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Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid 2018 (Part 3 – Bike)

This ended up being really long, so I’ve broken it into parts. You can find the rest here (when they’re ready):

The bike course at Ironman Lake Placid is supposed to be one of the harder ones in all Ironman events, mainly because of the hills. It is a 2-loop ride, so 56 miles on each loop. The Ironman site shows that each loop of the course has 4182 feet of climbing, so that makes 8,364 feet for the entire 112-mile ride. Fortunately that isn’t really the case. If you look at this version of the course, it comes in at 6,822, which I think is more accurate because my Strava recording (using a Garmin Edge 500) registered 6,138 feet over 112 miles.

Discrepancies in the exact elevation notwithstanding, this is still a tough bike course with a significant amount of climbing. I had never focused on my climbing until this year, and had worked on it as much as I could before this event. I’m still very slow, but I feel like I at least built up some endurance for climbing on a long ride.

I had decided to make a full outfit change between different parts of the race because I didn’t think that I could ride 112 miles in tri-shorts. So I changed out of my bathing suit and into bib shorts and a cycling jersey. Because of the weather forecast and my tendency to always be cold, I also wore sleeves, a cycling vest, and a light running/cycling jacket. All of this took me too long, over fifteen minutes. At least the volunteers are ready to hand you your bike as you run out from the changing tent and through the rows of bikes. I was told to shout my number as I ran. The number was passed along by the volunteers, and my bike was right there for me when I reached my row.

T1 = 15:18

The start of the bike course features a sharp 180-degree turn while descending. I had been warned about this on the previous day and had looked it over. I wasn’t worried about myself, as I had done some turn practice for a time trial last year and periodically do tiny circles in parking lots for practice. I didn’t have any other athletes near me when I got here, but watch out for others who may have less control. For visualization purposes, this turn is where the first loop ends and rejoins the course for the start of the second loop. I didn’t have to worry about anyone coming from that direction though, as even the pros aren’t able to swim and then bike 56 miles by the time the slow swimmers start to bike.

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Waving to my family as I start my ride.

From there, the course continues downhill, makes a 90-degree turn to the right, and plunges down a steep decline before another 90-degree turn to the left. The ground was marked with warnings to stay slow. I had already ridden the lower part of this during my practice ride two days ago, so I felt comfortable letting myself fly a bit faster here. Just make sure you’re ready to brake and make the left turn. The road levels off and you’ll make a right turn onto Main Street here, and this is where I felt like I was really on the course.

The beginning stretch between this point and the Olympic ski jumps is a great chance to warm-up your legs. The pavement is smooth with some small rollers, followed by a fun downhill section right as you reach the ski jumps. By this point, I still hadn’t seen any rain, but the sky was gray and foreboding.

Once you pass the ski jumps you’ll encounter the first hills of Lake Placid. This is around mile 2.5, and I think was one of the toughest parts of the course. I hit the climb and tried to remember what I had read about this course: don’t go out too hard on the first lap. I shifted into a low gear, focused on the road directly ahead of me, and tried to find a rhythm for my climb. Raindrops began to fall and the wind kicked up, directly into my face.

For the next seven or eight miles, I was miserable. The rain intensified and was accompanied with squally winds that beat against me as I tried to make any forward (and upward) progress. Even going downhill (for a brief stretch) was tough, as I had to pedal through the wind. It also grew colder, with the wind, rain, and a drop in air temperature of about 10 degrees (F). I cringed for the athletes wearing only tri-kits. My fingers and toes were numb, but I never felt cold in my core, so I knew I’d be okay.

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OMG, this sucks!

At this point, I reached the first out-and-back of three on each loop of the course. This was a nice flat run out to the Olympic bobsled course and back. The first of the aid stations is at the end of it, and the road was more sheltered from the wind. I had been unable to drink anything so far (Gatorade Endurance) because the wind had been too strong to let go of my handlebars to grab a bottle. I guzzled some liquid and tossed away my first water bottle here, even though it wasn’t empty (learning from past experience), and took another Gatorade Endurance from a volunteer.

I turned to the right upon leaving the out-and-back and continued climbing for a short distance further before finally arriving at the Keene descent.

I love descending as fast as possible, so I had been looking forward to this section for some time. I wasn’t particularly happy about the rain and the wind, but I had also ridden in similar conditions before and had decent tires on my bike. I had seen this part of the road when we drove the course, so I knew that there weren’t any sharp turns ahead until the town of Keene. I flew downhill, pedaling into the descent, but kept my hands on the brakes, ready to slow if I felt out of control. The greatest challenge on the descent was watching out for the other athletes. I know that not everyone loves to careen downhill at high speed. But unfortunately many riders didn’t stay to the right either. I tried to shout, “on your left” a couple of times, but either they ignored me or didn’t hear me in the wind. I did manage to pass most of them (only to be later passed on the flat), and rode into Keene more optimistic about my average speed than I had been on the earlier climb.

I had no way to really estimate what my pace would be for the bike course because I had never ridden this far, and I’m still pretty new to hills, only training on them for this season. My time at the Quassy Half bike was 4:16, but that was only a 54-mile course. IMLP was not as hilly as Quassy, but longer, with hills stacked at the end. I knew that if I kept my average pace at 14 mph, I’d finish with no need to worry about the cut offs, so that’s what I looked for on my Garmin.

The next section of the course starts with a sharp left in the town of Keene and follows Highway 9N north. Here is your best chance for some speed, as this section is all flat until Jay. The gorgeous Ausable River will be on your left. You’ll cross a bridge in Upper Jay, make a right turn, and continue with the river on the right. Look out for two aid stations in this section – one just after the turn in Keene, and another a short distance before you reach Jay. I had to stop at one of these to get my nutrition out of a back pocket in my jersey. Usually I can manage that without stopping, but my fingers were still a bit numb from the weather. The squally rain and wind had let up by this point, but the day remained overcast with some drizzle and wet roads.

The left turn in the town of Jay (mile 26) could be considered the start of the climb back to town, although the worst of it starts later, around the end of the Haselton out-and-back. But this hill that you encounter at Jay is the first one you’ve had to climb in a while, so it means that it’s time to grind away on those gears again. From here until about mile 39, you’ll ride some rolling hills interspersed with a few flatter sections.

I was still feeling pretty good at this point, and was looking forward to the Haselton out-and-back and the Game of Thrones-themed aid station ahead (I had spied this when we drove the course). I made a right turn on Bilhuber Road, then after just a short ways, another right onto Haselton Road. This is the second out-and-back on the loop, and the longest of the three. You’ll have to be ready for another 180-degree turn at the end of it, but this section is also pretty flat and fun to ride. After I turned around and retraced my way back south, the sun even showed itself briefly.

The out-and-backs are also fun because you can watch for other racers, and looking for friends and family can help relieve some of the mental stress of such a long ride. Finally I arrived at the GoT aid station and had decided to stop here for a bathroom break. The volunteer that helped me held my bike and my layers and even brushed sand off my shoes so that I wouldn’t have any trouble clipping in when I left.

There is another hill at mile 39, then a flat section, and then the last 13 miles of each loop are all uphill. The third out-and-back (a new addition to the course this year) starts at mile 44.5 (near the start of that 13 miles) and is short but has a steep section to get back onto the main road. This out-and-back is at the ski area, Whiteface Mountain, and has another 180-degree turn. I heard/read many negative comments about this addition to the course, but I liked it. I enjoyed the bike handling involved in the turn and had fun in this short, slightly twisty section.

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Whiteface Mountain. Photo by Theedster123 under Creative Commons license.

From there, it’s mostly straight and all climbing, but with some amazing scenery as you pass alongside High Falls Gorge. The river is still the Ausable River. I can’t really figure out how it flows in a circle around the entire course, but it just does. The hardest part about this section is that you’ll have to keep pushing up hill after hill after hill. No part of the climb is terribly steep, but there aren’t ever enough downhill miles to recover from the climbing until you reach town again. You will find another aid station here, but I had just stopped, so I just continued to exchange bottles and rolled on.

The last few hills are named Momma Bear, Baby Bear, and Papa Bear. They are labeled on the ground so you’ll know when you’re here. Someone had written Goldilocks on a hill right before the bears, and Ray Ray Bear on a tiny steep section after the other bears, but I’m not sure if those names will stick for future years.

