Quick Stats – 4:13:22 (1.2 swim – 27:30, 56 bike – 2:20:22, 13.1 run – 1:22:53)
The Pumpkinman Half Ironman has been on my radar since I moved to Boston a few years ago. It’s one of those races that has a reputation for being really well run and having generous prizes. We love supporting local races, and this race is all about giving back – both to the athletes and the community. There’s a $4,999 prize purse (meaning amateurs can race against pros for the $$), generous primes, and the remaining proceeds go to charities. It’s a welcome change from the growing for-profit corporations taking over more and more of the sport. Seeing how much races like Pumpkinman and Musselman give back to the athletes and the community really makes you wonder where exactly your entry fee goes when you sign up for a WTC race (Ironman Branded events). Needless to say, it’s also got a great course, weather and post-race food – so it was an easy sell to Carolyn when planning the season. It generally draws some of the best athletes in New England and it makes the battle for a top 5 finish (and a payday) one with little room for error. Although a non-stop rolling course on the bike and run (with quite a bit of wind this past Sunday), the perfect autumn temperatures and small pond swim can make for a fast day.
Several of the athletes I was racing against in the Elite field were familiar faces from other local races, and I’d actually raced a few guys at Timberman a few weeks before – so I had a sense of where I was fitness-wise against the rest of the field. There were no super swimmers to worry about, but there were some very strong cyclists and some of the best runners in the business. My plan was to stay at the front of the swim and hope to gap a few guys, then ride a bit harder than normal. If I could do that, and then run at least as well as Timberman, I might have a shot of holding onto 4th or 5th. But I would really need things to click to pull that off, and aside from the five guys I knew well, based on past results, I’d also need to make sure to distance myself from the other ten or so guys in the field capable of going around or under 4:15. The big question going into the race was my lower back, which I tweeked right after Timberman. I’d been seeing a chiro a few times a week leading up to the race, and had to back off training quite a bit in between the races. Fitness is measured in months and years of work, so I wasn’t much concerned with the impact of a few low weeks.
The swim started off to plan, and I was between 1st and 4th for the majority of the first lap. I’m honestly not that comfortable swimming in a pack, and so I kind of just went off to the side a bit and found my own rhythm. Unfortunately starting the 2nd lap my goggles were pretty fogged and I sighted the wrong buoy and went swimming off on my own. From the shore, it probably looked like I was inebriated or cheating – but I can assure I was just being an idiot.
By the time I realized my mistake, and swam back onto the course, I’d been relegated to the end of the pack. I was able to move up quite a bit on the 2nd lap and came out of the water in 27:30 – in 9th – a decent time, but still a good minute back of where I wanted to be, and considerably further down place wise than I hoped for.
Normally T1 is pretty uneventful, but this race has a the unique distinction of having a certified mountain climb in between the pond and transition. After coming out of the water, you run up a small SKI HILL, which although only ~250 meters long, is also insanely steep. It was pretty much a cliffs-of-insanity type situation.
With my heart in my mouth, and my legs aching, I wasn’t wondering how long it would take, but whether I could actually make it to the top. Turning around and flinging myself downwards in a chaotic roll (insert another Princess Bride reference here) seemed so much more reasonable than venturing any further upwards.
I got my head back on straight in transition, and was able to get out in front of Nate and Tim – which was more or less where I wanted to be – though I wasn’t sure how far up the road Mike and the others were. I took off pretty good and I actually stayed in front of Nate and Tim in the first few miles, which seemed like a good omen. I was holding mid 280s on the ol’ watt-o-meter and felt decent. Nate passed me a few miles later, and I was able to ride legally behind him for a bit, but after taking my first gel, I started feeling nauseous and it got worse every time I took a gel or a drink. Eventually Tim passed me as well, and I wasn’t really able to make a solid counter move. For awhile, although I couldn’t quite match Nate or Tim’s pace, I could still see them right up the road, so they weren’t totally out of reach. I only had EFS to drink on the bike, and was really looking forward to the first water stop. Unfortunately it was on a slight downhill and I was doing well over 30 mph, so I totally bungled the hand off, and basically took off the poor high school girl’s arm who was holding out the bottle. The detached arm I’d grabbed was worthless – I just wanted water – so I had to just toss it and wait for the next stop in ~20 miles.
