It had been about a year since I raced a half Ironman and the last time wasn’t so pretty because it was so close to my car accident. I was definitely more prepared this time around, but Oconee Man wouldn’t be easy.
Going into the race I had put up consistent mileage, I averaged about 150 miles per week for 10 weeks. In an effort to conserve on time I threw in bike commutes to work. The hills on the commute would give me a taste of what was to come at Oconee Man. You could say the same for running on Woodland Brook.
The day before the race I found myself taking in a lot of deep breaths. It was something I don’t ever remember doing in the past, I guess it was just nerves. I ended up somewhat drunk by bedtime because I drank a bottle and a half of white wine while sitting in my recovery boots. I would have a slight hangover the next morning.
Race day was going to be a spectacle for me. I canceled my hotel and made this a one day shindig so Danielle could come watch. The only way we could make that happen was to have our neighbor walk Piper for us. She loves Piper so it worked out great. By the way, D’s awesome race support, all of the links in here are from the videos and pictures she shot.
I didn’t set an alarm for race day morning and I don’t know why. The plan was to get up at 3:00 a.m., but somehow I managed to be up at 2:52. I figured if we were out the door at 4:15 a.m. we’d be fine as Waze said it’d take two hours to get there. I had a light breakfast and brought some thin pretzel chips to snack on during the drive. Loading up the car was rather easy. For a one day trip you don’t have to bring nearly as much shit, and I already separate it into a swim, bike, run, and after race bags to save time.
The parking situation at South Cove Park was a bit of a mess. When we first parked there was no one behind us, but then the parking attendant volunteers parked cars right behind us…and we had concrete curbs in front of us, which left us stuck. Danielle found the guy parked behind us and we swapped places since I’d likely be done sooner. Later she’d move the car after the parking lot cleared out once the sprint race finished.
Packet pick up was pretty simple, but slow. I forgot my emergency info in the car so I had to fill out a sheet while I was still in line. The t-shirt was an unimpressive cotton shirt which would likely turn into one Danielle sleeps in. There was no other swag, but it’s a small race so it’s not like I expected anything.
Being a small race meant transition was about the size of a basketball court. I was at a rack right in the middle. I was set up pretty quickly and went out for a mile warm up run with Danielle after. That left us with about half an hour before race start at 8:05 a.m. Setup Events should have started the race an hour earlier because we all got baked on the hot run course.
I laid down on the grass and had Danielle stretch out my legs. We mosied our way over to a picnic table by the swim start and listened to Jeremey Davis give his spiel about the race while I put on my wetsuit. Side note, a guy from the area was sitting at our picnic table, he told us “…between miles 30 to 40 were hilly.” Well, we’d find out he was full of shit because it was all hilly. Anyway, I fucking hate wetsuits, but at 69 degree water temps I kind of needed one this time. If it weren’t for the wetsuit my balls might have decided to migrate inside of me.
It was time to get this party started. This was a point to point swim, but it’s not like the start and finish were that far apart. I always seem to have that thousand yard stare looking out over the water. It was a mass swim start so I made sure I got out in front early. The first leg of the race was pretty smooth sailing. They didn’t care how you got to the turn buoy so the other buoys were kind of guidelines. The second leg was pretty choppy. One reason I hate wetsuits is because of how restricted I feel. That restriction eventually wears my body out faster and the feeling sticks around for about the first 1,500 yards of the race. I reached the third turn buoy and had 100 yards left. All of a sudden you’re on top of the cobblestone concrete boat ramp and on your feet. I was out in 34 minutes, which wasn’t bad considering I only had five weeks of swimming twice a week beforehand.
I was slow in T1. Why? Because I can’t get my wetsuit off quickly without there being strippers. I tried stepping on it to yank it off, but it never works for me. Eventually I’d say, “Fuck it” and sat down on the ground to peel it off. A crow bar would have been handy once I got to my ankles because I couldn’t get the leg over the timing chip. My helmet strap got stuck on the Xlab Torpedo water bottle, so I fumbled with that for a little bit. I was out in about three minutes and on the bike.
Initially there are a few speed bumps in the park, but that’s only within the first mile. This was the most technical bike course I’ve ever ridden, and that includes regular old training rides. It was annoying how many times we had to turn. Next, the markings on the course were the essence of pure shit. I missed two turns because of them. There were orange and blue signs to follow, and the half followed the orange. The first turn I missed had a red arrow. Well what the fuck does red mean? My biggest gripes about the markings were they were tiny arrows, about 2″x6″ in size and they weren’t out far enough ahead. When I say that I mean they placed them at the intersections so there was no advanced warning of a turn. I remember one instance where I was flying downhill and had a ‘road closed’ sign in front of me with loose rocks leading up to it and didn’t have an arrow until the last second.
Another major thing about the bike course was it being very humbling. I had never ridden a course that hard with that much climbing, but I was in the Appalachian foothills, I should have expected this. When I saw the MapMyRide version it listed the elevation gain at 2,500 feet, but I was hoodwinked. The actual elevation gain was over 4,000 feet over 54 miles. Yes, it was two miles shorter because they altered the course after a road had been washed out a few days before. Anyway, those climbs gassed me. Tri bikes don’t climb for shit and here I was putting every watt I could to get to the top. On those long steep climbs I wanted to stop and rest, but I knew I had to keep going. The descents were just as steep and windy. Sometimes there’d even be a quick turn as you were flying down the road. There were loose rocks and gravel in several areas of the course as well as potholes.
