Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Half Iron Triathlon
Swim: 1.2 miles – 1 Loop Lake Swim
Bike: 56 miles – 1 Loop Hilly, Challenging
Run: 13.1 miles – 2 Loops Gentle Rollers
188th Place of 1492 Overall
30th Place Age Group M35-39 (18th minus Pros* — key fact, see end)
Splits (Time/Rank of 1492)
Swim: 39:31 / 690
Bike: 2:42:48 (20.6 mph) / 206
T2: 4:10 (Porto-potty stop)
Run: 1:33:08 (7:07 min/mi.) / 79
1 – 7:35
2 – 7:05
3 – 6:59
4 – 6:48
5 – 7:06
6 – 7:15
7 – 7:15
8 – 7:10
9 – 7:04
10 – 7:01
11 – 7:15
12 – 7:02
13.1 – 6:30
This race almost didn’t happen. My heart wasn’t into it. I was dead-legged tired from having run two marathons in the course of two weeks, the last one the prior Sunday. I wanted none other than to end my season now, before I even toed the line at the Timberman 70.3 half Iron triathlon.
After a soul searching conversation with my Ironmate, where she helped me recall the reasons for wanting to do this race in the first place – to lend support to my Tri-club and to be there as my dear friend tackled his first half Iron – I decided to stop thinking about it because, perhaps, I was over-thinking it. With that I finally decided to pack the car and go. Whether I was to race, I at least wanted to be there in support. A part of me, though, knew that if I were to go up to lend support, the lure of participating in such a quality event would be too great. It would certainly draw me in.
Now in the car heading toward the Lakes region of New Hampshire, with the Ironmate staying home to work on the house, I waited for the lure to come. It never did. I was still in the mind-set of “having” to do this race; it wasn’t something I wanted. This concerned me because I knew that without pin-point focus I was only setting myself up for failure.
As the internal battle continued, I somehow knew that I would indeed toe the starting line; that’s when I cursed myself a final time and made a promise to find some quiet time later in the day to reflect and refocus, because the half Iron, I knew, was too grueling a distance to not take seriously. You cannot race a half Iron if your heart isn’t into it.
Three hours later I arrived at Gunstock for Packet Pickup and to cheer on at TimberKids. Not a minute after climbing out of the car, I hear my name. It was my Tri-pal Julie. She was glowing with the excitement of someone on the verge of a life change. About to partake on her first half Iron, her ability to place emotional attachment to it reminded me of myself as I had approached my first half two years earlier. Not long after, I bumped into Stuart and a host of buds from my Tri-club. Everybody was so focused. Except for me.
Gunstock was also site of TimberKids, the kid’s triathlon. One little kid in particular inspired me. This little guy jumped in the water and started swimming with a high stroke rate. A minute later he tuckered and flopped on his back. With still 80% of the distance to go, this little fighter switched to doggie paddle for several minutes, then again to his back, then fought again with doggie paddle and side stroke. At times it appeared he was going under, with his little head the only trace of his body above water. His mom fought the urge to jump in as he punched on. Finally he climbed out of the lake on his own power, without a hand of assistance at any point during the way. Tired and obviously spent and shivering with cold, he fought through that swim the way a single warrior would tackle an army. Little did I know then that the next day I would draw on this little fighter’s spirit to call my own.
After TimberKids, I hopped back in the car for the drive over to race site at Ellacoya State Park to drop my bike off in Transition. It was then when I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to race; it was that I was too tired to perform well, and since I wanted a Sub-5 hour half Iron, and since Timberman was a tough course with great hills, I knew I wouldn’t get that dream on tired legs. And since I didn’t think I’d get Sub-5, and since I had an amazing season to date, I didn’t need to do this race, nor did I want to end it on a bad note.
Just after I checked my bike in to Transition at Ellacoya, I bumped into my swim partners Adam and Chris, both of whom had completed Ironman Lake Placid a month earlier in inspiring fashion – they, as husband and wife, did the entire race, including crossing the finish, together. After congratulatory hugs, Adam gave me a healthy shot of focus by way of an encouraging tip that he made sound as if a sure thing. If I went Sub-5, he told me, or “come damn close,” there were a few things I could do to become a champion in certain circles.
That’s when the focus returned – for good. I knew Sub-5 would be tough, but I figured if I gave it my all and pushed the bike, if there would be any run in my legs once I got off the bike, I might – I just might – be able to declare myself a world champ.
My heart was finally into it.
After a solid night’s sleep, the alarm on my Timex Ironman chimed me awake at 4:45AM. Down with a PowerBar and banana and plenty of water, and on with race morning clothes, I was in the car heading for race site. After a quick stop for coffee, I finally made it to Ellacoya and promptly set up Transition with little time to spare. Wanting to do well but not caring if I crashed and burned, I had not a nervous twitch in my body.