If you’ve read about the IMLP course elsewhere, the three bears are the hills that are always mentioned. The build up about them is worse than the actual climbs. Momma Bear is no worse than all the other hills, and Baby Bear is just a bump. Papa Bear is more substantial, but when I got to it on the first loop, the crowds that were here to cheer the athletes on helped me to get through it. Papa Bear is also the last real climb on the course. After Papa Bear, you make a couple turns and roll into town. The end of the loop passes along part of the run course here, but you won’t find any runners on it until you’re on your second loop.

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I hadn’t been able to look over this part of the course beforehand, but it was easy to follow. The roads are closed and the route passes behind the high school to the back side of transition. It meets up with the beginning of the course here at that 180-degree turn, but at this point you’re coming at it straight-in. Also – just next to transition before you ride through the high school parking lot – this is where your bike special needs bags have been staged. I didn’t feel like I needed anything out of it, but I did stop to get a Rice Krispie treat out of my jersey and eat it.

On the second loop, the mental battle became harder. I tend to be really stubborn, so I never had any worry that I wouldn’t be able to tough it out and make it through. It was just an uncomfortable process. I knew how all the hills felt already, and the weather was getting better. My legs were tired, but no more than I would have expected. My average pace had dropped after the hills on the back side of the course, but I was still optimistic that I could keep it at 14 mph.

While the rain had stopped, the wind had not. The climb out of town was very rough, and the Keene descent on the second loop was more treacherous. I had to focus to keep my bike from getting pushed laterally by the wind. Another athlete that I spoke with briefly said that her bike had actually jumped sideways a few inches with one wind gust. The clumps of athletes had thinned out by this point, so the Keene descent was easier to navigate otherwise.

I found that the flatter sections after Keene were still fun, but my average pace was slower than on the first loop. I started to worry about cut off times. As of the 2018 rules, athletes have 17 hours to complete the entire course, but there are intermediate cut offs as well. For the bike course, the first lap had to be done by 1:30 p.m., you had to reach the fifth aid station (about mile 100) by 5 p.m., and you had to complete the second loop by 5:30 p.m. Finally, you must complete the swim and the bike sections in 10:30.

If everyone had started the race at exactly 7 a.m, then the 5:30 cut off would fall at a total race time of 10:30. But with the self-seeded start beginning at 6:40 a.m., I think everyone was in the water before 7 a.m. That complicates your ability to track where you are in regards to that 10:30 cut off unless you are tracking your entire race on one computer, OR if you make a special note of your start time. I was too distracted to do that at the start, and I also used different computers for the swim and the bike so that my battery life wouldn’t fail me.

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The flat part of the course. Photo courtesy of Joyce Pedersen via Creative Commons license.

I kept pedaling, pushing as much as I could, but my legs were feeling more and more fatigued and just didn’t have much to give. I watched in horror as my average speed dipped lower. On the second loop I knew that I couldn’t afford to stop for a bathroom break, but I also didn’t think that I needed to. I hadn’t thought that I had started out too hard on the first loop, but by the time I reached the back side of the course I had arrived at what I will call my “worst idea I’ve ever had” point.

This is something that seems to happen to me in every long event. It’s that time when I start reconsidering all my decisions to ever do a triathlon. This event that I paid money to participate in is now the worst idea I’ve ever had. Every time, I swear I’m never going to do this again as I ponder why anyone would sign up for this in the first place. This typically seems to be the point at which everything starts to hurt. For IMLP, it hit me around mile 90.

My left leg was starting to bother me. My knee hurt, my old ankle injury hurt, my muscles hurt. My neck and shoulders were stiff and sore from being in the same position on a bike for so many hours. My seat hurt, and there wasn’t any way to make it better.

Mentally, doubts start to creep in. I’ve ridden 100 miles before, but never 112. I have to run a marathon after this and I don’t like to run. What’s wrong with me? Will my ankle hold up for a marathon if it’s already starting to hurt?

It started to rain a little. The number of athletes on the course was thinning out. The rest of the course was uphill. But – I had come here to finish. I kept pedaling, aiming for steady progress rather than any surges in speed. I just had to keep moving.

Now, each mile that ticked off on my computer meant one mile closer to town, one mile closer to the run course, and one mile closer to the finish. “C’mon, legs,” I told myself. Push, push, push.

I rode out-and-back at Whiteface Mountain. I climbed past High Falls Gorge. I started to wonder when I would reach the Three Bears. I knew that these marked the last of the climb into town, but I couldn’t remember the course well enough from the first loop. Everything had gone fuzzy in my memory. I had left the gorge behind and was passing through an otherwise nondescript wooded section. Finally, I recognized the road ahead and found that I had reached Momma Bear.

Up and over, pedal pedal, I was almost there! Then I reached Papa Bear. The spectating crowds had thinned out and quieted. The hill assumed mountainous proportions. The only thing that kept me going at this point was knowing that I only had another mile or so of flat or downhill riding once I reached the top. Oh – and that looming cut off time.

I reached the top, surged forward, tried to pick up a little speed, and found the spectators as I reached a point where the bike course and the run course overlapped. I rode past Mirror Lake, made a right turn, swung around and through town, then rushed by bike special needs, ride behind the high school, and made the final turn toward transition.

My eyes fixed on the dismount line and I focused on staying upright, on not falling. I managed to unclip, slow down, and get my foot down. I was shaky, but I had made it!

A volunteer asked if I was okay and I probably mumbled something or nodded. I took a deep breath and swung a leg over my bike. My legs trembled but held me up, and I hobbled across the line.

BIKE TIME: 8:32:05

I love my bike, but I was ecstatic to be off of it. I handed it over to a volunteer and knew that I had to keep moving. There was one small problem though: I could barely walk.

I’ve felt that way on the two 70.3 races I had done prior to this, but not to the same degree. I hoped that I’d loosen up and figure out how to run in a few minutes! But first – I needed to change into my running gear. I shuffled through transition, grabbed my bike-to-run bag, and entered the changing tent.

My time was not what I had hoped for, but I had been uncertain of what to expect. And really – I hadn’t fallen over, crashed, become hypothermic, or injured anything (I think). After the day was over, I would discover that I had completed the swim and bike sections in 10:29:00. I had done it with only a single minute to spare.

Now it was time to run!

Next: Part 4 – Run (coming soon)

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Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid 2018 (Part 2 – Swim)

This ended up being really long, so I’ve broken it into parts. You can find the rest here (when they’re ready):

The swim at Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) is supposed to be one of the more friendly of all Ironman distance swims out there. It takes place in Mirror Lake, which offers great swimming all summer. Several training camps and coaches run swims in Mirror Lake leading up to race day.

The course is a 2-loop swim with a short run across the sand between each loop. The large red and yellow inflatable Ironman buoys mark the course – a straight-forward rectangle with long sides and a narrow base. The end of the inbound leg takes swimmers along the end of a dock and into the public swim area before turning in toward the beach.

Pool

Mirror Lake is as calm as this pool along its shore.

This course is popular because it features an underwater cable (see Part 1 of this race report), good visibility, and calm water (i.e. no waves or wakes). I had heard mixed opinions on following the cable for the swim. The advantage of being on the cable was that I wouldn’t need to sight. The most obvious disadvantage was that everyone else would want to be there, so I’d risk more crowding.

The athletes at IMLP are not separated into age groups for the start, and the mass start that was used in the past has also been eliminated in favor of corrals based on estimated pace. The pros still start first, but after that, it is up to each athlete to place themselves in the section for their estimated swim time.

I slept better than I thought I would before the race, only waking up twice during the night. I’m not a morning person, so any activity that makes me wake up before 9 a.m. is difficult. I had all of my clothes and remaining bags ready to go, though, so I was up, dressed, and on my way to transition efficiently in the morning.

Morning Transition

Transition area on race morning.

The transition area is right along the main street through town and gets crowded early on. We had family drive us there, and I followed my sister-in-law to drop off our special needs bags. These areas were very close to transition, so it didn’t take very long. We literally just dropped our bags on the ground or handed them to a volunteer. On the way to the run special needs area, we could also see the path that we would have to run from the lake to transition.

Next up – last minute bike checks and set up. We made our way into transition, and I attached my bike computer, water bottles, and nutrition. We had decided not to bring our own bike pump, and went looking for one. I grabbed one of the ones from Ironman, but it didn’t seem to fit on my valves. After struggling with it for a few minutes, I gave up and we borrowed one from another athlete.

That was it. I was ready to race. We had at least an hour before the start, so we headed to the shore of Mirror Lake to contemplate the day ahead. The weather was forecast to be rainy for a good portion of the morning, but the exact time of the rain had been changing with every forecast. The day started out with a hint of sun before clouds rolled in over the lake.

