July 19, 2009

Ironman Rhode Island 70.3 - The Full Report

There is so much to say about this race, which is why it has taken me a week to post this report. How I would feel and perform were a complete mystery since I had maintained a heavy training load and didn't taper. My legs were tired, my body was tired and my heart wasn't in it. I struggled to want to be there so desperately and it wasn't until the final days before the race that I finally started to get excited. Arriving in Providence made it all come together.

This race required one of my earliest wake-ups yet. The alarm went off at 2:25 after about 4.25 hours of sleep. While my sleep was short, it was really good so I actually felt ok. I don't know how to describe how I feel on race morning. It's not nervous or anxious, it's not worried, it's not excited. It's sort of numb. I know there is an incredible day ahead of me that will be filled with valuable experiences, a variety of emotions, pain and joy. But I never think too much about what is about to happen because you cannot predict or control race day, you just have to let it unfold.

I toasted my english muffin and had some coffee before getting dressed and checking out of my room. I met my friend Jonah in the lobby at 3:20 so we could walk over to the shuttle buses together. They departed promptly at 4. We chatted the entire drive, 56 miles to Narragansett, where we would swim and then begin our ride back to Providence. When we got off the bus the first thing I noticed was the sound of the ocean. An overnight storm had soaked our transition area and done a number on the swim course. Apparently most of the buoys had been misplaced and some seemed to have drifted away. It was misty, windy, dark and cold. Very surreal. There wasn't much to do since we had already set up T2 downtown so I took my bike to the techs to have the tires filled. I figured I'd let someone else do the work for once.

I killed time by chatting with Jonah, making a couple trips to the porta potty, talking to the girls racked around me and looking for friends as they continued to arrive. They made an announcement the race would be delayed due to the swim course being scattered around the ocean. I started to worry they would cancel the swim, but instead they allowed people to skip it if they were uncomfortable with the conditions. It was cold so I got into my wetsuit to stay warm and headed to the beach. I ran into my friend Mat who's also doing Ironman Wisconsin. Eventually I decided to get in and test out the water. It was rough and I knew the swim would be a major challenge, but I was looking forward to it. I didn't let it get to me.

The Swim

My goal for the swim was:

Swim with confidence by positioning myself 2/3 of the way back in the pack, focusing on moving in a straight line rather than weaving to avoid others and draft when the opportunity is there.

We had a running start from the beach so I had to rethink my positioning. My wave was pretty big since they lumped together the 30-34 and 35-39 females and we had a lot of room to spread out along the shore. I chose to take a spot in the second row about five people from where the buoy line would be. The cannon went off and we started to run through the waves. It was hard to get out to a point to be able to swim and it was crowded, but I dove in and went for it. I took a lot of contact and kept moving. I was amazed by how well I was handling the chop, which was so rough near the shore it was lifting me up and dropping me back in the water. A guy from the wave before ours turned around and got out. But I was out there doing it and it felt great.

I swam really hard and strong the entire first half and may have been moving faster than normal due to my effort to battle the chop. There also seemed to be a current pulling out that gave us a boost. I reached the first turn buoy in 18 minutes. As I made the lateral swim to the next buoy line I heard a lot of noise and realized a woman right next to me was signaling for help and a kayaker was on his way. I've never seen that happen in a race, it was very disorienting.

The swim back in was harder for me, maybe due to the current or fatigue. But I kept going and didn't let the other swimmers slow me down. I was really proud of how I handled myself. This would never have been me one year ago. Before I knew it I was at the exit and running to transition. I glanced at my watch and couldn't believe it - 38:55.

The Bike

I was pretty quick in T1 and on my way on the bike. My goal was:

Stay on my nutrition plan regardless of course challenges/distractions and practice passing through the bottle exchanges without stopping or getting in the way of other riders.

This was an incredible ride for me. I feel like my hard work last month in Lake Placid and Wisconsin paid off. I covered 19.08 miles in the first hour, but my average dropped in the second hour due to the hills, which I felt I tackled really strongly. I felt good in the final hour and my average was 18 until the twisty, turny, potholey, railroad track filled final stretch. My legs felt great, my energy level was consistent and I felt like this was the strongest ride I've done this season.

I followed an HR strategy I had tucked under the rubber band on my aero bottle, and was relatively on track nutrition wise. In the past I've underhydrated or underfueled, but I actually overdrank in this race. I killed the entire aero bottle in 30 minutes and it's supposed to last an hour. It was also cool and overcast so I wasn't sweating. I had to pee so badly I thought I might burst. I wondered if the time had come for me to finally give in and pee on the bike, but then I thought about sitting in the car for six hours, unshowered with my bike in the backseat and I held it. It was truly miserable but I felt like I had to. Clearly I'm going to have to figure out what to do in Wisconsin because I cannot ride in that level of discomfort for twice the time and there is no way I'm wasting precious time in a porta potty line.

I was pretty excited when I saw my time at the dismount line - 3:08:17.

The Run

The run had to wait until I made that much-needed pit stop. Thankfully the porta potties were right next to my transition spot, but I still lost at least two minutes. My goal for the run was:

Don’t be afraid to push a bit harder on the run, focusing on not going out too fast, but also not falling into a slower pace than I’m capable of due to race day discomfort.

I was aiming to maintain an 8:40-8:50 pace and see if I could hold it. If it was too difficult I planned to slow down and go for a negative split instead. I felt strong at the start and walked the "hell hill" on Angel Street due to advice from those who had done the race before. This hill was basically straight up and lasted for a good half mile. It was unreal. It hit around Mile 2 and 7 and hurt even walking.

The only downside of the run was my constant battle with side stitches. I had to press really hard on the point of pain while trying to breathe deeply, all while maintaining a consistent pace. I started skipping aid stations thinking liquid might be the culprit. I also had a mysterious shooting pain in my left foot around Mile 9 that almost took me down. I debated stopping for a stretch but decided to limp through it and thankfully it passed. My plantar fascias are always threatening to ruin my day so I was a little concerned.

But otherwise this run was uneventful and good. I kept waiting to run out of steam or have the hideous pain set in but it didn't happen. I was enjoying the course and the crowds and having the best race I could have asked for. There was a long stretch where they posted signs made by athletes' friends and family just like they do in the Ironman races. It was really touching to read what the race meant to so many people. For every person out there competing there were several others just as invested in it and just as hopeful for the outcome.

At the turnaround I realized I was on track for a sub 6-hour finish and was overcome with emotion. I didn't want to screw it up so I stayed conservative until the 11 mile mark, then I gave it my all. Even if I lapsed into a super slow pace I'd still make it. I had more energy than I did at Mile 1 and passed a lot of people in the final stretch. I felt like I was floating. The finish wasn't as grand as New Orleans but it was still very powerful. My run was 1:55:11, better than some stand alone half marathons I've done.

With this finish, 5:50:17, I killed my previous half Ironman time by 26 minutes, a huge personal record and an unbelievable day. I was so overjoyed I could barely breathe and all I could think about was Ironman Wisconsin. I'm ready.


  1. Great job, huge PR. Onto Wisconsin, 8 weeks. Glad you feel ready, I don't.

  2. A-mazing!!!

    I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog....

    Congrats on a great race!!!



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