Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Patroit 1/2 Iron Distance Triathlon Race Report

Run to a pole, walk to a pole, run to a pole......more about that later.

Last year I completed the FIRM MAN 1/2 Iron Aquabike down in Narraghansett in September. Prior to that race I had not completed a 1/2 marathon. I then completed a 1/2 marathon in Salem a week later and then completed another one last month in Newton. With the training plan I started at the beginning of the year and some tweaking from Kurt, our team captain, I was confident I would be ready for this race on June 18th.

I competed in the Minuteman Sprint at the same race site last year. This would help with my familiarity with the location. I found out as a paratriathlete I would be in the first wave for the 1/2 with the Elites/Pros. It would make for a small crowd, and would hopefully get me out so when the following waves came by I would not get banged around too much.

Sue and Owen had plans to come down to the race site after Owen's swim lesson in the morning so my choices were to drive down as usual or get a ride with another athlete. Not wanting to deal with two cars I opted to find a ride. I was also worried about driving myself home after competing in a race that would end up taking me more than 8 hours to complete. I emailed around and Tim Clarke (Team Comp teammate) graciously offered to drive me down. I would have preferred to leave a little earlier, but grateful for the ride from Tim, he planned to pick me up outside of our place at 4AM.   I was up at 3AM to get packed up, prepare my nutrition for the ride down and do my usually sharpie writing (S.O.T.H and PINGS) on my arms for encouragement.  I also was able to bring Katie Lynch's sock again (read my previous race report for background) and it would later become SO important to me on the run.

Tim arrived and we hooked up my bike and we were off down to Freetown. The ride was quick and uneventful and we arrived down at the race site a little after 5:30AM. We parked and wandered over to pick up our race packets.

To my surprise, I looked up my race number and I was given #1. We went back to the car to get our gear and bikes and then lined up for body marking before getting into transition,
In transition taken by Andrea B. (Comp teammate)

I usually like to be at the race site as close to 5AM as possible, so this time I would not have much time to mentally prepare. Maybe it ended up being a good thing, since this was going to certainly be the biggest physical challenge I have ever taken upon doing. I realized as I started to unpack, that I had forgotten 3 crucial items. I forget to bring my flat sandwiches (PB and J) for the bike, GATORADE, and sunscreen. I did remember to bring a couple of CLIF bars, so I made to sure to have those ready to stuff in the back of my shirt during T1.

After meeting up with most of my Team Comprehensive teammates prior to the start of the race, I made sure my bike and gear were ready and then made my way down the start of the swim.  I have always tried to swim a bit prior to the start, but did not have time this year.  I would have to make due with simply starting right away.  At this point, the start of the race was delayed about 15 minutes.  When I got to the starting area I ate my one gel pack and then readied myself for the start.  I was chatting with one of the elite males who told me this race would be his first ever open water swim.  How the heck was he an elite?

Anyway, all the Minuteman sprint racers were in the water and we were up next.  When we were asked to step across the timing pad, I walked straight up and over and then into the water.  At 70 degrees, the water felt fine once I got in.  They counted down from 30 seconds and we were off!  I put myself at the back of the pack and got my groove going pretty good.  I kept my line straight along the buoys for a while and then got passed by the next wave about 6 or 8 minutes into the swim.  When I looked up next I realized I was heading a bit to the right and had to swim left to get back in line.  I reached the left turn buoy about 25 minutes into the swim.  The rest of the swim went fine as I kept line pretty well up to the next left turn and then on into the finish.  I got passed by LOTS of swimmers but never really freaked out at all even when people swam over top of me.  Each time it happened, I simply put my hands over my face to make sure my goggles didn't get kicked off.  It really was no big deal.

As I neared the shore I could hear the crowd and I kept going pretty strong right up the shore.  I got out of the water at a time of 1:02:03 (500 out of 506) and got to my bike as quickly as I could.  T1 went so-so in a time of 3:54.  I wanted to make sure I had all I needed for the 56 mile ride.  