Somewhere around mile 30 though, my watts just really started plummeting and it was getting really hard to take in any liquid or gels. I knew better than to skip them, but it was a real battle to get them down, and keep them down. I dunno if I ate something funny the day before, guzzled too much pond water during my detour, or accidentally put ipecac instead of efs in my bottles, but either way, things were not going to plan. My back was a bit tight, but not debilitating, and it just meant that I couldn’t stay in aero for very long without sitting or standing up and stretching things out. Those slight inconveniences paled in comparison to the fact that I had that god awful ‘Tonight’s gonna be a good night’ song stuck in my head and my brain was rapidly disintegrating into bad-pop-culture induced mush. I tried to just remember how even after a discouraging bike at Musselman I was able to run down 5 guys, and so that was pretty much the only thing that kept me moving forward. The good thing about long course racing is that a LOT can happen on the run. Without that experience in mind, I probably would have just pulled over and gone to sleep in a ditch on the side of the road. (Note – I’m not sure why, but ditches always seem like a great napping spot to me when bonking hard).
With a few miles left on the bike, the series of unfortunate events continued. A somewhat confused and/or agitated redneck in an old pick-up truck sped around me right before an intersection and then promptly slammed on this brakes at the stop sign. I don’t think it was intentional, but even good intentions rarely guarantee positive outcomes in these scenarios. This kind of thing can happen anywhere – whether training or racing – so it’s just a good reminder to keep your head up and watch for morons. Luckily in this instance I’d been sitting up to stretch my back when it happened, and was able to slam on the brakes. I fish tailed behind the guy, narrowly avoiding slamming into the back of the truck, and I sort of skidded off the side of the road and into some gravel/grass. It was a total Tokyo-drift maneuver on my part, which probably would have been mega awesome if had been feeling fast and/or possibly furious. Normally I would have been happy to ride the adrenaline wave to the finish, but unfortunately I was feeling 2 Nauseous 2 Bloated to notice any adrenaline boostage.
I came off the bike in 9th place, and it only took me 2 miles to figure out how many people I’d have to pass to get 5th. In my calorie/oxygen deprived state it took as much concentration and brain power as one of those permutation problems where you have to figure out many different pizzas you can make from a list of 20 different ingredients. Also I was still throwing up the pizza I’d eaten the night before, and so now I was really resenting pizza AND math. (Normally I’m big advocate of both). Even though I had to stop for a bathroom break along the way on the run (I was lucky the bulk of the course was through quiet woods), when actually running my legs were working pretty well. I passed a few guys, went through 10 miles in 59 minutes, and thought I might be able to reel in 5th place if I could just maintain that pace for the last 5k. Needless to say…. That.Did.Not.Happen. The aggressive pace finally caught up to me and I experienced the kind of slow death normally reserved for exotic diseases that cause slow deaths. The last three miles were something like 6:30, 7:30, 8:30, and then I just rolled down the grass hill to finish in 7th. I still managed to run 1:22:53 – which was awesome – considering it was only a few minutes slower than “the incomparable Matt Russell” – whose overall 3:51 on that course elicited a number of discussions/reactions exactly like this.
Today’s result was a definite sign that I’m starting to figure out the distance, and that I can actually run well off the bike when I need to. BUT I still have a lot of room to improve. That’s a good feeling. I still need to build the strength on the bike and the run to close out those last few miles even stronger, but it’s at least no longer such a mystery to me. I would have liked to finish top 5, but I think there’s a rule against complaining when you set a 4 minute pr. Most importantly, the race was reminder that things do not have to go perfectly for them to go well. The key is just to remember that during the race. You experience some highs, but mostly lows out there – the key is to just fight through them to the finish.
After the race we hung out at Spring Hill for awhile, ate an amazing Thanksgiving-Day style feast, and caught up with all of our friends that did the race. Carolyn and I were both hoping to come away a fast time AND a good result, and we weren’t disappointed. Carolyn managed to throw down a MASSIVE race and finished 3rd overall in a pr performance. It was awesome. It was the most positive she’s been about any result so far this year, so it was really good to see her so satisfied with her effort. I’m always a proud coach/boyfriend, but it’s even better when she’s proud of herself. We’ll definitely be back at this race the next time we can fit it in the schedule!