I started off my average watts a little on the higher side (245 watts) for the first 25 miles, then by mile 45 I was down to where I wanted to be at 230 watts. However, I fell to 218 watts by the bike finish. I was alone with no one in sight for most of the ride after the sprint race turned around. I passed two people and two people passed me so I was still in like 5th place after the bike. Whenever I’d make a turn I’d look back to see if anyone was trailing me and I never saw anyone. I managed to put up a 2:53, normally I’d be disappointed in that, but given how hard the course was I thought it was respectable. I knew I was getting blisters on my left foot from my tri shoe, I should have sprayed it with some Tri Slide. Also, something to keep in mind is there was no nutrition at the two bike aid stations, they only had water bottles. I actually felt a little empty on the bike and felt like I could have used an extra gel. I slowed down significantly when coming back into transition because of all those speed bumps.
T2 wasn’t as bad as T1. There really isn’t much to say about it. I was in and out pretty quick. I was talking to Danielle as I changed and told her run with me for a little bit so we could talk.
I was out and running strong in the beginning. I told Danielle I was pretty drained from the bike and I’d just be running at a comfortable pace. She said, “Okay, thanks for telling me.” We got to the end of the road and I peeled off the right.
This course was the worst half marathon I’ve ever ran. They tried to fit 13.1 miles in as compactly as possible. It was two loops, but the one lap around the outer small loop was done four times and in a very cockeyed order. You did it first, then ran the route, and at the beginning of the end of your first big loop you ran around that loop twice, head back out for your second run loop, then you did it one last time before the finish.
When I say the run was compact, it was way worse than you’re imagining. See my Strava file to get an idea. I’d run down all these cul de sacs, turn around, go a little further, hook a quick turn down another cul de sac and go back out to the main road. Another thing to note was how much elevation gain there was. Over 13.1 miles I had over 1,000 feet of elevation gain, which is more than shitty Publix Half Marathon. That loop I did four times had one random hill on it. The rest of the fucking area around it was flat and all of a sudden there’s a hill with some asshole blasting Fall Out Boy at the top. The first neighborhood I ran through had some the milder climbs of the day, but the main road leading out of the park was a long steady climb to the second neighborhood. The second neighborhood was where the party really started. I’d liken it to a roller coaster with extreme climbs in a short total distance. It fucking blew ass. Something else I should note is no one knew what side of the road to run on, it was kind of a free for all.
I stopped and walked through every aid station just to pull my shit together for the next round of climbs that were right after it. The water and Gatorade were typically served cold, the flat coke was always piss warm. I took a couple of their Hammer gels to supplement my two Clif shots, but I regretted it. My Clif shots were like a thick paste, but the Hammer gels were hot, thin, and syrupy. Also, half the kids at the aid stations weren’t paying attention, but the other half were really good. The latter were always yelling down to you asking, “What do you need?” and meeting you halfway. I was always taking two waters: one for me to drink and one to dump on my head. My shoes got pretty soggy after mile eight from the water. Speaking of volunteers, Danielle said there weren’t enough of them, especially with traffic control. She said there were tons of vehicles coming down with boats trying to reach the ramps only to be turned back and nearly hit racers on the course.
My back was starting to hurt about halfway through the run. It would get a little better when I walked through those aid stations. During the second time running up the main road with Danielle I told her it’s because I was always carrying the relationship. She was not amused.
As I exited the second neighborhood the last time I hauled some serious ass as I had the long downhill back into the park. I met Danielle a couple hundred feet down the road and she ran back into the park with me until the split at the parking lot. When I started that last mile and a half I was running at a 9:55/mile overall pace, but when I finished I managed to get down to 9:35/mile pace. I flew around that last small loop and had an 8:24 last mile and a 2:04 half marathon overall.
I turned into the finisher chute hauling ass. Unlike Ironman events there was no one gathered around, just Danielle at the end. She was great race support as she chased me all over the course that day helping me up hills and doing great camera work. After I crossed I walked over to her and gave her a big hug.
There wasn’t anything to do post-race. They had some pop, nutritional bars, and watermelon under a picnic pavilion. We were able to check my results to see I got 2nd in my age group and 9th overall. I got an interesting ceramic award that can be mounted on a wall through two screw holes, but my guess is because it’s ceramic I could crack it off so it’ll end up in a pile on the third floor. I smelled pretty rank and didn’t want to stink up my car, so I took a bar of hotel soap and got into the cold lake and scrubbed down like Happy Gilmore’s caddy.
It was a successful race, I’d like to think I did the best I could on that day. You don’t always race the clock, you race the course. It was a hard, challenging course and though I was 42 minutes slower than my PR I’d like to think it’d translate into a much faster time on a pancake flat course like Gulf Coast 70.3. The kicker here is in four more weeks I’d be racing a course just like this in Scottsboro, Alabama. Another bike back in the foothills of the Appalachians and another compact, double loop run in a park. I didn’t think that one through.
I wasn’t in as much pain after the race. That night we took Piper down to the Polo fields and I ran around for about a mile. It didn’t look pretty but I still ran. The next day at work wasn’t horrible either. My hips hurt a little, but if anything it was my legs felt fatigued. I think I felt better than usual the next day because of how much Danielle stretched me, plus I sat waste deep in a cold lake for 10 minutes after (a nice little ice bath) and did an hour in the recovery boots when I got home.