On Sunady June 6th I competed in the Mooseman - Ironman 70.3 event in Bristol New Hamshire. I finished 23rd overall out of 1115 competitors and was second in my age category (40-44).
Natasha and I flew down to Boston from Toronto on Saturday June 5th under warm and sunny conditions which turned to thunderstorms by the time we reached the eastern coast. Our flight had been delayed by one hour which made a serious cut into the minimal time that I allowed for to make it to registration before it closed at 7pm. We flew in a small jet that made a couple stomach turning steeply banked turns to avoid thunder clouds. Once in our rental car we headed North-West towards the race site which was a two hours drive away. When not under a storm cloud it was warm and humid with temperatures near 30 Celsius.
We arrived at our Hotel in Tilton, NH where I dropped off Natasha and headed up to the race. With all of my focus on controlling the ever increasing stress that I felt associated with missing registration, I made it to the race site with 8 minutes to spare. Surprisingly I wasn’t the very last guy to show up; a guy came in to the registration tent after me breathing heavily with a relieved smile. Unlike the Muskoka 70.3 event where only two thirds or pre-registrants showed up to the race (1200 out of 1800), almost everyone showed up for this race (1115 out of 1200), as evidenced by then few remaining packets and T-shirts.
After registration I took a few minutes to walk through the transition area which was located in a beautiful state park on Newfound Lake amongst a forest of evergreen trees on a peninsula along the lake front. Fortunately the race officials were allowing bikes to be checked in the following morning; as mine was still in pieces in its travel case in the back of my rental. The Transition area was crammed into a small area that showed signs of wear and tear thanks to a rain filled Olympic distance event that had taken place earlier in the day. I am certain that you would not have believed it was possible to fit a 1200 bike transition area into the space where it was located, but the organizers found a way; and that was a theme that carried through the entire event. The people who own the Ironman brand owe a great big thank you to the organizers who did everything possible to protect and elevate it.
I walked over to the swim exit and reached down to touch the calm clear water which must have been close to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. I looked around and took in the beaaty. The lake was easily as nice as Lake George yet much less disturbed, nestled in amongst the foothills of the White Mountains with some rock / cliff exposure along some of the banks. I looked down to shore to the swim entry and began to visualize the race including my trips through transition.
I hurried back to my vehicle and drove the 35 minutes back to the Tilton Holiday Inn. Following a nice meal, it took me a while to make all of my preparations including assembling my bike, and lay down to sleep at 11:30pm. After a restless short sleep I got up feeling tired yet I knew that my muscles were rested and ready for the challenge of the event. I followed a stream of cars along quiet winding roads up towards the race site. Cars were being directed into a makeshift parking lot / field about one km from the park entrance. Local police, hundreds of volunteers, Race organizers, officials, supportive family members and athletes were all at the race site by 6am that day. I was directed to the back of the parking field which was included wet-mucky low area were some sand had been freshly laid down to improve traction. I was happy to see that the tractor was parked right beside the muck as I had my doubts that we would be able to get out if the clouds opened up, which was in the forecast.
I set up in transition then hurried over to purchase a CO2 cartridge for flat tire repair; the CO2 cartridges are not permitted on flights. It was about 60F and starting to rain so I was glad to squeeze myself into my wet suit for some warmth which my triathlon outfit did not offer. I walked over to the starting area and waded into the lake for a brief warm-up swim. The water and the air seemed to be about the same temperature. I looked out at the swim markers and determined that starting from the outside made the most sense in terms of trying to mark the shortest distance between the start and first turn buoyee. The swim waves were going off earlier than planned as the organizers were hoping to avoid any exposure to lightning; which never materialized fortunately. I easily found my way to the most outside position marked by a SeaDoo at the end of the beach, and stood in the front row looking out at the water listening to the countdown to the starting horn.
