Monday, July 26, 2010

Whaling City Triathlon Race Report

This was not a planned race on my calendar this year, but it became one once I realized they had a para-triathlete division. This division has been a bit of a sore spot with me because the ITU, USAT, and IRONMAN have not recognized dwarfism as a physical challenge. I know, it causes me to shake my head. As a fellow triathlete and blogger Ben Berry mentioned, they provide the Clydesdale and Athena divisions for racers who are heavier than others (often by their own lifestyles) yet someone who was born with a condition that limits their height, is not given a division. In the World Paralympics, dwarfism is listed in the T3 division (les autres) with other conditions like MD and CP.

Well, this July the ITU met and added dwarfism to their classifications and I only found this out by searching the internet. After conferring with Jon Beeson (Head of US Para-triathlon) and the race director for the Whaling City Triathlon, Eric Averill, I was able to enter in the division as a TRI 3 and not an age-grouper. To say I was excited, would be an understatement.

With this being the weekend for IRONMAN Lake Placid and IRONMAN Switzerland, most of the attention of the triathlon world would be on those two races. I was pleased to find out that other members of TEAM COMP would also be racing. Don Vescio was doing a relay (not a surprise) and both Art Gray and Warren Macphail were racing as well.

Race morning routine, is starting to become exactly that, routine. Alarm set for 3:30AM and I was up quickly. Soy protein smoothie made up and a bagel with PB all put in the cooler with 2 bottles of water. I like to consume the energy about 2.5 hours prior to the race, so I do most of that while driving down.

Loaded up the bike on the rack, put everything in the car and I was on my way. Once stop along the way for a bathroom break and to a get a small black coffee. I arrived at the race site at about 6:15AM. Lots of people already there. Parking was to be limited, but with my handicapped placard I got a primo spot right by the packet pick-up location. Those spots looked to remain empty for the race and this way it leaves an extra spot for someone else.

Registration was nice a easy and body-marking was right there as well. When I went back out to the car, I ran into both Art and Warren who had just parked.

On my way to transition I ran into Eric (RD) and asked about other para-triathletes. He said there were 3 of us and the other 2 were female. There are 6 different classes of PT and I am considered a TRI3 which is typically called "les autres" which means "the others" in French. Kinda funny. The other 2 were TRI 1 an TRI 2 which are wheel chair racers and single leg amputees respectively.

I would later find out that the athlete who is the TRI 2 was an accomplished former Paralympic athlete named Sarah Billmeier.

Well, I got my transition area set up and chatted with some of the other athletes. I wandered down the road to check out the swim course. The distance of the swim was supposed to be 1/4 mile. When I got there (jogging down to warm up) not all the buoys were in the water yet. We were to walk down a beach and start on shore near a stone causeway. We would swim out about 250 yards and then turn right at the buoy. We would then swim along past 2 other buoys until we turned right towards the shore. It was a rectangular shaped course. The distance from the swim exit back to transition looked to be about 1/4 mile so I decided I would bring my water shoes down and then put them on to run after the swim.

After wandering back to transition, I spotted Don Vescio on his trainer cycling away. Went up and wished him and his triathlon team good luck.

We had our pre-race meeting there, the anthem, and then it was time to get ready to swim and head back to the beach. I wore my shoes down and then took them off on the walkway where we would exit the beach. We walked a few 100 yards down the beach to get ready. The last buoy was put out, and it looked longer than 1/4 mile. Not a big deal, as I have done longer swims (1 mile two weeks ago), but wondering why the distance looked longer none the less. I was to later find out about two days after the race, they updated the distance from 0.25 of a mile to 0.34 of a mile.

I was in the last wave of 5. There were probably about 40 or so swimmers in my wave. When it was our turn to go, I got near the back of the wave and readied for the start signal. Off we went, and I got in to the water and started swimming. Again, a nice easy pace to start not worrying about other swimmers. My sighting went well and each time I looked up and I was pretty much on course. I don't know how reliable rumors were about the police boats being there to keep a look out for sharks. The news said, if you see seals stay away, as the sharks feed on them. Well, what looks more like a seal than a dwarf in black wetsuit? Maybe by the time I got out there, the sharks would be filled up on all the skinnier racers...LOL.

At each turn I went around the buoy and kept going. It was nice to see I was passing the occasional nervous swimmer. Not nice to see them nervous, but a relief to me that triathlon swimming for me, was now that, swimming and not paddling on my back or doing the heads-up breaststroke. When I made the last turn, I headed straight for the swim exit. It was about 200 yards to the shore. Again, my sighting went well as I kept on straight to the shore.

On my exit I heard a woman yelling, "GO JOHN! GO". It was a woman I had met prior to the start who was here to see her husband race and she remembered seeing me at two races last year. What a nice boost, hearing an unexpected cheer. Crossing the timing pad, my time was 0:17:13. If the distance was a true 1/4 mile, this would be a pretty slow time, but I knew the distance was longer, and as mentioned that would be confirmed later.

I ran up the beach and looked for my shoes. I grabbed them and kept running. I didn't feel like putting them on. If this was to be my only mistake today, it would be a good day. I couldn't start taking my wetsuit top off while having my hands full. I jogged up the road to T1 and went in to get my bike. Looking around I saw 5-10 bikes. Transition time here was longer than hoped, but of course the long run up there didn't help.

