Sunday, August 15, 2010

Race Report - Witch City Triathlon

This race marks my first full year in triathlon. Though it was my second race back in 2009, it was my first full triathlon, as my first race in Lowell at the Mill City Triathlon was an aquabike race. That involved only the swim and bike, with no run.

After a full year of training and preparation I was ready to beat my time last year. I finished last year in 2:12:23. I was hoping to finish in a sub 2 hour time.

With the race being in our town, it would be great not having to get up so early to prepare, pack, and drive. I awoke at 4:10AM and went through the usual routine of morning meal (protein smoothie, bagel with PB, and 2 bottles of water. I packed up the car and prepared for the 5 minute drive over to Forest River Park. The forecast called for a sunny day, but I noticed the roads were wet, and then it actually started to rain. There was only a brief shower on my way over, and when I got there I saw Bil Legault who stated there was actually an intense downpour just before 5AM. With that all over, I checked in, got body marked and prepared to set up my transition area.

Arriving early, I got a spot at the end of the rack, which allowed me a little extra space to lay out my gear. Getting ready I noticed I had not brought my race belt. The one benefit of a race close to home allowed me to call Sue and I asked her to look for it and bring it before the race started.

With the article just printed in the Salem News the day before, there were a number of positive comments from friends and others about it as I prepared to get ready for the race.

I was happy to see Kelley prior to the race. It has become a little bit of a custom that we get a hug from each other prior to a race. She has done so before each of my four races this year, and I also did one for her prior to IMLP. She showed up outside of transition and I was almost ready to go.

As I have mentioned before, Owen also has a very important prep he does for me prior to races. I take both of my pairs of shoes (bike and running) and Owen places his feet in them and gives me his "SPEED". I am sure not to wear them again until the race. I also get one specific ORANGE "silly band" to wear. Along with my watch, TRIONZ bracelet, BLAZEMAN bracelet, my wrists are getting pretty full.

I saw Sue and Owen coming down the hill and of course ran to see them for the 2 most important pre-race hugs. Sue also had my race belt!!

As has become my custom with about 20 minutes to go, I got on my wetsuit and went down to the water. The buoys were out and the course looked to be about the same as last year. I remember it looking so long one year ago. Are my eyes now just getting used to judging distances?

One step in the water and I was SHOCKED. The water was freezing! We had been swimming one week before at Nahant and the water was gorgeous. This was PAINFUL. I knew I had to get right under the water to get my body ready for the cold temps. Last year it was cold and that was one mistake I had made. I did not swim around and spent the first few minutes hyper-ventilating.

As I went under the water, my heart rate soared. I stayed in the water neck deep and then swam a few strokes. It got better as I moved around, but still hurt quite a bit. I would later find out the temp was in the low 50's.

They announced the race would be delayed 10-15 minutes as we waited for high tide. I stayed in as long as I could I waved up at Sue, Owen, Godfrey from church and Chris Muise. Chris is a Pingree parent who was nice enough to come to the race to shot some pics of me racing. Most of the pics here on this blog post are his handiwork.

There were two waves with men in the first wave and women, Clydesdales and relays in the second wave. My plan was to swim to the left outside and avoid the second wave. I would then stick to the course after the first buoy.

We paused for the anthem and then we were off. I let most of the men leave and then started swimming. The pain in my head from the cold water never subsided. It was kind of like an extreme ice cream headache, without the ice cream. Sue mentioned later it looked like I was heading out to sea. I did sight the buoy a few times, but there was a bit of a current as well. When I rounded the first buoy things seemed to get a bit better. I actually had thought about rolling on my back for a second or two, but luckily I got through that and kept going strong. After the turn I was passed by the second wave. No grabbing this time and most of the faster swimmers simply went by on the left and right. I could see a man in a green cap (same as me) on my left for a while and then a big surprise as I guy went by me in the wrong direction on his back. I yelled at him, but he didn't seem to hear.

I rounded the second buoy and looked up to sight the finish. I kept going strong and neared the shore. I stayed in the water as long as I could and then got out. I saw both Sue and Owen on the shore and started running out.

I then wiped out on a rock and proceeded to cut my foot. I didn't notice the blood until transition, but it wasn't too bad.

I ran onto the shore and quickly got a boost with a hand-slap from Owen and Sue. Not taking the time to look back, Sue told me later and I was able to confirm it, there were still 10-12 swimmers in the water. Last year, I was the last one out, by a long shot.

I ran over the mat and checked my time. It was 19:53, which was 1:33 faster than last year. I was hoping for a bit faster, but it was an improvement for sure.

I got to transition and quickly changed and grabbed my bike. Getting across the mat, my T1 time was 2:14, which was 1:37 faster than last year. OK, things were looking good now!!! Already more than 3 minutes faster than last year.

Out on the bike with the hopes of really making up some time from last year. With all the training and the bike upgrade I would be sure to cut some time off from last year, but would it be enough to break the 2 hour mark?

