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It’s Not About A Medal: USATF New England Open Championship Race Report

November 10, 2016

Man, just the title of this report makes it sounds kind of bad ass, doesn’t it? THE NEW ENGLAND CHAMPIONSHIP! Feels like the sort of thing you should qualify for, right? Well, thankfully, all you have to do is be a USATF member and pay the entry fee. The harder part of getting into this race was actually making myself sign up to race. I’d been meaning for a couple years to run a cross country race as part of my quest to challenge myself with new athletic experiences. Now, XC, as we like to say, has always been near and dear to my heart, but I haven’t run a cross race since 1999, which puts it outside of my “adult runner life.”

There were two factors keeping me from just leaping in feet first into this race at historic Franklin Park, which happens to be my new neighborhood. First, the race was 10K, quite the jump up from my memories of 5K races in high school. Second, there was a very real possibility that I’d come in last place. In 2015, last place was somewhere around 44:05, slower than my new PR, but not out of the realm of possibility given that it isn’t a road race. I wasn’t so much concerned about finishing in last as I was about the course shutting down, etc., which fears were likely unfounded, but there you go. I turned to my fellow Heartbreakers for advice, with every last one of them strongly encouraging me to just do it and have fun. Without singling any out, there were a few that were particularly encouraging and motivating, so I say thank you to them.

Part of the appeal of the race was that there would be a cheering section of non-running Heartbreakers at the race. Coach Dan arranged for a bus to take us from SEAC to Franklin Park, which I decided to take, rather than simply drive the 2 miles there, to fully maximize the high school nostalgia. It did not disappoint.

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After a bumpy trip down memory lane, we arrived at Franklin Park, which was decked out in its finest autumnal livery, and endeavored to find all the fast, young people who were smarter than us and came in actual cars.

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Things started to feel real when I saw this sign.

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Two of the Heartbreaker women who were in a similar boat as I was, at least in the sense that they were running the race but did not expect to be scoring, and I broke off to find the rest of the racers, who had encamped at a corner of the park.

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We met up with Captain Louis, who had our bibs, and tried to keep each other from being too nervous about the upcoming endeavor. I’ll admit, it felt pretty cool pinning this bib on.

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After getting situated, I met up with the cheer squad to watch the start of the women’s race, which was crazy deep and featured some really top-notch runners for the 6K course.

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After cheering a few loops of the course, I figured I should do a little warm-up thingy. So, as is customary, I jogged for roughly 3 minutes before joining the boys for some drills, which mostly meant me doing carioca, skipping and high knees in some haphazard fashion. I lied, “haphazard” is  way too generous a description of the level of planning I put into that warm-up. With a couple minutes to go before the race was set to go off, Captain  Lou called the team together for a last second pep talk, the details of which shall remain in the circle, but suffice to say it was motivating.

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Photo Credit: Some Heartbreaker (Maybe Coach Dan?)

And so, pepped up, I took my spot on the line. Unlike a traditional road race, which would have a relatively narrow starting area, with everyone lined up rows deep, a cross country race like this has boxes for each team spread across a long line, which leads to a mad dash start, particularly in a race like this where the the course narrows fairly early on. I knew the field was going to be very fast, so I set myself at the back of our corral and did my best to start the race at my own pace, not trying to maintain contact, even early on.

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Here you can see just how spread the field is.

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I knew from Coach  Lou that the first mile of the race would be quick, so I tried to stay within myself, get a feel for the terrain, and find a pace I could settle into. The opening mile was fairly flat, with a few small bumps, and a mix of grass and dirt trail. I had some visual contact with the field, which wouldn’t last long, but didn’t make any effort to latch on to to the guys at the back of the pack. I was surprised to see a 6:26 pace for the first split, and knew I wouldn’t be hanging on to that.

The race basically consisted of a set of loops in different orders.

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After mile 1, the race ventured into the zoo, and the infamous Bear Cage Hill. Bear Cage Hill, at least according to the Strava Segment, is 0.3 miles, with 52 ft. of elevation.

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Bear Cage Hill is the bump at miles 1.5 and 4.5.

It certainly wouldn’t be a particularly onerous hill in a road race, but it sure felt difficult in this one. It’s made harder by the fact that it is looser terrain than most of the rest of the course, with some uneven, rutted out, footing.

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Headed towards Bear Cage Hill. Photo Credit: Josh Campbell Photography

So, there was the “basic loop” done for the first mile, the Bear Cage loop, and then The Wilderness loop. As the name implies, The Wilderness was the most “trail-ish” portion of the race, but also probably the fastest. At this point, I basically had the course to myself, at least in the sense that I couldn’t see any racers, so I did my best to just maintain my pace solo. Thankfully, running on your own means you have a chance to get shots like this.

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Photo Credit: Josh Campbell

Really the only negative aspect of this race came after I exited The Wilderness the first time. As I ran up the path, there was a fork in the trail, with no one from the race telling me where to go. I saw a group of women cooling down from their race as I came up to it and asked “which way do I go ?!” to which they thankfully all said “LEFT!” I really didn’t have to break stride and got myself going in the right direction. At this point, the lead bike came rolling past me, so I moved myself to the left side of the path, letting the rest of the field fly by and cheering on the Heartbreakers with what little breath I had left.

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Headed into The Wilderness…I think?

The second half of the race included another trip up Bear Cage Hill, which I felt like I was walking up the second time around, and more Wilderness time. Each mile split got slower and slower from mile 1, 7:02, 7:06, 7:09, 7:10, until I hit mile 5 going into the final Wilderness loop. At this point I knew the terrain well, knew there were no hills left, and it was time to give whatever else it was I had to give until the finish.

I rounded the final corner and encountered a fairly non-stop cheering section of Heartbreaker teammates cheering me on towards the finish line, giving me the boost I needed to dig deep and produce whatever semblance of a kick I had left.

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Photo Credit: JCP

It hurt.

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Photo Credit: JCP

With cowbells clanging, and Heartbreakers cheering, I crossed the line, utterly exhausted, in 43:10, my second fastest 10K ever. Immediately after the race, our team photographer for the day, Josh Campbell, did a quick portrait session, as he did with everyone else, to capture the spirit of cross country racing.

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I think this shot perfectly captures the pride I felt in my performance at this race, and the pride I felt in simply deciding to toe the line in the first place. There were so many  positives to take from this race, so many amazing experiences. I have to share the note Coach Dan included in the weekly Heartbreakers email to really convey just why I feel the pride I do wearing the ❤ on my chest and repping this club and HHRC in general:

“First, let’s review the USATF-NE XC Championships. There were many noteworthy things about it but many of those were by design and expected. We’ll get to those too. But, first, the unexpected – our whole cheer squad happened to have gathered near the finish when Michael Robertson made the final turn into the home stretch. Michael was in 110th place of 112 runners and our squad cheered their guts out. I could see that Michael was touched and the squad was so proud. It’s not easy to put yourself out there. I, for one, had no idea the race would be that fast at the back (Michael is not slow). Running is always relative: to ourselves, to the field, to our expectations, to our youth. You can ask Matt S and Emily about that. Both are BQ runners in the well over 20 min category and both found themselves in the back 1/3 of this one. It was a shock. That is championship cross country though. It’s fast. It’s rugged. There are few fans. There are no medals. There are teams. There are personal victories. There is great pride.”

