Tuesday, September 21, 2010

FIRM MAN 1/2 IRONMAN AQUABIKE - Narragansett, Rhode Island

Last year I attended the Multisport Expo in Boston, MA in March.  At the expo I was approached by Wendy Fiske and Elaine Vescio about speaking at the pre-race dinner at the FIRM MAN Triathlon in Narragansett, RI.  I was honored to be asked and was excited about getting the opportunity to talk to other athletes and their respective families and friends about what has drawn me into the sport of triathlon. 

At that time I was planning on racing in the Patriot 1/2 Aquabike, but soon realized it would be better for me to get another season of racing sprint (and an Olympic) distance races under my belt and attempt the FIRM MAN 1/2 Aquabike at the end of the season.  Since I was going to be coming down to give the speech I might as well race as well.

As the season has progressed all has gone better than expected.  I have become extremely comfortable racing and the anxiety of open water swimming is gone and I am actually excited about running.  As I neared the date for FIRM MAN, I started to read race reports from others who have done the race.  There was a common theme, and that was, that the swimming (1.2 miles) portion has the potential to be difficult.  You are required to swim out past some breakers and then swim parallel to the beach.  If the wind is up, the rollers can be quite daunting.  Well, it was at this point that I thought maybe I should get some more open water ocean practice before attempting the race.  I posted a message online through ACTIVE.COM about backing out of the swim, trying to see if it was a common occurrence in racing.  I also phoned Kurt, our team captain, to ask his opinion.  Kurt asked me if it was more a fear of the race, or the thought that I was unprepared.  I told him I was thinking it was more my lack of preparation.  In hindsight, I realize now, it was probably more, that I was nervous.

I emailed both Elaine and Wendy to tell them I would be at the talk, but I was going to back out of the race.  They both were understanding and said I could do the race next year.  A few days later, I received an email from Elaine that made real sense.  She suggested I come down with my gear and make a race-day decision.  If the swim looked too rough, maybe I could simply do the bike course.  I had thought of that but was reluctant.  Half of the fun of racing for me has been the preparation.  How could I properly prepare, knowing I might only be riding.  I guess, hearing the choice from Elaine, made it clear to me, that would be the best option.  As the end of last week neared, I finished up my speech and kept my eye on the weather.  The weather looked good with not much wind in the forecast.

I headed up on Saturday afternoon and arrived at the race site at about 3:30pm.  I checked in and got my packet and went out to the beach.  The water looked pretty calm and the forecast was for much of the same.  I drove over to the transition area to check things out and then headed back to where the dinner would be.  I got a book and sat out by the beach for a while to read a relax before dinner started.

The dinner and speech went very well.  Wendy and her crew put on a great HOMEMADE feast.  The food was all fresh and very tasty.  They even had beer for those who wished it.  There were even Hula dancers to great us and give out leis as we entered the hall.  My speech was a lot about my childhood experiences with athletics, my trip to the 1993 World Dwarf Games and of course what got me into triathlon.  As most of my close friends and family know, I am not shy when it comes to talking in front of large groups.

When the speech was done I was invited to stay at the home of a local doctor who would be helping out at the race along with his wife.  It was a beautiful home and I got a surprisingly great night of sleep.  I got up at 4AM and ate my usual pre-race meal of my protein smoothie, bagel with PB and J and a bottle of V8.  I started to also hydrate myself when I drink water up until 1 hour before race time.  The house I stayed in is only about 15 minutes from the race site, so I had a short trip to transition.  I arrived a little after 5AM and it was still very dark.  I noticed lots of racers with headlamps on and made a mental note to get one of those for next season.  I parked right across the road from transition and found my spot pretty quickly.  I got body marked and walked about a bit before it was light enough to start to set up my area.

Prior to the race I found most of my Comp team mates.  Chaz was there as well as Tracy and Tonya.  Peter and Jodi from Rhode Island were also racing and they gave me some "inside" info about a rough patch on the bike at about 25 miles.  It seems there was an area that was gravel after a quick downhill and there was potential for a crash without knowing this ahead of time.  It should be noted that there was a marshall there during the race to remind us to slow down.

As the sun came up I started to get ready.  I noticed lots of familiar races from other FIRM races and two people came up to me to thank me for the speech from the night before.  That certainly made it worthwhile.

I did take note of the surf now and noticed it was going to be a manageable swim.  It didn't look too rough and I was convinced now I had made the right decision to race.  I got things in order, put on my swimming gear and started the long walk down the beach to the race start.  I got a chance while walking down the beach to get into the water.  It was sure a lot warmer than the water in Salem a few weeks ago.  No headache this time.  The swim was a trip out about 200 yards and then a sharp right turn and we were to swim parallel to the beach.  At the end, take a sharp right turn and swim back up the beach a bit and then get out onto the beach.

