Turns out things don’t have to be perfect to be fast. If you would have told me I would break 6 hours in this race I would have disagreed… In 2010 I did Timberman 70.3, which is a much easier course, and came up short of the 6 hour mark so I did not have high hopes for breaking 6 at Mooseman with its mile of climbing on the bike, and ugly hill on the run. I had my sights pretty well set in the 6:20 range as being a solid effort. This would be the first head to head to head race between Eric, Katherine, and myself this season. It would be a big test, seeing who could bring the pain. Katherine was throwing out handicaps, which meant she apparently had an hour in hand over Eric and me. I went up with Eric the evening before the race to get our race packets, check in our bikes at transition and head to the pre-race meeting. Due to the rains the last few days which seemed like they would continue on race day (we checked the weather many times) our transition areas were more or less under water. So we decided not to check the bikes in and lug them home and setup transition early on race day. We met some friends and fellow Sustainable Athletes at the meeting, talked some trash, listened to the rules and headed back home to get some rest. The rest wasn’t restful due to almost constant fear that it would be rainy and wet on race day, which would not be exciting on the bike, but I was worried about the run. I wasn’t really in the mood for wet, blistered feet. Race morning started stupid early, with a wake up time of around 3:30, we packed most things the night before, so we grabbed the last of our stuff got dressed and headed out. We arrived a touch after transition opened to a somewhat dry course and no rain. My hopes soared at the thought of actual dry feet on the run! This was slightly tampered when I got into transition and realized that from my (mostly) dry transition spot, I had to run through a muddy lake to get to either side of the transition area. So if I put my shoes on at transition they would be soaked before the run even started. Eric and I came up with a decent strategy to deal with this, basically don’t use transition to transition. Grab your shoes (and bike the first time) and run out in bare feet find the first dry spot on the course and put shoes (and socks) on there. But there was still a threat of rain so I left all my transition stuff in garbage bags to keep it dry and headed down to the swim start.
I got to the start early so I put on my wet suit and watched the pros take off before getting in the water and splashing around for a little warm up. Then I lined up with Eric and Matt with the other old guys and waited our turn. The swim, especially in a 70.3 tends to make a lot of people nervous as they hear all about the “washing machine” that the swim start is. I’m sure it can get nasty in a giant mass start of a full Ironman, but with these wave starts it’s not that bad. But people still tend to line up back and to the outside a bit. I am an overconfident swimmer so I lined up towards the inside front where the action would be. The start wasn’t bad, a little bit of contact, but nothing to write home about. I tried to find some feet to follow, but I am an awful drafter so I just swam. As the swim went on some of the front runners in my wave faded and caused some traffic and some body contact as I tried to get around them. I swam relatively straight (for once) for most of the swim never really finding any open water until I swam wide around the second turn buoy. I picked up the pace for the final run into swim out, while still trying to stay relaxed and not waste too much energy. At this point I had no idea where Eric was but I figured I’d find out when I got to transition.
Got my wet suit off with help from the strippers without much fan-fair, and ran through the giant mud puddle to my transition spot. As I arrived and opened my bag, Eric trotted up, some 11 seconds behind me. I quickly put on my helmet, sunglasses and bike gloves, grabbed my bike shoes and ran out of transition. Following the super-secret plan, I ran to the mount line where a woman was waiting with a hose to spray off my feet, washed my feet threw on my bike shoes and was off.
First section of the bike is relatively flat so I tried to stay in control and take it easy going into the hills. My legs coming out of the water were not doing well. They had no power, and I found myself struggling up even little hills. This was not good. I even stopped for a second to check if my brakes were dragging, no such luck. I could only hope my legs warmed up and came around sooner rather than later. Then shit really started to fall apart. On my bike I had my aero-bottle full of water and 2 additional bottles of Carbo Rocket 1/2 Evil nutrition, which I was planning on using for the entire ride, only getting water and maybe a Gatorade from the aid stations on the bike. So of course on one of the first corners, I hit a bump which ejected half of my nutrition off the bike and into the gutter. Awesome. You know that saying, “Nothing new on race day.” Yeah, not gonna happen. Shortly after that debacle the hills started. My legs were still not up to par, and I was wasting a lot of energy on the lower hills but soon enough I was on the big ones, where I was basically at a standstill between pedal strokes. I contemplated walking at one point but then the guy in front of me tried that and tipped over before he could unclip. I figured that would happen to me too and would hurt more than the pain I was in so I continued on, passing a decent amount of people heading up the final climb. Once the climbing was done for the first time I hit the first aid station. I grabbed a Gatorade and jammed the first of many bananas into my mouth having no idea how much I needed to eat in order to replace my now missing nutrition bottle. Just after the aid station I saw a familiar rider on a pink bike; I had caught Katherine who had started a couple waves in front of me. I made fun of her bike, wished her well on the coming decent and was off.
The first part of the decent wasn’t that bad, the road was a little wet but not too bad, I got held up a little going into the 90 degree corner at the bottom of the crazy steep hill by people who were a little more cautious then I, but nothing too bad as I headed into the dicey part of the decent. This is where the course gets a little less steep but they throw in some crappy pavement some tight off camber corners and guard rails, guarding a nice big chasm. This is the part where I’m a great big wussy and slow down, but luckily no one could make a ton of time on me as there was a speed limit on this section to keep riders in check. Alas by the time I went through there were still 2 downed riders and an ambulance in the ugliest corner.
