Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island
To my family, friends, and fellow tri-ers:
Rhode Island is successfully in the bag! What an amazing day – a
time of 5:31 and a top third finish in my first 70.3 mile event.
Before diving into the nitty-gritty details, I want to make two brief acknowledgements:
1. A BIG THANK YOU.
To my family for being a part of this amazing day. Your support on
race day provided a mental edge that is impossible to describe or
appreciate. But, more important than this, it just makes the whole
experience so much more fun to have family to share it with. And
Julie and Natalie, for not only sacrificing but supporting,
encouraging and willing me to go after every workout over the many
months leading up to race day.
Coach Cliff. We’ve come a long way, brother. Remember that first lap in the pool together? I’ll never forget it!
2. AN INTRODUCTION / DISLAIMER.
Being an amateur myself, I personally like reading reports and tips
from other amateurs just as much as reports from the pro’s for a couple
of reasons (i) amateurs typically write on the average racer’s level –
the reports are not so dominated by jargon or fringe ideas and (ii) I
have less fear that I’m reading paid advertising or heavily biased
The flipside is that I have come to learn that many amateurs – like
me – have no idea what they are talking about! The tips you read and
information you get can be conflicting, or in some cases just flat-out
wrong. That said, if you are reading this to gather information about
the race, you may be wondering (a) am I to trust this report and/or (b)
why did this guy write 15 pages? Is it worth reading the whole thing?
In an attempt to help answer these questions:
(a) should you trust me and this report?
That is a hard question to answer. All I can really do is offer you my biography and then let you decide.
I was solely a runner from 2002 until January of 2007 when my
girlfriend Julie gave me perhaps the best birthday present ever –
private swim lessons with Coach Cliff! (paid advertising?). RI 08 was
my third triathlon since picking up the tri-addiction (I’ve also
completed approximately 8 half-marathons and one marathon - New York
In terms of my triathlon experience, you could label me a "sophomore
doubler” – I have completed one sprint distance, one Olympic distance
and one 70.3 distance race – RI 08! All were approximately top third
finishes. That said, I have no basis for 70.3 comparisons. If you want
to know if the hills in RI were as bad as St. Croix (doubtful) or if
the water was as brutal as Kona (more doubtful!), this may not be the
report to read.
(b) why did I write so much, is it worth reading?
Rhode Island 70.3 was an inaugural race in 2008, so if you are
considering this race in 2009 you should definitely talk to people and
also read as many reports as you can find until you feel prepared.
That said, in the spirit of capturing the details, this is not the
shortest of reports I admit. I have taken a few weeks to digest,
reflect and compose this report before circulating it. My intention
with this report was to get as many of my thoughts and feelings onto
paper as possible, for myself as much as the reader. As a result, this
report could be characterized as part memoire, part resource and there
are certainly going to be some parts you could live without reading in
preparation for your own race. That said, if you are reading this
report for insight into the race itself, my hope is that you find it
useful on multiple levels – for inspiration, motivation, training
advice, as well as for race information. If you have any specific
questions or want to chat about the race after reading, please don’t
hesitate to reach out.
Thanks again to everyone, I love you all dearly and enjoy the reading!
Arrival: Friday evening, 10pm
Lodging: Westin Providence
Race-day wakeup time: 3:45 am
Race-day departure time: 4:15 am
Race-day arrival time at start: 5:10 am
Saturday morning official weigh-in: 177.5 lbs
Ironman Rhode Island 70.3 was a duel transition race, meaning that
the start at transition area 1 & finish at transition 2 were about a
45-minute drive apart. The official IM recommendation (and strategy
adopted by most participants) was to lodge in providence near the finish
(the Westin was a perfect spot since connected to the convention center
check-in / expo and two blocks from the finish) and drive to the start
in the morning. Hence, an earlier wake-up time than normal – that said,
at this time in the morning, what’s an extra 45 minutes!
The above format basically kills the entire day on Saturday and
forces an arrival on Friday night or early Saturday morning. This was a
nice, leisurely way to take up the day in a seated position amongst
family – we didn’t mind the format at all. Alternative ideas if you are
REALLY stressed about early Sunday wakeup or Saturday plans might be to
either (a) stay near the beach at a dive on Saturday night after
checking in, then have your friends or family move hotels for you on
race day or (b) have a friend slip on your race bracelet and go to T1 on
Saturday for you (they were pretty relaxed about allowing family to
enter the transition on Saturday despite the policies).