Hearing lots of people yelling my name and encouraging me sure helped as I got going pretty well. I tried to make sure not to blow my legs early. I took lots of small sips of water and got out onto Lafayette towards Marblehead. There is a nice downhill to prepare for the big hill into Marblehead. I kept my gearing low to try and avoid getting out of the saddle all the while keeping a pretty fast cadence. I passed two others on the hill and felt great. I took my gel bottle out of back pocket and took a squeeze of the gel. Trying to put it back in my shirt, I dropped it. Should I stop? I decided to go on without it, which in the end was fine. I knew I would need more gel (especially for the run) and remembered I had extra in transition and would get it when I was in T2.

The ride itself was pretty uneventful after that and I made it out to the "neck" passing a couple of riders and being passed by a few. The ride included 3 laps around the neck, a ride I have done DOZENS of times. Knowing every up and down hill sure helped. I was able to use my recovery time very wisely and again passed a few more while being passed by others. Lots of other COMP team members passed me and we cheered each other on. Last year when I did this race, by the time I made my 3rd lap I was one of the last riders still on the neck. This time there were still a number of riders on the neck and I was able to pass a few more. When I got back on the causeway, my legs were feeling good, but something not so great was happening. For the first time, I was feeling some stiffness in my lower back. I tried to stretch it somewhat and was hoping it would not cause me too much worry on the run.

When I headed back towards Salem, all was going well. I had not checked my average speed at this point, but could tell from the total elapsed time, that all was going well. I got back to the spot where I dropped my gel bottle and could see it ( I picked it up after the race) and passed two more riders. Heading down the big hill I saw some of the runners heading out on the bike path. That meant there were about 1 mile into the 3 mile run. As I went up the hill, I saw KURT, our captain from TEAM COMP heading out on the run. He was doing 2/3 of a relay with Jen doing the bike portion.

There were lots of people around the transition now as I headed to the dismount zone. Got off the bike quickly and actually ran it in. My time for the bike portion was 50:50 which was much faster than last year's time of 54:29. Again, a few more minutes gained. T2 went really well and it sure did not hurt hearing Andrea yelling my name, encouraging me to keep going. I grabbed a couple of gels, got my shoes on and got running. Marty from Fit Werx had also finished and was giving me a "boost" as well. I would later find out my T2 time was also 2:14, the same as T1. This was again a gain as last year I really mucked around taking 3:36 to get out on the run.

I looked at my watch as I headed out on the run and had a total time of 1:15:11. I would need to run the 3 miles in under 45 minutes in order to break the 2 hour mark. My time for the run last year was 49:01. Needless to say, that was my first 3 mile run, ever, so I know I had the experience to beat that time. With my back hurting quite a bit, I didn't know how much I could "run". I knew I could break the time if I was feeling 100%, so I got going. I saw Bill from team COMP and he handed me some water. It helped, since I had just dropped a bottle about 100 feet back.

I passed lots of runners who were coming in and we exchanged lots of high fives. I saw Jim Logan and of course Kurt coming back. I never passed another runner, but I never really expect to do that. I got further along where the down hill starts and did some more running. My bag and legs were still sore, but I kept doing the best I could. As time went on, my back started to loosen up a bit.

I neared that water stop by the bridge, took a cup of water and walked a bit, then started to run again. More runners were coming back and some who had passed me were appearing quicker and quicker heading back in, so I knew I was near the turn around. When I got there, and headed back in it said my run time was about 22 minutes. I still had about 22.5 minutes to go to make it under 2 hours, except most of this was UPHILL. I took a gel and started to run. The pain and discomfort soon disappeared. Again, thinking about walking the streets of NYC last summer with Owen on my back helped. The two of them have been such a strong force helping me along the way. I know I thank Sue all of the time, but I worry she thinks they are just words.

Without the two of them, I know I would not be hear doing this. I continued to run more and walk less. As I neared the first crest of the hill I glanced at my watch. I had about 3/4 of a mile to go and there was about a 10 minute window now. As I continued on, I could see the corner. I actually knew if I kept running, I would actually be able to reach my goal.

I turned the corner and headed towards the park. The nice thing is, it's mostly downhill to the finish. Lots of people were at the corner into then park and many were there cheering. I got one more emotional boost when I could hear the P.A. announcer calling my name and I could see, Sue and Owen. I looked at the clock and it read 1:59:20 as I neared the finish line. I actually started sprinting.

My time crossing the line was 1:59:28. I could not believe I was able to do it. Hugging both Sue and Owen at the finish was a great way to cap off a super race. One full year now into triathlon and I am loving it more than ever.

Marty from Fitwerx in Peabody was nice enough to shoot a video of me crossing the line.

Now, TIMBERMAN SPRINT in Gilford, NH on August 20th. More than 1000 competitors and I am in the 3rd swim wave out of 9. This is going to be a mixer for sure.


  1. We have the video in edit at SATV. I expect it will run next week.

  2. Another great race report! So glad for you that you beat your time from last year and met your goals. The pride always outlasts the pain!

  3. Well done John! Congratulations on the 1-year mark as a triathlete!