This time, it was personal.
See, last year, I signed up for the bike leg of Rocketman and failed to complete it when my bike broke. Then this year, I lost my Olympic virginity at Renaissance Man with a disappointing time. I was highly motivated to finish this year’s Rocketman well… so I did.
Pre-race and setup
Rocketman is legendary for being well-organized, so I expected all the race logistics stuff to go smoothly, and it did. This was the first year on a new course, after many years of doing the race at Redstone Arsenal, but the race director did a great job of posting the course maps early, marking the course, and generally communicating what the changes would be. Matt and I went to Fleet Feet on Saturday, grabbed my race number and swag bag, and then headed home so I could pack.
That looks like a lot of stuff, and it is. At the bottom, you can see my race number (attached to my Fitletic race belt), watch and heart rate monitor, and Garmin bike camera. My ancient iPhone is running the Wahoo Fitness app so I can watch my heart rate, cadence, and power on the bike; then there are two pairs of (large) shoes, my helmet and swim cap, and 3 water bottles. Not shown: all the stuff I normally take to eat and drink during the race. (Hint: it wasn’t shown for a good reason!)
I packed my bag, loaded the bike on the car, and went to bed. When I woke up, a scant 5 hours later, it wasn’t because my alarm went off. It was because the cat was burrowing under the covers because of the thunderstorm outside. Not a good sign.
I was a little apprehensive about the weather when I went to bed, with good reason. The picture above shows the radar picture as I was loading the car; what it doesn’t show is that the line of storms was moving directly towards the race site. I loaded up and headed out to the race site in heavy rain, not a little wind, and occasional lightning– and it was getting worse the closer I got to Ditto Landing. Luckily, by the time I got there, it was only raining, but the damage had been done (at least to the parking area, which was thoroughly inundated and had turned into a swampy, muddy mess).
While driving, I had my usual shake (50g Karbolyn + a scoop of vanilla protein), at which point I realized that I didn’t pack all the nutrition stuff I meant to bring. Alas. I had mixed up a batch of Mercury and then frozen it in my run and bike bottles, but didn’t bring any gels, waffles, or (my current favorite) Uncrustables.
I picked up my timing chip and got my body marked, then learned that there was a 30-minute delay. This gave me enough time to brave the bathroom line and get everything set up in transition. Because it was overcast, I decided to leave my sunglasses in my transition bag, but stupidly put my eyeglasses in there too. They chased us out of transition and over to the swim start, where two long ramps (probably 25′ or so) were set up to get us into the water. This was a great alternative to picking our way down the rocks on the shore or jumping feet-first off the nearby dock (also about 20-25′ above the water), the other two choices. The race organizers thoughtfully put carpet down on the ramps to make them less slippery. Then… it was time to wait, and wait, and WAIT because I was in swim wave 6. Luckily there were plenty of familiar faces around, including friends from both last year’s Tri101 and this year’s Tri201. One of my favorite things about triathlons is the huge and welcoming tri community in Huntsville, so I always enjoy seeing my posse at local events.
The swim was just OK. I got down the slide with no trouble, then waited near the start line for a wave start. The water was warmer than I expected (and warmer than the air!), which was nice. I didn’t especially like having to tread water while waiting for the start, though, as I worried that it would tire me– I need to work on more efficient treading. The swim itself went pretty much just like the RenMan swim did; I maintained a steady pace, didn’t swim exactly a straight line, and finished with 1646 yards (on a 1500m course, that means I swam about an extra 6 yards– not too bad) in a little over 41 minutes. This was a bit disappointing since I had been breaking the 2:00/100y pace barrier in the pool. However, I finished the swim with plenty of energy, which is always a plus. I feel like I could do the half-Ironman swim distance at this same pace and still be capable of continuing the race.
It had stopped raining before the swim start, but I knew the roads would be wet so I had planned to be conservative on the bike. I got a good start out of T1 (despite having to go grab my eyeglasses out of my transition bag); I had a dose of Chocolate Outrage (that’s a Gu flavor, not a philosophy), saddled up, and rode out. At the halfway point, I was just under my PR time for the 40K distance, so I figured I would come in close to a PR time.. but either the ride was longer than I thought, my math skills are poor, or I inadvertently lessened my effort because I was still about 10 minutes over that time. I finished the bike in 1:38, which kinda sucks. I know I can do better than this. Speeding up my ride is going to be my primary focus going into my next race, I think.
T2 went quickly. I couldn’t find my second Gu, and I didn’t have anything else to eat, so I just swapped out my shoes, put on my 2014 Rocketman visor, and hit the run.
The run was my big success for this race. I ran the 10K course in about 1:01, which is (it’s true) 5 min off my PR for a standalone 10K but almost a 9-minute improvement over my Ren Man time. The cool weather definitely helped; we had a bit of drizzle on the outbound leg, which was a nice addition. The course was flat and fast, although by about mile 4 my legs were pretty tired. On the last half-mile or so I went as fast as I could, so my finish line crossing was more of a shamble.
The post-race setup was decent and pretty standard for races in Huntsville: free pizza, fruit, and a welcome tent set up by Fleet Feet for the Tri201 program participants. However, I have a major gripe: race entrants were promised two free Rocket Republic beers, and by the time I finished there was no more beer. After motivating myself with the thought of a tasty brew at the finish, this was a major disappointment. I did, however, get one of the coveted finisher glasses, plus a nice glass from the Tri201 coaches.
One of the things I most enjoyed about this race is that the announcer stayed on station and called out the name of every finisher. Hearing “Paul Robichaux…. from Madison, Alabama… YOU. ARE. A. ROCKETMAN!” was pretty thrilling. My gun time was 3:30:09, so nearly 10min better than Renaissance Man but still a good ways off from my goal time. Still, it’s only my second Olympic-distance race so I have a lot of potential for improvement.