The Ironman Rhode Island 70.3 course is a bit different than most triathlon courses out there, primarily due to its point to point nature. This means that instead of starting and ending in roughly the same place, you actually start on the other side of the state and finish downtown on the steps of its capitol. As such, the logistics of the race can be a bit daunting if you’re doing it for the first time. Mostly because unlike a typical tri where you can just toss everything in your transition bag, this one requires two separate transition setups in two separate cities, and one of which must be done the day before.
So Saturday we dropped off our ‘Run bags’ in T2 near the finish line (where the bike to run transition was). The only thing allowed in T2 was our simple red bag, with whatever we could pack inside it. In my case this would just be my running shoes and my camelback (which has my run gels in it).
Had I been more coordinated I would have also remembered I needed my Garmin 305 in it, but somehow I forgot that item. But that wasn’t a huge deal since it just came along for the ride on the bike (I use a Garmin Edge 705 on my bike primarily).
After we dropped off our run stuff, we drove a quick loop around the run course. I’d say this run course is one of the more brutal half-iron ones out there, probably rivaling the Wildflower run course in some respects. The difference is this one kinda sneaks up on you. But more on that later…
Finally, unlike last year, this year the day-prior bike check-in was optional. Last year you had to drive all the way down to the beach (about 45 minutes away) and check-in your bike on Saturday. This year you could bring it the morning of (thank you!). So we opted for the morning of option.
As we fell asleep the night before, pretty intense thunderstorms rolled into town, drenching basically everything. In the process it also moved the swim course a wee bit, so that resulted in about a 15-20 minute delay of game while they rounded up the swim buoys and relocated them to the correct state.
Meanwhile, we got all set. As I mentioned, this was the other transition area we had to setup. Like T2 (bike to run), this one is also a ‘clean’ transition area. This means the only things allowed have to be in the race provided bags (black for T1, red for T2). And the bag had to be hanging from your bike. Thus the ONLY thing allowed to touch the ground was your front (or back) wheel. They were a bit lax on enforcing it this year, but I certainly didn’t want to take any chances getting a penalty before the race even started.
My setup was pretty basic. Bike shoes on the bike, socks chilling out, and the helmet/glasses on my aerobottle. The black bag was hooked up above onto my seat-post. Quick and simple, then time to bail out of T1 and visit the bathroom…a few times.
Given the race was now starting around 6:20AM instead of 6:00AM, and that our waves were more like 7:15-7:25AM, we had a bit of times on our hands.
So we did the usual and watched a bunch of waves go off. As well as continuing to watch the fairly choppy conditions. Anytime you’re doing an ocean swim you should watch the waves prior to see if you can pickup on little details like which way the current is pushing and if the incoming waves are plopping people back on shore. Last year the waves easily dropped people right back on the beach, this year it was more just a heavy chop than anything else.
Then we got in pre-race swim. This is crucial to getting both warmed up and reminding your muscles how to swim, but also getting your body acclimated to the cooler water.
From there…it was time to cruise into the three rolling waiting pens which would eventually dump you at the start line:
Soon enough, it was go-time. I started on the front left inside (front right in the below pic, third from right). Mostly because in many of the previous waves people were staying to the right side (since the current was pushing right to left), however the added effort of battling 100+ of your friends wasn’t worth simply out-swimming the very light current.
As we started, I quickly found the water very shallow for my height. So I ran as darn far as I could while easily still outrunning some swimmers. We’re not even talking knee height yet, so I wasn’t losing really any energy here. In the below picture I’ve long since transitioned to swimming (upper mid-left of picture).
It didn’t take long for the group to bunch together again as the waves pushed and pulled the groups together. For the most part I kept a pretty constant effort on the swim. While it was definitely the roughest swim I’ve done yet, it wasn’t terribly bad. Due to the waves the buoys at times were hard to see, but with an hour’s worth of swim waves prior to me, I had plenty of carnage in the water to follow. Like a big breadcrumb trail.
Less than 29 minutes later I mini-bodysurfed my way back onto shore.
And I crossed the swim timing mats a few hundred yards up the beach at 29:02. Not too shabby, a PR on the swim by 2 minutes.
From there I picked out the biggest burliest looking guys I could find in the wetsuit stripper section and about 1.2 seconds later my wetsuit was removed. I always advice to find the biggest dudes you can find in the lineup of strippers. Cause really, you don’t want a misfire – it’s all about raw power. The guys below on the left were the ones I ‘utilized’:
After that I zipped over to my bike and put on my glasses/helmet and then socks. As I grabbed my bike and started to run one of my shoes caught on the ground and popped off. So rather than running with it in my hand, I simply just slipped into it and ran with one shoe on and one shoe off.
