Race Reports - Guest Blog

2019 IRONMAN World Championship Race Report

This weekend, I raced at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, after winning my age group and qualifying at IRONMAN Lake Placid in July. Initially, I was hesitant about accepting the Kona slot because I was moving across the country at the beginning of September to start a PhD program in California. To add more challenges, a month before the race I developed IT band syndrome that caused significant knee pain any time I ran more than 3 miles. With all of those factors in play, finishing the race was in doubt.

Kona is famous for its extreme heat, humidity, and winds, so even though the bike and run are slightly less hilly than IRONMAN Lake Placid, the conditions make it one of the toughest courses out there. October is Kona’s hottest month, and the swim is marked by big ocean swells, the bike by headwinds, crosswinds, and sizzling pavement, and the run by unforgiving humidity and sunshine. Most professional triathletes come out to Kona weeks in advance of the race to get acclimated to the heat, but I was busy learning about American political institutions and linear regression in dry and temperate California. I flew out to Kona with Connor the Wednesday before the race, and Jim and my dad met us there soon after.

Jim and I put together a race plan that took into account 1) the environment, 2) my semi-functional knee, and 3) the primary goal of the Kona experience, which was to have fun. Unlike at Lake Placid, there was no pressure to “qualify” for anything, and friends who had raced at Kona before reminded me that the race was just the cherry on top of a great season. We made pacing, fueling, hydration, and staying cool the top priorities. Here’s a summary of what that looked like and how it all went down:

The Swim: 1:16:02

The swim is a 2.4-mile single out-and-back in Kailua Bay. You swim about 100 yards out to some buoys that mark an “imaginary start line” in the water, tread water for a couple of minutes with your group, and then start swimming when the gun goes off (which was at 7:15 am for me). The plan was to take the swim pretty easy, sight as best as possible, and get physically and mentally prepared for the bike.

When the gun went off, it was actually pretty enjoyable. I found some people to draft behind at different points and sighted often, enjoying the tropical fish and coral underwater and the added buoyancy of the salt water. The wave start system meant that there were fewer people around me than there would have been with a mass start. Things got a little more hectic when we rounded the corner and caught up with the slower swimmers in the men’s 55+ age group, but I finished strong and felt good coming out of the water in 1:16:02, which was a little faster than what we had predicted based on my Placid swim time.

T1: 5:40

I quickly stopped at the hoses to rinse off the salt water and then headed to the women’s change tent, which was a zoo. I grabbed my bike bag and got my socks, shoes, helmet, and glasses on. A lot of people were running through transition, but I tried to just walk quickly to avoid aggravating my knee any more than it was going to be aggravated with the marathon. I made it out of there in 5:40 and was onto the bike.

The Bike: 6:14:52

The plan for the bike was to observe a *strict* heart rate cap of 150 bpm. In other words, if my heart rate went above 150, I needed to go easier. This was a pretty low cap, especially compared to my Placid effort, but the problem with Kona is that once your heart rate soars from going out too hard, it’s almost impossible to get it back down. I usually train based on power, but Jim actually told me to ignore power and base the entire bike around heart rate.

I stuck with the plan, and it was actually pretty easy to ignore power because my power meter was flickering on and off for the entire ride. My heart rate was mostly in the high 140s, and I fought to get it back down by easing off the gas any time it went above 150. The course takes you through town on a short loop, then up Palani Hill and onto the “Queen K” highway, where you bike out to mile 60 at Hawi and then back to town for a total of 112 miles. There are several sections of the course that each present different challenges: sometimes it’s intense headwinds or crosswinds, sometimes it’s oppressive heat as you bike by the lava fields, and sometimes it’s steady uphills that are usually accompanied by headwinds.

It was already hot by 8:35 am when I got on the bike, and the day just got hotter. Luckily, there were a couple of clouds that offered brief respite from the heat, and I learned early on that the best way to stay cool was to pick up an ice-cold water bottle at every aid station (approximately every 7 miles), dump the entire contents all over my head and neck, and grab a second one to drink and pour on me until I reached the next aid station. I was also trying to take in as many carbs as I could in the form of Infinit sports drink, a couple of bars, and some shot blocks. The headwinds and crosswinds picked up pretty quickly into the bike and it sometimes felt like I was either not moving forward or going to topple over, but I just stuck to my heart rate plan and ultimately made it to Hawi, where I benefited from a short but awesome tailwind on the downhill leaving the town. I battled a really tough headwind for the last 20 miles coming back into Kona, but I was glad that I had stuck to the heart rate plan and wasn’t feeling totally out of energy. Now it was time to get mentally psyched up for the big wild card: the run!

T2: 8:23

I took my time in T2 to make sure I was comfortable, because I knew there was a good chance I would be spending a long time out there for the run — especially if I had to walk. I changed socks, put on shoes, ate a stroopwafel, stopped by the porta potties, and put on my race belt, visor, and knee strap, which allegedly offers some relief from IT band pain. There were actually several women who were having various degrees of emotional breakdowns in the change tent, so I was pretty happy that I was still in good spirits after my controlled bike ride. I headed out of the tent and was off!

The Run: 4:05:03

The plan for the run was to keep my heart rate below 155, and per my doctor’s orders, “run until you can’t run anymore.” My doctor had said that I couldn’t necessarily make the injury worse by running through it in the race, but I was worried that I would be literally unable to get my leg to respond at all if the pain got really bad. I had never been more uncertain going into a run.

When I started, I actually felt pretty good. My IT band was a little stiff but I had no knee pain, and I was so happy about it that I couldn’t wipe a goofy smile off my face. I smiled all the way through the first 7 miles in town (no pain!) and enjoyed sticking ice and cold sponges down my back and dumping water on my head at every aid station. I took in a couple of gels but ultimately switched to Gatorade and flat coke because they were easier to stomach.

At mile 8 there is a big climb up Palani Hill and onto the Queen K (yes, we have to run and bike there), and that’s where it’s a little harder to keep morale up. The 17 miles on the highway and into the Energy Labs section of the run are very desolate and lonely. There are tons of spectators in town, but almost none on the Queen K. The whistling winds are punctuated by heavy breathing and wet feet pounding the pavement with a squelch.

On the bright side, I was able to run up Palani (still no pain) and continued to feel pretty good. I had to slow down my pace a little to stay under my heart rate cap, but I was doing sub-10 minute miles the whole time and I was so happy to be running for this long pain-free that I didn’t really care about the pace. I felt kind of like a ticking time bomb with a knee that could give out at any given moment, but I knew that the more miles I ran, the fewer I would ultimately have to walk.

As I ran through the Energy Labs, the sun started to set and I was getting tired. My knee was still holding up, though, so I told myself that I needed to keep running until 1) it gave out, 2) my heart rate spiked to a point where I couldn’t get it down, or 3) I literally fell over. None of those things had happened, so I pressed on. By mile 20, the sun had set over the Pacific, and the highway was pitch black. I could see the twinkling lights of the town, though, and the thought of the finish propelled me forward.

