Authored by: Liz Smith-Freedman
In the fall of 2019, the REV 3 race company announced that it would be adding a New England Olympic and Half distance race to their calendar in August 2020. This race appealed to me since it was very local (Webster, MA) and by being in August it gave participants plenty of time to practice swimming in open water. But as we all know, 2020 had other ideas and the race was postponed until 2021.
As the race drew closer, I began to pay more attention to the course and was surprised by what I signed up for. Specifically, the bike course has 3300 feet of elevation, winding through parts of northern Rhode Island and Connecticut. I’m rather new to biking and a real newbie at using a Garmin, so it took me a while to grasp what that meant. About 2 months before the race, I convinced my husband to take a drive to Treehouse Brewery (he was excited about that) with a detour to drive the course (he’s a supportive partner.) Even in a car I could tell that hill training was in my future so I got on it, finding the hilliest routes to train on, joining Other TE members on rides through Concord and Stow, and joining the Monsters bike club on rides to Harvard.
A week prior to the race, the course was changed due to some staffing issues, so the half course was now 2 loops of the Olympic course. Since it is pretty close, I went out there to ride the course, met some people doing the same, and left feeling pretty good about the challenge before me.
On race day, my dog got sprayed by a skunk just as I was leaving, but other than that the drive out on the Mass Pike and 290 was easy. Despite being in August, the weather was slightly overcast, but not hot or humid – a real bonus for the day. I met Melanie (also doing the half) and Kristen, both Nathalie’s, and Nathalie A’s husband Xavier, who were doing the Olympic course. There were only 200 participants in total, so no too crowded in transition. There were plenty of port-a-potties too. The swim course was a triangle in Webster Lake and wetsuit legal. We lined up by swim speed. There were not many sighting buoys and different color buoys for Half and Olympic courses, but not hard to follow. Transition was right near the beach so just a quick run while stripping off the wetsuit.
The bike course started on some busy roads, past a shopping mall and the entrance to the highway, then a long uphill into the woods. It was challenging, but rewarded by a long downhill through some beautiful scenery. This up and down continued for a long time until we reached the Thompson Speedway in Connecticut. There we did 2 laps on the flat track (Olympic racers did one) then headed back to the start of the course to do it again. There were 2 fueling stations on the course, but positioned on hills or between the fast downhills and steep up-hills, so it was a tough decision to stop and lose momentum or keep going and risk running out of electrolyte drink and water. My plan was to go as fast as possible on the flats and downhills to make up for the slow up-hills, so I really pushed myself hard to reach my goal of 3:15 on the bike.
When I got off the bike, Nathalie was there to cheer me on. I started my watch and was swallowing a gel as a race official was trying to explain the run course to me. I didn’t hear much of what he said, so got a little confused as the cones that directed me across a field ended at the start of a path through the woods. I ran along the path for a while, but didn’t see any markings or other people and decided to run back in case I missed a turn. As I got back to the field someone yelled that I was going the right way, so I kept running along the wooded path. Eventually, I came to some flags planted into the ground and followed them to a service road and out to the main road, where there was a fueling station. The run course was for the half distance participants 2 loops through neighborhoods bordering the lake. It was relatively flat and many people were out on their lawns to cheer us on, which was good because 2 loops meant going through each neighborhood 4 times.
On the run I realized that by pushing so hard on the bike, I had little energy reserve left. The run was not my proudest moment as I walk-ran the 13.1 miles. But Back-of-the-Pack runners are fun people and I had a lot of great conversations with women while taking walk breaks, including one woman who had been hospitalized the previous winter with COVID.
This was a challenging course and I felt great when I crossed the finish line at 7:16, 4th in my age group. Due to COVID and their volunteer shortage, there was no food at the finish line. But Melanie and I celebrated by eating the recovery food we had brought. If you are considering doing this race, keep in mind the potential for heat and humidity in August and plan for elevation gain. As mentioned above, the bike course was changed last minute and in future years they may not do 2 loops as they did this year and there were some killer hills on the portion of the course that was cut out this year. But if you’re looking for a smaller race, close by, without paying Ironman prices, this is a good race to consider.