Tuesday, February 21, 2012

HITS Triathlon Corpus Christi Race Report

I have done a lot of the same races for a few years now. Kerrville was a new course for me (and everyone) last year, but it was still a Jack & Adam's race so I knew exactly what to expect. I was excited and a little nervous about doing a completely different race, I had heard some good stuff and some bad stuff about the first 2 HITS races and I just didn't have any expectations either way. I originally signed up for the full distance race, but downgraded to the half partly because I just wasn't getting in long rides in the cold, and partly because I knew it would be a small race and as a back of the packer I wasn't excited about being alone on the course for hours and hours. I felt like my swim and run training were really good for the half, but my bike training even for the half was a little lacking. So I had no expectations for HITS and no expectations for my race except to enjoy the race and have a new and different triathlon experience.

Saturday (day before my race)
Ingrid swimming with the dolphins!
We got to Corpus Christi on Saturday just in time to see some of the final finishers from the Olympic race, we cheered for a few finishers then walked down to the swim entrance to see if we could see Ingrid practice swimming. There was only one swimmer in the water and there were 4 or 5 dolphins swimming beside her! She didn't even know they were there.

They had listed the half/full packet pickup from 3-4 pm, but it was only 11, I asked if I could get mine early, "absolutely". We went to lunch and got back in time to watch the open race- what a great idea! It was very short and free, so a lot of kids and families did the race together. We had fun watching most of the kids doggie paddle through the swim, and cheered and high-fived them as they went into transition. After a few minutes I realized Dave Scott was standing right across from me, cheering in the slower kids too- very cool!

Ingrid, me and Spinnaker in transition

Ingrid and I got our bikes set up and did our warm up rides. It was crazy windy, 28 mph, I felt like I was getting blown all over the road and I was really happy the wind was forecast to calm down by morning. We weren't sure if we wanted to leave our bikes in transition in the wind, so we asked Transition Dude Joe if we could wait til morning, "sure you can leave them tonight, we'll have security all night, or bring them in the morning, whichever you prefer" Nice. None of the bikes already in transition were blowing around, so we decided to leave ours.

 We were waiting around for the pre-race meeting when Dave Scott walked over, that's when I got my photo op and he asked "are your legs feeling good for your race tomorrow?" Pretty cool.
Dave Scott and me

The pre-race meeting was pretty informal, in the transition area with Race Director Mark Wilson talking to us, there were about 80 athletes doing the half and 30 for the full. At one point someone asked about cut-off times, "don't worry about that, we'll be here...no big deal". He suggested that everyone carry 2 tubes "we had street sweepers clean the course, but you never know" I (correctly) took that to mean no roving bike support car on the course- not a huge deal, but hopefully something they consider adding as the races grow. He gave a couple of other useful points about the course, so I was glad I went to the meeting. On our way back to our cars I asked Rosie (Rosie of Houston who sometimes gets nervous in the water and has missed Ironman swim cutoffs a couple of times) if she heard that they weren't enforcing the swim cutoff time. "Really? Are you serious?" "yes, that's what Race Director Mark said" Rosie jumped up and down and squealed! "Heather you just made my race!!" I was just the messenger, but I thought it was pretty cool that they'd let people continue racing as long as they were able (within reason, I'm sure).

Cool tattoo race numbers, a first for me!
We got to the race site at 5:50 on race morning and parked less than a block from the start- awesome! It was definitely a more low-key relaxed pre-race atmosphere than I'm used to. It took me forever to set up my transition area, I had a ton of space, but it was a different set up than I'm used to and I had way more clothes than normal. I finally got everything set up the way I
wanted and got into Maggie's wetsuit. Ingrid had an extra pair of neoprene socks, so I put those on too. It was a cold morning but I knew the water would feel even colder. Official water temperature was 62, but Ingrid said she thought it felt colder during her practice swim. I didn't do a practice swim at all, I thought if I got in that cold water once, I might not be willing to do it again! Race Director Mark told us we could get in for a practice swim, most of us just laughed, but eventually we had to get in.
I waited until the 3 minute warning and got in fast, at first it didn't feel too bad, but as water got in my wetsuit-wow it was cold! I was shivering and couldn't wait to start swimming and hopefully warm up!
Waiting for the start and freezing in the cold water!

