MICHAEL LOVATO | Professional Triathlete

 

PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN

 

Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island

Date: 7/15/09

Location: Rhode Island

Rank: 1st

Time: 3:54:39

In an effort to do things differently in 2009, and with the ultimate goal of improving on my consecutive 9th-place finishes at Kona the past two years, my aim for the season has been to get faster: to work on my high-end speed, and to improve my swimming, biking and running, so I could compete with the fastest half Ironman athletes in the world. Part of that plan has entailed skipping an early-season Ironman—my favorite, IM Coeur d’Alene—so I would be fresher, faster, and fitter when the time comes to build for Hawaii.

Thus far this season, I have raced four Ironman 70.3 races, one half iron, and one Olympic distance triathlon. Along the way, I have been steadily improving from 9th place in my first go, down to first this past weekend. I am excited to say that the plan is right on track, and as we enter the second half of 2009, my gradual assault on the World Championship is right on track. And I’m equally pleased to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed racing many times since April.

As for the details of yesterday’s win at the Amica Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island, I will begin the story at the beginning of the story. I know, weird.

Rhode Island is a challenging point-to-point race that begins on the southern shores of the smallest Ocean State. Race morning we athletes were greeted by cloud covered skies, mild temps, high humidity, and high winds. (Thanks very much to Weather Bug for pointing that out to me via my trusty iPhone.)

Our delayed start was attributed to the difficulties the race crew had in securing the buoys in the rough ocean chop. Nearly 30 minutes after our scheduled send-off time, we hit the waves. Almost immediately, our gathering of 20 male professionals was scattered and tossed about in different directions. We vainly tried to stick together, but the odds were against us. A few clumps of athletes stayed together, but most were left to fend for our selves throughout the swim.

Exiting the ocean, my pure and undivided focus was on delivering my blueseventy wetsuit and goggles into their black swim-to-run bag, as we were instructed to do. I was so intent not to forget that step of transition that I completely forgot to place my helmet on my head prior to leaving my bike rack. After seventeen years of racing triathlon, one would have figured I had that part down by now.

With a quick change in direction, I found my way back to my rack, completed my transition, and set off in hot pursuit of the nine fellows who started the race more quickly than I.

The day’s tactics involved employing a highly intense, flat-out chase to the front of the race. At Eagleman in June, I managed to catch Richie Cunningham within fifteen miles of the ride. But this time around, it became evident—at mile twenty—that Richie and Cam were riding way too well for me to catch them that early, so I settled the pace back down, and regrouped for the middle miles of the ride. I knew my only chances for victory were hinged on starting the run within very close proximity of Richie and Cam.

Having regrouped and refueled between miles 25 and 35, I began to reapply the pressure. My Kestrel Airfoil is such a ridiculously fast bike I did not really have to do too much: pedaling harder only makes me tired, so I pretty much let the frame do the work for me. Really.

Nearing the 45-mile mark, I finally caught sight of the duo of Cunningham and Brown. We were climbing a short and steep hill, and they hit the summit just as I hit the base of the climb. I finally knew I could catch them.

At mile 50, I finally closed the gap, and I passed both fellows with a whoosh. At least I think there was a whoosh, and based on the look on Cam’s face, he thought there was a whoosh. With only six miles to go, I opted to hit the gas pedal even harder than before. Out of sight, out of mind became my mantra as I rode the closing miles of the course. Those last few miles in Providence are peppered with turn after turn, and pothole after pothole. The road traffic was fairly dense, and I needed to use every ounce of concentration, skill and strength to navigate the section with the necessary speed to drop my pursuers.

With only two miles to go, I heard the dreaded PAHssssss of a flat tire on my front HED3. I was dreading the thought of slowing down, or even worse, getting off my bike; so I was happy to see that my super loud flat tire was only a slow leak. I still had sixty or so PSI: good enough to ride it out!

Entering T2 in the lead was as exhilarating as expected. Even if it only ended up being temporarily, I was happy to have grabbed the lead of the race. My transitions have also found improvement over the season, and a quick one-two had me out on the run course enjoying a thirty- or forty-second lead.
Bombing down the first hill of the run, a friend instructed me to “win this one.” Hearing these words were inspirational and appropriate. He did not tell me “good job” or “way to go” (also helpful to hear), but rather he told me what to do: to win the damn race!

The two-lap run course in Providence is a nasty little bugger of a route. We all were made to climb—and descend—one of the steepest hills I have seen in any triathlon. There are no excuses, nor places to hide when you run up and down this quad and hammy killer.

My emotions were sky-high as I pranced through the first 6.5 miles of the half marathon. I had staved off any pesky cramps brought on by the hills and humidity of the day, and I was still in the lead over two of the most well respected and tenacious athletes in our sport. I was dictating the pace, and I was feeling good… until I hit that darn hill again.

Fortunately, I knew that each of us was going to struggle up the hill on lap two, so I was not worried when my pace slowed to a crawl and my adductors begged me to walk. I ignored their pleas, while I pushed on, cleared the summit, and moved on to the ensuing gradual down hill.

