This past weekend was the Musselman 70.3 Half-Iron Triathlon in Geneva, NY and I was lucky enough to make this race my first foray into the world of long-course triathlon. Strap yourselves in and get ready for the weekend blow by blow!
Friday - Arrival Day
Michelle, the kids and I arrived in Geneva on Friday afternoon after a beautiful drive through the Upstate New York countryside and shortly after checking into our hotel and getting the Jeep unloaded we set out to take a drive of the 56 mile bike course. It was a beautiful day so we dropped the top on the Jeep and off we went.
There was plenty of amazing scenery to take in, as well as a few rolling hills. This bike was going to be fun. We checked out a huge descent that had a hard 90 degree turn at the lake, which was already marked with warnings to slow down. One of the local bike shops had been out and spray-painted all the turns as well as highlighting rough spots…thanks to the Geneva Bicycle Center for all their work!
There was one section of the course that isn't open to vehicle traffic, but I had read about it and had to get a look. Most people described it as a rough road or gravel path and both were pretty accurate. This section goes through Sampson State Park, which has a long history as a Naval Training Station during WWII and then as Sampson Air Force Base during the Korean War…and unfortunately this road hasn't been maintained since the Korean War. I would get to ride it for 5K on Sunday.
I was glad we got to check out the course, I wasn't feeling too intimidated by it. Just a nice, long ride through some rolling countryside…no big deal.
Friday evening after dinner we went over to the park to catch the micro-Mussel race…it was a blast! The tricycle triathlon was hilarious and everyone had great bikes and amazing costumes. The rocket tricycle and Harry & Lloyd were both big hits.
Saturday - Prep Day
On Saturday we took it easy for the most part. We did the whole packet pick-up thing and I attended the 1:30 pre-race briefing at the beautiful Smith Opera House (which I'm sure is a great venue for theatre). The afternoon was spent at Seneca Lake State Park where the kids played at the playground and the splash pad while I just chilled in the sunshine. After that it was time for the athlete's pasta dinner, which was held at Son's of Italy. Plenty of pasta for everybody, and free for athletes!
After dinner we stopped at the MusselMural so that I could add my name to the wall…an awesome tradition that they have for the race. Back in 2010, cartoonist Jef Mallett created the MusselMural, a huge, multi-paneled wall featuring some cool Musselman-inspired graffiti and the names of Musselman participants for years to come. Then it was off to bed as I had a long day ahead of me. I was out by 9:00.
Sunday - Race Day
I'm up just after 4am, a good hour before the alarm is set to go off. I lie in bed for a bit and eventually give up…time to move. I grab some oatmeal and a banana for breakfast and start getting kitted up and loading the Jeep with all my gear. A quick pit stop at McDonald's for my morning coffee and then we arrive at the park around 6am. Off to transition I go to get my bike racked and gear laid out. The whole weekend had been beautiful…hot & sunny…but this morning it was very cloudy, very windy, and there were even a few early morning sprinkles of rain.
Transition was abuzz with activity…lots of athletes getting ready. I get all set up and grab my wetsuit to head back out to the meet back up with Michelle and the kids before the swim start. I'm in wave 1 and we start at 7:00 sharp. I shimmied into my wetsuit and just then our friend Laura showed up to man her post at the swim exit. We headed down to the beach where I had wanted to get a quick warm-up swim in, but they were already calling the white cap athletes (wave 1) to assemble in our start corral. No time to warm up, just some hugs and kisses from the family and I was off. We were all counted out before heading into the water to wait for the start. That's when I started to realize how rough the water was. The wind was howling and the waves were lapping all around us. Then came the countdown, the bagpipes, and the start. We were off!
The Swim - 1.2 Miles / 1900m
Rough. Brutal. %#!&@. These are all various ways to describe this swim. Simply put, it was the toughest swim of my life. We were wearing white caps and we were swimming in whitecaps. The swells on the lake were as big as the ones I see in Lake Huron on a rough day and the waves really were crashing. Bilateral breathing was impossible, and sighting was equally difficult as all I could spot were waves. The waves picked me up and tossed me around in all kinds of (wrong) directions…there were a number of times where I would be lifted up on a wave only to be dropped with a short freefall back down to the water. It was crazy. I eventually adapted to breathing away from the swells every other stroke and found a little bit of a rhythm , but the swim was not pretty. We eventually made the turn into the canal and things were a bit better…I was able to actually swim in there and started passing quite a few athletes. I made it to the exit ramp and Laura gave me a cheer and high five on my way out, then I ran past Michelle & the kids on my way into T1. The time was terrible, but given the conditions I would take it. I heard later on that 40 or so people didn't even complete the swim it was so bad. I've seen much calmer waters result in swim cancellations, but Musselman is hardcore!
Swim Time - 39:50, 21/71 in my Age Group
The Bike - 56 Miles / 90K
T1 was pretty smooth and I was in and out in 2:04…about the same as I always am. I crossed the mount line and went to hop on my bike, but I kicked my rear water bottle off in the process so I had to stop and pick it up (the race requires you to start the bike with at least two bottles). After that little hiccup I got going to the cheers of my fan club, who had crossed over from the swim exit to the bike start.