Official start: 6am
Wave start: 6:25
degree water temperature, choppy conditions, overhead shore break, but
favorable current on second-half, limited offshore and costal landmarks
Gear: Orca 3.2 full suit, hybrid speedo mask goggles, no watch
Race day started for me by reading a final pre-race text message. It
turned out to be the most humorous message of all, which is no surprise
considering the author –Julie and Natalie’s sister Marlene, one of my
favorite people in the world and mother of four. It takes a lot of
humor to raise this many kids!
At 1am EST, Marlene writes, "Chris, good luck, god speed and kick ass!”
airing up the tires and getting suited up, we walked over the dune and
caught our first sight of the water for the day. First impression,
"Wow, there’s a lot of waves out there.”
We had toed around the water the day before in the afternoon and it
was also choppy then. I was hopeful that race morning waters would be
calmer… no such luck. We were so lucky as to have a hurricane tracking
up the Atlantic coast 200 miles offshore that weekend. This was
largely responsible for the heavier than normal surf conditions. (For
readers considering this race, the water is protected by offshore rock
barriers and is reported to be fairly calm under normal conditions.)
That said, there was no "avoiding” the swim. I had several good open
water practices in the weeks leading up to the race, so I was feeling
pretty relaxed and not too nervous at the swim start despite the
conditions. I kept telling myself (a) you’ve had plenty of practice at
the distance in both pool and open water and (b) who cares how long it
takes you – the water temp is perfect, just treat it as a nice leisurely
warm-up, FORGET about the rest of the day, and enjoy it for what it
Playing along with this mindset, I did NOT wear my race watch for the
swim. I whispered to Natalie before the start, "This might take me a
while.” I had about an hour in mind given the choppy surf.
The organizers did a good job of providing for a large, dedicated
warm-up area adjacent to the start. At around 5:40, I got in the water
for the first time and swam out even with the first race buoy. It was
immediately apparent that the current was primarily coming on-shore with
only a slight cross. Thus, the swim out would be slow, but the swim
back would be fast – certainly preferable to the alternative. This
knowledge made me feel a little more relaxed and comfortable.
What didn’t make me more comfortable was that I stubbed my toe on a
rock while walking back from the practice area to the race start! Nice
move, klutz. Again, there was nothing I could do to change or avoid a
stubbed toe – adrenalin and cool water would hopefully ease the pain. I
put the toe completely out of mind and the water did cure the pain
fairly quickly. (After the race, the swelling started almost
immediately and the tip turned black and blue within a few hours. What a
start to the day. Moral of the story, you can finish a 70.3 race on a
busted middle toe.)
There were approximately 150 swimmers or so in my start group (Men’s
30-35, last name M-Z). The start was the usual mess, especially with
the surf breaking head-high on the shore. I chose to start toward the
back and slightly outside the pack. I trotted out at the gun and
approached the break, ducked under and starting stroking.
There was a lot of jostling in the first 5 minutes and I got a few
good shoves, but nothing too extreme. I stayed within sight and/or
behind folks who appeared to be swimming at my pace, although I still
have yet to master the art of finding feet which match mine and drafting
well. Maybe this is because I am generally behind slower, awkward
swimmers who are somewhat inconsistent like me.
Upon citing a few times, the first thing I noticed was that the buoy
markers were hard to see given the swell of the choppy water. I caught
site of a marker approximately 1 out of every 2 to 3 times I glanced
using a normal citing technique - aimed at poking my head out of the
water just enough on the breathing rotation so that the eyes are above
water for a split second and no significant break in stroke form
This meant 2 things (i) more citing was required than normal and (ii)
on occasion (particularly in the early part of the race and on the
turns) I had to cite with a slightly higher head elevation than normal
to get a good look. There were very limited tall landmarks for citing
purposes on the first half, as this portion was straight offshore – a
few boats were somewhat helpful. The public beach clubhouse made for a
decent landmark on the second half and – with the favorable current – I
found myself citing less in general over the last third of the swim.
When I got out of the water, I felt tired but not spent. I was quite
happy with my effort level. I figured my time in the water was about
an hour. To my surprise, Natalie was ecstatic to tell me my time was 40
minutes! I was shocked and very pleased with this time for me in
conditions such as these.
