I hope to post Lisa’s pictures tomorrow after I download them. Today, you get the race recap. My
1,000 2,000 words, if you will.
Yesterday, I was running down Portland Avenue in Old Orchard Beach, less than a mile to the finish of my first “long course” triathlon, when I made eye-contact with a spectator cheering from the side of the road. She had clearly been done with her own triathlon for a while and was sitting on a shady rock in someone’s front yard, most likely waiting for a triathlete she knew to run by.
“I’m going to break six hours!” I shouted as I approached.
“WOO HOO! Good for you!” She yelled back, smiling and clapping, as I passed.
I was so excited about how my race was turning out. When we left home on Friday morning to head to Maine for this triathlon, I had three big goals:
- Survive my first ocean swim.
- Successfully execute the plan I had been developing during the 18 weeks of my Half Ironman training.
- Finish in under six and a half hours.
My stretch goal was to complete a sub-6:00 race. To do that was going to mean perfectly executing my plan by hitting all of my paces without over-exerting myself during the swim, bike, or (especially) the run. Basically, I was going to have to do the swim in 45 minutes, average 19 miles/hour on the bike, and go around 9:30/mile for the run. (And my transitions had to not suck, too.) I was going to have to eat right to keep my energy up, manage my blood sugar well, and stay properly hydrated.
When I went past the 10-mile mark on the run, my watch read approximately 5:29. With only 5K left to go, I needed to pick up the pace a little bit. A mile later I had just completed the only real hill on the run course and started to build a little time cushion. The last mile was a mostly downhill run toward the ocean, and I only had to do it in 11 minutes. I couldn’t afford to get complacent, but I was feeling so happy about how my race was unfolding.
I saw Lisa in the finishing chute, posed for her camera, and kicked it in for a finishing time of 5:58:36. Here’s how it all happened.
The Swim: — 1.2 miles in 45:24 = 2:21/100 yards.
Saturday morning, Lisa and I headed down to the pier in downtown Old Orchard Beach to practice my swim. Earlier in the week, one of the people I swim with at the lake told me that I wasn’t going to have any problems doing my first ocean race. Despite his assurances, I was having stress dreams for most of the previous week, and I didn’t sleep well the night before either.
I’m glad I did this pre-race swim, because I learned a lot of things:
- Swimming against incoming waves (even breakers and swells only 1-2 feet high) is more difficult and slower than flat water.
- It’s harder to sight in the ocean, since sometimes you’re at the bottom of a wave, and if you’re pointed out to sea, the only thing to see is the tiny buoy hidden behind the swell.
- Coming back to shore I could aim for the big bullseye of the ferris wheel.
- My goggles (which are only a season old) get foggy quickly and need to be replaced.
- When I hit a point near the end of the pier where the water gets very cold, it means I’m just about done, and the water warms right up a couple hundred feet later.
- That salt taste doesn’t really go away until you drink something after the swim is done.
- And my split during this race was going to be a bit slower than my typical triathlon.
Sunday arrived with a beautiful, salmon-colored sunrise. As I was walking back to the hotel in the dark after dropping off my stuff in transition, I told myself that I had been getting up before 5AM far too often this year. Nevertheless, it was nice to have my hotel less than a block from the start. I could go back, pick up Lisa, put on my wetsuit in a comfortable environment, take a leisurely walk to the beach, and hang out for about 20 minutes before eating my breakfast, giving Lisa my backup pump, and jumping into the water.
It was my first ever mass-start from the beach. I purposefully stayed near the back, preparing to do my own race. Running into the waves was an incredible thing—like rushing towards my doom—and when the first one hit us above the knees, we all dove into the water. It was pandemonium. Within the first one or two minutes I had to tread water twice to adjust my goggles—the first time after a fellow yellow-capped swimmer elbowed me in the face and started to knock them loose and the second time shortly afterward to get some of the fog out that got in while I was adjusting them.
The rest of the swim went without a hitch. It felt long—swimming always does—but I reminded myself that it was actually the shortest part of my day and would be done soon. Every time we got near a buoy, the ocean became like a washing machine, churning and choppy. I was swimming with the sun in my eyes, and at one point I feared that the people I was following had accidentally veered onto the parallel Olympic-distance course nearer to the shore and that we would all be disqualified when we failed to turn at the correct buoy. But we stayed on course, made the correct left-hand turn, and high-stepped our way onto the beach. (The run to transition from the beach was long and was included in my T1 time, but as usual it was slower than I wanted and mostly due to getting my diabetic house in order. Really, I have to work on that. Practice, practice, practice.)