When I finally came back down Palani at mile 25, I could hear Mike Reilly’s voice and the roar of the crowds, and I started to get excited because I knew that even if my knee gave out now, I would still be able to walk, crawl, or even roll across the finish line. By some miracle, it continued to cooperate, and I picked up the pace for a smiling sprint down the finish chute. The crowd was roaring, the lights were bright, and as I crossed the finish line I heard those magic words: “Katie Clayton, from Stanford, California…Katie, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”

Finish: 11:49:57, 14th in AG, 5th American

The 2019 IRONMAN World Championship was not my fastest race, but it represented my best-ever execution of a race plan. I was enjoying myself for almost the entire time, I ran the whole marathon, and I didn’t end up in the med tent. And hey -- if the advice to “have fun” lands me with 14th in the world and 5th American in my age group, I’d like to think that I have a whole lot more untapped potential that’s just waiting to make its debut. - Coach Katie

Katie Clayton 2019 IRONMAN World Championships - Kona, HI

Katie Clayton 2019 IRONMAN World Championships - Kona, HI

Mr Klein's IM Lake Placid Race Report

Expectations and Pre-Race Thoughts

Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) had the distinction of being both my A-race and my first race of the season. After taking a year off from triathlon, I had been feeling anxious to get back into race mode. I was also excited to see the results of actually training for a triathlon. Coming off a collegiate swimming career, I had previously relied on endurance from distance training and natural fitness to get me through triathlons. This was my first time working with a coach, and I knew that my training over the last seven months was well thought out. I was ready.

The Plan 

  • Swim. Approximately 1:00 – 1:05 on the swim. Be aggressive, but do not expend any energy. If possible, find someone at a similar or slightly faster pace and draft off them to conserve energy. Keep the cable in sight. Use the swim to get the pre-race jitters out of the way.

  • Bike. Maintain a normalized power of 160-170 for the bike. Keep heart rate under 150 bpm, but ideally closer to 140 (or lower). Keep head position steady. Eat every 20 minutes, and drink at least every 10. 

  • Run. Cap HR at 155, but try to stay between 140-150. Do not blow out the energy in the first few miles – it’s a long race. Maintain hydration. Hope that the leg cramps decide not to show up today. 

  • Nutrition. I used Science in Sport (SiS) electrolyte powder, carbohydrate bars, and gels.

Swim

Although my goal swim was in the low 1:00 mark, I placed myself in the sub 1:00 group. IMLP’s swimmers have a reputation of seeding themselves faster than they will actually finish, and so I wanted to get ahead of any athletes who were a bit…overeager. Additionally, I wanted to get ahead of the mass pack which would no doubt involve a fair amount of aggression as swimmers would jockey for a spot on the cable. 

The first 1000 yards went off like any other open water swim. There was a fight for position during the first 500 yards as the lead bunch formed into a pace line. Rounding Turn 2 (~1000 yds), I made my only ‘mistake’ of the swim when I got too comfortable with the reduced need to spot and overshot the turn by about 20 yards. Not a big deal, but it was a fitting mistake considering that a sense of direction was never my strong suit. 

I was able to find a swimmer slightly faster than me to draft behind for the second 1000 yards. This was my strategy going into the swim, and I was able to stay on his feet for most of the straightaway. I was surprised by how many people were swimming off the cable – some by over 25 yards to the left. Yes, this would reduce the traffic they would encounter, but swimming away from the pack seemed unnecessary given that we were still on the first lap and had clear, open water in front of us. 

Lap 1: 29:14

The first half of the second loop went about as well as the second half of the first loop. Although I continued to draft off the guy ahead of me, we were caught by a chase pack which had engulfed the two of us by buoy 5 (~2900 yds). For context, the IMLP swim course is a rectangle with eight yellow buoys on the way away from the start, two red buoys to mark the turns at the other end of Mirror Lake, and eight orange buoys on the way back to shore.

By the time our group rounded Turn 2 and was on the homestretch, I encountered probably the hardest challenge of the swim: the slower age groupers. The open water quickly devolved from an organized pace line to an ‘every-man-for-yourself’ maelstrom. Sighting was required, but mainly to look out for other swimmers rather than check if we were on course. I had to figure out who was ahead of me, if there were gaps to shoot, and if it was easier to swim through or swim around the athletes ahead of me. As rushed as it may seem, that chaos is one of my favorite things about open water swimming – it requires more thinking and aggression than swimming in a pool. 

Before long, I saw an orange buoy with an “8” followed by a red buoy with a T3, meaning I had reached the end of the lap. I was feeling really strong, not out of breath, but strong. The race was on.

Lap 2: 30:14

Total Swim: 59:14. 1:00 goal complete.

Transition #1

The transition involves a long-ish run (at least a quarter mile) from Mirror Lake to transition. This was the first time I had ever used a wetsuit stripper (and the first time I had ever used a wetsuit), and so the process of being told to lie down on the ground as a volunteer yanked my wetsuit off my legs in one smooth motion was interesting, but efficient. I entered transition, grabbed my bike gear bag, and ran into the changing tent.

The volunteers were great, and I was fortunate to be in the changing tent with relatively few athletes (most were still in the water). While I was putting on my socks, shoes, and rubbing some chamois cream on my thighs, the volunteer was getting my glasses, helmet, and gloves ready to go. Transition times were significantly slower than every other triathlon I had previously done. What I thought was a really slow transition was actually 5th in my AG. Taking an extra minute or two in the changing tent doesn’t mean too much in a 10+ hour race.

Transition 1: 6:03

Bike

I read a sentence on a blog post somewhere which stuck with me throughout my longer training rides: “In Ironman, do the bike you should, not the bike you could.” I knew it was important to keep a consistent pedal stroke and monitor my power output, but I also wanted to ride a race I could be proud of. This meant that I would race to my plan: not an easy ride, but not an over-aggressive ride that would destroy my run.

The climbs out of Lake Placid are inconspicuously long, and I’m thankful that I came out in June to practice the course as I knew to take this section slow and smooth. I saw a few cyclists absolutely pounding the opening hills, and I remember thinking that they were insane – we still had 9 more hours of racing left!

The downhill screamer to Keene is one of my favorite parts of the course. I hit a new speed record for the year, and it was nice to have a section where I could bank some free miles. Then came the flats to Wilmington and soon, the severely underrated climb out of Wilmington. Again, some bikers were flying up the hill looking like they were cranking more watts than a professional cyclist on a hors catégorie mountain. Later, I saw several of them walking on the marathon…

Even on the long climb back to Lake Placid, I was feeling good – much better than I was expecting. My power was at my goal watts, my body was feeling fine, and I was hitting my nutrition. When I rode into Lake Placid, I looked down at my computer to mark the lap and saw a 2:54 – more than 20 minutes faster than my anticipated lap split (3:15). Rather than excitement, this actually caused a good deal of anxiety starting the next lap, and I worried I had killed the rest of my race by taking the first lap too aggressively. But I was still feeling strong, I was having fun, and the crowds were cheering me on through town. Riding down Mirror Lake Drive, I pounded my chest and yelled with the crowd, rejuvenated by the energy of the spectators lining the streets. I saw my parents, grandparents, and a friend from college who came up to watch me race, all recognizable by their matching blue shirts with a picture of me printed on the front. The anxiety quickly disappeared. 

