I’m writing this in between continuously stuffing my face because of my constant, insatiable hunger. Who knew that completing a Half Ironman would leave one so hungry? Oh, spoiler alert, I completed my first Half Ironman at the Timberman 70.3 race! This blog entry will serve as my “race recap,” of the aforementioned finishing.
After I decided I wanted to make a 70.3 race my goal for this racing season I got a number of recommendations to do Timberman, which had the benefits of being late in the season and fairly close. I was looking for a late in the season race to have an opportunity to get in a good amount of outdoor riding and open water swimming. I mainly succeeded at the first goal and got in enough OWS either swimming at Walden Pond or in races to feel comfortable heading into the race. Of course, I also had planned on using the summer to get in a lot of brick workouts and that plan…failed. Miserably failed. And, of course, that came back to bite me come the run leg.
We headed up to New Hampshire on Saturday morning and made our way to Gunstock Mountain, where the Ironman Village was located as well as a meet and greet for Make-A-Wish racers with none other than Andy Potts. Andy, I call him Andy, gave a stirring message about the good we can all do in the world for others, “you don’t have to help everyone, just start with the person next to you.” During his talk, he got quite choked up, which of course got me quite choked up.
It was incredibly inspiring to hear him speak, not to mention hearing from the Wish kids themselves. Alex didn’t speak, but his story provides a great example of the difference Make-A-Wish can make.
Of course, there were photo ops to be had.
The eagle-eyed of you may note that I am simultaneously representing both the old and new Slipstream Sports teams with my Garmin argyle New Balances, and Cannondale argyle water bottle. It was roughly about this time that I realized I had unimaginably left my wallet back home, roughly 90 miles away. Me. The guy who loves buying race swag. That guy. I had a near panic-attack at the thought of not being able to check in without photo ID, but some very lovely volunteers devised a clever way to check my identity, i.e. they covered up my birthday on the entrants form and then asked me what it was. Disaster averted. I did end up buying one piece of swag, thanks to R having a second card of my credit card on her, a Timberman bike jersey. The rest of the village was fairly meh, with a couple tents selling some Gu products and other things that you might have forgotten to pack, like spare tubs, CO2 cannisters, etc. While I did pick up some Salt Stick salt tabs, I did regret not getting some Base Salts for the race.
After Gunstock, we made the short 10 minute trip over to Ellacoya State Park where the actual race takes place. This presented one of the aspects of race organization I had an issue with, namely the complete lack of parking assistance in a space that very much needed it. We had absolutely no idea where we were supposed to park, or even how to get out of the parking lot once we did. After that, however, it was a breeze to get my bike racked up in transition. Knowing there was a possibility of rain in the forecast, I covered my bars and seat with garbage bags, which proved to be the right call after thunderstorms swept through the area.
With logistics behind us, and a sweet new Make-A-Wish tri top in hand, we headed to our bed and breakfast, the Nutmeg Inn. For those reading this with an eye towards potentially doing Timberman 2016, I’d encourage you to book your accommodations early. We were happy enough with the Inn, and they were kind enough to get up at 4:30 a.m. to make sure there was coffee ready for the racers staying there, but the options run out quickly for places close to the start.
Fast forward to the bracing buzz of the alarm at 4:30 a.m., and race day was finally upon me. I did my best to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on homemade sourdough bread that the inn owner made for me (super sweet, right?), and we headed over to the park. One of the great perks of racing for Make-A-Wish was the VIP area they had set up for racers and family members. This meant we had a place to hang out before the race along with a supply of water, Cokes, and other goodies. But, the absolute best part was the dedicated Port-A-Potties, which meant no lines! That they were decked out in disco lights made them all the cooler.
R and I made our way over to the swim start and I took some time to get acclimated in the water along with some easy swimming to loosen up. The water was really pretty perfect, just cool enough to make it comfortable in a wetsuit.
After watching a bunch of other waves go off, it was finally my turn to begin with the second set of M30-34. I made an effort to smile throughout the day to keep my spirits and energy up, not to mention reminding myself to have fun.
The other guys in my wave clearly shared my general antipathy towards the leg, with only a handful of them eager to be right in the front of the pack.
My biggest concern with the swim, other than, you know, distance and speed, was staying on course. I have such a tendency to veer that it can add a not-insignificant amount of yards to the distance, which I cannot afford. Luckily, this course had a number of intermediate buoys in between the turn buoys, giving ample targets to sight to. I did my best to maintain an even effort throughout the swim and, while I did get passed by people that started in waves after me, I didn’t get that same feeling of sluggishness I did during the Mass State Oly.
I didn’t start my stopwatch during the swim, but did note when we started time-wise. As I made my way out of the water, I was surprised to see that I had gone roughly 43 minutes, much better than my anticipated best case scenario of 50 minutes, given that I had just swam a pool mine in 39:50. My official time was 43:54, which I will take every day of the week, and twice on race day.
The path to transition was nice grass, and took us past wetsuit strippers, an experience I’d never had before. I had no clue what to do, but had seen them in Ironman videos. So, I got down on the ground, some volunteer grabbed the suit, and then he pulled it off in one fell swoop. It was AWESOME.
