Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's on!

I've done a lot more learning in the past 24 hours about the Club national Championship race, and I'm really excited to say I made a hotel reservation yesterday.

The race itself is kind of interesting in how it works. As with state and regional club championships, anyone can sign up to do the race as if there were nothing special going on at the race. if you happen to be a member of a team, and register with your team information, your team gets participation points for you being involved. Then if you get on a podium (or in this case are in the top ten for your age group), you are given additional points for doing well.

Because the nationals are held in different locations each year, the local clubs have an advantage in that they can bring a boatload of team members, rack up a bunch of participation points, and win without necessarily doing well in the actual race. To counteract that, USA Triathlon came up with the idea of distance points. That way, member clubs from further away who send smaller delegations have a way of evening the playing field.

For example, based on the fact that my flight will be approximately 723 miles, I fall within the category that receives 40 distance points. That, plus my 1 participation point means I can do no worse than 41 points. Of course local clubs with just 5 or 6 members competing who manage to place can easily do better than that. But it is kind of an interesting way of approaching competition and finding a way to be fair to all teams, especially those that have to travel a good distance to participate in this already expensive sport.

And that's not my only excitement. I've decided on mountain biking instead of cyclocross, at least for this year. Theres a very short local race in a little over a weeks time. It's only a 6 mile ride, and it's at the campground where Rach and I stayed the weekend we came to pick out our apartment. It's got some climbing, but I'm told it's not overly technical, and according to the race promoter I should be able to walk or run over any obstacles I can't handle riding over. He said for someone who's done an half-ironman it shouldn't be too much of a workout. I told him you should see who they let finish HIM's these days. (*rimshot*) I'm not the worlds fastest or stongest climber, but I think this should be pretty fun. Maybe I'll be terrible, but it looks like something I'd enjoy trying and a fall/winter/spring of this kind of riding has to be good for my climbing.

Now I just have to get a bike. I've got one I'm looking at off Craigslist, and if it fits me, it's probably the best deal for the money I'll find. I'm hopeful that adding in some challenging cross training that's still on a bike will help me to get stronger from a cardio standpoint which will help me immensely with climbing in races, and just being stronger, lighter, and faster.

Speaking of getting lighter, my weight is now only about 5 pounds more than race day. I'm eating better, and went for my first short run yesterday. I jumped into the C25K program at week 3, and am using an app on my phone to track progress. it doesn't measure distance, just time. So it will be interesting to see how I progress in this manner. It was an 18 minute workout, and it only calls for you to run half the time. Based on where I am in recovery it feels like the right amount of work, and it grows in strenuousness each week.


- I've updated my results for the year to include all of the races. I got a little lazy on updating the details. I still need to add a few folks to readers who write, so I'll be doing that this weekend.

- Tomorrow, there will be a reader poll, somehow, I think. I need your guidance in deciding something, and it is well beyond time I use the sounding board you're becoming to help me make a decision you folks will wind up reading about.

- Last but certainly not least, I heard back from WTC yesterday. I am told to expect my Timberman finishers medal in the mail in the next 2-3 weeks. It takes them a couple weeks to make them and get them sent out.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Two big races yesterday and some even bigger results.

First, Tyler Wright tackled IM Canada. Let's set aside for a moment that this is a guy who is a former professional hockey player. His first triathlon is an Ironman, and he truly proved he was worthy of the title. His 2.4 mile swim was a mere 1:12. Let me spell that out; one hour and twelve minutes. That's exactly 10 minutes longer than my 1.2 mile swim. I guess his second mile was really fast, because 1:02 is the physical human limit for the first mile. His bike was a mere 6:14, meaning he averaged almost 18 MPH over some brutal climbs. 

He put up just terrific numbers all day long, and continued it all the way into the run. His first half-marathon split was just above a 10 minute/mile pace. So he tore up the swim, he tore up the bike, and then went out and hit my dream pace on the first half of the run. He finished it up with a 2:35 second split for a marathon time of 4:48. His first marathon was sub-5 hours, and his total time was 12:29:59. That's only 3 1/2 hours more than it took me to do the half-Iron. 

And to think he did this all for charity. Last I heard, Tyler had raised over $40,000 for the Blue Jackets Foundation. While that's terrific work for one man doing one race, I'm sorry to say it isn't enough. It won't be enough until childhood cancers and other diseases are eradicated. So if you're even close to as impressed with what he did as I am, I urge you to donate. Just follow the instructions on the Team Tyler link up on the tool bar to give.

So now, let's move from the efforts of one man to the efforts of one team. Specifically Team Wheelworks in the USA Triathlon New England Regional Championship held today at the Cranberry Triathlon Festival. Specifically, for going all out and winning the Division III club championship. 18 team members raced, and multiple team members came early and stayed late to cheer with a singular goal; getting enough points to bring us the win. We had a few podiums, and most importantly we had a lot of fun. There were a lot of competitive teams this weekend, but we were able to pull out the win on a hot, humid day with little breeze to cool the racers. Rach even overheated just hanging out while we watched and cheered our teammates on.

So what does this success mean to me? It means that for the first time in my life I'm a regional champion at something. It's not like I've never been a part of a winning team; In little league baseball, my team won our league one year. In Odyssey of the Mind, we won a district in our state for a really funny skit. I was thrilled to be a part of our winning today, but I had really hoped to be on the course racing for points of my own. So when I learned there's a National Club Championship, I thought "Ooh, that sounds fun! I should do that". I figured we won our region, we should go to Nationals.

Then I found out the race is just over a month away, and it's South Carolina, near where Rachelle's sister goes to school. And then I found out it's a weekend when Rach is out of town, so doing the race is a lot better than me sitting around playing video games and taking it easy as fall sets in. WheelWorks is a pretty laid back club for the most part, so it's not like we set our sites on a national championship when the season starts. We're out to have fun, get better as triathletes, and enjoy each others company.

This trip to the national championship offers me an additional opportunity to continue to do all of those things. I'll spend time with my sister-in-law, do a nice fast race, and then relax in the warmth of South Carolina for another day before flying home. There are 3 distances to choose from, all with a lake swim, completely closed roads, and most importantly totally flat. I'm doing the sprint, mostly because with my running training plan it's the race I'll be most prepared for. By prepared for, I mean "totally going to PR". 

I still need to do some confirmation with USA Triathlon, but if it all works as I think it does, I'm going to do this. It's just the kind of thing I will enjoy, no matter how well I do. But I'm going to do well. I have time to train and finally a race that suits me.

Finally, back to the efforts of a single man. This time, it's the effort of my friend Derek A. who kicked some butt at Cranberry today. He mumbled something about missing "his goal" after the race. I know what it feels like to miss a goal, but what I saw was him slaughtering a very hot course and looking strong even at the end. He definitely beat my likely Olympic distance time, which hopefully we'll figure out what that is next year. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

New Challenges, Kind Words, and a shout out to Tyler Wright

Yesterday, I started laying out the next years goals. I'd like to share some of that feedback.

From my wife: (on her facebook account) "Four Days after our HIM, Benny said the 'I' word.". Because she's waiting on a knee exam, she's obviously a little less enthusiastic than her normal competitive self. But she later sent me a text message saying "I'm starting to warm up to the idea of doing *Race name withheld until we learn the date in a few weeks*".

From my mother: "That is too far. 140.6 miles is just too far. I don't want you having a heart attack on the course". I explained to her that I'll be training for about a year, and that we'll potentially be doing a race that will be close enough to spend time with them. "You can't spend time with me if you're dead".

So, now that I've started exploring what we're going to do next and how we're going to train to get there, the next step was to stop laying around and at least try to do a little physical activity. Last night, I decided to take the bike to my Bikes not Bombs instructor class. It's only a few miles away on mostly flat city streets and it's in a well lit area.

The total climbing for this ride is probably about 15 feet. And yet every time the road went up, my legs complained. What wouldn't have even have seemed like a speed bump during the race is just flat taking my legs out right now. It took me about 30 minutes to go the 3 miles to the shop. Some of that was me getting lost, but the rest of it was my legs having no juice. The way home was a little better as it goes mostly downhill, but I still wasn't close to 100%.  I'm going to ride over there again tonight, because I feel like doing a little bit each day will help things along.

On to another subject. To those of you who read my race day emotional outpouring thank you post, you know how much all the kindness has meant to me. I've had a real outpouring of congratulations from family, friends, and mostly complete strangers as well. Not all of it is here on the blog, but a lot of it is. And I wanted to take this time to say thanks again, and not only are your comments always welcome, but as I look to tackle new challenges, your input will definitely be even more appreciated as I start trying to figure out what the next year will look like.

