Two Triathlons in One Weekend? Why not?

So, this past weekend, I did something I’ve never done before. I did back to back triathlons on subsequent days.  It started bright and earlyon Saturday, Sept 16th, 2017 with the Outer Banks Half Iron Triathlon. This was my 9th career half iron triathlon since I did my first one in October of 2014. I had done the Outer Banks Olympic Triathlon back in September of 2013 but hadn’t been back to the race since then. What I remember the most about that Olympic distance race was getting a face full of boat gas early on in the swim and then swimming the rest of the course with my head out of the water since I didn’t want that to happen again. I also remember having both legs cramp just as I saw the finish line. I hoped neither would happen this time around.

When I picked up my packet on Friday, they had me look up my race bib # first.  When I saw what number I had been assigned my mouth literally dropped.  I had bib #2! This is a number that I normally associate with professional triathletes but there weren’t any professionals at this race so they used the lower bib numbers for those of us doing the challenge of two races in two days.  Those of us doing the half and sprint combination had single digit numbers while those doing the Olympic and sprint combination had double digit numbers below 50.  Regardless, it’s an awesome number to have.

One of the nice things about having such a low number was that my bike position was right next to the swim entrance and run exit. I set up my transition on race morning, said hi to my friend Sarah, and then went down to get in a warmup swim before we started.  The swim is in the Croatan Sound from the island of Roanoke in the Outer Banks. The water is brackish and race morning it was not calm at all.  I got a bit of a swim in and then waited for the race to start.  Once the race started, I could definitely tell that I had progressed a lot since my last time here.  When I did the 1500m Olympic swim in 2013 I think I visited every single SUP.  This time, I did the entire 1.2 mile swim without stopping. The water was extremely choppy and I did end up swimming through a section of boat gas (although, not as bad as back in 2013) but I kept going.  My swim time ended up being 15 minutes longer than my swim at the Mont-Tremblant 70.3 back in June.  A significant portion of that can be attributed to the fact that I didn’t wear a wetsuit for this race and I did in Mont-Tremblant, but I don’t think that can explain the difference entirely. Instead, I think it’s a combination of being less prepared for this race (since I took a long time off after I broke my jaw in late June) and the choppy water.  Either way, though, I finished the swim in 55:04 and headed up to transition.

Transition 1 took perhaps a bit longer than I had hoped, but I made sure to dry off a bit and put on socks before putting on my bikes shoes, glasses, gloves, helmet and sweat band for under the helmet (because with the visor on my Giro Aerohead I can’t actually wipe any sweat off if it starts dripping into my eyes).  I managed all that and grabbed my bike and headed out to bike 56 miles.

Once out on the bike, I finally thought through the entire implications about a big reason why the water was so choppy.  Part of it was the jet skis moving around too much, but a bigger part of it was the wind. Now when on a bike, the wind can either be your biggest friend or worst enemy.  On this course, it would end up being both twice since it was a two loop course.  The bike course heads out from the airport on Roanoke Island and heads to the Manns Harbor Bridge, a 2.7 mile long bridge over the Croatan Sound. Going out on this bridge I was easily hitting 22-24 mph and I realized coming back would be a struggle because I was obviously getting helped by the wind.  At the halfway point of the bridge, there was a volunteer with a USA flag on his truck and the flag was out fully straight from the wind. I crossed over the bridge and then headed to the right for the first part of the mainland portion of the bike. Part of that section had some wind problems but not nearly as much as the bridge since it was partially shielded by the trees.  Coming back on that section at one point I was in some sort of zone where I wasn’t paying attention to anything else except the bike and what was in front of me.  It was at that point that my friend Sarah passed me going the other way and yelled out my name. That was enough to STARTLE me out of my zone and raise my heart rate for a bit! But, it quickly settled down and I finished up that first section and turned right with the rest of the half iron participants (the Olympic participants at that point headed back to transition) for the rest of the half iron course. Thankfully that section was short and I was soon headed back to the bridge to go back in and get ready to start the 2nd loop.  Coming up to the bridge I could tell the wind was going to be a huge problem going back over.  As I got onto the bridge my speed dropped dramatically.  While I had managed 22-24 coming out on the bridge, going back it was all I could do to maintain 13-14 mph!  So, I hunkered down in the aero position and just ground out the miles. Once I got off the bridge the trees gave us some cover and my speed went back up to around 20 mph.  At this point the Olympic participants turn right onto Airport Rd and head back to transition while the half iron participants go past the turn and down for a bit until we turn into a school parking lot and turn around for the 2nd lap.  Because it’s a nice sheltered location, there is an aid station here.  I was using Infinit Nutrition’s Go Far mix on the bike, so I didn’t need anything for nutrition but I wanted to grab a water bottle to squirt on me to help lower my temperature.  So, as I rounded the circle for the turn around I grabbed a water bottle and tried to squirt it on me but it didn’t work. Unbelievably, they had apparently neglected to tell the volunteers to remove the extra cap from the top of the water bottle and open them for us! I was a little ticked off but I ended up opening it with my teeth and then pouring about half of it over me. Not ideal but better than nothing. The second lap of the bike was about the same as the first — fast on the way out, long while on the mainland, and then slow as could be coming back across the bridge.  But, I finally finished and headed back on Airport Rd towards transition.  As I got close to the bike dismount I slipped my feet out of the bike shoes and prepared to get off the bike.  I still need to learn how to do a flying dismount, so I simply stopped at the bike dismount and got off the bike and ran it into transition.  Total bike time was 3:06:05 for an average speed of 17.6 mph.