That said, my time was slow relative to other swimmers and I was
surprised to learn after the race that my ranking was so low despite all
the choppy water. It turns out that the favorable current led to some
fast times, mine not included.
I know I am still in the infancy of my swimming capability, having
spent the least amount of lifetime effort at this activity. Until
getting in the water with Cliff last January, proper freestyle pool
swimming was a COMPETELY foreign concept to me – let alone open water.
Reaching the other end of a 25 yard pool was no easy task. My
technique, times and enjoyment have improved leaps and bounds with still
plenty of room left to go, which makes swimming an extremely rewarding
and pleasurable exercise for me.
Conditions: Mid 70s temperature, shaded, hilly middle third with
500 feet max elevation, several short to medium length steep climbs and
Gear: Scott CR1 pro road bike (see other details below),
sport sunglasses with chromatic lenses (from Wal-mart, my favorites!),
no bike computer, no aero helmet, Nike watch and HR monitor.
I dried off, changed, ate a banana and had some Gatorade in
transition, then was off on the bike with the small T1 fan base hooting
and hollering. It is always so refreshing to get on the bike and feel
that cool breeze the first few minutes after a hard swim.
The race program describes the bike course as "flat and fast”.
Despite this sales pitch, the elevation chart told a different story.
Approximately 500 feet of total elevation change including one steep
climb of approximately three miles around the 20 mile mark, then several
shorter up and down climbs from miles 20-45, then primarily a downhill
to flat track to the finish.
On our drive back to Providence from the Saturday bike drop, we drove
the hilly portion of the course, confirming that this was no cake
walk. These were more than "rolling hills” in the countryside and
certainly not "flat and fast”. Given that the bulk of my training
consisted of mostly sea level terrain on Dune Road (albeit in strong
winds on many days), I was a little concerned that I was undertrained
for the hill climbs. I debated whether or not the ~20 mile per hour
average pace I had in mind was still appropriate. Contemplating the
race the night before, this was my greatest race concern.
Miles 1 to 20
The next to last piece of advice I got before the race was a text
message from my friend Joe who is a two-time ironman. It was such a
perfect message to help overcome my fears of the bike course and as a
final pre-race thought: "1) relax, keep emotions in check and 2) enjoy
the day, don’t forget to look up.”
As I evaluated myself and the current conditions at the start of the
bike, I was feeling great and I remembered Joe’s text. I kept a
moderate heart rate (135-145) and enjoyed looking at the shore houses
and real estate along the first 20 miles of the course, knowing I would
need my energy for the hills.
The first 20 miles was relatively flat with slight uphill grade as
the route moved inland. At the 10 and 20 mile marks, I was averaging
over 21 mph.
…and then came the hills.
I was very thankful to have driven this portion of the course the day
before, as I felt mentally prepared for the challenge. To average 20
miles per hour, I knew I couldn’t lose too much time on the grades and –
just as important – I couldn’t lolly-gag down the slopes.
While perhaps not the best method, I used heart rate and muscle
tension as my guides on the climbs – pushing as hard as I could without
(a) eclipsing the 155 to 160 heart rate mark and (b) feeling excess
strain in my upper leg muscles. Gauging by the competition, this seemed
to be working alright, but I clearly was being passed more on the
grades than other portions of the course. I was feeling somewhat
under-trained for the hills as I had suspected.
The descents were a bit of a surprise to me, as I seemed to make up a
lot of ground on people who liked to coast or not push their speed.
This is one trend I have noticed in races that makes no sense to me.
Pushing downhill stretches is – in my opinion – a great, low impact way
to make up some time without expending much extra energy. And, it’s
also a heckuva lot of fun! I didn’t have a computer on my bike, so I
don’t know what my max speed was… but I do know it was the fastest I
have ever ridden, guessing I reached around 45 mph on one particular
long, steep downhill stretch.
Nearing the end of the hill portion of the bike, I was very anxious
to see my mile 40 split time. I would also get to see my family for the
second time here – I strategically gave them a breakfast stop at Rick
& Dee’s Restaurant in Coventry before sending them the rest of the
way to T2 and the finish line in Providence. Rick & Dee’s worked
out great as the parent’s would later report – a good quality, low
priced breakfast and a perfect bonus stop.
To my surprise, as I crossed the mile 40 mark and saw the gang, I was
still averaging slightly less than 20 mph after enduring the majority
of the hills! This bit of good news – combined with seeing my family
again – made this moment a highpoint of the race for me.