Finally, Sunday is the Ironman Canada race. It's finally time for Team Tyler to tear it up! 140.6 of prime Canadian soil (and water) will be traversed all in the name of charity. In his recent daily emails to supporters, Tyler has mentioned his first bike crash (in the week before the race no less), long hours of training (and some long massages to follow them), and even getting down to his lowest weight in over 10 years. Now, he's gone through packet pickup and is at the end of his taper, with race day just a couple days away. I'll be at Cranberry cheering for our teammates, but I'll have my Nexus One pointed at the Ironman Live site, getting updates on Tyler's progress.

If you haven't already donated folks, now's the time.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guts, Glory, and a medal...so what's next?

Before we get to the future, let's iron out a tiny bit more about the past.

- Some folks may be asking "Where's the traditional picture of Ben with his finishers medal?". As I mentioned in yesterdays post, the official photographer was no longer in attendance at the time of the my completing the race. Plus, they actually ran out of the official finishers medal for the 70.3 race before I finished, so they gave us the finisher medals from the sprint distance.
Rachelle's medal on left, mine on the right

The fact that I currently only have the smaller medal isn't a big deal, as it's a nice medal and it doesn't say "sprint distance" on it. It also doesn't say 70.3 or Ironman, so it doesn't exactly feel right either. The race organizers have promised to send everyone who finished and got the smaller medal the proper medal, and it should arrive within the week. So shortly, there will be a picture of my correct medal filing the empty nail in the wall of the bedroom. The smaller one doesn't belong there, so I've got that hanging on my desk at work next to one of my race numbers.


Now for the new stuff:

Timberman has now come and gone. I fought through pain, exhaustion, and negative thoughts with the help of family, friends, and total strangers to finish. About 8 months of serious training has been validated and I've proven I can go beyond anything I've previously done to reach a lofty goal.

The first two days after the race I didn't want to think of riding or running even a little. Once I got past that I started feeling a bit empty as there was no longer a significant goal out there for me to reach for. I realized the competitor within me was not satisfied with just that one accomplishment, as I still have many goals in terms of competition and health that I have yet to accomplish.

So the question that came next is: what do i do now?

The answer to that question is both simple and complex. First let's start with what I'm not doing.
  • Working out this week. Rach and I are both taking a much needed break from pushing ourselves physically. Rach is going to get her knee looked at before she gets back to training, and I'm taking some much needed rest and recuperation. I may take a couple of very short bike rides over to the bike co-op for class, but that would be strictly at a very relaxed pace.
  • Cranberry Olympic Triathlon. When Rach and I did our race schedule this year, we really wanted to provide effort that benefited the team as much as we have benefited from it. We signed up for Cranberry with the idea that even though neither of us would win, we'd provide some points for finishing that could help win the regional club championship. Plus, as we're the defending champs, I wanted to take part in a race where I might actually win something as opposed to coming in last on a regular basis. Sadly, with Rach's knee and my generally slow recovery, providing any kind of effort in regards to this race just wouldn't amount to much. I keep wanting to do it, only to think about the 10k at the end of the race and realize there's no way my body is ready for that. Sunny, our club prez, did Timberman as well and she's going to Cranberry strictly to cheer on the team, and encouraged us to do the same. We'll be joining her, and helping with the team tent. We didn't defer our registration, so we'll get our shirts and goodie bags and can partake in the post race food, but we'll be on the sidelines for this one, rooting for WheelWorks Multisport to take home the trophy.
So now for what I am going to do. I've outlined some specific projects I want to work on, and the goals I'm associating with them.

Couch to 5k. On Saturday, I'm re-starting the running program I was working on this summer. My running needs work, and without a triathlon to train for, I can focus almost wholly on my running. My goal is to run a 35 minute 5k sometime this fall. And it might seem like I'm reaching, but I really want to do 10 minute miles before too long. First things first.

Cyclocross or Mountain biking. Rach has talked about the idea of winter triathlons. Frankly, the idea of running in snow and even crazier, snowshoeing, is something she can keep to herself, thank you very much. But the idea of doing some mountain biking (part of winter tri's) or perhaps cyclocross (sort of halfway between a mountain bike and a road bike, with some running mixed in) are ideas that are tantalizing to me. There may be no races in my future in either discipline, but there are places to do that kind of riding not too far from home. Plus it gives us the excuse to go bike shopping again. The goal in expanding to either of these disciplines is to give me a good way in the fall to work on my climbing. I'm not sure which direction this will go, but it's something I'll be working on in the next couple months.

Losing Weight. In doing any of the items I have listed here, my ultimate physical goal is to lose weight and get in better physical shape. There can be no doubt I'm stronger, a little lighter, and faster than I was a year ago. But I'm still at least 80 pounds overweight, and I intend to make a big dent in that this year. I've got some goals in this area I'll be outlining in the next few days once I figure out the exact dates and plans.

Another 70.3. Rach and I participated in the Minuteman Sprint associated with the Patriot Half-Ironman earlier this year. Even before Timberman, Rach was talking about wanting to do the Patriot Half next summer. Once Rach graduates, we aren't sure where we'll be living, as she's going to have to find a job. Ideally we'll be in Boston, but that isn't clear. The Patriot looked to be a less difficult course than Timberman, and it's at a time of year that should be early enough that it won't be affected even if we need to move. My goal with this would be to reduce my time for this distance by at least an hour, and ideally shooting for Rach's time at Timberman of 7:30.

Oh, and one last small thing.... I want to do an Ironman. 

More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Timberman: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Now that I've had a couple of days to celebrate learn how to walk again following my successful completion of Timberman 70.3, I've been doing sort of a post mortem on both how I did and the experience of participating in the race as a whole. I'm going to break this down as best I can in a minute, but first I want to take a quick second to update you as to my current status:

 I think art is my true calling
In the above picture, you see 2 drawings of me. On the left is me normally. On the right is me right now. Everything inside the red line hurts. The soreness and associated other ailments have subsided over the past couple of days, but I'm still at least 2 days from feeling like a human being rather than a test subject for torture devices. As an example; I don't have feet, I have blisters on the bottom of my ankles.

Also, I've been eating like someone who just got out of prison. While the initial motivation to begin competing in triathlons was to further my weight loss, I have come to understand it's natural to be ravenous following a race like this, and that it's best to go with the flow for a couple of days. I have gained about 8 pounds since race morning, but I've read that once you start eating normally (so, today) and your body recovers from the race experience, weight loss resumes in earnest. So I'm looking forward to that.

I'll have more on my plans for the future tomorrow, but today I'm going to focus on the recent past that was Timberman Weekend.