Lap 1: 2:54

Chris Klein IRONMAN Lake Placid family t-shirt

Chris Klein IRONMAN Lake Placid family t-shirt

But sure enough, the problems started on the second lap. Earlier than in my training runs, my body started to reject the carbohydrate bars I was eating, and my electrolyte drink seemed less and less appealing with every sip. I started missing scheduled eating and drinking periods. On what began as a cloudy day, the sun started to break through the clouds, and brought with it rising temperatures on the exposed roads. 

Finally, on the climb passed Whiteface, I cracked. My quads cramped up several times, requiring me to pull over to the side of the road and try to massage them out. But worse than the cramps, massive headwinds, absent on the first lap, hampered any forward progress I was making when I would resume my rides. My two training partners, Matt and Katie, both passed me as I was trying to massage out a cramp, and, truth be told, I took relief in seeing familiar faces. Although I appreciated the “are you ok?’s” from concerned cyclists as they rode passed me parked on the side of the road, it was a little demoralizing recognizing that I still had to make it to Lake Placid in order to even start the run. 

After finally getting back on my bike, Mile 100 is where I hit my low point. I was well aware that mental toughness was necessary to finish this race strong, but I was not expecting to have my attitude tested so early in the day. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got to the top of the Northwood Road climb (the short, sneaky climb after the three bears) and enjoyed the coast to transition. Even with the pain, I still finished the lap ten minutes over my anticipated lap split. 

Despite all of the negative emotions mentioned in the previous three paragraphs, I was still having fun. In a sense, nothing was awry…yet. Ironman is a hard race, plain and simple. I knew I was going to struggle with the bike, and although it wasn’t perfect, I made it. Every problem I encountered, I anticipated and had a plan. Race day preparation is an undervalued benefit of having a coach, and as a result, panic mode never set in. Instead, I was ahead of schedule, I was faster than my training rides, and I was still feeling strong enough to run a marathon. Furthermore, I wasn’t hurting alone. Pictures may speak louder than words, but facial expressions in Ironman are an open book for describing how an athlete is feeling. Based on the emotionless faces and glassy, empty eyes, my pain was in good company.

Lap 2: 3:23

Total bike: 6:17. 6:30 goal complete

Transition #2

After crossing the dismount line and handing my bike off to a volunteer, I decided that the path to the changing tent was more deserving of a walk than a run. My legs were hurting, and all I could think about was getting out of my biking shoes. In the tent, I took off my helmet, swapped my socks and shoes, threw a bag of sodium gels in my pocket, quickly downed some fluids, and headed off on my run. Just like in Transition 1, I thought I was moving slowly in T2, but my time was actually above average for age groupers. 

Transition: 5:43

Run

Despite all of the pain I had felt during the last 20 miles of the bike and heading into transition, I actually felt great for the start of the run. I set my watch to focus solely on my heart rate. I used the opening downhills to lengthen my stride and stretch out my quads and calves. I was moving, and with my speed came energy – I was back to having fun! 

One aspect of the race I haven’t touched on too much yet is the crowds. I’ve never seen more support in a race than from the fans and volunteers in Lake Placid. Coming out of transition, I heard more cheers of “let’s go” and “come on, Chris” than in all of my previous races combined. It felt very personal, like they were cheering for me instead of the usual casual clap as spectators wait for their athlete(s) of focus. There were also the fans who tried to be more…unique. The spectator on the ski jump hill at Mile 2/9/15/22 who high-5’d everyone with Facebook foam fingers. The fraternity squad at Mile 1/10/14/23 who cheered for everyone while parading around in their underwear. The aisle of fans on Mirror Lake Drive who tried to motivate the nutrition-depleted runners as they “death marched” to the completion of their first lap. Their energy was contagious and set a new standard that I fear will never be matched by another race nor another crowd. 

But outside of Lake Placid and down Riverside Drive (Miles 3-9 and 16-22), spectators could not easily watch the race and the non-athletes were limited to the volunteers working at aid stations and the medical tent. The lack of cheering fans shouting encouragement diminished the environment to the sight of expressionless runners trying to get to the next aid station and the sounds of running shoes shuffling down the road. The course, on the other hand, was shaded and pretty with the road running adjacent to a small stream.

Early in the run, I was still feeling strong. I was holding around 8:45’s but my HR was starting to rise, still within the 150 range. Many athletes had started walking (my assumption being those who tried to overdo the bike), and truth be told, the number of runners I passed in those opening miles was encouraging. I linked up with another runner who was holding my pace and we chatted for the next 5 miles until the run turnaround when the exhaustion finally caught up to him and he resorted to the ‘death march.’ 

Chris_Klein_IM_Lake_Placid_Run

For me, the struggle began around Mile 8. My heart rate had started to creep into the 150s and low 160s, and even though I eased my pace to 9:30’s, I had a hard time getting my heart rate to come down. I spent the aid stations trying to get as many calories and fluids as I could into my system – water, Gatorade, bananas, chips and pretzels, more Gatorade, more water, ice to hold in my hands and mouth – but my irregular nutrition patterns on the bike had started to wear me down. Mile 9 was the ski jump hill climb, and after walking up the hill I found I couldn’t engage my feet to run again. I was stuck. Then came the cramps: calves, quads, hamstrings, even my groin. My state could best be described by my stop at special needs (Mile 12) when I had a seven-year old volunteer named Gio and his dad help me change my socks. The cramping in my legs was so bad that I couldn’t move/engage the small tendons and muscles without my body wrenching in agony. One of my favorite pictures taken at Lake Placid was on the run where it looks like I’m laughing and shrugging my shoulders. In reality, my dad had yelled to me, “You’re almost there!”, to which I responded, “Dad, what are you talking about? I’m shuffling like a tap dancer, and I still have a half marathon to go!”

Lap 1: 2:07

The only aspect of the race for which I did not prepare was the amount of GI distress that I would encounter, and I do not think I could have prepared for that type of pain. From the start of the second lap, I felt sick, and I knew that throwing up would only deplete me of the electrolytes my body had yet to process and desperately needed. At Mile 14, I found Coach Jim on the course and even asked him if I should throw up – he advised against it. After 9.5 hours of work, my body was fighting back, and I was about to head back out to the isolation of Riverside Drive. 

As it turns out, a bathroom break was really what I needed at the time, and when I came out of a porta potty at Mile 15, I saw Matt about 50 feet ahead of me looking like he was in a very similar condition as I was. We made a pact to finish the race together, and our pacing switched to three minutes of running/jogging/shuffling followed by one minute of walking. Between the GI distress and the ever-present leg cramps, the hurt was real. We both knew the key to finishing was to keep moving, even if it meant a slow walk. Looking around us, the ‘death march’ present on the first lap had evolved to a ‘death march of zombies,’ but the three minutes of running/consistent movement and the mental relief of running with a training partner gave me the strength to keep going. Around Mile 21, Matt and I were joined by Julie Smith, another Upper Valley triathlete, and the motivation and positive encouragement present in the Upper Valley progressed the time, both physically and mentally.

Chris Klein, Julie Smith & Matthew Goff - IRONMAN Lake Placid run

Chris Klein, Julie Smith & Matthew Goff - IRONMAN Lake Placid run

As we climbed back into Lake Placid, the crowds brought us to the finish line. Spectators lined Main Street and Mirror Lake Drive, and the high-5’s and screaming fans were moving. My legs were starting to give out from the cramping, and Matt waited for me to briefly massage them out while Julie finished her own race. From the final aid station, Matt and I decided to make one final, consistent run to the finish line. 

