I’ve been working on this post in one form or another for almost two months. That’s how long it’s been since I did the Rev3 Maine triathlon, my first 70.3. In an earlier post I wrote about the event itself: how it went, what I felt, how I pushed myself, and my happiness with the result. This one is about the journey and the practical parts of the tri.
Literally minutes before leaving for the airport to go to Barcelona with Lisa last March, I signed up for an 18-week training plan with TeamWILD. Previously I had been my own coach, mixing swim and bike training sessions around a standard 5K, 10K, or half-marathon training plan. The running plan was sensible, but everything else was quite ad hoc. I was eager to try something a little more holistic and which would provide a bit more structure in my bike and swim workouts. I also knew that I was going to need to have my nutrition and diabetes management dialed in as I upped the distance, otherwise four months of training would be wasted and leaving me wondering “what if?” The TeamWILD plan looked like it would give me what I needed.
I’m so pleased with how everything turned out. I trained hard, worked on developing a race plan, experimented with different nutrition and insulin dosages, and ultimately executed my plan almost exactly as I had hoped. I also learned some important lessons from experience (i.e., mistakes) during races last year and earlier in the season. These are the kind of things that you don’t expect to happen but still have to prepare for. Sometimes I was better at working around the problems, but I always tried to incorporate what went well and what didn’t into my next race plan.
On the big rides I did during the summer, I had been lowering my basal insulin rate by 30% about a half-hour before heading out, eating right before starting, and giving a tiny bolus of insulin along with it. This seemed to work. I didn’t manage to follow this plan for the Olympic-distance NYC Triathlon, and the experience left me with high blood sugar, dehydration, and a tough run at the end. In Maine, I was actively patient on race morning, watching my CGM and waiting to eat, bolus, and give Lisa my pump until the very last moment before my swim wave went out. (My backup pump was waiting for me with my bike in transition. I used it during the rest of the triathlon.)
The swim was tough; it’s definitely my weakest discipline of the three. There was a lot of churning water and bumping swimmers. Someone next to me almost knocked off my goggles with his elbow. The waves didn’t really bother me, but not being able to see very well because of the small swells had me anxious. Halfway through the swim I had that recurring, whiny thought: “I don’t really like swimming.” But then I reminded myself that I was only twenty minutes into the race, it was a bit early for those “Are we there yet?” thoughts, and it would be a long day if I kept up that line of thinking. So I thought about my form and buckled down.
A bit more than 45 minutes after dashing into the water, I was high-stepping my way out, unzipping my wetsuit and running up the main street of Old Orchard Beach into transition. I tested my blood sugar before hopping on the bike, and it had actually fallen a little bit. I wasn’t low, but I was heading in the direction where I knew that I needed to start eating right away.
The bike portion was pretty good. My training consisted of longer, low-intensity rides eventually up to 56 miles, which is the distance of the bike leg of a half-ironman triathlon, along with shorter high-intensity interval and tempo sessions. I had gotten pretty used to what it felt like to ride at my target heart rate during training, so it was easy to get into groove. In fact, it felt a bit too comfortable, and I go back and forth in my mind about whether I should have been a little more aggressive. During the race, though, I was worried about saving enough for the run, so I held back. It was probably the right decision, but it was hard to do.
I tested my BG on the bike, which is something that I had been practicing on my afternoon and weekend rides. What I didn’t take into account, though, was that my jersey would be a bit wet when I went to test. Water is the enemy of BG testing. It makes it hard to get a nice droplet of blood, and it fouls the test strips. I was only able to get one good test in, but it told me that my nutrition plan of eating about 25 grams of carbs every half hour in the form of energy gels and blocks was working well. 2:57 after heading out on the bike, I was back.
The run was the toughest part of the day for me. After almost four hours of swimming and cycling, I was starting to get tired. But it was at this point that I started to think about whether I was in a place to achieve my stretch goal!
My primary and easiest goal was to finish. Next, I hoped to have a good diabetes day and have a smart race where I executed the plan that I laid out in the previous couple of weeks. Then there were the time goals that I hoped to meet. Conservatively, I was estimating 6.5 to 7 hours to complete the 70.3, but I knew that if everything went right, I might be able to go under six hours. Having had an okay swim and a solid bike performance and seeing good blood sugar numbers, I was in the place to start pushing myself for that sub-6:00 finish.
All things considered, the run was quite difficult. By itself, running a half marathon isn’t too hard, but after swimming and biking, it took on a life of its own. Having the time goal really helped. It kept me motivated and prevented me from walking a few times where it would have been easier to relax for a bit. I ran hard but not fast (for me) as I plodded through the 13.1 miles.
But in the end I finished with a combined time of 5:58:36!
Training for the Rev3 Half was incredibly rewarding. Even though it took up a lot of time, I feel much stronger physically and mentally, and my diabetes skills are much better, too. I am definitely going to do more 70.3 races in the coming years.