Long before I changed jobs this year I had signed up for the Mooseman 70.3,a "Half-Ironman" race on June 6th in Bristol, NH. At the time an early season half seemed like a good idea and I liked the idea of increasing training volume earlier in the season to prepare for this race. I raced MM in '06 during my lead-up to my first Ironman in Lake Placid. I did quite well, finishing 90th or so (if I remember right)and posting a 4:56 finish time. My friend and training partner Mike Matheson had beaten me by like :19 or so that day. We had a blast. Looking back now four years later, I realize we really had done really well. This past year the World Triathlon Corp took over the Mooseman and made it an official Ironman event complete with 50 qualifying slots for the 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, FLA. This change brought about a change in the bike course that impacted the race tremendously. It also attracted a lot of Europeans to the starting line. The bike course change reslted in the addition of a solid three mile climb that racers would need to complete twice.
So, now I'm looking back to my decision to race an early season half. I now work full-time 37 miles from home. This has had a major impact on my training. I simply have not had the time and sometimes when I do have the time I don't have the desire. I had some thoughts in May about steppng back to the Olympic distance race but then thought better of it. I never want to be one of those guys that doesn't toe the line just because they don't feel like they're in top form. So, to NH I went, to RACE the half.
After securing lodging with the best Aunt and Uncle a guy could ask for Jared and I headed over to NH ahead of Dave. Dave met us later that night and we had a great dinner, wrenched on the bikes and got to bed around 10pm. Race morning brought a red sky,(hmmmmm...) and the appearance that it would be a beautiful day. Then I remembered that old saying that goes something like "red sky at night, sailor's delight, red sky at morning, Sailor's take warning"......hmmmmmm.... As we approached the race venue the sky began to darken and I began to realize that we were going to be racing in the rain today. It didn't really bother me though. I like it when things get tough, I guess it makes me feel like I have to step my game up just a bit. I also feel like it thins out the crowd a bit. Takes care of the riff raff. hehehe. I got my transition area set up and headed to the water. The water this year was 69 degrees. That's a good 10 degrees warmer than it was last year so I was relieved that I would not have to swim with an ice cream headache. Jared, Dave and I warmed up, got loose and chatted with other Mainers as we waited to start. That was about the time the heavy rain began. Oh well, bring it on, we're wet anyway! I took a minute to revisit my race plan mentally before I headed over to the start. There were several goals today. First, I wanted to race smart. Given my intermitent training I was unsure what I was going to be able to do today so I wanted to play it smart. Another goal was to make that smart race transfer to a "win" over Dave and Jared. I was confident I could give dave a run and maybe hold him off but I was pretty sure Jared was and should be able to beat me. He's 32 and training hard for IMLP. Dave is training for IMLP too but he's my age, and hasn't beaten me yet so I figured today would be a good challenges with these boys. Jared was starting 4 minutes behind me so I wanted to try to hold him off until at least the run. I also wanted to beat Al Bugbee. He's a tough cat and also training for IMLP. He and I swim about the same, he's a phenomenal runner though so I knew I would have to try to put some time on him on the bike. And lastly, if things went right, I wanted to earn a slot to Clearwater. If I could do that it would mean I had done very well within my age group. So, a bunch of goals. Let's see how it played out.
I saw Bugbee at the swim start and lined right up with him in the front. It was beach start with a run into the water. I decided that even though I'm not the fastest swimmer I'd start in the front and try to push out ahead to avoid the boxing match. It worked perfectly. The gun went off and I sprinted into the water, dove in and got right into a groove. No traffic for about 200 yards, then just the best swimmers went by and I was able to settle in. Good execution. I had hoped to be down around 30 or 31 minutes for the swim but I popped out in 34 minutes. Pretty slow but I had a great swim and was set up well for the bike. I was certain I had beaten Brackett out of the water and heard them announce Bugbee's name when I ran into T1 so I knew he was around and that I'd be seeing him on the bike. I headed out onto the bike with one thing in mind, DON"T BLOW UP! This was not a time trial and I knew there were a ton of hills so I had to keep it under control early. I weaved my way through a bunch of riders and settled in feeling pretty good that I wasn't going to have to try to run Brackett down on the bike. As I came up on about mile five I spotted a Midcoast shirt in front of me and almost died. It was Dave! Holy crap! I really felt like I had a great swim and now I know he swam better. I didn't get too excited, I just fell in and rode the next two miles or so behind him without him knowing I was there. He was riding strong but I figured once we got to the hills I could get him. That's what happened. I went by him during the first major climb. He stayed for a bit and then backed off. I got through the first set of nasty hills and then had to worry about the downhills. They are NASTY fast and are very dangerous, especially when the pavement is soaked. I braked hard the whole way and made it safely. After the hills I was able to get aero and feel like I was making some time. I