Rock Sunrise

Race morning sunrise as the clouds arrived.

My cheering section and sherpas arrived and we people-watched and just took it all in. It was finally time to get ready to swim. I donned my wetsuit and handed off my bag. For those athletes who didn’t have anyone to help them, you could drop off a morning clothes bag at a designated location. That same bag would be provided to you at the end of the race if you used this option.

By this time, many swimmers had already assembled behind the barricades in what I had thought were the faster swim time corrals. I extrapolated my goal time from what I had swam in Eagleman last year, so I was hoping for a swim time of 1:40. My sister-in-law was expecting a similar pace, so we stuck together as we tried to find our places in the crowd.

It was quickly apparent that the sections for each pace were too close together, and the athletes outside the barricade couldn’t get to the right areas. Officials weren’t letting anyone over the barricade either, so we had to keep walking back. At the end of the barricade, there were too many athletes to squeeze in, and everyone had the same complaint – that we couldn’t get to the right pace group. I figured that I wasn’t in contention for any records, so wherever I ended up would ultimately be fine. The race is timed individually when you cross the timing mats.

Once the swimmers at the front started to enter the water, the officials let everyone squeeze in along the beach, between the water and the crowd. At this point, we were able to move up to where we wanted to be, so it worked out in the end.

For the start, no one was restricting our entry to the water, so all the athletes kept walking en masse until we were in the lake. I started my watch – a Garmin Forerunner – did a few dolphin dives at the beginning, and then began to swim.

My general strategy going in was to keep it slow and calm at the beginning, avoid a huge mass of other swimmers, and to keep my breathing to just one side since I think my insistence at bilateral breathing was part of why my swim at Quassy 70.3 didn’t go that well.

From the start, I found that I was on the cable. I hadn’t planned it that way, but because I had moved around the crowd to the right, that had me positioned to the right side of the mass of swimmers on a clockwise swim. I figured that I’d stay on the cable to start with and if I started to get beat up too much, I would find a way to move to the outside.

After a few hundred yards, I discovered that I loved swimming along the cable! I was pretty far to the right, essentially right along the buoys. It appeared more crowded a little to the left, but I was able to complete the entire swim without getting punched or kicked. I did try to stay alert to my peripheral vision and tried to avoid anyone who was doing breaststroke kick, moving erratically, or flailing. Additionally, I experienced some major drafting. All of the swimmers had created a current and I felt like I was being whisked along. I was able to occasionally find someone’s toes to follow, but even without drafting a specific person, I was benefiting from everyone else’s efforts.

One hazard that I had not anticipated was that without sighting, I ran into the buoys! The soft Ironman ones weren’t really a problem, but the smaller permanent ones that are held by the cable were hard and more difficult to spot if I did sight ahead. They were connected by a vertical rope to the underwater cable, so looking out for this was the best way to avoid smacking into them.

The first loop of the course went well and I was able to keep my breathing under control. Before I knew it, I was coming up on the dock and the short stretch before the beach. I could see the sand beneath me as the water became more shallow. I took it easy getting my legs under me, afraid that I may cramp, but I had no problem getting on my feet.

The run across the beach was really short. But even so, Ironman had an aid station there. I gulped a glass of water and jumped back in for my second loop.

My time on the first loop had been a few minutes faster than my goal pace, but as I swam out along the buoys again, my right arm started to bother me. I’m right-handed, and therefore stronger with that arm. In training, my LEFT arm had felt strained on a few long swims, but never the RIGHT one. It didn’t seem to be affecting my movement. I tried to ignore it so that my stroke would remain even, and it never grew worse as I finished my swim.

Swim Finish

On the last inbound leg, I knew that I was going to make it. I had never swam the full 2.4-mile distance in my training. I felt tired as I left the water, but not exhausted. I stopped at the wet suit peelers, but when they pulled the legs of my wet suit off, I had to sit on my butt. Even though they had mats down on the beach, sand still went everywhere! I would be brushing sand off for the rest of the day.

The run from the water to transition was easy. I jogged most of it, up a slight incline, then downhill to transition. The road was covered with mats. I ran into transition, grabbed by swim-to-bike bag, and entered the changing tent.

SWIM TIME: 1:41:37

My time was very close to what I had hoped for. No complaints there!

Next: Part 3 – Bike

Race Report – Ironman Lake Placid 2018 (Part 1 – Pre-Race)

This ended up being really long, so I’ve broken it into parts. You can find the rest here (when they’re ready):

Well, I completed my first full distance Ironman triathlon on July 22 in Lake Placid, New York. It’s been a long journey of training leading up to it, and it was certainly a challenge that should never be taken lightly.

Ali and Me

I had been practicing at the shorter lengths of triathlon, first to just try it out, then to see if I could do longer distances. Every time I reached a little further, struggled up a new hill, or pushed my pace a little faster, my body kept growing stronger. My previous injuries essentially vanished other than a few aches in my ankle after long cycling sessions. Finally, I signed up for a full distance Ironman. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-miles on the bike, and then just a little 26.2-mile run. Yep, it ENDS with a marathon after all that swimming and cycling. Who would put a marathon at the end?!?!

How was I going to train for that? I used a training plan provided by a monthly subscription service called Trainer Road. It is mainly a cycling training tool, and is used in conjunction with an indoor trainer. Their training plans give you options to choose between three options for training time per week, and different stages of the training (base, build, specialty). I had to modify the plans quite a bit to fit in with my atypical work schedule, my fencing practices, and planned travel and events.

Training Plan

I rode several cycling events in preparation for Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP). I completed by first century ride (100 miles) on a flat course, followed by the Gran Fondo New York, and the Rev3 Quassy Half. You can read about those in the links. I was a bit worried about IMLP after I raced the Quassy Half. I had trouble with my breathing during the swim and just barely made the cut off at the end. IMLP is a hilly course (like Quassy), and I just didn’t have enough race experience to anticipate my pace for the event other than to know that I’m a solid back-of-the-pack-er.

As race day neared, I had been sick since the end of April and had to cut a lot of training out of my schedule in order to get some rest and be healthy. I finally felt better and stopped coughing about 2 weeks out.

I’m not sure that I appreciated the taper as much as I was supposed to. This is the time in your training when you start to back off on the distance and hours so that your performance (theoretically) peaks on race day. With illness cutting into my training, I had essentially been tapering for weeks already. I tried to resist the urge to cram in a few last extra long sessions. I had heard that it’s better to race 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained. Even during the taper though, you don’t rest. You’re still working out, and my plan called for several workouts during race week, up to a final short run the day before the race.

We drove to Lake Placid, NY on Thursday of race week. I had spent hours making exhaustive packing lists, planning for my transitions, and finally stowing it all in the back of the car. We finally arrived at the venue in the late afternoon, just in time to make athlete check-in.

Bobsled

Lake Placid has a history in sports. This small Adirondack village has hosted two winter Olympics (1932 and 1980), and was the site of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey game. It still functions as an Olympic Training Center for bobsled, skeleton, luge, freestyle skiing, biathlon, and other sports.

Ironman has held a full-distance triathlon in Lake Placid since 1999, and the race is the second-longest running Ironman in North America. This year’s race marked the 20-year anniversary for IMLP.

You can’t miss the signage for the race when you drive through the downtown area. The transition area and tents were nearly assembled when we arrived, all centered around the Olympic speed-skating oval off Main Street. Athlete check-in was located in the Winter Olympic Museum.

This being only my second Ironman-branded event, and first full distance triathlon, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. It turned out to be a similar process to the Eagleman 70.3. They verified ID and then handed me a card with my bib number. I had to sign a couple of pages of waivers and verify emergency contact and medical information. Everyone was weighed, and the number was recorded in your waivers. I think this was to help assess dehydration on race day in case medical assistance was required.

Wrist

I received my athlete packet at the next table. This contains your race number stickers (for your bike helmet, bike, gear bags, special needs bags, and your run bib. It also has tickets that you can hand off to friends or family members who can then pick up your bike and equipment bags when you’re done with them on race day. This is where they also clasp a wrist band on you that marks you as an official athlete for the weekend. Get used to wearing it, because you can’t race without it.