To make a long story short, couldn’t have said it any better myself.

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Knuckle Lights Review

October 26, 2016

Let’s face it, seeing in the dark is hard. At this point in my life, I’m man enough to admit that, absent some sort of aid, I’m not really good at seeing things that are not illuminated. As we creep towards November, the availability of natural illumination, i.e. sunlight, on my preferred running paths has disappeared earlier and earlier, which makes it that much harder to run comfortably without fear of tripping. This is especially problematic on some sections of the path on the Charles River that are both dark and rooty, which roots are difficult to distinguish in the dark, leading to many a misplaced footfall. Enter, Knuckle Lights.

I previously reviewed the original Knuckle Lights way back in 2013 and, now, thanks to the gracious folks at Knuckle Lights, I can tell you all about their brand new version, which maintain the basic concept of lights on your hands while adding in new features, notably among them rechargability (please note, “rechargability” is not actually a word, but it should be). Here, you can see the dock used to recharge your lights.

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As the name implies, Knuckle Lights go on your knuckles, as opposed to a headlamp, which goes on your head.

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The lights are held on by an adjustable rubber strap, which I found a bit difficult to adjust at first, but had no problems with once I got it locked in.

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The lights have 3 settings, which you can rotate through using the rubberized buttons at the top, high, low and blinking. For my purposes, the low has sufficed, even on darker sections of paths, but I suspect that there is still some ambient light helping out there, which wouldn’t exist on, say, a forest trail at night. According to Knuckle Lights, the high power produces 140 lumens per light, for 280 total for the pair.

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And this is on low!

Here’s a demonstration of the lights on a dark section of the Jamaica Pond path on the low setting.

As you can see, these are not weak lights. During my test run, I found that I could run at full speed without ever having to worry about my footfall, which is really all that you can ask for out of a light. What I love about Knuckle Lights is the ability to shine the light where you need it while keeping your head in a natural position. This makes it easier to scope out the whole path while having the additional advantage over a headlamp of not blinding a running mate every time you look over to chat. While running, the lights stayed comfortably secure on my hands without having to pay attention to gripping them. I would guess that they might become a bit sweaty during hot weather running, but I also don’t foresee running at times that I would actually need them in hot weather.

One neat extra feature of the new version of Knuckle Lights? They have magnets that keep the pair together as a set, making it that much harder for people like me to misplace one.

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Also, according to Knuckle Lights, they are IPX-6 waterproof. Other specs include battery life of 4 hours on high, 8 on low, 14 on blinking, and each light weighs 3 ounces.

So, if you’re looking to stay safe on the roads and paths as the sun sets every more depressingly early, I would suggest you get yourself a pair of Knuckle Lights.

Disclaimer: For the avoidance of doubt, I was sent these lights by Knuckle Lights to review. However, as always, all opinions expressed are mine, and mine alone.

Gay Head 10K Race Report: An Unexpected PR!

October 3, 2016

It’s always fun to do a race on Martha’s Vineyard given their low key vibe and generally beautiful views on the course, but the 2016 Gay Head 10K promised to be extra-fun because it was the first attempt at a destination race by The Heartbreakers Running Club. We headed two with a full car with R, two Heartbreakers, a fiance, and a dog on Saturday morning. It was tight, but cozy, and Lucy apparently made new friends along the way.

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Of course, Hem and I took an obligatory selfie during the slightly rough crossing.

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We even did some goofing around in Oak Bluffs.

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Saturday night we invaded The Black Dog Tavern with almost the entire crew, which I’m sure they did not expect for an off-season Saturday night, but hopefully, despite our large presence overtaking the dining room floor, we helped make it a better-than-expected night. It was nice getting to chat with teammates in a non-run setting and to introduce R to the team. I also got to meet THE Om Gal!

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Race Day kit.

Headed into the actual race I knew that my recent track workouts were suggesting that I had carried some fitness from IMMT through into the fall season and that I might be in better running shape than I let myself believe. Still, I hadn’t done a run longer than 6 miles since that race, not including cumulative mileage for a track workout, and I really wasn’t sure what the result would be for a 10K on a challenging course. In 2014, the last time I did this race, I ran 46:09, with a 44:04 at the 2014 BAA 10K (my previous PR), and 44:59 at the 2015 BAA 10K following thereafter as my only 10K attempts. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to be closer to 44 or 46, or beyond if my endurance gave out. I gave myself about 6 minutes of warm-up before getting to the start, which was packed with Heartbreakers.

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“Oh, I love your hearts!” – The volunteer exclaimed.

The race started with a laugh as the started got us going with “Runners on your marks, get set! 10, 9, [racers laugh], 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go!”

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Source: Vineyard Gazette

Knowing my tendency to start races far too quickly, and the fact that we’d be hitting hills early in the race, I did my best to start conservatively and not redline immediately. A pack of about 4 teammates set off more or less around each other, everyone seeming to feel out the course before putting the pedal down. As you can see below, the race definitely calls for pacing, with fairly unrelenting hills throughout. Of course, looking at the elevation now, miles 3.5-5.5 don’t seem so bad.

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My goal for the first 3 miles, which I knew had the bulk of the hills, was to try to run a pace that I could maintain on the uphills while giving a little more on the downhills. I didn’t want to either push uphill and over-exert or take it extra easy on them to try to save energy, I just wanted steady running. As it turns out, I ran 6:37, 6:40, 6:38 for those 3 miles.

Making the only turn on the course at Moshup Trail, I saw that I was gaining on a teammate, which helped me focus on maintaining my pace and not letting up, despite some unexpected inclines along the way. As I passed him, we exchanged a few words of encouragement, but sadly his ankle was hurting too much to stick with me and I forged ahead, trying to track down the next Heartbreaker.

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Miles 4-5.5 were reasonably enjoyable, trying to stay steady while using the oceanscape immediately to the left of me as a distraction when needed. I did my best to try to catch the eventual female winner, and a Heartbreaker, but she had legs on the last hill that I could not muster. The race really gets tough right about mile 5.5 when the course begins its final climb up to the Gay Head lighthouse, with gradients in between 3-5.8% at times. I did my best to push as hard as I could, but I could really feel myself dying and got passed by a couple high school kids along the way. Where miles 4 and 5 were 6:37 and 6:52, mile 6 was 7:22. But after the final climb, you hit a brief, steep downhill to the finish for maybe 0.1 miles to the finish.

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Final Time: 42:19, which made for a 1:45 PR and my first time averaging under 7 minute pace on the road for anything over 5K. I’m not even sure I’ve run this fast on a flat treadmill, come to think of it. In any event, I was really happy with the result, and it’s made me start to wonder just what I’d really be capable of right now in running, especially at the 5K distance.

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PR happiness.

Maybe it’s time to take another crack at breaking 20 sometime soon? Until then, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, maybe fewer doughnuts mixed in, but continuing the track workouts that seem to be paying such great dividends!

