Ironman Rhode Island 70.3 – 2009 Race Report

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). 

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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).

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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.

Race Morning:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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From there…it was time to cruise into the three rolling waiting pens which would eventually dump you at the start line:

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The Swim:

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.

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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).

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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.

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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’:

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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:

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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.

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The Bike:

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.

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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.

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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)…

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…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.

image 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):

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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:

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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…

The Run:

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.

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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.

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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.

imageThis 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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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I crossed the line (total time 4:40:21, run time 1:37:37), made it about a foot, and then…

Bye-bye.

Announcer (to everyone): “Umm, we need some help here, medics!”.  You can see everyone else staring at me.

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I don’t remember exactly much of anything after that.  Though I do vaguely remember a wheelchair:

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And then I had somehow traversed a few hundred yards and was on a bed in the medic tent:

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(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.

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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.

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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!

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And then it was time to go…

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(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)
T1: 2:03
Bike: 2:30:25
T2: 1:14
Run: 1:37:37
Total: 4:40:21 (PR by 5 minutes)
AG Place: 15/130
Overall: 113/1300

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!

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30 Comments

  1. Wow! Congratulations on surviving all that, and with a PR to boot. Amazing!

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  2. I’m so glad you’re ok – I don’t like to see you in a wheelchair or a medic tent! Also, the last picture of you and your gf is absolutely adorable :)

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  3. you’re awesome.

    I don’t like seeing d.c. rainmaker in a wheelchair!

    LOVE LOVE LOVE that last shot of you and the Girl.

    recover well.

    Reply
  4. geeze, did i just say the same thing as sarah? not very original. then again, i’m sleep-deprived. :)

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  5. Wow – you certainly tend to push things to the limit. Congratulations on a PR!

    P.S. I am glad to see that perhaps The Girl is real.

    P.P.S. I found your next bike toy at link to cerevellum.com .

    Reply
  6. Great report! What’s a finish if you can remember it fully? :)

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  7. This post had it all: Swim/bike/run/medical tents/reunions with lost equipment/ and then a sappy romantic picture to end it with. I guess I have to find another up and coming fast and single triathlete to vicariously live through. If I want images of love and romance…I’ll look around my own house ;-)

    So what did you carry in your camel bak? I use one on my training runs and have noticed even though there is the benefit of staying hydrated it tends to trap a lot of heat, would that be part of the culprit for your overheating?

    If I were motivated to do anything other than swim/bike/run/vacuum, you are making it too easy to find the girl. Careful or TMZ will post her pic :-0

    Congrats on your race!

    Reply
  8. To PR b 5 min while struggling like that is great! Nice job. I’d like to hear how the Camelback worked out on the run. I’d be nervous about the weight and chaffing.

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  9. Kim

    Excellent race report. Do you take any salt tabs/S-Caps-any sort of electrolyte supplement?
    As for running up the hill, it may be an energy conservation to power walk it, especially if you are passing folks who are still attempting to run up a hill (but that’s just me, I love to walk up hills).
    Congratulations on a very good finish under some tough conditions!

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  10. Kind of scary but glad everything turned out OK! I think your HR graph shows where things went South after mile 10 of the run. Your heart went crazy and sweating couldn’t keep you cool enough. You were probably in trouble a mile or two before that in all reality, it’s amazing to me how much our bodies are like cars. They run great but sometimes when you push to far it gets ugly.

    I hope you are having a good recovery week and I look forward to your next adventure! lol

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  11. Certainly nobody could accuse of of not pushing hard. Bloody hell. I have yet to make it into a medic tent, and to be honest I’m not to keen on it anyway.

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  12. Nicely done, considering the heat issues, and a great start to your build to IM Canada. At least this time there were no cookie tossing events until perhaps after the race. I’m sure that’s got to be a positive to consider from the race. And yea, the times coming out of some of these big races from “amateurs” are absurd.