The bike leg went quite well with no real problems.  It was two times around a 29 mile circuit.  That works out to 58 miles (instead of 56) for the ride.  There were two bottle exchanges on each leg.  I was sure to grab water 3 times and HEED once.  I averaged about 15.4 mph for the first lap and then 14.9 mph for the total trip.  As I came around to finish the first lap there were lots of Comp people cheering on the side of the road.  I remember seeing and hearing Dan and Andrea for sure.  I knew Andrea was going to call Sue and give her an update, so it was a bit of boost as I started the 2nd leg. 

Taken by Deb Lewis

My target speed was 14.5 mph for the entire leg, so things worked out well as far as I was concerned.  I got passed by lots of riders but managed to pass a few as well.  A number of Comp teammates passed me (Rich, Stu, and Denise) and we yelled encouragement to each other.  

Nearing the end of the 2nd lap I had my one moment of frustration on the bike, but later that day I was ablt  to laugh about it.  A rider had passed me with about 2 miles to go and I remembering saying to her, "And now all we have to do is run 13 miles." To which she responded, "Not me, I'm doing the Aquabike".  The aquabike is only the swim and bike portions of the race.  For a moment, I wanted to say "**** you !", but of course I took a second and realized, you do what you can do.  All the "props" to her for doing "her" race as I have done two aquabikes in the past.

The marshals and police really seemed to have things in control as I never had problems at any of the turns or intersections.  Coming into T2 there were more Comp people around including those who had finished the Minuteman Sprint.  Just as I pulled in, I saw Sue and Owen who had made it down by now.  I was aiming for a time of about 4h 10 min and as I looked at my watch and realized I had done it in 3:56:47 (488 out of 506), I was feeling pretty good about the ride.  Had I gone too fast? 

I had no idea what I would feel like getting off the bike and then trying to run.  Up to now, the hardest BRICK I had done was a 35 mile ride with a 7 mile run.   

As soon as I dismounted, I could feel the stiffness in my legs.  I got to the rack and placed my bike on it and then proceeded to get ready to "run" 13.1 miles.  I drank a lot of water, put on my running shoes and visor and started to head out of T2.  My time for transition was 4:32, which was a little slower than I would have liked, but not terrible.

I started to jog lightly towards the road when I saw Sue and Owen waiting for me.  Owen gave me a "high -5" and then a much needed hug.  Andrea was there with some encouragement as well.  She asked if she could jog with me a bit and I (probably not in a nice voice) said I needed to do this myself.  The more I think about it, the more I feel it was embarrassment that at this point as I did not feel like I was going to able to run at all.

