Grand Rapids Triathlon Half-Ironman Race Report by Kevin Neumann

Kevin Neumann is a member of the League of Extraordinary Tri-Geeks.  He has a great sense of humor and is always helpful with training and racing.  When you think all-around Kevin's name should come to mind.  If he isn't going out on 4 hour bike rides, or helping folks with conversions from Blogger to WordPress he is working hard at his part-time job (I say that because triathlon is full-time) and helping his wife Jennifer around the house.  So when I think of defining somebody as all-around this is what I think of. Kevin recently raced the inaugural Grand Rapids Half-Ironman and he did amazing.  His race was spot on and well I will just let him tell you..... ====================

If I had to describe this race in one word. Epic. First off, what do all these pictures havI’m SMILING! Yes, I know that last one of is of my backside (pretty good looking though am I right?), but trust me, there is an absolutely HUGE SMILE on my face. Why? Because I had the race of a lifetime. If you just want the quick review, here it is.  4:58:14 for a whopping 31:07 PR and my first time breaking the 5 hour barrier!  I had a swim PR (31:11), a bike PR (2:32:53) although 1:42 of that was stopped waiting for a train, and a run PR (1:48:48).  The run PR wasn’t my fastest ever half marathon, but the fastest I have logged in a half IM.  I ended up 4 out of 24 in my age group 24 out of 261 overall and could not be more pleased.  It was an absolutely perfect day for a race and I executed my plan perfectly.  My bike was about 10 minutes faster than I planned and my run was about 10 minutes slower, but given the opportunity to do it over, I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, if you are still reading, that must mean you want to hear the detailed version.  That, or you want to at least see all the pictures.  It’s going to be a long one because this was the first year for this race and I want to capture as much information about the race in general for the future.  Sit back, grab a cold one, and enjoy.

Pre-Race

The packet pickup and expo was on Saturday with no race day pickup.  Side note: I sort of wonder how the guy who parked next to us on race morning fared as he asked his buddy where he could get his race number.  The same guy was trying to find scissors so he could remove his brand new helmet from the box. Must not have been a boy scout. Any ways, the expo was at a car dealership of all places – one of the sponsors.  Sadly, they were not giving away cars in the swag bags.  It was a pretty small expo with only 3 or 4 vendors, but it was very well organized and totally streamlined.  Like an assembly line, I checked in, got body marked (not a good idea, more later), got my timing chip, got my swag bag, and then got my t-shirt.  Quick and easy.  The volunteers were super friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.  There wasn’t much to see so we left after getting my stuff. Backing up a bit.  As we got out of the car at the expo, I was no more than 20 feet from the car when a guy yells, “Hey, I love your blog!”  I ended up talking to the guy for a bit.  He has apparently been following my blog for a while and recognized me.  If you are out there Randy, it was nice meeting you and I hope you had a great race.  It is so freaking cool to meet someone simply because of this little old blog. After the expo, we went home to relax it bit.  It was bloody hot/humid on Saturday and it was one of those days where we just wanted to sit and do nothing.  Which, in a sense, is perfect for pre-race day.  However, I was really worried that we would have the same weather on Sunday.  We didn’t.  I also had some, ummm… “digestive issues” on Saturday as well.  Not good, another thing I was worried about carrying over to Sunday.  Again, it didn’t.  Thankfully I got it all out of my system (quite literally). I did go on an easy 3 mile run with Jennie and Bailey to loosen up the legs and see how much the heat affected me before dinner. We had a nice light dinner – chicken, pasta salad, salad, and Jennie’s homemade ciabatta bread.  I’ll have to remember this meal because it was great pre-race food.  Digested easily and provided good fuel. Later, as I was sitting on the porch, reading my Kindle (on the 3rd book in the Hunger Games trilogy), and relaxing, my buddy Rob rolled up on his bike.  Rob is another guy I met because of this blog.  He was out downtown for the Festival of the Arts and stopped by on his way home.  It was great to chat with him.  Hopefully we’ll get to do some training together this summer once his class is out for the summer. We ended up hitting the hay shortly after that so I could get a goods nice rest. When we woke up, I saw this:  Yep, that is my body marking.  All over the pillow case.  And all over the sheets as well.  Pre-race body marking – bad idea.  Lesson learned.