After that, I picked up some swag. This bag had a flag, tiny dry bag, a restaurant coupon, and a poster. The last stop was for timing chips. That only took a few seconds as the volunteer assigned a chip to your race number. After that, I marched outside and over to the Ironman merchandise tent to pick up my bag. This was a pretty nice gym bag with straps to convert it to a backpack, although I have heard some complaints about the orientation of the logo. By that point, everything was closing for the day, so I met up with my family and we moved on to check in to our bed-and-breakfast and relax.

The next day brought brilliant sunny weather, low humidity, and only light winds. It would have been a great day for a race. Instead, we traveled to Mirror Lake for a practice swim. First, everything you may have heard about Mirror Lake is true. It is a long and narrow body of water with a public access swimming beach adjacent to downtown Lake Placid. The water is very clear for a northern lake with probably 20 – 30 foot visibility.

Mirror Lake

The Ironman buoys were already in the water to mark the course, but in case they weren’t, other smaller permanent buoys are there for water sports (something with boats). These small buoys are all connected underwater by a cable that stretches all the way across the lake. This is the fabled cable that you can follow during your swim so that you don’t have to sight. It even crosses at the far end where the Ironman course runs, so you can literally follow the cable for the entire race (more on this later).

I swam about 1000 yards for my practice swim, cutting across the course early. It almost felt like a race because there were an awful lot of other swimmers in the lake. I couldn’t quite tell how the end of the swim course was oriented, but I knew that it was two loops with a short run across the beach between them. The water was a pleasant temperature, about 74 degrees F.

We rested after that and then I headed out on my bike for a short spin along the course. Everything seemed to be working on my bike. My husband rode along, and we found a route from the B&B to nearly the start of the bike course. It turned out that scoping out this stretch at the beginning of the bike course was a great idea. The course leaves transition, makes a hard 180-degree turn (which we didn’t see until the following day), and then goes down a pretty steep hill before a left turn. Apparently a fair number of racers crash in this section, so it was good to ride through most of it before the day. The next part of the course leaves town along some rolling hills. We passed the Olympic ski jumps on our right and turned around shortly after that to head back. It wasn’t a bad ride, and I was feeling good about the race.

Ski Jumps

The next day was my last workout before the race. I woke up early (for me) and met my brother for a slow 1-mile run. My training plan had called for 20 minutes with some sprint efforts, but since I had not done that many sprint workouts in training (sick), I cut it short. From there, I only had to pack up my equipment bags and bike and drop those off in transition. For a full-distance Ironman you have the option to change clothes between each leg. Changing tents for both men and women are provided. Instead of your normal transition set-up, each athlete places the swim-to-bike clothes in one bag and then the bike-to-run clothes in another. You grab the bag, take it into the changing tent, and then just run through transition to get your bike. They actually don’t let you store anything else near your bike.

Bike Ready

You’ll also have two special needs bags (bike and run) that are positioned halfway through these sections of the race. You don’t have to drop these off until race morning. Additionally, you’ll have access to your equipment bags and bike on race morning so you can add anything that you forgot. I didn’t place my nutrition/water bottles, bento box, or computer on my bike until race morning.

Once our gear was tucked away, we left town to drive the bike course for a preview. Now my husband had ridden one loop of the bike course that morning, so he was able to narrate our drive with his own experiences from the morning. I’ll save the details of this drive for my section on the bike segment. I felt better about the race after seeing what I was going to be up against. It may have been nice to preview the run course also, but since I was already planning to walk all the hills, it didn’t matter as much to me.

Bike Course

Soon enough it was time to get to bed. I double checked everything I had laid out for the morning, and I think I managed to fall asleep by 10 p.m.

Next: Part 2 – Swim

Rev 3 Quassy Half – Race Report

Well, this race report for the Quassy Half triathlon has been a bit delayed, but here it is! I raced this event in June 2018. For me, this was a practice race for Ironman Lake Placid, and was my second 70.3 mile distance. My first 70.3 was Eagleman last year (race report here), which was a vastly different type of course, compared to Quassy.

Location

So Rev 3 puts race on all over the country. Quassy is known as the Beast of the Northeast, and is in Middlebury, Connecticut. The race venue is the Quassy Amusement Park, which is an odd little place. Anyone can wander through the park, and access to individual rides is through tickets, much like a traveling carnival or local fair. The park had a separate water park with limited access for members or possibly people who paid for the day. This was full of pools, water slides, and also had beach access to the lake.

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Quassy Amusement Park water slides.

Travel

We drove from New Jersey to Middlebury, and it was an easy 2-hour trip. Our hotel was the Hampton Inn Waterbury and was a few miles from the race venue. When we first arrived in the area, we went straight to the park for packet pick up.

The entrance to the parking lot was a little congested and confusing. Triathletes were arriving in cars, jogging through the area, and getting a last spin in on their bikes, all while the general public was attending the amusement park. Transition was set up in the middle of the parking lot also, adding to the congestion. We were able to park though and managed to find packet pick up. We had to walk through the park and then around and down toward one of the wooden roller coasters.

Once we found the right place, packet pickup was smooth and easy. Swag included a t-shirt, visor, and buff.

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So much stuff to organize and pack.

Like many 70.3 distance races, athletes were supposed to check their bikes into transition on Saturday. I wanted to get a quick spin in, so I headed out along the start of the course for a few miles. This took me right out of the park, down a busy road, past the turn to the run course, and to the first turn of the bike course along a quieter wooded street. I turned back at that point, just feeling a need to move a bit.

I stopped by the athlete briefing which was held near packet pick up. This was touted as mandatory, but I doubt every athlete made it there. They did explain the swim course, and the different turns for the Half versus Olympic distance, which was helpful.

I slapped stickers on my bike and left it in transition before trying to scope out the swim start. The problem with that was that only those people who had access to the Quassy water park were allowed on the beach. Fortunately, the employee watching the gate let us sneak in a short ways to peek at the beach. There wasn’t really much to see anyway – sandy beach! Couldn’t tell exactly how swim exit would be set up yet. The swim buoys were all out already, which was helpful. The Olympic distance swimmers would turn at a yellow buoy and cut across sooner before turning in, so it was good to visualize how far out that would be.

Finally, we decided to drive the bike course before it got too dark. I had been practicing hills more than I ever had in the past, but I wanted to see what I was up against. It’s tough to describe the Quassy bike course until you’ve experienced it, so let’s just say that it certainly looked like I had my work cut out for me.

Finally we headed to the hotel for check in there and then a hearty dinner. The hotel was adequate – nothing special, but fine. Dinner was at D’Amelio’s Italian Eatery in Waterbury.

Race Morning

We woke up bright and early on race morning and checked out of the hotel. I had everything organized and ready to go, and everything went as planned.

Nutrition Plan

My nutrition plan for the day consisted of two bottles of Gatorade Endurance, Clif Blok Mountain Berry blocks, Nutri-Grain bars, Mott’s applesauce packets, and Rice Krispies treats on the bike. I would refill with Gatorade Endurance or water, depending on how I felt. For the run, I would switch to Gu Smores flavor and on-course options (water, Gatorade, cola). This is what I had been using in my training.

Weather

Weather on race morning was cooler than I would have liked. I wore my Coeur two-piece tri kit, but pulled long pants and a sweat shirt on over top. I think I’m getting used to this whole transition thing. I set up my tiny area and felt like I had everything ready to go. Then it was away to the swim start, to wait.

Swim

It seems like more triathlons are switching their start format to a rolling swim start, where athletes group themselves by estimated swim pace. I think I like this approach, although this was my first experience with it (more later). I put myself at the back of the 2:00/100 yard group, figuring that I usually average a tiny bit slower than that.

The water temperature was supposed to be 72 degrees, which I was worried would be too cold for me. However, I had managed to get a couple of open water practice swims in that were in that range, so I should have known that I’d be fine.

The down side of the rolling swim start was that for a slower athlete, I had to stand around for a while. This made me cold – even with my wetsuit on, I was shivering before I ever reached the water. However, when it was time to go, I spashed in, dove under, and started my swim. I realized that the water felt pretty nice!

I started out swimming fine and tried to keep myself calm and slow. I tend to feel dizzy after 300 – 400 yards, so I was waiting to get past that point to really settle in. I felt fine and kept it steady for a while, but then hit that first turn. As soon as I made the right-hand turn, I started to struggle. There must have been a little more wind, or the direction change pushed my out of balance or something. I started getting splashed with more chop, had trouble sighting, and felt lost in the middle of the lake. My heart rate surged and my breathing became more ragged. I had to stop and tread water to sight a few times. Every time that I thought I was headed on course, I felt like I was further from the other swimmers and the track where I should be. I saw a kayak lifeguard on my left, so I knew I wasn’t really alone out there. She told me I was off course, which I knew, but it helped to have her acknowledge that she saw me. I finally found a buoy ahead and decided that I could make it there. My heart rate was still too high, but I found a rhythm and kept going.