wondered where Bugbee was and how long it would be before Jared caught me. I got to scratch one thing off that list when Jared caught me in the middle of the hills on my second time around. He looked strong. I muttered to myself that the day wasn't over yet and I still needed to put some time on Dave because I know he's running strong right now. About twenty minutes later I came upon Jared on the side of rt 25. He had flatted and was trying to change his tire. I offered help, he declined, and I went back to work. Bummer. Dave would get by him before he got it fixed. I spent the remainder of the ride trying to be efficient and reminding myself that I wanted to run strong off the bike and not have to suffer for 13.1 miles. It occurred to me that I had disposed of just about everybody I had been jockeying with for the past 50 miles. "Aquaphor" guy was gone, "Army" dude was gone, 26 year old "Specialized" guy was no longer re-passing me, and it had been awhile since I'd seen any of the all-stars that passed me in the first loop only to be doing switchbacks in the hills of the second loop. So I felt pretty good. I felt like I had ridden it strong but hadn't overdone it. The run would show whether I was right or wrong. I wrapped up the bike in 2:43 or so. I was happy with that. I had driven the bike course with Jared on Saturday and came away feeling like I'd be lucky to get in under three hours. I just hoped I had put enough time on Dave in the process. I knew Jared would ride out of his mind after repairing the flat so I hoped I could hold him off on the run. Truthfully though, I no longer consider things fair once a guy has a mechanical issue. It's not like he fueled wrong, or paced poorly. He got a flat. Same could've happened to me. So he and I will square off again and I'll see how long I can hang with him.
I transition rather slowly due to the mud and general conditions of the race. I wanted to be sure I was all set to run before I took off. Thirteen miles is a long way if you don't have your act together. As I headed out I reminded myself that I wanted to limit my pace to 8:00/mile for the first three before I tried to push any harder. This proved to be a very hard thing to do but I was able to hold it to around 7:50's or so. I have started runs before - particularly in Half Ironmans WAY too fast and I wanted to be sure to run strong throughout the race, not just the first few miles. It seemed to work very well. I felt strong and I wasn't suffering at all. I knew when I got to the first turn around (3.2 miles) that I would be able to see where everyone was. As I approached I saw Jeff Small running toward me coming back. I guessed he had a couple of minutes on me. I think he started in an earlier wave. At the time, I didn't think I'd be catching him but I kept it in the back of my mind that he was out there. At the turn-around I checked my watch and made a note of the time so that when I saw dave I could do the math and get a good grasp on what I was dealing with. It was only about 45 seconds before I saw him so I figured I had a minute and a half on him. Not a lot in a half Iron run. And considering I had to go to the bathroom it might prove to be inadequate. Back at the race vanue turnaround I hit the outhouse and was out in about 15 seconds. Cool. I saw Dave and judged I had held my gap. Now for another 10k. I saw Jared closing on Dave and he was not happy. I looked up early in the second lap and saw Jeff Small ahead. I put a target on his back and switched my focus from holding off Dave and Jared to now running down Jeff. I saw Owen Lisa and Brett Hellstedt. Both of them were absolutely crushing the course. They are going to hammer Ironman in a couple of weeks. I kept looking at my watch and seemed to be holding 7:20-7:30 pretty well. This was excellent, I was having a tremendous day. I caught Jeff about halfway out to the turn-around. I thought we might run together for a bit but it was obvious as I went by that Jeff was going his pace. I was pretty pleased to be able to still be running strong this late in the race. I started having some gassy issues and jumped into the outhouse again and took care of that. Without sharing too many details I can tell you that if that stop was part of the race or an event of some sort, I'd have won my age group!. No time to waste so I hit it fairly hard the last three miles to make sure the boys didn't reel me in. I came across the line in 5:01 running 1:40:45. Slower than my '06 time but a better finish overall. I was extremely happy with that! Excellent race, good execution of realistic expectations. I am getting better at this stuff! I finished 13th of 66 in my age group and 72nd overall. I waited for Dave Jared and Jeff to come across the line and didn't waste much time getting into some dry clothes. We all got a bite to eat and then went to the roll down meeting and awards presentation. I never did see Bugbee on the run and found out later that he had some issues and decided to stop after the bike. He's OK I guess and I'm sure he'll be ready to go when Lake Placid rolls around next month.
I had told Dave that if I got a slot to Clearwater I was going to pass on it so he'd have a shot at it. He was 23rd in our age group so it was going to be a long shot. The fifth and final slot in our AG did in fact roll down to me. I passed on it (that was tough!) and it kept rolling down. They got to about 20th and a guy grabbed it. Damn! Dave just missed. I would have loved to have seen him go enjoy that race like I did last year. Well, it wasn't meant to be so we'll try again another time. All things considered I came home from NH feeling more confident that even though I am not quite where I want to be this year regarding my race weight and overall fitness, I can still compete at a high level. And I am going to continue to do just that!