Countdown and air horn- GO
Easiest swim start ever! No contact at all, there were a little over 100 people starting, but we had a big start area. I think I had my feet touched 2 or 3 times the entire swim. I started swimming but had a hard time getting into my rhythm, swimming while shivering doesn't work too well for me, I tried to just keep moving. The first 5 minutes or so was tough, I wasn't sure I could stay in that water for 45+ minutes! But finally I started to get sort of comfortable, my hands, feet and face stayed really cold, but otherwise Maggie's wetsuit was keeping me pretty comfy (THANKS Maggie!!).
Sunrise and swimmer
My head started to hurt after a few minutes and I couldn't decide if it was just because of the cold water or if it was the 2 swim caps I was wearing to try and stay a little warmer. The sunrise was beautiful and it was fun to watch as I swam along. I know there were concerns about swim support at the past HITS races, but there was plenty of support in Corpus- lots of kayakers, a few jet skis, and police/Coast Guard boats, if I had any issues I'm sure someone would have been there in seconds. There were also plenty of big red buoys marking the course. It took me almost 27 minutes to reach the turnaround buoy, which is really slow for me. I assumed the cold water was just slowing me down and I tried to pick it up a little on the way back.
Great shot Jeff!
 By this time my hands, feet, and face were still really cold, but otherwise I was comfortable and enjoying the swim, but I was really happy I had decided to do the half instead of the full, I don't know if I could have stayed in the cold water twice as long! I came out of the water in 54 minutes, my slowest half iron swim ever, but also my coldest! I assumed my slow time was due to the cold water, but later I heard rumors that maybe the course was a little long, so maybe both the cold and a slightly long course contributed to my slower time. I bear crawled out of the water, the steps were just like the ones at IM Cozumel.
bear crawling up the steps
I got onto land and tried to jog to transition, but my feet were frozen and not really working. Announcer Alex was talking about me and as I walked by I said "wow! my feet are Frozen!" and he announced that! haha! I got into T1, and sat on the ground to get my wetsuit off (no strippers).
Hello! They gave me a stool, why did I sit on the ground??
I planned on wearing some extra layers since I don't warm up easily, so I tried to struggle into my long sleeved fleece bike jersey and it was tough with cold hands and being all wet! I finally got that on and had some trouble with my fleece lined tights too. My wool socks and bike shoes with toe covers went on easier (I did sit on the stool to put my shoes on) and and the rest of my gear was normal. I had fleece gloves that I was planning to put on over my regular bike gloves but I thought I didn't need them (biggest mistake of my day!!) My hands didn't feel too bad but my feet were still numb as I walked out to the bike mount line. T1 was 6:08.

Starting the bike
I got on my bike just as the full iron race leader was starting the bike. He was swerving all over trying to get his shoes on, so I yelled to let him know I was right behind him and passing. Of course he flew by me a few seconds later! Jeff was yelling something about him to me, but I couldn't understand him (he was saying "stay with that guy!" haha yeah right!). Ocean Drive was really pretty in the morning and I was enjoying the sunshine, but I was really glad I had decided on the extra layers because it was still pretty cold. There were at least 4 or 5 guys in transition with me, so I was surprised that no one passed me for awhile. My feet stayed cold and my hands were getting colder and colder, but otherwise I was really liking the ride. Police at every intersection stopped traffic and cheered for me, and there were more spectators than I had expected. I thought Ingrid should pass me around mile 6 or 7 since she passed me at both Ironman Cozumels around mile 12. Around mile 9 I started to worry that maybe she had a really bad swim, and finally at mile 12 she passed me (her swim was a little slow, but not too bad)! So at every race we have started in the same wave, Ingrid has passed me at mile 12 on the bike!

I had been a little concerned when I asked the HITS people if roads would be closed for the race and they said no, 358 is pretty much the main highway in Corpus and we'd be on it! Turns out they coned off a lane along with a wide shoulder and had plenty of police watching out for us, so I felt very safe even on the busier roads. I was glad we drove the 358 section of the course because when you see the tall part of that bridge it looks huge!! Luckily I knew it was doable and as I started the climb up, it didn't feel much worse than the long hills on Parmer. Park Road 22 was all chip seal-yuck! But I got a big tailwind, so I was going fast and having fun! It's a 2 lane road and was open to traffic, but it wasn't busy at all and the cars that did pass were super polite and safe about it. I got to the turn around at 1:46 minutes, which is great for me!

