Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Rhody Race Report"

What a weekend it was!!!  My last blog post on Saturday morning explained the exciting arrival Greg (my high school buddy that was doing his first 70.3) and I had into Providence, Rhode Island.  The weekend only got better from there...

First, I want to thank Greg's friends, Dan and Mark, for allowing us to stay with them.  Dan owns an acre of property in Lincoln Woods, and he and Mark were the best hosts ever.  They made us feel completely at home and along with Greg, who did his medical residency in Providence, introduced me to the most under-rated city I've ever visited.

Mark and Greg

Me and Dan

Saturday was a great day that consisted of my usual pre-race routines: workouts, packing race bags (there are two transition areas with a point-to-point bike), dropping off bike and run gear at transitions, driving the bike and run courses, and a fantastic homemade spaghetti dinner with chicken at the house.

My pre-race workouts went very well.  Sometimes you're not sure how your body will respond to a taper week, but I felt great physically and was mentally confident as well.  I did about 20-30 minutes of swimming, biking, and running each.  I went a little longer than normal because I hadn't done anything the two previous days.  I tested my new Zipp Firecrest race wheels and everything was working just as it should.  I think race wheels are faster when you own them.  Ha!

Swim start on Saturday morning

T1 - I was the first athlete there Saturday morning

T2 in downtown Providence just across the street from the Capitol
Setting up for Sunday's big finish in front of the Capitol Building

Greg & I Saturday afternoon (Go Duke!)

Finally, race day arrives!!!  My wave was set to go off at 6:15 a.m.  A little earlier than any other race I've done because sunrise in Providence is around 5:05 a.m.

Sunrise on Race Day

Each wave started from the beach at Olney Pond.  Greg and I started side-by-side, but I knew I wouldn't be able to stay with him in the water.  Of course, the swim was not wetsuit legal.  A word of caution, if you're racing with me, leave your wetsuit at home.  A non-wetsuit swim is never a good thing for me because I probably benefit more than others from the buoyancy that a wetsuit provides.  Anyway, I figured there was no use worrying about something out of my control.  I was confident in the work I had put into my swim over the winter, spring, and early summer and was ready to give it my best.  The swim was quite rough for the first 500 meters.  There were bodies all over the place, and I made it a point to let people know I was in the water (an advantage to being a little bigger).  Halfway through the swim, I felt like I had found a good rhythm and could see myself passing other swimmers in my age group as well as the age group in front of me.  I felt like I was going to post a PR.  As I swam the last 400 meters, I could see the crowd of spectators on the beach.  It was awesome!  I really focused on my form as much as my effort and finished the swim very pleased with a 37:44 split, my PR!  Those of you that know me, know I'm not a fast swimmer, but seeing my PR on my watch as I exited the water set the stage for the bike, which is where I can really get after it.

The bike course was a very scenic ride through the rolling hills of northwest Rhode Island.  It was a course that setup well for my riding abilities.  My power on the bike allowed me to take advantage of the downslopes even though I also attacked most of the climbs.  The bike started out like most of my races.  I was passing all the people that exited the water before me.  I was pumped!  However, I quickly realized that I may have made a very costly strategic mistake.  I had frozen my sports drink overnight thinking they would have thawed throughout the morning.  As I took my first sip on the bike, I was shocked to find the first bottle still mostly frozen.  Had I made a huge mistake?  I didn't give it too much thought though.  I kept riding hard and hoped the bottles would thaw quickly.  About an hour and a half into the bike, now with completely thawed bottles (thank goodness because I also told Greg that freezing your drinks was a good strategy), I experienced something I had never experienced in a race before.  As I was riding, I found myself almost completely alone.  We had driven the course the day before so I knew I hadn't gone wrong.  There was also this motorcyclist that kept passing me and stopping over and over again.  I didn't want to be overconfident, but the thought crept into my mind that this had to be a good thing.  I must be out in front!!!  Not first, of course, but close to it!  At least for my age group!  I had stopped seeing ages in my division a while ago (your age is marked on the back of your calf).  Then, the motorcyclist that was stopped on the side of the road yelled to me that the guy in front of me was only three minutes ahead.  I couldn't believe it!  I was about the jump out of my skin!  Or maybe ride out of my skin is a better description.  So I had to calm down.  I told myself the same good advice I had offered Greg (I was completely confident this was good advice unlike the water bottles), "you still need to run 13.1 miles."  This brings us to the final segment of the bike course.  The last 8-10 miles that led us down into the city of Providence for the run was the worst stretch of road I had ever seen.  We had discovered the day before, while driving the course in my Grand Cherokee, that the back roads that took us down into Providence were filled with potholes!!!  They were so bumpy that the race directors decided to post signs that said "No Passing."  In addition, every couple miles, you would see a big sign that read, "BUMP," and that's when you knew it was really bad.  So, what did I do?  I went bombing through that part of the course like you could not believe!  I was all alone so no need to worry about passing anyway.  I had new race wheels that needed tested.  And, I was out in front.  How else are you suppose to approach it?  Lay it on the line!  I did, and anyone around must have been laughing their ass off.  I made so many noises.  Uh!  Ah!  Oh!  Ouch!  I even lost a water bottle off the back of my bike.  A nicely thawed bottle of sports drink, I might add.  Oh well.  Keep going!  I flew down into the city of Providence and enter T2.  My suspicions had been confirmed...  There were next to no bikes in T2.  I had indeed been "out in front."  Of course, the pros and a couple competitors in my age group were already on the run, but I couldn't believe it.  I was pumped, but also poised for the run.

