Toughman Alabama Half Iron

I realized when I started this post that it has been almost 3 months since I have last posted. There has not been much to say, really, just a lot of training going on. And this is what I’ve been training towards.

Toughman Alabama Half
I signed up for this 70.3 race for a number of reasons. It was less expensive than an Ironman branded race, it was much closer than Augusta (the closest to me), and the fact that Team Magic, the event organizers, do a great job and have no cut-off time. That time thing ended up being important.

Now the bad part of this race was that it was held in Alabama in the middle of August, so I knew going in that it was going to be bloody hot and humid. Plus, it was a really hilly bike and run course, and the swim was in a lake, with no current-assist and no wetsuit. But I figured Go Big, or Go Home.

Transition pre-dawnThis is what transition looked like at 5:00am. There were 281 total racers, but four of those were aqua bike, and ten more were relay teams. So really, 267 individual racers. Including one pro, who ended up getting second place by two and a half minutes. That must have hurt.

Swim Stats

It was 64 degrees when the swim started. The swim start was on one side of a small slough, and transition was on the opposite side. This made the turn-around buoy closer to 2/3 the distance and not half way. The first wave of swimmers started at 6:30am, and my wave started at 6:48am (one wave every three minutes). I had no trouble swimming the entire way, my fitness was good, but between fogged up goggles, contact lenses, and choppy water, I was having to constantly stop to sight the barrels. I absolutely have to work to correct this. Bi-lateral breathing may be the key to helping me actually swim in a straight line, requiring less sighting. That will be step #1.

Bike Stats

I took longer than I should have in T1, but they had just cut the grass in the transition area, and it was still wet from the dew and made getting my feet clean a real pain. I had ridden this course about a month ago, so I knew what was in store, and I had practiced hill climbs.

The bike started, for me, at 7:55am and 66 degrees. As you can see, there was over 2,200 feet of elevation gain, and most of that was from mile 3-6 and of course, for punishment, again at mile 43-49. The bike portion was mostly fun. I was so long in the water, that when I started the bike I saw no one until around mile 18. Then, I started picking off the slower bikers. OK, a lot of them at first were women biking in tennis shoes, but then I started passing more. I ended up passing 12 bikers, and being passed by 4 guys on expensive bikes. Seems that a bridge (which by the time I got to it had a truck with a volunteer yelling to slow down and don’t go through the orange paint) had caused more than a dozen flats to early riders. By the end of the ride, it had now gone up to 86 degrees, but thankfully a lot of the course was well shaded. I was doing good, and following my nutrition strategy, but by the time I hit the very last climb, my thighs were both cramping. And I still had 3.5 miles to T2, plus that little half marathon run thing to go. I averaged 16.5mph though, so I was happy with that.

Run Stats

Then the run began, for me, at 11:10am. I had planned on using Hammer Endurolytes to keep up my sodium and electrolytes, but now I had to begin the run behind the curve. So I walked most of the first two miles. That seemed to work, so I began to run some, but just never seemed to be able to keep going. I was wunning – the opposite of the Galloway method – walking most of each mile and running some. You can see on the elevation graph that my watch seemed to screw up at mile 9.5. While I was on the course it showed me my mileage, but once home the file stops at 9.5 miles (I have manually entered the correct distance and time, even though the graph doesn’t show it).

There was no shade – none – anywhere on the run portion of this course. I started when it was 86 degrees and finished when it was 92. But the volunteers were great, and they really took care of everyone. A lot of planning went in to their run support, and they deserve kudos.

This was an out and back course, so look on the graph at the fun everyone had between mile five and the 6.5 turnaround! The water station at mile six said “we hear it’s a hill and a bump to the turnaround”. At mile five, we were at 536 feet of elevation, in the next 3/4 of a mile we went up 70 feet, then back down 60 feet, then from mile six to the turnaround that “bump” was another 40 feet in a tenth of a mile. Then please repeat all of that elevation backwards as you head back to the finish. The graph shows over 1,000 feet of elevation gain, but that’s just the first 9.5 miles, so it was more than that.

By mile 9, I was walking way more than I was running. It was horribly hot, and I could not get enough water in me. I had stopped at every water stop (every mile – very well planned) and was drinking 2 cups of water, then pouring half a cup over my head and the other half on arm sleeves I wore. Additionally, they had small towels in ice water that they would put on your neck, at every stop. Yet with all of that, and all the water, and the Endurolytes I could tell I was not in good shape.

I also knew I was blowing my time limit – remember that 8 hour time limit that Ironman imposes? – well I knew it was going to be a close thing. Even though they didn’t have a limit, I still wanted to make it in under 8 hours. Final time, 8:02:11.

As I crossed a wooden bridge back to the finish line, maybe 400 yards away around the last turn, one of my TeamMMS friends who had long been finished came running out and said “come on man, the camera’s right around the corner, you can finish strong…I’ll run it with you”. So I did, and they said “David Stankard, you are a Toughman” and I believed them.

After the race, several people who have raced multiple Ironman 70.3’s said this was the toughest course they had ever done. But I’m actually glad to know that I finished a course this difficult, and this awesome.

Here I’m coming out of the water, heading into T1. At this point, I’m ready to crush the bike ride.
Heading to T1

Here I’m coming off the bike, into T2. My thighs are cramping, I’m having trouble walking, and I’m thinking “just 13.1 miles of running to go”!
Heading to T2

Here I’m back in the hotel after the race, showing off my race tattoo and finisher’s shirt. Just glad it’s over, but really glad to know I finished.I Am A Toughman