Monday, September 24, 2012

Pumpkinman 1/2 Iron Triathlon

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

Harriet Tubman

Not enough races live up to all the hype you here.  With social media, it sometimes only takes a small circle of people to falsely boost up the ratings of a race.  You hear it's the BEST one for scenery, race support, swag, etc, and yet it sometimes just does not deliver.  Well,  I was finally able to take part in the Pumpkinman Triathlon Festival up in Berwick, ME.  Kat Donatello and her husband Jeff put an amazing event.  The "Festival" consists of a sprint race on the Saturday and then the 1/2 Iron race on the Sunday.  They were the first to bring a 1/2 Iron distance race to Maine 5 years ago.  It did not disappoint!  Hands down, the BEST VOLUNTEERS of any race I have ever done.  I know it's only been 20 races now over 4 years, but no other race touches this one for the PEOPLE involved.

 I had decided to head up there early Saturday morning so I could help out at the sprint race.  I wanted to see this TREMENDOUS hill they all talk about that you take to get to transition from the swim.  It's actually such a big hill, they award a prize to the athlete who can get up the hill the fastest.  I arrived at about 4:45AM and was asked by Tracy (volunteer coordinator) to help with parking and then move my way up to transition. It took a long time for the sun to come up and once it did I was able to take a look at this massive hill, and it was no exaggeration.

Meeting up with Kosmo (Dave) and Nancy
One HUGE bonus for me to was to finally get a chance to meet Bob and Mary-Ann Blais.  The are the parents of Jon Blais, the "BLAZEMAN WARRIOR POET".  Jon acquired ALS in 2005 and prior to that had been a teacher and triathlete.  He refused  to simply die from this terrible disease.  In 2005 he entered and completed the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.  He succumbed to the disease in 2007 but his memory lives on today in 100's of Blazeman Warriors who compete in triathlons to raise money for ALS research, all the while rolling across the finish line to bring awareness to this disease and celebrate his life.  I watched this VIDEO  after I had started competing in triathlons in 2009.  It not take too long before I contacted Bob and Mary-Ann Blais in order to explain how connected I felt to Jon even though we had never met.  We immediately struck up a friendship and this would be our first chance to meet.  I saw them prior to the start of the sprint and we had a chance for a nice long chat.  They of course were as gracious and giving as I had expected.  The Blazeman Foundation can be found HERE for anyone interested in becoming involved in a very worthwhile cause.

Once the race started I spent my time in transition helping to direct athletes in and out.  I loved the ambiance of the race and was really enjoying cheering everyone on.  I was able to see a number of great friends race, for example; Kyle Burnell, Vinny and Marty Miserandino, Brendan Reen, Nancy Thompson, and David Boyle.

I stayed for most of the race, pretty much until the last bike was in.  I made sure to check in with friends and then made my way of site to find some lunch and then check into the my hotel.  I was going to find a local place to eat and then I remembered that there is a TIM HORTON'S in Biddeford, ME.  I checked the GPS and it was only about 25 minutes away.  ROAD TRIP!!!!  Nothing beats a taste of home when you are far way from it.   A nice light lunch and then I made my way to Sanford, ME, to the Super 8 Hotel I booked.  The hotel was about 20 minutes away from the race site.  It was SO CLEAN and QUIET.  For under $80 it was a pretty good deal.

I stayed for most of the race, pretty much until the last bike was in.  I made sure to check in with friends and then made my way of site to find some lunch and then check into the my hotel.  I was going to find a local place to eat and then I remembered that there is a TIM HORTON'S in Biddeford, ME.  I checked the GPS and it was only about 25 minutes away.  ROAD TRIP!!!!  Nothing beats a taste of home when you are far way from it.   A nice light lunch and then I made my way to Sanford, ME, to the Super 8 Hotel I booked.  The hotel was about 20 minutes away from the race site.  It was SO CLEAN and QUIET.  For under $80 it was a pretty good deal.

Meeting up with Mary-Ann and Bob Blais
I returned to the race site for package pick-up and the hopes of a short swim, bike and run.  The chance to swim did not happen as there was a wedding on site and they understandably didn't want us ruining the pictures running around in wet suits.  I did have a short ride after meeting up again with the Blaises.  We chatted a lot more about Jon and about my day tomorrow.  I explained to them I expected to finish between 8 to 8.5 hours.  My previous 1/2 Ironman time was 8:59, but I was convinced I had done a lot more work in preparation, especially running off the bike, otherwise known as a BRICK workout.
On the way back to my hotel I stopped at a local Italian take-out place and then returned to my room to eat and pack for the morning.

