|Mom & me, prerace - look at that sky!|
The first time I did the FIRMMan was in 2002. I chose the race for two reasons: it was close to my family and I could use it as a warm-up for Ironman Hawaii. That year, the weather was stellar - sunny, in the 80s, and dry. I did my fastest times ever at both the 70.3 distance (4:35) AND the half-marathon (yes, it's true, my fastest 13.1-mile run ever was in a triathlon). I finished third woman overall that year, and after the race, my parents, my husband Jim, and I spent a nice few hours on the beach before we headed home to Cleveland.
The second time I did the FIRMMan was in 2004. Jim and I were going to be in Connecticut that weekend for a party, and I decided to give the race another shot even though I was not training seriously that year. I don't remember much from that year except that the weather was almost exactly the same as in 2002, I finished third, again, and we had a great time afterward with my parents, again. Sadly, it was the last time my dad would attend one of my races as he passed away from cancer the next year.
Despite great experiences, the FIRMMan was not immune to my disasters. Even though I had a great race in 2002, I had two classic Disaster Magnet-style mishaps on the course. I hit a pothole near the beginning of the bike course and lost my race nutrition bottle, and I took a wrong turn on the bike course and lost about 1-2 minutes. Then, when I attempted a third showing at the FIRMMan in 2008, the entire race was postponed until a later date due to a hurricane sweeping north along the eastern seaboard. We learned this after checking into our hotel in Narragansett.
This year, we had planned to stop in Narragansett for the FIRMMan before continuing on to Cape Cod for a vacation. But, as they say, the best-laid plans... Jim found out he has a torn meniscus and needs knee surgery so we decided to scrap our vacation plans because of his limited mobility. The trip was abbreviated to four days -- to drive, race, and drive home. But we did manage to pick up my mom and drop her back off in Connecticut on the way.
This year's FIRMMan would be the last opportunity to assess my training and tri skills before Ironman 70.3 Clearwater on November 13. I didn't plan much of a taper, but I did take several days easy before the race to get the feel of racing fresh -- something I hadn't done since Lake Placid in July. I dealt with my normal pre-race nerves in a different way this time. I drank two glasses of red wine the night before the race and I was out cold by 9 p.m. We woke up at 3:45 on race morning and got down to the start by 5:15. While it was still dark, I set up my transition, got body-marked and complained about the cold (it was around 50 degrees F).
The race takes place at Narragansett Town Beach with a 1.2-mile point-to-point swim parallel to the shore. I donned my wetsuit while we walked up the beach and got in for a quick warm up at the starting line with 10 minutes to race start. The water felt colder than the official measurement of 70 degrees, but it was warmer than the air. With overcast conditions, the day's high temperature would not reach 70.
|Bike start, adjusting my jersey|
I spent most of the first hour of the ride jockeying for position with one of the 50+ male riders. He spent most of that time looking over his shoulder at me (or who-knows-what?). At the first major hill, I gave him the old Contador slip when he threw his chain. He eventually caught and passed me, and then I didn't see him again until the last five miles. When I finally caught him again, he had words of wisdom for me: "great way to come back!" (as though I had rallied to catch him). I didn't have the heart to break the news that it wasn't I who sped up, but actually he who slowed down. Only one woman passed me on the bike, but she was on a relay team and I re-passed her before the transition. At 2:46, my bike time was at least six minutes slower than I expected.
In transition, the announcer noted I was the first woman off the bike and on the run course. Neither he nor I had a clue on the performances of the women behind me. And I knew that if any of them were within eight minutes of me, I wasn't actually leading the race.
Which brings me to the run. If I had any designs on winning this race, I had to be at least eight minutes in front of the second woman by the time I finished the run. The run is on gradual rolling hills through neighborhoods and scenic by-ways. The only major hill - a steady incline - begins well before the first mile marker and doesn't end until after mile 2. This hill also leads runners down to the finish. Thus, my strategy was to run hard for 11 miles and follow it with a two-mile controlled fall. On the course, I would gauge my overall lead (if I still had one) at the two 180-degree turns when the course loops back on itself.
At the start of the run, I heard Jim say "relax - go out easy!" I heeded his advice and settled into my classic marathon shuffle step. Based on how I felt and a nagging sharp pain in my hip, I thought a 7-minute mile pace would be my best bet. After the first mile, the hip pain settled a bit and I split a 6:57 at mile 2, the uphill mile. It was at this moment I realized the potential for this to be my best run of the season.
|The beach finish|
The excitement of my lead got me through miles 10 and 11 and into the final downhill miles. This thrill came to a sudden end when I realized my memory failed me. The FIRMMan had one more trick up its sleeve before the finish line -- the "beach quarter." The final quarter mile of the run course is on beach sand. It's almost like acing a multiple-choice exam only to find out there are essay questions at the end. It felt like I would never reach the finish line, but then I was there -- and smiling. I finally hit that sub-1:30 half-marathon that I had almost given up on.
And it's always hard to leave. Because it feels like I'm already home.