Friday, July 16, 2010

Old Colony Olympic Distance Triathlon

This race was my first Olympic distance race, so to say I was a little nervous would be a true statement. Not scared, but a combination of nerves and excitement for sure. With Sue and Owen not wanting to head down super early with me, I was able to arrange a ride with a couple of team mates. This would be my first "road trip" to a race, so it made for an extra level of excitement.

Tim came over on Friday night to make sure my bike would fit on his carrier on the back of his SUV. Both his and Jay's bike were going to ride on the top rack on the roof. Things worked out well with the set-up and it was all set for Tim to pick me up at 5AM. I made sure to have a good night's sleep on Thursday night in the off chance things did not work out Friday night. I got into watching video on YOUTUBE on Friday night from Kona in 2006. It was an exciting race but I was much more interested in the Jon Blais story as he had finished the race in 2005 and was there at Kona in 2006 watching a man complete the race in his honor and to bring more awareness to the plight of those with ALS. I had actually received an email from Bob Blais (Jon's dad) on Friday afternoon and was especially moved again by his strength and fortitude. I finished watching the vids and then turned in around 11pm with the alarm set for 4AM.

A good night's sleep and up right at the alarm. Pre-race breakfast is pretty much routine now with my usual "smoothie" and PB and J sandwich along with 3 bottles of water up until an hour before the race. Tim picked me up right at 5AM and then we headed to pick up Jay and Andrea. The trip down was uneventful except for my sudden and desperate need to have to make a bathroom stop.

We arrived close to 6:30AM and had plenty of time to get set-up in transition. The FIRM races are very friendly and on the "small" side with only a few more than 200 competitors. It was very convenient having a bathroom area available instead of porta-potties. As we got ready lots of TEAM COMP people arrived. The seriousness of an Olympic distance race was starting to set in, but not in a bad way. I have loved each and every sprint race I have done, but was getting a sense that Olympic distance races were not for the casual racer. Not as many foot baths being set up and no one marked their transition area with a balloon. I would soon realize how right I was when I got out on the bike (more about that later).

I set up my area and made a couple of trips to the restroom and then proceeded to get ready for the swim. Once in my wet suit I headed for the water. It was quite warm and very murky. I took a trip out about half way to the first buoy and then turned back in. This was to be a 1 mile swim made up of two counter-clockwise loops of a 1/2 mile circuit. We had to exit the water the first time around and then go back in again for another loop.

There were only 3 waves and I was in the 2 one. I took my usual spot near the back and on the outside. When the starter (Bill) announced we were off, off I went. I have to admit, very little anxiety anymore. I picked my spot and started swimming. When I ever I felt the need to try and keep up with others, I simply started to count my strokes. It helped to relax me and helped me stay where I was comfortable.

I did have one major concern before the first buoy. I decided to wear my ROAD ID this race and the clasp kept coming undone. I was so worried I would lose it and quickly looked for a lifeguard to hand it off. With no one around I managed to get it back on. It came loose again, and as I tried to clasp it again, I took a good gulp of water. I didn't panic, and got it clasped again. This time it stayed on and I had concluded I would take it off at the end of the first lap and then pick it up on my way to T1.

I got passed by most of the swimmers on my first lap around, exited the water and dropped my ROAD ID as planned. I remember hearing both Andrea and Jen cheering me on, which helped A TON. I quickly entered the water for the second lap. This time I stayed to the inside and managed a faster time for the second lap around. I felt like I did a good job sighting as well. I headed to T1 and was happy to see my time for the swim was 44:06. Right on target. Not the 40:00 minutes Stu had told me I would get, but as fast as I had hoped. When I later checked out Andrea's pics, I noticed swimmers behind me in the water. Not something I look for in the race, but a nice thing to see on the way out.

T1 was great as I got out on the bike in 3:03. I didn't like the fact we had to walk the bike through a small grassy trail, but didn't mess up, none the less. With a couple of speed bumps, I headed out of the camp. This was a 24 mile ride comprised of 4 laps around a 6 mile course. Plenty of chances to see TEAM COMP team mates out there and both give and get some encouragement.

This is where the reality of an Olympic distance race hit me. I have talked to people about the term I invented called "LPing" someone. It's the phrase I use to describe me (a LP or little person) passing someone on the bike. At the Minuteman tri 3 weeks previously, I LPed at least 12 people. Here at Old Colony, I think I LPed 2. It's not a bad thing at all. I ended up checking the posted times, and in the end I did bike faster than 19 other riders. That works out to 10% of the field, I just didn't get the immediate satisfaction of it. I quickly realized how different this race was, and it actually motivated me to quick going stronger. Being passed by lots of TEAM COMP team mates helped as well. We exchanged cheers to each other (DON passed me twice...LOL) and it gave me a boost each time.

