Timberman 70.3 Triathlon

Yesterday’s Timberman 70.3 triathlon in Gilford, New Hampshire, USA, was my first real test since Ironman Brasil back on 30 May. Since mid-June, I’ve done one trail running race, two road running races, four cross-country races, one off-road sprint triathlon, and three road sprint triathlons. I haven’t done any distance training, but that is coming. The Ironman World Championship is in Kona, Hawaii on 9 October. That day is closing in fast, so I am going to shift my exercise away from racing and over to training.

At the start of this year, I set two athletic goals: 1) get in the best shape of my life and 2) exercise for 10 hours/week. I knew had to do #2 in order to achieve #1. Juggling family and work responsibilities with athletics is a challenge, but is something that Debbie and I have done for years. It gets more difficult as the family expands. 10 hours/week, or 600 minutes (the way I like to track it) isn’t really enough to generate stellar race results, but I’m happier with the balance and I am motivated by my fitness level, which is very good. With one really big objective left this year (and arguably one of the biggest races I’ve ever done), I have six weeks to get a little bit more endurance. Maybe I can squeeze out 11 or 12 hours/week in the coming weeks. Time will tell.

So, heading into yesterday’s effort my endurance conditioning was a question mark. Since June 2009 when I did my first 70.3 triathlon in Rhode Island, I’ve realized that there is a big difference between a full Ironman and a half Ironman. I now have two 70.3 races (Rhode Island and Timberman) and two Ironman races (Lake Placid and Brasil) under my belt. The Ironman brand experience could take up an entire blog post of its own, but I”ll work some of my refelctions into this race report.

2741 people registered for Timberman 70.3, which is a huge number. When I heard the tally, I was concerned about where they would put all of us. Additionally, 1300 people did the Timberman Sprint on Saturday. That is more than 4000 people crammed onto Ellacoya State Beach and swimming in Lake Winnipesaukee over the course of two days. Fortunately, Gunstock Mountain Resort is only four miles up the hill from the lake. Gunstock houses the Timberman Village, expo, registration, meetings, and meals. This was the 10th Timberman, but only the second under the Ironman brand. With nearly 2800 triathletes paying $250-$275 (depending on when they signed up)  for the privilege to race, clearly, there is demand for Ironman branded events in New England. I would love to see the profit & loss statement for the entire weekend. It would be a very interesting read.

In addition to the professional race management team, it took a lot of dedicated unpaid volunteers to support a race of this scale. They were everywhere. The lifeguards in the water, the bike course marshals, and the run course aid station workers were enthusiastic and helpful. They had to deal with the same ugly weather conditions (clouds and rain) as the athletes, and they did a great job.

It was a mob scene. I was in Wave 13, so my swim didn’t start until 8:05 A.M., 65 minutes after the pro’s started. I was warming up when Andy Potts exited the lake around the 23 minute mark. That was impressive to watch. He went on to win in wire to wire fashion. My 35-39 age group had 360 entrants, so like the even larger 40-44 age group, it was split into two waves, A-K and L-Z. I had an improved swim at the 1.2 mile distance, exiting the water in 32:05. I had designs on a sub-30 minute time, but it was not to be. That is what I need in the future. There was a ton of traffic, particularly in the last 1/3rd of a mile where several waves had bunched up. Swimming in a group like that is not for the faint of heart. I felt slower at that point, but overall, this was an improvement over Rhode Island last year. RI was in rough salt wter surf with a current, whereas yesterday was relatively calm fresh water. What is hard to measure is that I wasn’t as wasted coming out of the water even though the times were within a minute of each other.

My bike leg started in dry conditions, but ended on very wet roads. I was happy that it wasn’t wet at the start. I’ve never done a Gran Fondo, but I imagine that this is what it must feel like. Gran Fondo is Italian, for “big ride.” Lake Placid was congested with a similar number of competitors, but at least that was mass start. Eventually, you pull ahead of the slower riders. In 70.3, with wave starts, you never get out of the traffic. I must have passed 1500 people. It was insanity and the only saving grace was that it was a single loop out and back. If I had to ride back through the traffic again (like on the run), then it would have been even crazier.