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Source: Vineyard Gazette

 

I am an Ironman: Ironman Mt. Tremblant Recap

September 22, 2016

I think, deep down, I always knew that some day I’d want to do an Ironman. Even after swearing off marathons, I couldn’t help but have this itch in the back of my mind that I could not scratch, even with a half Ironman and other races. Unable to shake the feeling that I needed to take my shot at this pinnacle of race distances, I signed up for Ironman Mt. Tremblant. I picked IMMT in large part because of my lifelong obsession with Canada, particularly the French-speaking part and because I had heard nothing but wonderful things about every aspect of the race, including the beautiful venue where it is hosted.

Training for IMMT is really it’s own separate big post, so I’m going to stick to the race weekend itself. The way Ironman races are typically set up (I think), you pick up all your materials on Friday, rack your bike and drop off your race bags on Saturday, and race Sunday. We drove up from Boston on Thursday night to Burlington, VT to break up the drive, then up to MT on Friday morning. On the way, we stopped at a grocery store on Rt. 117 that was at least a quarter filled with Ironman racers (notable for their IM paraphernalia, visors, and compression socks. We picked up what I’d need for dinner Saturday night and breakfast Sunday morning before headed to MT itself.

Pre-Race

Mont Tremblant is a ski resort that also does summer activities like a roller luge and apparently lots of hiking. The village is a collection of shops and restaurants all done up to look like a classic European ski village. It even has not one, but two gondolas you can take for some spectacular views!

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Of course, while waiting in line for registration, I took the chance to take a selfie in the village with my Heartbreak Hill Running Company t-shirt.

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Registration itself was a well-oiled machine as the very friendly volunteers, which would be a theme for the weekend, shuttled you from station to station, one of which was a weighing station where they took your pre-race weight (more on that later) before finally getting to the part where you got your much-vaunted Ironman backpack containing your race bags.

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The one major hiccup I had during registration was entirely self-inflicted, and entirely in my own brain. As we walked through the village, it was impossible not to notice the many athletes wearing their previous Ironman gear, looking tremendously fit, and wheeling around their superbikes with carbon race wheels. In a moment of panic, I felt extremely overwhelmed, underprepared, and intimidated, more so than I ever have for any other race. But, I shared my feelings with Rebecca, she said all the right things, and the moment passed.

Taking a friend’s advice, after finishing up with registration and checking into our condo (Les Manoirs, which I’d highly recommend), I headed down to Lac Tremblant to get in a pre-race swim and see what the water conditions were like. Getting into the water and taking an easy swim helped me relax and feel a little bit more in the groove leading up to the race. The water was a pretty perfect temperature for a full-sleeve wetsuit and was fairly clear, though you couldn’t see the bottom once you were away from shore, which was just fine by me.

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I had some intentions of doing a course pre-ride on Saturday, but wound up spending the better part of the morning and early afternoon getting my race bags ready, which included making a batch of Skratch Labs rice cakes, before taking my bike down to transition. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, Ironman races differ from a normal triathlon in that you aren’t allowed to have anything with your bike in transition, including your helmet, so you pack up one bag with everything you need for your bike leg, one with the same for the run, and two bags with anything you will want halfway through the bike and run i.e. your “special needs bags.” It’s kind of a pain to get all the bags to check-in, but it’s also helpful to know that you are packing everything in one place and know it’s all accounted for. Of course, this also led to pre-race mistake #1, packing my tri shorts in my bike because, you know, it was what I was going to wear on the bike. Thankfully, I had my jammerz that I wore for my pre-race swim, which would do the trick for the swim leg in a pinch.

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Don’t put the shorts in the bag! Put the helmet in the bag!

Pre-race dinner Saturday night was my go-to meal of couscous, cherry tomatoes, and chicken sausage. In bed around 9:45 p.m. after watching some Olympic track.

Race Day

4 a.m. should never exist, but it does on Ironman race day. I dragged myself out of bed, started the coffeemaker, and made myself a toasted bagel with toasted everything bagel with peanut butter and honey. Not much later, Rebecca also got up so she could come down with me to transition and grab my bike pump from me when I was done topping off my tires. I’d been warned not to rely on someone else having a pump to borrow, which turned out to be excellent advice as my pump wound up being the one passed around. Of course, I couldn’t go without pre-race mistake #2, not realizing my helmet should have gone in my bike bag. This meant that I was one few morons wandering around transition with my helmet on, but was able to drop it off in my bike bag before heading to the water.

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Swim

First, if you’re doing this race in the future, you should know that it is a LONG walk from transition to the water, so plan ahead. And, despite the many excellent logistical details for the race, one of the few shortcomings also caused me the greatest stress of the day, namely the lack of port-a-potties. There were far too few set up at the swim area, which meant I couldn’t really enjoy neat touches like the fighter jet flyover, because I was too worried about having a chance to “go” before racing. When I finally was able to quickly get into my wetsuit and head to the water, I passed my good friend, Alett, who gave me a quick pre-race pep talk, telling me not to think about anything else besides the swim while I was in the water. I had quite the anxious few moments as my wave was literally getting ready to start and I was still behind the barrier with no way to get through the crowds to get into it. I wound up hopping the fence in my wetsuit, which I’ve never done before and hope to never have to do again. Despite the rushing and confusion, I made it into the pack a few moments before my wave started.

The start of any swim leg is chaotic, but this one felt especially so. I tried to find some feet to follow and draft off of while fending off the many elbows surrounding me and people crawling up my legs. I actually felt very smooth in the water, just trying to keep up a steady rhythm that felt comfortable without over-exerting and getting caught up in the churning. Now, here’s where I make my really, really dumb admission for race mistake #3: I thought the swim course was two laps. Yes, I had looked at the course map, and, yes, I knew that there were 13 buoys out before a turn to a straight stretch before a right turn back to shore, but for some reason I thought the map showed a run across the beach before starting lap 2. But, around buoy 7 it occurred to me that, maybe, the swim was actually one loop, which I’d prefer in any event. I checked my Garmin and confirmed that had to be the case. Sigh.

Around the first turn, the water started to get really choppy as we swam parallel to the shore. I was glad that I had practiced breathing to one side so I could switch up where I was breathing based on the waves, and not force myself to breathe into a swell. I was not much a fan of up and down movement with the waves brought on by the impending storm, but just kept on swimming…until I ran into a boat. A moored boat. You find yourself asking, what was a boat doing on the course? But then I’d be forced to admit it really was fairly off the course, I just happened to be swimming fairly off the course. I managed to shake off the head-to-hull contact and finish off the swim feeling fairly strong, if not a bit off kilter from the waves.

I hit the carpet on the beach and started to make the long journey to T1. I saw Rebecca and Alett along the way, informing them of my boat mishap, trying to keep the whole experience light and fun. Be forewarned, it is a long way to the change tent, so pace yourself!

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Official Swim Time: 1:29:28

Bike

The moment I got dressed for the bike in the change tent was basically the last time my kit was dry, as it soon began to rain, and did not stop…like, ever. In some ways, this wasn’t such a bad thing, if it was going to rain at all, because otherwise I have a feeling it would have been very sticky and humid when it stopped. It was just easier to accept I had a good number of hours ahead of me in the saddle in the rain and make peace with it.

The bike course sets out from the village for a roughly 45 mile total out and back.

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Everything to the left of the green dot is the initial out and back of each of the two laps you complete. As you can see from the elevation map below, this section contains some long flats with some good descents/ascents in the mix.