Race Morning

I love a local race! I got to sleep in until 5:15 so I really didn’t have to get up any earlier than I do for my morning swims.  I had loaded up my bike and gear the previous evening so all I had to do was get dressed, grab breakfast, and fill up my bottles.  Breakfast was eggs with peppers, cheese, and salsa with toast and jam on the side.  After recently discovering salsa on eggs and now I don’t think I can ever go back.  Life changing.  I know, sort of spicy for a pre-race meal with salsa and peppers, but I’d tried this before my brick workouts and my long bike rides so I knew it worked and doesn’t give me any issues. We headed out at 6:00 as planned and got to the race site at 6:15.  Parking was my biggest concern because there really isn’t any “on site” parking.  All the parking would be a about a mile away.  They did have a gear drop off spot close to transition and a trolley going around to all the parking lots.  We decided to just find a spot, unload, and hoof it.  After loading up my bike with my nutrition and checking my tires one more time, I jumped on my bike and headed over to transition to get setup.  The transition area was LLLLOOONNNNGGGGG.  It was on a two lane road with the reservoir on one side and a ditch on the other so there was only room for one bike rack (for 8 bikes each) on each side of the road and a very narrow path down the middle.  I found my rack quickly.  I love having pre-assigned racks.  Makes race morning so much less stressful.  I was actually the 2nd to last person on my rack and there was still plenty of room.  One weird thing about the racks was that they were very tall.  They were the ones where you hang your bike by the saddle.  Well, they were so tall, that no one’s front time reached the ground when hanging by the saddle so the bikes just kept swaying back and forth. I ended up being racked on the rack over from Becky (friend from high school doing her 2nd Half IM). She ended up with an awesome PR as well.  Congrats Becky!  I think we must have been numbered alphabetically again which always puts us close to each other in races.  I need to start meeting more athletes with M, N, O, and P last names as I will probably keep seeing them over and over.  Better to know ahead of time than to find out after the fact. I got my area setup in record time. I swear it gets easier each time.  Even though it was the first race of the season, it has become automatic as to what I have to do and what goes where.  After I was setup, I got my wetsuit on.  Thankfully the tear in it didn’t get any worse and I think it will survive.  In case you missed it, here is what happened to my wetsuit before last weeks OWS.  The tear is on the right calf.  I bought some Seal Cement to try and repair it but I didn’t want to attempt the repair the day before a race.  My only fear is that because the tear is so large it will get worse and travel up the seam.  I’m hoping that I don’t have to replace it though as it is only one season old.  The lesson learned was to always soak the wetsuit in the tub overnight after having it sit all offseason drying out.  I think it was just super dried out and brittle.  Whoops!  While getting my stuff setup, Jennie and I were getting eaten alive by all the mosquitos.  Note to self: always pack bug spray.  Thankfully, as we headed out of transition to the swim start they had a bunch of sunscreen for anyone to use.  Most of the damage was already done though by that time.

Swim

I was in the first swim wave of the day at 7:15.  The half IM swims started out first with the Olympic and sprint racers after that.  I got in the water and swam about a 100 yards or so just to get used to it.  The water was a perfect 68* – much better than the 60* last weekend.  It was a pretty good sized swim wave – maybe 100 athletes or so.  There was basically two options for starting – either up near the shoreline where you could stand or floating by the dock (it really dropped off about 15yds from the shore so standing wasn’t an option there). I chose to float before the start as that is what I’ll be doingin 96 days. All of a sudden, I heard a guy start counting down: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go! Wow! That was quick.  I think he caught a lot of people off guard.  Because I chose to start floating, there was almost no contact at the start because only about 25 of us were floating and the rest were behind us standing.  Unfortunately, this was as close as Jennie could get to the start.  Only athletes were allowed along the shore because there wasn’t a lot of room.  I’m out there somewhere though. I had a bit of contact about 200 yards out.  For some reason some guy kept hitting my feet.  Dude, seriously, go around.  I’m not moving over for you.  He didn’t seem to be getting the message so I gave a couple extra kicks to shake him off and that did the trick.  Didn’t want to kick you, but seriously, if you bump into someone, chances are you are going to keep bumping into them until you change your course.