That said, with each passing hill I was starting to feel the effort
level and muscle tension increase. For the final 16 miles of the bike, I
made a conscious decision to push hard on all flat and downhill
stretches, but to take it a little easier on the hills no matter what
the cost in speed – as I was now assured of being pretty close to my 20
mile per hour pace goal. My thoughts were beginning to turn to the run
and the prevailing thought in my mind now was, "you’ve never pushed this
hard for this long on the bike and then run 13.1 miles.”
Also, I knew based on the elevation chart that this part of the bike
course would not be as challenging. The worst was behind me. Thus,
backing down the effort level slightly now – while perhaps not the
conventional wisdom for the final miles of the bike – would be worth it
to ensure a smooth run. Little did I know what was to come.
Around mile 45, I couldn’t resist breaking with this decision for a 5
mile stretch, as a cute, young girl sponsored by Timex passed me at a
pace very near my own. The temptation was too great not to "go get her”
– despite that I had just decided to ease up a bit. I couldn’t help
thinking how ironic the timing of her passing was – someone must
strategically put extra girls on the course for suckers like me at the
least opportune moments!
It was the flat and downhill stretches where I had a chance to catch
her. Without drafting, I rode behind her and one other rider for
approximately a half mile. Then, I cranked it up a bit and passed her.
For approximately a half mile, she followed me. Then on a slight
uphill grade, she passed me back. We exchanged 2 or 3 times this way
for about 5 miles. Then, my conscience took over. I could have gone on
this way for the remainder of the ride and really enjoyed the
additional pace and challenge, but my brain thankfully re-engaged and
told me not to let 20 minutes of fun kill the rest of my day. I never
saw her again.
As I had hoped, I finished the bike in well under 3 hours and
averaged over 20 miles per hour. Considering the hill portion of the
course and my slight under-training, I was very happy with this time.
For the gear-obsessed folks out there who may wonder, I rode a Scott
CR1 pro road bike with 2 full Gatorade bottles, standard rims (no zipp
wheels, although many who passed me were riding with them), standard
gyros helmet (not super-aero style, although – again – many who passed
me were riding with them), clip on aerobars, and a seat pack with two
tubes, two CO2s and some light tools.
Nutrition wise, I stuck to my plan to consume approximately 200 to
300 solid calories per hour in 30 min segments, plus Gatorade and
water. For solids, I ate cliff bars early and late during the bike with
some high-sodium gel packs in between. One of my bottles was also a
high concentration Gatorade, the other was water with a touch of
Gatorade for flavor. I took additional plain water at nearly all the
rest stops as needed and stopped once at the rest room at approximately
After the hill segment of the bike was over around mile 40-45, I took
notice that I could feel the day and my body heating up. My heart rate
had leveled at around 142-145. While I was attentive to consume enough
food and liquid during the bike to ensure a successful run and finish,
my nutrition science and game plan has always been somewhat ad hoc – and
unfortunately this was about to lead to some issues on the run.
Conditions: Mid 80’s, moderate humidity, approximately half shaded,
two loop course, flat except one VERY steep quarter mile climb near the
start of each loop which most people walked.
Gear: Asics Gel Nimbus, Craft tri shorts & top, tri-star running visor, same glasses and watch from bike.
I got to transition feeling just the right balance of tired but
excited with a little more gas left in the tank. I ate some mushy
banana, half of a cliff bar, drank the remaining shot of concentrated
Gatorade I had left on my bike, and got on the road.
Miles 1-3.3 (first quarter)
As I exited the tree covered transition area onto the sun drenched
pavement, my first impression was that my legs felt really good and I
was very relaxed, but it was hot.
About 200 yards from T2, I saw my family. They were really excited –
Julie and Natalie ran along the sidewalk with me for about 50 yards or
so. I told Natalie that I felt good and thought I might have a really
Unfortunately, I jinxed myself. As I neared the first aid station
about a half mile into the run, my good spirit took a 180 degree turn as
I felt the first signs of an old nemesis – my left hamstring was
twitching. I didn’t have full on cramps yet, I just felt that
tenderness where you know a cramp is assuredly coming at some point.
