RI 70.3 from Big Rocks
Ironman races can bring out the best in people. We arrive at Roger Williams State Park for the swim just before 5:00 am. The sky is just beginning to lighten and the wind is really whipping. I remember as I got out of the car that if the wind was that strong here in the parking lot I wonder what the water was like. As I walked toward the beach I could see the white caps on top of four foot swells and thought that it was going to be an interesting start of the day.Spectating an Ironman event be it a full or 70.3 is a test of patience. A quality that those who know me say I sorely lack. There is always a lot of nervous energy before the race and today was no exception. Since there was a storm the night before that moved the swim buoys the race start was delayed 15 to 20 minutes while they were repositioned. So, in addition to normal race jitters, people had rough water, plus a delay and if you were unlucky enough to be seeded in the 12th swim wave, nerves were being pushed to limits. The race officials decided that since the rough water conditions were not going to change they offered an out for anyone not wanting to do the swim. If you opted out of the swim you could race a duathlon that would not count in the final standings. To the credit of the 1200+ racers there, only about 2 or 3 people elected not to swim. Maybe, they were the smart ones. I don’t know how the officials decide on the swim waves. I know you want to get the old people (slow swimmers) in the early waves so they don’t hold up the race, but deciding to seed the 18-24 year old men in the very last heat was just plain cruel. These young studs were raring to go and had to wait almost an hour to start their day. Puzzling.Surprisingly, given the rough water conditions the swim seemed to go smoothly (no pun intended). The many swim waves created a lot of open space so it appeared that untypical of an Ironman race, you had a lot of open space to swim. The waves also favorably played out during the bike portion of the race since there appeared to be less drafting and pack riding which has become the standard for most races these days, unfortunately.After Eric’s wave entered to water, Gus and I positioned ourselves near the roped off section where the swimmers exited the water. Our job for the swim was to determine how far behind Bruce Gennari, Eric would be after the swim. Given that Bruce can beat most pros at Hawaii the question was how big a hole would Eric have to dig out of after the swim. If you have ever watched hundreds of swimmers all dressed the same exiting the water you know how confusing it can get. I estimated that Bruce would be finished with the swim in 22 minutes (he did 21 so I did not see him come out of the water). The good news was that Eric had an excellent swim. The bad news was that he was almost 6 minutes behind Bruce. Six minutes in a 70.3 is a huge amount of time to make up against a top all-around competitor like Bruce.Usually, I like to hop in the car and follow the riders along the bike course but the layout of the route in RI made it difficult. The first part of the bike where the riders exited the transition was closed off to traffic. Plus if you were exiting the parking lot in a car you had to drive in an opposite direction to the bike course. Since Gus and I did not have a good map of the course, plus it was almost an hour ride by car back to the run transition in Providence we decided to head back to the transition area and catch up with Eric there.
Gus had his mountain bike with him and decided to follow the runners out on the course. Since the run was a double loop through the city it was great to keep track of the runners on the course. I waited at the bike to run transition and when I saw Bruce G. rack his bike and head out on the run I started my watch. Several minutes later Eric came in and as he exited to the run course I looked at my watch and yelled out 4 minutes. The good news is Eric had picked up two minutes on Bruce during the bike. The bad news is that he was still behind by 4 minutes. The Providence run course is probably the best place to spectate a run since the double loop goes through the city in such a way that once you figured out the short cuts you could spot your runner six or eight times during the run. Up to this point the weather was very favorable with a cloud cover. As the run started the sun broke through and it became hot and humid. I positioned myself at the bottom of the long downhill and when Bruce went by I started my timer. As Eric approached I could not believe it. He closed to within 2 minutes 20 seconds with one loop of the run to go. I decided to stay where I was and wait for both Bruce and Eric to come back from the turn-around before calling out the next time differential.The time difference between Bruce and Eric was approximately the same 2 minutes 20 seconds and both of them had that locked-in look that neither was going to give an inch. Now, I have to confess something here. I actually lied to my son! When Eric came by I yelled out “2 minutes 15 seconds”. I didn’t even know it was coming out. I felt I needed to dangle a carrot out there to keep Eric moving. As he went by it seemed to be working because appeared to pick up the pace. It was getting exciting.I ran toward the finish and positioned myself near the chute, and then realized that the race finishes by the runners turning the corner and running about ¼ mile uphill to the finish. I decided that if I could get down to the corner and if Eric was close enough to Bruce he would have a final ¼ mile to catch him.I saw Bruce coming toward me and he was looking behind him for Eric quite a bit. As he started up the final hill he kept looking behind him. I thought that too bad Eric couldn’t close the gap when all of a sudden here comes Eric like a bat out of hell within less than a minute behind Bruce. So the three of us are running up the hill and that is the way we finished. Bruce then Eric about 40 seconds behind then me telling Eric too bad the run didn’t go another mile because as Bruce knew, Eric was going to catch him.You know, I got so caught up in the race within the race that I lost focus of many of the other people out there which was fine since the Bruce/Eric duel in RI was a blast to watch. When I spectate an Ironman race I need to get involved. By that I mean that unlike some people who plant themselves in one spot and stay there drinking beer the whole day, I have to move around. I usually pick out a couple of racers to follow and find myself getting so caught up in the action and emotion of the race and the athletes that I don’t even realize where the time goes. This sport can be appreciated on so many levels and if you find yourself spectating instead of racing get involved. You will enjoy it a lot more.