The good:
Yeah! It's 5:00 somewhere. Oh, that's supposed to be PM?
  • The Lake Winniepesaukee region. This part of New Hampshire is absolutely breathtaking. Definitely a place we'll return to, regardless of racing. The mountains, the trees, the lakes, the houses and all of the beautiful blue skies (except during the run, of course). 
  • The participants. Such phenomenal, courageous, amazing people. From the folks who kept asking about the blog (seriously, you people acted more excited to meet me than I was to meet you, which is completely untrue), to the people I didn't know who kept encouraging me when they passed me as I walked up a hill, or just plain walked on the run course. I feel honored to have been among you for that race. Special shout out to Henry, who has the courage of 10 men for pushing through 9 1/2 hours to finish that race. 
  • The volunteers. I thought about what helped me the most in getting through this race, and while a ton of things are right up there, nothing was more physically beneficial than the "snowballs" provided at the aide station manned by the junior hockey team. There's simply no way I could have run that last mile if I hadn't been doing my best to cool down with the ice they provided.
  • The race organizers. 2500 people in a single race is a gigantic undertaking and frankly they made it seem like it wasn't hard at all. We've done a few races this season and volunteered at another. This was the only race of the season I attended that actually started on time. Transition was well organized, the packet pickup was beautifully engineered, and the on site festival was simple but nice.
  • The fans. If I hadn't been running, I would have stuck around until the pros finished, and then scuttled off to do some relaxing in the water or have a few drinks at Patrick's. The fans we saw were die hards, including the guy (pictured above) who parked next to us when we pulled in the lot at 4 AM. He opened his first Bud Light at 4:05 AM, and was fun to talk to up until it was time to hit transition. 
  • My Run. I never EVER expected to put this segment of my race on the "Good" list, but seriously, a negative split in a half-marathon at the end of 9 hours racing is an accomplishment I can really hang my hat on.
The Bad:
Chest hair is making a comeback, right?
  • My swim. So yeah, 1.2 miles in 1:02 isn't that bad, but it should have been at least 5 minutes shorter. I took a bad line to start the race, and then I kept going left, which is really weird. I never swim like that, and the fact that it happened when I was swimming out and in tells me it wasn't caused by the water. I'll have to work on that for next race for sure.
  • Selection at the Timberman shop. Technically, it wasn't the selection so much as the stock levels. We arrived on the first day, just a few hours after the race festival opened. And by the time we got there, a majority of the stock for the best items were already gone. Let me rephrase; the stock for the best items for people bigger than size XL was already gone. The people who run events like this (in this case WTC) need to realize that the Clydesdale set is a growing (see what I did there?) part of their customer base and need to stock appropriately. There were some awesome cycling jerseys that were down only to XL, and a specific T-shirt that there was only a single shirt left in any size. 
  • The rain during the run. As much as my effort went into the good, the rain during the run was definitely bad. It rained hard enough to make it uncomfortable and fill my shoes with water, but not enough to pull any humidity out of the air. It just made the run generally feel worse.
  • Missing out on dinner with the Beginner Triathletes. When we got to the restaurant, they told us there was no way they'd be able to seat the whole party, and if they did it would be a long wait. So Rach and I went elsewhere because we were starving. Turns out, they seated everyone and a great time was had by all. Except Rach and I who weren't there.
  • The Race photographer. They left before the race ended. This is not the first time this has happened, but I seriously wanted an official picture of me crossing the finish line and with my medal, and I didn't get one. They sent out an email asking for feedback about the race pictures,  and I shared this with them, and will be sharing it with the race organizers as well.
The Ugly:
  • I believe I mentioned my blisters once already. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Race Report: Timberman Ironman 70.3

As I drove home from New Hampshire today, I thought to myself how can I make this post express the proper amount of drama without overdoing it?

"It was the best of times, it was the worst for times"

Nothing against Dickens, but that's way over the top considering anyone who visited yesterday and took a look at the Ironman Live link knows that I finished the race.

"It's as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced"

Wow, Obi-Wan, thanks for the buzz kill. I finished the race, remember? No planet destroying lasers were involved in Sunday's race.

"All this happened, more or less"

Thank you Mr. Vonnegut for just the right amount of drama.

The Swim

My wave went off at 7:50 which gave me 50 minutes from the time the pros went off to sit and think. Rach went off at 7:20 and it was the last time I'd see her for about 5 hours. That gave me 30 minutes to warm up a little in the water, but I spent most of that time sitting on my butt thinking about how the race was going to go. I wasn't really nervous anymore, hadn't been since early Saturday. I talked for a few minutes with my friend Bob from Beginner Triathlete, then he took off. And it was just me again with my thoughts, watching wave after wave take off into the swim.

Finally, 7:45 came, and we waded into the water, waist deep. I took a line to the far left knowing that there were 6 more waves behind me and swimmers in each of those waves would wind up passing me. The air horn went off, I started my timer and started walking. The water is pretty shallow for at least 100 yards so unless you're a super fast swimmer, walking will save you time and energy. Eventually, I dove in and started swimming. I felt fine, I felt fresh. We hadn't swam in almost a week, which was just long enough to be rested but not so long that I didn't feel comfortable.

I managed to go about 300 yards before I paused to take a break. I thought I'd been sighting ok, but the buoys seemed more to the right than I had planned. When I got to about 500 yards, one of the course marshals told me I was swimming too far left. I picked a new line and headed in the direction of the buoys only to figure out I was still drifting left. Whether it was the waves or my swim stroke, I was definitely swimming left. That's when I switched to breast stroke to make a clearer line towards the turn buoy. I checked my timer as I hit the first turn, and it said 28:00.

That's when I first got nervous. Here I was just over 30% of the swim done, and I'd eaten almost half my time.

I had counted on my swim to be solid so as not to eat into my extra time, and hoped to have some time to spare in transition. As I headed down towards the second turn buoy, I really focused on being on a good line to the turn, whether that meant freestyle or breast stroke. I alternated pretty regularly at that point just to keep my line strong, and I felt like I was keeping a comfortable pace. When I got to the second turn and checked my pace again, it was only 10 minutes later, at 38:00. I knew I'd done the swim out in 28:00, even with a bad line, so if I focused on a strong line and swam hard I might be able to make up some more ground.

Swimming in was actually more effort than swimming out, but I took a better line, and it helped a lot. Even with a fairly long walk up the beach to the timing mat, I still managed to get through the swim in 1:02. I'd hoped for 1 hour, and I was only 2 minutes off. I still had 8 minutes of swim time to take for my transition, and could relax and do things right.

The Bike
Just think, other people had to see this in action, not just in a picture

I got through transition, walked the bike out to the mounting line (where I saw my friend John Young, who took the pictures of me coming out of transition both times) and started riding. There's a small hill just outside Ellacoya State Park that is the beginning of the bike course. I looked at this as my first little test. In my previous "bad" races, the first hill of any effort at all had left me at a standstill. This time I rode right to the top and kept on going. I knew this wasn't even close to the worst hill I'd see all day, but getting over it pretty easily was a good start.

We'd driven the race course a couple of times, so I knew what to expect. After that first little hill, things were easy for the next 4 miles or so, and then comes a long slow climb. Thankfully, while it's about 2 miles long, it isn't that steep, and I was able to ride up through it. Then there's a nice downhill that lets you pick up speed before heading up what I thought would be the worst climb of the day. (Yes, that's some foreshadowing). It was every bit as bad as I thought and I'm not the least bit ashamed to say I walked a good chunk of the largest hill on the course.

That's when the fun started.

You see, from mile 12 to the turnaround about mile 28, there is 16 miles of nice gradual downhill. It's so gradual you almost don't notice it's downhill. What you notice is that you can click up into the big ring up front and put the hammer down. I was over 18 MPH for a good chunk of these 16 miles, and for a while over 20 MPH. Considering how slowly I'd done the first 11 miles, it was a real good thing I was able to make up a chunk through the turn around. My split at the halfway point was 2:01:07, a mere minute over the pace I'd set for myself. I'd even gotten to see Rach biking her way back in, so things we're going well. So well in fact, I allowed myself to enjoy the seemingly endless number of people who as they passed me asked if I was the Ben with the Timberman Blog. When they heard I was, they seemed very excited, wished me luck and told me I was going to make it.

Unfortunately, while the way out didn't seem that bad, it wasn't going to get any easier from here on in.

The lovely gradual downhill on the way out is of course a gradual uphill on the way back in. Plus, to make sure the bike hits the proper distance, you take a little side cut on the way back to add on a little distance. That little distance also adds more climbing which brought me my first real spell of trouble in the race. When I stopped to take a break after the last climb of the side cut, both of my thighs seized up. It hurt so bad as I stood there, I honestly thought I'd have to quit. I couldn't even move the legs to walk a little. So I just decided to wait it out, drinking nearly a whole bottle of Gatorade and trying to relax. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait long, as the muscles relaxed just a minute later. I walked for a quick second then hopped on the bike and got going again.

From there it was pretty smooth sailing until the turn back to the base of the big hill going back the other direction. Technically it was a little hill even before the big hill. It was too steep, so I had to walk part of it. Then I walked most of the big one too. Precious minutes were being eaten away because I was forced to walk the bike up these hills my legs didn't have the strength for. It was near the top of the big hill that I realized I'd probably be getting into my extra time a little during the ride, and that I'd have to make every second of the big downhill count for me.

So, I did. To the tune of a maximum speed of 47.3 miles per hour. No, that isn't metric, that's in miles. I didn't pedal for almost 4 miles as the speed of the descent carried me down to the base of the last climb before the downhill turning onto the road back to the park. I worked that downhill as well, though not as hard as the first, and I coasted up until the last couple minutes prior to the turn.

That's when I remembered there were still two more hills left on the bike course.

There I was at about 3:50 on the clock and around 5 miles left to go on the course and staring me in the face were 2 hills that I didn't have the legs for. So I rode every bit I could, and then I walked. The bigger of the two, the last hill on the bike, I walked almost all of it. Reaching the top, I got down the backside pretty quickly and turned into the park. My watch now showed 4:15 as I headed down to the dismount and timing mats. I'd burnt almost 15 minutes of my buffer time dealing with those last couple hills, and I still had a transition and half marathon to do. 

