By the morning of the Donner Lake Half Iron Distance race, I had been in the Tahoe area, living and training at a base elevation of 6,200 feet for 16 days. I would have liked to spend six weeks there prior to the race, to fully acclimate to the altitude, but other obligations got in my way. I had trained for high altitude races three times before and each time I felt a significant adaptation after being at 6,200 feet for ten days. After about three days this year, the longer I was there the better I felt on each workout, but I never felt that “pop-now it feels the same as sea level” at ten days that I had felt in the past.
SETTING UP MY TRANSITION AREA
I woke up early on race morning and half seriously said to my husband: “maybe I should just skip it.” My coach had been talking a lot about visualization, but every time I tried to visualize the run all I could visualize was walking up the steep hill on the back side of Donner Lake. While I felt physically ready for this race, my mental game wasn’t up to par. This was my third half ironman in 2017 and I had finished third in my age group at Hawaii 70.3, seven weeks prior. This was my third Donner Lake Half and I had placed first in my age group the inaugural year of the race. The second time, I was the only one in my age group so I came in both first and last. This year I knew there would be at least one other competitor in my age group.
THE RACE COURSE
In addition to the Half Iron Distance/70.3 race there was also an Olympic distance race and an AquaBike (swim, bike) race. There were approximately 400 people overall and only around 80 of us were doing the Half. The venue is beautiful, at the West End of Donner Lake. The water is clear and the perfect temperature for swimming in a wetsuit.
|LADIES GETTING READY TO START|
The bike course starts with a three mile climb which has about an average of 7.5% grade. After that its predominately downhill with a few long rolling climbs till the first turnaround at 16 miles, then its predominately uphill for 12 miles, turnaround again for 12 miles down, turnaround and head back uphill until the three-mile descent. My Garmin recorded 4,226 feet of climbing on the bike course.
The run is a bit longer than 13.1 miles because its two loops around Donner Lake. All but a very short bit of it is on asphalt. It is relatively flat with about 460 feet of elevation gain.
Because the lake is 600 feet deep there were only two buoys for the 1.2-mile swim, one at each turn, close to shore. This wasn’t a problem for me because whenever possible, I choose a high point on land behind the buoy to sight on rather than looking for the buoy itself while I’m swimming, until I get very close and it becomes obvious. I had a pleasant, uneventful swim and finished with a time of 38 minutes which included the run up to the transition area.
|THIS TIMING CHIP HAS TO BE ANCIENT|
My biggest problem in transition was getting my wetsuit off over the gigantic timing chip which was on my left ankle and safety pinned closed. I spent 5 minutes in transition which was a few minutes longer than usual at this race.
|AT THE START OF THE BIKE|
I made the decision to ride my road bike because its lighter and has better climbing gears than my time trial bike. After the race I realized the down-side is that the reason climbing is easier is I can spin in an easier gear which results in me not going as fast. The day began to heat up while riding and I had sweat dripping down my arms and face well before I finished. Usually a breeze created by riding keeps that from happening. My bike time was 3:57, which is the longest it has taken me to ride 56 miles in a half ironman race.
|BEFORE I WAS COMPLETELY OVERHEATED|
After a fairly quick transition I started out on the run course. My legs felt pretty good but I was getting very hot. There isn’t much shade on the course and it was 98 degrees by the time I started the run and getting hotter. In Donner State Park, I stopped to put my head under a campsite hose bib. I started to think about quitting about six miles into the run. I told myself if I made the first loop around the lake in less than and hour and a half, I’d go out on the second loop. Otherwise I would be done and have my first DNF (did not finish.) I made it to the start of the second loop in 1:27 so I kept moving forward. My “run” time ended up being 3 hours and 3 minutes. There was quite a bit of walking involved and a second even longer stop to run water over my head.
|WHAT I'LL PUT MYSELF |
FOR A PINT GLASS
As soon as I could after crossing the finish line, I submerged myself in the lake to cool off. I also soon found out that I was one of only 15 women who completed the half ironman distance race and the only one in my age group to finish. After wanting to quit and mentally beating myself up for such a slow pace, I ended up getting a first-place award.
I was reminded that no matter how miserable I feel, just remember that my competitors are experiencing the same misery and not to get discouraged by how bad I feel or how slow I think I’m going. I also swore that I’m done with the Donner Lake Half! The next Donner Lake race I do will be a sprint or Olympic distance.