 Absolutely gorgeous venue for a swim.

Overall, the swim went great.  My sighting was dead on.  I was even able to keep my head down for about 5-7 strokes before popping up to sight because each time I looked I was right where I needed to be.  The swim felt long (I don’t think it was) and my arms were burning the entire second half.  I had already decided that I was going to race today and not train so I told myself to suck it up.  After this, my arms get a break so work hard now. Official time: 31:11 (1:28/100yd) (PR) Grade: A+. My “Best” goal was 33:00 and I crushed that.  To be honest, when I did my goals, I originally had my “Best” goal at 32:00 and felt that was too ambitious.  I was wrong.  Absolutely nothing I would change here.

T1

 My transitions were a bit rough today.  Mainly for 2 reasons.  Number one was because it was the first race of the season and number two was that I was pushing so hard the entire time, my head was getting fuzzy.  I made the mistake (again) of putting something in my jersey pocket before getting on the bike.  As I ran out of transition, out popped my Newtons – had to stop and go back to pick them up. Official time: 2:54 Grade: C. Comparatively, my transition time was pretty midrange, but I just felt like it wasn’t very fluid.

Bike

This is where I shined today.  While my swim and run were both great, the bike is where the magic was.  Right out of the gate, I knew it was going to be a good day.  Absolutely NO WIND PERIOD.  Perfect. Time to fly.  I tried to restrain myself at first to avoid going to hard.  I played leapfrog with one guy a couple times.  As I passed him the third time, he said something to the effect of, “Looks like it is going to be a long day of back and forth.”  That is what he thought, but I had other plans.  BOOM I dropped the hammer and dropped him.  I ended up with a moving average of 22.5 mph – almost a full 2mph faster than at Steelhead last year (20.7mph).  On the way out, I kept mentally fighting myself on whether to go or hold back.  I didn’t want to blow up on the bike, but I felt so damn good.  I ended up changing up my nutrition a bit though.  Instead of Gu Chomps every 40 minutes, I switched to every 30 minutes.  Not always a good idea to change things up on race day, but I was listening to my body and my body wanted more because I was working harder than normal.  I supplemented with Gatorade every 15 minutes.  I had my Aerodrink and 2 extra bottles.  I didn’t like having to carry so much but I hate HEED and that (and water) is all they had on the course. Two quick nutrition tips.  #1 If you have an Aerodrink bottle, tape the top closed – I used electrical tape.  I finally have a way to keep Gatorade from splashing all over the place now.  The downside is that you can’t refill it on the go easily.  I may try this guy’s method next time instead to see if it works as well. #2 If you don’t already have a stem bag for your bike, get one.  I bought a Louis Garneau Gel Box sort of on a whim.  I think I needed $5 more to get free shipping and this was only $10.  Best. Purchase. Ever.  It makes carrying/consuming nutrition so easy. Back to the ride.  I ended up hitting the turn around at 1:16:24 and was feeling great.  Because it was a out and back, I could see the return riders.  I didn’t see the first place rider until about mile 27.5 which meant the leaders only had a mile lead on me.  There was about 15 other riders ahead of me as well.  The turn around was a little slow as it was just a U turn on a two lane road but because it wasn’t at all congested it went smoothly. However, shortly after the turn around, I was cranking away when to my left hear the blaring horn of a train.  I look over my shoulder, see the train, look ahead, see the rail road tracks crossing the road. $@%#! You have to be kidding me. I kicked it up a gear, but quickly realized I wasn’t going to make it.  The guy in front of me jumped the rail even though the lights were flashing (no gates, just lights).  No way I would have cut it as close as he did.  Good thing there wasn’t a USAT marshal around.  I wonder if you would get DQ-ed for that; a penalty for sure. I was the first one to the train and 3 others quickly caught up to me.  I lost the most time at 1:42 according to my Garmin but the worst part was completely losing sight of the leaders and having to start back up after stopping.  My legs took a solid 2 miles before they were back to being pre-stop feeling. While we were stopped, one guy jokingly (or so I thought) said that we should just pace-line until we catch the group.  Yeah, turned out he wasn’t joking.  He immediately latched onto a guy’s wheel and continued latching onto wheels for most of the rest of the race.  No one else was up for it and kept our 5 bike lengths between us.  Train or no train, play by the rules.  #909, you are a cheater.  Plain and simple.  He ended up winning my age group which just pisses me off even more. Other than that, the return trip was pretty uneventful.  We caught up to the Olympic bike riders at their turn around so I knew we only had 12 miles to go.  At 2 hours, I was scheduled for 4 more Gu Chomps.  My stomach wanted nothing of it though.  I was full.  That is a first.  Never felt full during a race before.  So, I decided to hold off.  Instead, I waited until about 2:15 and had 2 Chomps and then had the remaining 2 at about 2:25.  It turned out to be a great decision. With 2 miles left on the bike, I eased up on the gearing and soft pedaled in to prep my legs for the run.  This one thing I have been working on during my brick workouts and it seems to really help transition over to the run.  Unfortunately, my cadence sensor got bumped at some point so I was without that the entire ride.  I just had to go by feel.  Despite easing up on the last couple of times, I ended up negative splitting the bike (based on my Garmin data).  1:16:XX on the out and 1:14:XX on the back.  This makes sense because the big hills were on the out.  Even so, with my fear of going out to fast, I am glad I could maintain the pace from start to finish. Official: 2:32:53 (22mph) Garmin: 2:30:43 (Damn train) (22.5mph) – Course measured .6 miles long Grade: A+.  Again, I couldn’t be happier with how this went.  I can’t believe how well my nutrition worked out and that I was able to maintain the pace that I did.  My only regret is not pushing the cheater into the ditch.

