When I signed up for a late-September triathlon, I thought I’d be racing in brisk temperatures, and prepared myself for the worst. Instead, I got weather more akin to August: sunny and 80-plus degrees. Not that I’m complaining… I almost didn’t make it to the race at all. More on that in a sec.
Pilgrimman, a new race in Plymouth, Mass., was a late add to my race calendar. After my tri in Ashland last June, I was passively interested in doing another Olympic. Meanwhile, my friend Danielle was looking to do her first triathlon. I knew I had to be in Chicago the days before the race, but figured I could fly home Saturday night and be good to go Sunday morning. Little did I know that a disgruntled employee would set fire to the air traffic control tower outside Chicago that manages much of the midwest’s air space. My flight home Saturday night was cancelled, along with hundreds of others, and when I called United customer service they told me that all flights for Saturday were off. Instead, they booked me on a flight Sunday. I called Danielle and told her there was no way I’d be there for her first triathlon. I’m not sure who was more bummed: Danielle at the idea of racing alone, or me at the thought of missing the race.
I went back to my hotel room and saw that friends were posting about the airport on social media. A few flights were getting out. So I logged into United.com, hit manage my reservation, and found out that there were seats on a 4 p.m. nonstop flight to Boston. I rebooked myself, packed my bags, and hopped in a cab, trying not to get too excited at the prospect of making it home in time to race.
Before I knew it I had a boarding pass in my hand….
and I was on the plane. Bliss!
A celebratory margarita and the knowledge that I’d probably be up late meant I slept the whole flight back. I met Danielle at my place where we feasted on lentils, brown rice, swish chard, salmon, and ice cream before setting a 5 a.m. alarm and heading to bed.
Sunday morning went off smoothly. We were out the door at 5:45 and met our friend Scott a bit after 6.
The race was held at Myles Standish State Forest. Parking and navigating were a bit confusing, as I’d never been there before, but between Danielle’s knowledge (she’d biked the course the week before) and the event staff, we found the parking area and made our way to the race site.
After picking up our bibs, we made our way to the transition area and I showed Danielle how to get set up. As you can see in this photo from the Ashland Tri, I’m a big fan of an orderly transition area. The less thinking one had to do in transition, the better, in my opinion.
We had plenty of time before Danielle’s wave started at 9, so we took a few selflies, applied sunscreen and body glide liberally, and ate a snack.
Then we headed down to the water to watch the half-iron racers swim. Pretty soon, Danielle was lining up with her wave, ready to start her first triathlon.
The swim course was a .3-mile loop that you had to swim three times. In between each lap you had to get out of the water, run around some cones, and then start swimming again. It was a pain, but it also meant that I got to cheer for Danielle as she finished her first lap.
Shortly after Danielle came by, I lined up with my wave and got ready to start my own race.
There were only about 12 people starting in my wave, which meant a much calmer start than other races I’ve been at. I stood on the left side of the group, and had pretty clean water from the beginning. As usual, I focused on keeping my breathing and stroke steady, and this was by far the calmest I’ve felt during the swim portion of a race. I finished the first lap in about eight minutes, but man, standing up and running in the middle of a swim is tough. The loops also made it tough to tell where I was in my wave, as I wasn’t ever sure if the person I was passing was on the same lap as I was. Once we were done swimming, there was an uphill run of about 200 yards back to the transition area. Whenever I stand up afar swimming I feel light headed, and this was no exception. It was a tough run to the transition, but there were a couple girls in my age group right behind me, so I booked it. I made it out in 27:24, second in my age group. Two other women were 20 seconds behind me.
Between the run and the swim, I was a bit light headed in the transition area, and getting my wetsuit off was sort of a challenge. I ended up getting it covered in grass and dirt… oh well. I tried to focus on speed as I pulled on my shoes and helmet and hopped on the bike. I was out of there in 2:13.
The bike course was two loops of a 14-mile out and back that consisted of rolling hills. About 45 minutes after starting I ate my first Gu (15 minutes into the bike). I ate half a Clif bar 45 minutes later, and the rest about two miles from the end of the bike leg. I’d put aero bars on my bike the week before the race, but hadn’t used them before (super smart, I know). I was surprised at how easy they were to use though, and tucked in for the majority of the 28 miles. The course itself was pretty, and the rolling hills weren’t too bad, but the hairpin turns at the ends of the course were pretty annoying. You basically had to stop, turn around, and then start back up again. I felt good during the bike, and probably should have pushed it a bit more, but it was 80 degrees out and I was sort of worried about the run. I finished in 1:39:18, with an average speed of 16.9.
