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