Just then I heard a familiar voice call from behind me. It was John. We wished each other good luck. He told me to hammer. Then he told me his plan. “Must. Weenie. Bike,” he started saying as if to get the message across to himself. “Hammer Bike – Bad. Weenie Bike – Good.” I called him a weenie. We laughed and said our goodbyes.
Before long, call was made for athletes to make their way to the beach for the swim start.
The swim had to be the most pleasurable of any in an official race. The water was clear and warm, and athletes, for the most part, remained friendly with very little bump and grind. The course was one clockwise loop in a very clean Lake Winnipesaukee.
I started the swim in the middle of the pack toward the outside left. Starting there, I figured, would enable me to scoot to the outside if the thrash and splash got churning.
“Three,” the countdown began as I stayed relaxed, “two, one…” A horn blared into the chilly morning air to start the race. To my surprise, the start was very smooth. I had clear water from the start. I seemed to be among the slower swimmers, at least at the start, which confirmed my suspicions that I’m a slow starter in the water, where I later hit rhythm and catch up and even pass.
As I worked my way toward the first turn buoy, it wasn’t long before I felt comfortable enough to bilateral breath. I stayed this way for much of the swim. At one point I was following the bubbles in front of me, knowing there were a set of feet kicking them off, when suddenly I heard muffled shouts. I picked my head up to see the other swimmer bobbing in the water like me. Behind him was a Kayaker shouting directions. “That way,” he yelled as he pointed in the other direction. The other swimmer and I corrected our course and got back to work.
Before long, I touched ground, stood to my feet, and ran through the Swim Exit for a swim time of 39:31. Running along the beach toward Transition, I saw John’s wife, Gator Girl, and his kids. I gave Gator Girl a high five and trotted on.
Time: 39:31 (690 of 1492)
Summary: Although my time was on the slow side, I’m pleased with the swim because I achieved something – a level of comfort – in the water. Even though the conditions were ideal, I had no worries, stayed out of the thrash and splash, and was able to swim relaxed and bilaterally most of the way.
Transition from Swim to Bike was efficient enough. I found my bike without problems and proceeded to gear up. I struggled getting dry socks over wet feet and again the Tri-top over wet skin. Fiddling too long with the latter, I took off the top and put it back on, this time cleanly. Otherwise I was up and gone in 4:23.
Summary: T1 was well enough. I’m never fast in Transition, so I’ll take this one. The only thing I could have done faster was in getting on my socks and my Tri-top, both of which did not want to go over wet skin.
I’m really starting to like the bike. Even on tough course. And Timberman is a tough course with its hills in the early and later stages and the possibility of wind on the middle flat stretch.
Having ridden the course twice before in training, I was really curious to see how I’d perform on race day. The first time I did the course I finished in 2:55 on a very windy day. The second time was better in 2:46 under ideal, zero wind conditions. My goal for the race was a Sub-2:45. I thought I could realistically go under 2:50, but I knew if I wanted a shot at Sub-5, I would need a 2:45 or under. I also knew that I would have to work to get that. But would I have to work too much?
The first mile on the bike I spent wiggling into my arm-warmers and gloves. After that I got down to work for the hills in the first 11 miles. Before long, I was beyond the grizzled grinders and on the gradual downhill stretch toward the turnaround. By mile 20, I was in my element and grinding away. I geared down to spin a bit more whenever I felt I was grinding a bit too much for a bit too long. By then it was established who I would be riding near. A cast of 10 of us took turns passing each other. Slowly the cast reduced in numbers as yet another would fall back and never been seen again.
The second half the bike, now on our way back up a long gradual up hill into the wind, grew more difficult. I tried like might to keep my average from dipping too low. I figured that if I could keep it north of 20 mph, I could get through the last set of hills and to home in a split with an average mph of 20.0 mph or more.
It was on this stretch where I settled in with two other riders. We worked together more than we played cat-and-mouse. On the up hills, I would cruise by them, even the gradual ones, whereas on the down and flat stretches, they would cruise by me. I applied enough pressure on the pedals to keep them in sights, as did they me.
In my recent races, I’ve noticed that the segments seem to go quickly. The Timberman bike was no different. Before I knew it, I was rolling down the final hill toward the bike finish. I pushed the bike quite hard and guessed I probably just hit my goal of 2:45, or maybe a 2:46. As I dismounted, I looked at my watch for the split: 2:42. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Maybe, I told myself, I could pull out a Sub-5.
But I also knew that as close to the edge of Sub-5 pace as I was, I still had to run, and with legs feeling like lead and fatigued much more than normal, that was a big unknown. And even if I could run, I knew I would blow it by what I had to do next.
I had to hit a Porto-potty.
