August 22, 2006

Timberman 70.3 race report

I wake up from a lumpy pillow at the hotel, rip-roarin’ ready to go. It’s Sunday August 20th at 5am, I’m in Tilton, New Hampshire and it is the day of the Timberman 70.3 triathlon. I’ve already racked my bike in the transition area the day before, picked up my packet and attended a pre-race meeting all yesterday now all I needed to do was get to Ellacoya State Park and set up transition and get in the water.

A quick pull back of the hotel window curtains, I look outside and it’s pouring rain….

Great, I think to myself. No normal person likes to race in the rain. But then again, show me a triathlete that is “normal” and well wait, I don’t think you could find one… We’re all different and unique in our own ways and no one fits the “norm”. So after packing up the car and having a clif bar, yogurt and bagel breakfast in the hotel room, we depart for the race site at 5:25am.

We’re driving to the park and it’s still black out (the sun hasn’t risen yet) and the impending rain clouds mean it looks like it won’t be out for quite some time. We get closer and closer to the park and all of the sudden there is a train of about 20 cars waiting to take a left into the park. That’s just what a nervous triathlete wants to see race morning, a traffic jam. It’s now 6:20am and I check the Athlete Guide and see that the transition closes at 7am and the nerves and adrenaline begin to pump more and more as we are still stuck in traffic waiting to get into the park.

My wave goes off at 7:28am, so I’m not too worried, but there are other triathletes who obviously have earlier waves that are walking down the hill with their transition bags and rain gear on who are “hoofing it” into the park. I thought I might be ok and not have to walk into the park, but when 6:30am showed on the car stereo and the police officer who was supposed to let us into the park told us to keep going down the road because the park was full, I decided to jump out with my bag and walk into the park to set up transition while Rachel was shuttled off down the road to park.

I hopped out barefoot from the car and walked in. I didn’t have any waterproof sandals with me, so I decided rather than get my running shoes wet, or ruining my leather Birkenstocks, I would walk barefoot. No big deal. It was still pouring and I was getting soaked and got to my transition area and found my bike, started putting my run and bike stuff in separate bags to keep it dry and realized that I didn’t have the bag with my bike and run shoes in it…it was in the trunk of the car…

I packed up my bag with everything and began running, barefoot, to the entrance of the park. Panic was setting in very quickly…How could I bike without bike shoes? I might be able to manage the run; I mean some of the top Kenyans run barefoot, right? But the bike, I don’t think I would make it on these hills.

I ran up to the police officer who told us the park was full and asked him the next spot down the road where they were shuttling cars, he said it was the Victorian House about a quarter mile down the road. I must have looked like quite the spectacle running barefoot up the road with a bullet helmet in one hand and soaked to the bone with a backpack full of my wetsuit and everything on too. I got to the Victorian house and couldn’t find the car or Rachel. My heart began to race, I needed the shoes to do well today and I had no idea if Rachel’s car was 0.25 miles down the road or if she had been shuttled 5 miles away. I didn’t even know her cell phone number to call her and let her know I needed her to bring the shoes. I ran back to the park. Panic was REALLY setting in now as it was 6:40am. Pro wave was going off at 7am and my wave was 28 minutes later.

I begin frantically looking around as I am entering the park for a blue rain coat that contains the woman who has the car keys. I get all the way back to transition and I am at the entrance and I hear, “Travis!!!” – No one else here knew my name, it must have been Rachel…my heart skipped a beat, there she was. Phew… I yell that I need the keys and as we are running back to her car which amazingly was one of the last few to get a spot near the entrance of the park, I apologize for being so frantic and thank her immensely for finding me. I get the shoes out of the trunk and race back to set up T1 and T2. I throw everything I think I need in the appropriate bags and get everything ready for the swim. Now It is past 7am and for some reason, the pros haven’t gone off yet. Its 7:05 and the announcement comes over the loudspeaker that the race will be delayed a little bit and the pros will go off at 7:30 because of the horrendous traffic. I breathe a sigh of relief. I get on the wetsuit with the help of some body glide and go off for the swim start. I’m in the water off to the side in Lake Winnapasauke when the pro’s dolphin into the water and I start to warm up a little. (Not like I wasn’t warmed up already from running around before looking for the car…but anyway)

There is a port-a-potty on the beach and I get in line, I think it might be best to relieve myself fully before the start. When I exit the john, my wave is being ushered thru the corral, over the mat to activate the timing chips and into the water for our start. Just in time…a few short jokes with the boys of the male 29 and under wave and we hear the race begin for us.