As we entered the Olympic speed skating oval, my emotions kicked in and I started tearing up. Every step brought back a memory from this year’s training, from my initial struggles with a six-mile treadmill run to my first bike over two hours. Unfortunately, I do not remember Mike Reilly saying my name as I approached the finish line – I was too busy taking in my surroundings. Matt and I put and arm around each other and crossed the line. We gave each other a hug. A volunteer put the medal around my neck. I bent down and allowed some tears to fall. The hardest race I had ever done was over. I found Katie, and she, Matt, and I took a group picture. My friend from college helped me out of the oval and up a hill to where some spectators had camped out, and I promptly fell into Jim’s arms in a half-hug/half-collapse. He kept repeating in my ear, “You are an Ironman, buddy.” After 45 minutes, I hobbled into the medical and massage tents to receive some much-needed care on my legs. 

Lap 2: 2:52

Total Run: 4:59

Final Time: 12:39:44

Closing Thoughts

I allowed myself a week before attempting any sort of workout. After seven months on the grind, my body deserved a break. 

Although I was hurting during the final part of the bike and most of the run, I do not regret many of my in-race decisions. Could I have eased off the power on the flats during lap one of the bike? Maybe. But then maybe I would have been hit with more of the headwinds. Should I have taken the opening miles of the runs easier? Probably. But my heart rate was in my target range. I finished in a competitive time, and I am proud of my accomplishment. I’m also proud to have finished the Lake Placid course for my first Ironman – those hills are no joke! 

Now we know how to adjust the training if I were to race IMLP again. The majority of the training this year was spent building a fitness base. Now, the base is there, and I will improve my stability and power on the bike, and to add in some appropriate IM pace work on the run.

My next race, SwimRun Casco Bay, is soon, only two weeks after Lake Placid. I’m excited to incorporate some speed in place of aerobic work, and race in an event which combines my two stronger legs of a triathlon. Plus, a 13-mile race is much shorter than an Ironman. After that, Lake George Olympic, so the distances only decrease from here!

I couldn’t have finished this race if it wasn’t for the Endurance Drive tribe, and so a massive thank you goes out to Coach Jim & Endurance Drive teammates Matt & Katie. 

Keep on driving  – Chris Klein

Chris finished SwimRun Casco Bay with an overall second place finish in the solo division. Great work, Chris! 

Chris Klein, Katie Clayton & Matthew Goff - post IRONMAN Lake Placid

Chris Klein, Katie Clayton & Matthew Goff - post IRONMAN Lake Placid

2019 IRONMAN Lake Placid Race Report

2019 IRONMAN Lake Placid Race Report by Katie Clayton

IRONMAN Lake Placid is done and dusted! After dreaming about crossing the Placid finish line for over a year and a lot of training (in 2019 alone I ran swam 296,222 yards, biked 4397 miles, and ran 932 miles), I’m pleased to report that IRONMAN Lake Placid was a success. I finished with a smile and punched my ticket to the October IRONMAN World Championships in Kona. Here are my thoughts on the course, the experience, and my plans until the next one!

Taper: I have a tendency to go into big training weekends and even some races with some built-up fatigue, but Jim made sure that I was fully rested for Placid. After months of 18+ hour training weeks, it was a huge change to go out for a 45-minute spin and call it a day, but I knew that the rest would pay off. I made it my priority to sleep a ton, eat a ton, and de-stress, and seeing my heart rate nice and low on the workouts confirmed that the taper was working. By the time we left for Placid, I was antsy and ready to channel all of my pent-up energy into the race.

Swim: Fast forward to the line-up for the 2.4 mile swim in Mirror Lake. Matthew, Chris and I got as close as we could to the front of the corral so we could start the swim in one of the earlier waves. Jim told us that most people tend to overestimate their swim time, so it’s best to start out up front. Chris lined up with the swimmers under an hour and Matthew and I were right behind him in the 1:01-1:10 group. The gun went off at 6:40, and we were in the water with the rolling start by 6:41. 

I was immediately struck by how many people were near me, but I tried to stay calm and find the underwater cable as soon as possible. There was lots of splashing and thrashing going on and I was kicked a few times as everyone found their groove. Once I got on the cable, I was surprised to see how many people were swimming to my left (avoiding the cable) -- it seemed just as crowded over there. I kept my eyes down and tried to swim smooth without overdoing it. 

The one disadvantage to swimming on the cable is that if you don’t sight, you won’t know when buoys are approaching, so I was pushed under a few of the big yellow triangles as I tried to swim through them. It was a little jarring at first but I tried to do a better job of picking my head up occasionally and/or not breaking my stroke if I hit a buoy. 

By the time I reached the first right hand corner, my left goggle had filled with water so I quickly picked my head up to fix it. Then as I made the turn I momentarily lost the cable, and it took me a little while to fight my way back onto it. Once I did, I came back around, finished the first loop, tried to fix my goggles again as I exited and then re-entered the water, and started all over. 

The second loop wasn’t as strong as the first; I felt fine, but most of the people around me on the cable seemed to be going much slower than they had on their first loop and I felt like I was at the mercy of the speed of traffic. I tried to fight my way around people who were particularly slow or who were splashing a lot or kicking too hard, but I ultimately decided that the energy it took to do that wasn’t worth the seconds I would save. After getting kicked and tangled in the turn buoys at least three or four more times, I backed off the pace and tried to just cruise in for the bike. Swim time was 1:11:06, and while I would have liked to go under 1:10, I really was at the mercy of traffic and I was just happy to be out of the water. 

T1: Once I got out of the water, some awesome wetsuit strippers helped me get my wetsuit off, and then I jogged down the blue carpet to transition. I passed the entire crew of Dartmouth supporters who were awesome and totally put a smile on my face. I grabbed my bike bag, got some help from some volunteers in the change tent to put on shoes, socks, helmet, and sunglasses, and before I knew it, I was on the bike course.

Bike: My heart rate was high as soon as I started the bike, and unfortunately it never really came down. I’m not sure if it was the swim, the excitement, the caffeine, or some combination of the three, but I kept seeing my HR in the 150s even though my watts weren’t out of control. Usually it stays fairly low in training (at The Endurance Drive Ironman Lake Placid training weekend I averaged 140 on the 112-mile course at race watts), so I was a little concerned about it and unsure whether to trust my HR or watts. I ultimately decided that watts was a more reliable metric so I focused on aiming for a normalized power (NP) of 160-170 watts - our race plan. Those watts came easily in the first hour on the climbs out of Placid. I focused on floating the uphills and crushing the descents (especially the Keene descent) and was happy to see that I was riding alongside some fast-looking people. Overall, the first lap felt good and was largely uneventful, and I came back into town in 2:52 (almost 20 minutes faster than my training weekend) with 164 NP for the lap. 

