White Mountains Half Ironman Recap
Well, I didn’t make it up to Canada for the Mont Tremblant 70.3. Too much happening at home to allow for travel but lucky for me there was another Half Ironman happening right in my backyard. I have always wanted to do the White Mountains Triathlon Half Ironman in Franconia, NH put on by Millenium Racing. In the past however it took place in early June and I never felt that I had enough time to get ready for a Half Ironman having solely been focused on training for the Boston Marathon. This year the timing was perfect and I had been swimming and biking (on the trainer all winter) so I felt more prepared to give it a go.
This race course is gorgeous! Right in the heart of the White Mountains, the 1.2 mile swim takes place in Echo Lake right at the base of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch. Be prepared for chilly temperatures (this year it was in the low 60’s), a long sleeve wet suit was perfect. This lake is crystal clear and the swim was two laps around the lake. . The 56 mile bike course is scenic and challenging riding through Franconia, Easton (out onto Lost River Road with a scenic climb (King of the Mountain Challenge) up into Beaver Pond scenic area, back on 116 up into Bethlehem, NH (more crazy hill climbing), and finally looping back around on busy route 3 and onto the bike path leading back to the transition in Echo Lake State Park. The run course was somewhat grueling as it was three laps on the Franconia Notch bike path and by the base of Cannon Mountain on unpaved trails. The finish had you running up a small hill through the Cannon Mountain parking lot and around the base lodge through the finish line.
Going into this race I had no expectations other than that I wanted to finish and to feel good about my race. In the 2 months after the Boston Marathon my training has been off and on due to life happenings and feeling somewhat burned out from all of the training that I had been doing through the winter for Boston. As far as swimming goes I have been in the pool all winter dutifully doing laps and feeling stronger. However swimming in a pool definitely does not replicate the open water swim on race day. Open water swimming on race day brings about nerves and swimming in a pack of other people can be quite daunting.. Also, once school got out my kids have been at home with me much of the time and the pool where I swim was closed for maintenance so my swimming lagged during the month of June leading up the race. I managed to snag some good long bike rides but only maxed out with 41 miles as my longest ride however 41 miles is not 56 miles so I knew the bike ride would probably kick my a$$! My bike and I definitely need to spend more quality time together if I want to get stronger for the Lake Placid Half Ironman in September. I wasn’t worried about the run as this I have been maintaining since Boston.
It was awesome to wake up on race morning in my own bed. Usually this kind of race requires travel and a hotel stay. I got a great nights sleep and was up at 4:30 in order to have a good breakfast before driving to Franconia at 5:00. The morning was perfect. Still and cool, with temperatures only warming into the low 70’s by the end of the race. I was one of the earlier racers to arrive in the morning to prep my transition area which was nice. I felt calm and relaxed. This is currently a very small race which will hopefully gain in popularity especially now that the Ironman corporation is no longer holding the Timberman Ironman 70.3 in Gilford, NH. I had plenty of time to get ready and get down to the water for a little warm-up. The lake was cold, in the low 60’s so I was very thankful for my new ROKA Maverick Elite II wetsuit with sleeves. The water was cold on your face but not unbearable.
The Swim-Time: 45:38
The start was simple with all women competing in the Half Ironman starting together. Despite the small size of the group once the starting command was given and we were in the water my adrenaline kicked in and the nerves took over. The combination of the cold water and the fact that we were racing had my heart beating fast and I reverted back to breathing every stroke and only on one side. The swim is definitely an area that I need to improve on and the only way I will get better is with more racing and more open water swimming time to get over the nerves! I knew my pace was slow from the get go but tried to focus solely on trying to calm down and get into a rhythm. Success with this only found me during the second lap when I could feel my heart rate finally begin to settle. I tried not to worry about being slow out of the water.
Thankfully after what seemed like an eternity I finished the swim and pull myself up and out of the water. If you’ve never swam in a wetsuit before, you feel heavy when you stand up especially if it was a long swim, the weight of the wet wetsuit heavy on your body. This race being small there were no wet suit “strippers” (no not what you are thinking . . . just people who help you quickly pull yourself out of your wetsuit. I ran up out of the water onto sand and small pebbles and onto the path up to the transition area while peeling my wetsuit, googles and swim cap off. When I got to transition my wetsuit was half way down so I sat down and quickly pulled it off the rest of the way, dried my feet and shoved them into my bike shoes, plopped my bike helmet on my head. I grabbed my glasses, more aquaphor to prevent chafing, and my fuel and for the ride. My hydration (Skratch Labs Hydration Mix) and water was already ready to go on the bike.