And anyone who has read the blog knows the run is my weakest discipline.

The Run

I know, it's supposed to be a run. But this is what I had to give
It took me about 5 minutes to get out of transition again because I forgot my damn race belt so I had to pin my number to my front, and I felt weird having them both on so I took the back one off. Stupid I know, but you do what you have always done. At this point I realized because of not adding in my swim-to-bike transition, I had actually used up all of my bonus time, and would have to finish the 1/2 marathon in close to my best time in order to make it in under the wire.

To be honest, I felt pretty lousy after getting off the bike. I knew I didn't have it in my legs to run, at least not initially. While everyone who trains for triathlons trains for the mind numbing muscle confusion from when you get off a bike and start running right away (try it some time and see what I mean), no one except the professionals actually do a 56 mile ride and then a run in training. So I figured I'd walk the first mile and see if I felt like I could run then.

And then I walked the second... and then the 3rd, too.

When I got to the first split timing mat, I had just done around 3 1/4 miles in 48 minutes, a time I knew if repeated wasn't going to get the job done. I needed to average around 15:30/mile the rest of the way if I was going to finish in time.

On the way out for the first pass, I'd seen Rach ending her first lap; she looked good and at ease and when I saw her, she was running so her knees must not have been too bad at that point. She even came around to catch me while I was on the way out and walked with me for a minute before taking off to run some more. I saw her a final time on the course as I was getting ready to make a turn out and she was heading into her last couple miles. She was walking now but looking like she was going to finish strong.

On the way back in to finish the first loop, the mile markers seemed like they just weren't coming fast enough but every time I got to one I was hitting just above 15:20. There were a lot of hills on this tight little course so it felt like each mile was taking more effort than the last. Plus, it was on the way in for the first loop that I was finding that my breathing was getting away from me and I couldn't keep it under control enough to get my core temperature down. My body was running hot at this point, and the little actual running I was doing was just an occasional shuffle on some of the downhills.

When I got back to begin the second loop, I saw my time was going to be very close. In fact, I knew if I didn't run a negative split (meaning faster on the second loop than the first) I simply wasn't going to make it.

That's when the fear, doubt, and pain really began to set in. I had gone almost 64 miles at this point, and to see it all come up a few minutes short was seeming like a real possibility. One voice in my head said "Theyre going to pull you off the course soon, why dont you relax, stop suffering now, walk home the rest of the way slow and easy, and you can still say you went 70.3 miles". Another one said "Even if you finish a couple minutes short, you need to give it all so you can say you did and mean it". And finally another one said "Sure, it might be 2 minutes over, but if you pick it up, it could be 3 minutes under, too".

I didn't really believe that 3rd voice, but I started putting everything I had into every step. I wasn't running at all at this point and I hurt basically everywhere, but I wasn't going to stop. It was then too that I realized I hadn't been passed by anyone in a while. It wasn't too much later that an amazing man named JD from the race organization came along and told me I was indeed the last person on the course.

To some people, that might be disheartening. But you see, by now I'm used to being the last one on the course in a lot of the races I do. There were still a few people on the other side of the street headed back in on their final passes, but no one was behind me, and only one guy was in front of me. An older looking gentleman who was walking as I was. He was probably a 1/4 mile ahead of me and keeping a pretty good pace.

JD told me that they would stay with me, that each year they go out and stay with the last runner who could potentially make the time cutoff, and be with them until they made it across the line. The way he trailed off on the end of the sentence left the unsaid "or run out of time" silently hanging in the air like a text balloon in a cartoon. No matter, I was bound and determined to give it a go, especially as I wasn't the only one left on the course holding the race team from closing up and going home.

I slowly crept my way towards the guy in front of me, who I would later learn was a wonderful man named Henry, and even passed him for a time just after the final turn to come home. At the turn, my timer said I'd managed a 52:00 minute split and I was now in real danger of not finishing. I had to be at least 2 minutes faster than my most recent split to finish on time. And I was now completely exhausted.

I'd done a pretty good job through the race of staying hydrated. I did about 6 bottles of Gatorade while I was on the bike, had a few GU's and even eaten a little. But on the run, I simply couldn't cool down, and every time I stopped concentrating on it, my breathing became fast and labored again. I was getting scared that even those close, I still wasn't going to make it. Plus, by this point, Henry had dug down deep and found something I hadn't and was pulling away from me a little bit. The climbs up each of the hills were really taking a toll on me.

And that's when JD, who had been up encouraging Henry came back to me and said "Is there a family member or someone waiting for you who you'd like to have put your medal on you when you get to the line?" My thoughts immediately went to Rachelle and how she'd put so much time and effort into training with me, about how she had fought through the knee pain to finish the race and how much I wanted to do everything I could to finish this race for her.

And that's when I started running again. Not for very long but still a pretty decent downhill. That was at mile 11. I had climbed a long climb and lost a bit of time. It was now from questionable to doubtful that I'd finish in time. There were just still too much distance and not enough time left. I walked as fast as I could up the next hill and got to mile 12. I was passing mile 12 with about 18 minutes left. With the pace I'd done the last mile, I was now pacing at outside the time I had left, and I knew if I didn't try to run almost the rest of the whole next mile I wasn't going to make it.

So I started running again, and this time I didn't stop. To anyone that saw me, I'm sure it didn't look like much, me shuffling my feet up and down the last hill and along the road leading back into the park. But I moved my feet as fast as I could. When I got to the judges table I asked how much time I had left and they said "You got it! Keep going! But whatever you do, don't stop running!" As I came around the corner into the park, JD (I think it was him, by this time I really wasn't able to focus very well on anything except moving my damn feet), came running up and said "You're gonna make it, but you cannot stop running! Don't stop!"

Me, JD, and Henry's left arm from Rach's point of view at the line
Only then did I finally look up at the time on the clock. I had managed to run a 12 minute mile from mile 12 to 13, and was going to finish inside the time limit!!

I crossed the line in 8 hours, 57 minutes, and 19 seconds. I had needed almost every bit of the extra time I'd been given from being placed in a middle starting wave. But it didn't matter,. I finished.

No, I'm not going bald, it's just a bad picture of my head
I'll have lots of lessons learned, things that went right, things that went wrong, and all sorts of tidbits about the weekend to share with you over the next few days. But the most important thing I learned from finishing this race is that nothing is really finished. Completing a Half-Ironman didn't turn me into a lean triathlon machine, give me ripped abs, or conquer my food demons once and for all. But it showed me that these are things I can and will do.

I guess in short that while yesterday I beat Timberman, I will always still need to work on Becoming Timberman.
Here's the math

Sunday, August 22, 2010

In a nutshell, thanks.

NOTE: The Timberman Athlete Tracker link can be found here. Look for the link on that page for Timberman 70.3 athlete tracking. You can search by Bib Number or name. My bib is 1592, and Rach's is 545. Of course you can just search by our last name (Berry) as well. Rach should be leaving the water for her first time check sometime around 8:10-8:20, and the time checks seem to run about 20 minute behind or so. If you're tracking for me, my wave starts at 7:50, so sometime around 8:50 I should be leaving the water. After that it's just whatever intervals they say they're displaying times at throughout the day.

I can't tell you how many times I've started typing this post only to stop and re-think what I had to say. It starts a little slow, so please bare with me.

A little over a year ago, when I was in the middle of my first season of doing triathlons, and not long after we moved to Boston, my wife decided she wanted to start doing triathlons with me. Not one to start slow, Rach said "We should do a half-Ironman race". Of course she did it without thinking of what it would take to train and prepare for a race of that size. The longest race I'd done when we started talking about a 70.3 was less than 20 miles. We'd be undertaking a mammoth challenge to say the least. Plus Rach seems to forget I didn't just get fat by eating too much; I'm also very lazy. I love video games and TV's, and other sedentary hobbies.

But somehow I knew she was right. Not only should we do a half-Ironman, but we would do a half-Ironman. Now, the question became which one? Thankfully, there are many choices for this distance of race living here in New England, and at least 4 happen inside a couple hours drive. A few of those races are actually Ironman branded races, run by the World Triathlon Corporation. To Rachelle, these were of course the target, because she wanted to be able tell someone she didn't just do any half-Ironman, she did one of the "official" ones. Yes, my wife is that competitive.