I stayed on top of nutrition with a bottle of Skratch and a Larabar in the first hour, a bottle of Infinit in the second hour, and a bottle of Skratch and a Clif bar in the third hour. I switched out my bottles at bike special needs for two Infinit and one Skratch after lap 1 and headed out on lap 2, where I was excited to see the entire support squad at Run Aid Station #2 cheering me on and my parents in the car coming into Placid from Sleepy Hollow near River Rd. It was after leaving town again that I started to feel the first loop, though, and I decided to back off the pace and watts so I could try to get my HR down. I was getting increasingly worried about the run because my HR had been in Zone 3 for most of the day, and I didn’t want to end up walking the marathon. I got it down to 150 and below, but my watts were definitely lower by then and I knew my pace wasn’t as strong as the first loop.

Morale had been pretty low from the Haselton Road turnaround to the top of the Papa Bear hill. I kept up with nutrition and hydration (one bottle of Infinit during hours 4 and 6, a Bonk Breaker and a bottle of Skratch during hour 5), but there was a strong headwind from Haselton Road to the end that made me feel like I was riding a trainer. I ended up making friends with a couple of people who were struggling along with me and commiserating over we were all so ready to get off the bike. After my loop 2 from hell, total bike time was 6:01:34, 159 NP. 

T2: Coming back into town at the end of lap 2 was awesome - the spectators were fantastic and I was SO HAPPY to give my bike away to the volunteers in transition and get my run shoes on. I made a quick stop at the port-a-potty, switched shoes, grabbed my gels, race belt, and hat, and I was off.

Run: My legs felt a little bit like jelly as I came down the hill by Lisa G’s, but they weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. I was able to throw down a few 8-minute miles without my heart rate spiking and I got a huge morale boost with all of my friends at the mile 2 run aid station. I saw Jim soon after that and he let me know that there was one girl in my AG who was 27 minutes up the road. That was actually pretty comforting because I didn’t feel like I needed to push it to catch her (the lead seemed way too big for an AG win to be realistic), and I was happy with a second-place AG finish for my first Ironman. I continued on down the hill and turned left onto River Rd., jogging through each aid station to grab hydration and nutrition.

I had a little bit of a side stitch and was feeling nauseous, so I couldn’t easily stomach the gels I had brought with me. I grabbed coke and base salt at the aid stations instead, and those went down easily. Unfortunately, my HR was spiking above 160 and it was getting really hot out, so I decided to tone down the pace to see if I could get my HR below the 155 cap Jim and I had planned. I ran an 8:45, then was above 9:00/mile, and I was feeling pretty bad but determined I could hold a pace in the 9s at a reasonable (155-160) HR. I continued to grab coke and salt and not walk the aid stations because I worried that if I started to walk, I wouldn’t start running again.

After finishing up the River Rd. section, I jogged back up the big hill and ran into Jim at mile 9ish. He informed me that the age grouper ahead of me was running 11s and 12s, and her lead had shrunk to 16 minutes. He told me to just keep doing what I was doing, running 9s without my HR blowing up and taking in whatever I could at the aid stations, so I did. I grabbed ice to throw down my shirt and dumped water on my head whenever I had the chance, and I kept the pace and HR steady. I ran up the Lisa G’s hill (which honestly was not as bad as I thought it would be), did the Mirror Lake Drive portion and saw more friends and family, and then headed out for lap 2.

I realized my shoe was untied at mile 13, so I stopped right before going back down the Lisa G’s hill to tie it and nearly fell over, but I righted myself and kept it up. When I saw Jim next at mile 15, he said I was only 6 minutes behind my competitor. If neither of our paces changed, I would catch her. But I was hurting big time, and walking sounded more and more appealing with every aid station. I also missed the coke at a few aid stations and only took in ice water with poor hand-offs, so I was worried about my nutrition and hydration status. Still, I gritted my teeth and kept running with my eye on the number on everyone’s calves for someone in my age group.

As I came down River Rd., I got a little bit of a second wind and continued to throw down 9s with a little less pain. Finally, just before the turnaround, I saw the girl who I thought was my competitor ahead. She was running, but my shuffle was faster than her shuffle, so I passed by her (we both gave each other some encouragement) and hit the turnaround. I didn’t look back after that, but I picked up the pace by a little bit out of fear that she would chase me down. 

By the time I made it off River Rd., I knew I had built up a bit of a lead, but I was really worried about my hydration and nutrition status. I was starting to feel dizzy and I didn’t want to pass out or DNF with so little to go. For the first time on the run, I walked up half of the hill after River Rd. just to keep my HR in control. I started running again as soon as I reached the top and met Jim and Connor around mile 22. While I couldn’t smile, I was happy that they were blasting my favorite songs on their portable speaker. Jim yelled that I had an 11-minute lead and reminded me to keep fueling, keep hydrating. I was pretty close to my breaking point but I continued on, ready to taste the finish.

By the time I got to the Lisa G’s hill I was pretty much done, so I speed-walked up part of it to avoid passing out and clocked my first 10-minute mile of the day, but I was able to pick it up again after getting to the top. My parents and friends were cheering on Mirror Lake Drive, and as I made it to the out-and-back I knew that all I needed to do was run another mile - just one. I rounded the corner, picked up the pace to sub-9s, and laid down everything I had left. I entered the transition area, rounded the track, and saw all of my friends and family along the finishing chute. I somehow managed to smile, and I crossed the finish line with a run time of 3:59:51. I then promptly semi-collapsed into Matthew’s parents’ arms (they were volunteering at the finish) and was carted into the med tent where I made friends with some amazing volunteers who were the first to hear me say, “I think I just qualified for Kona.” Total finish time: 11:22:19.

After: I was fine after I cooled down and got some fluids in me, and getting to hang out on the grass with my friends and family, watch Matthew, Chris, and Julie finish, and relive the whole experience for days after was arguably even better than the race, which was physically and mentally agonizing. Despite the agony of 140.6 miles, I decided to take the Kona slot, because I think that after a few more days of relaxing and active recovery only, I’ll be ready to get back into training mode. After all, this is the IRONMAN World Championships we’re talking about! It’ll be a little crazy to balance more Ironman training with a move out to California in a month and the start of my PhD program in political science at Stanford, but come on - it’s Kona!!!

Thanks a million to Jim and the tribe for everything they have done to support me on this journey. I’m pumped that it isn’t over yet! - Katie Clayton

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Triathlon in the midst of tragedy

Describe this weekend in one word: eventful. The Endurance Drive crew and several Dartmouth club athletes traveled to Franconia, NH to race the White Mountains Olympic triathlon. The weather was perfect and our big fitness showed—despite a heavy training week, little to no tapering, and not really warming up, we grabbed nine spots on the podium including four top age group finishes and second overall on the women’s side. Although we were excited to have a great race, the weekend was most memorable because of what happened on Friday. On the drive to Jim’s house in Randolph after picking up our race packets, we were one of the first cars on the scene of a horrific crash on Route 2 that killed seven motorcyclists and injured three others.

Around 6:30 pm on Friday, a pickup truck with a trailer jackknifed into a group of ex-marines on motorcycles who had just left their hotel. We arrived just after the crash to find motorcyclists and other witnesses stumbling around, metal and pieces of motorcycles scattered all over the road, and the pickup truck on fire with all of its airbags deployed. No emergency vehicles had arrived.

