Three months into the full swing of tri training with my eyes on the big goal of my 140.6 in October, I’m feeling pretty darn good. The bike rides are solid, my swims are consistent (though could still stand to be a bit faster over longer distances), and my runs…well, my runs don’t suck. I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I can hold the intended distances and not feel sore the next day. I’ve done two sprint and one Olympic distance races so far this season and had excellent finish times in all three. So, when I was given the opportunity to take a spot in the Door County Half Iron Triathlon, I jumped at the chance.
This race is highly popular and generally sells out within a week or so of registration opening. Held in Egg Harbor and the surrounding parts of Door County, Wisconsin, this race is very scenic…and known for its hilly and very challenging course. This would be its 10th year of operation, and I felt that being a part of the 10 year anniversary would be perfect, since this year also officially marks my 10th year of doing triathlons. I know, I know – I’m old.
There was a bit of a scramble for finding lodging – an overnight stay was going to be required as the location of this race is almost 5 hours away from where I live. Unfortunately, because of the popularity of the race as well as the fact that Door County is a summer vacation hotspot, every last hotel room within 50 miles of the race site was booked. The only options left were staying at a hotel in Green Bay (a 60 minute drive from the race), or trying to find a camp site…as if I would ever turn down camping! So, Friday night Rick and I packed up the tent, air mattress, sleeping bags and other miscellaneous camping gear, as well as all of my triathlon paraphernalia. We were in for a long weekend!
Rick and I were up early on Saturday. He was scheduled to run the Valparaiso Mudathlon in Indiana that morning. As much as I wanted to join in the fun with him and our Corn Fed Spartan teammates, I practiced the fine art of self-restraint and decided to be the photographer for the few hours that we were going to be there. So, I cheered and snapped pics of my friends and of Rick as they traversed the course. It was good to see so many familiar faces! The time ticked by way too quickly and before we knew it, it was after 10 am. We needed to get rolling if I was going to make the course talk on time. So, we said our goodbyes and took off for the car – not before seeing a few more Corn Feds coming in as we were leaving though. Our team is everywhere!
Pit stop at the gas station for fuel and breakfast, and northward bound from there. Rick drove the whole way, bless his heart. I attempted to catch a nap but my brain wouldn’t have it – I passed the time chatting with Rick about other race plans, and quietly thinking to myself about how I was going to execute this race. I mean, it’s not like I actually trained to compete in a 70.3 this soon. I have the Border Wars Half on the schedule but that’s still 10 weeks away. Yes, I’ve been focusing on the 140.6 distance for the past couple of months, so I knew I could fake this race. But as to how well I could fake it – that remained to be seen. In my mind I had three ultimate goals to achieve:
- Finish the race without injuring myself.
- Finish the race in under 6 hours.
- Finish the race in less than 5 hours 50 minutes and hope for a top 20 age group finish.
The first goal had a high probability of being attained. All I had to do was keep forward momentum and not tax myself too hard. The second goal I knew was possible, but not without having to put myself through some pain. The third goal was highly unlikely without all the planets aligning, but I like to give myself something to shoot for. After all, I enjoy making myself hurt for the sake of making me stronger.
I kept my decision to myself, but I decided to shoot for a 5:50 finisher time. Looking at things realistically, as long as there was no major current to swim against I could finish the swim in under 35 minutes, the bike in 3 hours, and the run in under 2 and a half hours (I normally run about a 1:52 half marathon, but given the hills and my lack of consistent speedwork, I knew that anything less than a 2:15 half time wasn’t feasible). Add in about 3-4 minutes total for transition times and that added up to over 6 hours. I knew I had my work cut out for me. Rick picked up on my nerves as I crunched numbers in my head and told me not to worry – it’s not an “A” race and it shouldn’t be my plan to try to kill myself. And he was right…but I really wanted to see what I could do on this course.
We arrived at the race venue around 3:30 pm. With the course talk scheduled to go off at 4, we had plenty of time to pick up my packet, check out the little expo, and walk to see the transition area and the lake where the swim would be held.