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  13. Sorry we didn’t get to see you guys off! Glad to have you stay with us though!

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  14. With bike shoes that are that big, it would be hard to loose one of those puppies. Also, by finding it, you don’t have to buy a new pair of them. Go get those cleats changed out.

    Congratulations to The Girl on finishing her first 70.3 race!

    Ok, I know this may not be even possible for you to do since you are a guy, but I find that I have had great success ( and a great feeling experience on the run) when I throw ice down the front of my race top. I am not talking a cup of ice, I’m talking three cups baby! My heart rate monitor strap and the bottom band on my sports bra keeps the ice in place. That is where you may not be able to replicate the experience. Anyway, there is so much ice in my tri top and it rattles around a bit and the mound of ice is actually bigger than the ta-tas. But dang it sure feels good. I know that I have given plenty of volunteers, men and women, a show when I run into an aid station calling for ice and bending over and pulling open the neck of my sports bra. If there are sponges, I put those down the back so I end up looking like Quasimodo. I look like a dork but it keeps me cool. Kinda that cooling vest theory.

    Congratulations on HTFU and your quick recovery!

    Reply
  15. That last shot of you and the girl is priceless.

    Great job on what sounds like a tough day. I’m sure you learned tons and will come out swinging next time.

    Reply
  16. Wow. Well, you finished. Congrats!

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  17. Incredible. Talk about leaving it all on the course – your effort is very inspiring.

    You’re definitely in the wrong age group for those those qual times … but what’s with the huge discrepancy in roll-downs?

    Thanks for another great report.

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  18. Congrats on your new PR and for surviving in those tough conditions! That’s somewhat scary they had to cart you in wheelchair… but I’m glad you’re ok!

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  19. Wow…congratulations on your race…and I’m glad to hear you are okay after the scare at the finish line! Congrats to the girl as well!!

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  20. congrats to you and the girl!! Love that picture at the end of your report…maybe we’ll see the front of her in your IM Canada race report!! I also like that your Aunt didn’t post any pics of her either!! Glad you both survived to tell the tale…congrats again!

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  21. Glad you are doing better. Good luck with going back to training for the full iron man.

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  22. Despite the rough ending, GREAT job. I’m amazed at your 23 mph biking. I aspire to be that fast!

    And I like that photo of you and the girl. I always pictured her tall and lanky like you. Touche.

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  23. congrats on surviving the race and on the PRs. glad to hear you’re feeling better! cant wait for the food pictures!

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  24. Glad to see you back in the land of the living, wow that was some effort, talk about leaving it all on the course…good stuff!

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  25. RWJ

    Great post. I’m glad no lasting injury came out of that experience. So was it heat stroke? Did you not drink enough?

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  26. Way to cross the finish line and ger ‘er done. Be careful out there though!

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  27. Yeah, that’s toughing it out!

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  28. What a race!! Great effort despite the mishaps with the bike shoe, nutrition or whatever it was to cause you to fall short of your bike and run goals. Every race is a learning experience, I think, esp. one that does not go as well as you’d hoped. I hope you stay out of the medic tent from here on out!

    Reply
  29. Woah, what a race report!!!
    I’m doing the Rhode Island 70.3 this year and was wondering if you could quickly glance at your .tcx files to let me know what the elevation gain is on both the bike and run? (I’m trying to, as much as is humanly possible, wrap my head around this race before the actual race!! Living in a place that is flat as f**k, that means freaking out about the hilliness of this race!)
    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  30. Ray,

    I really enjoy reading your blog.

    Your product reviews are both in depth and insightful. I bought a Garmin 310xt after reading your review, and am happy that I did. Next up for me is likely a computrainer (after I recover from my latest bike purchase).

    Your race reports are helpful too. This year I’m stepping up to the HIM distance, and I’ve signed up for the RI 70.3. Based on your race report, I’ll make sure to save something for college hill.

    Thanks again.

    Richard

    Reply

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