The course was nice and flat with a few rollers. I managed to find some areas for a little recovery and feel my ride got stronger each lap. Once the runners started out (same course but opposite direction) the cheers continued. Denise actually managed a nice "high five" when I saw her on the run.

I needed a bottle exchange and remembered reading to try and get the water earlier than needed. If you can't get it (dropping it) at least you can try again before you're too thirsty. On my 3rd lap around, I decided to get a bottle. Dropped the first attempt but grabbed the 2nd one in line.

Just as I neared the entrance back into the park, I saw Sue's car parked on the side of the road. What a boost. As I entered the park, I was Sue and Owen walking down the driveway. As I whistled they turned around and both cheered. It was great to see them.

I rode in to T2 and the new bike shoes helped big time. They were quick to get on and off. I also got rid of the YANKZ laces on my running shoes and went back to regular laces. Much easier to get the shoes on. I grabbed my hat and NATHAN belt and was off. Time for T2 was 2:28.

The start of the run was through a path in the woods. I walked it all determined not to fall. As I started out, the realization of the distance before me started to sink in. This would be my longest run EVER. I had only ever done a 5 mile run last Thanksgiving and had done the 4 mile run the weekend before this race to benefit Tom Smith. Would I be able to keep up a good pace. At the Minuteman Sprint tri I did the 4 miles at a 16 min/mile pace. If I was much slower than that I would not be able to break 4 hours, which was my goal for this race. More than 4 hours would be fine, but I thought a sub 4 hour race would be AWESOME.

I started out my usual pace of some walking and running. With the heat, I had my own water and gel and was hoping for a few water stops. I had passed them on my ride going in the other directions and counted at least 5. In fact, I yelled at a few to try and wait for me when I came back on the run. They all promised and they DID.

I got to the first water stop and asked if they knew how far on the course they were. The woman there said they were the 2 mile mark. I looked at my watch and let out a loud "WOOHOO". It said I was 31 minutes in, which meant I was doing better than 16 minute miles. What a boost that was.

The run was pretty lonely but it gave me lots of time to think. I was passed by a few people as we cheered each other on. But come on, I was about to run more than 1/2 the distance I drive to work each day. YES!!!

I little bit of stiffness set in to my back, and my right calf stiffened up a bit as well. I kept drinking and taking gel every 30 minutes, and it eventually went away. I used my heart monitor and ran whenever my HR was went below 134. When it went back up above 160, I would walk. It seemed to keep me going so as to not walk too much. I had written some letters on my arms for this one, and boy they helped. On my right arm was S.O. for Sue and Owen. I am convinced without them, I don't think I would be doing this. Sue continues to be the best mother around and I am so proud of our son Owen. Whenever I have felt the least bit discouraged I just think of Owen and how he has shown such little fear while learning to swim.

On the other arm I had J.B.H. Those was for Jon Blais and the Hoyts. If you don't know who they are, do some searching online. Jon Blais completed the Kona Ironman in 2005 with ALS and the Hoyts have been in much of my earlier writings. The pain they have endured pales in comparison to mine and I gain a lot of strength from them.

I looked at my watch and realized it said 3:20:15 and I had 40 minutes to go to try and break 4 hours. At that point I was somewhere between mile 4 and 5. I didn't change my pace, but just kept going. I did not want to continue to watch my overall time, so I never looked at the total time again. If I broke 4 hours, GREAT. If I didn't, I still would finish.

I entered the park and saw lots of people heading home. They yelled out lots of support and of course I did my best to run the last mile. Except for the final uphill before the end, which I walked, I ran most of that mile. I heard people yelling and could finally see the finish. I caught a glimpse of Sue and could hear Owen cheering. As Wendy called out "Mighty John" over the PA. I got a great rush of adrenaline as I ran to the finish. As I crossed the line and hit the button on my watch, it read 3:59:05. I DID IT. I broke 4 hours. The official time was to be 3:59:07.

What a finish, with most of the TEAM COMP people there to cheer me on, I felt so great. If I can do an Olympic in under 4 hours, what's next?

I guess what I finally realized after this race, is that triathlon is not about measuring myself against others, but working out what you need to work on and sticking to it. I'm not at a stage where I can pick out people in front of me to try and "pick-off" because come the end of the day, I will always be the SLOWEST runner out there. As long as I keep moving forward, that's all that matters.


  1. A great effort and a pretty good read to boot!

  2. Triathlon is like a journey of highs and lows, and yeah, you have to stick with it. The only thing you can know for sure is that there will indeed be some uphill climbs and some downhill coasting -- and if you spill, then you get back up and good. Great race report. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I agree, great report John! Thanks for sharing it here. I too like real bathrooms on race day. And I'm curious to try a race with so many bike loops, kindof like a criterium, which freaks me out too much. :-)
    Well done! And how exciting to hit the watch and see you broke 4 hours!!!

  4. Please contact us at Thank you!