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


  1. Ben,

    What an awesome report. It was great watching you race. I am very proud of what you have accomplished. I am at least a year away, but maybe someday.

    Rest up and then get back out there.


  2. I hope you continue to blog now that Timberman is
    in the books. You have an amazing spirit that shines through your writing. I look forward to reading about your journey to your next goal (or race).

  3. Awesome job! Congratulations!!!

  4. Ben - I'm so proud of you. You are amazing! You and Rach motivate me!!!!

  5. Congrats again! Amazing finish!

  6. Absolutely incredible Ben -- its an honor to know you. I'm completely in awe of your pure determination and positive outlook even when your body is screaming at you...

  7. Ben - I started following you and Rach around Noon so if, on that last split, you heard some faint voice telling you to hustle, it was me screaming at the top of my lungs from down near Foxboro. Awesome job, guy! Now, start planning for next year ;)

  8. Great recap. Like I was there without the effort or pain:) Seriously - congrats! A huge accomplishment. Hope the pain eases soon.

  9. John - Thanks man! Seeing you there at transition was awesome! Really perked me up from thinking about the long journey ahead at each stage

    Anonymous - Thanks so much! Don't worry, the blog isn't going anywhere. While there will be new races to focus on, I'll always still becoming timberman.

    Lori - Thanks!

    Jeff - Thanks again!

    Leigh - Thanks! I'm glad to provide something to those of you out there that feel I do!

    Derek - Thanks!

    Ryan - You knew me when I was a drum major and jazz trombonist. So technically, it's always been an honor for you to know me LOL. Seriously though, You pushing me through the Nike run was a big help in all of this.

    Edie - Thanks! I don't know if that was your echo I heard bouncing off the mountains, but I know Rach and I both appreciate everyones support. Next year, eh? I'll definitely have to start thinking about that once my brain, feet and legs start working again.

    Barb - yeah, I wish I coulda been there without the pain too!! :) Thanks again for all the support throughout the past year.

  10. Ben, TIMBERMAN, congratulations! For some reason my comment from Sunday didn't post, but I was keeping tabs on you all the way, rooting you on from PA.

    Your race recap today was beautiful, it made me well-up with tears many times. Perseverence. Determination. Strength. Endurance. You've got 'em all! And a finisher's medal, too! :) Super job. Be proud! And please keep this wonderful blog going; you are very inspiring and have a great view on things as well.


  11. This is awesome! Congratulations!! Great race report, one of my favorite! You ARE a TIMBERMAN!! Your race recap was awesome, I love love loved it! It was so cool seeing you on the course a few times, you are such a rock star! Hope you are not too sore today - I am still pretty sore myself.

  12. You really showed determination and mastery of "mind over matter" on every mile of that loooong 70.3 course. I was never happier to see a finisher than the moment I saw you take the final stretch down to the line... way to finish!!

    Thank you for wearing the team's Wheelworks Multisport colors with pride and for making us all so proud of you.

    I'll see you on the sidelines AND on the roads again soon. -Sunny

  13. Anonymous - Thanks so much! I definitely plan to keep the blog going. If this is the anonymous I think it is from PSU, I'd love to hear a little about you as you're one of my regular readers. (Sorry, I look at the visit logs a little too much sometimes). And I did get a finishers medal, just not the one I hoped for (you'll see in today's post).

    Caratunk Girl - It was nice seeing you too! And I had so much fun on the trip, and in finishing the race. Talk about an effort. Rock Star? I think you're getting us confused. you're the rock star!

    Sunny - What else can I say to the best captain a team could ever have? You were so supportive all year and that one ride we did really helped me turn a major corner on my treatment and expectation when it comes to hills. We'll see you Sunday on the sidelines for sure!

  14. I found this blog a couple weeks before the race and was really interested to read your story. I've never met you but when I returned to read how your race went, I realized that I saw you heading out on your second loop. We were standing under our team tent and commenting that it takes a very strong will, strong mind and strong body to keep going after such a long day. We yelled out some words of encouragement and rang some cowbell, you turned and gave us a thumbs up.

    As I said, I didn't realize it was you at the time but I could see the determination in your face as you talked to the race official. You looked like you were hurting but I could tell you wanted to see that finish line more than anything. It was truly inspiring to see...so thank you for that.

    Congrats on your finish and keep it up!

  15. Jonathan -

    Thanks so much, I really appreciate the kind words. I don't really think of myself as an inspiration, just another athlete who happens to take a bit longer to finish. But I'm proud and excited that others do see me that way, and it's all the more motivation to work harder.

    I do remember the cowbells from your group for sure, though a good bit of that part of the race was a blur. I was thinking strictly about how close I'd be cutting it at the end of the race.

    I was asking the race official if they'd kick me off the course if I was over the time, because I was determined to finish, even if I didn't make the time cutoff. Thankfully, I made it under the time limit.

    I will say it does take a strong mind, will, and an ability to fight through pain to finish a race that long. But I feel it's that way for everyone. As for the strong body, well a stronger body would get through the race faster, in my opinion. But I'll get there.

  16. Hey Ben!!! Congrats on the Timberman finish! I completed Timberman as well as saw you a few times at the race, but before this past Saturday, I had no idea who you were.

    I organize a Meetup called Triumph Triathlon where all levels of triathletes can train together and support each other. Your team member at Wheelworks, Bernadette, joined Triumph and we did a swim and bike together this past Saturday.

    We were chatting and started talking about Timberman. It was my first Half Iron so I was telling Bernadette about my experience (and struggles). I also told her that I saw this big guy who was so determined and inspiring that he helped me finish. Little did I know, it was you!

    So she told me about your blog... All I gotta say is that you are very inspiring! Great website!

    Make it a great day,

  17. Ruben -

    Thanks so much for the kind words. I'm really touched. I don't know Bernadette very well, but she's a great gal. We got to hang out with her for a bit at Cranberry Trifest as Rach and I cheered on the racing group from Team Wheelworks.

    I'm glad to serve as an inspiration to people. There are a lot of people and things out there that inspire me, so I feel like if I can make a difference for someone else, that's the way it should be.

    I think it's amazing that people of all different abilities within the triathlon community can serve as inspiration for each other. It shows that each of us can learn and grow from one another no matter what our strengths or how we come into the sport.

  18. Huge congratulations on finishing Timberman! Sorry this is a bit belated. I was there too and saw you on the run. I've been lurking on your blog for ages and have really enjoyed reading your training experiences. Can't wait tor was more about your fitness adventure!

  19. Kristin -

    Thanks for the kind words. I hope even with Timberman behind me and new adventures on the horizon that I'll keep finding ways to share my journey in ways other people want to read.

  20. amazing! I know that this comment is almost a year overdo but-