Further inspection of the shoe in question reveals the obvious reason why:
As I got to the mount line I did have to take an extra second because with my left shoe now on my foot instead of my bike, it made the task of the semi-flying mount a wee bit more difficult. So my departure from the mount line was less than elegant and may or may not have involved nearly visiting some spectators.
The first portion of this bike course is very quick due to significant tailwinds coming off the water/beach. Combined with the basically flat terrain for the first 15-20 miles, it makes it very easy to settle into zone and really rock it. From there you turn inland and go make a very gradual ascent to mile 28, before you get into a section of rollers.
For this first 20-mile section, everything was pretty much perfect. My HR was exactly in zone where I wanted it, my average speed was 23.8MPH and I was feeling very solid.
As my Garmin 705 did it’s little dance tune to let me know I was about to change zones (I had programmed it the night prior with all my zones for the race)…
…I started pushing it a bit harder. This next 8 mile section was slightly uphill (between 20 and 28 below), but also included quite a few flat sections.
It was here where I just couldn’t seem to stay up in the higher 163-166 HR range that I needed to. I could very easily sustain it on the climbs – and quite easily blew everyone out of the water on any climb. But on the flats my legs and body just couldn’t hold it.
As such, my HR average actually fell to 157 (when it should have been 163-166). Sad panda.
The next section between mile 28 and mile 40 was much the same story. For a rolling section with easy hills that I could see the top of, I just couldn’t sustain the higher zones that I needed to (back to 157-162). I only averaged 149 in that range. Ouch! That said, I did manage to average a fairly quick 23.6MPH for that section. So not a total loss.
Finally, I had one last section to kick it up and push it – from mile 40 to 56. But again, the story was much the same, lowered even further to 147 avg. That’s a dismal effort for me. That’s mid-Z2. I can normally sustain that for 6-7+ hours on Skyline drive, and here I was not even 2 hours into a relatively flat ride and barely holding it. You can see the overall decline below if I smooth out the HR’s some (each of the four major sections are where the yellow lines are):
The bike course is very hard to follow as a spectator because it twists through a bazillion small towns and back roads, but my parents did manage to stake out one place and snap a quick photo:
From there it was into the rather…umm..entertaining…roads of Providence for the last few miles of the course. This was sorta a triathlon variant of “So you think you’ve secured your waterbottles?”. We crossed a ton of railroad tracks, potholes the size of West Virginia and all assortment of other bike unfriendly things. They changed the course from last year’s equally rough section in an attempt to improve it – but I think last year was actually better. Either way, I managed to not lose anything and arrived into T2 some 2 hours and 30 minutes after I left T1. Also about 5 minutes slower than last year. Comparing to last year, I was a few seconds faster on the first section (this year), which means tail winds weren’t a factor. Which in turn means my inability to bike proficiently was the primary factor in my slow speed. Oh well…
Remember that rainstorm I mentioned? Well, it did me a nice little favor and washed my running shoes. Regrettably the ‘drain cycle’ did not occur inside my plastic run bag, so it was full of probably half a gallon of water. Therefore in T2 I made like a dryer and gave my shoes a quick squeeze to drain out about a cup of water from them. Awesome!
Up until that point the weather had been fully overcast and fairly cool (cool enough that at the swim start EVERYONE was wearing their full wetsuits over an hour before start, to keep warm). So heat wasn’t an issue. However at the exact moment I got to my bike rack, the sun broke through the clouds. :-/ Heat then became an issue.
Oh, and somewhere into T2 I managed to pop off my left bike shoe and lose it (likely near the dismount line). I realized it as I got towards my rack, but figured it’d probably work itself out post-race. But more on that later…
Anyway, off to run I went.
My two little cousins (Julia and Alex) along with their parents (my Aunt/Uncle) and my parents and brother were out in the crowd cheering. It was pretty cool to hear them near the start area each time I’d go past (we had two loops to do, and I’d see them four times before the finish line. My Aunt posted a ton of great pictures here as well.
The first mile or so of the run involves the mother of all hills. It’s about a 200 foot elevation gain in approximately 1/4th of a mile. I have some detailed pictures of it in last years post.
This year I was determined to run up it, and did so on the first loop without too much swearing or breaking out of zone too badly.
From there you roll along the first loop of the run course, which is basically a lot of ups and downs.
