For several years now I’ve been wanting to participate in the Patriot 70.3. This race was produced by Sun Multisport Events and has frequently won awards for the best triathlons in New England. In 2014, I participated in another Sun event called the Mad River Endurafest. It was this small triathlon that caused me to be bitten by the triathlon bug. The Mad River Endurafest was by no means a great race performance wise, but certainly showed what a good race director and production company can do to make a race fun.
Fast forward a few years. I was always hesitant to participate in an early June 70.3 as I wasn’t sure I’d be ready enough that early in the season for a grueling event of this distance. I wound up finishing 21 out of 42 in my age group and 175 out of 598 total competitors. Looking back at this race I am incredibly pleased as I set a 23 minute PR in this race distance, felt good, and learned a ton. Below are my splits, but read on for my 2017 Patriot 70.3 Race Report.
Drive Down & Check In
After we all signed up for the race and realized it was 2 – 2.5 hours away in Massachusetts, we all booked hotels. Turns out, we were all in the same hotel. Most of us took off this day (a Friday) from work so we could get down, get our registration packets, get some dinner, and hit the pillow for a nice night’s sleep. The day started out good enough as I had 90% of everything packed days in advance. I had a few errands to run to pick up the last of my race-day nutrition and a goal of hitting the road around 2 pm.
Somewhere around the time when I left for errands, the sky opened up and began raining. My 2.5 hour drive turned into almost 4 hours with my GPS constantly saying “Caution, slowdown reported ahead.” There were accidents everywhere. All major roads leading from New Hampshire to Massachusetts had major delays. After finally getting to the race site around 6 pm, it was a fast process to get my race packet and number.
I was impressed by the quality of the T-Shirt, swag bag, and full size Clif Bars and Bloks available to us. After grabbing our packets we decided to head back to the hotel, drop our stuff, and then get dinner. All the while, we are thinking “tomorrow ought to be fun with all this water being dumped on the course.” While this year I’d be racing for Maverick Multisport, I signed up for the race before I was announced to the Maverick team. As such, I’d wind up being racked with other Northeast Multisport teammates.
Nutrition & Dinner
A few days prior to the race, I planned out all the items I wanted to eat and drink making sure I took in enough calories, electrolytes, and knew when and where they’d be consumed. Let’s just say the experience was eye opening. I discovered that I have been taking in half the electrolytes that I needed during a race and was attempting to over consume calories on the run while leaving the bike a bit short as well. Being the geek that I am, I created a spreadsheet plotting it all out, included calories, grams of carbs, sodium content, and tweaked things until I felt like I not only had what I needed, but ensured I could stomach the food too. My primary goal for race day was going to be to consume as much “real” food as possible and as few gels/Bloks as possible.
We all decided to go to Dave’s Diner for dinner. I couldn’t complain with that name. We had some folks who wanted pasta and chicken and others wanted breakfast food. I usually have done something like chicken and rice before a race. This time, I wanted to do a big breakfast. I ordered two eggs, hash browns, toast, and two pancakes. Needless to say it was a HUGE amount of food.
I travel a lot for work and often come across a hotel remodeling. It’s just what they do every few years. In this case, it was the Fairfield Inn’s turn. The front desk was setup in a commandeered guest room. The free breakfast area was setup elsewhere and overall, it was clear this wasn’t the way the hotel normally looks. I heard other guests complaining about the appearance, but the room I stayed in was fine. The hotel provided a bed, bathroom, and a sink. I was all set.
I had set my alarm for 3:45 with the plan of hitting snooze once. I woke up at 2:45 and promptly fell back asleep. I’m not sure why I woke up so early, but after my first Ironman Timberman 70.3, I’ve had no problem sleeping before a race. I’ve had so many races between high school and college that I am usually good and don’t get worked up. I trust my training, plan how I expect my day to go weeks in advance, and realize, I’m an amateur athlete. I do this for fun. Rain or shine, good or bad, I try to have fun and realize I’m not making any money.
I brought a bowl of oatmeal and maple syrup from home and grabbed a banana from the breakfast area for breakfast. After grabbing the rest of my items it was time to head over to the race venue about 15 minutes from the hotel. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, it started pouring. Between this rain and the rain the night before, we knew it was going to be wet out there. The good news was the sun would not be baking us and was expected to be no warmer than 70 degrees. Despite the crummy weather, the day was ripe for PRs.
Prior to getting the bike into transition, I had to do a little work mounting my number. My bike frame number was missing a strip of adhesive so I put a piece of duct tape on to hold the front part of the number on. Turns out this was a good move as I saw a lot of frame numbers all over the road by the end. We had a good chuckle as I always bring my giant toolbox with me to races. I’ve saved at least one or two people’s races with the tools. Included is a roll of tape.
