Mooseman Half Iron
Newfound Lake, New Hampshire
Sunday, June 8 2008
Swim: 1.2 miles in large lake
Bike: 56 hilly miles
Run: 13.1 miles of some flat but mostly rolling-to-hilly
Results (Rank Overall / Pace)
Swim: 34:31 (298 / ~28:46 per mile)
Bike: 2:38:07 (48 / 21.3 mph)
Run: 1:34:50 (35 / 7:15 pace)
48th Place Overall / 740 Total
13th Place Age Group M35-39
Mooseman, a half Iron distance triathlon held in the Lakes region of New Hampshire, was to be a gauge of my fitness to show me where I was in my training for Ironman Lake Placid in July and, beyond that, the ITU Long Course World Championships in Almere, Holland at the end of August.
A B-race, Mooseman was also to be a test of how well I could race on edge, and how long and hard I could ride that fine line, on an extremely challenging course, one that I knew would reveal any weaknesses in my training, pace management, and especially my hydration and nutrition plan.
As race day approached, it wasn’t hard to find weather reports because, with a forecasted official heat wave due in by weekend, local news outlets were sending out warnings: stay indoors, limit outdoor activities, and drink plenty of fluids. Saturday was to be hazy, hot and humid with temperatures approaching 91F, hotter well inland – where Mooseman was to be held – with the heat on Sunday (race day) ratcheting up a few degrees warmer.
Instead of getting nervous over such stifling news, I rather strangely accepted the forecast and immediately shifted gears to expect worse. Just another challenge, I told myself. It’s out of my control. Accept it and move on. Expect the run to suck. Expect to battle like a warrior. But be smart with pace, make good decisions – manage the race – and most importantly believe in yourself, trust in your training, and stay focused.
By the time Saturday rolled around, with my battle plan all set, I was heading north toward race site at Newfound Lake shaking my head in a laughing manner at the temperature gauge in my car – it read 98F.
Even though I was now mentally prepared for racing in the high heat, I had little idea that the battle would be even tougher than the worst I could imagine, so tough that it would prove to be reminiscent of holding on to the run a year earlier at Ironman Coeur d’Alene, something I consider to be the toughest, most taxing race I’ve ever done.
I was in for a world of hurt. Was I up for the task? I knew the answer to be yes. Only I didn’t know how much hurt was about to come.
Newfound Lake, site of the 1.2 mile Mooseman swim, is billed as “one of the cleanest lakes in the world.” I don’t know if this is true, but the water is among the most pristine I’ve seen. Not only is it clear, where you can see a good 20 feet or more to the lake’s floor, but I can also tell you, rather unfortunately, it is the most pure tasting of those I’ve crawled through. Typically a very cold swim, it can also be challenging with the wind sweeping along the water kicking up chop. Thankfully, race morning saw calmer waters, and with the day before reaching well above 95F, the temperature of the water was rather nice compared to other years.
38 years of age on race day afforded me a spot in the second wave, one behind the Pros/Elites & Men 34 & Under. Starting so close to the first wave excited me because it meant that I wouldn’t have to spend the first 20 miles on the bike passing a bunch of slower riders, something that requires greater focus and can be dangerous.
After a quick warm-up to get accustomed to the colder water, it was time to line up for the start, a short 3 minutes behind the Pro wave. Finally in the water, the call was made: “Go! Go! Go!” Controlled chaos, all Males 35-39 went.
My race plan was to get comfortable in the first 5 minutes, find clean water, and settle quickly into a bilateral breathing pattern on the third stroke (ie 3-3-3-3). I wanted to hold this until the second and final turn buoy of this rectangular course, and then for the half mile back to shore start pushing pace while breathing more frequently in the 2-3-2-3 pattern.
That was the plan, at least, until I fell into my old habits. I don’t know if it’s open water anxiety, nerves about being bumped and grinded, swimming near others, or what the issue, but I couldn’t get comfortable. Each time I got bumped I stopped-up, swallowed some lake, and then got back to work, completely out of breath, staged to repeat. Repeat I did. For another 10 minutes, I flailed about like a flounder cast ashore, only I was in the water, and so I sampled more of this pristine lake water than is healthy.