Time: 2:42:48 (20.6 mph) / 206
Summary: I’m pumped with my bike split. It wasn’t a PR at the half Iron distance, but on a course this tough, I’m willing to bet this same effort on a fast course would be a PR by several minutes. The wind was starting to bother me, but I held on through it and made a concerted effort to not let the pace drop much. It’s really cool to be riding among guys with aero helmets and disc wheels or race wheels twice the price of my bike.
Transition from Bike to Run was slow (4:10). I was efficient – wasted no time – until just before entering the Run Start Chute, where I gave back all of that time by making a cameo in the Plastic Stink Chamber. I christened the portable potty and was on my way, all the while wondering if I had taken the bike too hard, because the fatigue and sluggishness in my legs was unmistakable.
Running through a maze of grassy pathways that was the Run Start chute, still shy of the official start of the run course, I heard my name called from the other side of the fence in the finish line area. It was John’s youngest son. I ran over to the little fighter and gave him a slap on the hand and continued on toward the run course.
As I tried to loosen my legs, I kept thinking about how this little guy just the day before showed so much fight in his spirit. Here was a kid who wanted to finish the swim portion so badly, almost as if to prove to himself that he could swim all the way across under so much adversity, that he fought like a controlled warrior. I kept thinking about his fighting spirit because, I knew, I would have to replicate it for my own to salvage my run. My legs felt that shot.
Summary: T2 was, minus the Porto-head stop, efficient. Perhaps the best thing that could have happened to me was seeing the youthful warrior to remind me that I had a fight ahead – a fight known as a half Iron run. I knew I had to fight because, after looking at my watch, I knew I would have to run faster than 1:30 on the half marathon to go under 5 hours for the race. Could I do it? I knew odds were stacked.
I love to run. I really do.
There’s something about hitting stride at a pace that is aggressive but still shy of all out and being able to hold it for a very long time. The only thing more rewarding and amazing yet much more painful is being able to do that on already tired legs – after having ridden a hard 56 rather hilly miles.
‘Trust your training’ became my mantra. I wanted to find my inner fighter and hold onto the pace no matter what, and trust the ability to hold on.
Out on the run course I immediately came upon the most amazing cheering section that was my Tri-club. They cheered, “Go Trifury!” my club team name, while I waved and zipped to the side for high fives. That gave me the adrenaline to more quickly rid the stiffness from the legs.
After so much fatigue in the legs, I wasn’t surprised to see Mile 1 (7:35) come in on the slower side. For a Sub-5 finish time, I knew I needed to hit each mile in a pace under 7:00 minutes per mile – 6:52 to be precise. Just when I started doing math, crunching numbers that equated to a lost bid at Sub-5, I shut down the thought process in fear of it sidetracking my race and effort; instead I focused on being light on my feet. Run like the wind, I told myself. Smooth and easy with increasing effort. This is somewhat silly because, really, there was no smooth and easy. I was increasing effort as much as I could without blowing up.
Mile 2 (7:05) was better, and by Mile 3 (6:59), seeing my first Sub-7 minute mile with the legs feeling much more fluid, I was finally running like the wind, straight through the turnaround on this out and back double loop course.
It was awesome seeing all the members of my Tri-club. I heard cheers the entire way: “Go Thor!”, “Looking strong, Trifury!” By Mile 4 (6:48) I was really hitting stride but also feeling extreme fatigue. I thought about dialing effort back but blew it off – I could afford to lose any more seconds per mile.
Mile 5 (7:06) I was greeted with a sharp but short up hill. It was then when my suspicion of dead legs from the marathon 7 days earlier became apparent. As soon as I hit the steep section, I had nothing in the legs. I tried shortening the stride and increasing turnover. It was then when I realized I was pumping my arms much more than normal in replacement of the dead in the legs. There was no doubt my legs were still tired, tired from having run two marathons in the span of the last 3 weeks, because on the flats and downs, I had pace and strength, but on the hills, I had little. Up and finally over the hill, pace returned for a net down hill stretch back to race site for the second loop.
Mile 6 (7:15) and Mile 7 (7:15) took me through the finish line area and another grassy pathway to zip me out to start the second loop. The grassy maze was lined with spectators. I heard my name several times but was running so quickly I had trouble looking up because the footing on the grass was unstable. Just then I saw my little Ironmate on the other side of the barriers. I ran over for an obligatory good luck kiss and continued on. In my wake I heard a lot of “Awww’s.” I smiled and put up a set of rabbit ears with my right hand without looking back, knowing full well my little soldier was now as red as my uniform.
Now on the second loop, Mile 8 (7:10) and Mile 9 (7:04) came quickly. I settled behind a Pro female and tried to hang on her shoulder. It was then when it occurred to me that this was the first triathlon I can remember getting passed on the run course – by anyone. I didn’t think much about because I knew I was running as strong as I could, and I knew those passing me, which weren’t many, were Pro’s. I marveled at how cool it was to see a face go by knowing the familiarity was from the Ironman Hawaii recap shows aired once per year. I kept my sights on the little pink thing and let the miles pass. Somewhere between Miles 10 (7:01) and 11, where I slowed at an aid station to gobble a banana, I lost Pinky.