Body marking was done in one of the buildings a short distance from the transition area. Restrooms were a plenty and there was zero wait (well done race organizers). We dropped off our bikes in transition only to learn that half of Northeast Multisport was in one rack and the other half in another. I lucked out in that mine wasn’t on the end that was under water. Another interesting thing about the racks is that unlike many other races where your spot is predetermined in numerical order, you just had to find a spot somewhere on the rack. In this case, it paid to be early to transition. During initial setup, I ran into a new Maverick teammate, Brent. He killed it this day, but was great to meet a new teammate. Brent wound up passing me at some point on the first lap on the bike.
Consistent with other races, I did not want a swim warmup but did get into the water to scope out the swim exit and test water temperature and water visibility. The water temp was in the low 70’s but the water was quite murky. After a short while, it was time to head over to the swim start.
This race uses the newer and “safer” swim start method. Unlike many mass start races where your entire age group starts at once, this had two athletes entering the water every five seconds. My hypothesis on this was the swim start would be better, but mid course would be worse than a mass start as you’d have significant traffic in the water mid race.
Several friends of mine started in the same wave, so we went back to back to back entering the water. In short order, it was time to start the race that would take me a shy under 5.5 hours and 70.3 miles. I pounded a gel 35 minutes before my expected start.
My goal on the swim was 35 minutes. See I haven’t been swimming much. It appears to be a recurring problem for me, but I still think I’m “good enough” to hit the water with minimal training. Given the swim start was time trial format, there was no jockeying for position or initial surges to get around people. I honestly started the swim extremely comfortable. I got into a rhythm and just kept going. This course was a giant rectangle with left turns. As I was breathing to my right side, I saw several individuals 50-100 yards off to my right. It is so important to nail your sighting in open water swimming. These athletes were swimming hundreds of yards more than they had to. In my case, I hugged the buoys so tight, my arm hit one of them. At some point around the first left turn, I noticed myself passing people with a variety of different swim caps on. Given how I was feeling, I didn’t think I was going that fast, but did have quite a bit of clean water up to that point.
Around the halfway point, I noticed the water was getting a bit choppy. I couldn’t tell if the chop was the wind or the jetski gunning it down the middle of the rectangular course. Also around the halfway point I started realizing people were all over the place. I’m watching people zigzag. Keep in mind, I’m swimming pretty damn straight buoy to buoy. My sighting has gotten so good that my head doesn’t even lift out of the water. My head ever so briefly lifts so my eyes are above the water and I spot where I want to go. I successfully was able to breath on both sides with minimal feelings of cramping or pulled muscles, something that has plagued me in the past.
The second half of the race was full of traffic, bumping, and somehow, people swimming into my side. Seriously people, work on your sighting. I kept a good rhythm and came out of the water with an official time of 35:28. I believe this was after the wetsuit rippers so I’ll take it.
We all expected the bike to be wet as there were showers in the forecast that would cause some drizzle through most of the bike leg. I’m what you call a “fair weather” athlete. I much prefer the days when it isn’t raining. That’s not to say I don’t know how to do it, I just prefer to focus on my discipline efforts and less on bike handling. Specifically, I especially prefer to not think about other people’s bike handling skills on wet pavement.
The bike course was a two loop relatively flat course. My only issue with the course was that there were a LOT of turns. There were 37 instructions on the cue sheet per lap. Now granted there was a lot of proceed on this road, continue here, but still, there were a lot of turns. The course also had a cut through the back of what I think was a Dunkin Donuts so we didn’t have to go through a traffic rotary. The problem with a lot of turns is that you no sooner get up to speed and then you need to slow down and turn. The turns coupled with narrow wet roads made for interesting conditions. I will say, that while it is a sponsor plug, I was extremely pleased by the visibility through the Bole 6th Sense glasses I had. The glasses had wide and full coverage which kept all the water and dirt out of my eyes and during the cloudy part of the day, extremely low amount of tint. Later on the run they’d get dark. Highly recommend these.
My race plan was to attempt to have normalized power of 80% FTP (or an IF of 0.8). As I had mentioned, I took this ride a little more cautious as people were drifting all over the road, one person crashed, and honestly visibility was tough with the rain in places. The first lap I took easier as I didn’t want to blow myself out for the run. I passed NEMS teammate Lori at some point on the first lap, but she’d come back and smoke me on the run.
The Port-o-John was located right near the end of the first lap. Unfortunately, 4 other guys had the exact same idea as I did to stop and use the facilities. I decided I didn’t have to go that bad and could wait until the following lap. Mile by mile I kept up as steady power as I could. There was a group of 15-20 of us who kept playing leap frog. I’d pass them all on the flat and downhills and they’d pass me on the uphills. Towards the second half of the second lap, the traffic got so bad people were riding three abreast. The reality was the narrow roads and many turns made it difficult to get into a rhythm and keep it.
I did average 0.77 IF so I was close to my goal. This course had about half the climbing that Timberman did last year. Last year I rode Timberman in a shy under 3 hours 2 minutes with an IF of 0.83 last year. Little did I know that I’d be tracking to finish this course in 2:44:05 despite riding a slower than I had expected. My 2017 seasonal goal for the bike split was 2:45:00. I beat that with a time that included a minute or two in the restroom.
