Monday, August 19, 2013


Couldn't talk Ted into running this one this year with his questionable foot, so P__ and I headed up from DC on Saturday -- an 8 1/2 hour drive with the traffic low -- and signed in to Ironman-branded Timberman 70.3, held on the roads and bike trails around Lake Winnipesaukee not far north of Concord, New Hampshire.  I rode from the registration tent (at Gunstock Mountain Resort, a ski hill of regional and historic note that -- based on closed commercial properties nearby -- seems to have fallen on hard times) to the race staging area at Ellacoya State Park.  That 10-mile ride gave something of a taste of the race course, comprised largely of pretty roads, steep climbs, and bombing descents.

Lake Winnipesaukee, taken from Ellacoya State Park
Gunstock Mountain Resort, Gilford, NH (with tents much like on Saturday)
I was late getting a room, so we stayed at an atrocious motor lodge just outside of Concord -- that's the last time I trust Tripadvisor reviews -- and had a simply phenomenal dinner at The Barley House in Concord.  The capitol building is a beautiful gold-domed structure set among restored brick buildings that must date to the turn of the prior century.  I've never been to Concord before and I found it to be a lovely town.  Or at least a lovely downtown.

My wave was at 7:30, so we left the motor lodge at 5:30 Sunday morning, grabbed bagels at Dunkin' Donuts, and drove 45 minutes back to Gunstock to catch a shuttle to the start.  As much as I grouse about triathlon, I've done it enough that the stress of wondering what I left behind is mitigated.  I keep in my frontal lobe the list of 14 things to bring with me to the transition/start in the morning:  towel, goggles, cap, wetsuit, glasses, helmet, bike shoes, bike tools, bike computer, hat, running shoes, belt with number, hydration, and nutrition.  All that goes in a bag and the morning setup takes 5 minutes.  

The swim was either a Charley Foxtrot (military term -- use your imagination with the CF acronym!) or custom designed for a leg PR.  Probably in an effort to keep an approximately constant flow of athletes on the course, using some underdeveloped optimization algorithm,* wave starts are hard to figure out.  Sure, the pros go first.  But then the waves run through most of the female competitors and several older age groups before turning to the two fastest age groups, men in their early 40s and late 30s.  But it's not as simple as "pros first, slowest second," because the waves then move younger and for some reason insert the late-20s women -- an athletic group, but not competitive with the waves in the middle.  The result is that after 5 minutes of nice swimming I spent the next 28 running over 30-year-old women from the prior wave.  After having been run over by dozens before me, one swimmer lashed out and nearly bloodied my nose; it was all I could do to remember (1) be a gentleman, and (2) it's going a lot worse for her than it is for me!  On the other hand, in constantly catching and passing earlier starters, I almost never had to break my own water.  (It probably does not need to be said that the drafting effect is just as strong in swimming as it is in biking, only in the swim it is legal.)  At 33:04, my fastest 1/2-iron swim split but one, and that one race -- the now defunct Black Bear 1/2 in Pennsylvania that I ran in 2008 -- had a notoriously short swim course.

*Brainstorm:  a PhD thesis for an Operations Research grad student might analyze the optimal starting pattern for a timed event.

The bike course at Timberman is in equal parts challenging and inspired.  We rode beautiful roads over the shoulder of Gilford Mountain before taking a long gently sloped downhill grade to the turn-around.  The pavement was almost all very good.  That long gently sloped grade was uphill for 15 miles returning, before we once again climbed the shoulder of the mountain and bombed back down to the end at 56 miles.  My measure of its difficulty is in looking at the top pro times.*  Andy Potts, maybe the greatest currently competing American male triathlete, took just under 2:11 to ride this course.  In contrast, my last 1/2 IM was in Boulder almost exactly a year ago.  That course took Joe Gambles a mere 2:00 to ride the year I was there.  We've been spilling more ink on bike splits this year at runningprofs than we have in the past, so to add to that I was undeniably thrilled to ride my best ever 1/2 iron bike time on my hardest ever 1/2 iron bike course.

*  One could debate this approach:  what does a pro's experience tell me about my own?  My view is this:  a pro triathlete is somebody who has figure out how to remove subjective factors from the event -- i.e., to perform at a consistent level given the external circumstances.  Thus, winds, hills, heat, what-have-you, will have a consistent impact on a pro's performance.  One might accomplish a similar thing with average times, but that average would include amateurs like me who suffer subjective limitations based on distaste for a particular challenge.

In case the grimace doesn't tell it, let me:
I was hurting!
Then came the run.  Of all the legs this is the one I was least concerned about.  Based largely on my experience this year at the Columbia Triathlon, I've come to believe that you can't plan for the run in a triathlon.  You are either ready for it or you are not, but if you set aside some reserves for it you will flop in the rest of your race.  And unlike the bike, the run you can do from your large and deep muscles in the gluteals and the stomach, which survive much longer than your legs.  I left T2 with my watch reading 3:06 and lots of change, several minutes ahead of my prior best time at that point, shooting for a run leg PR.  The first mile was too fast (it always is!) and I then settled in at a 7:00 pace until mile 8 or so or so before really, really hurting on the fourth time up the hill in the middle of the out-and-back course.  No walking, but I may as well have for a while there.  I wanted a 1:32 but finished in 1:35 and a very few seconds for that half-marathon -- for the third time in the day, my best ever for that leg of the race.  If you'll forgive the self indulgence, here's a finish chute photo from the run.  (Look, coach, good posture!)

More than I intended to write, but there it is.  A big PR at 4:41:52; 11th in my age group; and 90th overall -- my first time ever cracking the magic 100 mark in an IM-branded event.


  1. Terrific performance across all three disciplines. Running's never been a problem for you, but it's great to see you pushing the pedals harder lately. Hopefully this bodes well for Tahoe. Just go twice as long at your Timberman pace and you'll have 9:22 in the bag!

  2. Unbelievable race. Sorry I couldn't be there! Hoping to do it next year.