Tired of sucking in lake, I got back into my head, and instead of getting angry, I forced myself to slow down. Once my breathing got under control, I slowed down a touch more, and when my stroke smoothed out, I started breathing on both sides for a more efficient stroke.
Just before the first turn buoy, I started seeing blue caps from the wave in front as well as white caps from the wave behind. This neither excited me nor got me down because, when it comes to the swim, I stick to my own plan and forget about others. I’m not the fastest, and I know it. It doesn’t matter what others are doing. I have to stay within myself, and in control. And only then will I make progress.
And that’s what I did. For the remainder of the swim I stayed within myself, and even started pushing after the last turn buoy.
Time: 34:31 (298 / ~28:46 per mile)
Summary: I am very pleased with the swim. Although it took me much longer to find a rhythm than I wanted, and although I nearly had a panic attack in the early going, I wrested control of my anxiety, settled back down, and got back to my swim plan so that I could go on to complete what was my fastest (by a small margin) half Iron swim.
Out of the water, through the swim exit, and a quick smile for the camera, I shortly found myself flopped on the ground for the wetsuit strippers. Back on my feet with wetsuit in hand, I ran quickly to my bike, geared up – no screwing around – and was, before too-too long, pushing my bike out of Transition toward the Bike Start.
Summary: Transition from swim to bike was efficient enough. Among my fastest T1’s but not on par with the athletes of similar ability, I am still please because I made some progress. I left the New York Times at home. This time there was no screwing around and certainly no chatting with others at the bike rack. But I do still have work to do.
If Mooseman is known for any one thing, it is its challenging bike course. The course alone has probably been cause for more jitters than any race I’ve done outside of Ironman Wisconsin. The 56 mile double-loop course has a bit of everything: some but very few flat sections, many rollers, as many long graduals as steep grinder hills, and a good collection of gradual and screaming downs. Although not considered a fast course, the hills are challenging yet trainable, but PR bike splits cannot be had by seasoned athletes.
Where would that leave me? I was curious to find out.
My goal for the bike was to push pace the entire way. I wanted to push somewhat easy, but still push, over the first 8 miles, get over the Devil Hill, and then increase effort and push even harder until the course, at mile 19, turns back into some more serious climbing. But I knew that in order for me to push pace over the entire distance, I had to take advantage of my strengths, and in order to do that I had to pace myself on the long grinders. All rollers I would try to power over in attempts to keep momentum going and speed up, but I didn’t want to fry my legs on the grinders. That would end my day rather quickly.
The only other goal was to utterly hammer, as best I could and with whatever I had left, on back to transition from mile 48, just beyond a long gradual incline directly into a stiff wind. I wanted to catch and pass other riders, one after another, the rest of the way in.
And that’s what I did. Exactly. Well, except for the first 8 miles. I came out of the water with so much adrenaline, I started pushing right away. I thought about dialing it back, getting back to race plan, and I wondered if I was making a mistake on such a hot day, but it felt right. And so I took it.
Having drank so much of Newfound Lake during the swim, my belly was hurting and not wanting another more. The swim was coming back to haunt me. By mile 20 on the bike, right after the long gradual for which I would hammer on in on the next loop, I finally was able to get on my hydration and nutrition plan. Before then I struggled to get fluid down. My belly was sloshing full of pristine New Hampshire water. Cleanest in the world. Or so they say.
Now well hydrated, I got in some calories and worked the course the rest of the way home, including picking up effort the last 10 miles. My legs were heavy, my breathing labored, and my back very sore, but I knew, from my training, my running legs would be there when it came time to run. I trusted in my training, in what I knew, and in my strength. The running legs, they would be there. They just couldn’t hide.
But what about the heat and humidity, now building with temperatures well into the 90’s?
Time: 2:38:07 (48 / 21.3 mph)
Summary: I had no idea what I could do on this course. It is hilly, it is challenging, and it is among the toughest half Irons, especially since you have to run on a rather hilly run course afterwards. So from a time-perspective, I have nothing to compare. But the truth is I gave it my all. So it doesn’t matter how it stacks up. It was my best performance with the tools I had, and I could not have had any better a race plan.
