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.