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There is only one segment of this portion of the course that I would in any way consider technical, and that comes soon after you start on a long-ish downhill on a portion of the road that is marked as single-file only. That said, it’s not a technical descent, it just felt nerve wracking to me because I didn’t want to go fast down it and had the stress of people coming up behind me and passing when they shouldn’t have. Otherwise, the road surface is superb, you’re riding on a highway after all, and there’s plenty of great scenery, assuming that you can see it through the rain. I was able to stay in aero for a good portion of this stretch, which helped keep my MPH up, and felt completely comfortable just trying to keep up a steady rhythm on the pedals on the flats and spin up the hills.

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As you can see, the rain was fairly intense, and this picture doesn’t capture any particularly heavy moment. To be honest though, it wasn’t all that bad riding through the rain other than on the descents, which became that much scarier on wet roads, at least for someone like me. I’m not sure if it had any affect on specators that might otherwise be on the course, but you do a short out and back stretch through a town and the roads were lined with people, which was a nice distraction.

Of course, you can’t do IMMT without hearing about the fabled Chemin Duplessis, which was the focus of every pre-race discussion about proper gearing for the race. This leg of the race is what I call the “back half” of the course, even though it, of course, didn’t account for half the lap, it just felt that way. Here’s the elevation.

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So, as you can see, no joke. I did my best to heed every piece of advice I’d gotten about hill climbing on this part and spin up the inclines in the saddle, rather than red lining my heart rate and trashing my quads by standing. For the most part, I was pretty successful in this and actually felt reasonably comfortable ascending, even as my average MPH slipped down and down. The more nerve-racking aspect of this section of the course actually came after the turn-around on the steep descents in the rain. I am not the most confident descender on the best of days in the best of conditions, so I was particularly nervous on these downhills in the pouring rain. On the steepest section, there was a race official (I later learned it was the Race Director himself) on the side of the road urging riders to slow down. He pointed at me and said “that’s the speed I want everyone going!” Of course, I was basically gripping my brakes at the time, just trying to stay under control. Further down the road, I saw why he was out there, as 3 riders were being treated after an apparent bad crash. Though they ended up in the ICU, word is they were all recovering. I also had to contend with a crash right in front of me as a woman tried to make it to the side of the road to an aid station, but wasn’t able to unclip from her pedals and fell over in front of me, causing me to have to swerve quickly and avoid not just other riders in my direction, but those coming at me as well.

After stopping to reload my fuel at the halfway point with my Special Needs bag, I carried on for loop 2.

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Fast forward to around mile 100 where my knees, the subject of a great deal of pre-race stress, really started to protest, to the point where I could barely turn my pedals over without pain. Of course it didn’t help, mentally, knowing that the hardest part of the course still lay before me. At this point I started to repeat the mantra that would carry me through the rest of the bike leg and its sharp hills, to wit, “THERE IS NO PAIN, RIDE UP THE FUCKING HILL!” Granted, it was a bit on the self-flagellating side, but it was exactly what I needed. I abandoned spinning up the hills, literally trying to minimize the number of times I had to spin the crank, and actually ended up passing people strongly, despite the pain. I even got some nice comments from fellow riders.

Finally, after completing the “back half” again, I rolled into transition, knowing that a marathon lay before me.

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Official Bike Time: 6:43:54

Run

At last, the run leg was upon me! I headed into the transition tent, excited about the prospect of changing into some dry clothes. Originally, I had planned on changing into running shorts from my tri shorts, but decided that: 1. I was just going to get new shorts wet again, and 2. the risk of chafing, given the rain, was less with the tri shorts than running shorts with a liner. I saw Rebecca as I made my way in to change and warned her that my knees were killing me, which might result in a very slow run, so she shouldn’t be worried if she saw a slow pace while tracking me. I also saw her leaving the tent, apparently in a really good mood before running a marathon after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles biking.

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Again showing the kind of triathlete I am, i.e. not a very prepared one, I had very little idea of what to expect from the run course in terms of elevation. I knew there were no significant climbs to speak of and that, generally, the harder hills came as you finished each of the two laps.

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And so, blithely ignorant, I set off at what I hoped was an easy pace that would keep my heart rate low and, contrary to most every other race I’ve done, I succeeded, at least for the first half of the race. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that my knees didn’t hurt at all while running, apparently the running motion is different enough from pedaling to make the difference.

The run course itself is mostly a two lane route, one coming, one going that starts through the town, then turns onto a rail trail before a turn-around, then back and on to a couple detours, including one along a gorgeous lake on a crushed gravel path, before heading back through the town and into the village where you either take a right fork back for your second lap, or a left to the finish.

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Second lap lake path.

The nice thing about the two lane set-up is that, at least for a large part of the run, and depending on the time of day, you’ve almost always got someone around you, either running in your direction or the opposite way, which helps when the mind starts to wander.

Somewhere around mile 10 or so, I became convinced that I was going to finish the race well within the cut-off time. I know I should have been convinced long before this, but I really didn’t want to get ahead of myself or take anything for granted. Of course, as you can see from the chart below, this is where the wheels began to come off.

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By the time I back to the village, I knew the second lap was going to be a struggle as I could barely bring myself to take in any of the fuel I had in my Special Needs bag, including the Sour Patch Kids treat I had put in the bag as a pick-me-up. I did my best to ignore the hoopla of the village as wicked fast people were coming in for their finishes, took the right fork, and headed back out onto the course, seeing Rebecca again shortly after starting the second lap.

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I’m really not sure what’s going on in the above picture, other than I think I’m starting to hurt but also trying to not show it to the cameraman.

I started walking soon after starting lap 2, and that would be my main method of forward progress for the remainder of the race. It wasn’t so much the fact that I was tired or hurting, which I was, but not terribly, but that my stomach was in full-on revolt with lots of fun cramping and vomiting. I wasn’t able to take in any fuel other than some water periodically, and even that I’d lose soon thereafter (sorry for the bodily functions, but you’re reading an Ironman race report). I would try to run for as long as a stretch as I could, sometimes half a kilometer, sometimes as much as 2 kilometers, but mostly I just tried to make relentless forward progress. If nothing else, the walking gave me some time to interact with other racers and all of the wonderful volunteers on the course. The pace chart below gives a fair idea of how I yo-yoed in pace.

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Despite my best efforts, I was unable to avoid doing That Thing that I do with my hands in every single race picture of me.

As I neared 2 kilometers to go in the race, the sky was dark and the temperatures were dropping, though still comfortable. It wasn’t much of an acceleration, but I did my best to make myself run, however slow, for the rest of the course. I’ve never finished a marathon running, at least anything beyond the last 10 yards of the race, and really wanted to be able to do so for the Ironman.

Approaching the village, I was hit by the volume of music playing and screaming fans, not to mention the streaming lights. It was a party, and it helped propel me on.

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I have never experienced a finish like Mt. Tremblant, including Boston. The finish chute you run through for about 100 yards or so is fairly narrow and is lined with fans 4-5 deep, all urging you onward. Despite the pandemonium, I spied my friend Alett, a nice little surprise. At last, I approached the line and heard a slight variation of his famous words from Mike Reilly informing me that I was, in fact, an Ironman.