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I was not so happy at this point.

I had thought that this buoy was the turn buoy for the inbound leg, but when I got there, I saw that I had one more to go. Looking back at the swim, it seems that there were only two buoys marking the far side of the course. I think it would have helped to have at least two more out there. At this point, I grabbed onto the buoy and let myself rest. I took deep breaths and waited until my heart rate fell to a more tolerable level. I realized that I had been trying to bilateral breathe through choppy section and I should have known to switch to one side sooner. I got myself together, made a plan to breathe only on the left, and swam away from the buoy.

This new plan worked out much better. I still wasn’t happy out there, but I knew I’d be okay and could finish the swim. I reached the turn, headed in toward shore, and just kept going. Of course, it felt like it took forever, but I was less than ten minutes slower than my goal time.

SWIM = 54:52

T1

The swim exit was a little steep, and I had no energy to do more than walk. But now I was at the bike section, which is my favorite of the three parts of triathlon, so it could only get better now! I found my bike, and I think this was the first time I actually remembered where it was in an event. However, this was where I had worried about the temperature. The temperature at the start of the bike was 57 F. I am always cold, so I was afraid that I would be too cold as I pulled off my wetsuit and started cycling. I pulled on arm warmers and a cycling vest, and then topped it with a light cycling jacket. The arm warmers were a bit of a struggle to get on over my wet arms, but I needed them.

T1 = 7:02

Bike

The bike exit was straight-forward, but I struggled a tiny bit to clip in, still dizzy and shaky from the swim. But my cheering section was here and that helped me get going! The first part of the bike course would be easy – I had seen it yesterday. Then I knew that the serious climbing would hit me after that. My goal was to finish with enough time for a 3-hour run.

I had a lot of fun out on the bike course. The hills were certainly challenging, but I kept to my plan. Slow and steady, drop my cadence, and be patient. Steady effort on the flats, then fly down the hills. I knew that the last part of the course had more downhill sections, so it would get a tiny bit easier.

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I love this photo. I actually look like I was having fun at this point.

I stuck with my nutrition plan. Unlike Eagleman, I had decided to stop briefly at each aid station. That way I could make sure that I ate one of my snacks and could refill my water bottles less clumsily. The first aid station was great and everything went according to plan. I held the same approach at the second one – eat more, refill, keep going. Finally the day was warming up and I pulled off my jacket and stuffed it in a pocket at this point. That was part of the plan also, and it worked well. The cycling vest gave me pockets that the tri top didn’t have.

By the third aid station, I told myself that I would stop for a bathroom break. After being so dehydrated at Eagleman last year, I was making a real effort to keep drinking through the ride. In the past year I learned that when I start to feel a little nauseous, that means I need to drink more, NOT stop drinking.

At the third aid station, the bathroom break went as planned. I ate more snacks, refilled my water again, and continued on. It became clear at this point that everyone along the course was in the back of the pack. That is one downside to the rolling swim start. If you place yourself at the back of the swim pack, you will likely remain in a lonelier place through the bike and the run.

Toward the end of the bike course I started to feel a cramp in my leg. I realized then that I had not been taking my salt tablets. I pulled over and found a couple, swallowed those, and then kept on to the end. My leg felt better and I rolled into the bike finish. Overall, I was slower than I would have liked, but with the hills I really had not had much of an idea of what to expect.

BIKE = 4:16:43

T2

Transition went smoothly again. I took off my cycling vest and sleeves and finished the race in my tri kit. I changed into running socks and added a visor. Compared to Eagleman last year, I felt much better.

T2 = 4:30

Run

Even though I had intended to run hills in my training, I had not had time to do enough of them. I had already told myself that I would walk up the hills in this race. Well, everyone else who was still on the course by the time I started the run was also walking the hills. Quassy’s run course was probably hillier than the bike course!

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Forced smile. Why was the photographer on the uphill section?

I kept my pace slow and figured that I could speed up if I felt like it later on. After only a short distance I had to stop to take my shoe off to adjust a place where my sock had bunched up. I figured that it was better to do this early on than to wait until it caused a bigger problem.

The aid stations were spaced out about a mile apart, and the course ran through a wooded area on quiet streets for two loops. I took one bathroom break early on and stopped at every aid station for water or Gatorade. Later on, some of the aid stations had Coke, which tasted heavenly by that point.

I had a few places where I started coughing and had to walk, but overall felt pretty good. Despite walking up the hills, my pace was pretty steady and I finished roughly in my goal time of 3 hours.

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Wheee! Done!

RUN = 3:00:25

Finish area

Rev 3 will allow you to have family members join you to run down the finish chute. I have mixed feelings about this as sometimes that can mess up another finisher’s finish photo. But by the point at which I was done, there was hardly a crowd finishing.

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Okay, so the medals are pretty cool and Cthulhu-like.

When I crossed the finish line, I was promptly given my medal, an ice-water soaked towel for my shoulders, and water. I was able to stay on my feet (unlike Eagleman) and ate a hamburger. It didn’t take me too long to recover enough to get my bike out of transition. My husband went to bring the car closer and we were packed up and on our way home quickly.

TOTAL = 8:23:34

Other than my swim difficulties, I had a good time at this race and would consider doing it again. I would like to get faster on the hills on my bike, but this will take time to train up to. Of course, this was a practice race for Ironman Lake Placid, so I immediately extrapolated my performance to the longer distance. Even assuming that the elevation profile for IMLP was the same as Quassy, if I double my time, I could still finish within the time cutoff for Lake Placid. After some internet searches, the general opinion of triathletes who have done both events seems to be that Lake Placid is easier (distance aside). I’ll let you know soon if that is really the case.

Upcoming Events and Races

So the triathlon season has come to an end for 2017, fencing has started up again for 2017-2018, and I’ve been planning the upcoming year for both.

Here’s what’s on my plate for anyone who’s interested:

December NAC: I will be fencing the Veteran Open and Vet-40 events in womens’ sabre in Portland, OR.

April NAC: I will be fencing in Richmond, VA. I’m sure I’ll enter the Veteran Open and Vet-40 women’s sabre events, but could also do the Division II event. I haven’t decided yet.

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May: I’m riding in the New York Gran Fondo. This is a 100-mile ride/race that starts on the George Washington Bridge. The route has a ton of climbing and I expect will be my first century ride.

July: This month is a doozy. I should be fencing in Summer Nationals in St. Louis, MO for whatever events I qualify for. Then later in the month, I have Ironman Lake Placid. This will be my first full distance triathlon, and I hope that the NY Gran Fondo will help to prepare me for the climbing on the Lake Placid course.

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St. Louis arch.

That’s it for now, although I expect to add some other local and regional fencing events when my schedule allows it (not easy right now). I’m debating whether I want to sign up for a 70.3 distance triathlon or a half marathon as training for Lake Placid, but I haven’t made a decision yet on these.

Race Report – Vincentown SuperSprint Triathlon

Here’s a quick write-up on my last triathlon event for the season (back in August). This was something that just sounded like a lot of fun to all of my fast-twitch muscles – a super sprint! Even shorter than a traditional sprint triathlon, maybe I could truly manage to sprint in this one?

The Vincentown SuperSprint was held in southern New Jersey in the small town of Vincentown. The event was also on a Thursday evening, which meant it was easier to manage it around my work schedule. The race distances were: 200-yard swim, 5.75-mile bike, and a 1.3-mile run.

Packet pick-up was that evening, and they were also taking on-site registrations. The atmosphere was low-key and beginner-friendly. There was plenty of parking at the fire house (this was also where packet pick-up was hosted), and the transition area was just across a small bridge from there. I set up my transition area, choosing to go with the no-sock approach again for speed in transition. The race also allowed you to choose your own place in transition, so I got a good spot – pretty close to the bike in/out, but right next to the run out.

Transition map

I spent some time walking around and looking at the water next. The swim was going to be in a small lake, and there were already markers set up to mark the exit point. However, while standing there, it became quickly obvious that a horde of wasps was in the process of building nests in the mud at the shoreline. I brought this to the attention of one of the volunteers, and he had the fire department take care of the wasps.

