Monday, September 9, 2013

PumpkinMan Half Ironman - Tom O'Grady

I did the Pumpkinman Half-Ironman race in southern Maine this Sunday. I was delighted to finish in a time of 5 hours and 6 minutes, which was far far beyond my expectations. I though 5:15 was a reasonable "stretch" goal and was realistically expecting about 5:30, so I still can't quite believe it.

Before reporting on the race, I want to say a big thank you to Coach Bill and everyone else from the team who has given me so much advice and encouragement this year - MIT triathlon is awesome! This time last year I could barely swim a quarter mile, had never been on a road bike before, and hadn't been running in three years. So I think this counts as "progress!" Under five hours next year, hopefully...

The event itself was absolutely superb and I would very highly recommend it to anyone looking for a local half-iron. The course is fantastic (see below), and it had a great atmosphere. So many locals were on their porches cheering as we went past, and there were more volunteers than I've ever seen at an event before. Everything felt super-safe, well thought-through and the marshals were screaming encouragement at every turn. And best of all, the end-of-race meal is a thanksgiving dinner! I'd say it's the friendliest, best-organized sports event I've ever been to.

The swim involved two 0.6 mile loops around a lake. It took me 42 minutes, which is what I anticipated as a very weak swimmer, so I was fine with it. In fact I liked doing two loops because mentally I could break it down into two swims, and knew exactly when the half way point was. And for whatever reason, they started the 25-29 year old men together with the 50-54 year olds as the very last wave, so for once there were a few people as slow as me, and I was able to draft a lot and get some rest.

Transition 1 features an unusual long run up a hill into transition, which they actually time as a separate stage (it took 1 min 30 for me), followed by the usual transition. This is either deeply annoying or kind of fun, depending on how much you like running up a hill barefoot. I liked it, as it warmed my legs back up for the bike.

The bike course was fantastic and took me 2 hours 43 mins, for an average of 20.5mph. It is very very flat nearly all the way with good road surfaces. I was in my big ring almost the whole time and it all felt very smooth. It was great starting in the last wave as one of the worst swimmers, because I spent the whole time overtaking people. I was fairly steady for the first 40 miles as I was worried about running out of energy, but I began feeling very strong towards the end and pushed harder for the last 15 miles to come in slightly faster than I was expecting.

Transition 2 was very standard - nothing to report!

The run is always my favorite leg, and I finished in 1 hour 34 mins. I knew beforehand that I was capable of doing this in theory, but it would depend on how tired I was. One the day, I was feeling so pumped coming off the bike ahead of schedule that I ended up just cruising it. To make up for the easy bike leg, the run is quite hilly and features sustained up and down hills. However I had eaten plenty and was feeling strong, so I tried to keep a steady 7-minute pace, which I sustained until about mile 10, after which I dropped off a little as I finally got tired. But in general the run felt great, and I couldn't stop grinning most of the way because I was coming in so much faster than I expected.

Overall it just felt like one of those days when everything fell into place, and went as perfectly as it could have done on the day. In retrospect, two things I think I got right were:

(1) Resting! In previous tris this summer, I hadn't rested very well beforehand as I was treating them as part of the training process for Sunday. In contrast, before the half I did basically nothing for a whole week beforehand, and felt great going into the race. I was like a coiled spring on the start line and felt full of energy during the race. Before I had been thinking "yeah, sure, whatever, people say resting is good" - now I really believe it! In retrospect I'm sure my previous triathlons have suffered a result. Everyone should rest more, especially me!!

(2) Nutrition! I have a very fast metabolism and so I bonk very easily. I practiced eating as much as I could in training, and on the day had a plan that I thought would work, and it did. I had a gel just before the swim, and a clif bar almost as soon as I got on the bike. I had another clif bar an hour into the bike, and a gel 45 minutes before the end of the bike, together with 2 liters of accelerade (full of carbohydrate) and a liter of gatorade, and had 2 more gels whilst on the run. So I ate a lot, but it worked and I didn't get stomach cramps. The main thing was knowing beforehand that my body could do this. 

Anyway, let me know if you want any more info on the race or the course. As I said, I would very highly recommend it, particularly as a first half iron because the bike leg is comparatively very easy.