To have this feeling so early in the run was REALLY discouraging. I
was fairly upset at the first water station. Compound this by the fact
that after the first water station came the mother of all short, steep
hill climbs – a three block stretch of San Fran style, hyper-steep
streets leading up to a flat plateau area which made up the rest of the
course – a 3 mile "out and back” to be repeated twice.
I did not preview the run course prior to race day – like the bike
course, the run was also billed as flat and fast in the race guides.
Thus, this monster-hill came as quite a surprise.
Despite being pretty annoyed at this point with my condition and the
hill, I told myself to stay calm, think, and evaluate. Rarely is there
ever a perfect race day and I had experienced cramping before. During
the last 4 miles of the New York City Marathon, I had significant
cramping issues and finished despite them in 3:40. My first thought
when I felt my hamstring twitching was, "Wow, what a long, painful run
this is going to be.”
My "real” outside race goal – the one they say you shouldn’t talk
about before the race with anyone but yourself and your mentors –
actually wasn’t a time goal for the overall race, but for the run only.
My goal was to run the same half marathon time in Rhode Island as I ran
in the Brooklyn half marathon back in May – 1 hour and 30 minutes or a
7:30 min per mile pace. For the Brooklyn half marathon, I of course
didn’t spend three and a half hours swimming and biking beforehand – and
therein lies the performance and fitness challenge. If I was able to
reach this time on the run without hurting myself or suffering beyond
the point of enjoying the day, it would be an overwhelming
accomplishment and likely lead me to start training immediately for
whatever full Ironman I could find my way into later in the year.
As a quick aside, it is important to me personally to stay true to
the reasons I race. I use racing purely as motivator to maintain a high
level of fitness. Thus, my run time goal would tell me all I needed to
know. Although top third finishes seem to be my norm, I have never
been obsessed over total time or ranking goals since racing is not (nor
will it ever be) my day job. This lack of competitive motivation and
ego about race times makes a great difference and is one of the most
pleasant things about amateur road racing for me.
With the onset of potential cramps, my run goal and thoughts about a
full Ironman were now far out of mind. I needed to put my
disappointment aside, think positive and come up with a new game plan.
To give myself a chance to consider matters and rest a little, I
walked at the first water stop and up the monster hill with the rest of
the gang. As one person noted while walking, "I can’t run any faster up
this hill than I can walk, so I may as well walk!” I completely
As I squeezed a cold water sponge over my head and took in some water
and Gatorade, my first thought was "don’t over-react”. Now that I was
walking and with the heart rate and body temp cooled down a little, I
was feeling OK again. The twitching had subsided. I also thought that –
because the cramps were coming so early – this could just be a
transition issue. Going from one activity to another, different muscles
are engaged. There is always a period of sluggishness to overcome
Thus, my new strategy was to ease back into a jog upon reaching the
top of the hill and not to jump to conclusions yet. For now, I would
just remember Joe’s words – relax and enjoy the day – see how the next
couple of miles go. If I had no issues after a half mile or so, I would
push the pace slowly back up until I reached a normal heart rate zone.
If I had issues again, I would back off.
Surmounting the hill with these new thoughts in mind, I started a
light jog. In line with the power of positive thinking, I also took to
enjoying the surroundings. This part of the run past the hill was quite
pleasant – a tree lined, shaded street with a wide walking park
dividing the road. There were a significant number of spectators here
lining the park. I thanked and slapped hands with some folks, put a
smile on my face, and enjoyed running with the people around me who all
seemed to be trying to do the same for the most part.
I also noticed that I wasn’t getting passed much at this point. In
fact, I was doing most of the passing. Most of the people going slower
were in the 35+ age groups or girls. (Each triathalete is marked on the
calf with a race number and age). This led me to wonder, "Where are
all the 30-35 males? I must be behind them?” As I would learn later,
most weren’t ahead of me after all.
I continued to feel good for the next couple miles or so and was
slowly increasing pace according to plan. I was also taking in a lot of
water, Gatorade and high-sodium gel. Cliff would later tell me I
shouldn’t be mixing Gel and Gatorade, and I also should have taken salt
tablets. I was clearly under-prepared with regard to nutrition.
Miles 3.3-6.6 (second quarter)
Reaching the turnaround point, the course changed to a very slight
downhill. (I hadn’t even realized that it was slightly uphill on the
way to this point.) I was feeling relaxed and my worries over cramping
were subsiding. Thus, on this easier part of the course, I decided to
push the pace just slightly to see how the muscles would respond.
