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

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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

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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

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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

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Capital of Dreams Olympic Triathlon

Time to jump in the river
This was my third triathlon, and my first Olympic distance. The big reason I wanted to race this, besides the fact that it’s in Montgomery and I wanted to support it, was that we got to get on the riverboat, then ride it upstream for a mile and jump in to swim back to the riverfront. Who could resist?

Getting ready to leave the dock
I had my new wetsuit, I’d done a trial swim downriver with a group that was supervised by the Montgomery Fire Department. I was ready. That’s me in the top left of the picture, on the upper deck of the riverboat. Needless to say, with the current I had a good swim time, and popped out pulling off the wetsuit.

Exiting the swim

Coming back in on the bike
Then it was off on a two-loop bike course. It was mostly flat, but there was a nice climb up and over the interstate on the way back, twice. But it felt good, and I made good time, averaging 17.8mph over the 24 mile course.

The 10k run
Finally, there was the 10k run. I did OK, but could have done much better. It was a hilly course, it was hot, excuse #3. I could have done better. But I somehow medaled, in the Grand Masters category. 2nd place, and I’ll take it thank you very much (I know there are four of us standing there, but it was the Masters and three Grand Masters, only two of each were there for the awards).

Awards ceremony

View upriver
All the way up the river, past that bridge, at about the point you can see the right-hand bank behind the middle pier, that’s where the swim started.

My First Triathlon Wetsuit Arrives

Having signed up for two triathlons this year with open water swim distances in the one mile range, I have been firmly committed to making this OWS thing work. My first is May 31st, the Capital of Dreams Triathlon held here in Montgomery. I’m pretty excited because you get on the riverboat, which chugs upriver, and then jump off (it’s only 3 feet to the water) into the Alabama River and swim 1,500 meters back to the dock.

BlueSeventySince the river will be just 70-72 degrees that week, a triathlon wetsuit was needed. After looking around, I found that for some unknown reason almost every manufacturer of tri wetsuits was backordered for weeks on most of the main male sizes. I finally found a suit online (their last one in my size) that I had wanted, the Blue Seventy Sprint. It seems like a great entry-level suit, at a good price, and I like that it wasn’t just flat black all over with a huge logo on the chest. That’s me and a multisport teammate trying out our suits – my first time getting mine wet. The fact that the coloring was orange and blue was just an added bonus for this Auburn fan.

This might be the only time this year I will need a wetsuit, since my Toughman 70.3 is in Alabama in August and I am sure the water will be plenty warm by then! I found out after swimming a short bit in the lake, that my blue-tinted pool goggles were just not going to work in open water. The field of vision for sighting was just too small, and then I read that blue tint makes the big orange buoys turn into dull brown blobs that are very hard to see. So a new pair of goggles must be purchased.

2nd Sprint Triathlon Completed

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted anything, mostly because I wasn’t doing anything but routine training for my 2nd sprint tri. This was my first open water swim (in a lake and not the ocean, thank goodness) and advertised as 300 yards. Seemed like a good way to continue to ease into an olympic distance triathlon.

It was held at a nice planned community in our area, with the swim going around a large pier and pavilion, the 11.5 mile bike route being on an “open” course (meaning cars on the road – they try to only let area residents onto the road, but…) with almost all rolling hills (some pretty steep), and the 2.85 mile run going mostly around the lake and neighborhood with only one moderate, long, climb. Bad news was, the community is planned so most houses have good sight lines of the lake. This equals almost no shade!

And, the night before the race, due to construction issues in the area, the swim portion got modified to almost 500 yards. Oh yeah, we’re going to almost double the swim distance, you just got more water for your money! But the run got shortened when the swim got longer, and ended up just 2.85 miles, which turned out ok because my run ended up being poop.

Anywho, it was 75 degrees at the start with 78% humidity, bright and sunny. It ended up at 79 degrees, with very little shade for the run. I did 11:14 on the swim, 40:52 on the bike (17.09mph), and 30:36 on the run (10:35 pace) for a total time of 1:24:57. I need to work more on my running, coming off the bike, because I was gassed and just couldn’t get going. I blame the hills and my (fast for me) speed on the bike, because my heart rate was 10-15 bpm higher than normal, starting the run.

Every race is a chance to learn how to do the next race better, and I got some good takeaways from this one. First is I’m going to have to learn to do flip turns. Without the wall every 25 yards, I struggle getting my breathing in rhythm, and I’ve realized it’s because I take a good deep breath on the wall every time, that I don’t get it open water. My wife said “what if you practiced for a 5k by running sprints up and down a basketball court, but never 3 continuous miles?”

Second is to listen to my body more on the bike – push it, but don’t overwork it. And practice a LOT more bricks, because that’s what it takes to be successful. I’ve been working towards an October half marathon, and while adding distance to my long runs, I neglected my brick work.

