Race Report: Liberty Half Ironman

Saturday was the Liberty Half Ironman in Rockford, MN (about 45 min west of the Twin Cities).  I did this race back in 2010 at a different location.  I felt like the run course got the best of me because it was much hillier than I expected and I struggled.  I needed another shot, so I signed up for 2011.  I had to drop out due to my knee injury.  They returned half my money in the form of a credit toward 2012.  So I used my credit, signed up again and came back for revenge.  There was construction at the park where the race is usually held so they moved the race to another park about 10 miles away.  The course profile remained very similar so the move didn't change the race much.

I thought the race was really well run in 2010, especially for a small race, so I recommended the race to a couple of friends who decided to sign up the this year's race.  Unfortunately, I have some complaints this time around.  Overall, it was a good event but there a few things I think they could have done better.

The Swim:  31:02

Me, Matt (middle) and Jeff (right) about to warm up and get ready to race.  We look like a BlueSeventy ad.  Jeff set the 4th fastest swim, I was 14th and Matt was 30th.  Not a bad endorsement for BlueSeventy.

I signed up for the elite wave so I was wave #1 scheduled to go at 7:30.  It was a beach start and as everyone lined up I positioned myself in my usual spot - row 2.  Then I thought about it.  With the improvements I've made in the swim, row 2 is a mistake.  I decided to move up to row 1, go out moderately hard and then get on some feet and get a good draft for once.  I've never drafted my way through the swim. I always end up on my own working harder than I should.

Wave 1 is off and the race has officially begun.

A little ways into the swim I took a peek around to see where everyone was and saw someone over to my right swimming the same speed as me so I moved over to grab his feet. I stayed there for a bit but the effort felt too easy.  I feared we were on a 35 minute pace and that was unacceptable to me so I moved out of the draft and decided to go out on my own.  I saw that we were the first chase group and I decided to bridge the gap to the lead group.  Once on my own, I had to work considerably harder and was making little progress.  It quickly became obvious I would never bridge the gap so I decided to get back in the draft.  Even if we were on a slower pace than I wanted, we were the first chase group which puts us in a good position in terms of the overall race.  I had to fight to get my spot back, but I was determined to do a better job drafting than I usually do so I was stubborn and eventually won that battle and got back in line.

One of my complaints about the race was the buoy placement.  It was an rectangular course and it was hard to see a good line of buoys to follow.  Every time I sighted I saw buoys all over the place.  It was frustrating.  A few more buoys would have been nice, and I love it when buoys on one side of the course are one color and the other side of the course has a different color.  

Heading back to the beach.

With the course being an out and back, I checked my watch at the halfway point and it said 15:01.  I've never swam sub-30 at a half so I was really happy to see we were on pace for a 30 minute swim.  As we turned to head back to shore the guy behind me decided he wasn't happy with the pace so he came around and started pushing the pace.  Perfect.  I wanted a slightly faster pace but didn't want to do the work myself.  He pulled up next to the guy leading this chase group and they basically raced the rest of the way to shore.  Neither one pulled ahead and neither one gave up and got in the draft.  This worked out perfect for me.  I had an awesome draft all the way to shore and felt like I was barely working. 

This was the first time I drafted the entire way on the swim...or at all really.  I knew we were the first chase group so I was happy with that and happy that I raced smart and took advantage of the draft and let someone else do the hard work for a change.  So I was extra pleased to see my watch said 29:54 when I stood up and ran out of the water.

The first chase group coming out of the water.

I think I came out of the water in 5th place, and unusual position for me to be in this early in the race.
We had to climb these stairs right out of the water to get to transition.  These got my heart rate up to 176 (my max is 185).  Ouch.

The timing mats were right before transition and we had a pretty long run that included stairs so my official swim time is 31:02.  The 14th fastest of the day. Very happy with that.