It took a minute for everyone in our cars to realize the gravity of the situation, but we then jumped out of our cars and sprang into action to do what we could to help. We called 911, tried to help move survivors and witnesses off the road and away from the burning truck, ran back down Route 2 to stop other cars from trying to get through and make room for EMS vehicles, took some video footage for the police, and tried to help people who had witnessed the crash calm down. However, we quickly realized how much the situation was far out of our hands. We would later describe the scene as walking into the aftermath of a plane crash, with bodies, machine parts, and fire on all sides. Ultimately, we had to come to terms with our helplessness in a horrific situation unlike any we had experienced before.

We left the scene as the first fire trucks were arriving and drove another hour to get around the site of the crash. Everyone was in some degree of shock. One moment we were going through life, cracking jokes, singing in the car, and getting ready to race a triathlon. The next we were transported into a nightmare, witnessing tragedy, death, and raw human emotion. All we could do was try to remain calm, clear the area for emergency responders, and try to provide support for survivors in varying states of emotional distress.

We got to Jim’s late Friday night, hugged each other, ate some pizza, and packed up for the race. After living through the aftermath of a crash that the NH state police captain called worse than any he has ever seen, all we could do was move on and try to live life with a greater appreciation for our health, the experiences we get to have every day, and each other. Our thoughts remain with the victims and their families.  - Katie & Matt

White Mtn Triathlon race report

Ironman Mont-Tremblant Race Report & Review – Kevin Hartstein

I love running. Since beginning to train for my first marathon in 2013 the feeling of slipping into a pair of running shoes, knotting the laces, and trotting out the door has brought me endless joy. I run to relieve stress, to improve my health, and to compete with others (especially my twin brother) and myself over how long and fast I can go. I’ve ticked most of the important boxes – completing a marathon, qualifying for and running Boston and New York, and upping the distance to 50K, 50 miles and even 100 miles at the VT100 Endurance Race last summer. I love the purity and freedom of running – all you need is a pair of shoes and some willpower to start putting the miles in. But I hate cross-training. I have a difficult time convincing myself to stretch or do core work, never mind swimming, cycling, or (god forbid) running on an elliptical… So why on earth did I sign up for an Ironman?

Like many important life decisions, it started in a bar. Club sweetheart Cara Baskin, my brother Taylor, and I had just run the Lake Wawayanda Trail Ragnar Relay in New Jersey. Although the 120-mile race was meant for teams of 4 or 8, we failed to fill the 4th slot on our roster. Despite this setback, we won the Ultra division and finished 3rd overall among the 8-person teams. Inebriated with victory (and perhaps a few too many IPAs) we planned our next move. We had all run ultra-distance events already – in fact, Cara had completed the VT50 the weekend before – so we wanted a new challenge. “Let’s do an Ironman!” It seemed so simple. Taylor had cycled in college and Cara had completed a Half Ironman the year before. I had only a vague notion of the swim and bike distances and almost no experience with either sport, but had run for 23 hours straight in the VT 100, so figured a race that took about half that time would be no problem. The drinks wore off sometime the next morning and the lactic acid ebbed a few days later, but the Ironman idea caught hold.

Ironman mont- tremblant

Triathlon training would be the most intense cross-training I had ever done. I signed up for a winter spin class at the Dartmouth gym to see what cycling was like and started swimming once a week during lunch. My friend Robert Gill joined for spinning and decided to get in on the action. Our friend and UVRC club-mate Taylor Black had raced at Ironman Mont-Tremblant the year before and gave it rave reviews, so we all pulled the trigger and registered. The months that followed that decision seems like a blur of wetsuits, carbon time-trial bikes, and Clif Shot Bloks. My goal shifted from completing the event to racing it. I learned how to fix a flat tire and keep my goggles from fogging up. UVRC member and triathlete Jeff Reed introduced me to the Dartmouth Triathlon Club coaches Jim Anderson and Eliot Scymanski, who taught me to bike and swim correctly and what a “brick” workout was. I met my girlfriend, Vanessa, at an Upper Valley Triathlon Club event and she decided to race with us at Mont-Tremblant. I borrowed time from my running to give swimming, cycling, and even core work a fair share.

Before we knew it race day had arrived. We pumped up our tires and deposited our bikes and running shoes in the transition area. The Canadian Air Force jets flew over the beach at Lac Tremblant and the cannons went off to start the race. We charged into the water for 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles on the bike, and a full marathon. We all crossed the finish line. After drinking some water and shuffling to the hotel room for a shower, we met up at the bar to start planning our next adventure.

In the end, my season of cross-training comprised about 2500 miles of cycling and 100 miles of swimming in addition to 600 miles of running over the four months between the Boston Marathon in April and Ironman Mont-Tremblant on August 24th. I still find reasons to avoid core work and stretching, but I really enjoy swimming and cycling now and plan to continue cross-training to some extent through the winter in order to compete in another Ironman next year. With enough work, I think I have a chance of earning an age-group slot for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

On the other hand, I’m thrilled to focus on running for the rest of the season. It is my first and true endurance love. I don’t have to worry about tire tubes or goggles or goofy one-piece suits with padding in the shorts. From now until the end of the year I’ll just be knotting my laces and hitting the road, first to prepare for the VT 50 miler in September, then for the NYC Marathon in November.

I would encourage anyone who’s considering a crazy athletic dream to go for it. The biggest obstacle is usually just committing to your goal. Once it’s in sight, everything else will fall into place. Especially here in the Upper Valley, there are a lot of friendly, helpful people who will point you in the right direction and give you training advice. Ask for help. Whether it’s a 5k, charity bike ride, triathlon, or ultramarathon, someone in the UVRC, Upper Valley Triathlon Club, or Upper Valley Velo has done something similar and would love to talk to you about it. I’m honored to be a board member for our club and my mission as Vice President is to bring these resources together for our members.

USAT Age Group National Championships Race report - Emma Sklarin

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It was 8:55am in Omaha, and we were sitting hip-to-hip with our competitors, our legs dangling over the edge of the dock. After months of anticipation and training, Katie, Sonia and I finally had our toes in the race. We were smiling and laughing with the girls around us, though they would soon become our fiercest competitors when our wave took off minutes later. That’s just the magic of this crazy sport: when you’ve traveled halfway across the country to push your body through a two-and-a-half-hour, three-sport sprint, you just can’t take it too seriously.

After five long minutes, the buzzer went off and the swim began. The water temperature was 80 degrees on race morning, so it was declared a non wetsuit race. This meant slightly slower swim times without the flotation power of a wetsuit, but it also meant we would shave time from our transitions since we wouldn’t need to rip off our wetsuits or change clothes at all. Besides the lack of lane lines, the lake swim almost felt like a pool.

While the swim looks peaceful to fans on the docks, in the water it’s a battlefield. Remember that pool game “sharks and minnows,” where the shark grabs as many legs as she can while the other kids scramble to cross the pool? The swim leg of a triathlon is just like that game, except everyone is a shark and it lasts for a mile. I fought my way to the first buoy, and Sonia got stuck between two swimmers, claiming that at one point she “rode on their backs” as she found herself in their line of motion. We circled the buoys to complete the mile, Sonia and I coming in at 27 minutes with Katie close behind.

