Summary: my first 70.3 showed me that I have a lot to learn about longer-distance racing.
Friday: flying and murder
The boys and I left Decatur on schedule and had a perfectly uneventful flight to New Orleans Lakefront, where the reported weather was 900′ ceilings with 2mi visibility and gusty winds. Sure enough, I got to hand-fly the ILS 18R approach with winds from 100° at 15-25 knots. Fun times. We landed and were met at the FBO by my mom and uncle, who had driven over from Alexandria. The FBO had arranged a rental Dodge Challenger for me (much nicer than I expected) so we convoyed over to our Airbnb rental in New Orleans East.
After a delicious dinner at The Joint, Tom and I went in search of an asthma inhaler for him. When we came back, we saw a huge array of police cars and ambulances blocking off the entrance to our street. Turns out two men had been killed and a third shot at a nearby business; one of the victims ran onto “our” street before expiring, thus all the police attention. That was a bit disconcerting but it explained the rental home’s window bars, security cameras, and alarm system.
First thing in the morning I went for a short shakeout run around the neighborhood, then we set out to go sightseeing– we hit the French Quarter, Café du Monde, and the excellent New Orleans Museum of Art, which I’d somehow missed in all of my prior trips. They had just added a Vera Lutter exhibition, which was really striking, plus they had two new exhibitions of folk art that we quite enjoyed. Tom and I went to get me checked in at the race hotel, where we also attended the athlete briefing. Lunch was at Deanies‘ on Iberville (fried shrimp poboy, the ideal pre-race meal) and I honestly don’t remember what dinner was. One highlight from the day was seeing this:
because why wouldn’t you do that if you were getting married?
After a quick trip home to grab my bike, I dropped it off in transition and shot this quick video of the water conditions– very similar to what I saw Sunday morning.
Pro tip #1: go to the race expo earlier in the day, not at the last minute, as much of the goods for sale are already well picked over by that time. I honestly don’t remember what we had for dinner. I mixed up all my race nutrition, double-checked my gear, and went to bed about 10p.
Race day: pregame
I got up about 430, loaded up all my stuff-n-junk, and headed over to the venue. Traffic was a bit of a challenge because of the road layout; there are two narrow, parallel, unconnected roads that front the marina and airport, so getting between them can be a bit difficult. I had plenty of time, though, so I was able to get in and get set up without having to rush.
The swim start was delayed about 20 minutes because the support team had to go move the swim buoys (or “nachos”) back to their assigned location. That’s because the wind was about 20mph, with occasional gusts higher. The diagram below tells the tale (see the wind indicator in the upper right corner?) My sighting skills are not great, and with the chop in the water I had a hell of a time keeping on course. I ended up swimming 2700 yards in almost exactly an hour (I think it was 1:00:07 or something). That was a 2:10/100 pace, which would have given me my “A” goal time for the swim. I just swam too much. So, lesson #1 from this race: swim more in choppy water. Lesson #2: practice sighting more. (These will both be hard because there aren’t many OWS location near me at all, much less ones with chop.)
One note: there was a table at swim start where you could leave eyeglasses for pickup. I was told, by the race announcer no less, that glasses would be available in transition. (More on this later.)
In T1, the plan was for me to grab a Stinger waffle, drink some Karbolyn, and be on my way. I was a little discombobulated after the swim so I took my time to make sure I didn’t forget anything for my bike setup… in the end, I forgot to turn on my new bike computer AND I had a nearly 10-minute T1 time. So definitely some room for improvement here. (Oh yeah, I also left the waffles at home so no waffle for me.)
Omitting all the boring details, in the last 3 weeks I ended up with a new bike frame, a new Redshift seatpost, a new saddle (since the old one didn’t fit the seatpost), and a new Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer. I’d had a couple of short shakeout rides but this was going to be the real test. The wind was from the east (almost 90°, in fact) and the course had us go out for a short western section, then a sharp U-turn and a run out to the turnaround point. I got hit by a gust in the U-turn that nearly knocked me over– that’s how I knew this was going to be a fun one.
