June 5th I had the pleasure of doing the Half Iron distance again at the Ironman 70.3 Raleigh. Sadly I haven't had time to write it up until now, but better late than never, right?
It's funny, I could have sworn that I raced 70.3 last year, but when I was going over race plan with my coach, John Heuisler of BTL Coaching, he reminded me that I hadn't since the 2014 season. Funny. I suppose like all things that are tough physically and mentally, time really dulls the memories. Thankfully, though, time didn't seem to dull John's memory as he did a fantastic job getting me ready to race, especially since this was really supposed to be a "B" race, and a tune up for later in the season. I do really have trouble dialing it down a notch, though, when out on the course. I just love to race, and am happy to leave whatever I may have on that day out on the course, for better or worse.
IM 70.3 Raleigh was also a pretty special occasion for me, as it was the first time I had the chance to race alongside my Every Man Jack teammates. There were four of us who took the line, and we all had a chance to catch up and hang out on Saturday leading into the race. That camaraderie and fellowship is a really special thing, and I think having that helps me to push myself just that little bit harder. It certainly came in handy on Sunday. We had a team dinner on Saturday night, and I was able to get to sleep early, which was handy, because it was a 345am wake up on Sunday morning.
Sunday was one of those days for me where everything came together well, despite the logistics of a two-transition race. Had a good breakfast, got a quick coffee before leaving the hotel, Got to T2 early, dropped my run stuff, and got on one of the buses to T1/Swim start with time to spare. That trend continued, and I got everything set up in T1, and had time to spare to get ready for my swim start in one of the later waves. I was relaxed, and it definitely felt like it was going to be a good day. Surprisingly I was the least stressed I have ever been leading into a race of this level. I knew my body was ready, my mind was ready, and I just wanted to get started.
The Men's 35-39 field was split into two groups, and I was in the first group, by virtue of my last name. There were two waves of women ahead, and two waves of an older age group of men ahead of them. We waded into the in-water start and even though it was not a wet-suit legal swim, the water felt cool, and I knew that my Roka Viper Pro swim skin was wicked fast. And just like that, the race started and I was off! I was right about the Roka swim skin. Within about 300 meters I had put all but one person in my wave behind me. Over the course of the swim, this remained. I swam through both waves of women in front of me, and most of one of the waves of men ahead of them. The other 35-39 guy stayed ahead the whole time, but these races are rarely led from the swim, and I was focused on being smooth and strong, not first out of the water. After all, I had 69.1 miles to go after the swim.
As I popped out of the water, pulled my Roka Viper Pro down, I looked at my watch. Definitely a slower swim that I had planned on. I wondered what happened, but figured it was just a slower day in the water in general. Turns out I was right, lots of folks had slower than planned times, and it seemed like some buoys may have shifted. Again, no biggie. What matters is where you cross the line, not where you get out of the water. I had a nice transition, got to my bike with no one around me, ran to the mount line and was off on the point to point bike course.
The bike at IM 70.3 Raleigh is definitely my kind of course, full of rollers. It was tough, and my time reflected that, but I was really happy to be out there for all 56 miles. The cloud cover lasted for most of the ride, and helped save energy, and I felt good nailing the upper end of my race plan's power range. Plus, due to starting in a later wave, it was a dynamic ride, but thankfully without huge clumps of people who are hard to pass. Each time I'd see a rider on the horizon, they would provide me motivation. I honestly can't remember having that much fun in a 56-mile bike leg of a race. It was also a huge motivation to see my family three times along the course. Definitely a boost in energy each time I saw them cheering for me! I came off the bike in a good position, with a respectable time, and I didn't believe there were any 35-39 guys from my age group ahead of me.
After a good trip through T2, I was out on the run. And it was getting hot. By this time the clouds had cleared, and the sun and humidity were really playing a big role in this race. I knew that this run would be tough, and with it being my weakest leg, I was determined to stay tough. I immediately settled into a solid race pace, which is honestly unusual for me. Good sign. You are not going to over-run the first part of the race today, James! And the course was pretty, as well, with just enough shade along it to make it tolerable. And that is exactly what I did all run, go from shady spot to aid station to shady spot. I felt good through the first lap because I focused on keeping my pace steady, walking through the aid stations to ensure I got enough fuel, and used ice to help keep my core cool. And it worked. On the second loop, though, things really got tough. I had finally gotten to that place where you just don't want to take in any more, but you know you have to. And my body was really telling me to stop. But, it was a good day, and my mind won out. With only a few short "unscheduled" walk breaks, I was able to maintain a good pace all the way to the finish. A little slower than race plan, but I came down the chute all by myself, and in great position overall.
After getting some water in me, I checked in with my family. 4:21 for the day. Not a PR, but a solid effort on a hard course, on a hot day. But what was even cooler is that I had finished 2nd in my age group! And even cooler than than, I would end up the 3rd fastest Amateur (with 1st going to the winner of my age group, and 2nd to a teammate), and 21st overall. This was by far my best placing in a major race. I'm still stoked and proud. And what made it even better is that all three of my teammates were top 5 in their respective age groups, with two winning age groups, and three of us being top 5 out of the amateurs. Talk about a good day for EMJ. Big thanks to Roka, ENVE, Louis Garneau, Rudy Project, Gu, and all the other EMJ sponsors for making this possible. Can't wait for the next race, Ironman 70.3 Muncie!