The days have been passing quickly (too quickly, in fact – I can’t seem to find the time to write up race reports quickly enough!). Training has been going fairly well – while I haven’t been able to hit every workout like I wanted to, the key focus rides/runs/swims have all been on target. I’ve been ramping up my excitement for the Iron Triathlon, but one more race lay in its path – the Border Wars Half Iron.
I found this race as a sort-of happenstance while searching for something that would mimic the terrain of the Beach 2 Battleship 140.6, and be close enough to that race to serve as a dry run. The race directors (Racemaker Productions) have been putting on multisport events for a few years and are known for their unique swag and smoothly-run events. I competed in their Triathlou Olympic a few years back and really enjoyed it, so I figured this race would be perfect for fitting my needs. The theme of this race was “East Vs. West” – meaning there were two teams comprised of people living on one or the other side of the Mississippi River. It was an interesting way to spark a little competition among the racers!
The other unique thing about this race is that it takes place in two states – the swim and the bike are located in Missouri, and the run in Illinois. This would be my first “two state” race.
I would be racing this one with three awesome people – Rick (not my Rick), Julie, and Nicole. My Rick was supposed to be in Ohio the same weekend for the Spartan Trifecta, but a calf injury sidelined him. He graciously offered to be our driver and photographer for all of us. We left for the town of Alton, Illinois on Saturday, and a 4 hour drive later, we arrived at the Alton Audubon facility where packet pickup was taking place. Nicole went down the day before already got all of our packets for us. She was waiting in the parking lot as we arrived to hand off our goodies – I got a really nice XTerra transition bag for registering early, as well as a warm up jacket. I fiddled around with putting my race number stickers on my bike and helmet, as well as on my T1 and T2 bags (just like Beach 2 Battleship, this race had two different transition locations). From there it was a short ride to T1 to drop off our bikes for the night. The local bike shop was going to serve as watchmen over our two-wheeled children, not leaving the premises until the last bike has been removed by its owner.
The swim was to take place in a protected lake that served as an overflow to the Mississippi River. It was clean and fairly clear, but the high winds (gusts well over 20 mph) had several people up in arms about the race. I reassured a few racers that the forecast for the following morning was calling for calm winds, and not to worry too much about the massive whitecaps they were seeing on the surface at the moment.
Once our curiosity for the water was satisfied, the four of us checked into our hotel for the night. Conveniently located about 10 minutes from the swim start, the Comfort Inn in Alton was quiet and clean. We changed clothes and drove over to meet Nicole and her family for dinner at the local Italian restaurant. We wasted no time ordering and eating (the food was excellent!) and snapped a few pics of the group of us before parting ways to rest up for the night. All in all it was a fairly low-key evening.
Up for 4 am Sunday morning. We three racers grabbed our T2 bags and post race clothes and made our way to the Alton Ampitheater where T2 and the finish area were staged. Rick dropped us off and hung out for a bit while we set up our transition spots, then grabbed a quick pic of the three of us in our brandy-new jackets.
Thereafter, I gave my Rick a kiss goodbye – I likely wasn’t going to see him until after I was on the bike and riding. Jullie, Rick #2 and I boarded the bus that would take us to the swim start, about 3 miles down the road. The buzz on the bus was electric – many racers were anxiously talking about how this was their first attempt at a half iron, while veterans like myself offered some advice to those asking for it. We unboarded the bus and headed over to our respective T1 spots, dropping our bike gear next to our bikes. The water was starkly different in appearance from the day before – the surface was glass, save for a few ripples created by those who wanted to get a warm-up swim done.
From there it was a bit of a mad rush to use the Port-o-Johns before the race start. This would be my only complaint about the race – not enough bathrooms to accommodate the people. By the time I got through the line, the first wave of racers had already gone out. I scrambled to throw on my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles, and made it to the beach with about 3 minutes to spare. Nicole was also in my wave and I found her standing just outside the chute, shivering.
“I did a warm up swim, that water is freezing!” she said. “Really?” was my response. The race director reported that the water temps were 73 degrees just a few days before…how could it drop so much is such a short period of time?
The answer was this: due to the large amount of rain that the Ohio valley received earlier in the week, the Mississippi River’s water levels started to rise. To alleviate the risk of flooding, the city opened up the dam leading to the reservoir that we were about to swim in. That massive water influx dropped the lake’s temperatures to 58 degrees.
Guess it’s a good thing I wore my wetsuit…I tried to offer words of encouragement to Nicole. This was her first 70.3 and I could see the nervous look on her face. But she’s a strong swimmer and I knew she could do this thing – and that is exactly what I told her. The gun went off for our wave, and as we walked towards the shoreline, I glanced over to her one more time. “You’re going to be awesome!” I yelled. Then I dove into the water.
And then a thousand tiny knives started stabbing my face. The water was cold enough to take your breath away and even I, who does stupid things such as cold water challenges on a dare, thought this was a bit brisk for a 1.2 mile swim. I was all-in though, and there was no turning back. After a few strokes, however, I quickly acclimated to the temps and settled into my swim.
The course for the swim was a counter-clockwise loop, heading first into the current before sharply turning and swimming with the current for the next 900 yards.