My hands and feet were still freezing and numb, so I stopped at the turn around to try and warm them up. It wasn't really working and the volunteer said "it's not going to get any better when you ride into that headwind" and he was right, sort of. My hands stayed really cold and I was mad at myself for not putting on the second pair of gloves, but my feet actually started to thaw out while I rode into that headwind. The headwind definitely slowed me down, but it wasn't any worse than a typical day out on Parmer. I really looked forward to seeing the big bridge again since I knew when we curved around the headwind would let up some and the chip seal would end. The bridge the second time was more fun and I let myself fly down the backside as fast as I could. It was also really pretty looking out over the water. There were only 4 turns on the entire course,
finishing the bike
but for some reason I almost made the turn back onto hwy 3 a block too early, luckily the police officer said "NO, NO, go straight!" when he saw me slow down and look to the right. The cones continued straight and there wasn't a sign, so I don't know why I wanted to turn there. The real turn was well marked and impossible to miss. I made the final turn back onto Ocean Drive and saw a couple of the full iron racers heading out on their second loop. I was completely out of Infinit, which has never happened before, and feeling hungry so I was glad to be almost finished with the bike (I did drink more than normal, but my speedfil straw wasn't pushed down all the way, so I wasn't completely out of Infinit. I guess if I'm going to race with that thing, I should probably train with it once or twice!).
As I got closer to the finish I started to see some of the faster runners on the run course. For a mile or so the bike and run were on the same road, at first I thought that would be an issue, but it wasn't. I assume if the race gets bigger they might need to change that, but with only 100 or so people it wasn't a problem. With 3 miles to go, I passed a run aid station. Aid Station Troy started jumping up and down and cheering for me! He yelled "I'll be waiting here for you!" Near the bike finish I passed Jeff and he asked "are you warm now?" in a joking tone (assuming I would be more than warm after a 56 mile bike ride) and I replied "not really". I was looking forward to running to warm up my hands and feet! I could hear Announcer Alex talking about me, but I don't know what he said. Bike time was 4:02, one of my slower half iron bikes but based on my training I'm not surprised or disappointed with that.

It was a small transition area but when I came in I couldn't remember if I was in row 3 or 4, I guess I asked Transition Dude Joe if I was in this row or the next one, and he looked at my number and ran over to my spot and guided me in. I started to take one shoe off while standing up and he said "use the stool, it helps, I promise" Oh yeah, the stool! I sat down and took my shoes off, took my extra layers off and started getting my compression socks on. Transition Dude Joe asked "is there anything I can help you with?" in such a sweet tone I was sure if I had asked him to put my compression socks on for me he would have done it! But instead I said "no, I've got it, thanks though". I ran out of T2 while Transition Dudes Joe & Chris cheered for me and told me to have a great run. T2 was 5:50. Both my transitions were slow, but if I hadn't had cold hands and put on/taken off extra layers, I could have had some of my fastest transitions here. I had space to set things up however I wanted and the T area was small.


I felt good starting the run, saw Jeff as I got onto the street and I finally started to really warm up! I was loving the sunshine, the ocean view, and seeing other runners on the course! We were running along the seawall and random people out for a walk saw my number and cheered for me, that was pretty cool. I got to mile 3 and Aid Station Troy started jumping up and down and yelled "I was waiting for you! You look Awesome! What can I get for you" I took a cup of water and thanked him. Love the enthusiasm! Around mile 4 or so, I saw Ingrid running back, she seemed to be enjoying the race too. I ran 4, walked 1 most of the run, near the beginning I felt like my stomach might be getting upset but after switching to the 4/1, my stomach felt better and was fine the rest of the run. When I got onto the road, I cheered for cyclists coming in and other runners on the course. I got to the run turnaround and saw the only volunteer who didn't cheer for me all day, he was napping! I thought about making some noise and waking him up, but I figured he had already had a long day and had a lot more hours out there, so he probably deserved a nap :)
Almost finished!
On my way back I saw the full iron run leader- he was flying! (but he wasn't the same guy who started the bike with me, that guy had mechanical issues and had to drop out). I was still feeling pretty good, my legs were a little more tired than I'd like, but I think that was mostly from the bike. I got back onto the seawall and more random people cheered for me. I've never run a race on a sidewalk that was open to pedestrians before, there weren't too many people out and they all got out of my way. I wonder if anyone had issues with that? With 3 miles to go I got to see Aid Station Troy for the last time. He yelled "you're Awesome! what can I get for you?" me:"nothing I'm good" "what? you don't want ANYTHING??" me:"how about a high five?" "YOU GOT IT GIRL!!!" "just 3 miles to go, YOU GOT THIS!!" I think I actually sped up a little in the last 2 miles and I saw Jeff and Ingrid just before the finish. Run time was 2:46, about 6 minutes slower than my fastest half iron run time, but based on my bike training, I expected my run to be a little slower. Overall time was 7:55, my second slowest half, but hey it's FEBRUARY and I did a half iron!
Finish Line!!!