The downgrade afforded me the opportunity to lengthen out the stride a bit, in an attempt to stretch out my legs. This tactic seemed to work for about a half mile. I could feel that Richie was still stalking me, and I could tell he was waiting for the right opportunity to make the pass: too early and I’d go with him, too late and we’d be forced into a nasty sprint finish.

Just prior to the nine-mile marker my left hamstring knotted up. I quickly bent down to stretch it, and Richie closed to my shoulder. He slowed, paused, and encouraged me to run through the cramps. Despite the fact that he has beaten me five of five times this season, we are friends and he felt compelled to encourage me through my moment of strife. (We later joked that he no longer owes me from the company I gave him on the bike at Eagleman.)

After righting myself and plugging along at his pace for a spell, I was hit with a more severe cramp then before. An observer later remarked that the sight of that cramp nearly caused him to vomit. Nice. I stopped, told Richie to go on without me, and digressed to the glorious and effective stretch that comes by grabbing my left foot with my knee locked. Not wanting Cam to catch me, I made quick work of the limbering up and went back to a run.

Within a quarter mile or so, I found myself in the midst of a race-saving aid station. I slammed three or four quick cups of water as a chaser to the final bits of my EFS liquid shot. My assessment was that the high humidity, my high sweat rate, and my slightly too low fluid consumption on the bike were causing me to cramp. I calculated that water was my friend, and I needed to bring on board as much as I could in the final five kilometers.

Another slight down hill was next, and I realized that I had actually closed the gap a bit to Richie. He was looking back to see where I was, and he spotted me only fifteen meters behind. He accelerated, and I matched the acceleration. I determined that I was out of the cramping woods, and it was time to bridge up.

With about four km to go, I drew up next to Richie and told him to go with me, as we needed to drop the ever-tenacious Brown who was still only half a minute back. Considering the amount of climbing and descending we still had to do, anything was likely to happen.

After a final call for Richie to break away with me—with no verbal response—I dropped the hammer. I wanted to push while the legs felt good, and I knew that whoever ran the fastest down that final steep hill into downtown was going to win the race. I formed a small gap to Richie, but did not feel comfortable with my lead. He’s a more tenacious racer then just about anyone I’ve encountered, and I knew that he would do everything he could do to bring home the victory.

Climbing the gradual riser before the major down hill, I put in one final effort to pull away. I was prepared to pinwheel my way down that hill at full tilt, and that was exactly what I did. Hitting the flat section that indicated I had about 800 meters to go, I tried to maintain the effort. Richie was now about 50 meters back, and the grimace I spotted on his face as I turned the final corner told me he was working as hard as I was. We had one more uphill to go.

Midway up the hill, with tingly arms and aching legs, I finally felt that I had the win in hand. I glanced over my shoulder one last time, just to be sure, and I put a final surge toward the line. Entering the finish chute, I heard Aerosmith’s Walk This Way welcoming me home. I slowed to a trot, slapped some hands and bumped some fists. Naturally I felt compelled to do a short jig before stopping the clock.

Crossing the line with my first Ironman 70.3 series win was very satisfying. It was a very hard fought battle, and I hold the utmost respect for the two athletes who rounded out the winner’s podium. We raced hard, and we earned our placing.

My assessment through the midway point of the season is that I’m right on target for my planned assault on the Hawaii Ironman. I know the competition will be steeper, the humidity higher, and the hills more daunting. I know the feeling of racing to that line will be exhilarating and tough and fun and sweaty. And I know I’m ready to tackle the job.

I’d like to give special thanks to all my sponsors for their support this season. I could not have done it without help from Saucony, First Endurance, Trakkers, Kestrel, Jack and Adam’s, HED, Oakley, Vision, Skins, and Beaker Concepts.

Also, a huge thanks goes to Cliff English for his gifted and at times sadistic coaching!

For complete details of my pre-race nutrition as well as what I took in during the event, please visit the team First Endurance site:

http://www.team.firstendurance.com/profiles/blogs/michael-lovatos-rhode-island

6 Comment(s)

Shawn on 7/15/09 said:

Congrats on a great race and the WIN!!!! Cramps are no fun, but great job on pushing through! Hope you enjoyed the journey through my home state!!

Schwingding on 7/15/09 said:

Great read Michael! Congrats on the win. Tell Amanda Schwingding says Hi from Baltimore.

Andy on 7/15/09 said:

Wow! What a report. I heard the announcer mention the helmet incident and I was like No Way! Unfortunatly we arrived at the finish a little late, ( we caught the womans top finishers) so we missed you come across. But, wife caught you a little later on, thanks for the pic! Congratulations on a great race and the win. We’ll be looking for you at Placid

Tim on 7/15/09 said:

Well done! I was only 2.5 hrs behind you…not sure you felt my heat! LOL. Seriously, you inspire all of us that day. It was my first 70.3 and I loved it.

Marcos on 8/6/09 said:

Amazing report! Congratulations! And keep the good news coming! Hope you do well in Hawaii, Marcos

Clay on 9/11/09 said:

Just found your race reports! Thanks for all the detail. It’s nice to read what goes through an elite athlete’s mind in the heat of competition. I had the pleasure of chatting with you for a few seconds at Ironman Canada. Keep up the good work! Routing for you in Hawaii.

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