Transition from the bike to the run was wild. A little eye-opening too. Here I was, now at my bike rack… helmet off, gloves off, bike shoes off, running shoes on, and visor on. It was so quick for me that as soon as I grabbed my race belt with bib number, ready to head toward the run course, I stood for a brief second wondering what else there was to do. I laughed at my pokey self when I couldn’t think of anything. Maybe that’s what fast feels like, I thought. With that I was off to the run start.
Summary: T2 was probably the fastest I’ve done any transition ever. It was a sweet moment as I stood there, staring at my gear, wondering how I did everything so fast, feeling as if I missed something. But I didn’t! Instead I was out.
The run was the part I was mentally preparing for all week. Knowing it would be hot and unbearably humid, knowing I would push the bike the entire way, knowing there were several steep hills on the course and plenty of rollers, I knew this would be tough.
The run sucked. There’s no other way to describe it. It hurt. It was among the hardest both physically and mentally I have ever done. So tough was it, so much did it hurt, that, honestly, I have to block it out; otherwise I will never toe the line of a long course triathlon ever again. The pain was that bad.
With a half marathon set up on a double-loop course, with each loop being out just over 3 miles and back the same, the run started good but faded very quickly.
Through the run start and onto the run course, my cadence was decent enough and my legs were stiff but loosening. By a half mile in, like magic, my legs felt better, but I couldn’t help but notice weren’t nearly as strong as normal. Just as I wondered if I pushed the bike too hard, I cut those thoughts off by reminding myself of my race plan. I wanted to go hard on the bike, trust my training, and stay focused. With the bike done, all that was left was to trust my training and stay focused. So that’s what I did. Back to work.
Mile 1 (6:40) came very fast, perhaps a bit too fast. I was already feeling the heat and knew that if I wanted to keep on pace, I would have to dial the effort back. With another flat to gentle rolling mile ahead, I decided to get on pace now and hope to see a 7 minute mile at 2.
Although at this point I was still running with pace, I couldn’t get my mind off how hot it was, how uncomfortable I was, how my breathing was out of control, way too deep and too frequent, as if there was not enough oxygen in the air. This was going to hurt, I was sure.
When a gladiator is in immediate danger, it goes into survival mode, and out comes the warrior, ready and willing to do anything to save life. When I look back now, well after the race, I realize that although I had started the mental preparations for the battle, I could never have imagined just how tough the run would be. I slipped into survival mode in holding on to a semblance of pace, as if completing the run in the manner I wanted meant life ever after. The warrior in me came to surface. It did what it must to survive, to slay the beast that was the Mooseman run course in a high heat and suffocating humidity of 98F.
Mile 2 (7:03) came as planned, but by then I was already falling into survival mode. The warrior gladiator in me was paying attention, awakening to the cause, ready to stage war. And it’s a good thing, because I could not have done it alone.
After a few gentle rollers comes perhaps the biggest hill on the course. I shortened my stride and tried to increase cadence for the march up. Shortening the stride was easy; the hill forced it. Increasing cadence was hard; I already was loosing energy due to the workload and extreme heat. There was not enough oxygen – that I was certain. The legs just wouldn’t move any faster.
Over the hill, I probably worked too hard, and down the back side, Mile 3 (6:56) came much more quickly than the effort felt… it felt as if I was slowing down, almost approaching the infamous death march pace. I knew I had to slow back down, but as soon as the coach in me slapped myself around, I’d fall victim to the heat, fall into my active coma, and think about not much of anything but survival.
As Mile 4 (7:19), the warrior in me must have changed into gear for the battle that had already begun. Mile 5 (7:00) and 6 (7:06) and back through Transition area to begin the second loop, was a blur. The gladiator must’ve been orchestrating war plans, keeping the forces in order, marching forward, but not yet revealing plans about the enemy. So although I knew the enemy’s name, I had no idea what was in store. And maybe that’s what saved my run, and maybe my race.
By Mile 7 (6:44) I stopped looking at my watch. I had enough energy to click the split button but, as miles 5 through 6 taught me, my brain couldn’t process the numbers and what they meant. The slow down had started. Perhaps I should have looked at the watch, because looking back at my splits, although it felt like I was losing pace quickly, my race falling apart, my pace was actually on level, not slowing much. Seeing those numbers might have made the effort feel a bit easier in seeing the reward for it. Only, the gladiator was in control. I had no choice but to hold on tight.