Leaving T2 (by Andrea B.)
The next 4-5 miles was the toughest thing to date I have done physically.  I wanted to QUIT and pack it in.  Doing the math in my head I knew if I did not start running, I would not make the 4pm (4:15 really, since the race had started late).  I tried to run, but could not seem to do it.  There were aid stations set up almost every mile and reaching the first one, I checked my time to see it was close to 20 minutes.  I took some water, oranges and banana and carried on.  At this rate it would take me almost 4.5 hours to complete the 13.1 miles.  Since it was now about 12:40 or so,  I would cross the line at about 4:50 or so.  Well after the cut-off time.  I immediately thought about Chaz Fairbrother, one of my Comp teammates.  He has attempted IMLP twice and both times did not make the 12 midnight cut-off, but both times he did cross the line!  Thanks Chaz!  You helped me KEEP GOING!  Each of the next two miles were about the same at 18 to 20 minutes each time.  The toughest mile, was when I was coming up to the next marker, thinking it was mile 5 and it was only 4.  How could I keep going? 
Then I reached down and touched Katie's sock.  Katie was an LP who died far too young.  I never met her but connected with her parents through the 1/2 marathon I did last month.  Her mom gave me a magenta sock to carry in that race and I sure needed it again today.  I pulled on that sock and Katie told me "You can keep going".  I had a bit of a muscle strain in my right calf that had surfaced the last week of training during a short morning run.  I had done my best with ice and stretching and was hoping it would not re-surface.  As soon as it started up again I knew if I did not deal with it, my run could be over.  I pulled on the sock again and thought of a lot of inspirational people.  Dick and Rick Hoyt as well as Jon Blais (ALS Blazeman Warrior) were there with me as well.  I could hear them telling me "ONE MORE STEP".  At the top of every hill (not really very many of them) I was able to see Sue and Owen cheering me on. 
After mile 5, I realized I would not make the cut-off time.  I was dealing with the heat OK, it was just the pain that was a challenge.  What would be better?  Stopping and trying another time or to keep going.  I promised my mother, I would make sure that if God was there with me telling me to stop, I would listen. So I asked Him, "what do I do?"  Immediately an image came to me of a man doing the Kona Ironman World Championships.  He was on camera late into the night and the camera man asked, "how are you doing this?"  His answer was simple.  He was following the electrical poles and was alternatiing.  Walk to one, then run to the next, then walk, them run.  That was it.  So I started to do that.  Walk, then run, then walk, then run.  It started to work.  I got to the next aid station and my time was down to around 15 min per mile.  I completed the rest of the race that way.  I tried to make sure I was running in the shade so I did cross the road back and forth a number of times to try and stay cool.
Each aid station was SO helpful.  The volunteers were great.  Their words of encouragement helped a lot along with the ice bag one man held on my shoulders and head while I consumed some nutrition at one water stop.  Thanks also to the athlete who suggested I put ice down my singlet to keep my core cool.  That worked SO WELL.  Around mile 8 I think, I was passed by my dear friend Jim Logan.  We had a great chat and he continued on his way.  Around mile 10 or so, a police cruiser pulled up and the officer asked if I was OK.  I gave him the thumbs up and said all was great!
As I reached the last manned aid station, the enthusiasm of the volunteers still remained strong.  They were all so happy to help.  It was now after 4pm, so the last 2 aid stations had water to drink, but no one was there.  I had to get back to Cathedral Camp all alone.  Then I saw Mark, the RD, pulling up and thought he was going to tell me the race had ended.  He rolled down the window and cheered me on!  I asked if the finish line was still open and he said, "YES! And there's lots of people waiting for you."
Here I was now with about 1-1.5 miles to go.  I tried to continue with my pattern of walking then running and I saw the volunteers near the entrance to the finish chute.  They were actually cheering!!  I started to run and then I looked at my watch and it read about 8:56.  I had to run pretty hard if I was to make it over the line prior to the 9 hour mark.  Then I heard someone yell from the finish line, "He's coming"  Then the cowbells!  I was going to do this.  I was about to finish my FIRST 70.3 race.  I turned the last corner of the path and could see the finish arch.  There were Sue and Owen waiting for me.  And what a surprise as well, to see SO MANY Team Comp still there to cheer me on!  What a TEAM!!

"Almost there" by Andrea B. 
I crossed the line with a run time of 3:51:59 (484 out of 506) giving me a total time of 8:59:12.  I was able to earn 2nd place in the Male Paratriathlete division.  There were 3 of us racing but only 2 finished.  Looking at the results, I finished ahead of 4 other competitors and there were 20 people listed as possible DNFers.
Again, I could have packed it in knowing I might not earn an official time, but I convinced myself that I entered the race knowing that might very well happen.  I owed it to both Sue and Owen to FINISH the race.  Both of them sacrificed a lot in allowing me the time to train and prepare.  I could not let them down.  I also kept saying to myself, this race was for all of us who at some time in our lives were told by someone else that we were not physically able to do something.  I know I can do this again and I know I can finish under a time of 8:30.  If I can do that, then maybe a 140.6 race is not out of the question.  I am totally fine with that race possibly never happening.  But I'll say this now, if you want to make sure I someday do a 140.6, then come up to me and tell me I can't physically handle a race that long.   


  1. What a great report. You're mental tenacity is inspiring! Way to dig deep and keep going! :)

  2. way to go! I enjoyed your race report and appreciate you sharing it w/ everyone. your toughness made me think of the new tim tebow commercial where he says he appreciates those who told him he would never do the things he's done.

  3. This is a great race report. Congratulations on finishing and posting an official time. I can't imagine running a 1/2 marathon, let alone doing it after that swim and bike. I look forward to future reports.

  4. Great summary of your race experience! It really makes me want to take the tri plunge--it goes to show that it is all about the challenge of the race and rising to meet it.

  5. Love your determination and your 'tell me I can't and I will' attitude. Amazing. I hope you recover up and hit it again soon; be it a half IM or a FULL! Congrats John. ~Kelly

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. This was possibly the best and most inspirational race report I have ever read. I look forward to more - especially the one after you finish 140.6!