This is my race report of the 2012 Amica 70.3 Ironman in Providence, Rhode Island. It was my first attempt at the 70.3 distance, and it was an interesting experience to say the least. Below is my race report.
I partly choose this 70.3 because it was one of two (the other is Eagleman which I’m doing this year) that were within comfortable driving distance. Also it fit well into my schedule in early July.
So Christine and I drove up on Saturday afternoon for packet pickup and registration sign in. Like most Ironman events it’s meticulously organized with a small convention the day before the race. This race would finish in downtown Providence Rhode Island, which made it an interesting race. Because of the finish this race had two separate transition areas, T1 was where the swim took place and T2 was here at the finishing area in downtown. After seeing the amount of logistics hassles associated with checking in , registering, dropping off the bike and geare at t1 , then back to dropping off the run gear at T2 , it became apparent that this point-to-point transition stuff is more hassle than its worth. It ate up most of my afternoon on Saturday.
While dropping off my run gear at T2 I knew this was a different kinda of race when I saw the Penalty Box tent. Something I hand’t seen (or at least so prominently) in any other triathlons. Penalties are generally given for violations on the bike segment of the race , mostly bike drafting, blocking , illegal passes etc., sometimes for running violations. I just kinda of chuckled , wondering if its embarrassing to be waiting there while other competitors scorn at you.. funny.
T2 was right at the steps of the capital building so it did make for a neat finish and all the Ironman flags and event setup was going on, so it made for an entertaining first day.
After eating downtown we drove to sekaunt 20 minutes south of Providence to check into the hotel. Where I would stay awake till about 2 am tossing and turning, for some reason I’m so anxious before every race I cant seem to sleep the night before.
Getting up at 4am , we left the hotel , which was about 20 minutes outside of downtown Providence. Lesson learned spring the extra bucks for a closer hotel. Got to the capitol building and parked the car in a designated spot then walked over to the shuttle bus, for the ride to the swim start. It was still dark outside and all the athletes had the same groggy non-expression as they boarded the bus. When we arrived the sun was just popping up and the transition was already busy with a flurry of activity
The usual last minute bike checks, bathroom breaks, mechanics pumping tires etc. Ironman races are known for their organization and true to form,the T1 race announcer kept everyone in sync with announcement of how much time before the start, where to get last minute information etc. I did my last minute porta-potty break. Went over to my bike to a last minute tire pressure check and double-checked my gear. Being a “clean transition” the referee was walking around making sure only the one bike tire was on the ground, and very sternly scolding competitors who had anything else there . Like I said Ironman events are no joke, this is a serious race and penalties are given out for violating even the most modest rules. Once I was all done with T1 I headed over to the beach area. I hopped in the water and did a warmup swim. It was a pleasant morning and the excitement of the racers was apparent.
All the athletes paused for the national anthem and the last few minute announcements…the time was near…
This 70.3 race had military precision wave start times. A volunteer with a swim cap colored placard stood in front of each wave (Age group) and as each group almost like a parade moved forward as the announcer called to the beach a new wave and the head of the next wave would move up . The race clock right was their at the beach, and the announcer counting down. My wave was was scheduled at 7:25 , exactly the time the first pro’s Paul Ambrose (also the eventual winner) exited their swim.. So the excitement for me was pretty high.
This is my favorite part of triathlon,the butterflies, its a surreal feeling before the start, the combination of excitement, nerves, anticipation and raw social nature (look around everyone has butterflies) of the race is such a unique feeling I truly like to treasure that moment, I guess that’s what makes racing fun.
I was bouncing up and down, with the nervous anticipation that all the other athletes, felt, then the starting horn went off and into the lake we went. This was a right-handed swim course (turning right on most buoys ) , the first one was about 300yds out from the lake.
This part of the race seemed to be going well, the usual jostling in the water, my goggles started filling a little with water but nothing terrible. As we turned right after the first buoy it was sun glare hell. If you ever have driven at dusk or dawn when the sun in close to the horizon you know what this looks like, now compound that with the reflective surface of the water, and its nothing more than a blinding sheet of glistening white. The solution here is simply follow the froth of the swimmers in front of you, trying to eek a peek at the bouys to stay on course, my darkened swim goggles were no match for the sun glare . The next few buoys seemed to take forever to appear. keeping them on my right, I tried to aim left of them but kept sliding right. I could feel my feet dragging as this was a non-wetsuit swim, and was not feeling I was making good progress.