There was a bit of a run/walk once I got off the bike and I really wish I’d taken my shoes off so I could get through the transition area faster. I felt pretty good coming off the bike, and having things laid-out well meant that I was in and out pretty quickly. Having quick-laces would have sped things up even more. T2: 1:58.
It was 80 degrees and sunny when I got off the bike. I ran out of transition and passed a few people, which made me feel good, but a yoga class taken the day before had left me with tight hamstrings that plagued me through out the run. The course was two 3.3 mile loops with some rolling hills. I ran the first loop, and took water at every mile. At the 3.3 mile mark I had another Gu and prepared myself to do the loop all over again. Since I was pouring water over my head, I didn’t carry my phone with me, so I have no idea what my splits were, but I suspect the second loop was much slower than the first. My legs just felt like they had nothing left. Around the four-mile mark a girl in my age group passed me. I kept her in sight, and when she ran into the woods to use the bathroom I tried to put as much distance as I could between her and me. She passed me again around mile 5, and then started walking and so I passed her and again, tried to give myself a good lead. But with less than a quarter mile to go, she passed me again and I didn’t have anything left to chase her down. She beat me by 21 seconds. Run time: 1:10:53 (10:45 pace).
Danielle and Scott were waiting for me at the finish. I was so hot and tired I wanted to drop. Fortunately, someone took a photo:
Photo credit: Jacob Martin
From here, we booked it back to the pond where I submerged myself until my body temperature was back in a normal range. It might have been the best swim of my life.
My finish time was 3:21:44, fourth in my age group and 88th out of 146 athletes.
Overall, I think this race went better than my prior tris, but I clearly still have work to do. What went well:
- Nutrition: I think I’ve finally figured out my pre-race fuel needs, and have nailed my in-race nutrition. There was no point in the race where I felt like I was on the edge of bonking.
- Transitions: are definitely getting speedier.
Things I didn’t do well:
- Yoga the day before the race was a bad idea. I overdid it on my hamstrings, and they were screaming for the whole run.
Things to work on:
- Bike. My bike sped here was a mile faster than it was in Ashland, but I really need to build power on bike. 17 mph is ok, but I know I can do better.
- Bricks. I need to incorporate more of these into my workouts so my final leg is more powerful.
I’m sort of struggling with what to do now that tri season is over. I know I want to keep swimming and biking over the winter, but I haven’t completely figured out the logistics. Dark mornings mean biking is harder (probably should just get the trainer set up). Anyway, suggestions and advice are always welcome. Looking forward to doing it all again next year.
The forecast said 47 degrees Tuesday, the alarm said 5:45 a.m., and I questioned my sanity. Was I really going to head our to Walden pond for one last swim on the first day of autumn? Peer pressure is sometimes a wonderful thing.
My friends were waiting when I arrived at 6:33. We pulled on wetsuits as the sky faded from black to purple to pink. Steam rose from the dark water, creating an eerie haze. After a few obligatory photos, we shed our jackets, pulled on our caps and made our way to the shore. The water was cool, but warmer than the air. We stood around waist deep, letting the water seep into our wetsuits. It wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be, but this was definitely no summer swim. Knowing I’d be warmer once I started moving, I dove in and started heading for the opposite shore. Four other bodies followed suit, and soon Katy was leaving me in her wake.
I swam with no fear, a big change from my first morning at Walden back in June. The fog made it tough to see one another, so we stopped halfway across to regroup, floating and giggling like eight-year-olds at summer camp. We paused again when we got to the other side. The sun was just rising above the trees, casting everything in a golden light, and making it impossible to see the shore we’d just come from. Everything felt special in that moment: the friends who have trained beside me all summer (heck, all year); this pond with its stark beauty and deep, mysterious waters; the sunrise, which always delights me.
Regardless of whether I’m on a bike, in a pool, or on my feet, exercise is an opportunity to get out of the confines of my life, to be reminded of the wonders of the world, and to shed superficial thoughts and needs to find a truer version of myself. I never feel more authentic than when I’m engaged in a physical activity, pushing my limits and letting my mind wander. Yesterday was a perfect example. It was also a reminder of how far I’ve come. Three years ago, sub 50-degree weather was the perfect excuse for skipping a run. Now, I’m swimming in it.
We swam back in one fell swoop. It was beautiful out there, and much quieter than it was just a month ago. It felt like I had the whole place to myself.
I swam ahead of the group and ran up to retrieve my phone in its drypak so I could take some photos. Unfortunately, it was so cold that my phone died after just a few shots.
Getting out was the hardest part. It was cold! I toweled off as fast as I could, hopping from food to foot on the cold ground. I ran to my car, turned on the heat as high as possible, and drove to a local coffee shop to warm up. In my haste to get warm, I didn’t even turn around for a last look.
