Pula, Croatia hosted its inaugural Ironman 70.3 (half ironman) triathlon at the end of September. This race also happened to be my first HIM, as well as my first big race. Big meaning not on Siesta or Longboat Key, and has more than a few hundred people entered.
I felt underprepared for this race mostly due to my bike situation. I was in the States for most of the last 4 months and was training on a bike that I would not be racing on. I was also experiencing lots of saddle/fit issues, and I spent time every weekend at the bike shop trying new seats to negate some of the discomfort and numbness I was experiencing. I also had only ridden 50 miles one time (the race includes a 56 mile bike) and had only ridden three hours or more once (the average time for the bike portion is 3 hours and change). The good news is that my swim and run were in good shape and I was hoping that would be enough.
I flew back to Italy one week before the race and got my aerobars and awesome new saddle put on my Italian bike. Got in a couple of rides and then it was time to go!
The day prior to the race, a briefing was held to go over the logistics of transition areas, aid stations, course maps, certain rules, and any other questions people may have about the race. The only new piece of info presented at this meeting was that the athletes were responsible for getting their T2 (bike to run) bag to that transition area on their own, which differed from the information given in the race packet. This was mildly annoying because it was a 10 minute shuttle ride to the T2 area and it just added another step to the day. We were also briefed on the rolling swim start; this fashion of starts loosely groups athletes by projected speed so that the faster crowd is in front. This decreases congestion at the start and also prevents slower swimmers from getting plowed over by the fasties.
After the briefing, I headed back to the hotel and laid out all of my gear and food for the race. We had access to our transition bags and bikes the morning of the race, so my plan was to put my nutrition and water bottles where they belonged in the morning. Getting bags together was easy- make a bunch of lists and make sure you forget nothing! Open your sunglasses, roll your socks down… do anything you can to save 2 seconds. Once I brought my stuff to transition, I did a couple of run throughs of finding my T1 bag on the rack and my bike… nothing worse than wandering around transition because you can’t find your bike!
I headed to the swim start to scope it out. A super rocky beach with an uphill path to transition awaited me. Based on advice from some of my super accomplished triathlete friends, I planned to walk from the water up to the bikes. Trying to run up a hill after just becoming vertical could potentially get my heart rate too high. Also, who wants to run on rocks up a hill anyway? Why make this harder than it needs to be! The water in the Adriatic is so clear- visibility went down 30 feet. I could see tons of fish and even sea cucumbers on the bottom. Definitely less freaky than dark cloudy water.
After getting everything in place, it was time for dinner and bed! In true European style go time was not until 10 AM, so no need to fret about sleeping through an alarm at o dark thirty. PS- Croatia had a ton of music video channels! Rihanna told me to “Shut up and Drive” so I was definitely ready!
RACE DAY RECAP
SWIM: Rolling swim start was a success. I started at the back of the 31-35 minute group and ended up passing a ton of people. I swam faster than I anticipated which was nice. The day was very windy with strong currents, and a couple of the buoys marking the course appeared to float off. However, the main giant ones that marked the turns were still in place, so I swam directly where I needed to be. The only hard part was sighting back to the shore because the sun was blaring right into my face and the waves were also breaking directly at us. I had to stop and sight more than I would prefer but that is better than the alternative of swimming all over the darn place for no reason. The race had volunteers at the swim exit that actually helped us stand up because the rocks were tough to negotiate. I got out and fast walked up the path to T1. Grabbed my bag, stripped my wetsuit, shoved some PB and J in my mouth while getting my bike stuff on and I was out of there.
BIKE: I anxiously await the day when every bike ride I go on ends before I am ready to throw myself off of the bike and walk home. Race day was unfortunately not that day. The wind was tough for me- I felt like my bike was getting pushed sideways a lot. The course meandered uphill for a really long time. I knew I would get passed on the bike but I do not think I actually passed anyone except for people with flat tires. Humbling, I suppose. What was awesome was the fact that many of the other athletes cheered for me as they passed me. Thanks, Chris from America!! He was the first one to cheer. Seriously, it made me feel really good when people were supportive out there. So, I was on the bike grinding away, cursing the wind (along with everyone in my AG that passed me… I stopped counting at 7), getting hopeful every time a climb ended and it flattened out. Surely that had to be the top? Nope, have a little rest and then keep going. I had practiced my water bottle hand offs so that I would not cause a mishap at the aid stations, and my race nutrition (Skratch and Fig Newtons) worked out well. I felt hydrated, energized enough, and did not get hungry. You know me, being hungry is basically the worst thing ever. Fifty six miles later the bike was over. It took me about as long as I expected but I was sort of hoping for a race day miracle and a surprise not terrible time. Ah well!!
RUN: The run course was 3.5 loops in downtown Pula. We ran through the old part of town and then did an up and back along the waterfront. There were three aid stations on each loop and I basically just ran from station to station, rewarding myself with the best thing ever at each one— warm flat Coca-Cola. Now, as an American I am supposed to want ice cold Coke, fizzing in a cup with tons of ice. But as a triathlete (I am one now, officially!) all I wanted was sugar and caffeine, and what better vehicle to bring those to me than some fake caramel coloring and corn syrup? Although there really is nothing more American than some high fructose corn syrup!! Seriously, I broke the run down by when I got to have more Coke. The out and back part was really miserable— super sunny and hot. At least in the old town there was shade from the buildings. Every loop we passed volunteers gave us different colored bracelets so you knew when to head into the finish. I really liked that system… ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED. The other great thing about my run was that I had a buddy there- LM came all the way from Florida to help cheer and keep me focused this weekend. It was really nice to have a familiar smiling face along the way. I never knew where she would pop up! So, between seeing my friend and drinking tons of Coke, I plowed through the run feeling pretty good. I had energy left at the end so I passed some people heading into the Arena for the finish and then BOOM it was over.
POST RACE: I felt pretty good- was a bit tight through the quads and should have been more hungry than I was. I wanted a post race beer so LM and I hopped back on our bikes and headed down the road to the Beer Club. Pomme frites and a lager… the perfect post race combo!
OTHER RACE THOUGHTS: Due to the weather and loss of course markings, the race directors decided to negate all of the swim times. We were scored only on the bike and the run. Not that I was qualifying for anything, but I am disappointed that I cannot even see people’s swim times to find out where I would have placed. I know my swim time because someone grabbed a screen shot before they disappeared from the internet, but how am I supposed to know my worth without comparing myself to others?! Kidding. Sort of. There was also a snafu with the timing of who got swept up off the bike course which caused big problems for lots of people. I enjoyed this race and the course, and knowing that this was the first year I would definitely give it another shot to get the kinks worked out!
Who wants to join me for the next half Ironman? The Coke is on me 🙂