I managed the decent well enough and got onto the flat part of the course. Here is where I really had to hold myself in check and work on not expending much energy. I paced myself behind a woman going slightly slower then I wanted to for a lot of this section, but she (or maybe I) was a bit surgey so after swapping spots a couple times I made the pass stick and was on my way. Towards the end of this section is when my arch nemesis Ben caught me. I didn’t know how far behind me he had started but he is usually a much better biker, we chatted for a second, I said some disparaging things about his mom, and told him to say hi to his sister for me (I’m a nice guy like that), before he was off ahead of me. He didn’t get away from me though, he is very sasquatchian, so once the road began to go up hill again, I reeled him in. He would pass me on the downhills and flats but going up I would get back by him. I managed to put some distance between us going up the giant hill the second time, but once again after the crazy decent, (no ambulances this time) at the beginning of the flats he caught me and I never saw him again on the bike.
About now my one bottle of nutrition was long ago emptied and I was making shit up as I went along. Grab a gel here, a banana there, some more, nasty tasting mango Gatorade and just hope for the best. At the final rest stop with maybe 15 miles to go before the bike finished, I grabbed a Gatorade and attempted to squeeze it into my aero-bottle. I squeezed, and nothing came out. Shit, it must just be closed, so I turn the cap with my teeth while attempting not to crash, and squeeze again… Still nothing. Mother#@$%#, he didn’t take the foil off the cap! So I unscrew the top, and am there holding an open Gatorade in one hand and the top of the bottle in the other gingerly steering with the side of my hand looking at my aero-bottle wondering how the hell I’m going to get this liquid in there through the splash guard. I decide to pop the top of the aero-bottle and pour it in straight. Some more hand gymnastics later, the aero-bottle is open, but the lid won’t stay out of the way. Still riding, I’m attempting to hold it out of the way with the hand that is steering and holding the bottle cap, and the freaking splash guard falls out of the top and is lost behind me… That made filling the bottle up easy enough, but now every time I hit a bump I was splashed with sticky Gatorade making a huge mess and is that much more liquid that I don’t get to drink before the run.
I angrily pushed it a little bit more the last it 10-ish miles into T2 drinking what didn’t splash on me, did an amazing flying dismount and headed into transition.
The Bike to run transition was fairly uneventful, shoes were still on the bike, ran through the giant ankle deep mud puddles, tossed my bike stuff on the ground grabbed my hat, socks, and shoes, and ran out of transition. Just outside of transition after I had run through the swampland again was where I did the bulk of the work. Putting socks and shoes on my now wet feet and heading out on the run proper.
My coach had given me a goal of running close to my half marathon time from earlier in the year (1:48). That seemed a little optimistic to me, but I gamely decided to see what I had in me and proceeded to go out running strong. There was cloud and tree cover so my GPS was fairly unreliable, switching between 7:30s and 10:20s so I wasn’t sure exactly how fast I was going. I hit the first mile marker at around a 7:45 pace. I was working hard, so I eased off a little and continued on. If the course had been flat I think I would have had an outstanding time and been happy with my run. The course was not flat. There is a steep hill you hit around maybe mile 2-ish, and then you run down the other side and turn around and run back over the hill around mile 4-ish. This is what did me in. My legs had no power for going uphill, my running slowed down enough to where power walking was more efficient, so I walked up the hill. Going down the other side I saw a familiar sasquachian figure. I was catching Ben. This is how our races go, I out swim him, he out bikes me, then I out run him. On shorter races he usually doesn’t have enough time to get a big enough gap on me on the bike to hold me off on the run. But 2 years ago at Timberman 70.3, he pulled it off beating me by just over 2 minutes. I was slowly catching him and I thought he had started after me, so I figured I had to beat him by around 8 minutes to actually beat him. I ever so slowly reeled him in as we went back over the hill on the out and back and finally caught and passed him around mile 5.
At the turnaround I was struggling a little keeping up the pace, usually on double out and backs this part sucks because you see people finishing and you know you have to go out for another lap, but this time it wasn’t that bad even though I was hurting. I had also given up on coming close to my half marathon PR, I was just hoping to break 2 hours. At the point that I hit the hill again is when the wheels started coming off the bus. My nutrition plan of randomly eating stuff wasn’t as effective as I had planned and I wasn’t feeling so hot. I made decent time to the hill but it was a longer walk up the hill this time and down the other side wasn’t so fast either. Things started to be more of a trudge, at the turnaround I noted that Ben was gaining on me. I walked back up the hill grabbed some coke at the aid station and with 2 miles left decided to give it all I had. My speed started to drop down into the high 7s again, but it would not last. I made it about a mile before quickly decelerating to a more plodding speed.
The last mile hurt. I was out of energy, my legs were toast and I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. Everything hurt and I wanted to stop. And if this half Ironman hurt this much, what the hell was I thinking even attempting a full Ironman? Could I do this for another 8 hours? How much money would I have really wasted if I bail on IMNYC? I tried to be positive, and was listening for the cheering of people near the finish, I finally heard it and it didn’t help just more painful plodding. But I did know the suffering was ending soon as I headed off the pavement onto the dirt and rug path that led to the finish. I plodded along with no other competitors around until about 50 meters left when Ben came flying by me in a sprint for the finish. I had nothing to answer with and just continued plodding into the finish. As I came across the line the clock read 6:19:xx which after some quick confusing math I figured I had broken the 6 hour mark, if only just. I was having mixed feelings. It definitely did not feel like my best race but it was a big time PR on a much more difficult course then my last one. I swam well, biked strong (maybe a little too strong) and I broke 2 hours in the half marathon, but I feel like I could have done better.
After all was said and done, I beat Eric, who also had a big time PR, by about 20 minutes. And crushed Katherine and her self-imposed 1 hour handicap with minutes to spare… 🙂 It also turns out that Ben started 2 waves in front of me, so even with his last minute heroics I still beat him by 7 minutes.