New Hampshire #44
August 21, 2011
Timberman Ironman 70.3
With the endurance gained over the last decade of training and racing, I headed to New Hampshire to check off that box of my journey. Within two hours of finishing my race in Vermont, I was back in the rental car headed east on a three hour drive not including a layover for lunch. Stopped in downtown Montpelier, the capitol of Vermont. The landscape, buildings, and people’s accents were everything I expected. The view looked like a Saturday Evening Post magazine cover painted by Norman Rockwell of a quintessential Original Colonies’ village. The capitol was charming. I still had a post-race adrenalin buzz and the pre-race antsiness of tomorrow’s pending race had not yet taken over my body or mind. The adrenalin hormones enhanced my impression of Montpelier.
I arrived at the Gunstock Mountain Resort with my body stiff and tired. Shuffled my tired legs over a quarter mile from the rental car to the Lodge to check-in for race registration. Unfortunately my wallet with photo ID and USAT Membership card remained in the glove compartment. Shuffled back to the car, grabbed those items and returned to successfully get checked in for tomorrow’s race. At various times along the journey I wondered: “Was I doing time with the races or were the races doing me in with time?” Today, I finally answered the races were doing me in with time, and time spent on a duo race weekend was accelerated in doing me in.
I did get one break though with my bike, no disassembly or re-assembly required between races. Back in the parking lot, I put race stickers on the bike, headed to the transition area at Ellacoya State Park and racked it. I didn’t scope out the swim area. Thought there would be plenty of time in the morning. Instead, headed to the hotel, ordered-in pizza, ate, and fell asleep watching TV.
From Saturday to Sunday the swim venue changed from the smallest of the Great Lakes to one of the largest recreational lakes in New England. I arrived before sunrise and sat by myself on a picnic table listening to loons talk to each other across Lake Winnipesaukee which was the swim venue for Timberman Ironman 70.3. On the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee no motor boat whines invaded Mother Nature’s sounds of the morning. A damn peaceful morning but the day was not going to stay that way.
Competitors, support crews, volunteers, and race officials trickled into the small park initially, followed by a steady stream of people, and then that subsided as race time neared. It seemed as if the influx of people plotted out a close approximation of a Bell Curve. Between watching the people take over the park and a beautiful sunrise taking over dawn, the excitement of the race snuck in and took over everything.
Race Center was right on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Gilford. The park offered a long sandy beach at 1/8th of a mile in length. We could see across the water with a distance of four or five miles to the far shore with heavily forest mountains reaching up to the eastern skyline. Looking off left to the northwest, the lake stretched out over ten miles. When looking right to the southeast, it went another ten plus miles. Blue skies filled everything above.
Entered the transition at the time of opening. Other than wiping off the night time dew collection on the thin leather seat, the bike was good to go. Snapped the bike shoes to the pedals, set the helmet on the handlebars, and put sunglasses into the helmet. Draped a towel on the seat to dry off my face and head before grabbing my bike after the swim. No bags were allowed in the transition. A tent was set up besides the fenced in area to store bags for the triathletes during the race. I passed on that, a decision I would regret in seven hours. Instead, headed back to a picnic table located behind the swim start on the other side of the park.
With 45 minutes before my wave start I stretched, ran, did some strides, and put on my wetsuit. I stuffed my warm-up clothes, cell phone, car keys, wallet, and trainers into my backpack. Then placed my backpack on the middle of the picnic table. I hoped a volunteer would grab the bag and take it over to the tent. However, I expected it would remain there for the duration of the race.
The race started on the beach and we ran into the water at the sound of the air horn. The water was relatively shallow. I took a lead from the professionals who started before us and did dolphin dives once the water was knee deep until my hand cleared the bottom of the lake before I started a regular crawl stroke. We swam straight out from the beach for 600 meters, turned right 90 degrees at the first red buoy, swam for 800 meters, took our third and final right hand 90 degree turn and followed the buoys for 500 meters to the swim finish at the other end of the beach. The lake water was clean, cool, and felt like a smooth glass table top when swimming.