The first thing I noticed once I left the park and began the southbound journey down 96A was the wind…it was really blowing, and of course it was right in our face. The wind was whipping around at 20mph, so it was pretty tough riding. The rolling hills from Friday's scouting drive were feeling like mountains now! I was able to power through though and just kept spinning free and eventually we headed up the other way and the tailwind helped me cruise along at 28mph/45kph for a good stretch.
About halfway through the ride I got to the big descent down to Cayuga Lake, the one with the sharp 90 degree turn. Wouldn't you know it, this is when we started to get rain. No time like the middle of a half ironman to test out how your bike handles in the rain for the first time!
We were now hitting the serious climbs on the course but I managed to push through and keep up a decent pace, despite the wind and rain (and even some hail!!). I was also able to grab fluids at 3 of the 5 bottle stations without incident, so I'll call that a small victory.
Once the serious climbing was done it was time to head onto the Sampson State Park
goat path road. This stretch is a flat tire waiting to happen…it was really rough and I took it slow at first before getting a bit bolder and speeding up. Luckily I avoided most of the really rough spots and made it through unscathed…just a few more miles along the shore of Seneca Lake then back into the Park and transition. I had known that the bike course was a little long, so I wasn't too upset when I clocked 90K a whole mile before I finished…seems like others had the same experience as well.
Bike Time - 2:51:57, 20mph/32kph, 15/71 in my Age Group
The Run- 13.1Miles / 21.1K
It was real slippery coming into T2 as the grass was soaked, the rain was still coming down and the ground in the transition area was little plastic square tiles that don't grip at all when wet, especially when you're running with the plastic cleats from your bike shoes. T2 was 2:24, which is a good minute longer than usual for me. Socks, shoes, watch and visor on (all soaked by now of course), ditch the sunglasses (ya, not gonna need those today!) and out onto the run course.
I hit the course and immediately saw Michelle, the kids and Laura out cheering me on…it was a nice boost to get me going. I knew right away though…this run was going to S.U.C.K.
My legs were heavy right from the start. The rough swim and windy bike had demanded me to work a lot harder than I had planned to and I was going to pay for it big time on the run. It was still raining and by now it was 10:30 and the humidity was building…up to nearly 90%. I was soaked after the bike and had goosebumps all over almost right from the start.
I started out at a decent pace and tried hard to dial it down and not go too fast…I really needed to conserve what energy my legs still had. I turned off the initial stretch of the run along the lakeshore path and began to head into town. Just before the 5K point I came to the first real challenge, a big hill that goes up (literally) right through someone's backyard. There was a volunteer at the base of the hill saying "Stairs or path!", and of course I have too much of an ego to take stairs during a race, so I went for the path. Unfortunately, "path" was actually "just run up a steep, wet, slippery grass hill". Not the best choice, and once I got to the top I had to walk as my thighs were getting a bit cramped up.
From there it was off through the town and into the college. I was spent. At this point (about mile 4) I decided that I would run to the aid stations (roughly a mile apart) and then grab some fluids and ice and walk the aid station. It was a tough slog for sure as there were a couple of tough hills to tackle. After grabbing water at a couple of aid stations I remembered they also had flat Coke available…I started downing a cup of flat Coke and chomped on some ice cubes starting around mile 6 and it made a world of difference. I was still sore, but my runs between aid stations were actually at a running speed…much slower than my normal pace, but better than a jog. The Coke was kicking in!
We ran through vineyards and orchards in the countryside before getting back to the college and town. I had managed to up my pace a bit and it was looking like I might actually finish with a negative split on the run and I might even be able to pull off a run split under 2 hours…something that seemed impossible at mile 6. I cruised back onto the lakeshore path and once again saw my fan club cheering me on towards the finish line. I gave them the best push I could muster at the time and crossed the finish line with an overall time of 5:35:46, 115th place overall and 18th in my age group.
Run Time - 1:59:31, 8:50/mile / 5:40/km, 36/71 in my Age Group
Musselman 70.3 was done, and despite the worst racing conditions I had ever faced, I was now a half ironman finisher. I had gone into the weekend hoping to finish around 5 hours, so given the way the day played out, 5:35 wasn't too bad at all…I was pleased with it.
I was a little worried afterwards that I may have been a bit dehydrated, despite fuelling well on the bike and run. The entire run I had the goosebumps and the hair on my arms were sticking straight out. I played it safe and headed over to the med tent to get checked out, and when they went to weigh me I had actually gained 2 pounds! I just sat there for a few minutes as they checked all my vitals and gave me a couple cups of Gatorade. Everything was fine, I was just a little hungry and tired and had a headache coming on. Thanks for making sure I was okay Med Crew!
Musselman was a great day, I really enjoyed it. The crowd was awesome and the atmosphere (despite the weather) was electric…such a wonderful experience! The entire town of Geneva really gets behind this event and the support is fantastic. Thanks to Jeff and his team for putting on a great race and an exceptional race weekend…you and your volunteers were top notch!
Finally, thanks to Michelle, Kennedy and Jackson for spending the weekend with me and for letting me put in all the hours of training to get me to this day…I couldn't have done it without your support!
Now the only question that remains is which race to do next????