By the .4 mile mark the first of the age group women swimmers started to pass me, their bright pink caps made it clear it was them. I tried to hang with some of the girls and draft off them but was never really able to stick with the faster ones. Sun glare was still an issue and I could feel myself slogging through the water. At this point I got a taste (or smell) of the nasty lake water, I can best describe it as swimming in old cooking oil, it still felt like water, but the odor was abhorrent, I suspect the algae of other sediment from that part of the lake really had a horrible stink. All lakes have a similar nasty stink in certain portions, but this one was particularly bad. After a few more buoys finally the turn around for the beach. I was still struggling here, my stroke was all over the pace and just could not find a good rhythm This was the best part of the swim, the sun was at my back so the solar glare went away. It was easier to sight the buoys and I managed to hop on the toes of a few other swimmers. The last few buoys seemed to take forever.
As I got closer to the beach you could here the music , the crowd (which I suspect at all Ironman events is bigger) and before I knew it I was at the shoreline, a few volunteers were helping us out of the muck at the swim exit. I looked down at my watch and was horrified to see 45 minutes, at least 10 minutes slower than I expected, it would be indicative of the rest of my day. With no wet suit to take off, it was a short dash to T1, were I almost slipped on the wet grass. I choose not to wear a top during the swim but now paid in time because it took forever to put it on atop my wet skin. I got everything, and off I went.
The first few miles on the bike were mostly rolling, it was a cool morning but it was starting to warm up quickly. I tried to shake off my slow swim and was trying to keep pace with most of the faster riders on the bike, but it soon became obvious there are a lot of very good and fast riders at a 70.3, everyone here is serious about this sport and their cycling skills showed it. After a while I resigned myself to just work within my own comfort zone.
After about mile 8 the first long descent came, near the the bottom of the hill I saw the first crash, some guy bloodied was pulling himself from the side of the road. It always helps to remind oneself that while this is fun and cool, there is an element of risk and sometimes pushing a bit too hard to shave a few seconds here or there simply isn’t worth it if you wind up in a ditch and there goes your race.
As the miles ticked on the rolling nature of the course became obvious. The younger age groupers started passing me on the bike, I generally pride myself on not getting passed too often on the bike, but this race had some serious hard core racers, and at times it seemed like a stream of them were just passing me by.
Around mile twenty my bladder really started letting me know I would need to stop soon, I hung on until about mile 25 where the aid station with the porta pottys was and I took a bathroom break, that’s a few minutes, I could have avoided if I was more aware of how much fluids I took in in the morning..
Back on the bike the next few miles were more or less flat and I started to get into a comfortable pace, but now my neck was starting to ache. Being in the aero position for close to two hours really was taking a toll on my neck muscles, plus the new helmet that I was wearing was a bit bulkier in the front. This only got worse as the rest of the ride went on.
At about mile 35 I dropped my chain on the start of small climb, very frustrating, I had to get off the bike , get my hands all dirty and reset the chain.. this was just as another serious of rollers were approaching.. Around mile 40 the biggest climb on the course a 1+ mile 7-10% gradient climb had everyone groaning up the hill. That was followed by a series of rapid long descents which were welcome, but a bit scary. Triathlon bikes just aren’t designed to be nimble descending machines, mine always seemed jittery.
By this point my neck was on fire, I was in a lot of pain, I was also pretty spent from all the rolling terrain, and seriously considered stopping and calling it quits at T2, I didn’t see how I was going to run 13 miles . I kept looking for the next aid station to refill my hydration system, but it didn’t come till mile 47. I was hoping to grab a bottle and go , but was so exhausted I just stopped and the volunteers gave me the bottle I took in some fluids and poured the rest into the hydration system.
As the last 6-7 miles approached we started to go through some rough the inner city neighborhoods And the bad road conditions we we’re warned about near the end of the bike segment became obvious. Multiple train tracks , gravel strewn turns, un-marked potholes, and angry motorists being stopped all made the arrival into Providence eventful, coupled with the exhaustion of the ride really tested ones fortitude.
Within a mile of T2 you could hear the announcer , the crowds started increasing and the cheering especially up one final short climb before the run-in into T2 was really inspiring and made it easier to push through.. coming into T2 was a lot of fun.. My time was disappointing I had hoped a sub 3 hr bike segment, but sadly my time was 3:17.
Arriving at T2 I was both relieved and resigned. I was 90% sure I wanted to call it a day here. My neck was wreathing in pain, and I was completely sapped of energy from the perpetual rolling hills. This is why everyone is so happy to get off the bike in an Ironman, its just the monotony of pedaling for what seems like forever. I ran my bike over to the rack hooked it over, popped on the floor and began considering finishing the race. I told myself : Self put on your shoes and lets get going, I said just do a mile and if I still felt like it I would quit, and I started slowly run out of T2. The first mile wasn’t too bad with the crowds and a slight downhill, this is the point I felt committed to finishing this thing no matter what, thoughts of abandonment were pushed to the side.