It turns out that the swim start was in-water, but everyone had to wade in through the swim exit to get into position. The event was so small that rather than age groups, they just divided the competitors into two groups – men and women. The men started first and were quickly away with the women starting two or three minutes later.

Wading in, the water temperature was reasonable (not sure I ever heard what it was though), BUT the bottom was rather unpleasant and mucky. So while the course and distances were otherwise beginner-friendly, this part of the day was not. If you’re squeamish at all about murky water, this may not be the race for you. I tried not to think about it too much and figured I’d be out of the water soon enough.

The swim course was a short rectangle with two left turns and a return back to shore. The race director had said that we would probably be able to touch the bottom and stand if we were nervous in the water. One one turn, I did reach down and found the bottom before changing direction and continuing. I didn’t have any problems and came out mid-pack. The run to transition was very brief (just across the street), and I easily found my bike and headed out on the bike course.

I did hear of one person crashing at the beginning of the bike section. There was some type of plastic grate on the shoulder of the bridge just after turning out of transition. I believe the athlete who crashed was focused on clipping in and hit this grate with his front tire (at least it was at low speed). I think a few people got lost on the course too, but I didn’t have any problem following the directions from the volunteers.

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The bike was a single loop, and as usual, I passed a lot of people on this part. I tried to race this more like a time trial, and harder than I probably should have. My heart rate was pegged around 175 – 180 for most of it. The road surface was mainly smooth and there was little traffic, although the roads were not closed.

I rolled back in to transition, stashed my bike, and ran out for a quick sprint. My legs felt better than they usually did at this point, maybe because the entire course was so short? The run course took me through town, up a slight incline, and out on a dirt road to loop around a field.

A couple of other women passed me on the run, but I knew I didn’t have much more speed to give. After coming around the back side of the field, the course retraced the outbound section, going downhill. When I knew I only had a short distance left, I was able to push harder for a strong finish.

The firehouse had snacks and drinks – pizza, bananas, and water. I don’t remember what the other offerings were. I hung around for a bit afterwards to find out my results, and yay – I ended up first in my age group!

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Race Report – NJ State Triathlon (sprint)

I finally found a little free time and am just catching up on some writing, so I thought I’d do a couple of belated race reports first. I raced in the New Jersey State Triathlon for the second time back on July 22, in the sprint distance event. I had participated in the same event last year, so this was the first time I’ve had a chance to compare my performance on the same event from one year to the next.

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Finisher medals from this event are huge!

This event consisted of a 500-meter swim, an 11.5-mile bike course, and a 3.1-mile run. The race was well-run and I had no trouble getting my race packet, finding parking, and setting up in transition. I’m starting to feel a little more accustomed to how this triathlon thing works and I think that’s helping with my pre-race sleep, although I’m still not a morning person.

Much of the race was identical to last year. My goals were to be faster in each discipline, but also in my transitions. I had hoped to fit in more specific training, but a sudden change in my work schedule made that impossible. I had only done a few short bike rides, a few 2-mile runs, and one swim session in the pool since Eagleman 6 weeks earlier.

The water that morning was super warm – 88 degrees Fahrenheit – but I was still cold until the very end. My lack of swimming leading up to race day was apparent when I felt rather winded on the final inbound leg. Oh well, the bike was next and that is where I’m strongest.

Transition1

Transition set up

For T1, I only threw on my helmet, glasses, and cycling shoes, skipping out on socks, gloves, drying my feet, water, or a snack. This worked well and I was quickly out on the bike course. This was much as I remembered it, with several turns and a nearly flat course. Police directed traffic at intersections, and cones separated the athletes from traffic. I passed a lot of people, but that was how 2016 also went, and fit with my expected swim slow–bike pretty fast–run really slow pattern.

Finally I returned to transition and had to leave my bike behind for the final section of the race. I swapped out cycling shoes for running shoes, still with no socks, and exchanged my helmet for a visor, ditching the sunglasses, but also picking up my race belt and number.

I don’t think that the air temperature was as hot as last year, but I still felt like I struggled on the run. I had hoped to run under 30 minutes for the course, but couldn’t quite do it. I still finished about 5 minutes faster than last year, so I was happy overall. And the no-sock technique helped my transitions, but I did get blisters on my feet in the last mile of the run. Fortunately they were not as epic as those from Eagleman.

Eagleman 2017 – Race Report

Well, I survived and finished the race! It was quite a day, and definitely the toughest athletic event I have ever done. I’m sorry, this is really long, but I wanted to include a lot of information for anyone new to a 70.3 event or specifically to Eagleman. I found that reading race reports before the event was very helpful. Here are my observations, preparations, race report, and other comments about the entire weekend.

Swag

Travel and Venue

Eagleman is held in the town of Cambridge, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, along the Choptank River which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. We stayed in St. Michaels, Maryland, simply because the less expensive hotels in Cambridge fill up well in advance of the event. This only meant that we had a bit of a drive to get to the event for Saturday and Sunday.

An Ironman 70.3 event requires that you arrive at least by the day before the race in order to pick up your race packet and set your bike up in transition. The check-in location was at Sailwinds Park, a different place than the race, but it wasn’t far. I had actually arrived very early that morning and spent some time changing out the tires and doing other checks on my bike. The morning was quite serene, and the parking lot was empty. I rode a few miles around town to make sure everything was working properly on the bike.

Athlete Check-In

Soon enough, athlete check-in and the IRONMAN village and store opened, and the crowds arrived. I stowed my bike and ventured inside. Check-in was pretty quick, and took me from one table to the next to receive a packet of race numbers, wristband, bike-check ticket, swag, and timing chip. Oh, and I had to sign a collection of waivers and make sure that my emergency contacts were up to date.

Athlete Check In

I met my family after that and shopped in the IRONMAN store, picking up a visor, a couple t-shirts, a cycling jersey, and a cowbell. Be warned – you will probably want to spend way too much money in this store! I didn’t really need the cycling jersey, but couldn’t help myself. The leftover event-specific items will be for sale online afterwards, but the sizes and colors will be limited.

Outside the IRONMAN store, the rest of the athlete village was filled with other vendors and an open area where race briefings were held. I stayed for a briefing, and thought it was helpful. If you didn’t read the athlete packet, it was essentially a brief version of that information with a few last minute course details thrown in.

Great Marsh Park

Next up was a trip over to the race venue at Great Marsh Park to check my bike into transition. All bikes had to be left there on Saturday, but the rest of my transition gear didn’t need to be ready until Sunday morning. Parking was easy to find on the nearby neighborhood streets, and I found my spot in transition. I ended up very close to the swim-in/run-out gate, and far from the bike-in/bike-out gate. I wandered around to see how transition was organized and then met up with my fellow racers for a practice swim.

Transition Row

The water temperature had been hovering a few degrees below the no wetsuit cut off, so I was pretty sure this would be a wetsuit-legal swim. The practice swim area was off the opposite site of the park from the actual swim course. It consisted of a thin strip of rocky sand, and an extensive shallow bay. The water was pleasant, but some wakes made the swimming a little rough. That was good for me though, and I was able to practice swimming in less calm water than I was used to.

We were done for the day after that, and headed back to the hotel for showers, dinner, packing for the morning, and an early bedtime.

Race Morning

On race morning, transition opened at 4:45 a.m. and we made it there around 5:30 a.m. Street parking was still easy to find, but there was also a shuttle running from a nearby school for those who chose to use it. I set up my equipment beside my bike and filled my water bottles from the cases of gallon jugs provided. Bike maintenance was also available within transition. We had to be out of transition by 6:35 a.m. which was different than what was noted in the event schedule (6:45 a.m.).

Swim Start

I was in one of the later swim waves, which I think helped to keep me calm and gave me plenty of time to organize my swimming stuff and get a quick bathroom break. It was confirmed as a wetsuit-legal swim. The pro men started at 6:45 a.m., and other groups lined up and began the race after that. I found my age group and shuffled forward until I was at the front of the pack, ready to race.

The Swim – 1.2 miles

The swim had an in-water start from a sandy beach on the east side of the park. I was able to stand, and had plenty of room to find an open spot between the two buoys marking the start. The course was rectangular, with two left turns before heading back toward shore. In previous years, the course was reversed, with right turns instead. I started out swimming slowly, focusing on my technique and breathing, and also on not getting kicked. My goal in the swim was just to get through it since I had never done an open-water swim in a wetsuit for such a distance (although I had come close in training).

