I used to think race reports were a bit self-indulgent. I personally have never done more than cribbed a few lines in my training log after races. But as i’ve been training for Ironman Lake Placid, my first full Ironman, I find race reports fun to read and helpful. So here’s my take on this weekend’s infamous Rev3 Half Quassy (July 5, 2011) a half ironman race comprised of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, a half marathon/13.1 mile run) on a relentlessly hilly and challenging bike and run course.
The Rev3 folks have scaled up their race series very quickly because they’ve listened to athletes and have taken just about every piece of feedback that anyone ever through at the World Triathlon Corporation and delivered a series that answers many common complaints. They let athletes defer races, give great swag, very good post-race food (protein!), make the races family friendly, offer lots of bang for fee buck. They’ve also vastly improved the post-race scrum to peek at race results with self-serve computer search. They attract impressive pro fields, which is a thrill for both spectators and participants (I mean, what other sport allows athletes to get as close to pros and do the same course on the same day?).
I’m guessing Rev3 also answered prayers of some seriouly masochistic-minded tri enthusiasts, because Quassy is one @#$% difficult course. In the three short years the Quassy Half has existed, it’s become a must-do tune-up race in the Northeast for those doing Ironman races. It’s certainly not about PRs for the distance. It’s the adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” realized. The course is so tough, it makes racing anything else, at any distance, seem less intimidating.
I did the two hour drive up to Middlebury Saturday morning, to check out the course, limber up with some swim/bike/run, and watch my Terrier Tri teammates do the Rev3 Quassy Olympic distance race (different course but equally tough terrain). Photos here, and also pix from my Terrier colleague Bob Cowin (who was also a fellow Rev 3 Half racer on Sunday).
And also, the debut of Tri-Cycle Rentals, a fantastic new biz being launched by
pals Erol, Jeff and Jeff. They were doing brisk biz, renting high-end Orbeas for the race, for those smart enough to skip the hassle of travelling with a bike. These guys are already booming!
I’d volunteered the year before at about mile 4 1/2 on the run course, with a group of other Terrier Teammates.
It was a on a long, uphill dirt road. I will never forget the “help! i’m in the pain cave!” looks on athletes faces as they got up the hill, with about 9 miles left. It was hard work, too! I always thank the volunteers at every aid station now.
I wasn’t sure how to approach the race. To race or just ‘do’ the course? I’d just done a very high volume, challenging Memorial Day weekend’s worth of training up in Lake Placid; not exactly a taper plan. It certainly wasn’t my “A” race. And I’m still coming back from an injury/set-back and am kind of afraid to lay it all out there when I’m not sure I want to use up the remaining amounts of cartiledge left in my right hip. But I want to see, just a little bit, what I’m made of. So I figure I’ll make it my very hardest training day yet. I figure I’ll keep it steady, and throw in a few pick ups. It’s a long day.
It’s also a great nutrition dress rehearsal. After my Lake Placid weekend, I decided to make some tweaks to bike accessories. I lose the double bottle cage in the back. I also chuck the jiggling/rattling Profile bottle (which no matter of giant rubber bands and velcro and fancy brackets will stop) and go for an Xlab + Chimp turbo combo in between my aerobars. This’ll be where I put my calories, starting with a double dose of Accelerade. This proves to be a spot on plan. Simplicity. I do not miss the sticky splashing and general nuisance of the Profile bottle. I also lose the old, fraying and sharp-cornered bento box for a sleeker tapered Fuel Belt bag. I decide to try out the refillable Gu bottle and fill it with Double Expresso flavor. FAIL number one is that I didn’t dilute it with water so it was nearly impossible to squeeze out. As a disaster proof the to Gu bottle, I stash a couple of gu’s, a couple FRS chews and a half dozen peanut butter filled pretzels (for a salty, non-space food option) in the bento bag. Going for 300 calories an hour.
In a few earlier races this season, I did some really stupid stuff, like forgetting to bring water, or absent mindedly filling up my profile bottle to the top (only to have half the sticky contents splash out running out of transition.) My goal was a modest one: avoid sheer stupidity and air headed stunts, fuel smart, keep GI issues to a minimum.
Dinner with the Terriers. Half the bunch did the Oly distance race that day and were in that great, celebratory mood that can only be experienced post-race. Those of us doing the half were a bit jealous;)
Before bed, I go through my transition bag and do a checklist. Ugh! My Garmin 310x is dead as a doornail and not charged. And that weird, clamp-y Garmin charger? I can see it, plugged into the power strip…in my NYC office. I start to panic, but stay calm. I blast out an email to some of my teammates who might have brought their charger. Lots of immediate replies, but all of the “sorry, don’t have mine” nature. I decide to not let it bother me. But I can’t lie, it does!