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Official Run Time: 5:03:27

Official Ironman Time: 13:42:19

Post-Race

After crossing the line, I was greeted by a volunteer who would essentially be my escort through the finishing zone. He put his arms around my shoulder and guided me from station to station, first getting my finisher’s medal and then to get some water, etc. We chatted in French about Boston and hockey before he handed me off to Rebecca with a smile. At this point I was in pretty rough shape, feeling quite nauseous with awful stomach cramping. I couldn’t decide if I needed a medic or not, knowing it was probably pretty normal to feel terrible after 140.6 miles, so Rebecca took charge and decided I should at least get checked out, but not before surprise gifting me with the official finisher’s jacket!

The first cut of the med staff sat me down and asked some questions before taking an instant read of my blood sugar, which was low. I tried taking in some chocolate milk, but was barely able to take a few sips. They decided to bring me inside to the larger medical area, if for no other reason than to get out of all the commotion of the finish area, which I think they believed would help. They loaded me into a golf cart, which took me inside, where I was put into a wheelchair and taken to intake. The med staff weighed me, determining I’d lost 8 pounds over the course of the race, which apparently is not unusual. They had me lay down on a reclining cot and sip some hot chicken broth for a while until I eventually started to feel better.

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Eventually, I felt well enough to leave and meet back up with Rebecca, who let me hang out on some steps in the village while she got us some take out pizza.

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We picked up my bags and bike and, thankfully, were able to take the shuttle bus back up to the condo, where Rebecca had a variety of beers that she’d previously bought waiting for me! We debated going back down to the line but, when I reminded her that our friend had said we absolutely had to go see the midnight finish, we got off our butts and made our way back down. I couldn’t help myself and got some poutine in the village, managing roughly four gravy, cheesy bites before having my fill. The midnight finish itself was everything it’s cracked up to be. It was tremendously inspiring to see those athletes giving everything they had to be official Ironmen and I am very happy we went to see it. It’s not to be missed.

Prologue

While I thought I’d sleep forever the next day, I barely made it past 6 a.m. Despite feeling fairly good, at least my muscles, after the race, my knees were absolutely awful and I could barely manage stairs. Once I got walking I was OK, but standing up was the worst. We went and had a great breakfast before going to the expo for swag. When we got there, I was sorely disappointed to find that the one thing I really wanted, the race mug, was all sold out, which I should have known would be the case. However, Rebecca came to the rescue, spotting a mug containing stickers on a random table, grabbing it, dumping the stickers, and triumphantly presenting it to me.

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As you can kind of see, I also managed to get the last men’s bike jersey in my size at the expo along with a running cap Rebecca also found. All in all it wound up being a great haul. Afterwards, we took the gondola up the ski mountain and took in the beautiful views.

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And of course took an ussie.

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Plus, I managed to find my favorite, or at least most nostalgic, Canadian beer, Alexander Keith’s IPA!

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At 4000+ words and a month after the race itself, it’s probably time to bring this post to a conclusion. In conclusion, Ironman Mt. Tremblant was an absolutely incredible, fulfilling, challenging, humbling experience that I would highly recommend to anyone looking to take on the Ironman distance. One more huge thank you to Rebecca for everything she did both during training and the race (and after).

I think I can safely say that I am done with the Ironman distance…unless I change my mind.

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Jawbone Up 2 #ExpertGear Review

March 21, 2016

One of the perks of working in a running store part-time is the chance to learn about a variety of great brands and products through a site called Experticity (and then have the chance to purchase those products at a discount). OK, that’s a big perk of working in a running store. Pro pricing is a wonderful thing but, aside from the personal benefits I get from it, it also allows industry pros to train with a wider variety of products, which in turn helps them provide better advice to customers.

Through my relationship with Experticity, I now have the opportunity to review products, beginning with the Jawbone Up 2 fitness tracker! Until now, I’ve never hopped on the fitness tracker bandwagon, figuring I stay relatively active as a triathlete. Still, the health implications of sitting at a desk all day go beyond not getting exercise during the day and it always helps to have a reminder to get up and move every now and then. But I figured I’d get even more useful information from the sleep tracking, which would give me a better idea of just how much of a sleep deficit I have. No part of me believed I was getting enough sleep before tracking it.

Now, you’ll have to bear with me as, in the interest of efficiency, I did my unboxing while on the trainer while watching results from Super Tuesday 2. That’s right, I’m a multi-tasking triathlete politics geek. NBD.

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What you’ll get in the package is the tracker, a charger, and “instructions.”

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Now for those instructions.

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So, get the app. Plug your tracker into a computer. Got it. Now, when I was able to actually do this, it was an exceedingly simple process. If you have a modicum of familiarity with apps, you will be able to set up the Up 2. As I recall, there’s no pairing to fumble through, no passwords etc. But, my quibble with the process would be that you need to plug the tracker into a computer to do the initial set-up, which seems to be an “antiquated” requirement. On the subject of connecting to a computer/charging, you may have noticed the charger looks a little funny, with no obvious clips to attach to the charger. Turns out, it’s magnetic! Neat!

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You can also see how you actually put the tracker on here. There is a metal clasp that attaches via hook to another piece, which you can move up and down the rubber band to adjust the fit. When you set the app up, there is a video that shows you exactly how to properly put the tracker on. Of course, I’m one of those guys who figures I can figure stuff out on my own – instructions are for sissies, and so ended up putting it on like this.

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I’m a moron, which is plain to see here. After watching the instructional video I was able to do it the right way, which is actually quite easy to do.

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Much better, right? And here’s how it looks on the wrist.

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The tracker itself is thin, light and comfortable, meaning I hardly notice it’s on during the day and never am bothered wearing it at night. Personally, I don’t see it as a drawback that the Up 2 lacks a display as it makes it more business-appropriate for daily wear.

On The Wrist

As for functionality, as mentioned, the Up 2 tracks steps and sleep. That’s it. And, really, given that I have GPS watches for keeping track of my swim/bike/running, as well as giving me smart notifications, that’s all I need from a fitness tracker. When you sync the Up 2 using the UP app, you’ll see a progress chart showing your steps for the day and your sleep for the previous night, both of which you can then dive down deeper into for more stats, as shown below.

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Please don’t judge me for my inactivity today, so far all I’ve done is taken a train from Boston to NYC.

The best thing I can say about the Up 2 is that, seemingly, it works. I’ve never actually taken a hard look at my sleep stats, but I like that it tells me light and heavy sleep, which seems to line up with what I experience at night. If nothing else, it reinforces that I need to get more sleep. As far as cons about the Up 2, I wish that it was fully waterproof so I could swim with it, but it is resistant enough so that you can shower with it and not have to take it off. I do find that it can be a bit of a pain to take on and off, but also don’t have to do that all that often.

All in all, the Up 2 is a worthy option to consider if you are looking for a slim, simple, stylish fitness tracker!

Vineyard Sprint Triathlon

October 28, 2015

Sometimes it takes a while to get up a race recap because things are busy at work, or in life in general.  Sometimes I’m just super lazy.  We may never know which of the two resulted in the delay in getting up this recap of the 2015 Vineyard Triathlon.  For the first time, the race included a sprint distance, which is what I opted for, not wanting to tack on another 1/2 Ironman at the end of the season.  The sprint distances were 1/3 mile swim, 13 mile bike, and then a 5K run, pretty standard fare for sprints.