I believe the buoys were 100 yards or meters apart, but now I can’t find where I had read that. The outbound ones were yellow, the inbound ones orange, and the turn buoys were red. I sighted pretty well to the first turn, but then the water was a bit choppier on the segment parallel to the shore. I thought I was almost to the second turn when a kayaker shouted at me and pointed. I saw then that I had mistaken one of the inbound orange buoys for the red turn buoy. But I wasn’t off course by very much and quickly corrected. The inbound leg felt like it took forever, but I felt fine swimming and just kept going. I did start to feel a little disoriented when I sighted on the inbound leg, and was tired of working to avoid the other swimmers. I did see a few jellyfish float by beneath me, so keep that in mind if you swim this without a wetsuit. My cousin was stung on the foot during our practice swim.

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The swim exit was chaotic, with all the athletes coming up between two piers on the point after a final turn buoy. This effectively squeezed everyone together, and I had to sight frequently to avoid being pushed into the pier on the left. However, I was soon able to stand and ran up the mats and out.

SWIM = 49:27

This was my first time using wetsuit strippers. I only managed to get my Garmin off my wrist before I reached them. They were very efficient and pulled my wetsuit off far faster than I would have been able to do. On the way into transition, I passed an aid station and gulped some water, knowing that I had to stay hydrated.

T1

T1

The swim to bike transition is the most complicated for me, because there is just a lot to do. But I had already decided not to rush myself in transition because I’d rather be a minute slower than forget something I’d really miss. I got myself together and ran my bike to the bike-out gate. There were sunscreen sprayers available near the bike-out portal, and I had them spray the back of my neck. I had already sprayed my legs myself. Everything was clearly marked and I got on and clipped in after the appropriate line.

T1 = 8:44

Bike – 56 miles

The bike course was very flat, traveling 56 miles through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, through wetlands, swamp, and along rural roads. I started out with a tailwind, so that was nice, and I was often cycling at 20-22 mph. I knew that I had a long way to go, so I tried to hold back. After about 10 miles, my heart rate dropped to where I had wanted it, and I tried to maintain a steady effort. My hydration and nutrition plan was to drink water or Nuun every 5 minutes and eat a Clif block every 15 minutes.

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The aid stations on the bike course were a new experience for me because I had never had to grab anything from a volunteer while riding. I skipped the first aid station, just watching how it all worked. You were supposed to toss your old bottles in a designated area coming in, then grab new ones as you rode by. It looked like there were also bananas and other food items available.

I should have emptied one of my water bottles before the aid station and then exchanged just that one, but since I had two bottles that were a little more than half full, I didn’t swap either one out. The temperature when I started cycling was around 77℉, but quickly rose. The next aid station was around mile 30, but I ran out of water a few miles before that. I managed to toss both of my empties, but decided to come to a stop to make sure I was able to get two new ones. This didn’t take long, and I soon had plenty of water.

I continued on, but around mile 35 my stomach began to feel queasy. I stopped eating Clif blocks at this point and waited a bit longer on the water. I couldn’t tell if I was dehydrated or too sloshy from all the water. I felt a little better after not taking anything in for about 15 minutes and went back to drinking water. I also took a salt tablet every hour on the bike, which was something I had never done in training, simply because I never had a chance to do any long rides in the heat. So much for “nothing new on race day,” hah!

The last 20 miles of the bike were tough, and the cycling is my favorite part of all this. I had only ridden this distance once before (on the actual course, back in May). I think I only had one or two training rides of 3 to 4 hours, and one 50 mile hilly ride last year. I found myself wishing for my nicer, more padded shorts, and kept trying to shift my position on my saddle. However, this saddle was much better than some of the others I had tried this spring. I think my discomfort was mostly due to sitting in one position for over three hours.

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As far as my clip-on tri bars (Redshift), I was very happy with these. I had only ridden a few times with them (although one ride was a 40 miler), so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel for 56 miles. I didn’t have any hand numbness like I would usually experience without them.

On the final segments of the bike course, I ran into a headwind, and found that I was becoming more wobbly on the bike when my attention wandered. I definitely slowed on this portion, and my stomach still didn’t feel right, but I kept drinking water. As I neared the bike finish, I saw other athletes headed out on the run where the courses overlapped. Finally, I rode through the local streets of Cambridge and passed my cheering section. I forced a smile for the photos: I have never been so happy at the prospect of getting off my bike!

Soon I reached the dismount line, and I knew to take it slowly here. I unclipped and got my feet down without incident. It was a bit tough to swing my leg over the seat, but I didn’t fall over. I started to jog into transition and realized that I could barely walk! My legs just weren’t working right. I walked and jogged and made it to my transition spot. I had no idea how I was going to run 13.1 miles at this point.

BIKE = 3:19:29

T2

This was the simpler transition, but I felt a bit dizzy and confused coming off the bike. I drank a total of 3 liters of water on the bike course, but I think I must have been dehydrated. I had no need to urinate during any part of the race (which alleviated the stress of deciding to use a Porta-John or pee on myself – yes, this is apparently a triathlon thing).

I got my running shoes on, grabbed a hat, and clipped on my race belt. I had planned to eat a Honey Stinger gel here, but my stomach still wasn’t right, so just water for me. I smeared some sunscreen on my face because I had forgotten to do that in T1 and sprayed more on my legs.

T2 = 8:51

Run – 13.1 miles

My Garmin recorded a temperature of 86℉ at the start of the run. It was reportedly as hot as the mid-90’s out on the course. Oh, and there was little shade to be found. I could barely jog at the start of the run, and when I did, my stomach quickly began to complain and I had to walk. Oh well, I figured that I could always walk the entire thing.

Running

After the first mile or so, I started to feel better and stretched my running sections out more with shorter walks. Then around mile 2, my toes started to hurt. I must have gotten my feet wet, and I knew I was on my way to blisters. There wasn’t much I could do about it at this point but push through and get it done. My cheering section told me that my brother was only a short distance ahead of me, but I never caught up to him. I did pass my sister-in-law who was on her way back in as part of a relay.

The aid stations were frequent and saved the day! Each one had water, Gatorade, cups of ice, and other happy cooling things. The ice was actually too cold for me, but the wet sponges were the best. I stuck one under my hat and got into a routine of drinking water or Gatorade at each aid station. Then I would pour cold water down my back and arms. I had pulled on cooling sleeves in T1, and these saved me from sunburn on both the bike and the run. I saw a lot of people who would have some nasty sunburn at the end of the day.

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I felt okay as I headed out, sticking with my run-walk strategy. At one point I looked up to see a few birds soaring overhead. Sure enough, one dark brown bird boasted a white head and tail – I found a bald eagle! I kept my eye on it as I continued and pointed out the race mascot to another runner also. Now I had to finish this thing!

The course turned through a short wooded section and back toward town, back in full sun. I started to struggle somewhere between mile 8 and 9. My run sections grew shorter and I was nauseous again. By the time I turned toward mile 10, I could barely run. My legs were actually fine – my stomach and general exhaustion were the limiting factors. When I turned toward the neighborhood streets of Cambridge, I decided that I had to walk the rest of the way. I wasn’t sure that I’d make it otherwise. Even walking became difficult, but I counted down the miles and commiserated with the other athletes.

The last mile of the course passes along the shore and lets you see and hear the finish area ahead. I turned a corner as a volunteer shouted encouragement and made my legs run again. Just a little further! Then I was there at the finish. My husband saw me coming and shouted and I forced a smile with a little less effort this time. The red-lined M-dot chute was all that was left. I was even able to really run at this point and crossed the finish, arms upstretched.

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I received my finisher’s medal, a hat, and was promptly grabbed by a volunteer. She asked if I was okay or needed medical treatment. I thought about it briefly, but figured that if I could still stand and drink water, I’d be okay. She told me I had looked a little wobbly, but I knew I had been wobbly for half the race. Other volunteers poured cool water over me like I had been doing out on the course. My mom was there at the finish also and I took some more photos and stumbled away to recover.

RUN = 3:35:16

TOTAL = 8:01:47

Here are all the official times from Ironman.

And the data from my Garmin.

Recovery

I sat at a picnic table and drank water at first. My brother had finished only a few minutes ahead of me, so we were both in recovery mode. I nibbled at some cookies and ate pretzels, but wasn’t really hungry. I got my shoes off and was surprised to see that nothing was bleeding, although I did have some nasty blisters on my pinky toes. I was actually cold at this point (yeah, I was cold at Eagleman) and went back to sitting in the sun.