It’s kind of hard to believe that after eight months of thinking about it and hundreds of miles of training, Timberman is over. Well, it was over two weeks ago…
In the days leading up to the race, I had no doubt that I’d finish. But Sunday, there were a few times that I thought seriously about quitting. Despite all the training and planning, life threw a few curve balls my way. I didn’t have the race I thought I would. I got kind of mad, and it was a bit disappointing. But I finished. And I’m pretty sure I’ll do another 70.3.
I won’t bury the lead. I got three flat tires on my bike. Yes, three. I estimate that I lost more than an hour between between changing the tire twice, and riding on a flat/semi-flat tire for several miles. More on that later.
The day started pretty well. The alarm went off at 4:45 a.m., and I was on the road by 5:30 with my friends Scott and Danielle in tow. Scott was also racing, but D came just to cheer. And she still got up at 4:45… what a great friend. We arrived at the parking lot shortly after 6, boarded a shuttle, and were at the starting area by 6:30. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the transition area closed at 6:45, so I didn’t get much time to set up. Basically, I put my bag next to my bike, grabbed my wetsuit, cap, and goggles, and ran out.
It was sort of a perfect day for a long race. I’d worried all summer that race day would be sweltering, but instead it was overcast, and a bit drizzly. After getting body marked (which I almost forgot) I headed to the swim start. I was alone, and trying not to get too nervous as my wave inched towards the start. At 7:25 we entered the water, and at 7:30 the gun went off.
I’m a strong swimmer, and I still find mass starts unnerving. I started in the front center of the wave, and was instantly surrounded by 120 bodies. I did my best to focus on keeping my stroke consistent and not freak out. My morning swims at Walden definitely helped with this, but I definitely felt like I was in an aquatic mosh pit. The swim course was 1.2 miles: out to a buoy, make a right, then swim parallel to the shore to another buoy, another right, and into shore. I started catching up with swimmers from the previous wave before I made the first right; shortly thereafter I was catching up with women from the wave before that. It was sort of a good feeling to know I was passing people who started 10 minutes before me, but it also meant a lot of congestion. The last leg in particular was super choppy and crowded, but finally I was standing up and running the last few yards out of the water.
I finished the swim in 34:32, 23rd in my age group.
A rather crowded swim finish.
I ran into the transition area, got my wetsuit stripped, and took my time putting on socks and taking a quick drink. T1 time = ~5 minutes.
The bike leg initially started off great. The rain had stopped and the streets were drying. I held a comfortable but challenging pace, and made sure to eat every 45 minutes. I wished I’d put my new tri bars on my bike, as I got passed a lot, but I was maintaining a 16 mph average pace on a very hilly course. My mom and stepdad surprised me around mile 25 (spectators aren’t supposed to leave the transition area), and it was fun to see someone out there, as I hadn’t run into any other racers I knew.
When I hit the halfway point, I thought to myself “man, if I can keep this pace up, I’m going to kill my goal time.” And then, about 30 seconds later I heard a bang, and realized it had come from my rear wheel.
I was incredulous. I haven’t gotten a flat in years. But the week before at the bike shop, the bike mechanic has pointed out how worn my back tire was and had suggested I get a new one. “You’re going to start getting a lot of flats if you don’t,” he told me. Knowing I had a race ahead, I told him to replace it. I didn’t want to get a flat on the course.
And yet, there I was, poking my tire like the Pilsbury dough boy, not believing that it really was flat. I got my spare tube and kit out and set about taking the tire off the rim. I got the bad tube out and stashed it so I could look at it later and figure out what happened. I checked the tire for debris and holes; there were none. I put the new tube in, got the tire back on the rim and found a CO2 cartridge to inflate it. When I put the tool onto the stem of the tube, a piece of it broke off and got stuck in my tool. “I’m finished,” I thought.
It seemed like the entire race field was riding by in those minutes. I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew my family was nearby, but race rules prohibit the use of phones, so I didn’t have mine with me. I started walking back towards the intersection I’d just passed through, where race volunteers were directing traffic. I told one of them that I had a flat and needed help. To my surprise, a bike mechanic was there. He had a spare tube and a pump, and set to work helping me. Unfortunately, that tube stem was broken too, so he had to go find another one. The third tube seemed to work, and after profusely thanking the mechanic, I was off again, almost 30 minutes after I’d stopped.
By this point, the flow of racers has slowed to a trickle. I set about passing as many of them as I could. But my heart wasn’t in it as much. I wasn’t going to make my goal time. Not because I hadn’t trained, not because I bonked, but because of a stupid mechanical issue I couldn’t control.
A few miles later I ran into my friend Ken. Ken and I run together at November Project, and earlier this summer we did a training ride to Cape Cod. I have never been happier to run into someone I know. I told him about the flat. He told me about his swim. I can’t remember what else we talked about but it was nice to have company.
