(Read about the swim here.)
I watched the NWS forecast for Galveston all weekend. They’ve got a cool graphical forecast that predicts things like temperature, chance of precipitation, wind, and wind direction. I checked it a dozen times on Saturday, and once more at 6 a.m. Sunday morning. Each time it showed the same thing: winds of 8-9 mph from the east shifting to the southeast. (For reference, winds from the southeast are the norm.)
I’m never trusting a pre-race forecast again, because what actually happened was completely different.
Weather Underground lists the average wind yesterday as 11 mph, with a max of 21, and max gusts of 26. I stole the graph above from them. I was on the course from about 8:45 until about 12:30, or during winds of 10-18.5 mph coming straight out of the southwest. That would be straight down Galveston Island and thus straight down the road we had to ride on. The only positive was that we had to face the direct headwind on the way out, so the ride back to Moody Gardens was, literally, a breeze.
I was in high spirits as I left the transition area to begin my 56-mile biking odyssey. My hands did get a little tingly at various points due to my missing biking gloves, but I was ok. The course took us from Moody Gardens across to the ocean side of the island, and then 13 miles southwest down the island. We hit the turnaround and retraced our path back to Moody Gardens, where we then turned and did the out-and-back one more time.
On the first leg out, I never looked at my distance, not even once. The wind was, well, just plain sucky, and I didn’t want to think about how much farther I had to go. I decided to just let the turnaround catch me “by surprise” — even though I was waiting for it anxiously. Around mile 10 I passed the entrance to Galveston Island State Park, where there was a bottle pass-up. I’d read about this pre-race but didn’t really know what it was. Turns out they were handing out full bottles of water and/or Gatorade! I didn’t partake because I had my two water bottles, and had nowhere to put another bottle.
I hit the turnaround with glee. Time to fly! I quickly accelerated to 20 mph without even trying. Even at that speed, a handful of guys still flew past me over the next miles. Even at 20 mph, they made me look like I was standing still.
One area with room for improvement if I ever do a Half Ironman again is nutrition. I think I just plain didn’t eat enough, and suffered for it at the end. In T1 I’d stuffed three gu packets on my body — two underneath the spandex on my thighs and one in the bike bag. I also had two full bottles of water. I planned to drink one bottle per loop and take a gu at 15 miles, 30 miles, and 45 miles.
After suffering through the headwind on the way out, I’d just taken the turnaround when it was time for gu #1. I pulled it out from under my shorts, lifted it to my mouth, and…dropped it. Whoosh! I’d already hit the turnaround and thus had the wind at my back. I was going 20 mph, and the gu was gone long before I had a chance to catch it. I briefly considered stopping, but didn’t. I decided to wait until mile 20, and took one there. I held it much more carefully that time!
It had taken me 1:10 to get out to the turnaround, but it took me less than 45 minutes to get back! By the time I got back to the pyramids of Moody Gardens I’d almost forgotten about the crappy wind. Almost.
Take a look at the Garmin-produced graph of my speed. Pretty drastic, eh?
I saw Jose again as I got within a half mile of the swing back past the transition area. I almost missed him, but spotted his striped shirt. “Jose!” I yelled. He looked a little surprised — I caught him off guard. “Sarah!” he yelled, with his hands in the air. They had another hand-up near the transition area, and I was able to grab a gu to replace the one I’d dropped. A few minutes later I passed Jose again as I started my second out-and-back. I had enough time to comment to him about the wind and how it totally sucked. Ah, that’s me, complaining in the middle of the race.
My first bike loop had passed with an average of exactly 15 mph, just as I’d hoped for. With that knowledge, I again headed into the wind. It was worse the second time. I’d averaged something like 12-12.5 on the first time out; this time I could only manage 11.5. This time I did look at my mileage. “I can make it 10 more miles in this,” I’d tell myself. Then I’d yell at the wind. “I can make it 8 more miles in this,” I’d tell myself as my feet spun and spun. I’d curse out loud at the wind. Whatever made me feel better! Instead of despairing, I got angry and I kept going.
When I passed the bottle hand-up again, I decided to take advantage of the full bottle of Gatorade. I grabbed a bottle and threw one of my green MS150 bottles to the side of the road — a sacrificial lamb to the gods of the Half Ironman. Boy did that Gatorade taste good. So did the knowledge that the turnaround was less than 5 miles away.
Finally — finally! — I saw it. There in the distance, like a mirage, were the flashing lights of the police car stationed at the turnaround. As I got closer, I could see the orange cones marking the end of the out leg. I’ve never been so happy to take a turn as I was to take that one. Though I still had 14 miles to go, I felt like I’d finished. The ride back to Moody Gardens was fast and pleasant enough, or at least as pleasant as it could be after already riding 42 miles. My neck and back were really complaining, but it was good to know that I’d be off the bike soon.
Jose was standing along the very end of the bike course, mere feet from the dismount line. I almost cried when I saw him. I was so happy to see him, and so happy to be done with the bike. I gingerly dismounted and walked into transition. Three minutes later, I’d ditched the helmet and biking shoes and added a hat and running shoes. Off I went to do…