I felt pretty good after the race, we hung out with Ingrid for a little while, then went to shower and eat and came back to watch some of the full iron. I got back just in time to see Rosie start her run, she finished the swim, but had 3 flats on the bike,so she was pretty far behind her goal time.
Rosie starting the run

 I wanted to find out if anyone aside from the winner had finished yet, the only person who didn't look busy at that second was Dave Scott, so I asked, "no one else has finished yet...how was your race today?...I saw you finish. How are your legs feeling now?...how did you feel about the bike course marking and support?" Pretty cool to have Dave Scott asking about my race!!

We stayed to watch Deb finish and see some of the other racers hit the turn around point. We chatted with Race Director Mark, Announcer Alex, and Time Keeper Lindsay a lot. Alex asked my last name, then he looked deep in thought for a couple seconds and said "did you do Ironman Cozumel in both 2010 and 2011?" Yes, how did he know that??  "and he (pointing at Jeff) bought you a bike and that's why you did your first triathlon..." I had written that in my athlete bio, apparently Announcer Alex had pretty much memorized everyone's athlete bio to have good info for announcing- pretty impressive! 

Robert at the turn around point
It was also impressive to watch all of the HITS staff help racers at the turn around point. I saw Race Director Mark run to transition and get a jacket for someone who hadn't expected it to get so cold. I saw him stuff Snickers into someone's jersey pockets, I saw Announcer Alex help someone put his jacket on, and hug a few sweaty, smelly athletes at the finish. It was pretty obvious that these guys really cared about their athletes and would do just about anything to help them have a good race.  
Alex also told us all about Robert a fire fighter doing 26 marathons in his fire fighting gear this year, some of them as part of ironman triathlons to raise money for 911 victims- wow!

When Rosie hit the turnaround point, we decided to call it a night. It was really cold and I was tired and my feet hurt. So we ended our ironman spectating at about 8pm.

Overall thoughts about HITS
yes, I enjoyed the race and yes, I would definitely do another HITS race!

 1. these guys really care about their athletes and it shows, I really didn't expect the personal attention from a "big" national race company, so I was impressed.
2. huge transition spots, and you don't have to worry about someone "camping out" as Red says, next to your spot and taking all your space.
3. I know there were concerns with the first couple races about course marking and support, but at Corpus the entire course was well marked, the swim was well supported, and there were plenty of police at intersections
4. they had aid stations every 10 miles on the bike and every 1.5 miles on the run and aid stations were all well stocked when I came through at the back of the half pack.
5. I emailed Haley with some questions a couple weeks before the race and she responded in about 10 minutes. At the race site when I had a question, I asked Mark, Joe, Haley, Dave Scott, they were around all the time and it couldn't have been easier to get answers.
6. 1 year age groups, even with my 7:55 time I was only 1 spot away from winning my age group, pretty cool for us mid to back of the packers who would never get an award otherwise.
 I feel like all of my "cons" are nit picky little things, but I also feel that for those planning to do a HITS race, these might be good things to know and expect, so here goes:
1. no wetsuit strippers.
2. no roving bike mechanic, although when Rosie got a third flat someone found out and took a tube out to her, so even though they're not roving the course they'll help out when needed.
3. 1 volunteer per aid station, not an issue on the run, but if you take hand ups on the bike and miss one, you're kind of out of luck. I'm sure this will change as the series grows.
4. in Corpus the run was partly on a public sidewalk (a big 10 ft wide sidewalk) I had no issues with that and didn't hear about anyone else having issues, but I could see it being an issue if there were a lot more pedestrians out or if there were a lot more racers.
5. no finish line clock, but Time Keeper Lindsay is right there and will tell you your finish time. Mark also said they're hoping to get a finish line clock soon. 
Fountain near the finish line lit up at night


Richard said...

Great report!
I was interested in doing HITS Corpus, but my schedule of other events got in the way. It's good to read positive things about this fledgling race series.
Congratulations on the half finish, and for the second place AG finish!

md said...

I'm glad my wetsuit worked out for you! I love that my gear was with you while I'm 'resting'. :) this sounds like a very well supported and organized race. hope it grows and continues to be around, sounds like a good one to try. way to kick off the tri season with an early cold race in the books! well done!