The bike:  2:20:15

I had a pretty fast transition and got out on the bike feeling good.  I can't remember if I passed anyone in transition or very early in the bike, but I got passed by someone who was hammering.  I hung back at the legal distance and paced off him for a bit but I saw numbers in the 270-300w range a little too often so I opted to let him go.  Looking back at how the bike unfolded, I wish I had gone with my original plan of not looking at watts.  Had I not seen the numbers I would have hung with this guy and I think that would have been a wise decision.

I could see one rider up the road in front of him and then an official on a motorcycle rode up next to me and started saying something.  I couldn't hear him and was confused because I was about 20 bike lengths behind the rider in front of me so I was no where near the draft zone.  I told him I couldn't hear him and he got a little closer and said, "You're in 4th.  Leader is a minute up the road."  Really?  Splits?  Awesome.

About 14 miles into the bike I got caught by two riders and I made a decision I'm not sure was a wise one.  It's hard to say for sure.  I never work in a group on the bike.  Never.  I'm always on my own hammering and passing and pushing hard.  I decided to sit back 4 bike lengths and pace off them and take advantage of that little bit of a draft you get sitting at the legal distance.  I say I'm not sure if it was a wise decision because I ended up with an average watts much lower than I was targeting originally and I probably would have been better off pushing hard to hang with the guy who passed me early on.  

One of the guys in the group was sitting way too close and drafting and even had an official ride next to him for about 5 minutes (yet they didn't get him for drafting....or anyone else....don't be afraid to hand out drafting penalties).  Eventually, I got tired of it and decided to put a stop to it.  I moved up to take the lead and set the pace and as I pulled up alongside him I told him he's spent enough time in the draft zone today and to drop back.  A mile or so later he decided to put in a hard effort and as he passed me he said the draft zone is 2 bike lengths and that's where he was.  I informed him what it really is and he apologized.  I honestly don't think he intended to draft or was trying to cheat, but there is no excuse for not knowing the rules. I have seen drafting at every race I've been in the past couple of years and I'm really tired of it.  If you plan to cheat on the bike, just sign up for a running race. 

He then went off on his own and pulled a gap.  He may have pushed a bit too much because we eventually caught him again and put some time on him before the end of the bike.

Here's my big complaint about the race:  The bike aid stations were a joke.  They were supposed to have 3 at miles 14, 26 and 39.  I saw the one at mile 14 and grabbed a bottle of water which lasted about 10 miles.   If there was an aid station at mile 26, I never saw it.  There was one about mile 35 and it came up quickly and was nothing more than 3 guys standing in the gutter with their arm extended holding out water.  They always tell volunteers to stand in the gutter but as a rider it is much easier to get some water if a volunteer is just outside the gutter and runs with us.  And spread out.  They were way to close to each other and there was no warning there was an aid station coming.  I quickly ditched my bottle and reached for some water and missed it.  Crap.  I knew I was behind on my hydration and knew it was crucial I get water at the next aid station....which never came.  I went the final 30 miles of the bike with no water.  They course was a lollipop shape and they should have had an aid station on the stick.  We would have hit that aid station twice and it would have been great to get one last bottle of water before the run.  

Coming in off the bike in 4th place.
The Run:  1:36:30

I had my whole plan laid out.  My goal was to break 4:30 and that meant I needed to start the run at 10:25 am and run 1:35 or better.  The race started a minute or two late, but as I started the run I checked my watch and it said 10:25.  How's that for predicting your times?

With the forecast being sunny with a high of 90 I knew hydration was going to be key so I had a bottle of water in transition.  I grabbed that and was very happy to see they had an aid station right out of transition.  I grabbed a couple of cups of water and headed out with my bottle of water and a plan of taking in as much water as possible.

Starting the run dehydrated and feeling rough.

It's very difficult to keep up with water loss on the run and pretty much impossible to get caught up.  I don't know if it was the water I was taking in or eating on the second half of the bike without any water to wash things down or what, but I had a terrible side ache the first 4 miles.  My pace was slow, my heart rate high, my side aching....I came to suffer, but not like this.  I had to walk a bit to try to ease the side ache and take in some water.  I felt my goals slipping away and I was getting very frustrated because it was due to poor aid stations rather than bad race day execution on my part.