I felt strong on the 56 mile leg and finished it in 2:27:47, a slight improvement over Rhode Island, but on a much more hilly course. It was my best leg of yesterday’s race, and I finally got a chance to put my new Seven Kameha SLX through its paces. I’ve done three sprints on it in the past month, but I was anxious to race it for a longer period of time. I was able to maintain my aerodynamic tuck the whole time, it felt great. The full carbon fiber bike soaked up the road shock of the bumpy NH roads and it cornered extremely well. I am very happy with my Zipp Zedtech 10 rear wheel and 8 front wheel. I was also much happier with how the Kameha climbs compared to my Cannondale Slice. The last 15 miles of the bike were marked by heavy rain showers. The painted lines were a bit greasy, so I took it easy on the descents. The only thing I could have done better during the bike leg was my fueling. I should have eaten more and drank more. I think that oversight cost me on the run.

The 13.1 mile run was covered in two out and back loops. The traffic was nuts. There were too many people on the small course. You had to weave in and out of traffic the entire time. It was fun, but it was a bit sketchy. More than once, I inadvertently cut off someone who was reaching for water at an aid station. The road is narrow and people did their best to stay on their side of the road, but with so much traffic on your side and loads of oncoming traffic on the other side, contact was inevitable. I didn’t see any collisions, but I’m sure there were a few.

The most congested spots were around the aid stations. With dozens of volunteers also vying for space on the road, it was chaotic. I’m curious how other people feel about the course congestion. I saw a lot of friends and familiar faces on the run. There was a huge contingent from H.E.A.T. and I cheered for all of them. It was fun to see some of the Pros on the course. I saw women’s winner and reigning Ironman World Champion, Chrissie Wellington, just before she finished. It was very cool that she was handing out medals to the finishers when I came through. That is thoughtful and classy. I also saw Karen Smyers, who is a legend. But, I was most inspired by the guy I caught up to who had 70 on his left calf, signifying his age. Like I said, it was fun, but it was also a bit taxing.

I was stuck in one gear the entire time. I never felt like I was able to get any leg turnover. I monitored my pace, which slowed between miles 4 and 11 before I was able to pick it up again in the final three miles. It was painful to see a couple of guys in my age group catch and pass me with ease. I couldn’t respond. I was hoping to run sub-1:30, but ended up with a disappointing 1:33:52. Factor in the transitions, and I finished in 4:37:35. This was a three-minute improvement over Rhode Island on a tougher course. I was 90th overall and 18th in my age group. Both are respectable positions. Still, two minutes on the swim and four minutes on the bike would have put me firmly in the top ten in my age group with a sub 4:30, my ultimate goal for the 70.3 distance. It would be fun to qualify for the 70.3 World Championship in Clearwarter, Florida.  I’ll get there.

Ellacoya State Beach was overrun by Ironman this weekend. The finish line, transition, food court, etc. was a maze. I’m glad that they let us get our bikes and gear out of transition before the race was over. I ended up riding back (all uphill) to Gunstock where we had camped. Debbie had avoided the jam-packed shuttle buses and run down with the kids in the Chariot. She got in a workout and I got a warmdown. Still, it is hard to ignore that one of the most vivid memories of the weekend was the sheer number of people on the race course.  

Overall, it was a good experience. Debbie and the kids were great support. Sleeping on the ground the night before a big race is always a constraint, especially with the pitter-patter of rain on the tent. The short trip to NH was a bit challenging with the late-August vacation traffic and the foul weather. This race confirmed why I like local sprint triathlons so much. There is a whole lot less hassle and the return on investment is greater too. However, the 2010 Timberman 70.3 will prove to be the stepping stone that I need to kick my final Kona training push into high gear.

Race Results

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