Then, as fate would have it, my savior appears in the lobby of the Middlebury, CT Hampton Inn, in the form of Noel, a lovely guy from the Asphalt Green Tri team, whom I met at AG’s Lake Placid Memorial Day camp (they were nice enough to let a few of us terriers crash). Noel is also racing tomorrow. He can help, he thinks. He knows a guy. I thank him profusely but ask him not to go to any trouble. But he does, and a few minutes later, a knock at my door; the Garmin charger is produced by Noel, who got it from his buddy.
A huge act of kindness. Thank you St. Noel! Someday, I hope I can return the favor in some way, maybe at IMLP? Certainly with good vibes directed your way, always.
Race morning. Garmin charger returned to Noel. The instant oatmeal I mix up in the hotel room gets tossed for a bagel with peanut butter available in the hotel lobby, washed down with my fave pre-race secret: Starbucks instant iced coffee.
I drive to Quassy Amusement Park, site of the race. The wooden roller coaster there is a metaphor for the day?
Still not sure if I’m gonna race when the gun goes off. “Just be steady. Calm. Don’t lose your head. And *do* sweat the small stuff.”
I hit transition at 5:30 a.m. and see my acid green Guru where I racked it the night before. Love that they assign racks by number and name. Avoids that pre-race drama of early-arriving space hogs. I pump up the Zipps to 120. I affix my bike shoes and keep them lined up with flimsy rubber bands that will break when I start my ride with my bear feet on top of my shoes. My rack mates; a nice bunch of very fit looking gals with some serious bike kits that hail from all over the Northeast corridor: Maine, Boston, NYC, WDC, CT. I recognize a woman I had a bike duel with at Timberman last year by her Team Haggis jersey: “All guts, No glory.” I get lots of compliments on the Guru (“nice green machine!”) and the matching helmet. I walk around transition and as is my custom, snap some photos of teammates. And immediately post them to Facebook, of course.
It’s time to get into Lake Quassapaug and loosen up a bit.
Am I going to race it? Well, maybe not on the swim. Today’s goal is drafting: to find that perfect pacer and grab onto their kick stream and not let go to save up the energy for a final kick. It’s a long day, after all. I use hair conditioner on the outsides of the forearm and shin portions of the wetsuit in addition to body glide on the inside for quicker wetsuit exit. Note to self: do not use the conditioner right before attempting to help a teammate zip up. I high five my fellow Ironman training partners and we watch the pros get started. My wave goes off after the 35- and 40-44 year old dudes. I’m in a derelict bunch of old ladies (45+), those racing in the Clydesdale and Athena categories, plus those doing relays and Aquabike. It’s a beach start…and Boom! I place myself to the right, run in with high ankles, and do a few dophins before settling in. The lake’s great, the water is pristine. Doh! 200 yards in and I realize I’m enjoying the swim so much that I forget to pick out my draftee. I spot my target, accelerate and ‘hold’ onto the back of another swimmer. I don’t push the pace. It’s a long day.
Am I racing yet? It’s half way through the swim, and I haven’t decided.
I spot the final couple buoys, pick it up and bring it home, swimming right up til I claw the bottom of the lake. I know it was not my fastest swim, but it was relatively incident-free.
Running through the chute now, goggles up, peel off the top half of the wetsuit and bolt towards Transition 1. I take a deep breath when I reach my spot. I figure 80% of the bikes are still there; more than I thought after such a slow swim. I’m not looking at my watch. The Garmin awaits on my bike.
T1 underway. Should I race this? I douse myself in spray-on sunscreen. Another deep breath. To race? I slather body glide all over my ankles for my flying mount/no-socks ride. Or not to race? What’s another 30 seconds in transition to prep for 56 miles of hammering hills on the bike? I take another breath and a long swig of water.
I hit ‘start’ on the Garmin.
The guru and I hightail it out of transition and prep for a flub-free barefoot mount. I hear fellow Terriers cheering me on. There’s Coach, too as I go for the flying-barefoot-mount. With an audience. No pressure! Okay, so I didn’t exactly ‘fly’ but leg up and over the bike, “just like when you were a kid.” Rubber bands snap and lots of multitasking now as I RIP RIP the velcro off my shoes, while peddaling away and looking straight ahead. Spin out those legs now. It’s a long day.