About mile 4, I started feeling a little better and was able to pick up the pace a bit.  The run course is constant rollers.  No huge hills, but no flat sections either.  It's the toughest run of any half I've done.  My side ache came and went, my stomach hurt and I had to force down the gels.  I should have taken in 5 or 6 gels, but only managed to take 3 throughout the run.  

I got passed very early in the run which dropped me back to 5th.  I kept expecting 6th to pass me, especially since I was struggling, but no one came.  It was an out and back so I knew I could get some splits at the half way point and find out what my lead over 6th was.  

I hit the halfway mark at 48:30, one minute off my goal.  I was feeling better than early on, but getting more and more dehydrated and was beginning to feel a little light headed.  I kept pushing and saw that I had almost 5 minutes on 6th.  That's a lot of time to make up in the final 10K, but it's possible so I knew I had to keep pushing.  

I took in as much water as I could but it wasn't enough.  My heart rate was very high and I was feeling a little dizzy at times.  I had to walk a couple of times and one time of those times I must have looked pretty rough because a competitor running past offered me his water.  I needed it, but would never take someone's water from them so I turned it down. I'm amazed he offered up his water on a 90-degree day.

My goal was to push hard and suffer, but I wanted the suffering to be from a hard effort and not dehydration.  I figured my 4:30 goal was out of reach, but opted to keep pushing as hard as I could.  I wanted to get this thing over with. 

Mile 13.

It felt like forever, but I finally turned toward the finish.  As I got closer I saw the race clock read 4:29:30.  Shit.  The last thing I wanted to do was sprint, but I didn't have enough time to get to the finish in under 30 seconds at the pace I was currently running.  So I put in a final kick and crossed the line at 4:29:51.

I crossed the line in 5th, but someone in a later wave beat my time (and was in my age group) so I ended up in 6th overall and 2nd in my age group.

Post race was very rough.  For nearly 30 minutes I was dizzy, light headed and couldn't catch my breath.  I collapsed in the grass forgetting I had a gel in my back pocket, which exploded all over my back.  

It took several salt pills, lots of water and 20 minutes laying in the grass before I was able to stand up, move around and take advantage of the food tent.

Feeling like death post-race.

Post-race thoughts:

Overall, I'm happy with my race.  I had some struggles, but got through it and set a PR.  I was ultimately hoping for a top 5 overall, but 6th is much better than I've done in the past so I'm happy with it.  I felt like I raced better by staying in the chase group on the swim and pacing off people on the bike even though I feel like I should have stuck with the guy who passed me early on.  I came off the bike with two guys, one of them won the overall and the other came in 3rd so I was in a great spot heading into T2.  I just need to learn how to run.  It has become my weakness and my run splits are weak compared to the people I'm competing against.  My run ranked 22nd overall.  My swim was 14th and my bike was 4th.  It's an improvement and I'm closing the gaps and becoming a more well-rounded triathlete, but I still have a lot of work to do.  I need to continue working on my swim and I absolutely must become a better runner if I want to race at the pointy end of the field.  I feel a fall run focus coming on.  

Here we are post-race.  We all had some good, some bad, some positive, some negative but in the end I think we all had fun.

Me and Matt with our medals.  He absolutely crushed the clydesdale division winning by about 25 minutes.  Great race, Matt.

Me and Courtney post-race. 

Sorry for the long race report. I get wordy sometimes.



Jon said...

Man you crushed it out there! No kidding you felt like death after the race. You left it all out there! Nice breakthrough into the sub 4:30 realm!

Mike said...


Ransick said...

Awesome race Mike and congrats on the PR! Those stairs after the swim look brutal! The aid station fiasco on the bike during a hot day is too bad. You may have been able to avoid some cramping if you had adequate water. You might want to email the RD some constructive criticism.

Jillian said...


I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could email me?


Burrito Eater said...

That was a damn fine race! You're definitely crushing it! Sounds like you're all recovered already and ready to get back to it! Keep up the great work!

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