Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vermont Journey Half Ironman Triathlon

Yesterday was my first experience with a half ironman distance triathlon, and it was enjoyable and memorable.

Amie, the kids, and I headed up to Salisbury, VT on Thursday afternoon and set up camp at Kampersville Campground on Lake Dunmore. We ended up with probably the nicest weather of the summer with sunny days, highs in the low 80s, and beautiful clear starlit nights with lows about 60. For some reason rain tends to follow us camping so we were pleased that it was a spectacular weekend for camping and the triathlon.

Friday afternoon I headed to Middlebury to pick up my race packet and really enjoyed time talking with other race participants about the event. From there I headed to Branbury State Park on Lake Dunmore, the location of the start, finish, and transition areas of the triathlon. I was eager to check out the race location and climb into my wetsuit and swim for about a half mile to get acclimated to the water. The water was clear, cool,comfortable, and fairly shallow, perfect for the race.

When we camp we generally take two tents, an 8 person for the family to sleep in and an old three person tent for the kids to play in. I chose to sleep in the three person tent the night before the race as not to wake the family as I'd be leaving early in the morning. The night prior I left my bike outside and it was wet from the overnight dew. Wanting to be sure I didn't have issues with my bike getting wet again I brought it in the tent with me family thinks I'm nuts. On Saturday I woke with the sun, grabbed my gear bag, and headed to the race on my bike about 2 miles down the road.

After checking in I had my number written on my arm with a Sharpie, which is typical. What happened next I had not experienced before, they wrote my age on my calf, seemed unusual at the time. I set up my bike and gear at the transition area and ran into Peter, a super nice guy whom I met at the packet pick up the day prior. As we were talking, I watched as he unwrapped 5 Powerbars and stuck them directly to the frame of his bike. Now that makes for efficient fueling while on the bike. At about 7:45 Amie, looking excited, and the girls, looking tired had arrived. Amie took some pictures, Lora helped me stretch, and we listened to the pre-race announcements where I found out I'd be in the second of three start waves.

I had some time goals for the race but was unsure how realistic they would be as I had only participated in sprint distance triathlons, which are much shorter and typically take me just over an hour. I anticipated I'd finish this event between 5 1/2 to 5 3/4 hours. Going into the race I was pleased with my fitness level and confident in my abilities. As far as I was concerned there were only 2 things that would keep me from meeting the timeline. Number 1 - drowning (I am not Michael Phelps). Number 2 - injury. I tweaked my leg last month and after logging a couple weeks of 50 plus miles of running it got worse. It became evident that this could slow me down on the run after becoming fatigued. I decided to taper my running about two weeks early instead of one to give my leg some extra rest.

The race is about to on....
My goal for the 1.2 mile swim was to focus on my technique, have a comfortable swim, and try not to waste too much energy. Once the swim began and there was separation between swimmers I was able to lock into a nice comfortable rhythm. "I'm actually swimming and not drowning, I love this wetsuit." The course was two loops, counterclockwise direction, so swimmers were swimming towards each other on either side of course buoys. At one point I was sighting to be sure I was on course when someone swimming towards me went by me on my right, he must be way off. I realized I was sighting the wrong buoy and swimming directly into oncoming traffic, took a sharp 90 degree turn and got back on course and finished the swim in 39:56.

I talked to Amie while transitioning to the bike and putting on my gear. She reminded me to apply vaseline to my most private of areas to prevent chaffing. While applying I had realized that I had pulled my tri shorts down too far and was exposed for the world to see. You should have seen the look on Amie's face, priceless. Fortunately in this environment of people, no one even cares, which is good because cold water causes shrinkage.

The bike route went right by the campground we were staying at and then out to Route 7 for about 50 of the 56 miles. The roads were typical of VT, rolling hills. My goal for the bike was to work a steady pace, and fuel regularly to keep my energy level strong, taking Perpeteum every 15 minutes, and 2 Endurolyte capsules every 30 minutes to prevent muscle cramps. My fueling plan was right on as I felt strong throughout the entire bike section of the race. At this point I had an appreciation for seeing the ages of the other triathletes on their calves as I went by them, especially the younger ones, most of whom started in the first wave of the race a couple minutes before me. I went by our campground again at mile 54 and was greeted by a roaring crowd of my family, some friends and their families who spent the weekend camping with us and being a great support. I finished the bike portion in almost exactly 3 hours with good energy and feeling pumped up.

After transitioning into my running gear my total time was 3:45. I was pumped because all I had to do was a half marathon, 13.1 miles, in 1:45 to complete the race in 5 1/2 hours, NO PROBLEM!!!! I thought. The run course was completely changed last week as flash flooding washed away the roads where the run was to take place. I was grateful as the new course went right by our campground again and I was energized by the opportunity to give high fives to Amie, the kids, and friends as I ran by hooting and hollering. The consistently strong winds that kept me fairly refreshed, even though slowing me down, on the bike were now gone and I was exposed to the mid day sun and warm temperatures. I skipped an early aid station and realized that since they were now my only source of hydration and fuel, this could not happen again. The course was an out and back, up and down some steep hills. Many runners were defeated by the hills and ended up walking them at a snails pace. I was committed to run, run, run. At the halfway point my pace was a couple of minutes behind my 1:45 goal. The pressing sun and fatigue caused me to slow my pace more than I had wished and I started to struggle. I had the great experience of witnessing Mark and Scott successfully complete the VT 100 last month on a terribly hot day. At this point in the race I was reminded of Scott being at a very low point at mile 50 and pressing on courageously to successfully finish 100 miles. I knew I'd finish but the memory helped me press on without letting myself slow the pace even more. One more trip past the campground gave me much needed energy to finish the half marathon in 1:58:25 for a total time of 5:44:20 where I was greeted by my wonderfully supportive Amie. We had a great time talking with some of the other participants and refueled with pizza, coke, water, Heed, iced tea, etc..

I really enjoyed the whole experience and was elated that my leg felt great throughout the race, particularly because I've got some high mileage races coming up and am looking forward to them as well.

My energy level was surprisingly good the remainder of the day and I experienced only minor soreness in my legs. I ended up going down to the lake and spent time with Amie, the kids and friends jumping off a floating trampoline into the water.

We ended the day around the campfire with a few celebratory adult beverages and lots of jokes. All in all, a great weekend.


Nancy S said...

Bruce, that was so awesome! Congratulations! I hope you keep writing, you tell a great story. Have to admit my eyes misted up a little at "my wonderfully supportive Amie". Take care.

Dina said...

You look fantastic! I was totally intrigued by your story and felt like I was there with you and your family cheering you on.

If you ever decide to change careers, story writing seems right up your alley.

Congrats and we'll speak soon...Dina

Mark G. said...

Hi Bruce,

I greatly appreciate witnessing the committment you have shown to the sport. It is great to finish and be welcomed by loving family. You are a very lucky person in so many ways.
Mark G.

Kevin said...

Bruce, well done! Your commitment and your family's is most evident. I look forward to future successes.

Scott said...

Sweet! Great job! I'm glad my journey to the depths of despair helped you in this race! :) Nice work with a sub 2 hr. half marathon. That's tough to do after swimming, riding and contending with the some heat. I can appreciate your excellent splits! Congrats and well done! You're going to be in great shape for VT...

Keith Magnus said...

nice work buddy!!! i'm envious of your talent as a triathlete. good work and see you @ RTB, then VT50! gonna be good times