The Bike-Time: 4:04.30
I wheeled my bike out of transition, crossing the timing mats with a beep, hopped on clipped in and turned left. A small hill to start and I noticed my clicking on my wheel. My old Mavic bike computer having long since died was not on my bike but the skewer sensor, still there, was rubbing against the spokes of my front wheel. Fearing this could cause a problem, I climbed to the top of the hill, got off my bike and worked to bend it away from the spoke. Problem solved.
I hopped back on ready for the steep two mile descent into Franconia Village. I tried to only use my brakes enough to stay in control on this downhill. The road surface was typical of New Hampshire roads after a long winter, cracked, and gravel strewn with uneven pavement. The bumpy surface caused the water bottle on my aero bars to bounce out leaving me with only two bottles for the ride (sadly this one was full of Skratch!). As I rounded into the village a left hand turn took me onto Rte. 116 a familiar road that I had ridden many times. A series of rolling hills and scenic mountain views I almost forgot the challenge of the ride except for when my chain jumped off upon shifting as I headed up a hill. This was a quick easy fix and then I was back on my way. Being a small race, I spent much of this ride alone. I embraced the solitude and focused on my ride, strong upstrokes on the pedals and strength up the hills.
At the end of 116 a left turn took us onto a road that began to climb. This was the King of the Mountain portion. My pace felt like molasses but I pedaled on. Slow and steady I finally reached the top of the climb and grabbed a gatorade and some additional energy gel from the aid station. This was a turn around point with a welcome descent. The road was much smoother allowing for a fast descent in aero position. I was happily surprised to my family pass me by in the car. They were headed to Lost River Gorge while I was on the course and would see me again at the finish. Shortly after heading downhill we turned back onto 116 and headed back in to Franconia.
The next portion of the ride was a gradual climb past the Profile School and The Rocks Estate and around the bend onto busy 302. My legs were beginning to feel fatigued by this point from all of the uphill climbing. This section of road was made difficult by the many passing cars, campers and motorcycles and here too the roads were worn from winter. I settled in for the long climb into Bethlehem feeling the reward in my legs when the ascent was finished. By this point I had already taken in several packets of GU and Clif Organic Energy Food but was feeling hungry. Bethlehem has a new donut shop and the smell of freshly baking donuts teased me. Maybe I could just get off my bike for a quick donut or two???? Sadly, I had to ride on by. The remainder of the course would be mostly flat with some easy rollers but mentally I was having a tough time because I was riding by myself. I plugged on, finally turning onto the Franconia bike path and to the transition area. I was ready to be off my bike!
The Run: 2:07.48
I zipped through the transition to get ready to run. I knew that I could make up some time here. I grabbed some more fuel, ditched the bike and helmet, grabbed my visor and put on my running shoes as quickly as I could. My legs felt surprisingly fresh as I hit the run course. It was hot so I knew I needed to push fluids a bit on the run to. I dialed in my pace and just ran. The aid stations had bananas and I welcomed having some real food in my stomach. I passed many people on the run too which was also a great confidence boost. By the time I neared the end of the run course I was depleted and ready to be done. Finally I was able to cross the parking lot and rounded the corner through the finish and saw my two kids cheering for me at the end. Being a small race the awards had already started and the event organizers were getting ready to wrap things up as some bad weather was moving in. It was great to finish but also a very different feeling to be near the back of the pack of finishers. Being a small field of participants and one of the older racers (eek!) meant finishing towards the end of the event.
My finish time was 7:01:55, my slowest Half Ironman finish time but according to my coach one of the hardest Half Ironman Courses. I was 3rd out of 4th in my age group. After finishing I was so happy to have some food and couldn’t wait to go home and take a long shower but first the kids and I made a stop at Bishop’s Ice Cream to celebrate! Per usual I said I was going to take a break from racing Half Ironmans as this race had been a challenge. But within a few days I was ready for my next one and thankfully I am already signed up for the Lake Placid Half Ironman.
What is the hardest race you have ever completed? What is your most favorite sport besides running?