Unfortunately, with not much increase in effort, the hamstring
twitching began again. And now I could feel that both hamstrings were
at risk of cramping. It was at this moment – during mile four or so –
when I came to the moment of realization. I wasn’t having simple
transition issues and I also wasn’t going to make my run goal for a 7:30
pace – I’d be lucky to run an 8:30 the way things were going.
While this was another very disappointing moment, I also wasn’t going
to let this ruin my day. I eased back the pace again, let the
twitching subside, and kept taking lots of water and Gatorade at the
water stops. It was time to try to relax, forget about my stopwatch and
just enjoy the rest of the day – going as fast as the body would allow,
at least for the next 5 or 6 miles until I got to within a few miles of
the finish. Maybe I would get lucky and be able to "gut out” a little
faster pace in the final quarter if the cramps stayed away. Going at
the pace I was now – at a pace of around 8:45 per mile – I knew that
even a strong finish in the last few miles was not likely to make much
of a time difference.
I was now nearing the downhill portion of the steep hill near the
start / finish line and also the start of the second loop. The steep
downhill, while not a muscular challenging, was nearly as annoying as
going up the hill. The grade was so steep that the pounding affect on
the joints and legs made it difficult to push speed down the hill. I
did my best to focus on a softer foot-strike and relaxing into a faster
pace down the hill, but even downhill coasting wasn’t such a breeze!
Miles 6.6-9.9 (third quarter)
Seeing my family again at the start of the second loop was a nice
relief and I put on my game face for them, I wasn’t about to show any
signs of struggle.
The start / finish area was mainly flat, but for a slight grade for
about 200 yards approaching the finish line on the state capitol
grounds. In a light-hearted way without seeming too concerned, I told
Julie and Natalie that the run may not go so well after all – that I was
having a little cramping, but wasn’t too worried yet. They were very
supportive, but for me breaking the news to someone other than myself
I reached the same steep incline at the beginning of the second loop
and again used it as a chance to walk a little and recharge. I took in a
little bit of cliff bar, a shot of soda, some water and doused myself
with several cold sponges, including on my hamstrings. On this second
loop, literally everyone around me walked up all or most of the hill.
Again, I wasn’t seeing many people my age and wondered if they were
ahead or behind me.
After the race, I would learn that I actually ended up improving my
ranking on the run relative to the overall field and my age group –
thus, unbeknown to me at the time a lot of people were having slow runs
that day like me. While the heat was in the mid-80’s at this point and
definitely a factor, the humidity did not feel too extreme to me and the
run course was well shaded.
The most interesting personal data point of the day to me as I
approached the final turn-around and last quarter of the run was my
heart rate – which had been hovering over the last 6 miles or so while I
had been taking it easy in the 153 to 160 range and not increasing.
Because of my cramping issues, I simply was not able to get my heart
rate into that 160 to 165 zone I typically like to reach on the last
half to third of long endurance events. In other words, the
cardiovascular part of my body had the stamina to go faster, but my legs
were saying "no way”.
This was both encouraging and discouraging to me at the same time. I
was clearly well-trained for the day, but I had neglected to focus on
preventing a problem that I have had issues with in the past (although
not always). In my pre-race planning, I had basically ignored it and
hoped it wouldn’t be an issue – as it hadn’t been an issue in my
training. Training and racing are two very different exercises and I
had not given race day the respect it deserves by anticipating the
Miles 9.9-13.2 (The Finish)
Thinking now about my efforts and the events of the day coming to an
end, I was definitely getting a little emotional. I had one thought
going into the last quarter of the race – forget about pre-race issues,
post-race issues, cramps, other participants… it was time to drop the
hammer and leave it all out there for 25 more minutes! If I cramped,
then I cramped – at this point I could walk or stop long enough to
recover without jeopardizing my ability to finish.
There was a girl who had passed me and been running just in front of
me for about a mile. She was the first goal. I picked up my speed just
enough to pass her.
My heart rate was between 160 to 163 and I was keeping a close watch
on it increasing. It was difficult for me to tell what pace I was
running given my fatigue level. I didn’t really care to know anyway, as
it was now very difficult to push faster at what I knew was a slower
pace than I had hoped to be running at this point.
Then, within a few minutes, to my surprise my companion passed me back!
At the next to last aide station with around 2.0 miles to go, we both
took a bit of water and Gatorade – I ended up ahead of her again after
the water stop for a short period until she once again passed me.