When the starting horn sounded I ran down the short beach and into the lake that dropped off quickly allowing for just two dolphin dives before I began to swim. I felt myself breathing hard but I stayed calm enough to avoid any panic feelings. I remained on the outside and avoided any contact for the first 100 meters or so. I concentrated hard on working my way into a smooth efficient pattern that I had worked all winter on in the pool. Despite my efforts I found it difficult to slow my breathing down and realized that I was feeling uncomfortable with my face in the water as I strained my head way clear of the water on each breath. I knew that what I was doing was detrimental to my performance and that I had no reason not to make friends with the water, yet I continued to struggle. All of the sudden I felt someone gently touching my feet and my stomach sunk. Why was this guy not moving to the side of me, why did he keep touching me? I couldn’t stand the feeling and I changed my course to avoid his hands. Fortunately I did not panic, yet there was no way for me to ignore the queasy sensations I felt each time my feet were touched by the creature directly behind me. I broke my line and swam to the left and then after encountering some traffic I shifted out over to the right where I found my own space.
It wasn’t until I rounded the second turn marker and heading back towards the shore that I began to feel comfortable with my face in the water. I focused on extending my arms with a textbook recovery and only exposing a small portion of my face to the air when breathing. I really thought that I was swimming efficiently and passed several more people from the wave in front of me in yellow caps. I did notice a couple of swimmers with light blue caps and figured that they must be from two waves in front but then realized they were moving faster than me so they must be from the wave behind me. I even tried to swim behind one of the guys who came by me but he was moving too fast. I sighted the swim exit and worked my way towards it. I figured that given the work that I did training over the winter that I must have reduced my time from 30:47 in Clearwater to say 29 minutes. As it turned out my swim time was over two minutes slower than my last race at 32:52. I am not sure what to make of the slower time. I am disappointed in the result and I may have focused too much on feeling comfortable in the water and not enough of racing. I am sure that I still have more work to do because my result did not reflect the perception that I had of my performance before I was able to review the times.
When I exited the water I realized once again that it was raining. I made it through transition taking the time to pull on a pair of socks before exiting with my bike; socks help to avoid or minimize blistering. I decided not to do a running mount of my bike given the slick road conditions and steady rain, so I climbed on and began pedalling. I got up to speed gradually and got my feet into my shoes which were already attached to my pedals. The rain made for poor visibility, but the visor on my helmet did a good job of protecting my eyes from the rain while not fogging up. There were plenty of riders out on the road in front of me and I repeated ‘On your left….Thank you’ in as pleasant a tone as I could, over and over again as I worked my way closer to the front of the race.
Near mile six the big climb began which lasted over 3 miles winding up to an elevation gain of over 1000feet. Most of the climb wasn’t that steep, but there were a few sections were I was forced into my smallest chain rind in order to maintain any momentum. As soon as I am forced out of the large ring in the front due to a steep gradient, any advantage I have over smaller riders is neutralized. I remained seated for the entire climb conserving as much energy as I could. I crested the mountain, grabbed a drink and then settled back into an aero position as I got back up to speed.
The downhill section was marked by dozens of volunteers stationed at each turn dressed in rain ponchos and waiving their arms warning riders to slow down. There was a sign on the road indicating a speed limit of 30mph and even a speedometer that demonstrated the speed we were travelling at. I was annoyed by a 24 year old rider, whom I had passed on the climb, as he rode by me on the winding downhill section. What did he think all the people and signs were for? As soon as the road flattened out I made my way by the fearless youngster. Near the end of the first I felt great I had caught and passed many competitors in front of me and no one had passed me. I had not depleted my energy and was ready to tackle the climb again.
On the second lap I began to lap riders on their first lap. There were a few women who were walking their way up the courses big climb in their traction-less cycling shoes. I descended carefully again without incident and continued to pick off the odd rider in front of me. Not long after the split to the second lap or finish I caught up with a rider with the number 40 written on his left calf. I had not seen a rider from my age group since mile 20 and we were not at mile 51. I caught and rode past him at an even pace. I was surprised and then concerned that he did not attempt to pass me back as it meant that he was mentally tough or confident in his run and possibly both.