Mile 8 (7:43) saw the big hill. I came out of my coma for a second at the sight ahead of me. Here I was, trying to climb this hill when I probably should have walked, passing carnage that were runners walking all over the road, and there in front of me were two girls on bikes. Being a lake town with public beaches and a busy summer season, I figured they were tourists heading back home. As I neared I realized in a very uncomfortable second that they weren’t tourists at all. They were athletes, complete with race numbers, and they were still on the bike course. If I wasn’t hurting so badly, I would’ve had the will power to slow down and let them go, spare them the mental stab, but I was hurting too badly. Slipping back into my coma, searching for any oxygen I could find, I passed two riders going up the big hill. They were on the second loop of the bike course while I was on the run course. I felt bad. For a second. Because the warrior in me was back in control, lashing out at the course, fighting for me, for my run, for my race. I was hurting, my pace was slowing, so it felt, I had nothing in me. Hills, any inclined, sapped me. There was nothing. Nothing at all.
Mile 9 (8:03) came; I hit the split button but had no energy to look. Mile 10 (7:27) was a blur. Except for when the gladiator, tired and beat and needing a rest, let up. Just beyond the turnaround for the second loop was yet another steep climb back to the road and the return 3 miles home. I had nothing on the hill, everybody near me was walking, I passed all of them even though I knew it was stupid to run, it probably would have been better to walk, with me talking myself through it, that I’d recover on the down side. As I crested the top, now on the main road, I split two guys, both walking, and, without conscious thought, my body involuntarily stopped running. Just stopped. I was walking. Not even two steps later, the gladiator was back, newly awoken – not fresh, no energy, but good enough to get me to stop feeling the pain and just be done with this damn race. There was only three mile left. Anyone can crawl in a weak jog for three miles. Even in the heat.
That pause to step, to walk, was a defining moment. It reminded me of holding on to the run at Ironman Coeur d’Alene, something I consider to be the ultimate toughest thing I’ve ever done. This, on that hill, this entire run, was similar. Similar, I told myself. It was similar. As in it was just similar. It was NOT the same. I did it then. I will do it now. Focus. Slip back into the coma.
And that’s what I did – let the gladiator do his job like the warrior he is. Miles 11, 12, 13 and on to 13.1 (22:50) hurt more than anything. It was survival mode through all its colors. Although it felt like I was fading, and fading fast, I am amazed to, now after the race, see the splits, because what felt like 10 minute miles or slower was in fact a solid last 5K of 22:50, good for 7:15 minute miles. And now, after the race, it is coming back to me where during that last 3 miles, somewhere in the middle, not seeing another runner on the course but focused only inward, I was brought into the moment when a woman supporter on a bike in a Curious George bike jersey rode up beside me, told me I was looking very strong, told me I was almost there, asked if I needed anything, told me again my pace was good. Even though what she said helped me immensely in holding on to my pace, I was hurting so badly that I thought she was just saying that to make me feel good about my death march pace of a crawl home. Only if I had anything left in me, I would have seen that she was right. I was moving along – not flying – holding on for dear life, but also holding on to a decent pace.
My race was saved.
Thank you, Curious. I can’t even begin to explain how helpful you were. I wish I could thank you in person.
Time: 1:34:50 (35 / 7:15 pace)
Summary: That hurt.
The run hurt. Badly. If the outcome were any different, this race may have been a serious mental whack, perhaps even one for which there is no recovery. It hurt that bad. But to be able to pull it off, to hold onto the run, and to finish with a time that was what I dreamed up before I knew about the heat, I am very proud of the gladiator within. He fought a tough but very smart war. He needs a bit of a mental break, but he will relish the outcome of the battle as if a badge, and then put it behind, block out the pain that was the Mooseman run, and re-engage for the other battles ahead.
48th Place Overall / 740 Total
13th Place Age Group M35-39
Summary: This hurt will last in the memory a very long time. But so too will the battle waged and won. That hurt.
1 – 6:40
2 – 7:03
3 – 6:56
4 – 7:19
5 – 7:00
6 – 7:06
7 – 6:44
8 – 7:43
9 – 8:03
10 – 7:27
11 – 13.1 – 22:50 (~7:17)