Swim. Bike. Run. Seems easy enough right?
My first triathlon of 2010 (second triathlon ever) was the Rev3 Quassy Half Ironman in Connecticut this past weekend.
As far as training went, my philosophy has always been to just do as much of the 3 disciplines as possible. I really hate regimented workouts as it takes the enjoyment out of it for me. Mentally, I tell myself ‘Okay, you need to do a speed run this week, 4 bike rides, a swim and maybe a distance run.’ but nothing is written out. I also like to sign up for a ton of races which keeps me on my toes and can be considered ‘training’.
Jim from “Dad Posse” had us sign up for this race months ago when I wasn’t even sure I could handle such a distance. Sometimes you just need a little push, you know. It takes place in Connecticut just west of Hartford, in some beautiful countryside.
Saturday morning I went on a quick bike ride, then proceeded to make 4 ‘Race Burritos’. SIDENOTE: Erika thinks I should market them, so this is the name I will be using for now. I also prepared some shrimp scampi to take with me for Saturday night’s dinner in the hotel. I didn’t want to go out and as all of us racers know… we have our rituals and this is one of mine. I packed all of the goodies up in a big blue cooler. It’s funny, when I was at the grocery store buying the cooler the gal at the register was like “Alright! Looks like a BBQ and some Sunday beers!” Not quite… try ‘first aid kit’ or ‘survival kit’. Evidently, her 5 year old son also likes to run.
It’s also very hard packing for a triathlon. So many components that I ALMOST forgot my running shoes! What a disaster that would be. I guess I could have experimented with barefoot running right?
Jim showed up at 2:30 to drop off his wheels. He had to bail on the race last minute but was kind enough to let me borrow his car. Thanks Jim! I took off, headed into the northern territories.
I arrived at 4:30 and headed over to race check-in. It was very organized. While dropping off my bike into transition for the night I ran into Bill, a fellow NYC Triathlete and runner! He was right across from me in transition.
SIDENOTE: This was a high caliber, therefore all the Pros came out. What does this mean? Remember, this is my first Half Ironman so I was already nervous, now enter people like Matty Reed (last year’s winner) who is like 6 ‘5 and has the sickest bike.
Back at the hotel I mixed up my water bottles with half Red Bull-half Gatorade. It looked a little bit like a mad scientist’s laboratory. I ate my shrimp scampi while watching some bad hotel TV and was asleep by 10PM.
I had the strangest dream. I had woken up and went to the race and was and hour or two late. I was very upset and the race director was like, “you can go ahead and start with a 2 hour deficit if you like?” Right. I was freaking out and just then my REAL alarm went of. It was 5AM in reality and I was right on schedule. Drank a cup of coffee, had a banana and some granola and I was off.
Arriving at transition at 6AM (it closes at 6:30) I quickly set up. I made friends with these two fellas across from me who saw me taping 2 burritos to the top tube of my bike. “Hey man, what’s that, a PB&J?” “Nope, those are rice and bean burritos!” They laughed and upon hearing about how I had already tested this fuel in an Ultra and a Marathon they were firm believers.
Notice me contemplating where to tape my second burrito…
After laying out my bike and run gear I grabbed my wetsuit and headed down to the beach to get ready.
Wetsuit on, I waded into the lake to get acclimated. It was then that Gallacher came over and introduced himself. He is a good friend of Jim’s I had been communicating with on email. We had a few laughs and watched the Pro’s line up. Craig Alexander was among them who took Ironman Kona last year. He is basically a beast and would end up winning it. After the male Pro’s took off into the water there was a 3 minute gap, then the female Pro’s entered. My heart almost stopped when Natascha Badmann was 5 feet from me! She is a personal idol of mine and I never thought I would be IN the same race as her! Kinda felt like I was right where I was supposed to be in life… The women were off and then it was time for my age group to line up.
Before we get underway with race details first lets clarify some things for anyone not familiar with Triathlons.
Generally speaking there are 4 triathlon distances, Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman and Ironman. They always go in the swim, bike, run order. Today’s race was a Half Ironman distance, my furthest and most challenging race to date, even harder than my Ultra. I think this has to do with the fact that your entire body is in pain because you use all muscle groups.
Swim: 1.2 Miles
Bike: 56 Miles
Run: 13.1 Miles
We lined up and within the 3 minutes the gun went off!!!
It was chaos. I was trying to stay in the lead but seriously, its like a piranha attack (I have never been attacked by piranhas). As space opened a little, I got my life in order and was steadily swimming, sighting every third stroke. I’m not the best swimmer due to my lack of speed. It’s really bizarre as I don’t get tired, I just can’t move quickly through the water. This race is maybe a sign that I should take a master’s swim class.
It was a beautiful swim through a crystal clear lake, very different from the choppy and toxic Hudson River swim from the following weekend. I could feel 2 different waves of swimmers pass me, which was frustrating, but I just kept telling myself to finish, I will chase them down later.
Cruising up onto the beach 43 minutes later I ran into transition, ripping off my wetsuit. I made the good choice to throw on some socks before putting on bike shoes. A choice that may have cost me 30 seconds, but in the end I avoided some serious blisters.
Hopping onto Andraste (my Cervelo P2) I quickly got into rhythm. Immediately, I ripped open one of my ‘Race Burritos’ and began having breakfast… ‘Breakfast Race Burritos’? I like the sound of that.