So I leave everyone with this photo, which I want to remember as I head in to winter training in a couple months.
Life has no remote

First Year of the New Me Is Now In the Bag

One year ago, on August 16, 2012, I logged my first activity at the new AUM Wellness Center, a 250 yard swim that took 25 minutes. This involved hanging on the wall and panting at the end of every 25 yards, while being totally unable to comprehend how people could lap swim for an hour. The next day, my first run on the indoor track was just under 45 minutes and I made it 3 miles. That’s a 15:00 min/mile pace – blazing.

Now I’m looking back at the original “just get up three mornings a week and do some kind of exercise” goal, and comparing it to what it has evolved in to, and I can’t believe where I am now. I logged over 1,400 miles of activity! In one year.
First Year Totals
First Year Totals By Week
I’ve done three 5k races, an 8k, a 10k, and one sprint triathlon. I’m now training for the Montgomery Half Marathon in October, and my second sprint triathlon (my first open water) in just three weeks. My best pace for a 5k race is 9:05, my only 8k pace was 9:31 on a very hilly course, and I just yesterday ran 13.1 miles for the first time ever and managed a 10:17 pace. This is what my running has looked like:
First Year Running Totals
I’ve gotten my swim pace down from that initial 11:23/100 yard pace to a 400 yard average pace of 2:04. Still lots of room for improvement, but I’m happy. I try to do a minimum of 2000 yards at every workout, something old me could never imagine. This is what my swimming has looked like:
First Year Swimming
Then, in May, just to round things out, I bought a road bike and started squeezing in cycling workouts so I could compete in triathlons. This is what my cycling has looked like:
First Year Cycling
My goal for year two, and really for the rest of my life, is to never let myself get back to the over-weight coach potato I was. I found a great local triathlon club, Team MMS that gives me great opportunities to run and bike with groups of people who push me, coach me, and encourage me. If you haven’t found a local group to work out with, you should go out and find one.

My First Triathlon Is Completed

I picked my first triathlon based on several factors – it was only four weeks out when I registered, the day after I bought my bike; it was a pool swim and not open water; and the bike portion was only seven miles. Seemed like a great first tri.

And it was. The 33rd annual Huntsville Sprint Triathlon was a great introduction to the sport. The local club putting it on were friendly, the event was very “newbie” friendly, and the weather was great.

Here’s me sporting my first-ever leg chip.
Spandex makes everyone look so nice

It began with everyone giving their 100 yard swim speed when registering, and then the swim was to be a “criterion” start in the pool. But a lot of people either had no clue what their speed was, or just didn’t care, but you jam two slow people in one lane, and bottlenecks occur. I had read people saying they though open water swims were easier than pool swims, but couldn’t believe them…until now. I know I can swim 400 meters in 9:15-9:30 (slow and steady, that’s me) but could only get out with a 10:45 time.

My T1 was quick, mostly because I was biking in my running shoes. I just didn’t feel like I had enough time to get comfortable on the bike AND comfortable with clipless pedals. But clipless pedals are going on the bike this week. So with running shoes I averaged 17.1mph on a mostly flat course with a bunch of turns in a neighborhood before getting to the main road. I was happy with that.

T2 was quick, and then then run began. It was advertised as “rolling with a challenging cross country and pathway type of elevation gain and loss” but what looked like a long section of sidewalk on the back side was in fact all gravel. So it was a 5k trail run, complete with narrow wooden bridge, really skinny sidewalk next to a main road with traffic, one section with large rocks and badly patched asphalt, and one 20 foot steep grass descent. Oh, and it was a two-lap course, so rinse and repeat all those conditions. But I loved it! (have I mentioned this was my first tri?)

I only ran a 33:26, after going sub-30 my last two 5k races, but between the trail run and this being the last of three events, I am OK with it. Looking on the bright side, I set a PR with plenty of room for improvement!

I’m already signing up for my next sprint tri in early August, the Mountain Lakes Triathlon. It’s a lake swim 300 yards out and back, a 15 mile cycling course billed as mostly flat and fast, and a 5k run on streets and not a trail.

Quick Update On Using A Garmin 910xt In Lap Swimming

I wore my new Garmin 910xt for the first time this last weekend. Ran a race, did a couple runs around the neighborhood, and on my bike. Because I wear bi-focals, I’ve been strapping it on with the watch face on the inside of my arm – it gets the numbers easily into the lower lenses of my glasses that way.

Then on Tuesday, my first swim day with the watch, I was amazed at how badly it did with my stroke recognition. Admittedly my stroke needs a lot of work, but still over a third of my laps came out breaststroke, and probably half came out “mixed”, and I swam every lap 100% freestyle.

I scratched my head, and then for this morning’s swim I wore it on the outside of my arm, the way most folks wear a watch, and it recorded every lap of a 2,000 yard workout as freestyle. Since my stroke did not improve significantly over the last three days, I believe it was the placement. So, lesson learned, and advice for anyone else who is having problems and wearing it on the inside of your arm…stop it!

My wife said the poor Garmin thought it was upside-down on the first day and had no idea how to analyze my stroke.