I loved that there was less than 100 feet from the swim exit into T1 – this is probably the shortest distance I’ve seen for any race I’ve done. I was also told that volunteers would be stripping off racers’ wetsuits – another first for me despite the many races I’ve done. The course talk was very helpful and included a slide show of the bike and run route as well as a great description of particular areas to note along the course. The race director announced that all of the race photos taken by the professional photographers would also be available for free downloads – yet another first in the field of large triathlons and I hope that other races will follow suit!
After the course talk, I stood in line to get my number tattoos applied. I love the temporary tats – they are sharp looking and make it sooo much easier to identify than a black sharpie marker. The downside is that they are a B*#@* to get off, but it’s a small price to pay to look cool.
While I stood in line, Rick got on the phone to a local campground called Frontier Park and asked if there was any availability. We were in luck – they had ONE spot open. It was a gravel lot intended for an RV or camper, but if we wanted it, it was ours. We told the guy on the phone that we’d be there in less than 30 minutes to check it out. The site was only about 10 minutes away from the race location so we crossed our fingers that we could make the spot work for us, otherwise we’d need to find another site that would have been closer to a 30 or 40 minute drive away.
Pulling up to the campgrounds, we ran into the main lobby and spoke to the man at the desk. He showed us where the site was and said we could check it out before committing. We drove to the camp site and deemed it completely acceptable – it backed right up to the bathrooms and showers, had electric hookup, and was shaded and quiet. Perfect! I jogged back down and told him we’d take it for the night. The nice man only charged us for a tent rate instead of an RV/camper rate, saving me about $20. Rick had the tent laid out and half-erected by the time I got back (he’s handy like that). I helped finish with the tent, and I unloaded the pillows and sleeping bags while he got the air mattress inflated. Within 15 minutes, we had our abode for the night ready to go.
DINNER. That was the next task at hand. I jumped on Google and searched for Italian restaurants in the area, and Villagio’s came up at the top with many good reviews. And it was close by – score! Back into the car and off to the restaurant we went, and it was perfect timing because I was STARVING. Villagio’s was hosting several other racers that night as evidenced by all of the bike racks and 70.3 stickers we saw in the parking lot when we pulled in.
There was surprisingly little wait for a seat, and when we got to our table we found a bucket of crayons to draw on the table paper with. I busted out my best artistic rendition of how I was feeling:
The waiter was kind and we got our food within reasonable time – cheese garlic bread and Stromboli for appetizers and Mostacolli for me for dinner, with Rick getting the Manicotti. It was all really delicious and I highly recommend the restaurant!
After dinner, we needed to run to the store to get supplies for breakfast. By now, I was getting sleepy from the travelling and hustle of the day…and when I get tired, I get cranky. I snapped at Rick once while we were gathering the various things we needed. He brushed it off but reminded me not to be grumpy, to which I apologized. I love that man, he understands my quirks and rolls with them.
8:30 pm – Done with shopping and back at our tent for the night. I started fretting a bit about the race the next day. Because this was such a last minute call, I was going into a race with a bunch of untested things – I broke just about every rule in the book when it comes to the phrase, “never try anything new on race day.” Up to this point, all of my long rides were fueled only by G2 and GU products. I needed to have some real food if I was going to survive the race, so I added a Bento box to the top tube of my bike and stuffed it with Chia Bars by Health Warrior, and Albanese Gummy Bears that my buddy Joe picked up for me upon request. My old Profile Design aero bottle had been giving me some issues with staying upright as of late – it would list to the side regardless of how tight I got the holding screws. So upon the advice of a fellow triathlete at the last race I did, I picked up the new bullet bottle that Profile Design makes. I had a brand new race belt that I bought to replace the old one I couldn’t find, so I could hold gels during my run. The zipper broke on my tri suit at the last race I did, and I had to have that replaced by a tailor. The tailor did an awesome job but I didn’t get a chance to test the suit prior to race day to ensure the new zipper didn’t rub or chafe.
