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.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ALS Warrior Poet Jon Blais (1971-2007)

This poem says it all for me.

Live more than your neighbors. Unleash yourself upon the world and go places.
Go now. Giggle, no, Laugh. No...stay out past dark
And bark at the moon like the wild dog that you are.
Understand that this is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. Your life.
Face your fears and live your dreams. Take it all in.
Yes, every chance you get. Come close.
And by all means, whatever you do, get it on film.

If you need any more examples of inner strength and fortitude, please watch this video.

Jon Blais finishing the 2005 Ironman in Kona.

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.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Firecracker 4 Miler - Race Report

I didn't know anything about this race until Chris at work mentioned it to me on Thursday. This run is an annual event done each year on the 4th and this year the money was going to support the "Tom Smith Fight to Cure Paralysis". Tom was a student here at Pingree who I had the pleasure to teach in his sophomore year. To say that Tom does things at full speed is an understatement. He was the tragic victim of two different accidents that both left him paralyzed. Both accidents occurred while Tom was playing hockey. He recovered from the first accident, was cleared to play hockey, and was paralyzed a second time.

To read more about his courageous quest feel free to check out his site below.

I had been planning a swim in Stiles Pond as it has become my usual training routine on Sunday mornings, but this race seemed like the best thing to do as I enter my taper week in preparation for the "Old Colony" Olympic Triathlon this Sunday.

My race prep is starting to become routine and as such, it helps calm the nerves. Lots of fluids up to an hour before the race along with my usual home-made whey-fruit smoothie and a piece of toast and peanut butter. Giving that hour with no liquids helps my bladder prepare with trips (always 3) to the restroom before the race.

In my usual fashion, I arrived quite early, more than an hour before the race. With no transition area to set-up, I merely had to register and then get ready. I saw two very familiar faces right away. Both Stu Greeley from Team Comp and Jim Logan from Salem were there as well. It helps to chat a bit before a race to help calm the nerves.

Sam and Stan were also there to cheer on Jackie. The boys told me where they would be during the race, so it made it real nice to know I would have some cheering to look forward to as I neared the finish line.

I got a chance to talk with Tom Smith and his mom prior to the race. I had heard from other Pingree people that they would be there, but it looked like I was the only one. I wasn't really doing it for Pingree, but it would have been nice if more people were there from the school. There wasn't much publicity about it, as I stated, I only heard from Chris in passing on Thursday. If he had not said anything, I am sure I would have missed it.

Well the race itself went very well. I started near the back on the right side and off we went. I was SO happy they had a person at every mile marker yelling out times. I had my own watch, but having someone there made a big difference. There was only one water stop, well before the half way point so I am was so glad I brought my own waist belt as well.

I made great time finishing the race in 56:22. The time for me was huge because it put me in UNDER 15 min miles, at a pace of 14:05. That included my fastest mile in mile 4 which included the big hill that leads into Vinnin Square up 1A.

It probably helped having Stan, Sam, and Jackie there to cheer me on. Just as I crested the hill I could see them waving and hear Sam yelling. It really kept me strong until the end.

When I was around mile 2 I recalled something I heard watching a Ironman prep video. The presenters were saying to try and always stay within your own pace and not try and catch people too early in a race. The result if you do try and catch others, is often they pass you at the end when you have nothing left.

Well I followed that regarding two women who I kept passing and they kept passing me. I stopped chasing them and let them go, and by the end of the race, I was able to pass them and hold them off at the finish.

Little victories, that's what it's all about. And more often than not, those victories don't involve other people, just the goals you set for yourself.

The 4 mile race was a great prep for the upcoming tri I had on July 11th. It would be my first attempt at an Olympic distance race with a 1 mile swim, 24 mile bike, and 6.2 mile run. I have never ran that distance, let alone do it after a swim and bike.