Am I racing? “Well,” I think. “Not exactly. But challenge yourself, maybe do a few spin ups, a few pick ups. Try staying patient and in the saddle for long inclines, get out of the saddle on the rollers. You’re here, you might as well see what you’re made of.”
I pass far more 35-and 40-something guys than pass me (and in the latter case, the ‘passers’ are 28 year old dudes with deeply whooshing disc wheels). I pick off a few females, but there aren’t many in my sight. The faster swimmers in my age group must have a huge lead on me. “Doesn’t matter,” I think. “It’s just a training day.”
Am I racing? “Well, you’re making an effort,” I tell myself. “Don’t go out too fast. But take advantage of those descents and use them to your advantage.”
We’re approaching mile 8 and I remember from the quick study of the elevation maps of the course that I’d done the night before that this would be the first of what would be a non-stop onslaught of hills. I was right. This is when I start swearing to myselft, just a little bit. Fast forward to hill after hill; climb after climb.
“Each hill makes you stronger,” I thought. “Be patient,” I thought.
I’m getting passed on these early climbs, but I expect to. I’m saving it up to spend later. Lots of spinning up hills at 8 mph. But a few killer descents where I’m hitting 45 mph and feel the force of speed flatten out my cheeks. I am fearlessly going no-breaks, slamming down these hills and leveraging all the momentum I can get. When I bother to notice, the scenery is beautiful: stone walls, blue skies with crisp temperatures, lovely horse farms. I take a bottle of gatorade at the first bottle exchange and pour it into my aero-racked bottle (okay, one disadvantage to this is refilling is a bit unweildy). But the hills keep coming — as if I’m in a video game and I conquer one evil meany only to be assaulted by an exponential number of other evil meanies. There’s another one. “Really? Seriously? Recovery much?”
It’s maybe mile 35 now. My mind is strangely accepting of the terrain assault being repeatedly dealt to me by this cruel Quassy course. But by this point, I’m racing. I’m dusting dudes and picking off more gals. I get passed by a few other dudes and a couple girls. One 30-something girl in a Boston Tri Club kit shouted out kudos for a “slamming descent — wicked fast!,” as she, of course, in turn overtook me on the following climb). I take water at the second bottle exchange. I skip the third entirely.
It’s mile 48. It’s clear at this point that because I passed up a couple chances to dig really deep and hammer really hard in those “I’m just training today” moments, that I’m not likely to go sub-3 hours on the bike, which would be shameful for me on nearly any other course, but maybe not so much on this one. “Dang. If Ida been racing on the swim, or in transition, or tried a little harder to be more focused and faster up those hills, i could have done a sub 3” I think. I’m not playing ‘woulda coulda shoulda’ so much though. The last miles were in some gorgeous countryside with a fair ratio of long descents. We’re geting close. I notice 4-5 guys who i’d been keeping up with are suddenly dropping back. Maybe they’re cooked. I’ve got that gas I’ve been saving in the tank and I use a bit of it in the last 5 miles, saving the rest for the half marathon run to come. With 100 yards into the bike finish, RIP RIP goes the velcro on my shoes, and now its bare feet on the tops, spinning my legs out. I come up on what I think is Bike In and I get confused and yell out: “where am I supposed to turn???” and volunteers flag me to the left. The spectators are back, and I prep for my dismount. Look ahead, keep pedaling and flying dismount off you go (and this time, I flew).
It’s T2 time. Hardly any bikes are back.
With a 13.1 mile, very hilly run ahead of me, I can use any advantage I can get. I’m used to being passed on run. It used to really bother me and mess with my head. Not anymore. Here’s where I race my race, and show myself what I’m made of. Quick steps on that first mile or so. Strike mid-foot. Lean forward a bit. Feel a string pull you up. Engage those hamstrings. Don’t go out too fast. Good form throughout. I’m keeping a pace that’s one I would normally be sure to hold for the whole race, but then I remember the hills on the run are supposed to be more of a challenge than on the bike. I run with quick quick quick steps down a tree-lined country road, and rip open a pack of Cola flavored PowerGels, to realize, smooshing and heat had turned bit sized pieces into a giant mass of sticky carb mess. I take a chomp (and it’s golf ball sized bite; too big, I consider spitting the whole thing out but don’t because of course I am just passing by the race photographer as this happens, me with chipmunk cheeks). I charge up a country dirt road towards mile 4. I’m nearly at the spot where Terrier Tri manned the mile 4.5 aid station, where I saw that parade of pain last year. But I don’t feel all that bad.
