By Mike Stanek
Many team memories of White Lake Half involve questions of whether the lake will be warm enough for just a wetsuit – or if neoprene booties and caps were also going to be necessary to survive the 1.2 mile swim in White Lake, NC. Not this year. When we showed up on Thursday with the sun shining and temps pushing into the upper 80’s, the race director posted that the lake was already at 75F. That balmy weather continued through Friday and on race day, though somehow the lake managed to stay wetsuit legal. I will say that Set Up Events may want to reconsider its swim description on the race website, where it says in ALL CAPS that the swim will be wetsuit legal (and possibly wetsuit mandatory). Thanks, global warming!
I do love racing White Lake as a way to shake off the cobwebs and to get back in racing form for the year. It’s a fairly small race, but a good mix of fast guys and gals typically show up to see where their fitness is at. And the lake itself is great – shallow, sandy bottom, and some funky currents from the springs that feed it to get you back on point with sighting. The roads in the area are pretty serene, except for some areas of chip seal (and unless you get stuck behind a hog farm truck). On paper, it looks like it should be a super fast course, though it never really is thanks to wind and rough pavement.
Race morning was easy. We had checked in on Friday, so just rode our bikes less than a mile down the road to transition around 5:30am. No lines for anything, body marking and bathrooms included. I actually had time to kill. Chatted with the rest of our race crew and then hopped in the water to warm up. They never made us get back out of the water before the race started, so people just stood around in the water (peeing) in their wetsuits while things got started. Pro tip: if you do this race, bring your own timing chip strap. They hand out basically hospital admission wristbands for the chips, which I promise will cut up your ankle.
The swim was… long. We all were 3-5 minutes slower than normal, and our Garmins showed that despite swimming pretty straight lines we were a few hundred yards over a half iron swim. Good for training, I guess. T1 is a bit of a jog up from the lake. By the time you get to your bike, your feet will be covered in pine needles. Definitely take the time to wipe the feet off, especially if you wear socks on the bike.
The bike starts off fast, which I loved. I came out of T1 with a few guys so I wasted no time getting to work. The first 10-15 miles I was averaging 25+ mph, which is always fun, until you remember that you usually pay for net downhill and/or tailwind sections with net uphill and/or headwind sections. The rest of the bike was a bit of a struggle with a constant headwind and dealing with that general feeling of knowing that your average speed is... slowing. Still brought the bike in well under the 2:30 mark, which I was happy with given the bike work I’d been doing over the winter.
By the end of the bike, it was hot. And sunny. And I knew the run wasn’t going to be pretty. I ran the first two miles around the pace I had trained for, and then let go of pace and just followed heart rate to avoid totally exploding. The run course is pretty flat, but it’s also very exposed if race day is sunny. With temps pushing 90F by early afternoon, I just did what I could to avoid walking. I also kept muttering to myself about how it was too soon in the year for this bullshit, which helped. My sole criticism of the race was how they handled the run aid stations. The stations were not spaced every mile or so as they had been in the past, and, to put it gently, they were not well stocked. On a hot day, that can really make a difference. We were all in the same boat, but hopefully they pay a little more attention to that detail in future years.
I made it to the finish line 8th overall and 2nd in my age group, a few minutes behind Darren Rentch who nailed it with a solid 4th overall performance. Scott Yates crushed the Aquabike for a win, and Nate Kazaitis had a great return to racing after an injury at the end of last year. The best part of racing White Lake, per usual, was post-race back at the lake house when we fired up the grill and cracked open some beers. It felt like summer (literally and metaphorically), and it got me excited to get this 2017 tri season started.