• Chris Tomshack

I Did A Half Ironman With Zero Training And Here's What Happened - Ironman Ohio 70.3 Race Report

A Half Ironman is comprised of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run


If you haven't already, click here to read about my first official triathlon - Ironman Cozumel 2020.



Is it possible to complete a Half Ironman with zero training? Simply put, Yes. Would I recommend it? Probably not.


"But Chris, what about every other website out there that says you need to dedicate at least 6 months to train for a Half Ironman?"


Sure, 6 months of training would be extremely beneficial (and quite frankly, I recommend putting in as much training as possible before any triathlon). But, it can be done without any training.


The primary, and arguably the only, reason was because I registered for Ironman Ohio 70.3 after completing my first official triathlon, Ironman Cozumel 2020. At that time, I was riding the lingering "high" from finishing the full Ironman and I developed a short-term obsession with the sport. Shortly thereafter, the realization came to me that I didn't enjoy spending 10-16 hours swimming, cycling, and running every week. To be completely honest, I don't like any of the three disciplines at all. At that point, I had already been working with the incredible coach Michael Fitzpatrick of Trū Endurance for 3 months and paid a good chunk of money for the training. I called Fitz, told him I lost all interest in the sport, and he understood. We stopped training shortly thereafter in February.


I figured I could just "kick it into gear" a month or two out from Ironman Ohio 70.3 and get into decent enough shape for the race. But, before I knew it, I was 4 weeks out from the race. Then 3 weeks. Then 2 weeks. Then 1 week.


"Well, it looks like I'm going into this race with zero training." I thought to myself.


Photos from Ironman Ohio 70.3, 2021. Click to select a photo and enlarge it by clicking the arrows in the top-right corner of the photo.



RACE MORNING

The morning started off relaxed and easy-going. However, it ended up being extremely stressful to the point where I was nearly convinced that I was not going to be able to race. Everything was planned the night before, my bags were nearly packed and ready to go, and my breakfast was ready to be made. My sister and her fiancé traveled down to Columbus with me to experience the Ironman atmosphere and cheer me on since they weren’t able to make it to my first full Ironman (and first official triathlon in general) in Cozumel, 2020.


We planned on leaving at 5:45AM to make the 21 minute drive from the hotel to the starting point of the race. I had to drop off my T1 gear bag at my bike and we planned for there to be enough time between driving from the hotel to T1 and the time that T1 would be closing (6:15AM). Once we got into the car to head to the race (5:55AM), I turned on Waze and plugged in the address of the Delaware State Park, which was the starting point of the race.

That was when the stress kicked in...

47 MINUTES! That was how long it was going to take to get there, according to Waze.


"How the hell did the drive time double overnight?" I yelled at Marissa and Shannon, as if they had the answer.


What we came to realize, was that I didn’t take into consideration that Ironman and the city of Delaware closed roads throughout the late hours of the night to ensure the bike route was clear of traffic for race day. That 47 minute drive had our ETA at 6:42AM - 12 minutes after the race was supposed to start.

I drove faster than Ricky Bobby trying to impress his estranged father and cut the drive down by ~5 minutes. But, I was still under the assumption that because I was too late and that I wouldn’t be able to corral myself into the right swimming group or - worst case scenario - I would be unable to start the race entirely.

Luckily, the road closures caused a severe traffic backup that resulted in countless athletes on the shuttle buses to be late to the start. There were so many late athletes that Ironman actually made the decision to push the starting time back from 6:30AM to nearly 7:00AM.

Whew.


I got there, had plenty of time to de-stress, inflate my tires in T1, and corral myself into the 40-43 minute swim group.

SWIM

The starting point of all triathlons is the swim. In years past, athletes were corralled by age group; Nowadays, athletes self-seed themselves into groups based on estimated completion time. I’ve only ever raced with self-seeding and it seems to always work smoothly.


The swim course was a triangular shape swim that started and finished on the shores of Delaware State Parks Beach. Athletes swam in a clockwise motion with right-hand turns. This was a reservoir in which the water temperatures change throughout the year. This was a rolling start swim where athletes self-seeded based on their approximate swim times. (Ironman Website)

Image from Ironman.com


Now, even though I didn’t train at all, I took my average paces from previous swim training into account. Those training paces ranged from 1:22-1:35/100yds and my average pace during Ironman Cozumel was 1:37/100yd. So, I took those averages into account and seeded myself in the front of the 40-43 minute group for this race. I figured being in the front of that group would give me the best chance of success and minimize my chances of being run over in the water. After all, who the hell wants to be kicked in the face and swam over?

I thought to myself - Best case scenario, I average 1:45/100yd or faster, take off from the 40-43min group, and catch up to the group in front of us with a finishing time of ~36 minutes. Worst case scenario, I average a 2:00/100yd pace and end up near the back of the pack within the 40-43min group.

As I approached the water, I slurped down a chocolate Gu gel with 20mg caffeine to give me a little boost throughout the swim. Once I got into the water, my timing chip activated and I took off at an easy pace to acclimate my self to the water and get into a groove, to prevent burnout from taking off too quickly.

The water was, without question, the darkest, nastiest water I’ve ever swam in. I mean, you couldn’t even see your hands while swimming if they were extended in front of you. The water made Lake Erie look like the crystal clear glacier lakes compared to it. That being said, I realized one thing I never trained for - sighting. Sighting is difficult to describe, but if you’re a swimmer or triathlete, you know it is hard to be efficient in the water as-is, let alone attempting to learn to sight on the fly by lifting your head and sighting for the first time ever during a race. So, there I was, Zig-zagging through the water like the happy hour hero walking out of the bar after a dozen drinks. To put it simply, I was extremely inefficient throughout the swim because of the zig-zagging and "learned" how to sight on-the-fly.

