I did this race as a warm-up for Ironman Texas in May (there aren’t a lot of triathlons within driving distance of Maryland before late April). I drove down to Key West over three days, arriving on Thursday morning with very sore legs. I went for a run when I arrived and felt awful, suggesting that over 20 hours of driving wasn’t the best pre-race preparation. I had a massage Thursday afternoon and went for a swim on Friday morning, after which I felt decent but my legs still felt achy and tired. I decided to skip a bike ride in favor of a ride in a 1941 airplane over Key West. I went to the race briefing at noon and racked my bike in the afternoon before the race’s pasta dinner. I didn’t sleep well the night before the race, worrying about all sorts of things… most importantly with transition being 1.5 miles from the finish (where I’d leave the car), how on earth would I get my car keys to the finish (no drop bags provided).
Race morning was warm and humid. The power steering in the car kindly died just a mile or so before I got to the finish area, so I was able to park the car and get on the bus to transition. Knowing I wasn’t going to be able to drive anywhere after the race wasn’t the best way to start the day!
At transition, I laid out my gear and ate breakfast. I met some people I knew from Maryland who were racing and we rode the trolley to the swim start together. The full Ironman swim started a bit late to allow the sun to rise, which meant the half start was also delayed. My start wave wasn’t until 8:25. The wind was blowing pretty hard already, and the sea looked very choppy. I went in for a warm up swim and remembered why I hate sea swims (this was only the 3rd time I’ve ever swum in the sea and the other two were fairly sheltered bays in NZ). The water was full of seaweed and other debris (not garbage, but still yucky). The water at least was warm (75F), and I was happy to be wearing my sleeveless wetsuit.
Swim: 33:14 (avg 1:45/100 m)
This was a very slow swim for me. I was hoping to go under 30, but given the conditions, 4-6 foot swells/waves and having to walk out a long way before the water was deep enough to swim, I think I did ok. I passed a lot of people from the earlier waves of the swim and I was 6th fastest woman overall for the swim. Everyone agreed that the conditions were pretty miserable out there and I hope I never swim in seas like that again. Plus, I really hate salt water!
There were people to help us take off our wetsuits on the way to transition, which is a pretty odd setup to me. My wetsuit came off easily, and I ran to my bike, put on my socks and shoes and helmet and gloves and sunnies and CamelBak and was off. This was by far my fastest half ironman transition ever… probably helped that I didn’t have to put on lots of extra clothes to keep warm.
Bike: 3:06:08 (avg. 18 mph/28.9 kmph) (27th woman overall)
This was by far my fastest bike split for a half ironman (best previous was 3:15). The bike route was out Rt 1, the only road in and out of Key West, and the road wasn’t closed to traffic. I was worried about that ahead of time, but traffic turned out not to be much of a bother. What was a bother was the nasty 20-ish mph headwind out to the turn around. Fortunately, there was a lovely 20-ish mph tail wind on the way back to make up for it. I felt better on the bike than I ever have and was able to push pretty hard on the way back to take advantage of the wind. It also didn’t hurt that the course was pancake flat except for a few bridges. I even passed people, which is a very rare thing for me on the bike.
Another fast transition even though I wasn’t hurrying. I took off all of my bike stuff, put on my running shorts (with the car key in the pocket) and running shoes and took off.
Run: 2:08:19 (6:04 min/km) (19th woman overall)
This was my fastest half ironman run split ever. Still way slower than my half-marathon-on-its-own time though, so I need to work on how to run faster off the bike. My legs felt heavy and tired for the first few miles. The course was along S. Roosevelt Street, which has a very nice wide sidewalk. There were two laps of that part and then a 5k run through town to the finish. Most of the two lap part of the run was out in the sun, and I dumped heaps of water on my head to keep cool. My legs felt better in the middle of the run and I was even able to speed up a little bit at some points. The last 1.5 miles through town (after passing the finish and realizing I had to keep going) were the absolute worst. People in the way on the sidewalk, cars flying in the street and my legs screaming to stop running. I was very proud to have run all but maybe 100m of the entire run.
Overall time 5:52:18 and 2nd in my age group, 15th woman overall. This was my PB for a half ironman by 16 minutes and my first half ironman podium (also very unexpected).
For an inaugural race, this was very well run. The volunteers and police along the bike and run route were not only enthusiastic supporters but looked after the competitors very well. The aid stations on the run were well stocked and on the ball handing out water. I liked the idea of the plastic tubes of water, but they tasted awful (apparently like very cheap plastic). The course was well marked and differences between Iron and half iron were very well sign posted and very clear. Given the travel issues and how expensive Key West is, I’m not sure I’d do it again, but based just on the race itself, I probably would (the entry fee was pretty low for a half ironman). Also, I’m convinced that without the rough seas and wind on the bike, I can go even faster, which makes me want to have another go at it!
As a footnote… the car was finally fixed on Wednesday around 11:30 am and I drove home in two long days (9 and 10.5 hours with an 8 hour break to sleep in between). Given the weather in Maryland, I’m kind of glad to have had the extra two days in Key West.