Several dolphin kicks out and there are still massive amounts of people everywhere you look in the water for our wave, all fighting for position and it is an endless sea of florescent green caps. I thought the swimming on top of each other and closed fist punches would stop, but all the way around the last buoy, there was still jockeying for position. Waves had begun to form in the middle of the swim leg and we caught up to some of the earlier waves so the “lap traffic” was interesting to navigate around. I tried not to get kicked in the ribcage by the slower swimmers who were breast stroking keeping their heads above water from previous waves, but couldn’t avoid the feet. I was trying to keep on the feet of a fast green capped swimmer who a few other people were trying to draft off of as well. That might have been an explanation for all of the physical-ness of the swim.

We exit the water and my watch reads 32 something. 2 minutes slower than I wanted to go, but it was raining and the swim was physical and choppy, no big deal, I ran off to T1.

I find my bike really easily because they lettered off the rows and I somehow remembered that I was in row “I”. I find the beast, strap on Excalibur (the Louis Garneau rocket helmet) and I’m out of there in a little over 2 minutes. The adrenaline must have been pumping because I forgot to hit the split on my watch. Oops, looks like I’ll never know my true heart rate for the swim. Oh well, onto the bike course.

There are a lot of people in front of me, and I’m trying to pass them and not get hit with a drafting penalty, but it’s hard when there are so many riders on such a small course and everyone is tearing out of T1 and there are a lot of wet turns in the first few miles. So in order to not get hit with a red card drafting penalty, I take it upon myself to charge past the pack that was now forming and take the lead and get out of the four bike length draft zone. I was in a gap and riding smoothly on the rain parched roads and I looked down and thought my rear tire was flatting, it looked low from my vantage point, but I didn’t hear the hissing sound of a flat time on wet pavement, so I continued to ride. Maybe I was just heavier than I remembered. We did have a good sized pasta dinner the night before.

I continued to pass people and we got to the Marsh Hill monster, which is a 3-9% grade climb at mile 10 of the ride. I am not a good climber, but up this hill I felt good. People in their nice new P3 Cervelo’s with Zipp discs on the rear tire were up and standing out of the saddle. I just leaned back and spun up and blew by them. It was nice and made me smile a little inside to pass people with better machines than me. Just goes to tell you it’s all about the engine inside. The course was never really flat on the bike, but there were sections where it was nice and gradual up or down for miles at a time.

We passed by the Louden, NH speedway and a greyhound dog race track and all of these really wooded areas which were really pretty, even in the rain. I was trying to take in gels and nutrition, but for some reason my stomach was not cooperating, I was feeling bloated and gassy and every time I took a gel or drink of Gatorade or water, I felt like it was sloshing in my stomach. I don’t know if it was from too much of a breakfast or what, but I was worried at what would happen on the run if I didn’t get enough fuel in me.

At about mile 20, I began to see the pros coming back on the bike course and picked out big old Bjorn Anderson in his sweet bullet helmet with shark teeth down the side. (think WWII fighter pilot plane) followed, after a good gap by Michael Lovato and Chris Legh. It was cool, I was geeking it a little and flipping out on the bike when I saw the pros go by. I was telling everyone I was passing who they were, it was great. They must have looked at me funny because I was yelling out things like, “dude, that was just Bjorn Anderson!!” and “Holy crap that was Karen Smeyers!” – Awesome.

I was feeling good on the bike and fast too, I was managing the down hills, maintaining my speed and using it to carry me up the up hills on the other side, it was nice to have a good average speed and not be completely spent after the bike portion. To give you an idea, I hit 49.9mph (I know, I didn’t break 50…) on a downhill section of the course in the rain. I was descending like a madman, hell bent on getting some age group hardware at the awards ceremony. It was neat being on a slight uphill and seeing your speedometer say 22.5mph and the little arrow that tells you if your average speed for the ride is above or below that point up. (Meaning that at that point in the race, my average speed was above 22.5mph, craziness…)

The last few miles of the bike it began to REALLY pour, and I was feeling a little sluggish, but by mile 50, I knew I could bring it in. I still hadn’t been able to intake a lot of nutrition so I was interested to see what was going to happen on the run. I came off the bike in 2:33:04 averaging 22.0mph. As I took my left foot out of my bike shoe when getting ready to dismount, my insole of the bike shoe came out as well. I didn’t want to drop it on the course as it would have been a penalty for abandonment of equipment, so I shoved it in my jersey pocket thinking I would leave it with my bike in T2. Long story short, I forgot about it till 2 miles in the run. Oh well.

I started out on the run and the first 4 miles flew by in less than 28 minutes. I thought to myself, “oh crap, I’m going to blow up; I’ve never run this fast before for the run on a half iron race. Best I’ve ever done before was 7:29 pace…I’m doing sub-7’s right now” I was feeling good though. The crowd support and volunteers at the 17 aide stations that they had for the 13.1 mile run were great. I continued on thru the TimberMON aide station where they had Bob Marley blaring in the rain and everyone had on fake dreads. It was pretty sweet. Shortly after that there was a paradise themed aide station where people where in grass skirts and there was Hawaiian music playing and everything.

