Great Illini Half Iron Distance TRI – 2013


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.

Great Illini_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?

Great Illini_swag

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!!!

Great Illin_Jen & I

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.

Great Illini_medal

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

14 thoughts on “Great Illini Half Iron Distance TRI – 2013

    • I only had a few people behind me so was “almost” last. And I think this brings up a great point which I neglected to address. Even though I was out there forever, they kept the aid stations open for everyone and really helped us thru when they could have easily packed up and left. Good people.

  1. I almost want to learn to swim for that medal and shirt. Almost. Nice job!! Too bad the weather didn’t behave…but congrats for sticking it out anyway. Personal worsts can still be epic.

  2. A great endorsement for a smaller race. I’ve been so hyper-focused on a 70.3 “Half ironman” branded race as a big goal in a year or two, and recently started realizing that there are others out there and they are great races. Sorry it was a challenging day for it, but great job finishing!

  3. Wow, what an adventure. Way to push forward and finish the race. I am thinking of expanding my distance a bit next year and will be looking at smaller more local half iron races. Save the big fees and hoopla for if I ever do an iron race. Good recap.

    • Not typical weather. Of course it is central IL but definitely 20 degrees hotter than normal.

      Last year it was canceled due to a hurricane. The weather resulting from a hurricane was moving in and forecasting thunderstorms and flooding. It did sound really dangerous and I was happy they canceled prior to all of us rolling into town. It’s a 3 hour drive for me.

      Sent from my iPhone

  4. Wow, congrats on your finish!! You’ve had a rough tri season. I’ve only done one tri and it was a small one… loved the hometown feel of it. Would like to do the Great Illini some year, but it’s always so HOT this time of year in central IL. Maybe they should look at a different weekend…

  5. Egads TTF…you have to retract that statement “your worst”…ok the conditions were the worst…but not your performance. You stuck with it an finished in extreme heat conditions…that’s celebration in my view…toss out basing anything on time or speed or pace.

    Next thing…feeling sorry for the volunteers? Come on…you were out there swimming…biking….running….they were just standing…and yes in the sun and hot…but not exerting themselves at higher metabolic rate! If I were a volunteer I might have been saying…”I feel sorry for those triatheletes out there!” But in the grand schema…both volunteers and athelete participants endured tough conditions.

    Dizzy? Yikes…ain’t that a symptom of heat exhaustion? You obviously fared ok in the end-result…but dizziness would have been a sign to seek help?

    Anyways…I want to say you just accomplished something I myself could not have done under those conditions…even if I could swim. So…don’t diminish the end-result that it was your worst time or not best half-tri performance…rather…revel in the fact you had the determination and tenacity to “weather” it out and finish. Doing such under those conditions deserves a trophy…and you should hold your head up high and both arms upward because that was pure victory in my books! You are awesome athelete and don’t you forget it!

    Hmmmm…swim course long? Hey I measure road race courses using a bike. Have to wonder how do they ever measure out a swim course anyways in the concept of “certified race course?” Do they use a boat with a calibrated counter on it? LOL! May have to look into that because 0.2-mi is a lot of error!

  6. You are simply amazing (or crazy) to do that. And I mean crazy in a good not snotty way. I am hopeful that MENTALLY you learned a lot. I think the heat does crazy things to us but it also helps build mental fierceness. I ran 18 (not the 20 I planned) in 75 degrees, no breeze and 85% humidity last week. Never have I ever DRIPPED from my shorts like I peed in them like that. It was slow. Agonizing slow. BEYOND slow. But it was a training run and one that helps build that mental fierceness that I love to chat about. One that hopefully will stay in the back of my mind perhaps not so much for

  7. Awesome job!! I can’t imagine doing all that in that heat. As you know, I’ve been thinking about doing a Tri. I think something smaller like this, sounds much better. The swim sounds a lot calmer than at Ironman’s too! I think you’re amazing!!

  8. Thanks for the review! I’m eyeing this race for 2015 and was wondering about the abnormally high DNF in 2013 and lack of results from 2012. Sounds like a good race. I think I’ll give it a go.

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