The Bike: — 56 miles in 2:57:15 = 19.0 mph
Friends, I am used to passing more people than pass me. This race was different and for many reasons . . . and I’m probably better for it. Typically, I start in a late wave and pick off earlier starters. In this race, I was in the first wave. Usually, I just put my head down and chase whatever is ahead of me. This time I had to work hard to execute my plan, which was to ride in a particular heart rate zone. At several points I said aloud to myself, “This is my race. I’m going to do my race.”
There’s not a lot else to say about the bike. It was almost three hours long—a little faster than I had expected—and felt pretty easy. The course had similar terrain to where I live and train and was over very good roads. I was wearing new tri shorts, which were much more comfortable than those I wore in NYC, and as I rolled into town I was starting to pass people again. That actually felt pretty good, because most of the people I passed were part of an enormous drafting pack and were consistently a half-mile ahead of me until the late hills broke the group apart for me to pick off. (Drafting isn’t legal, and there were many time penalties awarded this race.)
I’m sure it was a beautiful course, and I’d love to see it sometime.
The Run: — 13.1 miles in 2:04:58 = 9:32/mile.
I don’t want to put most of the emphasis of this race on the run, because I couldn’t have gotten where I did without making it through the swim, being consistent on the ride, and faithfully eating and drinking on the bike. Nevertheless, it was the part where I dug deeper than ever before in a race. Getting off the bike and on to the run course with a 3:53 on my watch had me highly motivated to push as hard and give as much as I could. I wanted that six hour finishing time so badly.
I was also really tired. I didn’t know the out and back course well, but I had studied it over the previous days. It was an uphill run out of town followed by a long downhill to the Eastern Trail, which was a flat, gravel rail-trail that was straight as an arrow and crossed the Saco Heath before turning around to retrace the whole route to the finish. It was going to be warm and sunny, and I had trouble with hydration during NYC, so I knew to bring my own water (which I had spiked with Nuun electrolyte tablets). This was the right decision despite the extra weight. It let me drink when I wanted, take water from the aid stations to refill, and dump cool water over my head whenever I got the chance.
My first mile off the bike is always too fast. And this was no different. But, unlike the past, I forced myself to slow down and conserve my energy. And I was once again passing more people than passed me, talking to them along the way. I asked one racer from the Montréal-based “Les Chickens” team why they were named that. “We needed a funny name,” he said, “so we picked it.” Très bien fait, mes amis. One woman and I had a little conversation when she passed me about how great the day was, and I felt bad when I passed her a mile or two later after our second crossing of the treeless, sunny, and humid estuary.
Because it was an out-and-back course I was able to bargain with myself. “I know you’re tired. Let’s try to make it to the turnaround point, see how it’s going, and possibly start the run/walk thing there if necessary.” When I hit the turnaround, I saw that I was still on pace to break six hours, but it was going to be close. I had already started to slow a bit, from 9:02 pace for the first 5K to 9:42 for the next and (eventually) 10:15 for the third. Run/walking (or any walking) was going to be out of the question if I wanted to make my time, but I knew that I was starting to feel seriously fatigued. Not fall down dead tired, just heavy legs and hard breathing. I wanted to be done, but mostly I wanted that time.
At the turnaround I was still on the trail, which had its own mile markers, and I could see the distance ticking down by the quarter mile. I was working myself from one mile marker and landmark to the next. There’s the heath. There’s the bridge on the heath. There’s the last road crossing at the end of the heath. At four miles left I started framing my run in terms I was familiar with. Four miles is the same as running to the end of the bike trail. Three miles is the same as the loop. Two miles is the same as the run home from the rotary.
Reaching the Olympic-distance turnaround was an especially nice landmark, because it meant that I only had 5K left. Every 5K race is supposed to be painful; it’s the definition of the event. Run as hard as you can for 21 or 22 minutes. Yes, it’s going to hurt. That’s why we run it. Having 5K left told my brain that I knew what’s coming, that it was okay to hurt, that it would be over soon, and that it was my time to give what I had left.
Looking at my watch I saw the buffer growing and knew with a mile left that I was going to make it. I was so happy, and that happiness helped me dig a little deeper and keep going hard over the last, flat half-mile. I was half-convinced that the finish line would never arrive, even though I could hear the music and the announcer and the cheers of the finish line growing louder with each block I covered. All told, I clawed back a minute and a half over the last 5K and finished a very happy man.