Unfortunately, aside from being lazy and fat, I am also fairly phobic about sharks. I grew up in the midwest, where we don't have salt water, so the constant news stories about shark sightings in New England coastal waters have provided some road blocks to ocean swims of significant distance. This ruled out a couple of the local Ironman 70.3 races, and pointed us towards Timberman.

After we decided for sure which race to do, which was decidedly easy, then came the hard part; training. But at first, that was easy too. When it's winter here in Boston, and it's like 5 degrees outside, heading over to the warmth of BU FitRec for a swim in a really nice pool is fairly easy to do. I distinctly remember not having any problems getting up early to outdoor temperatures around 5 degrees because I knew I'd wind up swimming for long stretches.

Of course, long stretches back then aren't what they are now. When we first started our swim training, I could barely get through a few hundred yards before I'd be too exhausted to even pull myself out of the pool. I remember complaining about how tired I was and how hard it was, and that after I attended a swim clinic I was faster but I couldn't breathe worth a damn.

Depending on when you're reading this, I could be in the water at Timberman right now, pulling my way through 1.2 miles of choppy water and faster swimmers trying to get done under the time limit. Each stroke I take will be because of effort I put in during training.  Every person who read this blog, and offered me swimming advice or just commented to let me know that I could do it is responsible for some part of that effort. And for that I say thank you.

Maybe I'm on the bike course. If so, think about me smiling and enjoying myself. Because there will definitely be some of that going on. While training for swimming was a struggle at times, only rarely did i ever have trouble getting myself off the couch and onto a bike. But in the dead of winter, riding a stationary bike for 25 miles through a pattern of imaginary hills is kind of a pain in the ass. Especially when we're doing that instead of home on the couch watching my Blue Jackets.

Then there are those summer Saturdays with 90 degree heat and 95% humidity comes calling, and we've got a 40 mile bike , it can be less than appealing. So if you're reading this while I'm out on the bike course, don't worry about me too much. Because every time I turn the crank around and pedal my way up some hill, it'll be because of the support you gave on the days of the long hot rides, or when the bikes were stolen that helped me to dig deep and not panic. So thanks. Unless I'm working my way up some steep hill at that point. Because that sucks, and I'm not thanking anyone for that.

Maybe you're reading this while I'm on the run course. If so, I don't know if i can thank anyone for that, because running is still a shitty thing to do. Seriously, the person who added running to this races is just not a nice person. While my running hasn't improved much this season, at least I know I can walk the distance, and hopefully at a faster pace than what i did the 10k in on 1/1. I will be thankful for a lot of things during the running portion though:
- That every mile of swimming and biking is behind me.
- That each mile of walking brings me closer to the finish
- That all the general fitness improvement will allow me to get through the run
So I guess if you're reading this while I'm on the run course; Thanks. I think.

Whenever you're reading this on Sunday while I'm out there on the course trying to Become Timberman; Thank you. This experience has been gratifying, humbling, uplifting, and about 50 other words that end in -ing that I can't even think of right now. This blog has put me in touch with people all over the world, literally from every continent except Antartica, and truly helped to keep me motivated even in the worst of times. I didn't lose all the weight that I hoped, or become a monster triathlete in this process. In fact, for all my confidence and bravado, I don't know how today will turn out. I know that I've trained, and I'm ready for the distance and the effort.

Regardless of what happens, I won't quit.

In the end, dear readers, I thank you. For everything you've done to be part of this, even if it was just stopping by to read a post once in a while, I thank you.


There are a few people I want to take a minute to thank, and since it's my blog I know they wont start trying to play me off the stage.

To Bengi, Chuck, Dan, Tim, Barb, and all of my other friends. I thank you. Just by being the people you are you've motivated me in my life, and so I say thanks. I couldn't have gotten here without you at some points along the way.

To Derek, John, RAD70, Caratunk Girl, and every other triathlete anywhere who has made time to offer advice or encouragement here on the blog, I say thank you. I learned a lot from each of you, and saw what it really meant to strive to compete.

To all the members of Wheelworks Multisport, thank you. Whether it was riding with Sunny, competing together at the races this year, or just hanging out at the bar, being a part of this team this year has really helped this non-traditional triathlete feel like he belongs in this sport with the rest of you uber-athletes. So to you I say thanks.

To everyone from Bike Forums, Beginner Triathlete, Slow Twitch, and HookIt, thanks. Every person who has talked triathlon or just biking, and helped me with my millions of insecure newbie questions, I say thank you. The triathlon and cycling worlds are much to the better because of the existence of groups like these where people like myself can go and participate, and most importantly, learn! Again, to all of you, thanks so much.

To the sponsors who helped me get started this season, thank you so much. If it weren't for discounts from Rudy Project, That Butt Stuff, or half a dozen other companies, i wouldn't have been able to afford the gear I needed to get through this season. Especially when I wound up having to buy some stuff twice when the bikes got stolen. Maybe we could have afforded it, but we wouldn't have bought stuff thats as nice as what we have, or we wouldn't have been able to enjoy our honeymoon or first full summer in Boston as much.

To my family; mom, dad, sis, abby, emily, grandma, and all of the extended family members who have taken the time to read or just drop a note of encouragement. You've supported me my whole life, even during times when maybe I didn't deserve it. I'm not around as much as I used to be due to the miles, but don't think a day goes by that I don't think about you. I miss and love you, and most of all I thank you.

Finally, to my darling wife Rachelle. You're on the course too right now, but I know eventually you'll read this. I tell you I love you all the time, but I probably don't say thank you nearly enough. So thank you. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for pushing me to do this when I was quite happy taking my time slowly progressing through all those little sprints. Thank you for pulling me out of beds when I didn't want to get up, or reminding me that I need to get in a workout. Thanks for the times when I wanted to order a little something more at dinner and you reminded me I'd regret it the next day during workout. I'm doing this for me, but in part I'm doing it for you. Because everything I do is.

Know that I appreciate all of you and that the race today isn't the end, it's the beginning.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sorta like taking the SATs on Christmas

It's here. Friday morning before Timberman. In just a few hours I'll be heading home to put everything in the truck and head up to our hotel for the weekend. We're getting out early to hopefully beat weekend traffic and to allow us to check in at the hotel and head over for race check in before dinner. Dinner tonight is supposed to be a social event with a bunch of the folks from Beginner Triathlete at an Italian place near the race site. We actually rode by it on our bikes during our scouting mission that went a bit awry.

Over the course of today and tomorrow, we're going to take in the Timberman festival, which will likely be comprised of vendors and charities that comprise sponsors for the race. Usually there are plenty of things for sale along with a bunch of sponsors. Plus, we're going to pick up some Timberman souvineers. We get a nice bag with some stuff in it, but there's always something you wish came in the bag that you don't get as part of sign up, so we're going to try and get some souvineers early.

The sprint race is also going on tomorrow, and I've got a friend doing that race as well so we'll try to meet up with John after his race, before heading over to one of the mandatory pre-race meetings on Saturday. After that we'll be locking our bikes into the transition area. Then we're either going to look for a movie theater or head to the local dog track where they also have some vegas style casino table games that might provide some fun for a couple of hours without requiring much of anything out of our bodies.

Sunday of course is race day. If you missed the earlier post, Rach starts at 7:20, while I hit the water at 7:50. I'll add the athlete tracker link to the post that goes up Sunday morning so you can simply visit the site for the link to the athlete tracker.

So, I guess I'll see you guys on the other side, and don't forget to check in on Sunday to see how I'm doing and to read a little something I put together for those of you who have been kind enough to help me along in this journey.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Insomnia, with a chance of rain

It's been slowly developing over the past few days, and it's worse tonight than it's been earlier this week. Not too surprising that I'm restless and having trouble sleeping, especially on days my energy doesn't get sapped working out. Because we have to get up 2 or 3 hours earlier than normal for this race, it's a source of concern. With any luck I'll tire myself out tonight, so the rest of the week I'll be too tired to stay up this (2 AM) late.

I got the tire re-tensioned this afternoon. I thought it would be something I had to drop off for the night, but they did it while I waited, and told me there was just a single spoke out of tension, which seems about right based on how little the wheel was out of true after 40 hard miles on the roads and bike trails. I took bumps a lot harder than I normally do to make sure this wheel could handle a strong ride, and it seems like it came through nice and strong. One less thing to worry about. Plus, I learned for myself why that heavier riders have a lot better time over bumps than lighter riders, like say Rach, who gets rocked all over the path when going over all the bumps.