Biting Medals

Once I started to feel better, it was time to go. My brother and I shuffled to the practice swim area to rinse off the salt and sweat (although can you really rinse off the salt in brackish water?) and float for a bit. I was able to walk in flip-flops and never threw up, so I figure that that made for a pretty good day!

Overall, my times were about what I thought they would be for the swim and bike. The run was a lot tougher than I had imagined. I think this was due to overall exhaustion after the swim and bike, and mounting dehydration that started on the bike. Oh, and I don’t like to run either!

Next Time?

Will I do this again? I don’t know. Definitely not this year. The training takes up a lot of time, and I need to take a break from that. I do have a sprint and a super-sprint triathlon planned over the summer, but the training volume required for those is simply less. I know that I can finish a 70.3 now, and I did so on a particularly grueling and hot day. I definitely could not have done a full Ironman event in those conditions, so whether I attempt that in the future will have to wait.

Race Preparation and Predictions – It’s Almost HERE!

I started this triathlon journey almost two years ago when I watched my brother, sister-in-law, and cousin complete the Ironman 70.3 in Racine, Wisconsin. All of the race excitement and their hard work made me wonder if I could ever complete the same feat. In a few days, I’ll find out.

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My brother in his signature flag shorts in Racine.

When I started trying to dabble in triathlon, I didn’t know if I’d be able to run very far, or for repeated training sessions after my previous ankle injuries and surgeries. I had to take it pretty slow, but I gradually built up the miles and fitness.

From my first triathlon (Rock Hall Sprint) in Maryland to a better effort in the NJ State Triathlon, I feel like I have continued to improve in all parts of the sport. My brother and the rest of my family was there cheering me on, as well. That first day was particularly tough, and their support was very much appreciated.

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Cheering me on in Rock Hall.

And now: Eagleman. In four days I will race my first Ironman 70.3.

Eagleman is a 70.3 mile race on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, along the Chesapeake Bay. That means that I will swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles back-to-back. I have done each distance individually at different times, but all together? I expect it to be a special type of hell.

Oh, and it’s traditionally hot, sunny, humid, and windy at Eagleman every year. The forecast is currently calling for a high of 87°F, high humidity, and some sun and clouds. The wind will be tougher to forecast.

Why did I pick this race, you may now be asking? Well, it was reasonably close to home and fell on a weekend that I was free. Oh, and my brother needs revenge upon the course. He raced in Eagleman last year and did not finish. Apparently the run is brutal, with full sun and radiating black asphalt. Unless you’re really fast, you will enter the lava fields of Eagleman in the full heat of noon. At least the entire course is flat.

I thought this would be a good time to think about my goals for Sunday. I feel ready for either a wetsuit or non-wetsuit swim (this will depend on the water temperature on race day). There seems to be a good amount of overlap between my fencing leg muscles and cycling muscles, so the bike segment will be the strongest part for me. I have to resist the temptation to push too hard on the bike.

Running is still pretty tough for me, but I have completed two half-marathons (13.1 miles) in preparation for Eagleman. My running goal is to run the entire run, only walking to hydrate at the water stations. If I try to drink while running, I will probably choke or drown. I want to finish strong, and I’m hoping that I don’t puke.

For specific times, here is how I break it down:

  • Swim – under 1:00 hour, ideally 0:45 minutes, but this could change depending on wetsuit vs non-wetsuit swim
  • Bike – 3:00 – 3:30 hours, but this is where I feel like I’m guessing the most. I could probably do it in under three hours, but then will I be able to run?
  • Run – 2:30 – 3:00 hours. My PR for the distance is closer to 2:22. I blame short legs.
  • Transitions (the part where I swap out equipment between each event) – 5 minutes each? depending on whether I need a bathroom break or not.

So on the high end, I should finish in 7:30, but would really like to be done in under 7 hours. If things go surprisingly well, could I be closer to 6 hours? I have no idea.

Oh, and you can track my progress on race day, if you’d like. The main Eagleman site should have live tracking. My bib number is #1362 and my swim wave begins at 7:36 a.m.

I’ll check in again after the race!

Race Report – Big Forest Half Marathon 2017

 

I’ve neglected my poor blog for a while now, so I’m going to post some non-writing, non-fencing stuff here sometimes. This is a race report from my second ever half-marathon!

This past weekend, I participated in the Big Forest Half Marathon in Tuckerton, NJ. I had thought that this was the second time that this race had been held, but it seems like may actually have been the inaugural one.

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T-shirt design (front). The back has sponsors in white.

I wanted to run at least one half marathon before my first 70.3 triathlon (Eagleman), and I chose this race because it was being held on a Saturday so I wouldn’t need to take off work. It was easy to register for the event, and I received an email a few days before the race with updated course information.

I decided to drive down to south Jersey on the morning of the event because it didn’t start until 9 a.m., with packet pickup being held from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. The race was held in Bass River State Forest, which was only a short distance from the Garden State Parkway. It turns out that the same race organizer puts on the Bassman Triathlon, which was being held on Sunday.

When I arrived at the park, it was pretty easy to tell where to go, and there was plenty of parking. I think there were about 120-130 people in the race, so this was a much smaller event than the other half marathon I’ve done. Check in was simple, but did take a little longer than I thought it should because everyone had to sign a waiver and show ID. I’m not sure what else would have slowed down the line, but after a bit, they started passing the waivers out in line so we would have them ready by the time we got to the front. It was a bit chilly standing in line because the wind came right across the lake to hit us there and I wish I had pulled my fleece on beforehand.

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The cold beach next to check-in.

There were a few free samples to grab and a t-shirt. I like the design – see my photo. After checking in, I focused on getting myself ready to run by donning my number, drinking a little more water, and stashing my blocks in my sleeves. The temperature was in the low 60’s with a little breeze. There were a few port-a-potties, but these were adequate. The race announcer even let everyone in line know that they wouldn’t start the race until everyone had made it through the line. The other half-marathon that I ran gave out clear bags for your personal effects to label with your name and leave in bins. This one did not do that, but the parking was so close that it was unnecessary. I’m used to carrying my phone and car keys in a running belt anyways.

Before the start, there were brief announcements, with particular attention given to the course. The original course had changed due to an obstruction, and I had only briefly looked at the new one online before arriving. The race was three loops – one 3.1 mile loop, and then two laps of a 5 mile loop. The announcer made some confusing comments about following the red arrows, but then also sometimes following the yellow ones. I hoped there would be volunteers to direct us (unlike a 5K I did last month where everyone got lost and I was waving runners back onto the course).

And then we were off! I started off slowly and found that it wasn’t hard at all to follow the course. If the volunteers hadn’t been there though, I definitely would have been lost. But they happily pointed out the way, and mile markers also reassured me that I was head the right direction. The 3.1 mile loop overlapped parts of the 5 mile one also, and it might have seemed repetitive for some people. I didn’t mind traversing the same bits of road though, as the forest was pretty. The road surface was pretty smooth to run on with only one particularly bad section of pavement where I had to watch my step more carefully. One stretch on the 5 mile loop also went off the road and through the forest, but despite my bad ankles and reluctance to even consider trail running, this was my favorite part of the course. The trail was very hard packed dirt covered with a tiny bit of pine needles and sand. The only parts of the course that had any more annoying amounts of sand were where I had to turn from the road onto the trail, and then at the finish line (on the beach). There was also a short stretch back at the beach house (where we checked in) between the loops with a little sand. The course was also mostly flat – just a small rolling hill here and there.

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Finish line – from pavement to a short stretch of sand.

I carried my own blocks for nutrition, but the race offered a selection of gels and banana pieces. The aid stations were plentiful, and I even had to skip then a few times to avoid feeling sloshy. They had water and Gatorade.

A few spectators watched at the beach house, but for the most part, it was a lonely race (fine by me). The state forest featured campgrounds, and a good number of them were occupied. Some of the campers cheered at first, but then I think they grew tired of seeing us. The roads were also open to traffic, but with only local campers out and about, there weren’t a lot of cars to worry about.

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Awards presentation finishing up.

I finished in 2:22:36.0, so a PR for me! However, my Garmin only registered it as 12.82 miles. I don’t know who was right. I received an email with my result, but the link to the full race results took me to a different event. The full results can be found here. Awards (plaques) were handed out to the top 3 overall male and female finishers, as well as top 3 in all age groups. All finishers received a medal with glittery trees.

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Glittery trees!

Post-race food included fruit – apples and bananas, I believe – as well as bagels and cream cheese. I grabbed a half a bagel, devoured it, and then headed home.

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