New food, new gear and clothes. Go ahead, my experienced racing friends. Give me the “Tsk, Tsk” look right now.
9:30 pm – I’ve got everything laid out for clothing, gear bag packed, and numbers applied to bike, helmet, and race bib. I crawled into bed next to Rick and hoped to get a decent night’s sleep. The plan was to be parked at the race site for 6:30 am. Surprisingly, the air temps were perfect for sleeping, and the white noise from the air conditioner feeding the bathrooms provided great sound dampening. I slept better that night than I did in weeks.
RACE DAY – up at 5:40 am. A quick bathroom excursion followed by throwing my hair back in my routine braid, I changed into my race suit and packed up the car. We broke down the tent and camping supplies in record time, loaded up and headed to the venue. I noshed on half a plain bagel as Rick navigated to the parking lot. We pulled in at 6:30 am, I assembled my bike and pumped the tires up to race pressure, grabbed my gear and headed towards transition. Rick carried my bag for me while I navigated my bike through the masses of people. When we got to transition he handed off my things to me (non-racers are not allowed inside) and he headed to get a coffee while I arranged my zone. The spots were assigned so there wasn’t an urgent need to arrive any earlier than necessary, but the required 2 foot wide by 3 foot deep transition spot always makes for feeling like a pack of canned sardines. The various women around me and I were all apologizing to each other as we bumped elbows and bikes trying to cram all of our stuff into our spots.
I finally decided that my tri bag was not going to fit in the allotted space, so when Rick returned I handed it off to him to bring back to the car when he could. I put the finishing touches on my bike and took her for a quick spin to ensure the gears were working and the derailleur was in proper form.
Racked and stacked -transition was set up and finished. I pulled on my wetsuit up to my waist and headed over with my other swim gear in hand to pick up my timing chip. Rick got another coffee while I walked down to the water’s edge to test the temps.
Holy Hell. That water was chilly! I sucked it up and waded in to my waist so I could let some of the water leak into my suit to better acclimate myself to the temps. Racers all around me were doing the same. I made small talk with people here and there and then stood in silence in the water as the National Anthem was belted out by a fellow racer over the loudspeaker (I’ll never grow tired of hearing that song, it gives me chills every time).
I exited the water as the first wave – the elite men and women – headed to the start line. I was in wave 12 with a start time of 8:33 am, so I had time to kill. I ate a package of Super Candy (did I mention that those were a new food to try too? I’m so bad!) as I stood next to Rick on the beach. As time ticked by, I noticed that almost 20 minutes had elapsed and the elite wave had not yet reached the halfway point of the swim.
That could only mean one thing. There was a nasty current out there.
I pointed that fact out to Rick and told him that my new projected swim time was going to be closer to 40 minutes now instead of the 35 that I had originally predicted. Nothing like a little hurdle to start off your morning. Bring it.
With 10 minutes to go before my wave start I walked back out to the water and wet my hair, then put on my goggles and swim cap. I popped a couple caffeine pills, took my final swig of G2 and then gave Rick a kiss before I headed over to the official starting area. There were 61 women in my age group – I looked around to find that, as per usual, I was quite taller and heavier than the vast majority of them. But it wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to. If I didn’t like a challenge I wouldn’t race tri’s to begin with.
8:31 am – we all passed over the starting mat to register our chips and waded out to the starting line. In contrast to most other triathlons that have either a beach start or a floating start, this race started about waist deep. It was actually kind of nice because you didn’t have to worry about getting run over or kicked in the face – two common problems with the other two forms of starting. With one minute to go I crouched down into the water and let more of the cold stuff filter into my suit. Brrrr. But I knew that within a couple minutes the water temps would be the last thing on my mind.
8:33 am – GO! I positioned myself about 1/3 of the way from the front and to the right side of the pack with the hopes of catching a good draft and saving some energy in the initial phases of the race. The first turn was about 150 yards out and sent us to the right for a short ways with the current. At this point I felt like I was flying. The water was clear enough that even at 20 feet deep I could see the bottom of the lake, and it whizzed below me. A few of the women who went out too fast were easily caught by the first third of a mile. To pass the time I counted buoys – the race directors strategically placed orange buoys every 100 feet (40 in total) and were numbered clearly. So I always knew where I was in distance, which was nice.