I also bought a new stem tonight (the piece that connects the handlebars to the fork) because mine has some minor cracking near the height adjuster. It seems I've got a good bit to learn from my upcoming class, especially involving how tight to make things before they'll crack. While I think it's just minor cracking on the surface, I don't want to find out it's more serious than that flying down one of the big hills on Sunday cooking around 45 MPH.

Speaking of Sunday and cooking, it sounds like we won't be dealing with heat as a significant problem. Instead there's a chance of rain adding to the difficulties of our day. Weather.com is currently saying there's a 30% chance of precipitation during the day on Sunday. The good news is that it will likely come with a high of only 74. That could mean a chilly exit from the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee, but if it means we don't get torn up with heat during the bike and maybe some light rain during the run, I could definitely be for that!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I am ready!

It's Wednesday of the work week that will never end. I have a significant amount going on for most of each day, so that helps pass the time. But it just seems like Friday afternoon is still so far away. And now that I'm feeling ready for whatever Timberman has in store for me, it just seems like the day can't come fast enough.

Last night we got in our last hard bike. It wasn't a huge distance, just 12 miles, but it was a good strong ride and I felt great. It's amazing to me that just a year ago 10 miles of riding at 10-12 miles an hour would see me tired and ready to be done. Now 12 miles at 15 MPH feels like a light cruise. In fact, I even did a bit of sprinting during yesterdays ride just to keep up with a guy that passed us on a single speed, and later to push myself against one of the "Promenade Heroes" (Guys who are dressed like they're in a big bike race and fly up and down the river path every night). Wound up passing both of them with gas left in the tank.

Because we had the ride on the books last night, the rear wheel still needs to be dropped off to be re-tensioned, and I'm looking to do that today for pick up ideally tomorrow. Rach has been screwing with the schedule to protect her knee so I've been going with the flow each night just to make sure I don't miss a workout. I know we owe a swim yet from the other day and have one more ride and another swim, and then I think we're done other than a walk on friday.

I've started writing something for those of you who have been kind enough to spend some of your time reading this site during my training over the past year. It's not done yet, but it'll be posted automatically on Sunday morning while I'm out on the course. It's not much, but it's the least I could do for those of you who have been here with me through this.

- Rachelle's doctors appointment today was uneventful, but she's considering not racing Cranberry the week after Timberman. Some of it will depend on how she's feeling after the race this weekend, but her knee swells after runs and is making a crunching noise like rice crispies. The nurse today said "we don't worry about the crunching", but as an athletic trainer, Rach's alarm bells are going off. She's going to contact our doctor and schedule an appointment with a specialist.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Counting the days

So, I took the day off today after a 10 mile ride yesterday, and 20 miles and a 1 mile swim on Sunday. I mentioned the problem with the rear wheel yesterday, and that only added some more edge to the restlessness I've been feeling waiting for the race to get here. The restlessness has resulted in nervous eating and without a lot of high intensity workouts, a little more weight gain. Thankfully I'm only up a few pounds as I seem to be doing just enough to keep things from getting out of control. At least the damn peanut butter cookies are gone.

While I haven't been eating great, what's been worse is that I haven't been sleeping properly. We have to get up before 4:00 AM on race day, and yet I've been staying up til all hours with insomnia. I'm just going to have to find a way to cut out some caffeine and some nerves in order to start getting the sleep I'll need this weekend. 

Gosh, I'm really whining today, huh?

One good thing that happened today is that I found I was accepted for the Bikes not Bombs adult instructor course. It starts the day after Timberman, so hopefully there will be chairs. In about 3 weeks, I should finish the course and be ready to start teaching. That should be a great way to harness some of the listlessness we're told to expect after a big race and the end of the season. 

Edit: It's now proven fact that on the days I complain about weight gain, I lose weight the following day. I wrote the above post before going to bed and I lost a couple pounds overnight. It's looking like I'll do the race at my low racing weight of the year. We didn't swim this morning, but Rach is scrambling the workout chart to make sure we get everything in and still get our rest. Just 4 days til the race!

Monday, August 16, 2010

I answer YOUR questions about Timberman

It has occurred to me that if you are reading my blog, you might not be my mother or one of my other blood relatives; you may actually be an athlete who will also be participating in Timberman this coming weekend. I don't know how I know this; it could be that I am a wee bit psychic. Or perhaps it's that I see that a bunch of people are winding up here from google searches about the race. I mean it's not like I check the visitor count 5 times a day or anything.

So, being the benevolent guy I am, I'm going to go through an answer your questions about Timberman based on the search words I see that got people here.

First, there's a question from Milford, Mass: How bad are the Timberman hills?

Have you ever seen the riders suffering in the Alps and the Pyrenees during the Tour de France? These hills are simply not that hard. The truth of the matter is, these hills are WAY harder. I mean when you start at 550 feet above sea level and reach an astounding 950 feet above sea level at the top of the highest hill, I think it will be mandatory for each cyclist to carry their own oxygen. Well, it might not be mandatory, but I certainly recommend every other cyclist carry at least 25 pounds of oxygen equipment with them on the ride. Myself, I've been practicing by holding my breath for whole seconds at a time, so I think I can do without. But you should definitely consider it. In fact, I don't think 50 pounds is going overboard.

Next, we have a question from Wilmington, Mass: Are wetsuits allowed at Timberman?

This is a terrific question, and I'll be glad to answer it. Yes, you should definitely wear a wetsuit during the swim portion of Timberman, as it has traditionally always been wetsuit legal. In fact, because Lake Winnipesaukee is so big, I suggest leaving your current wetsuit at home in favor of renting one of these beauties:

Let's face it; swimming is dangerous. Whether it's being swam over by faster swimmers, getting mouthfuls of that lovely lake water, or even the deadly upper shoulder and neck sunburn, you're going to enjoy your race a whole lot more if you spend your time leisurely walking along the bottom breathing easily and saving you energy for that daunting bike ride. As an added bonus, you can just carry your oxygen tanks right up into transition for the bike ride. Talk about a transition time saver!

Next, there's a question from Cambridge, Mass: Is there a welcome dinner at Timberman?

Yes, actually there is. At least for the schools of fresh water piranhas that were recently spotted in the waters of Winnipesaukee. On second thought, you might want to go with the chain mail lined air hose for the diving suit. You know, just in case. 

Here's a question from Norfolk, Virginia: Was Timberman Purchased by Ironman?

I'm not supposed to talk about it, but what I heard is that it was not so much purchased as it was merely assimilated Borg-style by the all knowing, all seeing World Triathlon Corporation sometime following Timberman 2009. It is still run by Keith Jordan of Endorfun Sports, who by all accounts put on a fantastic race, but I hear he now is half machine and keeps repeating "I am Jordan of WTC, you will eat, drink, and wear only Ironman branded products". I've actually never met Keith, so if he does actually have robotic limbs and a laser guided eye these days, I hope he doesn't find me before I finish the race. And if anyone from The WTC is reading this, thanks for not making me or my little blog disappear. All hail the mighty and wonderful M-Dot!

Our last question was asked by multiple readers: What do people do after Triathlons?

This is a tough question to answer, so it's a good thing you have me here ready to step up and take on such challenging and thought-provoking queries. After a triathlon, especially a significant distance event like a half-Ironman, the most common thing a person does immediately after a race is fall down. The ratio of racers to faller-downers is somewhere around 98%. The other 2% are the offshoot variant of the faller-downer; the sitter-downer.

 Regardless of which option the person chooses, the falling down is immediately followed by eating. Well, getting up and then eating. In fact, I personally will probably be so hungry I will just be putting random things in my mouth to see if I can chew, swallow, and digest them. I suggest keeping your children and their collection of toy kitchen food items away from the finishing area. In fact, if you are a friend or family member of a competitor, I suggest you wear a bright red "I am not food" T-shirt, to help zombie-like finishers avoid attempting to ingest you. Everyone in the race should probably pull one of these shirts on as well in order to prevent any embarrassing post-race banquet accidents.

After the eating comes the sleeping. The sleeping has actually been known to occur in some instances during the eating, though usually after the intake of a large portion of food. In rare cases the sleeping takes place before the eating. Those who fall into this unusual category often wake at some point later in the evening asking if the local pizza joint offers it's "30 minutes or it's free" guarantee on orders of 10 or more pies.

In closing, I hope this information has been helpful to you, and that you will take my advice (especially about carrying the heavy gear around during the race) and have a lovely time on Saturday. Oh, you read the race was Sunday? Must have been a printers error.