I finished the swim in 46 minutes and averaged a 2:44 pace. Yikes.

Oh, one last thing about the swim. Around the 1,200yd mark, my stomach unexpectedly decided it no longer wanted to digest the oatmeal I ate earlier that morning and expelled it at a faster rate than I was swimming. I didn’t feel sick and actually felt perfectly fine, which was the weird part. So, I wafted the water around so the swimmers behind me wouldn’t swim directly through regurgitated Quaker Oats/Gu Gel, put my head back into the water, and carried on.

Transition 1 (T1)

In and out in 7:41.


I was in no rush. I walked from the lake to my bike, put my shoes and helmet on, and briskly walked my bike through T1 to the point where I was allowed to get on and start riding.


The first 1-2 miles were slow and easy as I was trying to navigate the curviness of the park roads while peeling and eating a banana.


T1 was located at Delaware State park. The arch designating the starting point of the swim was to the right of the street light post furthest away. The swim finish arch was roughly 50ft. to the right of the 'Active' sign in the bottom-right.


BIKE

56 miles. That’s it. I’ve ridden 56+ miles more than a dozen times since I started triathlon training in July 2020 and was looking forward to it.

The bike course was said to be a flat, fast, and straight ride with only 1,400ft. of elevation. The course began in Delaware and Marion County, into and through the farm land of central Ohio, and back into the city of Delaware at mile 54. The first 90% of the bike course was flat and relatively smooth. The course started on the smooth flat highway of Route 23. From Route 23, the course turned off of the highway, outside of city limits, and onto the backcountry roads of Marion County. The backcountry roads were as flat as could be, but the asphalt was noticeably rougher than the smooth highway. The last 10% of the course was hilly and rough, patchy asphalt.

Image from Ironman.com


My goal for the bike leg of the race, after taking zero training into consideration, was to finish in under 3 hours. That goal required an average speed of 18.7mph.

I felt physically satisfactory going into the bike portion and ended up averaging 18.9mph, which meant that I hit my goal of a sub-3 hour bike split. Could I have pushed harder, stayed in the aero position longer, and averaged 20+? I believe so. But, I’m satisfied with how the bike went. The most prominent downside to going into the race without any training was that my shoulders weren’t prepared for long distances in the aero position. I was only able to hold the aero position for short periods of time before I had to sit upright and rest my shoulders. Looking back on it, there is a lot of room for improvement moving forward.

My only 'hiccup' throughout the bike was that I had to stop at the first aid station. Because of what transpired earlier in the morning before the race, I didn’t have time to fill my water bottles on my bike. The bottles had my powdered endurance formula within them, but no water. Therefore, I had to dismount my bike after 17.5 miles and ~50 minutes at the first aid station to fill them with water.


All-in-all, I was happy with the bike course, my nutrition, how well I monitored and controlled my energy expenditure, and how I felt going into T2.


Transition 2 (T2)

In and out in 6:21. Although I wasn’t “racing” today, I should probably work on quicker transition times…

T2 was at Selby Stadium, located within the heart of the town of Delaware.



RUN

In my opinion, the run is the “make or break” portion of the race. The swim is “getting to the race”, the bike is the most important part of the race, because - it doesn’t matter how great of a runner you are - if you push too hard on the bike, you will be physically depleted and fried for the run, and the run is where it either all ties together or all falls apart.

The run course was a double-loop styled course and began at T2 in Selby Stadium. The course started with a ~1.35mi stretch away from the stadium, into two laps around a ~5.5mi loop of rolling hills along the Olentangy River, and then back into the 1.35mi stretch to the Lake Placid styled finish line within the stadium on the track. Image from Ironman.com



I felt strong leaving T2 and began the run out of Selby Stadium. My headspace was clear & positive, my heart rate was easy to keep in-check, and my legs felt surprisingly good going into the run. Sure, they felt a little “heavier” than normal, but hey, I just biked for 3 hours. I'll take it.


The first mile almost went perfectly, until I misread the marked arrows on the pavement and made a wrong turn back onto the bike course. Yep, I prematurely turned left and was running into oncoming traffic of athletes who were still on their bikes. It took 150-175 yards of running that way before someone finally corrected me and I realized what I had done.

After I turned around and made it back onto the actual run course, I took off again and maintained the pace I was planning on holding for the entire 13.1 miles - 9:45min/mile. I was ecstatic with how I was feeling, how in control I felt of my heart rate, and how I was on par with my race plan.


And then…

My quads decided they didn't like that idea.


2 miles into the run, my quads were cramping. Badly. The cramping came out of nowhere, similarly to how my oatmeal came out of nowhere during the swim. My body felt good, my heart rate was where I wanted it, but my quads decided they weren’t having it anymore. Therefore, the run portion of the race turned into a run-walk for me. To be completely honest, that sucked. But, I understood that my legs weren’t ready for the beatdown of a 70.3 race, and accepted it. I ran as much as I could before my quads cramped again and then walked until I was able to run again.

With that being said, the run was still a blast. The volunteers were extraordinary, there were countless spectators cheering the athletes on with speakers, sprinklers and uplifting attitudes, and the community of athletes that were on the course were a lot of fun to talk and banter with.


I finished the run-walk and averaged a 13:09 min/mile pace, which landed me with an official finishing time of 6:57:07 for my first [official] Half Ironman. Ironman Ohio 70.3 was my third triathlon overall.


My first triathlon was a 70.3 distanced event that was organized and hosted by my local triathlon club (Cleveland Triathlon Club - CTC), which I regretfully did fasted until mile 12 on the bike.


My first official triathlon was Ironman Cozumel 2020. Read My Ironman Cozumel Race Report Here.