The shallow lake with its dark bottom and crystal clear waters teased me merciless for far too long. At most races you feel the lake bottom with your fingertip before seeing it. This is the best queue in knowing when to stand up and run out of the water. In Lake Winnipesaukee, 400 meters away from the beach, the view of the bottom enticed us if not daring us, to stand up too early and futilely try to the run out of it onto the shore and into the transition area. I impatiently continued stroking for another 390 meters until the fingertips hit the sandy bottom, then stood up to realize how sore my legs were from racing the day before. I started to dread the thought of how much pain and suffering waited for me over next 56 miles of a beautiful hilly and mostly forested bike ride. And if that didn’t do me in, there was a high probability the 13.1 miles of running in front of upscale cottage homes and spectacular lake front views would. I dreamingly thought about laying back down and swimming some more. Already came to grips too late to lay back down on a bed and sleep in. Instead, I laid down on the grass where the wetsuit strippers greeted me with such enthusiasm I got my head back in the race. They were awesome, quick, and efficient. Dumped my wetsuit, goggles, and swim cap beside the bike. Strapped on a helmet, pushed on sunglasses, lifted the bike off the rack and was headed towards an exit quickly.
I pushed my bike out of the transition area on the heels of another triathlete who was doing the back-to-back days of a racing double. He still had his race number tattoos from the USAT Nationals race. We stayed within sight of each other for the whole bike leg. The bike course started out hilly and my legs let me know early on they were not feeling well rested. Just under half of our bike climbing came in the first 12 miles of riding. We gained and dropped 800 feet over three significant climbs with one at a 9% grade. Frankly, the hill climbs helped me go out at an early steady pace instead of getting caught up in an all-out, high gear spin on wide open flat roads. By the time we passed through the first set of climbs and descents and reached the relatively flat stretches, my legs settled into an acceptable cadence and power output. My back relaxed too so I assumed a full aero position over the next 20 miles. A couple of times I stood up for four short, steep climbs but mostly I broke aero only to stay limber for the pending three final climbs and a planned 13.1 mile run afterwards.
Sometimes when racing we forget other people are enjoying a normal weekend of activities. For example along Highway 106 almost in Loudan, near the far end of the bike course, there was a guy on a riding lawn mower cutting grass while at the same time he played fetch with his dog. He would chuck a tennis ball using a hyper fling ball launcher and the dog ran after the ball. The dog scooped it up in his mouth, ran towards his master and mower, and dropped it. Meanwhile, the guy would direct his machine towards the slobber covered ball and in a single motion he picked it up and threw it again like a jai alai player for his dog to retrieve and repeat. All while mowing his oversized lawn. A normal weekend activity.
The bulk of bike riding took place on Highway 106 that was open to motorized vehicles. The whole course offered a potpourri sightings. We rode through neighborhoods and hardwoods. We rode by a NASCAR Race speedway. We spun by a roadside beaver dam on a feeder creek to nearby Rocky Pond which was way cool. At the 35 mile mark a dark car with its window rolled down crept up beside matching my speed. Before I could look over I heard an excited yell of “Daddy!” come from my daughters leaning towards the right side window yelling and waving. That was the best spark of energy I received all day. The girls recognized my race jersey and bike from a 1/8th of a mile away. Chris was focused on driving safely while the girls were scouting for me. We talked and she headed off to the Gunstock Mountain Resort to park her rental car and grab a bus down to the transition area to watch me come in and then head out on the run.
At the 50 mile marker I always get jazzed up knowing I can cover the last six miles before moving into my sweet spot of running. We were treated to a three mile descent back towards the transition. Felt like a three mile long moving rest stop going over 40 miles an hour. Scary too on two rubber tires, both half-inch wide contacting the ground of one inch in length for a rolling split second.
If objectively thinking about the speed of descent, we would all agree riding bikes downhill is a thrill ride on the grandest of scales. Unless you ever get to race in the Tour de France. This was not an opportunity to mentally check out but the sense of speed removed all the sense of pain and provided motivation to getting off the bike quicker than in most 70.3 IM races. The fast descent also made the final 200 foot hill climb seem like a simple roller as we cruised into T2 for the changeover to running shoes.
