Musselman 70.3 – Race Report

My first 70.3 race was a life experience that feels almost too complex to sum up in mere words. I’ve been trying to find my way to describing all of the different things it was for over two months now, and I haven’t gotten very far. I’m not sure it’s something that can be put into words at all, at least not the true core nature of it. It’s an experience, and experiencing it is probably the only real way to know it. Words, as much as I love them, are sometimes just a pale facsimile of the truth they attempt to describe.

So with that in mind, here at last is a basic run-down of how the race went. I also cut together a video that gets at my outlook and emotions surrounding the event a little bit, but probably doesn’t do much better than the words, in the end. (You can watch the video on YouTube here, or embedded below at the end of this post)

Swim
0:37:52 – 1st in Division (Clydesdale)

Perfect. Honestly my favorite part of the day, which surprised me. I missed the warmup in the water because I chose to use the bathroom (successfully, so a good choice I think). The lake was so shallow, though, that everyone walked for at least 100 yards, with resistance from the water it was a good warmup. But I had fun, swam strong the whole way, and finished in the range I knew from practice would mean I wasn’t slow and didn’t blow up. I had 1:40/100 on my watch, official time pace was 1:48, probably due to the swim exit to the mat and the standing around during the wave start. No anxiety once i got going, no issues, just ground it out and watched the fish. I felt most prepared for the swim out of all three, when all was said and done. I was not expecting the swim to be the most enjoyable part of the race, but I really did have a lot of fun with it. I also didn’t expect to win my division in the swim, so that was a nice bonus.

Swim exit

Bike
2:49:40 – 2nd in Division (Clydesdale)

My first significant plan deviation happened on the bike, but I didn’t realize it until later. For some reason I had it in my head that my coach said 250 average watts as my target, but it was 250 normalized power. Oops. For what it was worth, I ended with 256 AP on my computer so I felt good about hitting my number, even if it turned out to be the wrong one. Overall I was about 15 watts over the intended plan. I put down two bottles of water and two bottles of Gatorade Endurance, plus two 5-oz squeeze bottles of maple syrup. All of which I brought with me. Every aid station I grabbed water and doused myself. All in all fairly uneventful. Big headwinds on some roads, went from one lake to another and back. 2 miles of gravel. Only one hill I would call a ‘climb,’ but 2,000 ft of accumulated elevation. I felt good on the bike, working but not pushing super hard. The last 5 miles or so started to feel a bit uncomfortable, and I was just ready to get off the bike.

Photographer caught me mid-snack

Run
2:10:00 – 2nd in Division (Clydesdale)

Here, of course, is where things got ‘interesting.’ I felt surprisingly good going out. Smiled and waved to my family and wasn’t even faking it. I was having fun! After I cleared the greater transition area, I looked at my watch and realized I was doing like 8:00/mile out of the gate, so I slowed that roll pretty quick and settled into around 8:50-9:30 for the first 4 miles. Then the hills started and I got slower, which was normal and fine. But then mile 7 was upon me and I got massive, massive intestinal cramping. Like really bad. It stopped me dead for maybe 30 seconds. Then I was walking, not wanting to give up. Happened to be on the biggest climb of the course where a lot of people walked anyway, so that was sort of a blessing in disguise I guess. I was eyeing the bushes and trying to decide if I needed to try a pit stop, but eventually ripped a massive…shall we say…’flatulent expulsion.’ Just gas, no soiled britches. And then I was running again! Got back up to around 9’s here and there, especially on the descents back into town. I still had minor cramping happening but it was small enough to ignore. But the whole ordeal took a lot out of me. I tried to pick it up at mile ten, knowing there was just a 5K left, but it didn’t last. I had almost nothing left for the last mile. Just slogged it in. The one bright spot at that point, besides the finish and my family, was that I passed a superstar aero guy who had passed me on the bike at mile 42 on the gravel. I guess he bonked harder than me. He was walking. I felt bad for him but it was also confirmation of what my coach said — a pass on the bike is momentary. A pass on the run is final.