In the beginning to middle of the bike portion of the race, I was playing leapfrog with this one gal who was part of the Trakkers Team. She had this really cool bike made by Isaac? I have never heard of this brand, perhaps custom? She was a really amazing biker and in the second half of the course she blasted past me and I never caught up. Props!
What gorgeous scenery. I caught myself gazing off across the rolling hills a few times before snapping out of it going “Baker, Hello! This is a race, not a nature show.” As many people have reported, this was an extremely difficult bike course. Hills, hills and more hills. Just when your legs were recovering and you were settling into a rhythm, around the bend comes another behemoth of an uphill battle. It was kind of funny in the beginning… but my humor had faded by Mile 40.
At one point while riding by a few guys, one of them yelled… “Hey man! IS THAT A BURRITO?!” I smiled and said of course it is, duh. He yelled back “Can I trade you a Lemon Gu for your burrito?” No way man, that was my lunch and high noon was fast approaching. I did however, let him know that I had an extra one back in transition he could have.
Never have I wanted to get off a bike and run more than I did at this point. Please, anything to use a different muscle group!
Throughout the entire bike course there were constant ‘bomb drop’ descents where we might have been going 50 MPH spinning out our top gears! It was insane! The best description I could think of was that of a roller coaster… the feeling right as you start to go down the first drop, in the pit of your stomach, where you are teetering between ‘This rocks!’ and ‘Am I going to die?’ SIDENOTE: When tucked into Aero position on a TT Bike the brakes are on the outside handlebars. Try going for those while bulleting down a monster hill.
The plan was to eat my second ‘Race Burrito’ during the last 10 miles of the bike in order to have a solid block of energy for the run. Why the last 10 miles you ask? During the (dirty) Jersey Marathon I learned an important lesson with my burritos. They process into energy 5 running miles, or 30 minutes, after consumption.
As soon as mile 46 hit you better believe I was hungry and I wolfed it down. My next invention is going to be ‘Race side-order of Guacamole.’
SIDENOTE: My joke the second half of the ride was, upon passing another rider who looked friendly and not too crabby, say “Hey! Someone told me we have to run a Half Marathon after this! Is that true?!” It normally got a few laughs.
Cruising into T2 I hopped off the bike and booked it over to my slot, racking my bike and tossing my helmet aside. I quickly donned my racing flats and put on my Nautical Star wristband, then bolted for the run course. It was a sharp left turn out of T2 and I was going too fast without my legs properly adjusted to walking again, almost flying over the side rails!
Miles 1 and 2 were downhill, and we were going against the flow of the bike riders coming off their last few miles. Gallacher passed me and yelled “Go Baker go!” It was right around this point that the sun made an appearance for the rest of the race, increasing the temperature to boiling!
Turing sharp right into Miles 3 and 4 we were confronted with a brutal series of gravel uphills! It was very hard on the calves and yet… very peaceful and quiet running in the woods.
Miles 5 and 6 took us down a neighborhood road to a turn-around and then back out onto the main roads. It was here that my energy soared and all pain from the bike had subsided. I’m not sure if I picked up my pace, but my spirits certainly spiked and I was running with a smile.
I have never really spent a lot of time in Connecticut, but I had my preconceived notions. Today altered my perceptions forever, in a positive light. I grew up in the suburbs of DC, Virginia to be exact, and if you went 20 miles due west you hit horse country. Miles 7-9 felt like I was back home! It was very rustic, with man-made rock walls, huge oak trees and elegantly designed farm houses. The only difference is that Virginia has this thick, musky, floral vibe to it and up here in the North the air was a little lighter. Whatever, it’s my story, I can talk about smells.
The last few miles were hard, but the thought of being done with this mayhem was what kept me going. The final mile was a gradual uphill through the woods.
A strange thing happened at this moment. I was by myself just trucking along when out of nowhere this huge monarch butterfly started flying alongside of me! It was to my right, pacing me, fluttering up and down right around chest level. It stayed with me for 100 feet before veering of into the forest.
Rounding the final turn into the ‘Finish Chute’ I sprinted. It may have looked like demons were chasing me, and yet, I was smiling.
Crossing the finish line at a high speed and then slamming on the brakes is a funny feeling. Think… Millennium Falcon coming out of light-speed… everything slows back down and your brain catches up to your body.
Time: 5:24:36 (Real Time clock pictured is incorrect based on our wave starts)
This Stats chart shows just how bad I did on the swim and how much ‘catching up’ I had to do. (I love statistical data!)
I got my finisher medal, then went for some snacks. I wasn’t thirsty or hungry as I had been very efficient in fuel intake the whole race! One thing I did do (as I looked around at everyone else who finished and took their lead) was remove my sneakers and socks to walk barefoot on the grass. It felt SO good.
I had finished right on time to see the Pro’s get their awards. They announced the women first and Natascha Badmann had came in 7th place. It’s so surreal being so close to the athletes you admire. Craig Alexander won the men’s race and even set a new course record. Nice work Craig!
Knowing that I would be fading in the next few hours, I hightailed it out of there and headed back to New York City.
SIDENOTE: I left my Garmin on the entire time I drove back to NYC… there goes THAT statistical data! Rookie move.
Driving down the Interstate with the windows down, sun pouring in and the Who’s ‘Teenage Wasteland’ blasting I put on a huge smile and thought simply, “Hell yeah.”