I didn’t exactly rush through T1, trying to take my time to make sure I had the fuel I planned on bringing . Of course I forgot one pack of Skratch Labs chews and only brought one salt tab, instead of two, but, c’est la vie. After a few minutes, I grabbed my bike and made the fairly long trek out of transition.
As you can see, I decided to go with my XX2i sunglasses and The Athletic socks. Thankfully R noticed that my tri top rode up in the back, leaving a perfect opportunity for a “tramp stamp” sunburn.
Glad I put sunblock on that spot! Also, apparently my move was the fist pump all day when passing the Make-A-Wish cheer tent.
I rolled out onto the course, trying to stay at a moderate pace, knowing the first 11 miles or so of the course included some pretty good climbs. Here is the elevation profile from my Garmin.
There are two Cat 4 sections as identified by Strava, and roughly 2700 ft. in elevation over the course.
The advice I’d heard over and over going into the race was to go easy those first/and then last 11 miles and open up a little more over the middle part, all the while saving energy for the run. Of course, unsurprisingly, I screwed that up. I actually felt reasonably good on the hills, attempting to stay in my saddle as much as possible to avoid overcooking my legs. To my surprise, I even passed people on the climbs, which are anything but my strength. With the hard opening behind me, I opened up some, still trying to stay in a zone where I wasn’t laboring to breathe. However, when I hit the 40 mile mark at an average of 20 mph, I knew I had probably made a mistake in pacing, given that I’d never ridden that fast in any training ride. Oops.
For fueling, I took two bottles filled with Skratch Labs drink mix as well as Skratch Labs chews and Untapped Maple Syrup. I tried to drink every 5 miles or so and take solid fuel every 10 miles, which I more or less executed. I did drop a nearly full pack of chews though at mile 5 while trying to get it back into my top tube bag. That’s what I get for not practicing zipping and unzipping the bag.
As for the actual course, I think I was expecting something a little more…scenic? It’s not that it was a bad course, though there were a few fairly rough sections of pavement along the way, it was just…road. There was almost always a good amount of shoulder to ride on, and I never had trouble passing anyone. The course was well-marked with plenty of volunteers.
I slowed down some from mile 40, partially because I was getting tired, partially because I was trying to preserve what little I had left in my legs. In the end, I averaged 19.4 mph (based on my Garmin start and stop) with an official leg time of 2:51:27, 90/185 in my division.
I felt pretty good heading out for the run, throwing on my New Balance Zante Boston shoes and visor, while downing two salt tabs ahead of what was sure to be a hot, hilly, run. From what I’d been told, the run course would be a fairly unrelenting, rolling, course. The intelligence was right.
I really didn’t have much of a game plan heading into the run, which was just as well, as it would have fallen apart fairly quickly anyway. Simply put, I was cooked, and the walking started somewhere around mile 5. The real anxiety came in the first mile though, when I realized I’d completely forgotten to grab my race belt in T2, which meant I was running without a bib. While I was somewhat concerned about being DQ’ed as a result of not having a bib, I admit I was probably more worried about not getting my pictures!
The course followed the lake shore, though I was expecting more of a view, and was basically an out-and-back done twice, even though it’s described as two “loops.” On the first “back,” I started walking most of the uphills, then trying to run after. I got a little pick up during a random French chat with a Canadian before going through the spectator area and seeing R before starting lap 2. I had asked that she have a Coke ready for me, and she was spot on with it. It was a welcome respite in the heat, and I thank Todd Christy of Chillmark Coffee for the suggestion.
I knew heading out for Lap 2 that it would be a slog. I grabbed a couple minutes rest while an extremely nice woman who was doing…something or other…in transition was able to grab my race belt. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about that aspect of the race. I also managed another fist pump for Make-A-Wish.
Truly, there’s little to say about the second lap which was, for all intents and purposes, the same as the first. I gave everything I could, but was eventually really held up by calf cramps starting around mile 12. This seems to be an inescapable problem for me in long races. Hopefully at one point I’ll be able to dial in my fueling to avoid this problem.
Eventually the finish line was in sight. I couldn’t exactly kick it in for fear of my calves completely seizing, but I limped across the line with a final time of 6:00:17, and a run split of 2:14:59, 93/185.
And, with that, I became a Half Ironman. On R’s advice, I slowly made my way over to the lake to try to cool down some, as I was feeling roughly the same way I did after running the Boston Marathon in the heat, as you can probably sense in the picture below.
The lake felt absolutely wonderful, and I started to feel a little better after the dip.
All in all, Timberman was a fantastic experience, and one I’m very proud of. I’m fairly certain there will be another 70.3 in my future, though I’m not entirely sure which one it will be. I re-learned the same lessons I have from previous races, including that a lack of brick workouts will bite you in the ass, and nutrition is best not left to chance. I also learned to actually trust myself and my training a little more heading into race day.
Many thanks to R for putting up with me during the race weekend and being a great photographer and sherpa on race day.
Enjoy the ride, dear readers!