The second turn of the swim sent us 90 degrees to the left for about 50 yards, and then turn three sent us to the left again, essentially sending us back from whence we came. Immediately, the game changed – the current was now in our faces, and with 3 to 4 foot swells in the water, sighting was difficult at best. I went from a carefree morning swim to a test of will. For the next 0.7 miles I battled waves and other racers. I never lost my groove, but I will say that I started to grow a bit frustrated at how I just couldn’t seem to time my sighting with the swells – every time I would look up, I’d be looking at four feet of water coming at me. Keeping a straight swim line was next to impossible.
Oh well. Keep swimming. Just keep swimming.
Final turn, another 90 degrees to the left which left 500 feet to go to finish. With the current at my side now, I could see better, so I picked up the pace and beelined it to the shore. Reaching the shallows I stood up and pulled up my goggles. I looked at my watch –
Swim: 42 minutes and 1.37 miles.
The course was supposed to be 1.2 miles…which means that I swam 0.17 miles more than I should have and was the result of poor sighting. Ugh, that 5:50 finisher time I wanted was already going to be more difficult to attain.
I trotted up to a volunteer who quickly stripped off my wetsuit (this requires the racer to lay on his/her back while the volunteer basically rips your suit off your body). Having never done this before, I was a bit discombobulated when I stood up. I almost forgot to retrieve my wetsuit from the woman who pulled it off me! I snatched up my suit and thanked the volunteer, then headed for my area in transition.
In the elite world, a fast transition time can be the difference between first and second place. I’m by no means an elite racer, but I’ve raced enough races to dial in my efficiency in transition. No messing around: shoes on, helmet on and strapped, shades on face, grab the bike and book it to the exit.
The bike: my strong point and by far my favorite part of triathlon. They say that tri’s are always won on the run…that may be true, but often times I can get a substantial lead on the bike part to hold off the faster runners. And to say that I love my bike is an understatement – Amie (named for my good friend who hooked me up with the bike) is dialed in to a T for me. Fast, comfortable, and sexy.
Remember how I mentioned that I wanted a 5 hr 50 minute finisher’s time? Given that I was already 43 plus minutes into the race, I had just about 5 hours to get the 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run done. Knowing that I was unlikely to change my fastest estimated run pace, my bike speed is where I had my only shot at trying to achieve my ultimate goal. I needed to ride hard. So I had a choice to make – either give up my goal time and practice pacing at Ironman pace (around 18 mph), or shoot for the stars.
You can probably guess which route I took. Go big or go home.
The first 16-ish miles headed straight south. There was a bit of a headwind but the trees blocked most of it. I like to count people as I pass them – it gives me something to do (because 56 miles gets a little boring after a while) and it also keeps me motivated to ride hard. I had already overtaken about 20 people in the first few miles, but there was another woman (Angie was her name – I asked her during the ride) who I kept leap-frogging – she would pass me and then hold the pace, and then I would pass her back. This went on for about 40 minutes. We never got within each other’s draft zones (I’m anal about that) so it’s not like we got the chance to talk much, but we struck up a bit of a camaraderie every time we passed each other. We’d joke that we needed to train together since we held the same pace, and that riding side by side should be allowed since there isn’t a draft benefit from it. I passed her again around mile 15 and yelled back that I’m sure I’d be talking to her again in a few minutes.
I never saw her again after that. I think I picked up my pace on the back stretch and dropped her.
I have to mention that the aid stations were spaced perfectly for the bike route. I had my bullet aero bottle on the bars and a second bottle of water stored below me, but that second bottle was completely unnecessary. As a matter of fact, I picked up a bottle of Gatorade at mile 32 and dumped the bottle I had as well as the empty Gatorade bottle once I filled up my bullet bottle. The volunteers were flawless at the handoff as well. Very impressive!