In transition 2 I parked my bike, pulled off my helmet, sweat band, and gloves and then put on some more sunscreen before putting on my running shoes, visor, race belt with number bib and Camelbak loaded with 3 hours worth of Infinit Nutrition’s Jet Fuel before heading out on the run. Total time in transition 2 was 2:46.

The run is an out and back through Manteo. The first mile winds it’s way through the airport on a pretty horrible broken pavement with grass surface. The next couple of miles wind through the town before finally getting onto a greenway for the remaining 3 miles of the out and back course. That means that the first 3 miles and the last 3 miles of the run have basically no shade at all.  And, since at this point it was around 11:30am it was starting to get hot.  I started out at around 11 min/mi which is about the pace I was aiming for on the run.  But, the heat started taking it’s tole and my pace started slowing down at some point.  I managed to run for the first 6 miles and then started walking the aid stations.  Every single aid station I would grab 2 cups of cold water and pour them over my head. This really helped to keep my body temperature from rising precipitously.  And, since I learned my lesson last fall at Ironman Chattanooga about stopping something I made it a point to make sure I did that at every single aid station.  It really worked and although my run wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be, I never felt really horrible or cramped up.  Final run time was 2:37:55.

Total time for the entire half iron ended up being 6:45:28 which is not really one of my better efforts but considering the conditions I’ll take it.  I spent about 30 minutes or more laying down at the finish and then as I was about to go look for pizza I saw the race results terminals and so on a lark decided to check my official results. When I saw my division ranking, I almost fell over. Apparently I managed to get 2nd in my age group! This is only the 3rd time ever I’ve made it on the podium and needless to say it was quite unexpected. But, I went over and collected my age group prize which was a nice silver pin that said “Age Group” to go onto the ribbon of my finisher medal. (1st AG was a gold pin and 3rd AG was a bronze pin.) I then got pizza and was disappointed there were no soft drinks at all unless I wanted to buy one. Since my wallet was at least a half mile away in my car, that didn’t happen.

After the race I packed up all my stuff and headed back to the hotel. I had thought about going out and getting lunch but instead I ended up dozing a bit before Sarah called about dinner plans. I grabbed a much needed shower and headed out to meet Sarah, Allison and Marianne for dinner at Trios in Nags Head. I had some fabulous manicotti and an interesting mango and habeñero hard cider for dinner. I had a great time talking with my friends and finally headed back to get to sleep so I could get up early for the race the next day. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped by Kill Devil Custard and Beach Fries and got a coconut cream malted shake.  Once back at the hotel, I worked on cleaning my bottles, laying out my clothes for the next day and drying out my running and biking shoes which were completely soaked even though they had been sitting on the AC vent for about 8 hours after the race! Thanks to a suggestion from my wife, I ended up using the hotel room’s hair dryer to dry my shoes and that worked well enough for me to pack them up for the race the next day.

The next morning again came very early. But, the weather looked like it would be much better for a race as long as the rain would hold off. I packed everything up in the car since I didn’t plan to come back to the hotel and headed off to the race.