T2

 Again, T2 was a bit slower than I would have liked.  First, I switched watches from my Timex stopwatch that I use for swimming to my Garmin 405 for running.  In the picture above, I have one watch in my mouth while I fiddle with the other one.  I ended up tossing the stopwatch to Jennie as I passed by her.  Second, I took some extra time to reapply sunscreen to my neck and shoulders.  Totally worth it.  Others could learn from this – haha. And finally, I had brought a handheld bottle with Gatorade and after deciding I didn’t want it, changed my mind and ran back to grab it.  Glad I took the time to grab it, it was a smart move. Official Time: 2:27 Grade: C.  Another average grade here.  I’m happy with the fact that I did everything I should (sunscreen and water bottle), but wish I could have executed a bit more smoothly.

Run

To say the run was hard would be a gross understatement.  I fought through every mile of the run both physically and mentally.  I actually had a pretty strong start, but as the miles dragged on, I started to suffer. Out of the gate, my first mile clocked in at 7:17.  Yikes. Can’t do that all day, gotta slow down a bit.  I forced myself to slow down and got into the 7:45-8:15 range for the next 5 miles. The course was a double out and back which made it mentally tough to keep going.  Running the same 3-ish miles, 4 times can be very difficult to push through. On a positive note, because of the course layout, there was always people to run with.  On my first loop, I was passing lots of Olympic distance runners so that kept me motivated to keep moving.  Then, on my second loop, there were lots of half IM runners either on their first or second loop. I managed to run the entire first loop of the course which is further than I have run in any previous half IM run leg.  In the past, I have started bonking at 3 or 4 miles.  So, I knew I was in pretty good shape.  I was taking Gatorade ever 1.5-2 miles or so, but after the first loop, I just couldn’t take Gatorade anymore and switched to water from the aid stations.  I started to walk through each of the aid stations while I had my water and then picked up the pace after that. As the miles wore on, the hotter it got.  There was quite a bit of shade on the course, but every time I got to a sunny spot, I just felt zapped.  Temperatures peaked around 82* (yes, Texas, I know that is a “mild” day for you).  The hills didn’t help either.  Man were they brutal.  The one at mile 3.5 and then again at mile 10 was especially brutal because the half IM distance was the only distance that had to run it.  You literally turned a corner, went up the hill, got to the top, turned around a cone, and ran back down.  I am happy to report that I was able to run all he hills expect for the final one at mile 11.  By mile 11, my pace had slowed down to 9:15-ish and I felt like I was moving faster walking up the hill than running. The finish line appeared before quicker than I anticipated.  All of a sudden, we rounded a bend in the road and there it was.  Elation.  I stopped to give Jennie a hug about 50 yards from the finish before making my final sprint.  In true MattyO fashion, I did my best to get the crowd cheering.  Come on people, don’t just stand there, MAKE SOME NOISE! I crossed the finish line pumping my arms with a smile on my face.  So happy. Official Time: 1:48:48 (8:18) Garmin Time: 1:48:39 (8:22) – Course measured .1 mile short. Grade: B.  I was in between my “Better” (1:50) and “Best” (1:40) goals, so I am pleased with the result.  This is also the most I have run during the final leg of a half IM so that is a plus as well.  I still fell apart a bit in the second half losing almost 1min/mile on my pace.  So, as always, room for improvement.

