Background: I'm not sure why I even signed up for this race. I was still in a bit of a haze after the Inferno and probably had a good run on April 23rd that pushed me to shell out $280 to the Ironman Corp. I only had one OLY triathlon under my belt at that point and probably had more experience riding my trainer than on pavement, but the allure of the endurance sucked me in. It was also a "local" race, just an hour away and I needed to see what the hype was about and what I was missing out on, if anything.
Training: I had a lot of non-specific training heading into race day. Two big things were lacking: bricks and time in the saddle. I had some great hikes, trail runs, and races the two months leading in. Perhaps having raced in the Top Notch Tri and Wildman the previous two weekends wore me down a little but I really did feel strong heading into the Timberman. While those races kept me sharp, they also removed a couple training days each week to rest for the race. On the plus side, I was injury free and had what I thought was a solid base given my training interests. Also heading into this race I had a lot of swims under my belt which meant a little more confidence in that leg.
Pre-Race: I was able to get over to Gilford the Wednesday before the race for a little recon. Although I did make a wrong turn navigating, I biked roughly half the course. Sometimes the surprise of a new course is fun but generally it's much more helpful to ride it once and get some landmarks and perspective dialed. For a NH race, I don't really feel like Timberman showcases much aside from the swim. The bike course spends a lot of time on Rt 106 whereas other NH races have a scenic course (read rolling farmlands and lakes). The sections of the bike route that went off the main Laconia roads were more what I was expecting.
On Saturday, Jim Soroka and I headed over to Gunstock for the registration/expo and were able to get in and out pretty quick. We checked out some of the booths at the expo and listened to some pros talk shop on a panel. There wasn't much we needed to do beyond get our numbers / chips / shwag so we timed it right and headed over to Ellacoya State Park to drop of our bikes. It was a little annoying driving over on Saturday to handle all that stuff but it was good to get it out of the way. An hour drive home and time to organize then put the legs up.
Race Day: Hilary and I got up around 2:45 to be out the door at 3. WTF. The goal was to get to the park as they opened the gates so we'd get a good parking spot vs. being shuttled from Gunstock. Hilary was a trooper and drove Jim and I from Chocorua (she had done a 24hr mile relay the previous night). We got our primo parking but still had to wait until 6:30am for the transition area to open up. Not much snoozing happening in the Sienna. A few nerves plus the general business surrounding us. Finally we headed to the transition area and set up shop. I had a nice tree landmark at my bike so my spot was very easy to find. Gave my stuff a quick once over and was race ready.
My wave was at 7:59 - the first half of my age group, second half was a couple minutes behind. This was perfect because it allowed me to watch the pros swim and transition before getting ready. I was impressed by the speed of the pros on the swim but it was also reassuring watching them transition and have the same issues us age groupers have (like clipping helmet straps). I got in my wetsuit, visited the port-a-potty one more time, then got in a 6 minute swim warm up. This left me 5 minutes before my start so I got with my fellow orange cappers and focused.
Swim: The swim was a square, fairly equidistant. This was my "people-dodging" swim so I just moved to the front of the group and immediately settled in after the start. I latched on to a guy in a yellow zoot suit who seemed to be navigating the course and other waves in front of us really well. He would go wide and pass a pack of swimmers and I'd either follow or split up and find him again then recommence the drafting. This worked really well for the first 20 minutes of the race. On the home stretch I just worked on spotting the beach exit and kept a respectable pace. Nothing unexpected happened on this leg - drafting was awesome but wasn't really in any sort of a rhythm because I was constantly lifting my head out of the water to spot swimmers. I exited the water in 29 minutes and found a stripper to help me with my wetsuit - didn't think I'd use one but they were fast and worth it.
Bike: After a smooth transition I was on my bike and motoring along. My HR was jacked up after the swim/transition so I just settled into an good pace. My legs felt great and I was comfortable in my set up. The goal was 23mph so I did my best to get my average pace at or above this speed. The out section trends downhill so I knew that I'd have to pick it up and really hammer the negative grades and that's what I did. I was passed by a few age group studs who crushed the bike. It wasn't too hot yet but I made sure to put down my electrolite mix and a few squeezes of my gel mix. I picked up gatorade at the first 4 water stations too and tried to put those down and keep on the hydration. That was something that I didn't know much about - do i ditch my personal water bottle for a gatorade bottle? yes. will the gatorade bottles fit in my bottle cages? yes. Will I really have to slow down and sacrifice some seconds off my time? yes. It was easy and much appreciated having all those aid stations and respective volunteers. At the 30 mile split I averaged 25.32 mi/h (my garmin had slower, probably more around 23.5).
