Wednesday, June 18, 2014

High Cliff Half-Iron

With Draft Cyclery owners before the race!
            This was my only half-iron distance triathlon for the season, and it was also an early season Half being in June.  The never-ending winter frustrated a lot of my early spring preparations for this, and then I raced the two weeks prior to it, making my last long ride and run three weeks out from the race.  Last year I was still doing longer stuff even just a week before my big races, which was a confidence-booster.  I wasn’t sure how this year’s prep would shake out on race day.  High Cliff was also a new course to me, so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.  My two main goals were to finish under 5 hours again (I went 4:58 and 4:52 last year), and to finish in the top 5 for females.
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
            The morning started fairly cold, maybe 50 degrees, but the wind was strong and frigid.  Fortunately the waves on huge Lake Winnebago weren’t too bad.  Apparently it was the best lake conditions they’ve ever had.  Say what?!  I started in Wave 1, and I couldn’t stop shivering/shaking while we waited to start.  As soon as we got going on the swim though, I warmed up.  On the long backstretch of the swim, we looked right into the sun, making sighting quite a lovely task.  My time was right around where I expected, similar to my past half-irons, though it looks a little slow due to the transition mat being at the top of the hill after exiting the water.
            On the bike, we immediately faced the “signature climb” out of High Cliff Park.  After tackling Trinona last weekend, it really didn’t seem like a big deal.  The winds were intense out on the bike though, facing it head-on or from the side for the first half of the ride.  I’d rather face it for the first half than the second.  It really cut into the speed though, and at one point the cross-winds nearly knocked my bike out from under me.  Despite the slower pace, the first half went by surprisingly fast, but the countdown with the last 20 seemed to drag on.  I felt strong on the bike at least, and it was great whenever we had a stretch that the wind was at our backs.  While it can’t make up for the lost time, it sure is a lot more fun when you can go really fast!  Despite hitting my goal watts for the ride (same effort as my Pigman Half), it took me a full 7 minutes longer than it did at Pigman as a result of the winds.  Ouch.
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
            Looking at past year’s results from the High Cliff Half-Iron, I knew that I could potentially be the overall female winner if I, at minimum, went sub-5, or closer to a 4:50, depending on who showed up on race day.  I was hopeful that today could be my day, but I didn’t want to let myself get too excited, or put too much pressure on myself.  On the second half of the ride, I went by a man who told me he thought I was the first female he’d seen.  Instantly of course, my hopes go up, though I have a hard time believing it, and I tell myself that there is a woman in front of me I need to catch.  Before I finish the ride, I do pass by another woman, and I have a feeling that she’s probably not the only one in front of me.  The half-iron is an interesting race is that it really has a lot to do with patience.  I felt really strong towards the end of the bike, but I knew I shouldn’t push too hard yet, I needed to save it for the run.  Control the adrenaline.
            I came in off the bike and Andy tells me that I’m in third for women.  THIRD?!  I had a lot of work to do, and I set off on the run.  The first thing we have to do is climb up High Cliff again.  Biking it is one thing – running it is quite another.  This is where things really get interesting.  After ascending the giant hill, there is a two-loop run course on trails through the park.  Please do not get the impression that these are running trails by any means. Rather, these are hiking and horseback riding trails.  There is a section of trail that is on rock – uneven, jagged, ankle-rolling type rock.  Then there are sections that are through the woods and consist of dirt/mud.  There are also sections that are a mowed trail, but I do not mean to liken it to a nice smooth lawn, but it’s almost closer to resembling the unevenness of a hayfield when it gets cut.  It was not a flat run course after the initial climb either.  The trail wound around and went up and down, often in a short, steep fashion.  Sometimes there were rocks or tree roots to be aware of.  You definitely had to watch your footing during the run, and it was a stability test for your hips and ankles.  Yikes. 
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
            On the first loop, a gentleman caught up to me and he recognized me from having done the run of the Green Bay Olympic together last year.  Yes, a running buddy!  We ran several miles together and he definitely helped me keep a better pace.  There were portions of the trail that were also quite narrow and forced us to go single-file either because it was that narrow, or we were passing or being passed.  I stayed close to him for as long as I could, and we passed up the woman in second together.  We kept watching for the woman in first, but could never see her.  He got away from me later in the second loop, and I scolded myself.  My best shot at catching the woman in first was to stay up with him.  Every woman I passed I kept hoping was her, but the race numbers told me otherwise.  I finally came to the descent and saw no one on it, meaning I knew I didn’t stand a chance at first place.  Descents like that are not very fun, especially when your legs are in so much pain already.  I crossed the finish line in 4:55:09, and I found out that the woman who beat me was the stellar pro triathlete Jessica Jacobs, who I didn’t stand a chance at catching!  How stellar?  Her best Ironman time is an 8:55:10, which made her just the 13th woman in Ironman history to break nine hours, and the third American woman to ever achieve that feat.  I definitely can’t feel bad about coming in second behind her!

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            Minnesota Tri News wrote about High Cliff - “One of our region's most challenging halves--only two women, one a first-tier pro (Jessica Jacob's won Ironman Wisconsin and Ironman Florida in 2011. Her time at Florida was 8:55), broke five hours on that cool, windy morning.”  I was that second woman!  I wish I could have pulled off a PR time, but this course was not a fast one by any means.  Jacobs referred to it as “an a**-kicking.”  Pretty accurate I must say.  I definitely think I am capable of a much faster time, but I will have to wait until next year to prove it.  It’s important to always stay hungry for the next one. ;)

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