The main idea was to take Jonah on his first camping trip and pair it with a half Ironman on Father's Day. Travelling to races with all of Jonah's accessories -not to mention camping gear- has been a challenge. I recently picked up a big Thule cargo topper for my Subaru and the thing is awesome. I can put 11 cu. ft of gear in the topper and free up tons of car space-love it!
For Jonah's first camping trip we also had to get a larger 3 person tent. We stuck with Sierra Designs which is the same brand as my old backpacking tent that has served me well for many years. As a bonus, we figured out that for car camping our guest air mattress just fits in the new tent: so we were camping in style for Jonah's first trip!
Our destination was Effingham, Illinois which is a little over 2 hours south of Bloomington. The race was the Cutting Edge Half Classic. This was the perfect combination because the race offered free tent camping at a campground directly across from the race start/finish.
Jonah had fun eating dirt, playing in the tent and staying up late. A pretty good storm rolled in about bedtime, but Jonah has never seemed to mind thunderstorms. The tent held up beautifully and we stayed dry and relatively comfy during the storm.
Of course if you are anywhere in the vicinity of the midwest you know what the weather has been like the last week. I knew all the moisture from the rain coupled with high race day temps was going to make for challenging racing conditions.
Race morning did not disappoint. We woke up to a morning that was hot and incredibly humid even at 6am. The only real positive to all the heat was that the swim was not wetsuit legal. I despise swimming in a wetsuit when the water temp is anywhere near the 78 degree cutoff. I overheat even in my sleeveless.
This race is not huge- somewhere around 200 people. My training and racing has been rocky this spring, so I just wanted to do a long race to get in a solid training day. I actually had two weeks of relatively solid training leading up to this race, so I was pretty tired and not rested at all going in.
Swimming without a wetsuit felt great. I am much more suited to a long swim where I can start slowly and build into it than a short sprint. Within the first few minutes the race had strung out and I was in the first 4 or 5 swimmers. I just focused on good form and enjoyed swimming in open water without a wetsuit. It was a two-lap swim that required a short beach run between laps. I hit the second lap and picked up the pace just a little. I came out of the water in about 5th and around 31 minutes which is an ok wetsuit-less swim time.
Transitioning to the bike I noticed it was already really hot with clear skies. I've never raced well in the heat, but after Kona then New Orleans I am getting better at it. When you know it is going to be a hot day you have to be extra careful with pacing and hydration early on. By my count, I went through about 4 bottles of Infinit, 1 bottle of gatorade and 3 bottles of water in the course of a two and a half hour ride (that's about 1 bottle every 20 min!). The ride had quite a few rolling hills, but no real climbs. I kept a close eye on the Powertap on the uphills to keep my effort under control. By about 5 miles into the ride I was in 3rd place and would stay there for the whole ride. I was able to look ahead and see #1 & #2 duking it out for the lead. I just sat back and rode a steady pace while hoping they would wear each other out. After about mile 40 I lost sight of 1&2, so I wasn't sure how far down I was coming into T2. I rode just under 2:30 at about 22.5mph. Not great, but ok given the course and conditions.
Turns out that I was only around 2 minutes down on the leader leaving T2, but the run is where the brutal conditions really came into play. It was still crystal-clear out. The sun was beating down and the temps were in the mid-eighties. With the humidity though, the heat index was pushing triple digits. I used some of Jonah's spray-on sunscreen as I ran out of T2 and that seemed to work really well and helped save me from a roasting like Kona. Rather than treat the run like a race, I just switched into maintenance/survival running mode. For me this is an easier run pace that I know I can maintain for a long time as long as I stay hydrated and take in some calories. As part of my heat strategy I stopped and walked every single aid station and took in at least a cup of gatorade and a cup of water at each one. One of the leaders was walking and I caught him in the first mile. The guy in first was running well, but I could tell I was gaining ground. I moved into the lead between miles 3 and 4. I was really hoping not to have to push the run hard, because it could have gotten ugly out there. Fortunately the run was an out and back and I didn't spot anyone moving up fast enough to be a real threat. I just held the same conservative pace and kept taking in fluids. At the half-way point, I was pretty sure I had the win wrapped up if I didn't do anything stupid. I think the run ended up being my slowest out of all the 1/2 IMs that I've done (1:37), but it was good enough for a 10-minute margin of victory under the worst run conditions I've ever been in. If I were to compare the race to '08 Kona, the bike was much easier with better conditions, but the run was unquestionably worse.
Speaking of Kona, the WTC has recently implemented new rules that do not allow competitors to cross the line with any of their family members. I actually agree with this rule for these big races because I have seen athletes crossing with their whole family, blocking other finishers and ruining other's finish photos. Still, it was a bummer not to take Jonah across the finish in Kona. I was determined to carry him across the line on father's day. You can tell how terrible the conditions were in this finishing photo because there are no specatators in the finish line area. They were all in the shade 100 meters or so up from the finish! In any case, Cara handed Jonah off to me about 100 meters from the finish and I shuffled in with him.
In the end, it was not one of my better times, but put in context of the day a pretty good showing. Stepping back and considering the bigger picture, I think this will go down as one of my most memorable races. Realistically you don't have that big of a window for your endurance racing prime. I've had a few overall wins and hope to have a few more, but it has never been my intention to try and race at a high level for my entire career. At some point, I will back off and pursue other interests. To be at my best on Father's Day and to be able to carry my son across the finish line in first is a pretty rare thing- and something I am grateful for.