Races on Martha’s Vineyard, as a general rule, are low-key affairs.  If you go into any race, with the possible exception of the Vineyard 20 Miler, expecting the same experience and logistics as a “mainland” race you’ll wind up stressing yourself out and will have a less positive experience as a result.  For example, that same week I ran a 5K in Edgartown that failed to mention on its website that 2 miles would be on singletrack trail and required roughly 5 round-trip shuttle trips to get everyone from the “start” aka finish of the race to the actual location the race started.  Chalk it up to Vineyard racing.  What this meant as it relates to the Vineyard Tri is that we were getting emails from the RDs up until a couple nights before the race with logistics info on packet pickup, transition info, etc. instead of the 30 page Athlete Guide you might get from a WTC race.  While this might be a little scattershot of an approach for some, the RDs replied quickly to follow up emails to address any missing info.  While the emails certainly conveyed the needed info, I think a comprehensive guide on the website might help centralize information and avoid any confusion for next year.

So, on to race day.  It being off-season on MV, parking was the easiest I’ve ever had for a triathlon, maybe for any race ever.  After body marking, I headed into transition to set up my area.  One nice thing about the race was that the transition area didn’t close, like ever.  This avoided the rush and stress that can come when trying to make sure everything is set up before it closes.  At the same time, be prepared to make your own spot without much guidance on where to go as the only real direction was for the half Iron distance racers to rack in one spot and the sprint racers in another section.  Again, different from a larger race, but not an issue unless you get stressed out by that sort of thing.

Speaking of getting stressed out…the state of the ocean on race day was most definitely my biggest source of stress.  It was a grey day and the swells were strong.  The sea was, indeed, angry that day, my friends, so much so that it caused a friend to bag on the sprint race.  Still, the water temp was pretty perfect at least.

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I didn’t attempt any warm-up in the ocean, partly because I didn’t want to wig myself out, partly because I allowed absolutely no time for it.  When the race started on the beach of Oak Bluffs I took my normal position towards the back of the pack, knowing it’d be especially necessary on a day like that to find my own space and not worry about other racers among the waves and in my first ocean race.

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Almost immediately I knew this was going to be a slog of a 1/3 of a mile, not because of my swim shape (at least not any more than usual) but because of the conditions.  Heading out to the first buoy meant swimming into the waves, which meant it was nearly impossible to sight.  I also was not a fan of the constant up and down movement in the water, which served to really throw off my rhythm.  There’s simply no way around the fact that this was a brutal, somewhat demoralizing swim for me, but it did not end the race.  Eventually I made my way out of the water, up the beach, across a street, over about a foot tall stone wall, and into transition to move on to my strengths.

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[A note for the RDs, should they be reading this, on the swim: While the green color of the first buoy likely wouldn’t be a problem on a sunny day, it was difficult to sight on a gray day combined with the water color.  Similarly, the orange t-shirts of the in-water volunteers nicely matched the orange swim buoys, making it tough to tell quickly where one was supposed to be swimming to!]

I most definitely could have made up some time in T1 if I hadn’t let my swim time get to me.  I don’t think I was hustling through it quite as quickly as I could have but, that’s how it goes!

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You can’t tell from this picture, but I’m rocking my new Black Dog socks in this picture.  And, what’s that you say?  New bike?  Why, yes!  That is a new bike!  Right before the race I took the plunge and got a 2014 Cannondale Slice TT bike from Cannondale Sports Cambridge.  I digress here slightly to, once again, praise my friends at this great shop and, in particular, Craig The Manager.  They did both the fitting AND cutting down of necessary components, i.e. the seatpost and aerobars, all in the course of a day, allowing me to take the bike down to Martha’s Vineyard with me and race on it.  I’d also like to thank Greg at Edgartown Bicycle for doing a fit check and adjustment, and bailing me out with a quick pedal installation (along with quick ordering of a rear hydration system).

I set out on the ride hoping for a fast result on the new machine.  With only 131 ft. of elevation gain over 13 miles, it promised to be a fast course, with a tailwind on the final stretch along the water.  Despite a summer of riding on the island, I had spent very little, if any, time on the first half of the course, which made it a little more mentally engaging.  Combined with having a fair number of people to chase down after the swim, I had plenty of motivation to keep my legs pumping, particularly after being chased down by Chilmark Coffee Company proprietor Todd Christy on his roughly 84 year old bike.  Now, one thing I did not plan for was the effect the salt water would have on my respiratory system, or nasal system, or something.  Basically my nose was leaking the entire ride, which was not especially comfortable.  Next time I’ll know to grab some tissues in T1 and stuff them in my pocket.

The highlight of the leg was definitely the stretch from Edgartown back to Oak Bluffs along the beach, which is really the highlight of most rides on MV for me.

Bike Leg

Even though I’d been riding my CAAD8 with aerobars, the Slice is an entirely different animal and I was still getting used to the position during the race, which meant being up on the horns more than I would have liked at the end of the race when I could have really taken advantage of the aero position.  Still, I came in with an official time of 36:27, roughly a 21 mph average, and good for the second fastest bike split on the day.

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As I ran my bike into transition, Rebecca excitedly told me I was in fifth place overall, an unexpected development.  This gave me an extra incentive to try to have a quick transition, and soon I was off to see if I could hunt any of my fellow competitors down.

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I felt pretty good heading out on the run and figured I had little to lose by just going for broke on it.  The only real hill on the course came a little under a mile into the leg.  I’m sure it felt a lot steeper than it actually was, but it definitely hurt at the time.

Run Elevation

Soon after the crest of the hill I caught up with Todd, who not only updated me on placing, but really encouraged me to keep pushing on and finish strong.  It really was the boost I needed to keep driving towards the finish.  The next two miles were fairly uneventful, and I ended up with splits of 7:11, 7:12, and 7:07.  It felt great to close with my fastest mile, not something I usually do in either road races or triathlons.

I came into the finish line feeling fairly triumphant and pleased with how the race went as a whole.

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I ended up coming in 4th place overall and taking my first Age Group win for a triathlon, pretty neat I’d say!  Rebecca and I celebrated with an amazing lobster roll from the Net Result, but not before enjoying some amazing espresso drinks from Chilmark Coffee.  With what may be the absolute coolest perk ever for a race, Chilmark Coffee donated free coffee (including lattes etc.) to the race via a mobile coffee bar.  Immediately after racing, Todd got right to work pulling shots.

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Good guy Todd is a good guy.

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With the race only being in its second year, there were bound to be some growing pains with it.  Some constructive suggestions I’d make for next year would be:

  • Clearer directions from the water to transition
  • Block out the transition area by race number
  • Designating mounting and dismounting zones for the bike leg
  • More clear markings for the turn to the finish line on the run

Before signing off, I’d add this note: Be nice to RDs.  I haven’t always followed my own advice here, but ever since my tantrum at the Marblehead JCC Tri, I’ve really worked on that aspect of my racing.  RDs work tremendously hard to put on any event, let alone a triathlon, and do their best to put on a great event for the athletes.  If you think the race could be improved in some way, take the time to talk about it with the RD, who wants you to come back and have a great race the next year.  Alight, off my soapbox.

This was a fantastic, fun, unique experience of a race.  This is literally the one chance you get to do a triathlon on Martha’s Vineyard and I’m really looking forward to coming back and defending my age group next summer!