I was in the third wave (out of 4) and the start went off without a hitch.  I did my usual thing and stayed at the back and to the right.  I got out to the turn buoy pretty well and made my right turn.  I was warned to take lots of looks because you could stray off course pretty easy.  Well things were going well and then I noticed a lifeguard pull up to me to tell me I was heading out too far.  I looked to be heading to the marker down the beach OK, so I pretty much ignored him.  Well, he didn't really like that got more animated each time he paddled over to tell me I needed to head in towards the beach.  I finally got into the grove and another kayak came over to guide me to the buoy.  I finally reached the turn and headed back up the beach and then out of the water.  I looked at my watch and it read 51 minutes.  It was actually about 12 minutes faster than I had planned.  There must have been a good current going with us down the beach.  I made a point to take it easy in transition.  I had to carry a lot more with me than I have in other races.  I had a bottle on a waist belt, some gel, and a PB&J sandwich.  I got changed and headed out of transition.

I was the second last (or last, not sure) swimmer out of the water at FIRM MAN, but was definitely the last cyclist to get out of transition.  As a special "treat" I got to be followed by the scooter who carries a sign that says, "LAST BIKE" or something like that.  Not a real psychological boost for sure.  As I rode along on the course, I could hear the engine behind me and could see the head light each time I looked back.  I was hoping it would be a motivator to help keep me going, but after about an hour or so, it was starting to get old real fast.  As I turned onto "King's Factory" I did start to feel better as I saw so many cyclists coming out back onto route 1.  Some I knew and some I didn't, but we cheered for each other.  Unfortunately,  I could still hear the buzz from the scooter reminding me where I was in reference to everyone else.  Soon the crown thinned out riding in the other direction and I was pretty much alone again.  As those of you who have done the course know, the hills in this section are not killers, but they seem to come one after the other and just after you get up one, another one comes along. 

I have tried to follow the rule that I never walk my bike up a hill.  I have been able to keep to that, but that thought was coming into my mind.  Hill after hill, I was starting to feel tired.  But, just as I was seriously thinking about getting off my bike to walk for a bit, I saw someone walking his bike up the next hill.  Not to put him down at all, but I immediately got a boost and said to myself, I can finally lose the scooter.  It was a tough little hill, but I pushed and went past him, in my panting breath, I told him, to keep "going strong".  The scooter was now behind me.

With some renewed energy, I picked it up a bit and made my way around the lollipop and noticed it was quite a bit easier heading back out to route 1.  When I got out on the highway I wondered all along, would that rider catch me, giving me back my escort scooter.  I got to the turnaround and headed back to transition with some 20 or so miles to go.  Now I had read we were to expect a tailwind heading back and to my surprise I was not happy about the headwind we were now facing.  It was pretty strong all the way back in.  About a mile past the turn around I looked over and saw the rider I had passed, looking pretty strong.  The driver on the scooter was nice enough to give me a big "thumbs up".  I was sure he would catch me and pass me, but to my delight that never happened.  I even had time to stop and relieve myself and do a bottle switch with one of the bottles I have on my seat cage.  It's a great thing to have, but with my shorter arms, I can't reach it while riding. 

Now, I don't know why that rider was where he was at that moment I most needed him to be there, but he was.  Again, I am not trying to take anything from him, but I am so glad he was there to give me the emotional boost I needed.  I also want to thank whoever it was who told the police detail what my name was.  More than 1/2 of the cops at the intersections, yelled "GO JOHN GO", when I passed through.  

The long ride back along route 1 was pretty hard.  Very lonely and lots of wind.  I did find it rough as I neared the end of the ride.  There were mile markers at 20, 30, 40, etc. and my computer was "bang-on" for them but as I neared the end, my computer read 55 miles (supposed to be a 56 mile ride) and I was no where near the end.  Was I lost?  What was going on?

I don't think I have ever been more discouraged, angry, pissed off, during a ride or race before like I was then.  I know it was all in my head, but I was not feeling good about my finish.  It felt like each marshal I was seeing was saying, "one more mile" left.  When I finally got close, I was SO relieved.  I  headed into transition, racked my bike and made my way to the finish line.  With the aquabike, I was not to do the 13.1 mile run.  I would save that for two weeks later at the Wicked 1/2 Marathon.

I took some time to hydrate, have some of the nice post-race food and then pack up and drive home.  Oh, one really good thing, there was a Tim Horton's about 30 minutes from the race site on my way home.  I stopped there for a nice bowl of soup and a GREAT cup of coffee.  Things were feeling a starting to feel a lot better.  Only my Canadian friends now how Tim Horton's can make your day feel so much better.


  1. Another great race report John. I am really enjoying following your progression. I could almost feel the headwind you faced on the bike based on your description. I wish you all the best in the 1/2 marathon next week. I can't even image it for myself. (Sandy)

  2. John,

    I have been the last person off the bike course at least 3 times in my 2 year triathlon career. It's a bit demoralizing, but it also is sort of nice to know that you're still ahead of the time cut off on those really bad days, that the truck is behind you instead of ahead of you.

    I wish I'd known you were speaking, Rach and I would have come out for that.

    Finally, while we're not Canadian by birth, Rach claims to be 1/2 Canuck, and LOVES Tim Hortons. They're all over Columbus, as it's where Wendy's HQ is. Whenever we are in Rhode Island we head over to the Timmys out there for her coffee and my Cocoa and a Donut.

  3. I wish I could've heard your speech, and wonder what you said. I'm sure as a teacher, public speaking is probably second nature.

    From your Ecuadorian fan.