There was a lot to keep your mind off of the pain of running thru the race, there were even little signs on the course to make you smile that read things like, “How can there be self help groups?” – Which in my fatigued state, took me a minute to figure out, but I laughed a lot when it dawned on me. They were totally my goofy sense of humor. I smiled and kept a good demeanor for the first of the two loops on the run and wanted to keep a positive attitude to keep me going strong.

The second loop was a little more trying, but I kept my mind off the pain by trying to pick out the pros that were finishing up as I was going back out for the last loop. I started to fall apart at around mile 11, but started saying to myself, “come on princess, you can get there, don’t crap out now” and that worked. Somehow making fun of myself when I was suffering and hurting and calling myself a princess really got me going. I ended the half marathon in 1:34:52 which was just under 7:15 pace and crossed the line in 4:43:19 which I knew was a 10 minute PR from last year at the US Half Championship in Missouri. The announcer guy even said my name as I crossed the line and I out sprinted a guy who I thought was in my age group around the last corner. (Later I found out he was 34…I must not have been seeing clearly)

After finishing, I was handed a finishers metal, Timberman water bottle and tiny Timberman towel. It was pretty cool. I stumbled around for a bit, found Rachel and walked with her to get some more liquid and food from the food tent. I found out I was really dehydrated after going to a port-a-potty, probably because I really couldn’t keep anything down without sloshing on the run. I took 3 sips total of Gatorade on the run and no other nutrition, no pretzels, gels, clif bars, nothing. I was amazed that I made it to the line in one piece.

So I’m outside the food tent ready to get some eats and I look to my right and see who else but Mr. Michael Lovato!!! I chatted with him and he told me Bjorn basically tore it up on the bike and put lots of time on him, and he was never able to get it back, but we both congratulated each other on the day’s performances and he was even cool enough to let me pose for a quick picture with him. He was just an all around AWESOME guy, classy too.

I knew I did ok that day and was happy with my 10 minute PR (I originally wanted to go sub 4:45 and place top five in the age group to be able to come home with a etched maple syrup bottle with the Timberman logo on it….it sounded sweet – no pun intended) But it was to my surprise that after I got out of the car after warming up for about 30 minutes post race (my lips had turned purple, because it was about 65*F out and still raining after the race.) I was at the merchandise tent buying a long sleeved t-shirt to wear to keep warm, and I heard over the loud speaker that they were awarding the 70.3 world championship slots for the race November 11th in Clearwater, Florida.

I was in the middle of buying my long sleeved t-shirt and heard them announce who was getting the slots for the male 20-24 age group and they said “first place Travis Earley!!!” I immediately ran out of the tent and yelled, “Holy crap I just won my age group!!!!” and was jumping up and down and yelling causing quite the spectacle! I was beaming ear to ear, I had no idea that I had won until they announced it and I went to the tent and quite proudly, while still smiling, declined the slot because the race is 7 days after Ironman Florida and I don’t think I will be able to walk that well after Florida, let alone race like I would like to at the World Championships. It was so cool though to be able to say, “You can pass that slot on to someone else…it’s too close to Ironman Florida”

I was still floored and in shock. I was secretly hoping for a top 5 age group placing and to come away with some hardware from the race, not to be the Timberman 2006, 20-24 age group champion! At the awards ceremony, I watched Bjorn Anderson take his $1,000 check and say a few words in his Swedish accent and Karen Smeyers hold her son as she accepted her awards. I walked up quite proudly when they called my name and accepted the large container of VT maple syrup, a $30 gift certificate to Final Kick Sports, a $1,500 gift certificate off a new Aegis bicycle and brand new Zoot Sports transition backpack. It was so cool, and the guy that was announcing the awards told me to say hello to Boots and Ellen at Fleet Feet in Rochester. I don’t know who he was, but he says “hi”.

So, of the 1900+ athletes that competed, it broke down like this; I was 41st overall in a time of 4:43:19 and that was good enough for 1st in the 20-24 male age group. I even beat 5 professional men in the rankings. The Timberman was a great race and I am likely to do it all again next year. Even despite the weather, which we have no control over, it was a great time and a great course, highly recommended. Thanks for reading.

~Travis Earley


Bolder said...

you have to do it next year Travis -- you have to defend your title youngster!

but next time, no making fun of the old guys riding cervelos. we don't have youth on our side, but we've got money!!

i can't believe with everything that happened pre-race, that you were able to pull it together and do so well.

now, do it again with me at IMFL!!!

Anonymous said...


I happened to be passing the Top Pros at the same time you were on the bike. I thought I was cheering loud, but then you were freaking out. It was great to see and hear you go crazy for each one. I was blown away too that I was actually in the same race as them. It was my first Half, and not my last.

keep it crazy fun...

Jeremy said...

Congrats on your first place AG finish and best of luck at IMFL!

Barefoot Guy said...

I have loved this blog allot! I am a barefoot runner.

Keep up the good blogging!