World’s Toughest Half

May 24th, 2010

When I started doing triathlons in 2008 I came across this race.  With a name like that, I immediately knew I would have to do it.  In late 2009, I decided this would be the year.

  • Pre-race fog on the lake.

They really were not kidding when they named this race as it is extremely tough.  I think it was harder than any of the double centuries I did.

  • An early arriver is racked and ready to go.
  • That's what a million dollars worth of bikes looks like.


Swim: Usually the swim is my best event and I finish in the top third for my age group.  But I had a horrible swim for this race.  The air temperature was 39 degrees; the water temp was 64 degrees.  Historically, both the air and the water have been much warmer at this time of year.  I have a sleeveless wetsuit and I have been picking races that I thought would be warm enough for that.  But we have had a cold spring.  During the mandatory warm period, I was freezing.  I considered just getting out of the water right then.  But quitting without even trying just doesn’t sit well with me.  The gun went off and I took off with about 100 other swimmers.  There was the usual jockeying and what not.  I tend to try to stay away from others and not get caught up in the race, so I don’t get kicked or hit too much.  But I was cold and right off my chest starting feeling really tight.  My wetsuit felt incredibly constrictive and I just wanted out.  I forced myself to stay calm and keep swimming.  I couldn’t really see the bright orange buoys because of the fog coming off the water, so I just tried to follow along with the other swimmers, hoping they were going in the right direction.  It took me about 750 meters to finally feel okay in the water, although my lower back was bothering me.   As we started the second lap, the sun had come up and that made sighting difficult because the sun was right in my face on the way out.  I ended up with a 40 minute swim for the 1.2 miles.  I am capable of doing that in 35 minutes.

  • Swimmers look for the bouys in the fog.

Bike: I knew the bike would be tough with about 6,000 feet of climbing in the 56 miles.  I was cold when I came out of the water and we had a long run up to the transition area, which I walked.  My transition time was really long.  There were no wet suit pullers and I had a hard time with one leg of my suit.  I dried myself off more than normal before I put on my wool jersey.  I was looking at what the other racers had opted to wear for the bike portion and decided to not pull on my wool tights.  This was a good call because my legs never felt super cold.  Again, I just considered ending it right there.  I was cold, I knew the bike route was wicked hard and it just didn’t seem like it was going to be fun.  I know this sounds odd, but really I do this because it’s fun – usually.  My transition took almost seven minutes between walking up and all the futzing around I did.

It took about ten miles for me to feel half way decent on the bike.  There is a long climb up out of the lake and it didn’t feel good at all.  My lower back was really beginning to hurt.  When we pre-rode the course I had stayed in the drops for much of the ride with no problem.   But I couldn’t do that on race day, until about mile 25.  I think maybe the cold caused my muscles to just seize up.  This ride is basically a lollipop with a very long stick.  The out bound portion is mainly tilted  up and into a headwind.  We had ridden this twice so I knew what to expect.  The lollipop  was a circle with a lovely, twisty descent about a mile and a half long, followed by a climb back to the stick.  I really had fun on the lollipop.  The descent was awesome, twisty, but nice pavement, no traffic.  I caught up to the guy in front of me.  He left me in the dust when we started climbing again… The climb was fun too, probably a 5 – 7 percent average grade.  By this time the day had warmed up nicely and the climb was shaded just the right amount.  I didn’t get too cold or too hot.  I was listening to the birds and the nearby river, thinking, “What a pleasant day for a bike ride.”

The return to Auburn was generally good – except for this cruel out and back portion along the highway at about mile 40.  We had to ride out about two and a half miles, turn around and go back in order to get the mileage for a Half Ironman.  This road had what I think of as kerchunk pavement because that’s the sound your bike makes as it rolls over cracks every 15 – 20 feet.  In addition, it was basically up  and into a headwind on the way out.  CRUEL, just plain cruel.  Once I turned around, it was great fun.  🙂

I was long enough on the bike that the traffic enforcement for the two lights into Auburn was no longer there and I ended up stopping at both lights.  As I went through the ‘burbs to T2 at Railhead Park I saw a fox.  That was pretty cool.  I was feeling pretty fried when I got to T2 and again thought, “Why?”  The bike had taken twenty-five minutes longer than I had expected and I finished it in 4:40.

  • Zooming to the transition area.

Run: I again walked through the transition area, changed my shoes, took off my jersey, grabbed my gels and ate one as I walked towards the timing mat.  This transition was a little too long as well at 5 minutes.  The run course has a short little hill to get up to a flat trail along the canal.  Thom was waiting for me at the top of  this hill with spray on sunscreen.  This was good and I ended up with no burn anywhere for a change.  The canal trail was shaded but with lots of rocks and roots and pretty much single track.  I walked some, ran some, mostly walked.  Then there was a long, slight downhill on asphalt, which I had hoped to be able to run.  But on the first lap,  the muscle on my left  shin was really tight and hurt like a bear every time I ran.  This asphalt section then turned right for an out and back run that was kind of bowl shaped and  with a steeper grade.   The lap finished with more uphill back to the park.

My second lap I was feeling better and ran more of the canal trail and downhill portions.  I still walked most of the uphill stuff.  By my third lap the course was pretty empty.  I started running on the canal trail and nearly bit the dust when I tripped over something.  I walked a little bit after that, then started to run again and promptly twisted my ankle.  It didn’t hurt, but I decided that was enough running on the canal trail.    I  knew I was really close to doing what I wanted to on the run,  but I figured it was better to not get hurt. I ended up finishing the run in 3:01.

  • Off to the run course.

  • Tandemhearts' photo

This elevation profile is missing the first 3.75 miles of the bike and about 400 feet of climbing.  The darker portion is the run course profile.

Thom asked me in the car why I do this since it doesn’t seem like fun.  And he’s right, it’s not exactly fun.  But the sense of accomplishment is huge.   I would like to have a little more fun in my next race, instead of being grimly determined to just finish.  I am taking this week easy and getting back into my training cycle next Monday.  I haven’t set any goals for Barb’s Race yet, other than hoping to shave some time off how I did last year.  I’ve got ten weeks to get in better shape and work out some of the kinks from this race.


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