First, with our trip to watch Missy run the Vermont City Marathon, and with the beauty that is springtime in Mystic, I’m pretty much just in love with New England right now, so I was dying to catch the Amazing Hip (AKA Zipper Quigley, AKA Jeff), Warren, and The Running Chick with the Orange Hat and share a little bit of sunshine, green grass, and blue skies with them before the snow flies again (Yep, I’m a little breath of sunshine, I am). But I rambled on about this last post, and won’t dwell, except to say that the light of day made the night before look much less dark than that post.
Race morning was surprisingly less chaotic than I’d expected. It took next to no time to break down camp (the guy in the tent across the way said “That’s the best breakdown I’ve ever seen”. Guess camping regularly with the kiddos has its benefits). I’d put all my gear into my wetsuit bag the night before, so didn’t have anything to do other than roll up the sleeping bag and tent, and tote it to the car.
Parked, headed to Transition, and laid out the stuff. Warren was already there, freaking out about having lost a pedal (which ended up well). And then I was done setting up with way too long to go. Jeff was chipper, having done Wildflower and knowing how much suck awaited us. Me? I was petrified, and not even sure if I’d finish the swim. I was having flashbacks to my first triathlon, Terramuggus a few years back, where I got about 150 yards into the swim and completely FREAKED from disorientation. Which, I convinced myself, was going to happen again. Provided I didn’t get trampled, as we were in the the second wave of the start, which meant that there were like 600 people who were going to pass me before I got out of the water. But getting passed was fine – I’d swim wide from the buoys, meaning, I’d do like 3 miles instead of 1.2 …
Whatever. My head was far from a good spot. Jeff kept handing me his water bottle, and I kept saying “No thanks”. After about the 6th time, I realized he wanted me to hold it while he fiddled with his cap, or goggles, or something. So, not only was I going to be trampled, but I’d been dumb and rude to my friends, who probably wouldn’t even tell Missy where to claim my body after the cops found it after dragging the lake.
Sooner than I expected, it was time for the race to start. The first wave got off, and we waded out. Handshakes, good wishes all around, and MAN, was the water cold. The chill kind of put me off my rhythm – I’d been practicing 5 strokes per breath, alternating sides, but couldn’t manage more than 3 before my lungs were burning.
In a way, the swim FLEW. I got way out to the side and stayed there, very rarely swimming into people’s feet, and only once getting run into. I ended up in a couple of armpits, which was a new experience. Getting to the first turn was quicker than I’d thought. The crosswise leg was tough – the seas were directly off the beam (says the sailor), so breathing to the right meant a couple of mouthfuls of sparkling lake water. I peed as I rounded the second buoy, which was surprisingly pleasant feeling. I’ve since scrubbed the wetsuit.
Soon enough, I was out of the water. I knew the swim was better than I’d hoped, since most of the caps I saw were from the wave behind us, and there were more than a few from our wave. Turns out that, relative placement, the swim was by far my best event.
I was shocked to see Warren in transition, but he’d taken a leisurely time of it. Told me that Hip’d left just a minute or so earlier, told me he expected me to pass him momentarily, and left for the bike. I finished catching my breath, dried off with a towel (No, I’m not a real triathlete – sue me), put on socks, cycling shoes, a jersey, and drank a half bottle of water. Then, I grabbed my bike, trotted out to the start, and clipped in.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the bike was the best 3 hours of the day, ’cause it was. The bike course was great. The first 5 miles – pretty road, with a freakin’ evil climb that was made bearable only by the woman dressed as Didi. There was, however, a camera doing a live feed from the race at the top – and the thought of flying a double bird as I passed did cross my mind. But, that would have required action besides gasping for breath and keeping the pedals turning. I’d passed Warren, resplendent in a Rabobank jersey, broken down at the bottom of the climb. I thought about stopping to help; however, that might have been enough inertia to keep me from finishing (I only slightly joke).
The sight of Warren, however, did stick in my head a joke along the lines of “Hey, Warren, you climb about as well as Robbie McEwen“, but I was pretty sure that McEwen hadn’t ridden for Rabobank in about 10 years, couldn’t think of a recent Rabobank sprinter, and wasn’t completely sure if Warren would make the connection and find it funny, or just think I was a tool. And now I’ve wasted a paragraph explaining it, which means it wasn’t funny in the first place.
But the ride was transcendent. Other than Devil’s hill, I didn’t blow up on any of the climbs, managed to descend like the fat guy I am, and didn’t get blown by on any of the flats. There was a little bit of acid reflux on the first half-lap, a combination of bacon from the pre-race pancake breakfast, lake water, and Gatorade (which I found particularly acidic that morning). Switching from Gatorade to water, and adding the gels that were handed out at the water stops seemed to make the tummy stop hurting, and I don’t think that I had nutrition problems all day.