Miles 17 through 38 (ish) was a giant lollipop loop. With hills. Lots of hills. Most of them were rolling so you didn’t lose too much momentum, but there were a few where I was in single digit speeds for the climb. I actually had to drop into small chain ring TWICE for two climbs – that says something, because I rarely ride in small chain ring. But regardless of the hills, I kept gaining on people. Thus far I had only 1 guy pass me on the bike, and no women. Coming back out of that loop I felt strong, so I kept pushing. The final 18 miles brought us north (which gave us a significant tail wind for a little bit) and up and over another set of hills which had 2 BIG downhills – I was over 40 mph on one of them but couldn’t ride it out due to a sharp turn at the bottom (boo). Right around mile 45 is when 2 women passed me – and judging by the numbers on their legs, they were in my age group.
I tried to overtake them again. I’d gain on them on the flats and the downhills, but they’d drop me on the climbs again. I still felt good on the bike but I knew if I pushed any harder I wouldn’t have anything left for the run. I decided to let them go and hold my pace. I lost sight of them with about 5 miles to go…and speaking of the final 5 miles, in general I tend to back off and spin into transition, but since the course took me on a net downhill route with the wind to my back, I used it to my advantage to make up a little bit of time. I hit mile 55, spun out my legs, swigged the last of my Gatorade and popped a Gu gel, and dropped into T2.
Bike time: 2:52:26.7 – average of 19.5 mph.
People I passed: I lost count after 150
People who passed me: 6
I made up more than 7 minutes and was close to being back on track to my goal. I pushed to get out of T2 as quickly as possible – rack bike, drop helmet, throw on socks and shoes, pick up race belt/bib and head to the exit.
The run: by now it was past noon, and it was getting warm. I kept telling myself that I should not be complaining about the heat because I was told that is was MUCH hotter the previous two seasons, buuuuut….when you’re in the thick of a race and the heat is getting to you, hot is hot. Based off of what I knew from the course, I had planned to average 10:15-ish miles. This would allow me to be strong on the flats/downhills while taking the uphills easy.
Most triathletes know what that first mile feels like on the run after having biked a considerable distance. It’s a deceptive mile – you feel like you’re moving at a snail’s pace and your legs feel like Jello, yet you generally move faster than you think. Mile 1 ticked off on my watch – 8:40 pace.
Well alrighty then. How about we slow down a bit?
The next couple of miles had a net downhill grade, but lacked in shade. It was hot, but fortunately the aid stations (which were about every 1.25 to 1.5 miles) had plenty of cold water and Gatorade to drink. More importantly, they had ICE!! I grabbed a cup at every stop and dumped the ice into my sport bra. It kept me cool enough to keep trudging forward, but I was an epic failure at being a stealthy runner – the sloshing of the ice could be heard from quite a ways away.
Function over form. Just keep running.
Mile 2.5 – I caught one of the women who passed me on the bike. Score! That put some pep in my step and kept me moving for a bit longer before having to take a walk break at the next aid station. Over the entirety of the course, I’d pick off a runner here and there, and get passed by someone fresher and/or younger. Mile 4-ish took us down a sharp hill and along the water’s edge for a bit before starting a slow but shaded climb for the next mile. Mile 6 was the first big hill – big enough that everyone was walking it, myself included. I looked at my watch as the mile marker ticked off the halfway point – averaging 10:15 miles. Right on target.
1 mile of an easy downhill grade through the town of Egg Harbor, and then back up a slow uphill grade for the next mile. This mile is where two women my age passed me. I tried to use the slower of the two as a rabbit, but I just couldn’t hold on and eventually slowed back to my original pace. Just keep running.