Post Race

 Post race was pretty laid back.  I got my finisher medal and a finisher hat (nice touch) before grabbing some refreshments.  I primarily stuck to fluids and had lots of water and a Mountain Dew – the sugar/caffeine rush was so delightful.  They had subs out and I tried to eat one but it was too dry and I felt like a dog eating peanut butter. My mom, brother, and Nancy all came out to cheer me on again so I got a picture with them before they took off.  And as always, a huge thanks goes out to my lovely wife who not only was my support crew, cheerleader, and photographer, but was also my coordinator of social media at the race and provided updates via Twitter and Facebook throughout the day.  Love you babe! Couldn’t do this without you.  After that, I headed back to cheer for my co-worker David who was running his first half IM.  I saw him a couple times on the run course and he was looking really strong out there.  His goal was 5:45 and he shattered that with a 5:27! Congrats David! Awesome debut!

 Note: If you want to be spotted easily by your fans, wear what David is wearing. I could pick him out of the crowd from a mile away.

After David finished, they started to put up the preliminary results.  I checked them out and was shocked to see this:  Could it be??! 3rd in a my age group!?!? Nope.  It was too good to be true.  For some reason, one guy was left off of the preliminary results and I ended up placing 4th.  I’ll admit that it was much more of a disappointment to get bumped to 4th than to have not podiumed in the first place.  Oh well.  I’ll take 4th any day especially when it comes with a huge PR. After we got home, it was time to relax and rest.  Instead of an ice bath, I filled up a kiddie pool and sat in that for a while.  It was just about as cold as an actual ice bath with water from the hose.  Now, does this scream high class or what?  Overall, it was a great day and a great race.  For a first year, the Grand Rapids Triathlon did an amazing job.  The only “hiccup” I had was the train which was beyond their control.  I talked to one of the race directors afterwards and thanked him for a great race.  He said that they had been checking the train schedules and they really thought they were going to be clear during the race.  Based on theirFacebook page, there were a few other issues that affected other athletes, but for the most part, the reviews are mainly positive.  If you need a great race next, I suggest adding this one to your list.  You won’t be disappointed.  June 10th, 2012.  Be there. Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for a follow up post (probably tomorrow) with Bailey’s first adventures into swimming :)

Official Results

Total Time: 4:58:14
Overall Place: 24/226
Gender Place: 21/161
Age Group Place: 4/28
Swim Rank: 8
Swim Time: 31:11
T1 Time: 2:54
Bike Rank: 5
Bike Time: 2:32:53 (2:30:43 moving)
Bike Pace: 22mph (22.5mph moving)
T2 Time: 2:27
Run Rank: 11
Run Time: 1:48:48
Run Pace: 8:18

 

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Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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