I racked my bike, slipped on my socks and shoes, felt a slight twinge in my quad from an aggressive ride (uh-oh) and was off on the run.  I had several thoughts going through my head.  First, did I push too hard on the bike?  Was that twinge the beginnings of muscle cramps?  Second, how far behind are the others?  What was the motorcyclist telling them about me?  Third, run your race!  All you can do is your best.  Just make sure it is.  

The run course was scenic as it wound through Providence, but there was nothing scenic about Olney hill.  It was a two loop course, which means we would have to climb the mile long hill twice.  As I finished my first mile, I glanced at my watch, 6:15.  Ok, that's fast, but the first mile is always fast.  I looked at my watch after the second mile and my first encounter with Olney hill.  What?  I'm still under 8:00 pace.  Then I get to go down Olney hill and by the end of the first loop I am running under 7:00 pace.  I couldn't believe it!  I guess the past couple of weeks of training in the heat had paid off.  Unfortunately, I had been passed by a competitor in my age group so I knew the rest of the pack was close.  My legs were heavy and my mind racing with thoughts.  As I started the second loop, most of the other racers were coming out of T2, so it became impossible to track my position.  I simply continued to focus on running my race and putting in my best effort.  It was critical that I did a good job of getting calories into my body and staying hydrated.  With a mile left in the run, I said to myself, "come on, you can do anything for a mile."  Then my quad twinge again, and I found only a slightly faster pace that kept me from inevitably cramping up.  As I turned the corner off of Main Street toward the Capitol building and the finish line, the streets were packed with spectators cheering on all the racers.  As I broke from the course into the finishing chute, the cheers intensified.  It was awesome!!!  I finished the run with a 7:07 pace and an overall race time of 4:41:06.  This was good enough for a run and race PR and a 9th place finish in my division.

I know this is a long race report, but I can't leave out a summary of the post-race events.  First, congratulations to Greg for finishing his first 70.3 in an impressive 5:40:48.  He exceeded his goal of 6 hrs by almost twenty minutes.  He has a ton of upside in triathlon, and I thoroughly enjoy racing with him.  Way to go Greg!  

My 9th place finish in the 30-34 age group was good enough to be the first qualifier (the eight finishers in front of me either already had a slot or declined) for the Ironman World Championships 70.3 in Las Vegas on September 11th.  My decision to accept the slot for the championships was not an easy one.  Choosing to do the race meant not being able to fulfill the level of commitment necessary to continue to coach football.  Therefore, I decided to stop coaching football and compete in my first Ironman World Championships.  Thanks to everyone that has supported me in triathlon, most especially, my wife, Laura.  I can't post this without mentioning my son, Luke, whom I greatly missed while I was gone.  I was so happy to get home and see them both.  Finally, Congratulations to all the athletes that competed at the Amica Ironman 70.3 in Rhode Island.  It was a beautiful course and an amazing experience!

2nd & 3rd finishers Raider Class of '97 (Ha!)

Greg's pic of the Capitol behind T2 (post-race)

Awards ceremony

Me giving them Laura's money so I can race at the 70.3 Championships

Sunday night dinner and Trivia with Bob (Greg's Uncle), Greg, Mark, and a few of Mark's Trivia teammates


  1. Awesome race report Ben!! Even though the bike course has changed since last year, that last stretch of BAD BAD BAD road is the same (unfortunately). I remember it well! Too funny that you just bombed right through there like nobody's business!!

    Congrats again on your breakthrough race! We couldn't be happier for you!

  2. Hey Ben! We met briefly at the Columbia Tri in May. I saw Beth's link to your blog and just wanted to say congrats on your race and the Vegas slot! That's a sweet accomplishment. Good luck with your upcoming training/races!

  3. Congrats on a great finish, and qualifying for the Las Vegas race.

    I saw these articles awhile ago, and thought of you, and just remembered. I didn't read the primary source, but I didn't really know that there was even a debate going on about these things.