I set my bike up again and decided not to worry about a warm up swim this time. The swim would be short enough that it wouldn’t really matter. The swim on Sunday turned out to be better than the swim on Saturday. Comparing my times, I was 15+ seconds/100 yards faster on Sunday and I’m sure most of that can be attributed to calmer water. I came out of the water feeling pretty good. Total swim time was 20:07.

Transition 1 for the sprint went faster but not as fast as I thought it could be. The one thing that was different from the day before was that I didn’t bother with wearing gloves for the sprint. Total T1 time was 3:05.

The sprint bike went out on the bridge just like the day before but then turned right around at about a half mile past the end of the bridge and came right back.  I was pushing more for the sprint (going for 100% effort for the sprint while for the half the day before I was aiming more towards 80%) so even though the wind was about the same as the day before I was faster on both the out and the back.  Going out I was averaging about 25 mph and that was a really awesome feeling.  Coming back, because I was pushing harder than the previous day, I managed about 15-16mph.  The thing I noticed the most about the bike was that it was over so soon compared to the previous day! Total bike time was 39:16 for a 19.6 mph bike average speed.

I pulled my feet out of the shoes again before dismounting the bike and this time around I ran the bike into transition as fast as I could. I wasn’t carrying my own water for the sprint so I just put on my running shoes and race bib belt and grabbed my hat before heading out for the run. Total time in transition 2 was 1:09.

The advice I’ve been given on race pacing for a sprint triathlon is to go out at 80% effort on the swim, hammer the bike as hard as you possibly can and then hold on on the run until you hear the crowd at the finish line and use that to propel you to the end.  So, I headed out on the run going as fast as I could.  Unlike the previous week at the White Lake Fall Sprint where I managed sub-9 minute miles for the run, today I could only manage 9-10 minute miles. But, thankfully the run was short and I was soon headed back.  Bib #1 was also in my age group and although I had managed to pass him on the bike he passed me at about 1.25 miles into the run.  I was determined, however, to try to not let anyone else in my age group pass me.  So, at the final aid station at 3 miles, 0.1 miles from the finish when I saw someone with a 46 for their age on their leg go past me I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen. So, I ended up taking off, passing him back and sprinting as fast as I possibly could to the finish line! I’m pretty sure I found my lactate threshold at that point since I was having trouble getting enough air.  But, once I crossed the finish line, I was able to just lay down for a couple of minutes on the grass and then I was ok.  Total time for the 5K run was 28:56 for a total race time of 1:32:36.

I grabbed my sprint triathlon medal and then the medal for doing the challenge and headed off to see what food there was. Instead of pizza, they had breakfast burritos of either ham, egg, and cheese or just egg and cheese. Since I don’t eat ham, I grabbed an egg and cheese and then went to transition, grabbed my wallet and came back to buy a coke.  I had the burrito and it was so good I went back for a second.  I checked my placing for the sprint race and it said I was 8th.  Looking later online it said I ended up 9th so not sure what was up there.  But, either way I hadn’t expected much so I wasn’t disappointed.  I ended up changing clothes in the parking lot using some beach towels to provide a private changing area and then headed out for lunch before heading home.  I stopped by Big Al’s Soda Fountain & Grill for dinner and had a mushroom swiss vege-burger and a butter beer milkshake.  After lunch, I was going to head home but because I was feeling a bit sleepy, not surprising after getting up at around 5am for the past two days, I stopped by the rest area just before leaving Manteo and dozed for a half hour or so before heading home.

All in all it was a good weekend.  I’m not sure I would do the half/sprint challenge combination again, but I might try the olympic/sprint challenge.  It would have to wait until at least 2019, though, because for 2018 the plan is to do the Augusta 70.3 which will likely be the very next weekend. But, if you’re looking for a good, independent triathlon race you could do a lot worse than the Outer Banks Half, Olympic or Sprint triathlons.

I’ve got the YMCA Wrightsville Beach Sprint triathlon coming up next weekend and am using that as a preview of the 2nd half of the swim for the NC 70.3 coming up in 5 weeks. The NC 70.3 will be my last triathlon for the season and my 10th career triathlon overall. It will be nice to have it as the 10th as it was my first 70.3 back when it was Beach2Battleship. Here’s hoping I can better my time from that very first race.