Monday, May 10, 2010

New England Season Opener - Bike and Run...make that walk

(This post picks up from where I left off yesterday, which if you haven't read; I highly recommend. You don't want to miss a triathlon where the medical boat sinks, and my wife gives me a heart attack. This post too will be long, but I didn't want to drag out the rest of the race.)
So there I was, standing in transition overcome by the realization that my wife was ok, and would be able to continue the race. In fact she hurried through her transition and took off without me while I hurried to finish my stalled clothing change and get the heck on the bike. Adding the bike shoes definitely allows me to get more out of each pedal stroke, but until I get used to keeping them on the bike and getting my feet in them during the ride they're a small liability during transition. They take a little work to get on, and I can't run in them very well for fear of falling.

So I got out of transition, on the bike, and started rolling. The problem is that the ride starts with a hill. I mean seriously, who the hell designs a course like this? We just swam through the last 10 minutes of the Titanic only to be confronted with a hill. It was then I realized that the first hill didn't appear on the course walk through video. Oh well nothing I could do but switch down to one of my lower climbing gears and get climbing. I made it up to the hill when I heard a strange sound; my own labored breathing. 

One hill and I'm gassed already, just freaking great. 

The course flattened out for a little bit before the biggest climb of the race one that took up much of mile two. With everything I'd gone through to this point I decided that it was time adjust my goals from some sort of personal best to just finishing. It was in this spirit that on a plateau near the end of the second mile, I pulled off to the side of the road, unclipped and stood there while I drank my 5 Hour Energy, ate a Hammer Gel, and drank some Gatorade. I mean if I was going to push on, I would be properly fueled.

The wind had shifted to a headwind as I started back up the long hill, as gravity wasn't enough working against me at this point. It was only at the top of the hill did I remember the one benefit of being a big guy on a hilly course: I might be a terrible climber, but I am a master of the descent. My average speed on each climb throughout the course was probably about 8 MPH. My average downhill was easily in the high 20's.

My speedy downhills made up some of the time I lost on the multiple climbs until I got to the really big hill later in the course. That's when my legs gave out. At the base I knew I was tired; my toes were still numb, and each previous hill had taken more out of me than the resulting descent had given back. About halfway up this last major hill I had no choice, I unclipped and walked my bike. 

I had really thought that my days of walking my bike up hills were behind me, but apparently not. If only I'd been aware of where I was in the course to understand the downhill that was soon to come. I remounted the bike about 3/4ths of the way up the hill and made it to the top. Around the bend from the top of the hill came the biggest downhill of the race and a top speed of 35 MPH, and that was with me riding the brakes the whole way down the hill because of a hard right at the bottom. 

This isn't to say my whole ride was ups and downs. I did manage to talk to a few of the folks I saw and did a series of passing-on-the-downhill-only-to-be-passed-on-the-next-climb with a few folks. I also got a lot of nice inspiration from the other folks I was seeing out on the course, including Rach who I finally saw about a mile and a half from the finish. She was headed the other way on the run course, and looked to be doing much better than when I'd last seen her. I wish I could say the same for me as I came out of the bike course knowing that I'd be no where near my goal time for the ride, normally my best part of the course, and the run, my worst still to come.

Bike Goal: 40:00
Ben's Time: 56:50
Rach's Time: 44:28

It's funny to say it, but the run was actually really uneventful. I knew my legs had almost nothing left, and that there were a few hills on the course. I doubted I could run much, but with feeling returning to my feet and the sun finally out to stay, I was determined to leave everything I had out on the course.

Just like the bike, the run started and ended with bigger hills, with a somewhat flat section in the middle and rolling hills around it. I realized in transition that I had forgotten my phone at home so I had no way to pace myself or have any idea how I was doing. I just decided to walk as fast as I could and run whenever I could. It turned out that the running wasn't very often. I ran on some downhills, and a little bit of the flats. It was by pure coincidence that I was running when I saw the race photographer. I had been about to walk, but I am heavily motivated by photo ops. I'll share the photo as soon as it's available.

I had no idea of how I was doing time wise, but as I reached the halfway point, nature called, so I took a quick pit stop and headed out for the second half of the 5k. I managed a little more jogging before I climbed the last big hill and up onto the reservoir retaining wall for back end of the loop. That's where I saw an overturned boat floating at the top of the water near up against the wall. I didn't know it was the medical boat that had sunk earlier in the race, so you can imagine my bewilderment at that point..

From the vantage point atop the wall, I could see the transition/finish area and I picked up the pace as best I could. Back across the beach the wind had calmed somewhat and I thought about how the day would have gone with better swim conditions. At the far end of the beach, I reached the path back up to the finish and started jogging. When I hit the pavement for the last 25 yards I sprinted full out for the finish.

Run Goal: 41:00
Ben's Time: 45:33
Rach's Time: 27:02

What does it all mean?

When I crossed the line the race clock read 2:30:13 but I wasn't sure how far back my wave had started. It turned out we were about 19 minutes after the start of the race, so I ended up with a final time of 2:11:13. I didn't hit a goal time in any of my disciplines, and wasn't even close on the bike. Amazingly, my best time to goal was on the run, probably because I had finally thawed out by that point.

In terms of standings it's a disappointing 208/208... last place for the triathlon. While it's the standing I wanted there are a couple clear caveats to this placement:
  • There is no doubt that these were not the ideal or even standard race conditions. Just getting through the swim without assistance, let alone the rest of the race makes it a success.
  • The last 3 swim waves were cancelled and their race times grouped under the run/bike. This includes the newbies, many of whom had 1+ hour bike rides that would surely have put many of them behind me with even a good swim.
  • With the exception of the transitions which were slower for obvious reasons, none of the 3 stages were the slowest I've ever done for that discipline. In fact, the run/walk was the fastest 5k I've ever done in a tri, by over a minute.
  • Did I mention the rescue boat sank? That has to count for something.
In the end, this was the hardest overall tri I've done yet, and I was only a couple minutes off my average time and about 35 minutes over my goal time. There are a lot of things to work on, but in my mind this was a success that I can build on. Plus, Rach is already pushing me to schedule another sprint before we move on to the Olympic distance.

Next up: Lessons learned and heading back to training.. 


  1. Ben,
    Your finish time doesn't matter, what does is that you were able to finish an epic race like that. You'll be able to look back during any of your future races when the times get tough to this day and know that you can make it.
    Congratulations on overcoming the elements and finishing another tri!

  2. Congrats on finishing! Extremely tough conditions and to stick with it is awesome! If Rachelle hadn't scared you so bad I think you would have done better:) Seriously, completing that tri is a great accomplishment.

  3. Congrats on finishing!!! It sounds like it was a crazy race. Well done, keep up the good work!

  4. Derek - Yeah, I alternate back and forth between really proud and somewhat frustrated. it's one of those things where battling through was great, but I need to take it as a lesson that we didn't have anywhere near enough hill training for that race.

    Barb - Thanks. I do think Rach's swim threw me off significantly, but at the same time, it shows we need to plan for this. I am going to keep my phone with me for bikes and runs going forward and the rule will be if I dont get a call, I keep going.

    Jeff - Thanks. I'm not even sure crazy does it justice with the effort I was seeing people put in just to finish.