My strategy was to try to hold about 80% FTP for the bike. I mostly did, although I had some bursts where I had to go over to keep moving– making 200+ watts just to go 8mph, wobbling, wasn’t my favorite. Because I hadn’t had much time on this setup, I found that about mile 25 I was getting cramps in my abdomen, like you do when you do too many crunches or sit-ups, from being in aero position. There was nothing I could do about it except say “ouch” and keep on trucking. I am a big believer in “nothing new on race day” but I think I might extend that to be “nothing new during race month”. I wish I’d had the bike changes made earlier so I could have had more time to get used to them. I was pretty tired by about mile 35 and was just trying to hang on and ride the tailwind. The bike leg took me 3:53:21. I was aiming for 3:15 or better, so this was a bit of a disappointment but I just couldn’t go any faster on the outbound.
One thing I did differently on this ride was to use Clif Shot Blocks on the bike, along with my normal Mercury. These gave me zero issues, and I had an assortment of flavors available. Some of the bike and run aid stations had them as well, which was nice.
Speaking of aid: this was the first race I’ve done that had a bike bottle exchange. For some reason I thought the drinks would be packaged in bike bottles but they were in original packaging. I purposely brought two crappy old bottles for the ride, figuring they’d get discarded; I ended up keeping one. For future reference I’ll just get a Gatorade or water bottle that fits my cage and leave “my” bottles at home.
Special note: see that wind icon in the picture below? It’s a damn lie. The wind report at Lakefront was 25kts gusting 30, and there were some spots (like right by the Textron plant at mile 20) where it was a direct headwind with gusts that had to be above that, coming right off the water.
Nothing special here– a bit more sunscreen, slap on my lucky Rocketman visor (it came from the only race I ever DNF’d), and out I went.
The run was miserable. For the outbound leg, I had a tailwind but I was still cramp-y from aero on the bike. As that dissipated, I suddenly grew a golf-ball-sized knot in my right quad– the first race cramp I’ve ever had. A kind passerby gave me some Base salt, which worked like a Harry Potter potion– it knocked the cramp out in about 90 seconds. (Key learning: get some of this and keep it handy!) I was just slow through the turnaround, and then I was fighting the wind all the way back. I ended up run/walking almost the entire return leg. My run time was an undistinguished 2:47:53. If I hadn’t had such a bike adventure, I think I could cut 15-20 minutes off that time.
I crossed the line at a good clip but completely missed hearing my name– the announcer called names when runners entered the chute, and I just missed it. I reunited with Dan, Mom, and the boys, walked around a bit, and then hit the gear shop to get a hoodie and some other swag. Unfortunately, I got to the athlete’s tent at 4:15p and there was no food. This really pissed me off. It didn’t help that my glasses were gone! Instead of having them in transition, they were at a table at swim exit, which I didn’t know. They packed up the swim exit stuff about 11am, so my glasses went off to some warehouse somewhere. Very important learning: next time I’ll either put my glasses in a case with my name, race number, etc. or just leave the damn things in transition and deal with having to squint my way through swim start.
When we got back to the rental home, we found that the wind has dislodged one of the two electrical feeds from the pole, so we only had power in half the house. Surprise! After a long, hot shower, I packed everything up and we headed back to the airport.
The flight home was delightful– a little overcast around 2500′ leaving KNEW, but virtually no one on the radio, no traffic, and clear skies all the way home. The wind was still at 90° so I wanted to use runway 9, but some of the taxiways leading to it were flooded so I elected to use 18R instead. Another 2.5 hours of night time in the books.
I crossed the line at 7:58:28, good for 133rd in my age group. There were 191 registered, and I think 137 or so finished. On one hand, running an 8-hour 70.3 is not really what I’d dreamed of. On the other hand, I spoke to multiple athletes who ran the same race last year and had times as much as an hour faster than this year, and I put in a solid effort, and I finished— so I hit my goals for this race. I’ve learned some things about longer-course races that will help me in future events, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to start my 70.3 career like this.