There always seems to be more talking amongst triathletes at the 70.3 IM and full Ironmans races than shorter or smaller races. I expect less talking in bigger races and subconsciously relate them to big city communities. There, few people talk on the streets compared to small town shoppers on the square who always talk to each other because everyone knows everyone else’s business. At Timberman, one of the competitors passed me within the first mile of the bike leg and shared what place I was in for the age group. He out swam me but I passed him during the transition. His wife was his spotter and he was more than happy to share the info. I thanked him. He was slightly stockier and more muscular than the average endurance triathlete. I passed him back on the first bike climb and then he and I played leap frog over the climbs and descents for the next 55 miles. In the middle of the race he pulled away from me. Then as the climbing started over the last 12 miles I caught back up to him. He pulled away from me one last time on the final decent back to the transition area. As we went started on the run I came up from behind him and patted him on the back and told him sincerely he had a great swim and bike. He did too. Made sure he understood I was not giving him a back handed comment and imply to him I would crush him on the run. He finished with a strong run too.
As expected Chris and girls arrived in plenty of time to cheer me on in the transition. Knowing they would be there at the end of the first run loop helped me get motivated to keep going. There seemed to be like hundreds of kids reaching out wanting and getting high fives along the first 200-300 meters of the run course. My two favorite hands came from Caroline and Hayes. And the race seemed more family oriented since Chris and the girls were there. This was the first time in 20 races for the whole family to be together since we went to Georgia for a racecation.
The entire run course was lined with people cheering us on. And there was nothing better in a race than to get into a high performance zone with competitive athletes pulling you along with spectators encouraging everyone to keep going, and family there as part of the experience. The Timberman IM 70.3 triathlon was an exceptionally well organized and family-friendly weekend event. It seemed to be the most family oriented race I did in 2011. There seemed to be more non-racing spouses with kids in tow too. The four foot high plastic mesh fence with sponsors’ logos held back the spectators from the competitors but short bodied heads and hands stretched above the top to get a high five from racers as they came through the mid-race turnaround point or on the last approach to the finish line.
As the run leg started found a comfortable groove on the run after exiting the transition. We headed towards the residential area of million dollar homes with multi-million dollar views of Lake Winnipesaukee. Then he passed me.
He ran with longer strides, a relaxed form and steady gait. He was easily half my age. And I was a middle age fool. In an article Scott Tinley wrote in one of his columns in Triathlon Magazine. Something along the lines if you’re already hurting on the run, then there’s no reason not to run faster as it won’t hurt any worse.
I picked up the pace and closed the gap on the guy. He pulled me along. I pushed him to maintain pace. I helped him emotionally during a short period he struggled physically on the run course. He helped me work through a short struggle too. We talked lightly. We breathed heavily as we ran through the aid stations. Whoever had the side with towels soaked in ice water would grab two, one for each of us. My side ached from breathing deep and quickly. He was hurting too. Yet we kept going at a strong pace for two tired triathletes wanting to earn some acrylic hardware.
This bigger and longer regional race lured triathletes from all over New England. East Coast accents seemed to loom thick when talking with others during the whole event. People liked Timberman because the entire course was beautiful, safe, and challenging.
At the ten mile market I choked on a swig of Coke that went down my wind pipe. I cracked. I broke stride. My run partner slowed to keep the teamwork going. Told him to go ahead. He already did more for me than I ever expected. He was passing others in his age group and was getting nearer to a podium spot. Never did look at his race number during the race so not sure where he finished. But he had a great run and helped me immensely.
The aid stations were well staffed with energetic and motivating volunteers. One of the busiest volunteers I ever saw during a race was at Timberman. He shuttled ice, cups and other suppliers out to the aid stops as needed. During my two loops over the run course we passed each other a dozen times. At one point, when running side by side with him in a quad runner. He looked at me and asked, “Do you do the race every year?” Then he added, “You look familiar.”
I smiled at him and gave a brief answer of “No”.
With the heat and number of competitors he had a busy day. All the competitors were grateful for his services and the rest of the entire volunteers.
The post-race food was plentiful, appetizing, and filling to the weary and adrenalin jacked up triathletes. In addition, the age groupers welcomed professional triathletes who competed. The star headliner was Chrissie Wellington of Great Britain who won the women’s pro race. Chrissie earned four Ironman Triathlon World Championships during her career. At Timberman she handed out finishers’ medals to many of the amateur competitors as they crossed the line. She posed for pictures with those who asked. The racers were thrilled and she enjoyed the opportunity to support the age groupers.