I got ready for the bike pretty well. I jogged to the timing pad and headed out on the bike. A shock at first, as I could hear something rubbing. I hoped it wasn't my brake and started to get nervous. Should I stop and look? But then I looked down and saw my race number on my bike was rubbing my front tire. A quick tug of it and the sound was gone. PHEW!

This was a closed course which meant we did not have to worry about traffic in our lane as we were to make 3 loops of a 3.8 mile course. Traffic was in the other lane, but we were safe with lots of passing room. The police and volunteers did a great job at the intersections. I was passing a few riders and of course getting passed by others. But, I could feel I was gaining on some. As I neared downtown New Bedford, something unexpected but good happened. I could see a group of young kids all wearing the same colored t-shirt. I was expecting the same silly comments about my size. Was I surprised when I heard them roar loudly and cheer for me. It gave me such a boost!!

I got past them and took the time to have a shot of gel from my bottle. This course was SO FLAT, but with the fast speed comes very little recovery time. It means a lot of pedaling, but I was sure I was ready for the challenge. As I neared the end of the first lap, there was a slight downhill and then a sharp turn left. Feeling strong, I continued to pass riders and never felt like I was losing power in my legs. This time through the downtown again, I could hear one kid yell, "Here he comes". And again, the cheers came! What a BOOST again. As I passed there were others around and I saw an older woman on a electric cart, and she yelled, "YOU KEEP GOING." And I did.

I had one scare near the end of the second loop, as I looked up at a runner coming the other way, I looked back down and went over a sewer grate. Now, without traffic, I didn't need to be that far right. I lost my balance and felt myself going over my handlebars. I didn't hit the brakes and instead, steadied my hands and leaned back. I managed to gain control without crashing. WOW, that was close. As the rider behind me passed, he said, "Stay away from the curb." I took his advice. The last lap went well, but I was a tiny bit bummed, to see my cheering section had moved on. No worries, as I kept up the pace and finished my last lap. A sharp right turn into transition.

As I got off my bike and ran across the pads, I looked at my time for the bike and was happy to see, 0:41:16. I was hoping to beat 45 minutes, and I was very happy. I racked my bike and got into my running shoes pretty quickly. As they were announcing finishers, I heard them say, "Here's another runner going out, let's go 946", which was my number.

Now a big change for me on this run was my decision not to bring a water bottle. I knew there would be water on miles 1 and 2 and I decided to just have some gel. I had been worried that I was stopping too often to drink and using that as a crutch. I was determined to do this one, without my bottle, and it ended up being a get decision. I ran the first while and only walked for short distances to try and get my legs going. I counted 4 bikes still coming in so I knew I was ahead of some, and since I was the last swimmer in to start, this was ALL GOOD.

The run was all on pavement and it was nice and flat. As I rounded the corner and headed out towards the water I was feeling real good. Another athlete was heading in and he caught my eye. Where had I seen him before? I wondered for a while and it actually came to me when I was talking to Sue about the race that night. It was Rudy the runner-up from the previous season of "BIGGEST LOSER". Wow, a celebrity.

I looked up and saw the water stop, was I close to a mile already? A couple of runners passed me, but I knew I was doing well. At the water stop, they had a "1 mile" board up and I looked at my watch. It read, 14:20 for the lap. I was doing GREAT. Took the water and kept going. The turn around was at 1.2 miles and I headed back towards the park and took another water from the stop and kept going.

We took a different turn into the park, and I was starting to think, I am already back, and then I saw the other water stop. This was mile 2, and my watch read about 30:25. I was keeping up with a great pace. Was there really only 1 mile remaining? The last mile was pretty long and in fact, I was later to find out, I still had 1.4 miles to go. As I rounded a corner, there was Art walking back to meet me and run me back in. At first, I wanted him to leave me alone. I really didn't want someone to push me harder. I was doing great and knew it. And he didn't push me, but in the end I was thankful he was there as I kept going for sure.

The run was around most of the park and then right when I thought it was done, we had to run out on a pier and back. I yelled out, "This is CRUEL!"

Well as I got off of the pier, I could hear the P.A. announcer and knew I was near the end. I saw the finish and Art, left me to run the last section alone. Thanks again Art for being there for support.

When I crossed the line, and looked at my watch, I was ecstatic. It read, 1:53:45. My goal was to beat 2:00:00 and I felt like I CRUSHED it.

I got my water bottle and 2 VERY COLD washcloths to help cool off. Took in a bit of food and then walked around to stretch. After I changed my shirt and went back to the awards ceremony, I was so happy to find out I had won an awards. Even though I was the only one, I was given a "1st Place Male Para-triathlete" awards. Sarah Billmeier won as well.

After everything was over and I headed home, I could not pass up a stop at Tim Horton's in Fall River. Any Canadian knows how great these places are as the put the coffee and munchkins to shame with their version called TIMBITS. A great lunch and then my ride home.

Next up, the Witch City Triathlon in Salem on August 8th. This is a special race for me, as it was my first ever triathlon (not counting the Aquabike race in Lowell) that I competed in last year. It was also where I met Nancy Thomson and started my involvement with Comprehensive Racing.

Thanks to Julie Outericky who took all the pictures.


  1. John -

    1. Great Race!
    2. Great Report!
    3. My only award thus far at the triathlon level other than a finishers medal was when I came in 2nd out of 2 people in a division. When you finish, and the other people who would be in your group (whatever group a person may belong to) failed to register, not only did you beat them by finishing in the time you did, but you deserve the award for being the one who came in first, regardless of the size of group.