This time however, she gave me a little wave from behind as if to say "get up here with me, finish strong.”
What a blessing to have this push. This was all the motivation I
needed and a nice way to finish the race. I picked up pace more
significantly now, passed her a few minutes after the water station, and
stayed in front of her the rest of the way. She kept up for about a
mile or so right on my tail, but trailed off toward the end as I
attempted (but failed) to catch one or two faster paced runners who were
Other than these few runners who I attempted to catch, I was not
being passed by anyone and was generally passing a lot of people. There
were a significant number of people who slowed and struggled in this
final stretch. The last downhill was – again – so steep that running
down it this time was like being hit in the legs with tiny hammers. I
tried to soften my stride as much as possible. Then at the bottom of
the hill, I gave it all I had for the final half mile – which wasn’t
Seeing my family again was a wonderful feeling, but I honestly don’t
remember a whole lot in terms of how they looked, what they said, where
they were or what was going on around me. Thankfully, I did remember to
say happy birthday to Natalie!
And then, it was over. I felt tired, a bit dehydrated and very
wobbly at the finish, but I wasn’t nearly exhausted to the point of
failure. I was walking and talking, and we took some fun pictures on
the capitol steps, which I was able to get up and down fairly easily.
We walked back to the hotel together and shared stories from the day –
the perfect breakfast stop, the phone calls and well-wishes from family
and friends, and how amazing all the participants were on a perfect day
Total race time: 5 hours, 31 minutes
Overall rank: 430 of 1300
What did I learn from the race?
I ask myself this question after every race – the longer the distance
and the crazier the elements, the more you tend to learn. That said, I
learned a lot from this one:
1. You can’t cheat nutrition.
I clearly need to focus more effort here to give myself all the
advantage I can in hopes of preventing cramping and muscular issues.
This was a rookie mistake. Not taking salt tabs, mixing Gatorade and
GU, pre-race nutrition, etc.
2. You can’t cheat any aspect of long-endurance races in general.
"But for the hills on the bike, I felt like I was adequately
trained.” I made this statement to more than one person after the
race. In hindsight, the "but” is the most critical portion of this
statement. I wasn’t adequately trained for the race. To be fully
trained means that you suffer from no issues that are in your control.
The energy I spent tackling the hills on the bike was also likely a
significant issue that contributed to cramping on the run.
Bottomline – the longer the race, the more important every component
of preparation becomes. You can cheat one or even more than one element
in a 30, 60 or even 90 minute race and get away with it without any
huge impact – but not in a race this long.
There is no substitute for knowing the course and knowing yourself
and training for every part – and it’s this level of preparation that
makes the challenge all that more fun at the amateur level. Amateur or
pro, you will only do well if you are very prepared – not just in shape.
3. I had gas in the tank to go faster on the run, absent the cramps.
The best evidence of this is (i) my relatively low max heart rate in
the final half of the race, (ii) my modest fatigue level after the race
and (iii) my quick recovery. A week after the race, I ran a 6:23 per
mile pace in the Westhampton 5k and followed this with a 15-mile run the
following day. I realize that neither of these activities are
advisable to do so soon after race day. But, these runs did
re-establish quite a bit of my running confidence.
Three weeks later, I also ran another 5k race at 6:28 pace with very
modest training effort since Rhode Island – another re-deemer, but now
it’s time to get back to endurance.
4. I could benefit from a power meter.
Especially on the bike, I tend to "rough it” in terms of measuring
muscle fatigue. Had I used a power meter instead of just a heart rate
monitor throughout training and on race day, I would have probably had a
much better sense on the bike that maybe a few of those hill pushes
were a little above the effort level I should have been giving – risking
my ability to push hard on the run.
5. There is no substitute for open water swim training and good citing technique.
I am still by no means a great swimmer – especially in open water.
But I do know without question that the ONLY reason I was so calm on
race morning in very choppy conditions was that I had two great open
water swims the week before the race where I felt that my citing
technique and comfort level in the water had turned a significant
corner. After these training swims and this race, I think my open water
swimming fears are officially over. Reaching this point is an amazing
feeling given that I started triathlon two seasons ago with absolutely
no ability to freestyle swim in a pool let alone dark, cold water in the
Which segment of the race was I happiest with / most proud of?
I was happiest with bike, swim and run in this order.