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Sonia and I ran to transition together and cheered each other on. Soon, we were running with our bikes to the bike mount line. Sonia started just ahead of me and Katie, quick as a whip, passed me within the first couple miles. The bike is my worst leg of the triathlon by far, so my goal was just to hang on to a 20 mph pace and try to hold my position for as long as possible. I was only successful until the turnaround – when my lack of speed work caught up to me –, but I still finished the bike leg in my goal of an hour twenty. Katie and Sonia finished the bike leg in 1:10 and 1:14, and I cheered them on the start of the run as I sprinted to transition.

By the time I got to T2, it was almost 11 and already 80 degrees. It was hot, and you could see it on the red faces of all of the runners. I followed Sonia’s advice and dumped a cup of water on my head at each aid station. At one, the volunteer handed me the paper cup and called out “wait, that’s a block of ice!” as I ran away, but I’d already poured it, the ice melting on my head. It felt great.

My run was a blurry mix of bliss and pain, and I couldn’t help but smile. There we were in the middle of Nebraska, running down country roads with some of the best amateur triathletes in the nation – and they were all just as excited to be there as we were. I crossed the finish line six minutes ahead of my goal time with Katie, Sonia, Jeff and my dad all waiting at the end. Katie had finished in 2:26:53, coming in an incredible 7th in our age group. Sonia finished in 2:32, coming in 16th. I came in at 2:39, finishing 25th.

That night at the awards ceremony, Katie took to the podium, standing with the top finishers in our age group. She also found out that all three of us had qualified for Worlds in 2018 in Australia. The next morning, Coach Jeff had an amazing race in the Sprint, coming in hot at 1:13:51 and finishing 7th in his age group. Talk about a coach that can do both! Jeff guided us through our race-day prep and cheered us on throughout the race, only to wake up and absolutely crush his own race the next day.

Two years ago, I raced Nationals in my Dartmouth kit, but I competed mostly for myself. I could’ve never imagined how far our team has come since then. At the finish line, we met an alum, Gabriel, who was racing, too. Maybe that’s why I never stopped hearing “Go Big Green” throughout the race, both from strangers and friends. It propelled us forward, pushed us to dig even deeper and put smiles on our faces in the toughest (and hottest) moments. I think it’s safe to say that Dartmouth made a splash at Nationals this year.

Now for a few huge thank yous: First, dad – you’re the best cheerleader in the game (thank you for flying to (the most exotic) midwestern cities with me)! Jeff – you are a saint for driving to Omaha by yourself with our bikes so that we could have the perfect race set up. I’m not sure how we will ever repay you! Jim – this summer, when the devil on my shoulder told me to stay out on a Friday night and skip a Saturday double-day, I’d remember the joy of the TrainingPeaks box turning green and knowing you’d see me kicking butt in my workout and the devil would pipe down. Thank you for thoughtfully writing training plans that made all three of us fit and confident for race day!   - Emma Sklarin, Dartmouth Triathlon Club & Endurance Drive U23 athlete

 

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White Mt Velo 40-mile Swiftwater Bike Time Trial.

Swiftwater Bike

White Mt Velo 40-mile Swiftwater Bike Time Trial. July 6, 2017. Franconia, NH

White Mt Velo is a road ride group that is supported by Littleton Bike & Fitness. They organize rides from April through September.  Jen Dodge is the current event organizer extraordinaire.  She does the scheduling, organizing the rides, planning appropriate routes, explaining the routes and re-group spots.  You’re always in good hands when Jen runs the show. 

The White Mt Velo group primarily rides out of Littleton, NH but also holds various Thursday night group rides out of other northern NH towns such as Lancaster, Whitefield and Franconia. 

Their Swiftwater 40 mile Time Trial (TT) has been an annual event for over 15 years.  It’s a self-timed ride/race.  Some people ride it as a group and others ride it individually.  Here’s the Strava segment for the course: https://www.strava.com/segments/10040296

Last year’s event was rained out so I was itching to get in on it this year.  It was a beautiful northern NH evening as we met at Mac’s store for pre-ride instructions and information from Jen.  People start when they are ready to launch. I waited a minute or so as to have people to chase. 

The route starts with a 9 mile incline on the Easton Rd / Rt. 116 (part of the White Mountain Half Triathlon uses this road), a right on Rt. 112 losing elevation from miles 9.5 to mile 20 where it intersects Rt 302. It’s a gentle elevation gain for 10 miles through Bath and Lisbon. The crux starts after taking a right on Rt 117 to climb up to Sugar Hill through mile 30 – 35+ ending with a big descent back into Franconia.  

This TT was well-timed with my triathlon season training: For the better part of the Winter, Spring and early Summer, I ran a lot, as in twice as much as I had ever run, as we needed to address fading late in the half marathon part of 70.3s i.e., build run durability, finish the race strong.  As many triathletes can attest, running can sap your high end bike power.  It’s not uncommon to be 10 – 20% off of your ‘normal’ bike power watts with a lot of run miles in the legs during a training phase.  It’s part of the balancing act in triathlon training.  If you want to produce huge watts at your local race or weekly group ride, running can take a backseat for many un-coached athletes.  You have to give a little to get a little (or a lot).  I had completed my A race, Ironman Syracuse 70.3 in mid-June and had backed off the run miles a bit with upcoming shorter races.   In other words, power was being restored to the legs and it was time to push some watts!

As with all races, it’s easy to blow up your entire race in the first half.  I was particularly careful during the first 9 miles, especially between miles 7 – 9 where there are steeper, short pitches.   I didn’t want to burn any matches with big power surges and tried to maintain an even watts range through these hills.  It was tempting to go harder through this part as I had caught my friend, Steve Saffo, and he hooked on and then proceeded to re-pass me on the hills.  Steve is a strong rider (and runner) and I wanted to make the next pass definitive.  As we turned right onto Rt. 112, I put my head down and put in a surge.  Steve was riding a road bike and I was on my TT bike so was able to make just enough of a gap to exploit the rider / bike drag between the two riders and two different types of bikes. 

Recent heavy rain storms had damaged Rt. 112 and it was a rough ride down through the Ammonoosuc River valley, avoiding gravel, potholes and large cracks. In this section, I tried a new fuel source: Untapped Maple.  Due to lack of practice, most of it ended up on my hands and just a bit in my mouth. I had only one package of it. Oops, lesson learned. 

The southwest headwind we had experienced on the first 20 miles turned to a nice push on Rt. 302 as the course rolled north through Bath and Lisbon.  By Lisbon, I was feeling the lack of fueling besides the two bottles of Skratch (one with ice cubes to help internal cooling).  I backed off slightly for the last few miles of 302 knowing that the crux was coming on the Rt. 117 climb into Sugar Hill.   But overall, I was feeling good and it was nice to finally see some real watts (at least for me) on the Garmin. 

Late in races, no matter the distance, is where your fitness level shines (or falters).  As I climbed up Rt. 117, I asked my body to do hard work and it responded.  Those weeks of 1000+ TSS (Training Stress Score) through the Spring and Summer were paying dividends when I needed it.   My power increased through the 5 mile climb and crested Sugar Hill to see the sun’s angled light reflecting off of the Cannon Mountain buildings and bathing Franconia Ridge in warm, orange light.  A true north country evening!