I let gravity take over and attack the downhills and try not to use my quads as giant breaks.
Mile 7. I know I’ll see teammates there. But my mind starts to wander, and my thoughts grow a bit negative. “This sucks. Really? Another hill?”
I spy a girl in a Coconuts Cycling Jersey that sort of trash talked me because I accidentally dropped my bottle as she passed me on the bike at about mile 48. But there she is, on the side of the road, at the top of a killer hill, with a couple companions. She’s wheezing loudly and on all fours. I see an inhaler on the ground. The wheezing’s really bad, and loud and the girl starts to panic. I suddenly feel extra bad. I keep charging up the hill, where there’s a turnaround. As bad as I feel myself, this girl’s not in good shape. As I pass by again, she’s sobbing hysterically and her wheezing is loud, furious and paniked. I hear the ambulance coming. A reminder that anything can happen during these races, even to the very fittest of the fit.
I’ve got this. I’m one lucky lady. I’m mildly asthmatic but this is nuthin. This other girl, on the other hand, is in real trouble.
Mile 7. Familiar faces and encouragement from the Terrier Tri-manned aid station. I suck down a Gu, grab a green cup of Gatorade.
My head’s still in the game but my legs aren’t responding as well. My dodgy hip is screaming and hurts. The hills are getting steeper and more frequent. I do something I seldom do and was inspired by 99% of the folks ahead of me on the course: I start walking up a particularly steep grade. I do this on 2-3 more hills but decide it really cuts the momentum, it’s not worth it, and I want to get this #$%^&* race done! I try try try to pick up the pace. High knees on the hills.
Mile 11. I know Joanna and Josh and other Tri Lifers will be there, manning the aid station. Joanna runs up behind me and shouts: “there’s just one more hill and you’ve got this.” Oh good, I think, as I spy what I believe is the aforementioned hill. But it’s not. It’s a baby hill on the way to a ‘real one’ later. Momma Quassy’s got some more punishment in store. I. Keep. Going. Somewhere between not terrifically fast and not-just-phoning-it-in jogging. There are people flaming out all over on this part of the course. They’re losing it. I’m actually picking off a few people, including my fellow 45-49 age groupers. Finally it’s that one last hill. A Volunteer at the top of it says, “only one more hill, and this is it, I promise.” My ankle starts to give out on me and I buckle. I stablize myself, shake my head out and attempt to look moderately strong on the run in. I spy the finish ahead. I run down the finishers shoot with just about everything I’ve got.
Ahhhhh, the rush of finishing an endurance race. Here it comes: medal, cold towel, “may i have your chip ma’am?’ and my choice of an array of recovery drinks: cold bottle of gatorade (no thank you, have been sucking that down all day) or Muscle Milk. Cool long sleeved blue “finishers” shirt.
I know that my time will be somewhere in between slow and slower. What do you expect when you’re not even sure you’re racing? But I feel absolutely fine about it because I have just completed one BITCH of a hard training day. And it will make me stronger.
Turns out, my time was 6 hours and 6 minutes and change. Good enough for 5th in my age group (and the winner of my age group was the overall female age group winner, with a sub 5 hour race. Amazing). It wasn’t sub-6 but it was my second fastest Half Iron time on any course. And this was my eighth half.
Lessons learned or reinforced:
1) pick out a draftee early and stick with ’em or move on to another. I blew this off the bat and took me a while to find someone to draft off of, and they probably didn’t push me as fast.
2) T1 is not a rest stop. The past two races I’ve done, I treated them as such. I could’ve shaved a good minute off my time if i’d really focused.
3) Pacing is key on a half, particularly on a hilly course. I feel like a big part of the field just died at about mile 45.
4) Take in nutrition right away on the bike, b/c for that last 35-40 minutes on the 1.2 mile swim, you’ve been burning it up. Ease up on the sugary stuff 30 min before the bike finish.
5) Booking really really hard races at the right time leading up to Ironman, or your ‘A’ race is really smart. Great training. Don’t be afraid to ‘race’ and not just ‘do’ the course.
6) The Rev3 folks put on a good race and they pay attention to detail. I predict they grow into a real force.
Oh, and the pros? The guys and gals that finish an hour or two before little age groupers like me? They rock. Julie Diebens and James Cunnama. Here’s their video recap.
Ironman Lake Placid? Bring. It.