I set the alarm for 4AM and after packing layed on the bed expecting to lay awake for a while but for some reason I was real calm and relaxed.  I drifted off to sleep around 10pm and had a very good night's sleep, which again is not common prior to a race.  This might have something to do with a request I had made of friends prior to the race.  I asked for some prayer help prior to this race.  All I simply requested was that people ask God to keep me safe.  Competing for more than 8 hours non-stop is not an easy task.  If I was confident I was in His hands I could concentrate in racing.

I woke up at 4AM and quickly checked the weather.  We had had some severe rain late in the night but it looked like the rain had stopped.  The sky was overcast, but it looked like there would be no rain for the race.  I had my protein smoothie, banana, yogurt, and some PB&J sandwiches.  I packed up the car with my gear and bike and made my way to the race site.

Parking at the site was not a problem.  I got up near transition, got body-marked and then racked my bike.  It was still a while before sunrise so I simply walked around a bit prior to laying out my gear.  Once it got lighter out, I set up my area and then chatted a bit more with other athletes.  The neatest thing happened when an athlete approached me to ask, "Are you the Titan!".  Well, that just made my day.  I am now one month into an agreement with Para Promotions.  They are a company that is establishing themselves to represent elite level para-triathletes.  The company president, Jan Ditchfield is a triathlete herself who has worked numerous races guiding visually impaired triathletes.  She lives in Ottawa, ON and I first met her last summer when I raced in Peterborough, ON.  We raced together again at the New York City Triathlon and she contacted me after the race about forming this partnership.  They have set-up both a facebook Fanpage and also a webpage.  This athlete said he was a friend of Carolyn Gaynor (we raced together in NYC as well) and had seen her tweeting about the fan page.  VERY COOL!!

Prior to the race there was a very moving ceremony where some of Jon Blais's ashes were scattered in the lake. Just like the previous night, a sense of relaxed calm came over me as I thought about Jon and then about the day I was about to have.  I was determined to smile more and take in the entire day.  I was SO READY to have an amazing race.

A moment of silence prior to the race in memory of Jon "Blazeman" Blais (by D. Laskey)

Me and Jules Gorman.  Peace! (photo by D. Laskey)

I was in the 2nd wave which went off a minute after the pros left.  The course is a two course totally a distance of 1.2 miles.  It was a counter-clockwise course which I prefer since I breathe to my left side.  Off we went, and the first lap went just fine.  I got clobbered a bit prior to the first buoy when the wave behind us caught up to me.  A couple of swimmers got close, but no big deal.  Sighting the buoys went well and managed to keep pretty close to a straight line cornering each buoy as you are supposed to.  I finished the first loop in 30 minutes and the second in 29 minutes, for a total of 59 minutes on the swim.  Out of the water I came, and now in front of was THE HILL!!!  I took off my cap and goggles and simply kept a good pace getting up the hill.  Wet-suit top off as I entered transition and started to run to my bike.

As I quickly got ready for the ride, transition went pretty well.  I got out and got on the bike quickly.  I thought it was a bit too cloudy to wear my sunglasses so I kept them in my helmet.  The first few miles of the bike were VERY ROUGH but after a couple of miles, things started to smooth out somewhat.  The ride consisted of a loop that was done twice with 2 different bottle exchanges.  What that meant is we essentially had 4 chances to change bottles on a 56 mile course.  

Taking a corner. (photo by D. Connolly)
Since I cannot reach my bottle cage without getting off of my bike, this was terrific.  I exchanged 3 times out of 4 getting water once and Gatorade twice.  Except for the initial and final couple of miles the course was very smooth with very few concerns or technical corners.  Where the turns were, they had ample marshals and police out to help.  

On one particular hairpin turn there was plenty of warning to slow down and watch out!  A HUGE bonus on the ride was the sight of good friend of mine from high school days named Dianne.  Here and her partner live in Maine, very close to the race sight.  She came to cheer me on and take some pics.  I actually saw her at least 3 different times on the bike and the once on the run.

