August 18, 2013
IRONMAN 70.3 Timberman
By Ellen Witkowski
After Sean Matlis and I went to the Timberman Half-Ironman last year to cheer on our teammate Breno Melo, I decided to challenge myself by trying a 70.3 distance triathlon the upcoming year. Breno, Ali Hall, Anna Geary-Meyer, some friends outside of the BU tri team, and I drove up to New Hampshire Friday evening, which allowed us to watch Vic compete in the sprint triathlon on Saturday morning. He did great, placing 7th overall! Watching the sprint also got me even more excited for my race the following day.
I woke up Sunday morning still feeling more excited than nervous. Driving to the race site around 5:45 AM allowed us to catch the gorgeous pink sunrise creeping up over the hills around Lake Winnipesaukee, and I remembered so many people’s advice that I should enjoy the day. As my first 70.3, I was not looking to stand on a podium, but to finish and know that I had given the race everything I had. As a secondary goal, I thought it would be awesome to break 6 hours and 30 minutes, but I had no idea what was realistic for me, especially with a hilly bike course.
I was able to do most of my typical pre-race routine minus a bike warm-up. Ironman policy is to not allow bikes in and out of transition area after they’re checked in the day before the race. My wave, the F 25-30, was one of the last ones to go so I had an hour and 16 minutes between transition close and my wave start. I used the time to wait in line for the bathroom again and do a quick swim. Waiting with my teammates also helped keep me from getting too nervous.
The 1.2 mile swim was in Lake Winnipesaukee. Even though it’s in the lake, the water can get pretty choppy. Luckily, the waves were only noticeable in the later portion of the swim farther from the shore. Normally, it takes me a good 5 minutes to get in a groove on the swim, but I felt fairly relaxed and strong from the start. I tried to draft off some of the swimmers in front of me, but none of them seemed to be going in a straight line so I gave up on the idea and just focused on Vic’s advice of long, strong strokes, and siting often. I pushed at as hard of a pace as I thought I could maintain. The water is very shallow even a ways off from the shore, but I kept swimming thinking that even my slow swim speed would be faster than trying to run in knee-deep water. When I got out of the lake and looked at my watch, it read just over 39 minutes. I was already under my first rough goal time of 40 minutes.
I skipped the wetsuit strippers and quickly found my bike as my row was the beginning of my row was next to a utility landmark. I smiled when I past my cheering teammates holding glittering signs, one with advice from another teammate for my first 70.3: Race it like a sprint. Needless to say, I did not take this advice, but it made me smile and relax, the true intention of my teammate I’m sure.
I knew the bike course was going to be hilly and tough, but I was mentally ready. The first 12 or so miles were very hilly with a 9% grade hill at one point. A girl biking near me told me that the toughest hill of the day was over when we both reached the top. I wasn’t as worried about those hills as the one after. The bike course is an out-and-back route with a gradual decline extending for the second 12 – 15 miles until the turn-around point meaning that I’d be climbing for the entire ¾ of the bike course before hitting hills again. I wanted to push on the bike, especially since that’s where I’d been focusing my training all summer, but I was concerned about going too hard and hitting a wall before the race was over. I tried to hold myself back a little on the first half of the bike but with the long downhill, I was averaging much faster than any of my long training rides.
After the turn-around, I stopped worrying about holding back and just pushed. I could tell I was going uphill, and my hamstrings were starting to twinge like they were going to cramp soon, but I kept a pretty steady pace and tried to stretch my legs a bit on any short downhill’s where I could coast. My other concern on the bike was hydration. The temperatures that day were amazing; low-70’s, not too much wind. I had checked the weather before leaving Boston and decided that I would be okay with just the 2 water bottle holders that I currently have on my bike. I knew that there were aid stations where I could pick up more water and electrolyte-filled fluids, but I didn’t realize that the aid stations were passing out whole bottles. After I grabbed a water bottle at one of the aid stations, I chugged a third of the water and shoved the water bottle in the side pocket of jersey. It stayed for a grand total of about 15 minutes to no one’s surprise I’m sure. At the last aid station, I grabbed a water bottle and took a couple quick sips before discarding it in the trash right after the aid station. A second more pleasant surprise occurred towards the very end of the bike when I approached an intersection and saw a familiar Nissan XTERRA waiting at the stop sign for the police officer to let the vehicle through. “Yeah, go Ellen!” Vic shouted out the window. It gave me more motivation to push the last couple miles.
I managed a flying dismount, quickly racked my bike, and pulled on my running shoes and visor. Then I stopped to go to the bathroom. I figured I’d rather have the extra time on my T2 than my run.
I had taken Vic’s advice and increased my cadence the last 10 minutes the bike to flush out my legs before the run, which probably helped ease my transition. I was able to hold a faster pace than I had initially planned. I was going to base my pace off of my heart rate, but my monitor stopped reading so I just had to use my straight pace and gage how my legs felt. I pushed on the run and was encouraged by passing a number of other athletes (which rarely happened on either of the other legs). I tried to pick up the pace on the second half (the course is an out-and-back twice), but my watch showed that my increased effort wasn’t translating too much of a change in speed. I got another GU, continued downing water and coke, and kept telling myself to go hard because I was getting close to the finish. Seeing my teammates with signs and hearing the cheers certainly helped. The last 3 miles, I just went for it and finished just over 2 hours, a couple minutes faster than my Hyannis half-marathon time. With a total time of 6:08:32, I was well under my goal of breaking 6:30 and thrilled. Everything had come together for me. It was undoubtedly the best race I’ve ever had.