I love racing 1/2 Ironmans. The distance is very challenging yet you can still have a busy life outside of the training for it. I have raced most of the big 1/2 IM races in the nation throughout the past 10 years, and one that still was on my to do list was Timberman in New Hampshire. I had heard nothing but great things about this race and mid July I was fortunate enough to weasel my way in (race registration had filled in February due to the popularity of this race). I left Monroe at 3:30pm on Friday evening so that I could volunteer at the sprint race on Saturday morning. Leaving at this time was a big mistake! I first hit traffic in Waterbury, then in Hartford, then on the Mass Pike, then the worst of it was from Mass up into NH on rt. 93. It took me over 6 hours to get there. Lisa and the kids stayed home and Mars (or Baker) couldn't make the trip, so I was riding solo.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, my father took a position with a company that relocated us up in Amherst, NH. We were there for less than a year, and I had been back to NH once since, at a race on Lake Sunapee in the mid 90's. Timberman takes place on the huge Lake Winnapasakee, which is beautiful and surrounded by hills. It's a shame that they had to taint this beauty with every fast food joint you could think of along with Walmart, Home Depot, and little strip malls. I, at the last minute, was able to get vacancy at the Landmark Inn in Laconia and upon arrival, I was glad that Lisa, although she's no prima-donna, opted to stay home.
My preparation for this race was less than adequate. I like to keep myself fit enough to jump into races when possible, but this isn't always a good thing. I had swam once since Lake Placid camp in June and my running was not up to par. I had not run while in France and then I didn't do enough specific bricks before or after France and it showed on race day. On top of that, I was feeling run down during the week leading into this race and didn't do any training on Wed, Thu, or Fri. Saturday, I awoke early and did body marking and then worked the bike mount and dismount line at the sprint race. It was cold Saturday! The wind was blowing and there were white caps on the lake. After the sprint race, I did all the day before stuff like cleaning and setting up my bike, picking up registration packet, going for an easy 30 minute ride and an easy 20 minute run... Dinner that night was my traditional pizza and a pint of Guinness and I was in bed early.
Despite being nervous (this was my first race since Hawaii last year and I felt less than prepared), I slept well. The drive up to the race site was long with a traffic jam from all the other racers, and this just sucked. I have mentioned before about how the worst part of race day for me is the 90 minutes before the race begins. I just want to get started and get moving and the anticipation and nerves can hang on you. Sitting in traffic during this just makes it that much worse. It was cold out, in the low 50's, but the sun was up.
The Swim: bottom line - I sucked. I had no feel for the water and just envisioned a rope running parallel to my torso that I'd grab and pull myself forward on with each stroke. I counted 100 strokes with my left arm, then 100 strokes with my right. I estimated that this was equal to 500 meters (the 200 strokes), and repeated this counting drill for four cycles and I was close to the swim finish. I swore during this swim that I'd quite the bullshit and making up excuses and get myself to the pool at least once or twice a week, every week throughout the year. I was depressed as I exited the water and saw that the swim took me 30 minutes and 30 seconds. Typically, I swim 1.2 miles in a race in 27 minutes so I was angry with myself and my laziness in swim training. The positives from this swim were that I found open water immediately. I was in the second wave, behind the pro men and women wave. I was in a new "Elite Amateurs" division and there were maybe only 30 of us in this wave, so it meant very little contact during the swim and the bike would be very clean. Also, I loved my new Nineteen wetsuit. I know - they sponsor me so I'm supposed to say that but here's the deal: Anyone that knows me knows that I don't plug things shamelessly. The neck line is wiiiiiiide and I had no chafing issues whatsoever. I usually hate full sleeve wetsuits and this one did bother me a bit but the least of any I have worn. I still don't know if I'm a huge fan of sleeves on wetsuits (or sleeves in general), but these were the least restricting. Finally, Nineteen and QR are the only two companies that use 5mm thick neoprene in there legs and it shows - the lower body buoyancy is amazing!
The Bike: I exited the transition area to see Chris Thomas right in front of me. I yelled some words of encouragement or profanity or something at him and forged ahead. The first 12 miles of this out and back course roll up hill. I had a wattage game plan to ride the hills at 350 and the flats at 300 and at any speed above 30 mph, I'd coast or soft pedal and save my legs. I felt pretty good and stayed controlled. There were a couple of young guys who I went by early on and they didn't like that so they would blast by me soon afterwards. I kept to my game plan and would recatch them and we played this cat and mouse game for 10 miles. Usually I'd get them at the top of a hill since they'd blast the lower part of the hill and then run out of gas, only to repeat this at the next hill. At the 20 mile mark, they fell off pace. I saw Bjorn Anderson coming back on his return trip with a huge lead over Simon Lessing who was in second. There was a strong head wind on the return trip and I still felt strong although I felt as though I was lacking that extra punch that you get after racing a few times in the season. That oomph that you only get from racing. The nice thing about this smaller wave that I was in was that it made for a very clean race. I carried two bottles with me on the bike - one with calories and one with electrolyte drink. This carried me to the two hour mark and I grabbed a gatorade at the last aid station, but that was the only aid station I grabbed something at on the bike. I rolled into T2 feeling pretty good about the time I had made up on the bike from my poor swim.
The Run: What was interesting was that I didn't feel that cold on the bike except for my feet. In hindsight, I should have put socks on for the ride. As I left T2, my toes were numb and especially on my left foot. My low back was tight as well and I was running, yet felt sluggish. I tried to keep my stride shorter and quicker and not force things, hoping that I'd loosen up by mile three or four. Well, mile six came and went and I was getting ready to begin my second run loop and I still had numb left toes and felt stiff. Right at this time, another elite male, Desiree Ficker, and Kate Major came up on me. Desiree and Kate were having quite the battle for first place on this day. The elite male and Desiree moved by quickly and I locked onto Kate. I stayed focused on her back through mile 7 and started to loosen up. By 7.5 miles, I was finally running and feeling good. I moved by Kate and told her to stay on me and that we were going to reel in Desiree. At mile 8, I could hear Kate breathing hard and told her to hang in there, we were making up time. I was running strong now and was excited yet questioning why it took 6.5 miles to loosen up. Kate fell off pace and i soldiered onwards. I caught the elite male who had passed me earlier at the 11 mile mark and ran right off his shoulder until the last 1/4 mile, where I made my move and surged to the finish line. I had negative split the run by almost 5 minutes.
At the finish line, I felt good. I used primarily coke, gatorade and water on the run and one gel packet and this worked well. Kate Major finished up and we ended up talking for 30 minutes or so. She is a really interesting and genuinely nice person. I'll have to root for her now at Hawaii this year.
It was great seeing a lot of familiar faces out on the course, including some of the athletes I coach. This was definitely one of the best triathlons I have ever raced. The organization was second to none. Keith Jordan and his crew do an amazing job, and all the positives that I have heard about this race were dead on. The course is terrific. It's an honest course with a diversity of good hills, scenery, shade and sun. I will come back to this race again, even if it is a big pain in the ass to get to. I'm encouraged now to get my swimming and running up to where they should be and even further by November.