Thank you as always to Rebecca for cheering and taking all the great pictures you see here!

Happy racing all!

 

 

 

Timmmmberrrrman!

August 21, 2015

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.

Potts 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.

Wish Kid

Of course, there were photo ops to be had.

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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.

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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.

Make A Wish Potties

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.

Swim Warm Up

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.

Swim Smile

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.

Swim Start

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.

Swim Transition

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.

Swim Transition (2)

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.

Bike Exit

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.

Tramp Stamp

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.

Bike Fist Pump

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.

Bike Elevation

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.

Run Elevation

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.

Run Coke

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.

Run Fist Pump

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.

Run Finish

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.

 

 

Lake Sitting

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!

Skratch Labs Fruit Drops Quick Review

July 14, 2015

I recently took advantage of an offer from The Feed for a free Ride Argyle/Scratch Labs water bottle + 5 Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Individual Singles but figured I should actually purchase something from the site as well, given the roughly $20 of free stuff I was getting.  As a big fan of chewy fuel, I’d long been intrigued by the recently introduced Skratch Labs Fruit Drops so I took a chance and ordered a few packets of the raspberry flavor.

Each packet contains 10 drops, with a serving size of 5 chews.  1 serving has 20g of carbs, 14 from sugars, and 80 calories.  For the full run-down on the nutritional info, check out Skratch Labs’ site directly.

I tested out the chews on a 40 mile bike ride, taking the recommended 5 chew serving on the go.  I found the package relatively easy to tear open while riding, but it would probably be even easier to pre-open before you set out.  The drops have a kind of sugary coating, which gives them a more pleasant texture than Clif Shot Blocks (which I do like, generally speaking), and makes them easy to take out of the package without your fingers getting sticky.

Hey, you can see the bottle too!

Hey, you can see the bottle too!

It could have been a placebo effect, but I felt the energy delivery fairly quickly and liked eating something solid a lot more than downing a gel.  At my most recent triathlon I left an open package at my transition spot, taking a few drops after the swim, and then a couple more after the bike, which worked out rather well.

Of course, the proof of the tasting is in the eating of the pudding.  So, how did they taste?  In one word: AWESOME.  Of course, raspberry chews are right in my wheelhouse of flavor and fuel delivery mechanism, but I think others will really enjoy these as well.  I am definitely adding these chews to my fueling plan now, in addition to the Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix powder I already use.  Personally, I think you should too.

A Tribute To Cobb Cycling’s Customer Service

October 28, 2014

Please forgive this foray entirely into the cycling world with nary a run to be mentioned, but I wanted to share a recent experience I had with Cobb Cycling that blew me away in terms of customer service.  I was fortune enough to win a saddle from Cobb through a contest put on by Maverick Multisport whereby I was closest to guessing the time for their athlete, Amber Ferreira at the Ironman World Championships in Kona (you should really check out Amber’s blog, it’s great).  Cobb Cycling is a team sponsor for Maverick and I had my pick of 3 saddles, the Fifty-Five JOF, SHC, and V-Flow Max.  Given that I’m looking to make my Caadilac more tri-specific, I was psyched to have the opportunity to kit it out with a beautiful new saddle to replace the stock one.

My first instinct was to go with the JOF, which seemed to be a reasonable choice for both road riding and triathlons if I ended up putting aero bars on the bike for racing, as I hope to in the future.  Maverick even went the extra mile and contacted Cobb to see if they could send me the oh-so-beautiful Electric Green version, because of my need to color-coordinate wherever possible.  I mean, how could I pass this up?

JOF_green_large

Before taking the plunge though, on a whim I checked in on the Cobb Cycling Facebook page (go ahead, like them, you know you want to) and asked if they had any advice for choosing between the three options given that I use my bike for road riding and may or may not add aero bars at some point.  Instead of just giving an answer, which would have been totally fine by me, they invited me to call someone specifically the next day to talk through the options, I think his name is Steve?  Scott?  I’m going to call him Scott for these purposes, but don’t hold me, or Scott, to that name.  When I spoke to him the first thing he did was ask some baseline questions, i.e. height and weight.  He then went through some more particulars, including riding style, where I tend to ride on my current saddle, and if I was more of a runner or cyclist when it came to leg shape.  In other words, I told him I have thunder thighs.

Taking all my details into consideration, “Scott” said he was going to recommend I not go with any of the three options and instead the Plus, which would be a versatile option that would suit me well.  He then gave the OK for me to let Maverick know that Cobb was cool switching up the prize, and it was all taken care of from there.

A couple weeks later, I received this in the mail.

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Soon, it shall be mounted atop my Cannondale, and my butt is just going to be SO very happy. I really can’t say enough about what a great experience it was working with Cobb Cycling. It was clear to me that it mattered to them that I be in the right Cobb saddle despite the fact that I wasn’t paying for it. I have to give Maverick kudos as well for being an excellent partner with their sponsor. Much love to go around. Thanks Cobb Cycling and Maverick Multisport!

2014 Dam Triathlon Recap – I’m A Triathlete?

July 15, 2014

It’s been far too long since an update here, and now all of a sudden it’s like, wait, what, triathlon?  That’s right, dear reader, triathlon.  Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?  In the summer of ’97 I participated in my first triathlon at Winding Trails in Farmington, CT.  At the time, the format was a 1/4 mile pond swim, roughly 8 mile bike ride, then 5K trail run.  The weekly summer race series is still going strong, though they’ve switched up the bike to a 5 mile trail ride.  All the same, pretty neat that the tradition lives on these many, many years later.  At the time of these races not only did I not have a wetsuit (though most racers weren’t using them in the fairly warm water), not have a road bike, instead using my Mongoose mountain bike, but I was running in long mesh shorts and a cotton tank.  That’s right.  Frickin’ COTTON.  I shudder at the thought.  It would be a long time before I embraced the split short as anything but a cross country race piece of apparel.  But, embrace it I have since then.  About the only “legit” gear I had was were my trusty Nike Zoom Country racing flats.  Through the magic of technology, I have been able to take what were once actual physical photographs from those races that could be held in one’s hands and converted them into “digital files,” that I might share them with you.

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Sigh, look at that fine head of hair.  Also, please note the old school TYR swim briefs in the middle picture.  Cool briefs, bro.  I’m sorry if that came off as sarcastic, I really do think that dude rocks the grape-smuggler look with panache.

Between those heady high school days and this past weekend, despite having a love affair with road bikes and roughly a dozen solid intentions to get into triathloning, I only followed the sport from the sidelines while concentrating on road racing, geeking out over bike tech, and swimming every now and then for a couple weeks when injured.  Case in point, I purchased a Zoot wetsuit in November 2012 but did not open it until June 2014.  And so, I existed as a pure runner, at least until my wife and I decided to each get bikes.

After a number of test rides and trips to bike shops, which was very difficult work, let me tell you, I finally decided on a Cannondale CAAD8 bike, which seemed to be a good compromise between an “endurance” bike and a “racing” bike in terms of comfort and geometry.  Sure, I could be making that up, but it sounds right at least in my head.  Also, it’s pretty, don’t you think?

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I…like taking pictures of my bike.

