The 70.3 series is an offshoot of the more well-known Ironman series, of which the famous race on Hawai'i, in Kona, is the championship race. A 70.3 is half the distance of an Ironman; it's a 1.2mi (1900m) swim, 56mi (90km) bike ride, and a half marathon, 13.1mi (21.1km). Add it all up and you end up with 70.3 miles, hence the name. It's a good first step towards a full Ironman.
As I already found out during the Muskoka Long Course race in July, racing in Muskoka is fun. The environment is challenging (hilly) but gorgeous, the roads are lightly traveled, the lakes are beautiful, the locals are very supportive, so it's a joy to race in Huntsville and surroundings. The Ironman 70.3 has a central transition area at the upscale Deerhurst Resort. September being the end of the season Deerhurst apparently doesn't mind having a bunch of smelly athletes on their grounds as opposed to the usual well-capitalized golf crowd, and it turns out to be a very hospitable environment. The swim is in Peninsula Lake, the lake Deerhurst is built on, the bike circumnavigates nearby Lake of Bays clockwise, and the run is an out-and-back into Huntsville and from there north in the direction of Arrowhead Provincial Park. Except for the swim, nothing is level. Both on the bike and running running you're constantly climbing or descending. About 900 people signed up this year, down from 1350 finishers last year, so the transition area was nice and spacious. Among the 900 were Ironman man's ruling world champion Craig Alexander, and women's runner-up Mirinda Carfrae, who both use this race as their final tune-up for Kona. Both claim that Muskoka is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, 70.3 on the circuit. So that makes me even more proud of finishing it.
The swim went more or less according to plan. I got kinda confuzzled in at the beginning (started too close to the line so got clobbered by my entire wave; nobody will ever confuse me for a fast swimmer, especially at the start), which probably cost me a couple of minutes to gather my composure. At the first buoy, about 300m (1000ft) into the race, I got into a nice, steady rhythm and was fine after that. I finished the swim in 45:58, 2:18 per 100m, pathetic by most people's standard but I wasn't unhappy.
The transition from swim to bike is a beauty. It's a 300m (1000ft) run up the hill to the transition area in the parking lot. Google Earth tells me the elevation difference between the lake and parking lot is 19 meters (60ft). And 300 meters is about a minute and a half running at decent pace, in this case barefeet with a wetsuit on. Epic.
Getting on the bike after that was good, initially. The first 12km (7.5m) or so has a couple of really nasty ups and downs, which really get the blood flowing pretty good. After that, when you hit the highways around Lake of Bays, it's more gentle rollers, but again, it's never flat. The best part (for me) is always overtaking people with wheels that cost more than my trashy Cannondale on the climbs. Some of them will get me back on the descent, because their $5000 Cervelo does that a lot better, but I'll typically lose them for good on the next uphill.
Everything seems to be going fine, until about 50km (30mi) in: when standing up to stretch my back my right quad cramped and locked up, while being hyperextended. I had a couple of minor cramp onsets in my calfs and quads before that, but those went away. This was a full-on cramp. I was debating how to safely stop (my leg really wouldn't move anymore), when all of a sudden it came back to life. The quad seemed fine after that. However, I did collapse at about 75km (45mi). At that point there are a bunch of nasty uphills again, on the west shore of Lake of Bays, and those did a number on my legs. My speed dropped considerably and I couldn't attack the uphills as I like to. I did make it back into transition after 3:01h with an average of 31.1 km/h (the bike course is a wee bit long at 94km (58.5mi)). Thinking about it my muscle problems were most likely caused by the fact that I didn't have enough opportunity to do long bike rides in the weeks leading up to the event; I left for a 2.5 week vacation overseas early August, where I didn't ride at all, just ran and swam, and when I got back the weather and daylight situations didn't cooperate either. I had a pretty good base built through June and July, which probably saved me, but it wasn't enough for a real good performance.
On to the run. This started out not bad, with a pace of about 5min/km (8 min/mile). About 2km (1.25mi) in I ran into Mirinda Carfrae, who was at that point two km away from winning this thing on the women's side. I never saw Craig Alexander all day: he'd already finished before I got in on the bike. After about 4 or 5 km (3mi) I started to get some stomach problems: felt like I had a brick in there that just wouldn't pass. I drank water at a couple of aid stations, but that only seemed to make it worse. As I said, the run is an out-and-back, and the turning point is the high point (literally) of the race, meaning that km 7 (4.5mi) through to 10 (6mi) are pretty gruesome. Turning back, up to about 15 (9mi), is mostly downhill, so relatively easy (if your stomach is not too bloated). At 16 (10mi) they send you down a trail more or less parallel to the highway, and this is where it got really funny. It being a trail meant that the hills are much steeper than they would be on a road. Here my bike quad problems came back to haunt me. Loading up my quads on the downhill felt like somebody was sticking knives in them. The uphill was murder on my calfs. So I had to walk quite a bit.
The funny thing is (and I heard this from more 70.3 finishers) that around 20km (12mi) I felt the worst I felt in my life. My stomach hurt, my legs hurt, it rained, I was miserable. Until that 20km sign and I know I only had one km to go, and I could see the transition area. You actually circle the transition area before you finish, and can see the finish line, and this gave me the biggest adrenaline rush of the day. I ran that last km in 4:12 (6:45 min/mile). Did the whole run in 2:08, with a 6:04 min/km (9:45 min/mile) average. Total time was 6:02:38.
I'm still not sure what caused the stomach bloating. My theory is that I used Hammer Perpetuem as fuel on the bike and didn't drink enough water with it. I dissolved about 6 scoops in a 750ml (25oz) bottle, which means you need to drink additional water to get a proper consistency in your gut. Since it was kinda chilly and rainy, I was never really thirsty so ended up with this thick carb/protein mix in my belly that never really went away.
All in all it was a modestly successful 70.3 debut: I almost made my goal time, never messed up too badly, and have some things to aim for next time: proper bike training and revisiting my nutrition.