- If you weren't already aware, the last few weeks leading to this race hasn't been smooth as silk. With the bikes being stolen, the rush to replace everything, and the physical exhaustion of training so much; I figured the drama had to be over. Right up until I broke not one but 2 spokes yesterday on a longer ride. It was my fault, as I'm the one who trued the rear wheel on Wednesday. My guess is I took too much tension out of some of the spokes, and I caused the tension on the other side of the wheel to increase too much.

The closest bike shop sold me on a good strong wheel (Mavic Ksyrium Equipe) but one that isn't really rated for a bigger guy like me. It should definitely last the l00 or so miles of riding I have up through through Timberman and Cranberry. I'm having the spokes re-tensioned prior to the race to ensure it's 1000% (yes that extra zero is intentional) ready for race day. I'm taking a wheel building class in winter during which I'll relace the wheel that broke as my learning wheel and keep it as a spare for Rach and I. 

- Rach is dealing with some injury pain again, and this time it's her knee. It's been crunching like as she puts it "rice krispies", so she's taking a visit to the doctor on Wednesday. She's determined to finish the race no matter what, so hopefully they'll tell her it can be fixed easily after the races and she can't make things worse. Maybe they can even give her a cortisone shot or something to help her get through the next 2 weeks of racing. Then she can take some time off to relax and get proper medical care to help resolve the issue.

- I am constantly hungry right now. In fact, this computer looks kinda tasty. If I didn't have to finish this post before bed, I might be tempted to take a "mega bite". get it? Sorry. Anyways, we're tapering, so I'm working out enough to get in a good sweat, but not to justify increased calories. To make matters worse, Rach made peanut butter cookies today. Seriously, who makes baked goods during a taper period? Evidently, my wife.

- If you've gotten this far, you deserve to know the truth: all of my answers to the questions above are entirely truthful and factual regarding the race. Except where they're not.

And that's everywhere.

Friday, August 13, 2010

is it race day yet?

Months ago, if you'd told me there'd come a day when I'd say the race wasn't getting here fast enough, I wouldn't have believed you. But here we are a week before the race, and I can't wait for next weekend. Tapering (the act of intentionally reducing workouts to rest the body before a race) sucks, because I'm hungry ALL THE TIME, and we're not working out as much. We've got some strong workouts this last weekend, but then after that it'll really start to diminish next week.

Last night, I made my first trip to the Bikes not Bombs open shop night. It was EXACTLY what I hoped for, and remember from Third Hand; helpful folks, plenty of tools, and a happy and fun atmosphere. I got my rear wheel nice and true, and with a little help from an experienced mechanic the same thing on my front wheel. Then it was mostly tightening the bolts where I'd been nervous about going to tight on my carbon fiber fork. I met a few of the leaders, and I'm hopeful I'll be accepted into the adult instructor class so I can learn what I need to do in order to teach classes and improve on my bike knowledge for my own usage. 

Tonight, we're buying the last of our accessories, and I'm going to formalize my nutrition plan for the race. It's time to get organized now so that next week is less hectic. Tomorrow a 40 mile ride and likely a nice outdoor swim at the halfway point. Sunday is the last real run, and from there it's all downhill in terms of effort before the race.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A much needed night off...

I took last night off with sore knees and a generally tired body. Now that's not to say we didn't accomplish anything yesterday. We went out and got new waterproof watches to use for timing during the race. Ironman branded Timex watches no less. Because of my wifes position with the university, she gets a discount at a certain local store. I didn't learn that until she purchased her new orthotics last night, and they rang her up with at 10% off. As they had the watches as well, I figured we might as well get them at a discount, even if it meant not doing a lot of comparison shopping. (I'd already made Rach sit through me shopping for work shoes). So, now the only thing we have left to get are the bento (food) bags for the top tubes of our bike, and make sure we have everything we need to go in them prior to race day.

Back when we were in Columbus, I spent a good bit of time volunteering and learning at Third Hand Bike Co-op. It's where I learned almost everything I know about fixing bikes, and also had a lot of fun. I've been looking to continue my learning experience as well as giving back to the cycling community since arriving in Boston. Bikes not Bombs is the local cycling entity that serves the same role as Third Hand, and I've known about it almost since we got to town. With everything that's been going on, I haven't felt like I've had enough time to really get involved.

But that's all changing here in the next few weeks. As triathlon season rolls to an end, I've joined the organization, and am actually using tonight's open shop as a chance to tune up some aspects of my bike prior to Timberman. I may still get a professional tune depending on what I see happening with the bike tonight, but I hope to avoid it as i continue to get better at maintaining my own bike.

One of the things I've applied for is to become an adult instructor. Bikes not Bombs offers a series of courses designed to prepare a person to teach youth on building and maintaining bicycles. You have to get approved for the course, and once you are approved you then have to commit to teaching a class each week for a few months in the fall. To me this seemed like a perfect opportunity to continue to learn, and then to be able to use that knowledge to give back to the community. If I'm approved, the classes will start next week.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You've followed me this far

Yesterday, the Ironman folks released the information regarding swim waves and race numbers. It's another sign that the race is upon us. 

Rachelle will be wearing number 545 and will be starting the race at 7:20 AM. 

I will be wearing number 1592 and will be starting the race at 7:50 AM. 

Based on the fact that the last wave starts at 8:20, Rach will have an extra hour of buffer time on top of the 8:30 time frame, while I will have an extra 30 minutes. Both of us have talked about not wanting to have to use any of the buffer, but it's nice that it's there. 

What's really cool is that there will be an "athlete tracker" that you can follow Rach and I during the race (if so inclined). At specific intervals our recorded chip times are automatically directed to a page on the web where you can search for us by bib number (and name I think). So, if you can't wait for my fantastic (and likely incredibly long recap) sometime on monday the 23rd, then you can follow us on race day. I'll provide the link when I have it.


- Training last night was one of those off nights. We did 10 miles on the bike but not particularly hard and then 1/3rd of a mile in the pool. Both of us were tired and sore so we took it easy and will work harder today.

- I've started my planning for triathlon off-season already. We've decided not to do the Fantastic Nantasket race in September, so we've got Timberman and then Cranberry the following week and that's the end of the season. I've got some interesting irons in the fire that I'll start detailing shortly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Good news coming in droves

Looking at Timberman from a realistic standpoint, it comes down to having a good swim and a good bike, so the last couple of weeks I'm going to focus on swimming and riding with only a couple runs between now and race day. I figure I'm going to be walking most of the run distance anyways, which I am already prepared to do. I'm not saying I'm  packing it in once I'm done with the ride, I just feel like the smart thing to do is use my remaining training to get a little edge in the areas I can do the most good. 

Yesterday it was freaking hot, so I didn't get out until around 7, and with darkness coming sooner and sooner I only had about an hour to ride. To make the most of it, I headed over to the nearby overpass to do some climbing. The overpass isn't a terribly hard climb, but it is close to a busy intersection, so I moved on to the next overpass. That's when I remembered the bike bridge attached to it. Both the overpass and the bike bridge pass over a train line, and give a good bit of climbing for about 100 or so feet, some of it being fairly steep for short sections.

I can't say that I have any idea about the slope, or the actual distances. But both sides of the overpass and the long side of the bike bridge are steep enough that I was in my second lowest gear and as I tired after multiple repetitions, the lowest gear as I climbed these slopes. It was fun to use this hill just a short ride from home as a training ground, and I managed about 3 miles of climbing before heading back due to oncoming darkness.

In total I did only about 10 miles, but was pretty happy with the ride and very happy with the climb. 

The other bit of good news comes from the fact that we didn't get the course right on the first or second pass of the ride last weekend up on the Timberman course. While it might seem like bad news, it's actually good news because the climbs we thought were the real course were more numerous than the climbs of the real course. It seems Rachelle doesn't know the difference between the letters A and B, which with this course makes a huge difference. 

11A is on the far side of the park and leads almost immediately to multiple steep climbs. 11B is on the near side of the park and has 5 fairly easy miles of warm up riding before you get onto 11B and start climbing. We're up in the air about going back up this weekend, but we know from the course elevation map that what we'll see on race day can't be any harder than what we went up against last weekend. 

I'm starting to get really excited about this race and can't wait to get up there and get at it!

- We got more race details and rules last night but still haven't learned our bib numbers or swim wave starts. The email seemed to indicate that we'd have bib numbers in a few days once they hear back from folks who signed up but now can't start for various reasons. 

