Race Reports - Guest Blog

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.

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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.

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)

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

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