The last third of each lap, from NH 104 back to the Harriman State Park, was the absolute best type of New England road biking – decent two lane pavement, rolling hills, and a combination of shade, pasture, and quaint village. There were two turns that were just glorious – sweepers into which you could really lean. Man, I love the bike.
Before the race, I’d planned on averaging about 15.5 MPH, based on watching my heart rate. I’d left the HRM band in the car the morning of the race, so went by perceived effort. About 70 minutes into the ride, I looked down and noticed that my bike computer was giving me an average speed of about 16.5 MPH, which was WAY above where I wanted to be. But, I kept my head down, kept the RPE at what I felt was low, and kept on.
The last 5 miles of the bike were tough, though. Other than the ride up to Smuggler’s Notch while we were in Vermont on Memorial Day weekend, I hadn’t gone over 40 miles during training, and my back started feeling sore around mile 50. In most of my training rides, I’d stopped between 20 and 30 miles for a stretch and nutrition, but decided to keep riding during the race. Hindsight says I probably ought to have stretched mid-ride. And going back through a decade’s scattered ride notes, I think that the 56 miles of this race may be the longest distance I’ve ever kept my feet on the pedals (would say my butt on the saddle, but there were a couple of climbs out of the saddle) ever.
I was shocked when I rolled into T2 with my bike computer registering 16.9 MPH (splits say 17.2 average) average speed, crushing my pre-race goal. The thought was also terrifying – if I’d exceeded my planned effort by that much on the bike, the run was going to kill me.
Which it did.
T2 was much quicker than T1 – changed shoes, changed socks, ditched the jersey for a shirt rather than digging everything out of my pockets, or trying to run a half marathon with a bike tube and mini-pump in my pocket (Or confusing people that I was really happy to see them). New shirt, some more water, and one last bocadillo, and I was off.
And into the most pain I’d felt in a long time. Couldn’t catch my breath, couldn’t stand all the way up, and couldn’t understand why I had no freaking rhythm – I’m a runner, darn it! Walked to the first water stop, ran another mile or so, walked up the first wicked big hill (and decided right there that I wasn’t going to screw around with it at all – it was getting walked on the second lap, too). At the top, I finally realized that unless I took time to pee and stretch, there was no way I was going to make it through the run. So I did – into the portapot, dropped trou, dropped a duke, peed, and spent 4 or 5 minute stretching out my legs and back.
Y’know what? It worked. I could run (sort-of) again, and made it down to the run turnaround without stopping. There was a steep section between the turnaround water stop and the main road, so I hydrated and walked back to the main road, the ran back up to the portapot where I’d stretched out. Rather than running down the steep hill, I walked, and, just after hitting the bottom and starting to run, I saw Warren
Cannot say how happy I was that I was running, not walking when I saw him – he was too, and even though I think we both knew that the other was hurting something awful, it really helped to see a friendly face. I figured he was on his second lap, and tried to figure out where he’d passed me on the bike, he looked so good.
Made it back to the park, and the turnaround, and about a mile into the second lap, spotted Jeff’s Orange County jersey, shouted “Orange County Represent”, and realized I’d be done in about an hour, and hoped Jeff’d save me a beer.
The second lap was much better than the first – part because I knew exactly how badly it was going to suck, instead of having an unknown quantity of suckage ahead, and part because as I kept running, it kept feeling better. At that point, I realized how ultras were possible – there is a level of pain, once reached, can be sustained indefinitely, provided you keep ingesting calories. Trouble is, The Wall is between most of us and the never-ending level of pain, and, man, does The Wall blow. Tris are nice because you kind of get to coast through The Wall on the bike, and once you start the run, it’s nothing but a maintenance thing once you’ve worked the kinks out of your back.
Walked up the wicked hill again, walked the bit after the turnaround water stop, walked down the wicked hill again, and set my teeth to finish. The sun came out and the wind died about 1.5 miles out from the finish, and I stopped to walk a bit. Ran the last mile, and passed a runner marked as the run part of a relay team.
Coming into the finish, I felt like a million bucks; life was great, I soaked it up, wondered how I could change my registration to “Bill” instead of “William”, and was generally on cloud 9 until, quite literally, the relay runner I’d passed about a mile earlier pips me at the line. Go check out the pictures – Helen Waclewik, running just the easy 13.1, was absolutely compelled to cut me off. Stupid relays.
In any case, I finished. I was outside of my best-case estimate of 6 hours (40 min swim, 3:20 bike, 2 hour half marathon), but well under my realistic time of 6:30 (1 hour swim, 3:30 bike, 2 hour half marathon). The run was WAY harder than I’d anticipated. But, that’s a post for another evening.
Dianna’s picture seems appropriate to steal and put here to close – I was kind of against our taking it before the race, what with hubris and all (I’ve read me some of them Greek epics), but in hindsight it works: