

An alarm set earlier than normal, thanks to the 20 or so minute drive we eventually had to make to T1, which contained a relatively small parking lot that we were fearful of missing out on.

In an attempt to mimic what had worked for the olympic race a few weeks ago, I woke up, enjoyed some coffee, and ate breakfast. This was followed by a familiar series of steps including: getting dressed, filling up all the necessary water bottles, double checking my list, packing the car, and making our way to T1.

5:00am

We arrive at T1, and get a nice parking spot, albeit almost half way full already. We grabbed everything that needed to be dropped off in T1, and made our way down. At this point in the morning, I dried the dew off the bike, filled up all the water bottles & mounted the others, laid out my shoes, helmet, nutrition and other miscellaneous items near the bike. Checked my tire pressure, and I was all ready to go.

With a start time of 7am, I had plenty of time to kill. I spent that time staring at the water, texting some friends, and just trying to stay relaxed.

6:45am

Transition closed, and everyone was shuffled into line for the swim. Similar to Rev3, we lined up based on speed, though this time we used estimated finishing time, instead of 100yd pace. For 1,900m of swimming, I estimated I’d be somewhere between 35-40 minutes, so I slotted myself accordingly.

Starting promptly at 7am, every 5 seconds, the race officials sent 4 people into the water. Time to sit back, and wait.

7:12am

I was next. About 11 minutes of shuffling forward through the line, finally to reach the timing mat, and a metal queue 

system designed to keep the 4 swimmers entering the water spaced out from one another.

The swim was in the form of a triangle, 2 right turns, with buoys just about every 100m so we were told.

This swim was crowded. Where in the Rev3 race, I almost never felt like I was super close to anybody, here we were always within arms reach of someone.

Head on a swivel, people.

I knew that once we hit the orange buoys on the back side of the loop, that meant we were half way done.

I managed to sneak a peek at my watch at this point, expecting to see something between 15-19 minutes, only to see 23. Ok great, guess I’m super slow today. Whatever.

I rounded the last buoy, made my way to my feet, and jogged through the timing arch at 41:28, 3-6 minutes slower than I had thought, but oh well, in a 5 hour race, whats a few minutes.

Between jogging to T1, and what felt like a mile (it wasn’t) down the aisle to my bike, by the time I got out of T1, it had been 4 minutes, and I was off on the bike.

7:57am

This was going to be a much different ride from Rev3. For 1, it was twice as long (as compared to a 25% further swim) meaning I had to be much more attentive to when I was eating/drinking, and make sure I was comfortable. I was gunna be here for a while.

In my Rev3 olympic, I averaged 19mph on the bike, which was a nice surprise from the 17mph I average in training. I mentioned previously that I rented some Zipp 808 wheels to try to gain some advantage and level(ish) the playing field between me, and all the $10,000 bikes out here.

Well, it made a huge difference. I jumped to averaging 21.5mph on anything that you could consider a straight away, which on this course, was basically the whole thing prior to mile 42.

I was moving, I felt great, comfortable, and in control the whole time.

I started to do some mental math. Ok, so I was 5 minutes slow on the swim, but at this pace, I’ll be 15 minutes fast on the bike, so that might not matter!

After about 2 hours of plotting away in straight lines, we hit the last 14 miles of the course. This was in stark contrast to the first 42 miles.

The race director had saved all the hills, turns, and technical bits for the end, joy.

Riders got bunched up, descents were fast, and climbs were filled with some furious passing, but as we rounded the last few turns and came into view of a sea of people, we knew we were just about done.

We left Delaware park, and had made our way to Selby Stadium, where yesterday I had placed everything for the run. To get from our last turn to the stadium, we went down a chute of cheering supporters to the dismount line. Then it was a mad dash to the racks. 

Crossing the timing mat, I had made up some serious time on the bike. After anticipating 3 hours, I managed to finish in 2:46, more than making up for the slow swim from earlier.

All I had on my mind now, was crushing this 2-loop half marathon, just like I had crushed the 10k at Rev3.

10:47am

Transition here was fast. Mounted the bike, ripped off my helmet, swapped shoes and snapped on my race belt on the go. I came out of T2 hot, later I would learn… too hot.

My legs surprisingly felt fresh at this point. Sure, there was tons of adrenaline, but there was some legitimate freshness too.

The run course was roughly 1 mile out to get to a loop. Runners would complete the loop (roughly 5.5 miles) twice, before returning on that 1 mile stretch back to Selby Stadium and the finish line.

That first mile was beautifully flat, potentially even a little down hill. With a lack of better judgement, I crushed the first mile in 6:05.

Bad idea.

I got to the loop and discovered my “flat” run was gone, and now I would contest a loop made up of a 2 mile incline, followed by a sharp descent and a small rolling hill before repeating.

I managed to keep a pretty swift and consistent pace from mile 2-9, averaging right around 6:50 over that stretch.

At this point I knew if I could hold that pace, I wouldn’t meet my sub-5 stretch goal, BUT, I could still manage a sub 1:30 half marathon. A cool secondary goal.

But that’s when reality struck.

Miles 9-13.1 were hard. Very hard. I started to need water/Gatorade about a quarter mile too early before the aid stations on lap 2. I pushed, and I pushed hard, but my pace fell to my training pace of 7:25, and it was all I could do to hold on to that.

This was a reality lesson having probably not eaten/drank enough on the bike. I fell 30 minutes short of enough fuel to push the race through at ‘my pace’ rather than the pace my body dictated. A mistake I won’t make for Ironman Maryland.

Despite the last 4 mile slowdown, and coming way too hot out of the gate, I still set a 13.1mi PR of 1:32:41.

12:19pm

With a time of 5:07:46, I crossed the finish line.

There was a DJ, a guy on the microphone calling out my hometown, name and time, tons of people cheering and supporting all the finishing athletes and then of course, there was the hardware.

Within seconds of crossing the line, I was greeted with water, a medal, a hat, and several enthusiastic high-fives.

I had done it. I had survived my first 70.3, excited, tired, and a little bitter about only being 7 minutes off a sub-5, but ecstatic none the less.

Post race

I spent the better part of the next few hours doing some logistical activities (returning my wheels, packing the car, etc.) and eating/drinking. A lot.

I’m estimating that in the 5 or so hours post-race, I consumed upwards of 5,000 calories, and about a gallon of water. All of which made me finally feel like a normal person again.

We didn’t putz around much. Once we realized that basically everywhere to eat in Delaware, Ohio was closed on Sunday, we shifted priorities to packing the car and heading home on another 6.5 hour journey.

It was a long weekend, and a tough one. It’s a bit scary to think that in 9 short weeks I’ll be doubling up on all that distance in Cambridge.

I’m 2 races down, with 1 to go. 9 months of training down, with 2 to go. 201 workouts down with 86 to go.

Any way you look at it, it’s the home stretch. The closing period of a year long journey towards one of (if not the) toughest goal I’ve ever set forth for myself.

The hours of training are long, the stress of life is real, but so is the determination to not quit. Certainly, not now.

Time for a day of rest, then back to it. 61 days and counting until Ironman Maryland.

Until next time.