- Rach's knee has been bothering her for a few days. She's had to dial back the past few days and it's killing her to not be running. I told her better safe than sorry and she's ready even without going full out right now. Hopefully the rest will make her feel better.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Timberman: The scouting mission

I've been participating in organized races for almost 3 years now. During that time, I've seen race directors and organizations that are all over the map in terms of quality, preparation, and skill in running a race. Timberman is put on by World Triathlon Corporation, the big name (The official Ironman brand) in triathlon race organizations. That tells me that the race will be well organized and well executed. That leaves us with one less thing to worry about, but still plenty of others.

Saturday, Rachelle and I finally drove up to New Hampshire to scout the triathlon course and get familiar with the area.  We learned a bunch of different things while we were up there:
  • New Hampshire is beautiful. While it's becoming sort of expected as we explore the more rural areas of New England, driving only 2 hours from home to see mountains, trees, and lakes in a resort area is just something I haven't gotten used to yet. Gilford, the town where the race is held, as well as the surrounding areas are truly beautiful. I'm excited to be staying in such a nice area. 
  • We couldn't have picked a better hotel location. We're only a couple miles from the start location. We didn't actually visit the hotel, but we saw the sign for it on our bike ride, so it's just off the bike course. I'm looking forward to having such a good location with nice amenities.
  • Lake Winnipesaukee is HUGE and beautiful. It reminds me a lot of the lakes in the Irish Hills area of Michigan where I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the summers of my youth. This lake is easily one of the bigger lakes I've seen up here and it's a nice reminder that ocean beaches aren't the only place to relax and enjoy the water. The water was fairly warm (probably low 70's), and while there's a chance we'll have some chop from the wind or boats, it seems like it'll be a pretty nice swim as it's mostly in parallel to the beach. Plus, there are no sharks, so that's a nice bonus. (The evening news is constantly reporting shark sightings along ocean beaches these days).
Most importantly though, we learned that the bike course for Timberman was obviously designed by a a professional terrorist. Either that or maybe the guy from "Tomorrow Never Dies" who is a professional marksman, but whose hobby is torture.
If you see this man designing a bike course, run FAR away
Seriously though, the first 10 miles of this bike course is, to use a Bostonian expression, wicked hard. Even the first very short climb is super steep, like a signal to let you know you're about to spend a significant amount of time going up. Sure there are some little drops along the way, but basically you spend the first 10 miles going sharply up hill. In particular, there are two climbs in the first 11 miles where you climb at least 250 over just a couple of miles. The worst of these is a hill that rises around 300 feet in just a little over a mile. This is the spot were I'm most likely going to have to walk my bike up hill.

If any of these hills were singularities on an otherwise flat long ride, I'd simply curse under my breath and push myself to tackle the hill as best I could before resting a while at the summit before resuming my ride. But as simply one of many hills, I have to go through the process of climbing, descending, and then climbing again multiple times throughout the ride. Thankfully theres a good long stretch in the middle of about 11 miles where you slowly go downhill before turning around to begin the process of spending 11 miles slowly going uphill. Climbing 200 feet over 10 miles doesnt scare me nearly so much as climbing 300 feet in 3 miles.

There were two really big pieces of good news to come along as part of the scouting weekend that really give me cause to be seriously optimistic, even in the face of these huge hills:

  • The descents. We only rode part of the course because Rach had us take the wrong way out of the park, and by the time we got on the course we already had about 11 miles in our legs, much of it spent climbing, and so we figured it was best not to try to tackle the whole course. But we did a majority of the climbs on the way out. And I can say for certain that as hard as they are on the way up, they're SUPER fun on the way back down. There were points in the ride back where I reached 45 MPH on my bike, and at one point I didn't pedal for about 3 miles and maintained an average speed of about 20 MPH over that time. The last 6 miles of the ride should be REALLY easy.
  • I had misunderstood the time requirements for the race. The maximum time I've been living by and training against (8:30) is from the start of the last swim wave. So long as I am not in the last swim wave, I will have additional time on the course in order to finish. I verified this by looking at other Ironman 70.3 races from 2009-2010, and most all of them have finishers who have official times over 8:30 minutes. That time is when the course closes. So if I manage not to be in the last wave, I will have more time to get through the race. I can't count on it, but it sure would be nice to have a cushion to work with.
Regardless of the rules, or the fact that the bike course designer belongs on the FBI's 10 most wanted list, I know now for certain that I can finish. I have put in the hours, I can handle suffering for a long time, and worst case I'll get off my bike and walk up the worst parts of those hills. Yesterday, I even pounded the nail in the wall where my finishers medal will hang. Because I know I'm going to do this.

I WILL finish Timberman. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

A true test

It's late on friday, about 15 hours after I normally post, but it was a super busy day. So I hope you'll appreciate me getting around to it.

Tomorrow is a really big day. We're going to Gilford, New Hampshire to ride the Timberman bike course.... all 56 miles of it. We did retail preparation tonight replacing almost all of the accessories we lost with the theft of the bicycles. We're driving up somewhat early and hopefully we'll have some good weather.

Have a great weekend, we're gonna go suffer.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Swimming progress

With Timberman a littler over 2 weeks away, I've started thinking about things like nutrition, transitions, packing, and all of the other little things that can become big hurdles if you don't cross them off the list properly. And while I was thinking about what I've done right or wrong during previous races I was of course reminded about what I felt I did wrong during the most recent race, the Massachusetts State Olympic Triathlon.

As you may remember, I DNF'ed that race, and a great many things went wrong. I forgot my breathing machine, I didn't eat right the night before, and generally had no proper training leading up to the race because of our just completed honeymoon because I am often titanically lazy. But one thing that didn't go wrong that day was the swim portion of the race. I finished at the back of the pack, but not dead last, and all of those other excuses apply to this effort as well.

So, even though my time in that race wasn't that fast in competition with others, I did .9 miles on a rotten day in just 47 minutes. Last night I did 1.2 miles in 56 minutes on a pretty good day. What this tells me is that good day or bad day, I will be able to make the swim time cutoff in Timberman, and with some time to spare. Plus, I'm going to do all of the little things to make sure this is a good day so that I have some extra time to relax and refuel in transition before moving onto the bike. Looking back, this is a huge improvement over the 60 minute 1600 yard swims I was doing back in Janurary.

Because as soon as you get on the bike, you start going up, and that's when the real challenge begins. We'll see how long it takes us to finish the whole ride on Saturday without a 1 mile swim before the ride. That's going to be the best marker of the next area I need to understand my progress; on the bike.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How Benny got his groove back...

Yesterdays post might have been a bit over-dramatic. It wasn't intentional. I really did feel like the sky was falling, and being only a few weeks from Timberman, that just made it worse. Even the way I had been feeling, I knew I couldn't let this go on for very long. When I got finished with yesterdays blog, I pushed away from the table, and while trying not to wake up Rach, got dressed to go ride.

When in doubt, my bike is my "go to" form of exercise. It makes me feel faster and therefore more successful at working out, so it's easier to make myself go do it. And I did do it. I hit the Charles River MUP at 6:30, and rode for an hour. The paths are not nearly as busy that early, and I wound up being able to get in some quality miles at race pace; 15 miles in 1:05 of actual time, 58 minutes of wheels turning. It would have been faster but for a few starts and stops to turn around and one quick break to drink some Gatorade.

I felt tons better following that, and it led to a successful day with both exercise and food. Rach got her ride in while I was at work, and we followed it up with a short outdoor swim at Walden Pond last night. We had meant to do a full lake swim again, but by the time we got through traffic and to the pond, we only had about half an hour to swim before they started locking the parking gates. Either way we still got more time in the lake, with Rach having another run in her wetsuit (which she seems to be getting more comfortable with all the time).

Today will be a busy day, and the weather doesn't look to be real cooperative; mid-ninties, with oppressive humidity. Plus some rain showers will be mixed in. We're supposed to have a 25 mi bike today, but I'm wondering if we'll have to swap that with tomorrows swim instead. Not that it matters when each workout happens but these changes drive me a bit crazy.


- Saturday we finally are  going to New Hampshire. We're going to ride most or all of the Timberman bike course, and then go to a pottery painting event that benefits Rebecca Tabat's Cure with Hope charity. Everyone from Beginner Triathlete has been telling me to get out and ride the course for peace of mind, and we've been wanting to do it for a while. This is just the first weekend that makes sense for us. Now I just need to make it fit around getting our bikes in for tuneups.

- Thanks again for all of the encouragement, especially yesterday. It meant a lot.