Mile 35+ to mile 38 is a screaming downhill. Not being familiar with the descent and valuing the skin on my body, I sat up for most of it and checked my brakes a few times down through the corners (showing my triathlete side of bike handling skills).  At the bottom, it’s a quick flat sprint back to Mac’s store and done!  Time: 1:44:35 which was 2nd overall on the night. 

To my surprise, I didn’t know there was another guy up the road, ultimately finishing two minutes ahead of me.  Nevertheless, I put out my best effort, was very happy with it and two minutes would have been a tough ask.  Just goes to show, you never know how a race is going to end, keep pushing until the finish line.

Big thanks to White Mtn Velo, Jen and the Littleton Bike & Fitness shop for keeping cycling alive and vibrant in the north country.   - Jim                               (photos credit: Jen Dodge)

Cycling

Patriot Half Race Report & Review by Katie Clayton, U23 athlete

Patriot Half Race

Patriot Half Ironman race recap: 

    On June 17, I crossed the finish line at my first 70.3 race, the Patriot Half. Patriot is put on by Sun Multisport Events every year in East Freetown, Massachusetts. It features a swim in the warm, calm waters of Long Pond, a mostly flat two-lap bike course with a few rolling hills, and a beautiful run loop on quiet country roads with an aid station at every mile. If there ever were such thing as a “beginner friendly” half ironman, Patriot is it. 

    I decided to sign up for the race in October after a great summer of several sprints, my first Olympic distance race, a bunch of road races, and a century ride. I was ready to push myself to the next level of triathlon training, and I was motivated by three other U23 athletes who had the same goal. Our “70.3 group” met weekly with Jim and Eliot in the fall to set up TrainingPeaks accounts, talk about what training would look like, and generally come to terms with the idea of racing for multiple hours. Our official base training period, complete with detailed daily workouts imported into TrainingPeaks, began on January 1st.

    It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of the new training plan. I had never really done doubles before (two workouts a day), and I was exhausted after the first week of waking up early to fit in one workout before my internship and then doing a second workout directly afterwards. Luckily, the plan was designed to ease me into the increased volume, so the intensity level of most of the workouts was low. As I came to learn, base training is all about keeping your heart rate low and slowly turning your body into an aerobic engine that will be able handle higher intensity speed work in the spring. So, I spent a LOT of time pedaling determinedly on the trainer with my heart rate in the 140s (while making it through five and a half seasons of The West Wing), jogging along snowy roads in the dark at a pace that felt much too easy, and doing light but consistent strength training in my basement to ward off injury. My only intense workouts were in the pool, as the swim was the triathlon leg that needed the most work for me (I have a background in running, but could barely get across the pool when I started triathlons). I did several weeks of “swim blocks” where I would be in the pool, usually before 7 am, six days a week. Even though it was tough to force myself into the water on those cold winter mornings, the consistent high yardage worked. My times started to drop off, and I felt a lot more confident in the water. I sent Jim and Eliot a video of me in the pool a month or so in, and they didn’t even believe it was me at first. From there, I was sold on the swim block strategy, and I continued to improve. 
    I was back on campus at Dartmouth in the spring after my winter off-term, and I was thrilled to begin training alongside two other U23 athletes (and some of my best friends), Abiah and Valentina. We excelled at different legs of the triathlon and our schedules didn’t always overlap, so we didn’t do all our workouts together, but we really enjoyed having each other’s company for our longest workouts. The other big change of the spring was transitioning into the build period, where we finally got to incorporate some speed into our bike and run workouts. On the bike, we started to ride outside and began doing “sweet spot” interval training, which involved rides with several 6-15 minute intervals at threshold heart rate with recoveries in between, as well as longer rides with 15-20-minute race pace intervals, and super long 3-4-hour rides at low intensity to get used to being on the bike for a long time. On the run, we added 15-25-minute race pace efforts to the end of our long runs to simulate how it feels to go hard on tired legs. We kept up the intensity in the water as well, and focused on improving our technique, maintaining our speed, and developing open water swimming skills like sighting and swimming with a wetsuit. As the intensity increased, I noticed how much stronger I felt from all the base training. My run times and bike power were improving significantly too, and I could go much harder than I could at the beginning of base training without maxing out my heart rate.

    One of the most important elements of our spring training were three “big weekends” or “big days” in which we tried to simulate what it would feel like to exercise as long as we would be racing. We also practiced our nutrition and hydration strategies on those days so we could get used to fueling mid-race. Our biggest training day happened a little under a month before the race, and it featured a 2500-yard open water swim with wetsuits, a 60-mile endurance bike, and an 8-mile run with five miles at race pace. Although the intensity wasn’t as high as it would be at the race, completing that big day showed us that even without tapering, an audience, or any type of special race preparations, we were physically capable of exerting ourselves for a long time. Mentally and physically, our big days made us feel race-ready. As Jim told us, when the race came around, we would be more than prepared: it would just be about execution. 

    The two weeks leading up to the race brought a big decrease in overall training hours. We kept some of the intensity to keep our legs from going stale, but we dropped the volume to get rid of some of the micro-fatigue that had been accumulating since training began. I was antsy, to say the least, but I knew that it would pay off when I felt fresh on race day. I took the day off completely two days out, spent the day before doing a series of pre-race prep workouts on the actual race course (a short bike and a short run with a few pickups on each), and did everything as planned on race evening: laid out all the gear, ate familiar pre-race foods, and tried to visualize success as Jim had recommended. At 4:30 am the next morning, I was up and ready to go.

    I’m happy to report that Patriot itself went as well as I could have hoped for. The weather was ideal, with cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 70s. My swim wasn’t all that fast, but it was much faster than it would have been had I not spent so much time working on it. More importantly, I got out of the water feeling strong and ready to ride. The bike was awesome, and all the high intensity training (particularly on the hills of the Upper Valley) made the relatively flat course seem easier than I expected. I drank every 15 minutes and ate every 30 minutes as I had practiced, and I kept my heart rate high but in check to save some energy for the run. When I got off the bike and looked at my watch after the first mile, I was shocked to see that I was actually running at goal race pace (which I had told Jim would be impossible after the swim and bike), but I held on to it as long as I could and made it to the finish line in just under five hours (4:58:18), with a half marathon PR by five minutes (1:35:11; that’s including the half marathon road races I had previously done without biking 56 miles and swimming 2100 yards beforehand). After getting down some food and water, I called Jim to let him know that it had all worked. Sure, I was tired, but the exhilaration I felt post-race almost made me forget that I was totally spent: it was the ultimate triathlete’s high.

    The whole week after Patriot was recovery mode for me. Not only was I chafed, sore, and stiff, but I also had to get four wisdom teeth out two days after the race. Luckily, having a week to do nothing but drink smoothies and relax was enough to make me feel more than ready to jump back in. A week later, I was up and running, swimming, and biking my way towards the next goals for the summer (another century ride, the Boston Triathlon, and USAT Age-Group Nationals in Omaha). I’m not sure what the training goals will be after that, but one thing’s for sure: I’ll cross that Patriot finish line again. After all, now I have a record to break!    - Katie Clayton, U23 athlete
    
Patriot Half Triathlon 2017 Race Results

Patriot Half Triathlon 2017 Race