Timberman Half Ironman 2014, Gilford NH
Since I enjoyed reading the race reports from other team members, I’d like to share the experience I had doing the Timberman Half Ironman in Gilford, New Hampshire. To paraphrase trending scientific triathlon literature: ‘I wanted to do a half Ironman. I trained for it. I did it.’1 Most importantly, I had a great time during the race as well as during the months preparing for it.
My pre-race preparation started by the end of November, when I signed up for the race. Doing the Buzzards Bay sprint (run-bike-run due to a cancelled swim) and a total of four swim workouts triggered me enough to sign up for a half. The first months I only attended the Tuesday night swim training, but slowly I got more engaged with the team and added track practice, another swim workout and weekend rides to the repertoire. To mix up the training workouts, I did the season opener sprint, the Harriman Olympic and the Mass state Olympic, and by the time Timberman came around I felt ready to race.
Race morning started very relaxed. We had rented a house with the team close to the start and my bike was already in transition, so little to worry about. After a large bucket of yoghurt with cereal, bananas and honey and a few sandwiches I still had plenty of time, so I took a nice long shower before I submerged myself in bodyglide and chamois butter.
At the race site I set up my transition stuff, took my first gel of the day with ‘espresso love’ and went for a little stroll to facilitate disposal of the last bit of unnecessary race weight. When I walked over to the swim start I felt good, though still a little nervous about how I would distribute my energy over the different parts to make my goal time. These nerves quickly disappeared when I overheard two fairly big guys discussing their race plan; “Deep in the red, all the way!!”. Then I just got smile on my face and decided to figure it out along the way.
Swim (1.2 miles 33:56)
The swim was in Lake Winnipesaukee; three legs in super clear water. I ate my last banana and went in the water to warm up for the age group start. Since I’m not the fastest swimmer, I decided to take off hard and try to find a slightly faster person to draft off. Inspired by Samuel’s race plan, I lined up on the left behind two big guys and went for it. I didn’t experience too much contact and was able to stay on their feet until the first buoy. Then we bumped into a lot of swimmers from earlier waves, which made me switch a few times between people to draft of. I may have done some additional yards in the process, but it gave me something to focus on and in retrospect I couldn’t have done it this fast on my own. The last leg of the swim I picked up my pace and kicked a bit more to get the blood to my legs.
Transition 1 went pretty smooth. I had my wetsuit stripped by a volunteer, dried my feet, put on socks and shoes and ran out of transition for a flying mount start.
Bike (56 miles 2:39:40)
The bike part was a ‘scenic, out and back bike course with plenty of rolling hills and several challenging hills ranging from 3% to 9% grade’. I took off pretty conservative since the ‘challenging’ hills were all in the first 12 miles and tried to keep above 20mph after that. My nutrition plan had basically come down to taping as many energy bars to my frame as possible and eat something every 15-20 minutes. I figured 9 GUs, 2 packs of shot blocks and 2 crumbled cliff bars should get me through the 3 hours I was aiming for. Well, at least it gave my neighbors in transition a good laugh. I also had one bottle with water, one with 2 tablets of nuun electrolytes and I grabbed and tossed water bottles for a few sips of water at every aid station.
The first 28 miles went down pretty easy, because of a slight elevation drop (no pun intended). The course was a fairly boring freeway shoulder, but I enjoyed watching/passing people and the simple fact that I was doing the race. I finished the first half with an average of 19.3mph and already envisioned myself transitioning from the bike to the run. That optimistic feeling slowly disappeared by the time I thought I had done 45 miles while in fact I had only done 35. I was starting to get bored, my butt was getting sore and all the water I drunk to wash down the GUs was starting to put pressure on my bladder. I figured I could hold it till transition and that if I would go faster, I would get there earlier. The projection of T2 porta-potties gave me a boost of moral, but the pressure remained, and after a few miles I decided roll up a sleeve and let it out. I felt reborn. I picked up my pace a bit more and by the time I got back to the ‘challenging’ hills I was really getting into it. Making sure to stay as ‘aero’ as possible on the up and downhill I finished the second part of the bike averaging 22.5 mph.
Transition 2 went as planned. I jumped of my bike right before the line and ran into transition. Changed into my running shoes and put on my race belt on the way out.
Run (13.1 miles 1:36:52)
The run consisted of two loops ‘along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee and offers views of the White Mountains, along with plenty of rolling hills.’ I don’t remember seeing the White Mountains, but the rolling hills and the crowds made the run a lot more fun than the bike part.
Based on what I heard from others in the team, I decided to start relaxed and aim for 8 minutes per mile for the first 1-2 miles. I was pretty pumped when I came off the bike and running and running slower than 7:30 min/mile was more difficult than I thought. After a mile I felt that the relieve on the bike had not been sufficient, and I stopped at a porta-potty to shake out the last bits.
Coming out of the porta-potty, I almost literary ran into Felix. After being alone on the course for a few hours this was a very pleasant surprise. Since we were both wearing the exact same MIT kit, we decided to team up to please the crowds. We tested different drafting techniques and had a good time chatting, and the first lap was over before I knew it. Although we were clowning a bit, we were still running a decent ~7min/mile pace. I guess it’s true that you run faster with a smile on your face.
In the second lap, Felix suggested to pick up the pace after the turnaround point, though as soon as he mentioned that he already started to speed up. Since he’s a faster runner (and he had conserved his energy drafting behind me for several yards) I had to consider my options. I felt good and confident to keep running at the same pace, but since I hadn’t run more than a 10k in preparation I was afraid the man with the hammer would be waiting at mile 11 if I stayed with Felix. Also, I was on track to beat 5 hours which was faster than my wildest goal time, so I decided to keep my rhythm and let him go.
I alternated water and sports drinks at every aid station and at mile 11 I still felt strong. I started picking people in the distance and try to catch up. One girl was particularly hard to catch; every time I came close, she would throw back a skittish look and sprint away. Apparently she was leading in her age group and every time she saw me coming with my long manes she thought her medal was in danger. This catchup drill added some extra speed to my last few miles and I finished with a big smile on my face.
Final time 4:54:01
After the race I felt that it had all come together. Not just the race and the weekend with the team, but the whole preparation that had started many months before. Looking back I realize I could never have gotten to this result alone and joining the triathlon team turned out to be key in my preparation. Although you have to put in the hours yourself, it’s a lot easier to do it together with a great bunch of people and get some guidance on the way. During the workouts and on little trips I learned a lot from teammates about training plans, gear, nutrition and race preparation. And a lot of other nonsense that turned out to be very useful; “is it more aero like this, or like this” became almost a mantra during the race. Also training with coach Bill made a big difference. His tips and videos helped me to get from “a banana falling out of a tree” to something that at least looks like a swimmer. Thanks to the whole MIT tri team, in particular Isabel, Eleanor, Justin, and unofficial mentor Samuel for making it such a great year.
1. Moser 2014. IM Canada 2014 race report