I carefully negotiated the bike dismount then breezed through transition grabbing my sun glasses then throwing them back after briefly peering through wet lenses at rain and wondering why I had picked them up in the first place. The run course was a beautiful out and back loop along the lake which we navigated twice. On the first leg of the run I remained within myself and felt relatively good. I saw the lead riders run by me the opposite direction and then not long afterwards watched as they ran past me on their way out into the second loop. I kept my pace very steady all the while thinking or worrying about how I would hold up for the final five km’s; an area I have suffered in during the last two 70.3 races that I had completed. A friend of mine had told me that the last five KM’s were all mental and I wanted to have no lapses.
Troy Allaby the 40 year old competitor, who I had ridden by at the end of the bike, ran past me at mile two. Troy had a runners look to him, a slightly hunched back and even arm movements where all of his motions seem to propel him forwards with no wasted energy. He reminded me of Peter Kornellson a strong Ontario based triathlete, only a smaller younger version. I watched first place run off ahead of me and I kept my pace even thinking that I probably had no chance at catching him but if I got lucky an opportunity might present itself.
After the turn-around and the run back up and down the one hill one the course I noticed that the distance in-between myself and Troy was no longer growing. I was sure that my pace had not changed, but now I was no longer loosing ground. I remained consistent as I completed the first lap in beside the transition area and back out onto course for lap two. I was watching Troy closely and saw that he dropped something, which turned out to be a gel pack; he then stopped to pick it up and got back up to speed quickly. I noticed that I was now closing in on Troy and I formulated a plan to stay behind him until the for the next 1.5 miles until the final turn-around where I would ran by him and close out the final five km’s for the win.
All of the sudden I was closing in too fast even though my pace remained constant. I saw Troy reach for his right mid-section and I ditched my plan. This was it Troy was hurting and I had to strike right now. I increased my speed and blew by him in a poorly masked effortless move that was clearly strained. I kept my elevated pace for a while and never looked back, waiting for the final turn-around to judge where I stood. On the climb down the hill I felt my full bladder being crushed with each jarring landing of my legs. There was no way that I was going to stop and no way that I could figure out how to relieve the pressure while moving; it was going to have to wait another six km’s. I noticed a group of three men standing by the side of the road relieving themselves, and it seemed like every other guy that happened upon the scene joined them.
I hit the timing mat at the final turn around and looked back to find Troy who was not far behind me. He smiled at me as I headed off in the opposite direction. I then thought about a cycling tactic, ‘Out of site, Out of mind’ and raced off around the curves in the course determined to get beyond Troy’s sightline. As I began the final climb on the course my legs began to feel the strain and my body felt like it was shutting down. I told my body that I was mentally tough and that my brain could carry my body through to the end, but my body was stubborn and refused to be convinced no matter how hard I tried. After descending the hill Troy ran by and looked un-catchable as I watched him steadily increase his lead on disappear beyond my view. I began to console myself with the knowledge that I was still in contention for one of the 70.3 world championship qualifying spots as I finished up the final two miles.
I crossed the finish line 90 seconds behind Troy who was waiting there for me. Troy is a very nice guy from New Brunswick who was extremely happy about the win. The rain was as constant as the pain now firmly entrenched in my thighs. I was starting to feel cold as I grabbed one of the heat conserving silver mini tarps that were being handed out to athletes at the finish area. The tarp worked like a charm. I then gorged myself on the burger, chilli, pasta salad, doughnuts and peanut butter crackers that were all part of the food available for competitors.
Instead of waiting around for two hours in the rain in order to claim my spot for the worlds, I drove back to Tilton with my Natasha (wife), Mom and John (Step Father) to the outlet mall. It was miserable weather for a spectator; I could not imagine forcing them to endure it any longer while waiting for me to be able to register. This is one area where Ironman can easily improve the process; nobody who finishes after me is going to end up ahead of my in the rankings, so why make us wait the 2-3 hours, just let us register right away. I then drove back to the race site claimed my spot before rejoining my family in Tilton.