If you had to be disappointed by one, as it turns out I’m really glad
it was the run. A disappointing swim would have been discouraging for
the remainder of the day and could have led to mental meltdown. A
disappointing bike would have meant a poor overall time – event though
overall time wasn’t my goal, this also would have been somewhat
discouraging mentally in deciding whether or not to consider a full
I was very proud to have pushed my way through a hillier than
expected bike course – and gaining 10 or 15 minutes on the bike was a
better risk / reward than hoping to make up the same amount of time at
the end of the day on the run when anything could happen. In light of
my cramping during the run – which I think likely would have occurred
even if my bike time was slower given nutrition issues – pushing during
the bike was a smart decision.
To be fair to myself, I also can’t be that disappointed with 9 min
pace for my first 70.3 Ironman run. While my training consisted of some
extreme workouts (20 weeks including many 3 and 4 hour days plus one 8
hour bike tour), none consisted of an exact duplication of the race day
event. While I felt prepared, I did not stick to my normal habit of
duplicating the race during training which perhaps was also a
I was surprised after the run and reviewing the statistics to learn
that – while I didn’t have the run time I was personally hoping for – I
actually managed to improve my overall and age group place position on
the run. In hindsight, my run goal was probably aggressive and I
shouldn’t be that disappointed with a 9 minute pace average.
What was the most enjoyable part of the experience?
Having my family together (the first time both Julie’s parents and my
parents have been together at the same time after 8 years of dating!),
seeing us all so happy together, and celebrating the day, each other and
Ironically, I also actually enjoyed swim very much. After getting in
the water and starting to stroke, the fact that I was remaining calm
and wasn’t having any issues created an optimism within me that was a
perfect way to start the day.
Why do you put yourself through this much exercise and pain? What’s fun about it?
I am a fairly competitive person, but not with road racing. I don’t
train to compete. I train for fitness. This is my constant goal, to
keep my whole body as fit as it can possibly be within the limits of my
time and energy. Given the swimming component in particular, triathlon
is a great way to accomplish this "total body” fitness goal.
So why race and why this long a distance? I use races as a way to
stay motivated, and I like long distance mainly because of the resulting
affect on body shape and feel. Endurance training is a metaphor for
life, and results in a lean muscular physique that is built to last.
Short-distance or "power” athletes have a much different training
pattern which results in a bulkier build.
Another aspect I like about endurance triathlon versus endurance
running of biking is that a higher percentage of the amateur racers seem
to be in really good shape and have similar motivations to my own.
This surely has to do with the extra challenge and effort it takes to
become cyclist, runner and (especially) swimmer versus focusing solely
on only biking or running – let’s face it, the lower level of effort
required to lace up a pair of shoes or hop on a bike and train for races
(or not train) results in wide variation in the fitness level of the
participants in running and biking events. With triathlon, the addition
of swimming weeds out a significant portion of the participants and
raises the average fitness level of average participant considerably.
I have nothing on the calendar.
I know that I probably won’t be able to continue "doubling
distance”. I made a conscious decision not to do an Olympic-distance
training race in preparation for RI 70.3, (a) mostly because I wasn’t
able to find a race that worked well with our summer schedule, and (b)
partially because I just wasn’t worried about the distance of any of the
components given the training I had done. For a full ironman, I almost
certainly would use a 70.3 event as a training race given the
difference in swim distance.
Given my performance, I am relatively sure I want to go for a full
ironman. My preference would be to continue to build the training base
that I already have for a late season event rather than have to maintain
fitness all winter and then ramp back up.
However, options for late season races are limited to basically
Tempe, Arizona or Western Australia – neither of which are ideal. If
there is one recommendation I have for the Ironman organization, it
would be to encourage more late season races. Additional events in the
Caribbean or Florida would be perfect to add to the mix for us non-Kona
bound amateurs. Ironman Bahamas or Bermuda or Jamaica or Miami – pick
an easy to fly to spot with good hotel options, hold the event in
December or January and there would be East Coast participants like me
in droves coming off of successful 70.3 performances who want the extra
time to recover and train for the full Ironman distance, but don’t want
to wait for next season to compete.
Many thanks to everyone, again. 2008 was a great tri-year for
me, not matter what comes of the rest of the season and 2009. Rhode
Island is definitely a top quality event that first-time 70.3 racers or
amateurs should consider and will enjoy.