Mile 11 (7:15) was painful. Just as I started up that steep but short hill, I was reminded of my dead legs. I knew to just get up it in decent standing and then it would be a net down to the finish. I knew that after I recovered from the hill, I could open it up fully, because I knew I could hold on.
Mile 12 (7:02), with another small hill, was quick. My stride was opening and in spite hurting and wanting this to end, I took note of how amazing a feeling I had. I gave thanks for my good fortune and started looking for my other good fortune, my Ironmate, alongside the road.
By Mile 13 (5:54 – no kidding!), I hit a new level. I was flying, and I knew it, as if I had wings on my feet. I pictured a runner’s fleet foot with wings and transferred it to my self. The reality of what I already knew came to the front. I would not get Sub-5. I would not PR. But I didn’t care. I was in my element and taking stock of my blessings. Plus, I was almost done.
Before long I reached the final turn into the long grassy pathway of the finish line chute. I heard cheers the entire way: “Thor!”, “Go Trifury!” Halfway down the chute, there on the left side of the road, was my Ironmate. I ran over and stopped to plant on her lips a salty kiss. Where I meant to leave her with, “I love you,” I said something else. “Don’t worry,” I started saying in reference to how whenever I stop to give her a kiss she tells me to get going because I’m usually very close to a time goal and losing precious time on it, “I missed Sub-5 by a few minutes.”
After receiving my lucky charm, I got back on pace and ran through the finish line for an extremely pleasing race with a finish time of 5:03:58.
At that point, my fatigued mind had no idea that my finish time would be worthy later on of an earned accolade.
Time: 1:33:08 (7:07 min/mi.) / 79
Summary: I’m pleased with the run. I know I could have been faster had I not run a marathon the weekend before. I really felt the dead legs on each hill. But if I had to do it again, I would have done it exactly the same way, because at the time the goal of Marathon-A-Month (for a year) was much more important than this race. It was really fun to see so many Pros and even cooler to run behind a few and even with them for a while, especially at one point when I knew one of them was fading fast and used me as a target to stay with. That was cool. Wish I knew his name so that I could tell that story over and over.
Finish time was 5:03:58.
Summary: Timberman for me was season-extending/season-ending B or C race. Although I wanted to do well and perhaps go Sub-5, I knew I didn’t need it. But this in no way stifled my overall time. It was hard earned. And as I would soon find out, it was also well-earned, so much that I would be rewarded for it.
After crossing the finish line, I was pleasantly surprised to see Gator Girl and her kids as greeters. Handing me a water bottle was, fittingly, my little warrior buddy. After receiving a medal and towel, I continued on through the finish area. Just then I saw my little Ironmate. She came over for the warmest hug I’ve had since the warm embrace I received a year earlier in Madison after crossing the finish line of a very cold and very wet Ironman Wisconsin. This day was neither cold nor wet, but the hug was warm and very welcome.
Now out of the finish area, my Ironmate had something to say. “I met your friend Doug,” my warm one said. “It was funny because after you came by the first time [finishing the first loop of the run course], this guy with a kid on his shoulders comes up to me and asks if I was the one giving out kisses. I kind of looked at him funny. Then he said, ‘You must be Thor’s fiancée. I figured he doesn’t stop to kiss just anybody.’” She was talking about Doug – Dougie Fresh.
We went in search for Mr. Fresh. Not seeing him by the finish area, I was ready for food. En route we bumped into him by the kiddie bouncy gym for hellos and then off for food tent for some pizza.
As my fiancée and I were sitting in the sun, I recalled the tip my buddy Adam had told me the day before. He had said, “If you go Sub-5 or come damn close, go to the Registration tent after the race for the 70.3 World Championship roll down.” Adam confirmed he knew what he was talking about by adding, “The slots always roll down because all of the top guys, they’re all Pro’s and Elites, and they’re going to Kona [instead of Clearwater]. So if you want to go, I’d get yourself over there.”
That’s what I did. I got myself to the Registration tent for the 70.3 World Championship slot allocation. With 11 slots in the M35-39 age group, and me coming in 18th place in the age group minus the Pro’s, just as my buddy advertised, only one slot was taken of 11. And so it rolled down. Like piranhas, the rest of us M35-39 age groupers gobbled the roll downs with high fives and loud cheers. One of those precious slots hit my hands, complete with official certificate and all, just to say it really is something special.
Special it is. I am going to Clearwater, for I qualified for the 70.3 World Championship!
A trip to Clearwater… yeah, that beats a Sub-5 performance any day.