Cruising! (Photo by Dianne Connolly)
I was very happy to make it into T2 and realize I was not the last bike in.  I took my time getting ready for the run, taking a puff of my inhaler and 2 Advil with some gel and watered-down Gatorade.  Here’s where I was to find out if all of my BRICK training was worth it.  Well, unlike the Patriot Triathlon last year, I was able to start running and keep running.    Just as I left transition, I heard a familiar voice call out “DAD!” and then one yelling, “JOHN”.  Sue and Owen made it there in time to see me out on the run.  I turned around and waved but had to keep running !!!
So much "easier" this time.  (by D. Connolly)

My pace stayed pretty consistent for the entire 13.1 miles.  This course was an out-and back that we had to do twice, so except for my final turn-around, I saw lots of people and we cheered each other on.  The best part of this was the ability to see the best feature of the PUMPKINMAN, and that’s the volunteers.  We passed most of the aid stations 4 times, since this was a double out and back.  They cheered just as loudly each time, and in fact, got louder!   There was a young family at the top of the big hill giving out cold, wet sponges.  The kids were amazing as they were almost fighting over who could whom the sponges.  The asked me the second time I came by what my name was.  The next two times going by, I could here them yelling, “JOHN…… you’re doing GREAT.”  I made the mom chuckle, when she yelled each time, “YOU ROCK THE HOUSE!”, to which I replied, “I DON’T WANT TO ROB YOUR HOUSE!”.  At the turn-around they had an OASIS set up with music, food, water, sponges, etc.  It was great to see them and get a real boost.  On my second time up, when I realized I was the last runner, as I neared the top, Jeff (Kat’s husband) drove up to tell me, they were keeping the course open for me and everyone was waiting at the OASIS to cheer me on and of course also at the FINISH line.  I got up there and said thanks again and again, and then started the final run down the hill.

A lot of time to be alone between the groups of great volunteers.
(by D. Connolly)

As I passed the “sponge” family, I of course thanked them as well, and kept going.  It was a real surprise as I neared the last water stop to see a number of the volunteers from the run course had come down to cheer me in to the finish.  I had done the math a while back and realized I had not made the 8:00:00 cut-off or even the 8:15:00 mark, but I had a real chance of making it in under 8:30:00.  The final hill was kind of deceptive and I ended up walking most of it.  

Entering the finish chute.  (by D. Connolly)
I entered the grounds and ran towards the finish chute.  As I entered the chute I had to be careful as it was a steep downhill on grass.  If I was not careful I might end up falling and rolling down.  I could heard Andy Schachat announcing my name and in fact he was even playing some of John Williams’s Olympic music to boot.   I had already made up my mind to roll across the line in honor of Jon Blais, but that was only cemented when I saw both Bob and Mary-Ann Blais waiting at the finish line along with Sue and Owen and then Kat and Kyle holding up the finishing line tape.

Rolling for the Blazeman. (by M. Blais)
All of what I’m doing now is centering on preparing for my first full marathon.  On November 4th I travel to NYC to compete in the ING New York City Marathon.  That is 26.2 miles in the city that never sleeps.  Again, when I started all of this 3 years ago, I would have never imagined a full marathon would be in my future.

I ended up finishing in 8:30:02.  I was SO HAPPY with this time.  I took almost 30 minutes off my time from Patriot on what I feel was a harder course.  My run time of 3:22 was only 16 minutes slower than my last stand-alone ½ marathon.  I know I can’t complain about that.  I’ve had doubts but really think a 140.6 is not out of the question.

With the Blais family, Sue, and Owen (K. Donatello)


  1. Wow! What a terrific account. And WOW!!! What a great athlete!!

    Thanks for letting me swim, ride, and run with you at the Pumpkinman Half (albeit from the comfort of my chair, via my laptop. :)

    Go-ooooo, John!

    Hope to see you at a race soon.

  2. nice job John!! Congrats on the PR!

  3. Nice! That's a great story and I'm so stoked that I raced with you that day. I will have a good thought for you on 11/4, you're gonna Kill it! Thanks for sharing John.

  4. Hello John,
    Just a quick message to ask if you would be interested in a ‘mutual’ following on twitter. I am currently following you now and am awaiting for your follow-back. (#FYI I do RT’s ‘anytime’ for all #Triathletes #Cyclists #UltraRunners #Marathoners #FitnessProfessionals who follow me on Twitter and have something important they want mentioned…)

    All the very best for the rest of 2012 and beyond John. Look forward to hearing from you…


  5. You are awesome John! Best wishes for NYC---you are going to absolutely love it. Look forward to the gospel music at the church in Harlem--I tell you the road was absolutely pulsating--my favorite part. Have a great time! Elizabeth