After the race Chris, Caroline, Hayes, and I went over to the beach area of Lake Winnipesaukee and enjoyed a mini picnic. Two days of consecutive racing exhausted me. After eating and a brief dive in the lake, I entered the transition area and retrieved my bike, helmet, and swim gear. My race bag was not there as expected. I walked over to the swim area and looked for a bright red, TYR backpack on the picnic table. No bag. Returned to the transition area and checked again. No bag. Walked over to the Bag Check tent. My bag was not there. Next, asked where Lost & Found was located and went there. No bag there either. Now I’m pissed at myself. I chose not to take the simple extra couple of minutes before the race to secure my bag with the race officials. I left it out to be picked up by anyone wanting some sweaty warm up clothes, suntan lotion, extra GU’s and my money, wallet, cell phone and rental car keys. I was an idiot. Started thinking about how to replace the rental car key and the whole hassle of all the other things replaced.
I headed back into the transition area and checked again in my rack space. No bag. I walked out and moped up to Chris and confessed my sins. She confirmed I was an idiot.
One more time I headed back to the picnic table. No bag on top. I looked beneath it. No bag there. I then walked over to the oversized park trash bin and dug out all the trash and food stuff in there. Beneath all the layers of stuff people deposited in the trash bin was a racer’s backpack. Disappointingly, not mine.
I pulled the backpack out. It had warm-up clothes and more in it. Found a wallet. Saw the remains of the master race stickers’ sheet. The bag belonged to racer #206. Took the bag to the transition area and dropped it in the bike rack slot reserved for #206. I walked away and then realized his bike was not there. Retrieved the bag and walked it into the Lost and Found Tent. And then one more time I re-entered the transition area and walked by my rack space and damn near tripped over my red TYR race bag. My wallet, cash, phone, credit cards, car keys – all there.
The irony is when I asked a simple favor to have my bag dropped off in a much smaller race in Georgia, it never happened. Here, never asked anyone for assistance and the bag ended up in a great place. The backpack enjoyed its own little joy ride journey to jerk its idiot of an owner around a bit.
On the walk to the bus shuttle Chris asked me what I learned about the bag fiasco. Not wanting to get the answer wrong I looked at her quizzically. She proceeded to tell me to follow the procedures (and common sense) set up by race officials to securely check my bag at any future race. On that day though, I received help from good karma, that one good deed deserves another. Maybe we were both right…..
We knew change was in the air. The peacefulness of the morning with its beautiful sunrise gave way to clouds and then the thunderstorms arrived. Wind and rain battered many of the finishers. Eventually the race officials cancelled many post-race activities that didn’t ensure the safety of people or the wellness of the environment of the park.
As a family we jumped on the school bus with my bike and shuttled five miles back to our rental cars. With Chris and Caroline in one vehicle and Hayes with me in the other, we formed a two car pace line as we left Gunstock Mountain Resort and headed to Massachusetts. We drove through the nasty weather on Highway 106 covering a big chunk of the bike leg, close to 25 miles over a 30 minute drive. When traveling the race distance, in a car, I came to realize how far we rode our bikes during the race. It took half an hour in a car to cover under half the bike course. Then double that to an hour for a full 56 miles. Riding in a car for an hour is a long time. Think of all the other things to do in that time period. Attend a regular school class period, watch an episode of CSIC or CBS’ News Magazine, 60 Minutes. Realize 56 miles was a long way to ride on a bike. That’s after 1.2 mile swim. And before a 13.1 mile run. Then double all that when competing a full Ironman triathlon. Everyone who raced in the Timberman accomplished a major physical feat in less than half a day in New Hampshire.
On my Monday recovery run I contemplated the previous day’s events. Being with the entire family at a race was always the most fulfilling aspect of any triathlon. I also realized after competing in two highly competitive triathlons on successive days, I redefined my race capabilities. The accomplishment redefined a new race paradigm for me of what I could handle both mentally and physically on successive days. Especially encouraging was the ability to switch gears from a race of over two hours in duration on Saturday to race completed in under five hours one day later. And both competitions were high caliber races. One put on by USAT and the other an Ironman branded event. Combined with substantial endurance, the weekend accomplishment provided me with the confidence to race back-to-back at Nationals from 2013 through 2015.
Results: 57th overall. 1st in age group.