Concord Ride Mass Ave Bridge

I joined up with local triathlon club Zoom Multisport and starting joining them for Track Tuezday workouts at the Harvard Track and gorgeous Walden Wednezday open water swims (OWSs) at Walden Pond in Concord, starting to get used to swimming in my wetsuit and the difference between pool swimming and non-pool swimming.

Walden 1

Walden Team

I mean, beautiful, right?  Not the worst way to start a day, if I do say so myself.

Now that we’ve established that I had a modicum of training under my belt in the three ancient disciplines of triathlon, let’s get onto the race recap of this past weekend’s Dam Triathlon.  That Dam race (I feel it necessary to overuse the Dam/damn thing as the race itself certainly did) consisted of a 1/2 mile swim, “13” mile bike leg, and “5K” run.  I use quotes to indicate that although the race may have said one thing about the distances, my Garmin said otherwise, as did others’.  In the end, the bike was likely more like 12.5 miles and the run 2.9.

Alright, let’s finally get to the race.  Friend and Zoom teammate Jocelyn picked me up bright and early and we loaded up her Subaru with my bike alongside hers, because taking anything other than a Subaru to a race involving bikes would be a USAT violation.  Arriving in Amesbury, I was downright giddy to go through the pre-race procedures of getting Sharpie’d up with my number and getting my ankle timing chip.  Then it was time to set up my transition spot, which just happened to be right next to another Zoomer, Greg.  Now, I’ve seen transition set-ups before, but somehow trying to do my own filled me with anxiety.  Above all, I didn’t want commit any newbie faux-passes.  Here’s what I ended up with.

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I even managed to do that nifty thing where you hook your bike onto the rack using the saddle…and it didn’t fall down!

And for my fellow shoe geeks, shoes.

Pearl Izumi plus Hoka One One.

Pearl Izumi plus Hoka One One.

Headed to the shore for the start of the race, Rebecca flagged me down and gave me some last minute words of encouragement.  She also got a pre-race shot.

They were supposed to have yellow swimcaps for new triathletes.  Instead, they wrote "NOVICE" on the regular ones.

They were supposed to have yellow swimcaps for new triathletes. Instead, they wrote “NOVICE” on the regular ones.

My swim wave was second in the water behind the elites and was to be a “waist-deep” start, which I didn’t know existed until that day.  I tried to relax a little bit before the start by joking around with my fellow swimmers to calm my nerves and it must have worked because, for my first time in open-water swimming, I didn’t have any moment of panic when I got into the actual swim.

I'm in the white cap.

I’m in the white cap.

My only strategy on the swim itself was to survive and maintain forward momentum.  I achieved the forward momentum goal, and survived as well, but definitely could have done a lot better job when it came to sighting, not that it likely would have done anything to change the fact that I left the water second to last in my age group (12/13) and behind a number of athletes that started 6 minutes after I did.  But, hey, I swam a half mile both without drowning and without collapsing on the beach in a huffing mess after it was over.  Final time for the swim was 17:49, which I’m pretty sure is a time I should be happy with given my training paces.

Photo by Rebecca.  Editing by Snapseed.

Photo by Rebecca. Editing by Snapseed.

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It would be fair to say that my first transition was glacial in pace. In fact, it took a whole 5:01.6.  I should have listened to J’s advice to put my calf sleeves on under my wetsuit and swam with them and I should have gone sockless rather than spending the time to dry off my feet, quite deliberately it would seem given the time.  Other than that, I’m not entirely sure what I could have done to get through the transition faster, but I’m sure as I get some more tris under my belt it’ll just…happen.  Finally, all set up, I made my out of T1.

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On to the bike!  I figured I’d be able to make up some time here and set off to do just that.  Then I missed the second turn, roughly 1/8 mile into the leg.  Oops.  Backtracking, I made it onto the real course and set my sights on the cyclists ahead of me.  Riding in the drops, I got into a good rhythm, focusing on keeping my cadence up and “spinning” rather than “pushing” the pedals.  Soon I was making up ground on, and then passing, other competitors, eventually settling in with about 4 or 5 other cyclists that I would trade spots with throughout the remainder of the leg.  I have to say that there was a moment around Mile 8 where I just had to smile, thinking “I’m racing on a bike right now, and that’s pretty neat.”  It was a truly unique moment in my pursuit of athletics, and one I enjoyed tremendously.  My final time on the bike was 39:24, good for a 19.1 MPH average according to Strava, my best MPH average over any distance to date, and 7/13 for my age group.  Speaking of Strava, here’s your Dam bike route map and elevation chart.

Dam Strava Bike

Sadly the official race photographer didn’t get any shots of the bike leg, but thankfully Rebecca was on the spot and got some!

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And then it was into T2, which I managed to navigate a lot faster than T1, likely because it mostly involved changing shoes and taking off my helmet.

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And then onto the run, which I hoped would be my best showing.  I slipped on the trial pair of Hoka One One Conquests the Hoka rep procured for me and made my way out to the course.  Although perhaps a bit heavier than the shoes I would normally race a 5K in, I was looking forward to the cushioning that the Hokas would give my legs and the Speed Laces were perfect in aiding my attempt to speed up my transition.  Also, they matched my Pearl Izumi cycling shoes, which is very important.

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Almost immediately, I was hit with the exact same problem I would have way back in high school switching over from the bike to the run…calf cramping.  Also, that whole legs feeling like “bricks” thing was exactly on-point.  I stopped at the side of the road to stretch out my calves whereupon Zoomer Lindsey came up on me and encouraged me to get going.  Thankfully that bit of stretching did the trick and I didn’t have any other issues with them.

The run course was about as hilly a”5K” course as I’ve run, which hills definitely took their toll on my already beaten legs.  I tried to keep my sights set on the runners ahead of me and do my best to pick them off as I could.  Given that I’ve run, and written about, my fair share of road races, I can’t say there was a lot to blog home about when it came to the run leg other than to note that, even in the heat, my Pearl Izumi tri shorts and Zoot tri top were both comfortable to run in.

After one last uphill push, there was a quick corner to turn before finally hitting the finish line, 1:25:48 after I started with a 20:53 run split, which was 5/13 in my age group.  Here’s the pace and elevation chart.

Dam Run Leg

And then, I was done, with a neat and glittery medal in hand.

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Flush with excitement, I met up with Rebecca and my fellow Zoomers whereupon we all helped ourselves to the Kegs and Eggs that makes the Dam Triathlon such an appealing race, i.e. one local beer plus some eggs, sausage and blueberry muffin.

The Dam Triathlon was a Dam good way to start my Dam life as a triathlete, or at least an adult triathlete.  Many lessons were learned, and there are many more to come, no doubt.   I’m very grateful for my supportive wife being there to not just cheer me on and take great action shots, but keep me posted on how I’m doing in the field.  Coming out of the water she told me “there are white caps behind you,” which was not quite technically true as there was only one white cap behind me, but it made me feel better nonetheless.  Also thankful for my Zoom teammates, in particular J, who helped me with innumerable training and race-day questions, and then provided more encouragement on the course.

Next up, the Borderline Running Club Triathlon, a 5 mile bike to a pond, 500 yard swim, 5 mile bike back to the start, then a 5K run and then, at the end of September, the Pilgrimman Triathlon, my attempt at the Olympic Distance!

Run, and tri, happy!