Pretty shortly after I started bonking a bit. I’d stopped eating when my tire blew, and forgot to start again. Everything felt terribly hard, and on a hill, I watched Ken slowly pull away. For awhile, I could see his bright yellow jersey ahead of me, but eventually, I lost him. I tried to eat half a peanut butter sandwich and drink some sports drink, but it didn’t help much. My head hurt and I felt like I might barf. Then I looked down and saw that my rear tire was flat again. I was at mile 47, nine miles from the finish, and no where near an aid station. I tried to ignore it for a few minutes, but started to worry that I’d hurt my bike if I kept riding on a flat. Fortunately, as I coasted down a hill I saw some cops ahead directing traffic. I pulled over and asked if they could radio race support to send a bike mechanic. They did.
We made small talk while I waited. I stretched a bit and watched people pass me. I couldn’t believe my tire was flat again. I thought about quitting. The situation seemed ridiculous, and why put myself through 13.1 miles of running just to finish with a crappy time? But then I thought about the months of training, and the fact that there was no physical reason to quit. I thought about my friend Katy, sidelined with a hip fracture, who would have probably gladly traded broken bones for flat tires.
The bike mechanic showed up right about then. I told him what had happened. “You want to call it a day?” he asked. He was driving a pickup truck with a bike rack on the back. It was a tempting thought. “Do I have to?” I asked. “Have I missed the cutoff for the bike?”
“No, you’ve got plenty of time,” he told me. “The last guy is 10 miles back.”
So he changed my tire, and I kept riding. The last nine miles were better, but I didn’t trust my bike. I hit my brakes on the downhills, afraid my tire would blow. About a mile from the finish, it started to go flat again, but I made it to the transition area. Official bike time: 4:35:58 (For comparison, my bike computer read 3:47… I had about 45 minutes of downtime).
Being in the transition area was good and bad. A steady stream of racers was finishing, while I still had 13 miles to run (boo). But seeing folks smiling and getting their medals gave me new resolve to finish (yay!). After saying hi to my mom and sister, I was off. T2= 5:55
Thanks to the downtime and stretching, my legs felt pretty good on the run. I kept a pace that was comfortable, but not grueling. The course was two loops of an out and back, which was kind of nice as it meant I got to see a few friends along the way, always a welcome sight.
There were aid stations pretty regularly, and I heeded the advice that someone gave me to “take something at every station.” Mostly, I took cups of water, drank a sip or two, and poured the rest over my head. Towards the end I took a couple of Gu’s. Since I was no longer in “race” mode, I dialed back a bit. I didn’t walk, but I kept myself in a comfortable zone, and stopped a few times to use the bathroom. I passed a good number of people in this leg, which made me feel speedy, even thought was actually the slowest 13.1 miles of my life.
A very pretty race site
My sister, Nicki, ran part of the second loop with me. She doesn’t run much, and might have been sorer than me the next day, but it was nice to have someone to chat with and help pass the time. I swear that run course seemed like it was 15 miles long. But finally, I was in the homestretch, and crossing the finish line, almost eight hours after I’d started. My performance earned me 93rd place in my age group… out of 97.
(Official run time: 2:35:50. Official race time: 7:57:13.)
My family and friends were there cheering as I finished. I was incredibly glad and grateful to see them. And despite race day not going precisely as planned, I was incredibly happy with and grateful for the whole experience. This wasn’t about my eight hours on the course; it was about eight months of work. Yes, it strengthened me physically, but beyond that, it enhanced my whole life. It strengthened my friendships with people like Katy, Kelvin, and Ken, who trained beside me, keeping me motivated and honest. It brought me to new places, and introduced me to new people that I now call friends. It made me realize that getting up at 4:45 a.m. isn’t that hard when you know there are six or eight smiling faces waiting to swim beside you, that biking for four hours feels like nothing when you’re cracking jokes with the people around you.
None of this would had been possible without the encouragement and support of many, many friends. Those who trained beside me, cheered for me, physically pushed (and pulled) me up hills, bought me a post-workout snacks, offered race/training advice for my endless questions, told me jokes so I’d forget how sore my legs were on the bike, met me downtown after work on a sweltering July afternoon for an 8-mile run followed by a dip in a pool, invited me to all you can eat Indian buffet for lunch, sold me cheap second-hand gear, put triathlon stickers on my car, pretended not to notice when I passed out facedown on the beach after a brick workout, drove me and my bike home from the Cape, were understanding of the fact that I was a social enigma, helped me stretch, gave me back rubs, suggested Gu flavors… thank you all for making this experience so rewarding. I can’t wait to do it again.