By the time mile two came around the feared 1 mile hill approached and you could see a slow steady line of joggers lugging themselves up the hill. I tried to put on a brave face for the first half mile jogging steadily when I decided , lets walk, that’s where my race went from lets try for a good time to lets just finish. And from here it started a long slog of run for a mile walk for a quarter. More demoralizing was wave after wave of athlete would pass you and mentally, I would think there’s no way this person can beat me, I look like Im in way better shape. Lesson learned: body shape has little to due with athletic performance for amateur athletes.
The nice thing about this loop course was that refreshment stations were every mile and since you went around you basically had aid stations every half mile, very helpful and nice to have. At this point it was getting very hot around 90 in the mid-day July sun. the air stations had ice and sponges which came in handy. After a while it didn’t matter the discomfort of the day was weighing on me. I was more and more tired, the course a 50% downtown, then 50% residential streets, just started to beat me up . As I approached the half-way marker (this is a two loop run course) I could see turn here for next loop or go straight for the finish chute. I turned once more back to start my second loop.
As I started my second run-walk leg and the last 10k of the race, I started interacting with some of the other racers and walkers as we all were sharing the same struggle. I felt sorry for the poor bastards who were still on their first loop, knowing how much pain and exhaustion I was in I couldn’t fathom only being on the first loop of the run..Grabbed more refreshments, by now the heat was pretty bad and it was 6 hours and I remember being at mile 9 on the course , thinking to myself, by now I wish I was finished. I just didn’t care anymore, I started doing calculations and now I just wanted to come in under the cut-off which as 3pm, or 8.5 hours. The heat, the exhaustion were taking a toll and the jogging turned into more walking, the number of athletes thinned as I now knew I was near the tail end. Within the last 2 miles I walked together with Brian, he seemed like a spry young guy , but was just as miserable as I was at this point. I told him this wasn’t fun anymore and it really seemed like torture., I just wanted it to be over, he concurred. We both started jogging and encourage each other to the finish.
Within sight of the finish we picked up the pace. Now here was the best part of the race being held downtown in a major city, the crowds were cheering and lining the barricades, so we both went over and started giving folks high fives . All the pain dissipated and the elation of finishing the race was here. I told Brian to finish in front and I followed him, throwing my head to the sky, just thankful it was over, I had done it! I completed my first 70.3. and yeah it was hard but satisfying Christine was there volunteering at the finish and handed me my finishers medal..
It was over I was happy and satisfied but totally exhausted after 7hrs of exercise, the longest and hardest day of constant activity in my life, and this is only a half ironman! imagine a full Ironman, that’s just insanity. I was tired ,satisfied, disappointed,happy, thankful all in one emotion. As people started crossing the line, medical folks were very attentive to anyone who looked out of it. After lying on the grass for a few more moments, and encouraging some other finishers, I went over to T2 to collect my gear.. All that was left now was a ride home, but not before a nap in the car, having gotten up at 4am and pushing hard for 7 hours left me totally spent.
After every race you will always have some lessons about things you could have done better or what you could have done to more fully prepare for the race. Here are mine for this race.
- Choose your race course carefully! : This was perhaps my biggest lesson, I mostly chose this race be cause of its proximity to where I live and how conveniently it fit within my schedule. This was not the best way to do it. More importantly I feel as a first timer, I should choose a flatter more friendlier course. Also the point-to-point nature of the race made Saturday a whole big chore , what normally should be a ~1hr registration check in and briefing became a 4+ hour production. Not to mention the logistics of leaving certain items at T1 and T2. Lesson learned choose an easier course for your first race.
- Better pacing: Having raced shorter distances I was used to just cranking it when I got on the bike, but it soon became apparent after mile 25 that this was not a good strategy. Try to save yourself on the bike to the end of the bike leg, so you have something for the run.
- Try new equipment near full race distance: I knew this one before the race, but while I had ridden with my helmet before, I had never done it for more than a few hours. The neck pain was unbearable by mile 30, not sure if it was just the helmet or the fact that I had to be in the aero position for three hours, but either way something to thing about.
- Camaraderie from other racers: This is one of my favorite memories of the race, on the run, everyone is cheering and encouraging you on. Because its a longer race, the run portion includes some walking for those of less prepared for the distance, during these moments you can commiserate and encourage and push each other along, that’s inspiring. We’re all in it together and that’s what happened to me! So that was a nice surprise its amazing how much bonding you can have when people are suffering…
Overall it was a great experience and of course Im doing another 70.3 next year, I need to beat my time…