For nutrition, as I mentioned, my bottles had twice the electrolytes in them from races prior. I made sure that every 5-10 minutes I was taking a solid swig of fluid. I also made sure to bring more “real” food on the bike. Over the bike leg I consumed two Stinger Waffles, a Clif Bar, a Clif Shot gel, and a sleeve of Clif Bloks Salted Watermelon flavor. One critical error I made was not pre-opening the packages. I know I lost a few minutes slowing way down so I could get the packages open. My fingers were wet from the road spray and rain which made opening the packages extremely difficult. Still, I never felt short of energy or fluids. The weather certainly helped, but I was pleased for how this aspect of the day went.
I’m deeply encouraged by the training I’ve done, equipment upgrades I’ll have for my next race, and confidence to lay down an even better bike split. Again, as I noted above, the weather was cool during this day which seriously helped.
My number one goal on the run was not time, but to not feel like I was going to have my stomach explode. The last few races, including 70.3’s had me incredibly nauseous by the end of the run. This year, my hope was with some solid food on the bike, more electrolytes on the bike, and using some real food on the run, I’d be in a spot where I wasn’t throwing up by the end of the race. After a very long run through and around transition to rack my bike, I set out for the run. On paper, I wasn’t fond of the way this run was going to go. It was a 13.1 mile single loop. I much prefer the Ironman races where you have 2 loops. You see more athletes and many more spectators. Still, the weather was still a bit cloudy and I took off with far more calories in my pockets than I needed.
As with any triathlon, my first goal was to get my running legs into a rhythm. Out of transition, a few guys who were playing leapfrog with me on the bike exchanged some pleasantries. My first two miles were sub 8:40. Wow, this was way faster than I knew I should be running. I slowed it back a bit. My strategy on the half marathon is usually breaking the race down into 4 x 5k’s + 1 mile. When the going gets rough, I then break down the number of miles I have left and tick one off at a time. During this race, I felt pretty good. I just didn’t have the leg speed (more on that later).
I took a gel soon into the run course. By the first mile I started feeling the uneasiness in my stomach. I knew that each odd mile’s aid station had bananas, oranges, gels, and pretzels. The other even aid stations had water and Gatorade Endurance. My strategy from mile 1 on was to take Gatorade at each aid station and grab a half a banana and some pretzels. It was awesome, Gatorade, banana, and three pretzels. They tasted great and almost immediately the stomach felt great. No gurgling, no bonking, and no cramping. While I didn’t feel like I had my leg speed, I felt good. Step by step, mile by mile, I kept going.
Around mile 6, my friend Dan passed me. He was hauling. Turns out he’d run like a 1:33 split. At some point also along the course, Lori would wind up passing me. Much like Dan, running is clearly her strength. As I approached mile 9, I felt a restroom break was in order, but I didn’t feel like I was going to throw up. I got in and out and felt so much better getting back into the run. At some point in the last few miles, the sun came out and started heating things up pretty quick. That said, before I knew it, I was at mile 12 and soon started approaching the spectator area. Once you passed the spectators along the road, you turned into the camp and headed down to the water. There was some uneven concrete down there and a person in a T-Rex costume. I came through the finishing chute with a run split of 2:02:55. My season goal is sub 2 hours. I know I can get there.
Overall, I was incredibly pleased with how I felt at the finish and know for a fact I’m getting closer to mastering my nutrition and hydration and now need to link my efforts together.
After crossing the line, volunteers handed us a new water bottle filled with ice cold water and a towel. I saw some of my friends in the surrounding area. We all pretty much crushed our PRs from Timberman. In my case I knocked of 23 minutes. I also couldn’t believe how good my stomach felt. Around this point after Timberman I started throwing up. Here I was in the line for some post-race lasagna and felt awesome. Several friends and NEMS teammates were chatting about their race and we learned that one of them, Stacy, was the third overall female.
After a brief meal and clearing my stuff out of transition, it was time to head out. My bike was covered in dirt and mud as was I. I used some extra water to hose myself off. As I reflected on my race I couldn’t be happier with a great time still on some inconsistent training over the last few months. The May – June months are a tough time to train as I travel a lot for work as well as coach my kids baseball teams. I’ve never been good about waking up early, so my training took a little bit of a hit. Still, I preserved a lot of fitness, improved on last year, and am ready for the next 70.3 in 10 weeks from now.
What I learned
I love reflecting on the things that went well and those that didn’t so that next time I have an even better race. Here’s some thoughts from the 2017 Patriot 70.3.
- Real food works. Bananas, Gatorade, and Pretzels on the run worked great
- Electrolyte balance seemed to be spot on
- You can push a little harder on the swim 1-2 minutes
- You can push harder on the bike 10-15 minutes
- Work on acquiring speed on the run. This is the achilles heel. If you can drop 10 minutes it will get you into the low 5 hour range.
- Jury is still out whether I’d go down the night before or day of for this race
- Eating a HUGE breakfast for dinner seemed to work well the next day
- Get outside every once in awhile for runs and rides. It’ll help on race day.
With that, thanks for reading.