Half Iron Distance TRI = 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
Last weekend I returned to Mattoon, IL for another multisport event. I have fond memories of Mattoon as my first ever multisport venue and also the first place I ever attempted the daunting 70.3 distance (2008). The 2008 Great Illini Challenge offered both a full and half iron distance race. I did the half. Great experience. I had hoped for a repeat last year but the event was canceled due to weather. All of the 2012 registrants then received a rollover registration for this year and although it didn’t really fit into my schedule I crammed it in anyhow still went so that I didn’t “lose” my registration fee. It also gave me something to look forward to after the 70.3 in Racine didn’t necessarily leave me feeling happy fulfilled on the half distance front.
One of my favorite things about Great Illini is that it’s small and not branded by a particular company. This brings a smaller field, a lower price tag and a majority of participants who tend to be a bit more relaxed and in it for fun and fitness rather than prize $$. Your transition”mate” may be a new triathlete, an experienced racer who doesn’t buy into the “iron hype” or possibly someone looking for redemption from a less than ideal performance earlier in the year. I highly recommend talking to people and finding out what brings them to a particular event. You just may find a bit of inspiration or last minute motivation that could propel you to a new PR!
Packet pick-up for Great Illini was offered on both FRI afternoon/evening AND race morning. Takes a bit of stress out of the equation when you can pick up the packet on race morning. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the venue was the nice, calm water in which we would swim. Lake Mattoon.
Then I asked about the water temp and was told it was 82 degrees, which is not wetsuit legal. Bummer.
In less than 3 minutes, I had signed my waiver, picked up the packet, walked to the beach to take the above photo look at the water and was back in my car and on the way to the hotel. It really doesn’t get any easier than that. Swag – black cotton unisex tee, swim cap, pen, Hammer Gel & Recoverite and a small Hammer canister which I assume is to carry an electrolyte powder. Please note that this is swag for a $135 half distance entry free vs a branded race which “may” cost up to $250. Big difference but how badly do you really need that nylon backpack?
Race morning was just as smooth. Transition opened at 5:30am, race started at 6:45am. I picked up my chip and was thru body marking in less than a minute. No bibs for less hassle faster transitions. I parked less than a 100 meters from transition and was set up in no time with plenty of space and friendly people all around. I was able to use the bathroom without waiting. I attended the pre-race meeting, heard that wetsuits would be legal so just walked over to the car and grabbed the wetsuit. No fuss. No stress. No worries about missing the start because I needed to hike a mile to my car. Very relaxed atmosphere and I was very thankful to be back at a small venue.
I was even able to catch up with a couple of friends who were also participating, including Jen who was tackling her first Olympic distance event! Yay, Jen!!!
Then it was time to roll. The event was a double loop course on all fronts: swim, bike & run.
The swim course was marked by 5 orange buoys which were set-up in a “somewhat” rectangular pattern. Two waves, men first and then women 3 minutes later. Worked perfectly. The sun was in our eyes initially (and when we re-looped) but everyone was calm, nice and although I did bump into a few people, I was able to just move a bit and then had plenty of room to swim. Very calm and relaxing swim in clean lake water. Nice! I was a bit surprised when I got out of the water at how long it took me to move thru the 1.2 miles but whispers around me told of a long swim course that was just at 1.4 miles. Okay, that makes more sense.
The bike course was also a double loop. Aid stations were pretty frequent, probably 3 per loop and also at the turnaround. Each time I went thru they handed me a generic bottle filled with water which I squeezed into my aero drink canister then tossed. I also saw bananas at the half way point but didn’t have enough time to grab both water and a banana. Aid stations were small & tight. The race had advertised Hammer Gel and an electrolyte drink to be on course too but I never saw (or was offered) either until I stopped at the last aid station and asked. By this point the heat was high and the volunteers were pretty melted, some sitting, some standing in a wilted position. They were stationed out on country roads, beside corn fields with zero shade in an effort to support us on the bike. I was moving, and had a bit of a breeze from the bike, but was really struggling with the heat so I felt really bad for the on course volunteers who were standing out there waiting for us!
Personal Note: My bike segment was slow, like really slow. Decent speed in the first hour but the heat started getting to me pretty badly in the second hour. I used two of my own gels in the first 30 miles, then stopped for a third gel at mile 44 (aid station). I knew electrolytes would be absolutely necessary if I had any chance of finishing. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling good on several fronts and by mile 30, I was ready to go back to transition, pack up and head home. The sun and high temps were melting the tar on the country roads and I could hear a “sticking” sound coming from my tires as they pulled up from the tar on each rotation. I was hot. Very hot. The breeze from the bike was stifling and the hot air in my face was miserable. To add to the heat misery, I had a very bad headache. My vision was a bit blurred from the headache (or maybe the heat?) and I had so much pressure in/on my head that I actually loosened up my helmet in an attempt to give my head some relief. Didn’t work.
The run course. Two loops. Out and back. Flat country roads. Full sun. Some gravel. Lots of melted tar. 3 aid stations which we hit x2 on each loop. They offered cold water, ice, coke, pretzels, Hammer Gel, & Heed electrolyte drink. The volunteers had tents but I still felt horrible for them being out there that long. However, they were all VERY KIND, let me stand under their tent for a bit of shade and were super helpful.
Personal Note: I couldn’t run. I was beyond hot. My legs wouldn’t move. I wanted to quit. A lot of people did quit. I finished but it took so long since I couldn’t run that I might as well have signed up for a full iron distance race. I’d say this was a “personal worst” but that would absolutely minimalize how horrible it went. Not looking for a pitty party here, I’ve already covered that, just stating the facts.
I did finish and only 54 other people managed to do that for the 70.3 distance.
As I look back, I did a couple things right. Since it’s always nice to end on a positive, I’ll share. 1) I left my spray sunscreen in transition and resprayed myself when I got off the bike. I do have some wicked tan lines but I’m not burnt. 2) I hydrated, hydrated, then hydrated some more. I wouldn’t have had a chance had I not consumed so many fluids before the race and also during. The ice helped a ton too. I chewed a lot of ice. I also stuffed chunks of ice into my clothing. 3) I used extra gels. When the heat is high your body will process fuel faster. You’ll need extra fuel. I always tell people to take more fuel then they really need. I should have listened to myself but fortunately was able to score extra fuel at an aid station.
This is a good race. Although the thermometer in my car read 101 when I finished the race, this should not reflect on the race itself. Good race. Good venue. I do think organizers should have called off the race for the safety of the participants. Some people will refuse to quit and you have to call it for them and for your insurance coverage but I am pretty sure the race director was “afraid” to call it early since the race had been canceled in 2012. Reputation is everything and if people don’t get to finish sometimes they get mad. Then they talk. I understand.
I highly recommend giving a smaller venue a TRI. See what YOU think. It may not be big and fancy but it will most likely offer a quality race for a much smaller price tag. It may even be a refreshing change from the monster TRI you’ve already done 10x.
Amanda – TooTallFritz