I have been racing tri for nearly 7 years now and thought I had learned just about everything about race preparation, tactics, and fueling. My results over the last two seasons have been very satisfying, with USAT rankings steadily trending upward. However, sometimes success breeds complacency and lessons forgotten must be relearned. I had a good race at the 1st Toughman Indiana in favorable conditions a year ago. The lesson from this 2nd edition was to respect the heat or it will bite.
I began the race near the end of the line for the time trial swim start. My swim felt solid and I passed a lot of people in the water, but I transitioned to the bike with a pretty high heart rate. It took almost half of the 56-mile ride to settle down and I wondered if I pushed too hard on the swim. However, my swim split was more than 5 minutes slower than it was last year. Perhaps my swim fitness is lagging, but I suspect the course was longer as the entire field was generally slower in the swim.
I knew it was going to be a hot day, with full sunshine for the entire race. I had only logged one day of training in the heat this season. Still, I had hoped to do as well as I had done last year, or at least to go under 5 hours. Long course triathlons are almost always won or lost on the run. I thought a good target on the bike would be to match my power output from last year's race. I did just that, but cramps crept into my right leg about 3/4 the way through. It didn't help that I dropped a salt capsule on the road. In hindsight, I probably should have backed off about 10-15 watts out of respect for the heat. In these conditions, what worked last year felt too much like racing. Success came in my first two half iron tris by NOT racing until the second half of the run.
The 2-lap half marathon course was the same as last year's, but they reversed the direction from counterclockwise to clockwise. This was a particularly sinister change because it put a grueling 1/2 mile climb at miles 5.5 and 11. This year, the first part of the course was flat. I felt good and cruised through the first 3 miles. The cramps resumed shortly thereafter. I finished the last of my remaining salt capsules and took a double dose of Gatorade at every aid station that offered it, but my response was too little, too late. I wanted to increase the pace on the second lap, but my heart rate was running high and cramps returned for good at about mile 7. I tried to stretch at mile 9, but my right leg locked up completely and I was forced to alternate between jogging and walking to the finish.
I stopped the clock at 5:05, or about 12 minutes slower than last year's effort, with 8 extra minutes piling up in the run. It was good for 17th of 150 total and 4th of 17 in my age group. I know I could have done better with more heat training and smarter tactics, but I think I will be prepared for success in my next race - once I recover from this one!