On the return I continued to pass hundreds of bikers. It kept me motivated and my strength was definitely crushing the hills. Although I'm sure it didn't help my run to jack up my wattage several times, it sure did feel good to fly by fellow bikers. I skipped the last water station and at the same time made sure I finished up my gel bottle (it had 5 gels, 1/4 tsp salt, some honey, and topped with water). I continued to drink the gatorade all the way up the final hill before returning to Ellacoya. At this point I saw some runners and started to think about the last leg of the race. Was I pushing too hard? Didn't matter. I rolled in at my ambitious goal time of 2:25 and made my way back to the transition area. I was able to get in and out quickly and exited the transition area with my bib and a couple gels.
Run: The goal was to pace slow the first mile or two then pick things up. I hadn't previewed the course, just the elevation profile on strava. It looked like a little hill in the first half but flat in general. Well, that little hill seemed like some of the 300' hills around my house and my spent legs felt every bit of the 70ish feet of climbing. Also, it was painfully hot out. The bike was fine with the constant breeze but now that I was moving slow, there was no breeze. The first mile clicked in at 7 minutes. Ok, that seemed fine given that it was supposed to be my slowest mile. I hit that first aid station for water and gatorade. The next mile was around 7 minutes again. Ok, not a big deal, the legs will wake up. Again another aid station, this time I mixed in some redbull, why not? The third mile had some downhill so I pushed and was able to get another 7 minute mile but this would be my last until the end. It was clear that I was just going to hang on for the rest of the race. I just didn't have it in me to pick up the pace and was fending off quad / calf cramps for the majority of the run. This has happened to me in the past and was nothing new. My pace slipped to mid 7s then some high 7s and even an 8. Not much I could do at that point. I'm sure I even wanted to walk. Clearly it was a fitness issue - going a little hard on the bike but not enough bricks in my training and also not enough running on pavement (speed) heading into the race. I was able to kick with my fastest mile on 13 and pushed to the finish. 4:36:11. I'll take it on a day like that. My goal was sub 4:30 but my run was the missing link.
I got my finisher medal and met Hilary and my dad in the finish area. Immediately I laid down in the shade, so thankful to be done with that sufferfest of a run. Body felt good aside from a small blister on one foot and a little chaffing in the groin area. If that run had gone any longer my wet sockless racing flats would have caused some major issues. Hilary said I got 8th for my division. Very happy with that for my first half iron event and in those conditions. We hung around until the awards at 4, enjoying the lake and free food/ice cream. Lots of people watching. Seemed like half of Canada came down for this race. Also a fun fact, seems like a lot of triathletes love to hang out in their tri kits long after the race is finished, what's up with that?
Not sure when my foray into the ironman world will be. I think this distance suits me well and with a new bike and proper training I bet I could take 10 minutes off my time if not more. Once that happens, maybe we can start talking full iron.
- Run - Hard to say if my run split was a direct result of pushing it on the bike or not enough runs off the bike in training or the heat or racing the previous two weekends. I have no idea why I was expecting 1:25 or sub 1:30 but that was clearly out the window after my first few miles. It's tough to watch the wheels fall off and not be able to do anything about it. Fending off cramps on spent legs plus trying to stay hydrated was a real challenge that I handled well but wish I wasn't in that position to begin with. That's 3 triathlons and a row where I'm cramping on the run. Would love to dial that in where I'm able to hold speed on the bike but not kill my legs in the process.
- I know my potential is much higher than my time reflects. With more specific training and time on the bike I'm sure I could drop my bike/run times dramatically. Will have to wait and see...
- Execution - I don't think I would have changed a thing on race day. Everything from my nutrition, transitions, pacing, and experience was exactly what I needed.
- Bike - My bike split was AMAZING all things considered. I crushed the hills, held a respectable clip on the flats and am definitely on my way to becoming a better cyclist.
- Run - While my pace was much slower than I wanted, I didn't let up and just did what my legs would allow. I didn't let it get to me and just accepted that I wasn't going to have a run that was up to my ability. I suffered quite a bit but enjoyed the experience and it served as a wake up call to work on my bricks.