This is why I say it’s one of the more difficult run courses around. Comparing it to the Wildflower course for example, this one you’re basically out in the hot sun the entire time, whereas Wildflower you’re in the woods for a fair chunk of it. While Wildflower has a bunch of brutal hills, you only have to do them once, whereas mentally this is tough because you do each one twice. Finally, Wildflower has the allure of topless girls at the water stops. Nuff said.
After passing the family, it was onto the second loop.
As I encountered the hill, I knew things were about to get rough. I made it about 20 steps up the hill and into the water stop before I started walking. Not ideal. Now, to be fair, I was basically keeping pace with those who were running. By the top of the hill a guy in my AG had only made about 20 feet on my while he was running and I was walking. I easily caught up with him once we crested the hill.
A short bit later The Girl passed me. She was on her first loop still, and looking really strong. We had agreed prior to the race to give each other crap if we caught either of us walking. No lovey-dovey niceness here. So she unloaded a bunch of crap on me (much to the confusion of other racers around us), but I was pretty out of it. For the next few miles I would do a run/walk combo to keep up. Though in general I was still running a 6’ish pace in between the walks, so I was pretty much keeping pace with everyone, including The Girl (who was rocking it just ahead of me).
By around the 10 mile marker I decided I just wanted this race to be over, and decided to run no matter how much it hurt or how much it sucked. My only goal was to re-pass all the dudes in my AG who had passed me while walking (I had counted them off and given them various names based on their tri-tops).
So…off I went:
And without a doubt, I passed a crapton of people…like they were standing still. Even the girl said “Holy crap”. I figured that if I passed anyone in my own age group slowly, they might try and pull along. But if I just laid down the hammer, then it would deflate them and they wouldn’t chase. It worked. And my HR spiked 190 twice..yikes.
And thus…it hurt a lot. As I neared the finish it seemed like it was a long long ways away.
You can see I’m kinda teetering in, not really running very straight. Even as I got within about 5 feet of it I clearly remember thinking…maybe I’ll just stop here. My family told me the announcer was encouraging me in. I kept on pushing pretty hard as I think I thought there was someone chasing me. In reality, there was nobody near me.
I crossed the line (total time 4:40:21, run time 1:37:37), made it about a foot, and then…
Announcer (to everyone): “Umm, we need some help here, medics!”. You can see everyone else staring at me.
I don’t remember exactly much of anything after that. Though I do vaguely remember a wheelchair:
And then I had somehow traversed a few hundred yards and was on a bed in the medic tent:
(Above is a sign I later found inside the tent)
According to my parents I was in and out a bit. The medics had my core temp at 102*F. Meanwhile, my parents and cousins waited outside.
Over the course of the next 45-60 minutes with the help of a lot of bags of ice, they managed to cool me back down to 98.6*F. The medics in there were top notch, and I had my own personal medic person assigned to me, and then there was Dr’s that floated around and kept on checking on everyone.
After I think about an hour I was released.
Just in time to see the girl finish (and rock!) her first half-ironman.
Afterwards, we went to roll-down in hopes of some rather far rolling. And while the M30-35 rolled down to #33, mine only went to #8. No worries though, some serious talent came out and raced at IMRI70.3 this year. The top guy in my AG went 4:04…and #8? Umm…4:21. Seriously. To put in the ‘fwiw’ category, anything below about a 4:15 is a typical pro time, as defined by the 6% rule on USAT’s Elite Pro Card Qualification Criteria. Obviously the very rare Kona slots at a 70.3 brought out the big boys. That’s alright, I didn’t race anywhere near what I should have, so I can’t complain.
After that we packed up our stuff, and I went in search of my missing bike shoe from T2. I found it…woohoo!
And then it was time to go…
(Astute readers will note that in the previous post I actually posted pictures of the Girl, and today we’re expanding that coverage.)
Here’s the summary:
Swim: 29:02 (PR by two minutes)
Total: 4:40:21 (PR by 5 minutes)
AG Place: 15/130
All in all, a good learning race. I have to keep remembering all my training is all geared for Ironman Canada, still 6 weeks away, and thus everything is focused on that. As I talked with Coach Alan afterwards, we’re looking to change a few things though based on this – mostly around nutrition and possibly clothing, and perhaps a bit of pre-race stuff as well in the 24-48 hours prior to the race.
So with that, thanks for reading! And thanks for all the e-mails, text messages, and comments from everyone after the race. I appreciate it! I’ll be recapping the rest of the awesome week up in Connecticut/Rhode Island tomorrow…we got some food pics a-coming!