Mile 9. The most famous mile of the course because of a hill affectionately called “The Bluff.” A ½ mile switchback at 20% average grade, this hill slows even the strongest runners to a walk. I loped up to the base of the hill and saw what loomed up above me…
Holy hell this sucker was steep. And the race directors loved to make light of the situation:
Rick met me at the base of the hill and walked up with me (Rick was actually at several areas along the bike and run course – he was like a danged Ninja how he popped up out of nowhere!) and offered words of encouragement as we walked together. A group of people were cheering about halfway up and I joked with them about the steepness of the hill by getting on all fours and crawling for several steps. Back up on two feet, the two of us trudged upwards to the top of the hill…and we see this:
Followed immediately by this:
More climb to go! If your quads didn’t hurt before hitting this part of the race, this hill would ensure that they did now. Rick and I finally reached the crest, he urged me on and I began running again. To add insult to injury, the next 3 miles went up another short hill and then into the open, with zero shade. The race directors did their best at keeping the runners cool by bringing out misting fans and making sure the water stations had cold stuff to drink. I believe it could have been much worse though – that southerly wind actually kept things from becoming an inferno out there.
This no-man’s zone is where I started chatting with fellow runners again. One woman told me she had run this race annually since its inception 10 years ago, another man told me this was his first half. I told stories about OCR and Death Race while we ran together. It was nice to have some people there to pass the time and the miles.
The final aid station had Freeze Pops and flat coke — YES!! SUGAR!!! I grabbed one of each and slammed them down. It was like Heaven in my tummy. With a little more than 1 mile to go, I looked down at my watch – total time of 5:44 and some change. I was going to miss my goal of a 5:50 Half. No matter, push on and do the best that I can do. The final mile was gorgeous – beautiful homes with amazing landscaping, the treeline on the ridge, and more importantly – the lake in sight. I was almost done.
There’s always something about that final mile that, no matter how tired you are, you always find something left in the tank to get to that finish line as fast as you can. It helped that the course swept downhill again. Up ahead of me, I saw one of the women in my age group who had passed me several miles earlier. She was fading. I turned on the afterburners and set my sights on her. With a half mile to go, she turned around and spotted me – it now became a real chase, she picking up the pace and me trying to close the gap. The last quarter mile was a steep downhill to the finish chute and she pulled away again. I knew I couldn’t catch her but the attempt was fun enough. I spotted Rick in the spectator area with the Corn Fed flag and I shouted over to him to hand it off to me. Grabbing the flag from his hands, I ran the final stretch with arms raised and our team flag flying high and proud.
Crossing the finish, I was tired and my legs hurt from that final downhill pounding. I looked down at my watch.
Run Time: 2:15:14.3, average 10:19/mile
Finishing Time: 5:52:19.8
A little over 2 minutes off of my goal time. Considering the circumstances, I was pretty happy about that.
Rick met me at the finish and I handed him back the flag. I jumped into one of the ice baths that they had handy (how awesome is that?!) and put the chill on my legs for several minutes. Then I waddled over to Rick, and the two of us grabbed a beer (Shock Top!), a pulled pork sandwich, and some corn on the cob. Pretty good food for a race venue, and the racers got it for free with their bib tickets. The post party area had a live band playing, so we listened as I nibbled on my first real meal of the day. As good as the food was, my stomach just wasn’t ready for anything real solid yet. I ran into my buddy Mike in the festival area, and the three of us chatted for a bit before parting ways.
Rick and I had a long drive ahead of us and we needed to load up our things. The short walk to transition loosened me up again, and I quickly gathered by gear and my bike and headed to the exit. Rick offered to be my Sherpa again, so he carried my gear while I walked my bike back to the car. Rick was awesome that entire weekend – he didn’t have to come with and stand by as I spent hours on the course, but he did and he did it with style. I think I saw him 5 separate times on the bike course and 3 times during the run. And, after spending hours on the course supporting me, he still offered to drive the entire 5 hours home. Have I mentioned just how much I love that man?
The Door County Triathlon – a last minute decision and a great one at that. The course was excellent overall and a great challenge for anyone looking to take on a 70.3 in a scenic area with clean water and air. Course support was among the best I’ve ever experienced. Ease of getting in and out of the venue was great, and I loved how the start, finish, and transition areas were all in close proximity to each other. I would totally do this race again…and I think I will next year!