Heading out on the run

Finish and Post-Race
5:43:24 – 2nd in Division (Clydesdale), 72/208 Gender, 96/343 Overall

I was pleased as punch to discover I had made my way to the podium in my division. The Clydesdale division, when it exists, is something of a dilemma, because weight is the only criterion for entering. But there’s a big difference between 250 pounds of muscle and 250 pounds of fat, for example. So it’s not always necessarily the equalizer it’s intended to be. The competition in this division was strong at this race; the winner completed it in under 5:30:00. I would have needed to be 10 minutes faster on the bike and at least 5 minutes faster on the run to win, not to mention faster transitions. I was very happy with what I accomplished and felt that I did the best I possibly could have, considering the challenges I faced (both this year and during the race itself).

Made it

Having my family, both close and extended, there to support me along with some close friends really made all the difference, though. For the last two miles, they were all I thought about. I hugged my kids just before the finish and felt a great sense of relief crossing the final threshold.

While waiting for the awards, I had the opportunity to meet and chat briefly with Jennie and David Hansen, two of my Ironman heroes. They were as friendly and open as could be. They both crushed their races. Jennie did the combination race, which was the sprint on Saturday and the 70.3 on Sunday, and won everything.

Video Report

I made a video about the race, attempting to summarize it from another sort of approach. You can watch that here:

New Race on the Calendar

My “A-Race” this year is the Musselman Triathlon, which will be my first 70.3-distance race. I’ve been looking for a smaller, shorter race I could do in advance of that one that would time up well with my training and is close enough to me to not be a logistical headache. There are lots of running races in northern New England and a fair number of cycling events too (though mostly fun rides, not races), but triathlons are harder to come by. It’s even harder still to find one that takes place on the specific weekends that work within a larger training plan for the year.

Most triathlons are pretty flat, and I suspect that has a lot to do with their scarcity in this region. Vermont in particular doesn’t really do flat.

The race I found that fits the bill for my training and schedule is the Greater Nashua Sprint Triathlon. I’ll be going a little further afield for this one, but not terribly far. It’ll be a couple of hours in the car to get there; less if we stay with family who live closer to the venue.

Even as sprints go, it’s a short one. Here’s a preview of the three legs:

The swim clocks in at less than 600 yards according to the website, but still manages to pack in three turns. The turns are the worst part of the swim, for my money (apart from the mosh pit) so that’s a little disappointing, but it’s probably due to the geography of Lake Naticook and for safety reasons. It looks like the waves are staged on a dock.

The bike course currently shown on the website is amusingly just a screenshot of someone’s browser tab displaying Google Maps, which has been converted into a pdf. I converted that to a Strava Route so I could get a sense of the details, and it’s a ripper. Very short and very flat.

Greater Nashua Sprint Triathlon Bike Leg

The bike leg climbs only about 430 ft over a distance of 9.5 miles. That’s less than half the elevation per mile that I’m used to in training around where I live, and the total distance will be the shortest bike leg I’ve raced so far.

The run leg is a good match for the bike, keeping things flat and fast.

Greater Nashua Triathlon Run Leg

The exact location of the transition/finish area is unclear, but it looks like the total distance will be just over a 5k, at around 3.2 miles, with about 80 feet of elevation gain.

So what do these details mean for me?

This race will primarily be a training tool for me, an opportunity to practice organization, transitions and race-environment stress management. So in that sense, the details don’t actually matter all that much. I’ll be there to practice triathloning and to have a good time.

That being said, I wouldn’t say the race particularly caters to my strengths. I do better in a swim when I can establish and hold a groove; 3 turns means a lot more buoy sighting and thinking about things other than swimming ahead at my own pace. Cycling is my strongest discipline, but the relatively shortest opportunity here, which means that there will be less time to make up for deficits from a slow swim, and more complications in terms of pacing because I’ll be tempted to really drop the hammer on a <10 mile ride (but thereby risking leaving less in the tank for the run). The run looks like a fairly standard 5k route, but running is probably my most challenging discipline, so that’s really no help. So at the end of the day, this could prove to be a pretty tough race for me, if all of these factors stack up in the right (or wrong) way.

My aim then will be to mostly forget about all of that, and to focus instead on managing my pre-race anxieties, race day strategies and transition performance. After all, those are really the only things from a sprint-distance race that will meaningfully translate to a 70.3.