It was fairly easy to sight, and in all actuality I just followed the draft of a swimmer in front of me for quite a ways before that person’s pace started to slow. Around the middle of the course, I noticed I was passing several people who had tired too early (having the current helping to push made it easier as well). I also made note of a few swimmers who were hanging on to kayaks or buoys – likely the victims of hypothermia, cramping, panic attacks, or a combination therein. I felt bad for these people, but all I could do was keep swimming.
The final part of the swim looped us all back into the current for the last 400 yards before turning to head back to shore. I could feel a noticeable slowing in my pace, but not enough to lose much forward progression. I felt strong, so I picked up the pace a bit and glided into the shoreline…
Swim (1.2 miles) – 38:48.77 (29:20/mi) — close to my all time PR for that distance!
The run to T1 was….interesting….my feet were a bit numb from the water temps, and the beach was somewhat rocky in spots so you had to be careful where you placed your feet. I yanked off my wetsuit and stuffed it into my T1 bag (all of your items had to be placed in your bag before you left with your bike to avoid a time penalty, as those bags were to be transported to the finish area). I normally do not cycle with socks on, but the cold water temps and crisp morning air gave me plenty of reason to throw some on. I believe any spectators who were watching racers in transition likely saw a comedy of errors – people with numb hand and feet, trying to put on socks, cycling shoes, race helmets, and the like. We we falling all over ourselves. I was shivering as I put on the last of my gear and grabbed my bike, but I knew the feeling of cold wouldn’t last long!
T1 – 7:03.50 – Longest. Transition. Ever.
The bike portion of the race was an out-and-back loop on pancake flat roads. And I speak the truth when I say that these roads were among the smoothest I’ve ever ridden. It was an absolute JOY to ride on them!
Unlike all of my other races, my plan of attack here was a bit different: instead of giving 90% effort on the bike, leaving me taxed for the run, I chose to dial back to 70% effort and hope that my legs felt good for the half marathon that would follow. This was to be my plan for the full Iron event, and it was about to be tested. I concerned myself less with speed and more with heart rate and breathing efforts, making this ride more intuitive than based on actual numbers. Regardless, I found myself passing several people along the route, which always brings a smile to my face! The aid stations were spaced nicely, though I never needed to use them – the electrolyte drink that I packed for myself was just enough for me to cover the 56 mile ride, and I sipped the last of it as I climbed the bridge over the Mississippi and back into Illinois where the run would take place. The views from the bridge were beautiful!
Bike (56 miles) – 2:52:29.1 (19.5 MPH)
T2 was simple enough – rack the bike, switch out shoes, grab my visor cap and race belt. To make it fair they made everyone run a complete loop around the staging lot. So, I sang Ring Around the Rosie to myself as I trotted in a circle and headed out through the archway onto the run course. One more leg to go! I got to see my Rick on the run out, who was happily snapping pictures and ringing a cowbell. He always makes me smile.
T2 – 2:52:29.10
The run course followed a jogging path that followed the river and was another out-and-back loop. It was 90% smooth and had some rolling hills, which kept it interesting. My legs felt better than they’d ever felt after a ride, proving that holding back was the right decision to make.
I enjoy out-and-back loops for runs, because (1) it usually lets me see the top competitors hitting their peak stride (and who doesn’t enjoy seeing gifted runners doing what they do best?) and (2) I can count the number of people ahead of me. It gives me something to do, and equally as important from a competitive standpoint, I can determine just how many women are in front of me. It’s a game I’ve always loved to play! Around mile 4 of the course, we had to start weaving around crossing gates that were locked into place. Instead of getting upset about it (like some others were doing) I reveled in the fact that I got to do a little Obstacle Course Racing in the middle of my run! I may have even yelled out “Wheeee!” a couple of times. Do not judge me.
By the turnaround point, I counted that I was in the top 100 overall and in the top 20 for women. Still feeling good, I held pace up and down the hills, slowing only for a few short moments to talk to a woman who was limping badly in her run. She was still running a decent clip and was determined to finish, which inspired me to push a little harder. I saw Rick and Julie running together when they hit mile 3 and as I was crossing mile 9, and I saw Nicole 1 mile later when I passed 10 – she was happy as a lark and full of energy!
With less than a mile to go, I looked down at my watch and saw I was going to set a new record for myself as long as I didn’t break a leg between now and the finish. The final climb to the finishers chute was taxing on my legs, and I slowed to a walk for the last part of it before picking back up a strong pace and rolling into the final turn. My Rick was there cheering loudly, and I pointed to him as I charged for the finish line. I felt darn good and was going to finish strong!
Run – 2:01:24.40 (9:16/mi)
Overall Time – 5:42:22.02 (96th overall, 19th overall female, 3rd in age group out of 26) — and an 11 minute PR for this distance!
I got my medal, grabbed a water, and immediately found Rick for a hug. I gathered all of my gear, and Rick helped me to bring it all to the car to get loaded while I changed into my post race clothes. The two of us basked in the sun while we waited for our friends to finish – Rick and Julie came through the chute about an hour after I did, with Nicole being about an hour after them. I was so proud of my friends!!
Age group awards went 5 deep in every division, and I got a cute little plaque to signify my award!
All in all this was a great race – yes. the water was frigid, but the RD’s can’t control that aspect. I could tell the bike course was well thought out and planned well, and the run course was scenic and had great aid along the way. The post race food was great (BBQ pulled pork with all the fixin’s and sides), there was a local PT there doing post race stretching, and the weather was perfect. In a nutshell, I would do this race again in a heartbeat!