The Taking of Pinchot 1-2-3

Sport | June 20, 2010


“Lively up yourself, and don’t be no drag…”
— Bob Marley.

June 8, 2008

If there’s anyone who needed some lively-ing up in 2008, it was me. And I was about to get as lively as I’d gotten in the last five years. I was on the beach of Pinchot Park, about to take part in my very first triathlon. I don’t have good memories of this lake. We came here a lot when I was young and I never really cared for its dirty water, since at that age, it was important to me to be able to see the bottom.

Well, that and some juvenile delinquent from the halfway house next door to where we lived as kids once tried to drown me in it.

But really, that’s not germane to this discussion.

No, this about me getting my lazy ass off the couch and getting back into a shape that didn’t include “round” as one of its descriptors.

And I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I was down 30 lbs from my winter high of 219, had managed a couple legitimate rides on a bike in the 20-25 mile range, and was a graduate of a Total Immersion Freestyle workshop.

I had the looks, the skills, the swagga… what could stop me?

Apparently, 880 yards of open water swimming.

Well, not quite. I splashed and sputtered my way around the half-mile swim course in just under 35 minutes. I was the last one out of the water by about 10 minutes. A full minute of that was to placate some concerned kayakers who mistook my wheezing and gasping as cause for alarm, instead of what it really was — the accelerated breathing of a highly conditioned athlete.

And of course, since I had paid $500 to participate in the TI Workshop, I felt I owed it to the crowd to put on a swim clinic and demonstrate every stroke in my possession. And with a half-mile course, I knew I had to showcase the subtleties of the strokes as soon as possible, so that folks on the shore could experience the nuances and personal interpretations that I brought to each one.

My wife was unprepared for the variety of strokes at my command, but she made sure it wasn’t lost on the crowd by yelling to our daughter, “Look… somebody’s doing the backstroke already!”

My daughter, also ignorant of my awesome aquaticness, marveled out loud, “Ohmigod! It’s Dad!”

Their faces beamed so brightly with pride, I nearly mistook them for one of the bright red buoys and headed for shore. And anyone with any familiarity with swimming will tell you that the butterfly and breaststroke are two of the hardest strokes to master. In fact, it’s been said that breaststrokers are born, not made.

And I was a good Catholic boy, ergo… a natural breast stroker.

To help imprint my form on the crowd (for those filming and taking notes) I opted to swim roughly 700 yards of the race as breaststroke. I’m like that. Always helping the next person out.

I exited the lake to great cheers. Most from the families of the kayakers who could return home, but cheers are cheers.

I crossed the timing mat and made my way to the first transition area. I was the last one out of the water by several minutes, so I was the last one on the bike as well. I sat down to relish the first transition of my racing career, knowing there would never be another moment like it. I carefully stripped off my wetsuit and donned my biking gear.

Having checked and rechecked my accoutrements, I clambered atop my trusty steed and braced myself for battle.

And oy, what a battle.

As I headed out of the park, I was still demonstrating my yogic breathing — huge cleansing breaths that shook the ground and trees in my vicinity. The bike course was two loops of a 9-mile track with some pretty serious climbs, to hear my big brother tell it.

He had posted the current Maffett Family Record for the bike course at a very respectable 1:04 and change under rainy conditions. I was thinking I might get close on my first time out, but that was only for the first mile, where 190 lbs. and inertia were my best friends as I sailed downhill.

I’ve scaled mountains with a smaller slope than the first hill at Pinchot. As a sign of reverence, I get off my bike and bow to the mountain and walk respectfully up its side. The walk allows me to center my breathing to a calmer place.

In moments, I’m back on my bike and showing my stuff to some of my fellow competitors who opted not to bask in the luxuriousness of Lake Pinchot as long as I did. They are on their second lap of the bike and I have no choice but to show them my heels. As they pass.

Actually, it takes me about 2/3 of the first lap to catch up to some of the folks who beat me out of the water by a good 10 minutes. But they are riding mountain bikes and pedaling at a slower rate than me. To be honest, I’m going as hard as I can at this.

On the second lap, I walk the bike up the hill again. But I manage to catch more folks before the second lap is through, so by the time I get to the run, my most natural of the three events, I’m not the last one on the course.

I don’t realize it at the time, but I pulled an Achilles tendon during the run. A nasty stinging runs up my leg after a mile and I think it’s the special laces on my shoes slapping the back of my calves.

It’s not.

But eventually, I’m out of the trail on the final lap around the parking lot and heading for home. It’s rumored that the most dangerous place in the world is between me and a finish line. I am possessed at such times, and the only thing I’ve found to do is to let the demon run and gef out of its way.

So, 2 hours and 26 minutes or so after I started, the race was over. I was officially a triathlete. And while I would do longer races at faster paces, that first sprint left me aching for a week.

“Won’t you help to sing
this song of freedom?
It’s all I ever had.
Redemption Song.”
— Bob Marley

June 7, 2009

A lot had changed in the past year since last I stumbled upon Lake Pinchot’s golden shores. I had finished a sprint in September of 2008, another one in April of 2009 and had become a genuine, don’t mess with me, Ironman triathlete by completing the Florida Half Ironman three weeks earlier in May.

Even more important than that, I had learned how to swim. A year of doing TI drills had finally come together and I was swimming solidly for up to an hour at a time.

Yeah, this race was all about putting the smackdown on my big brother for all of his trash talking the previous year. The world was either a little smaller or I was a little faster.

All I know is, I had three goals for this race — break 20 minutes in the swim, an hour on the bike, and my brother’s overall time from the previous year.

Actually, I didn’t care about the overall time… I just wanted the bike. He had made a comment that he didn’t think either him or I could break an hour on that course at our age and I felt I had something to prove.

Apparently, what I had to prove was that he was right.

I had a good swim. I wanted to break 20 minutes, but ended up being 20 minutes on the nose. On the list of things I’ve been close to but didn’t get in life, this wasn’t a bad draw.

My transitions were still horrible, but I got on the bike a little quicker this time and headed out on the bike course, anxious to see how much better I had gotten in a year.

It turns out I had gotten better enough to not have to walk the first killer hill. I tried opening it up at the top of the hill, but it wasn’t happening to my satisfaction. I rode the course the day before and thought the adrenal pump of the race would help me transition through these sections better, but it didn’t.

I eventually jumped on it during one of the downhill sections, worked up a good pace on the flats, but I finished the first lap in just under 31 minutes. I was hoping a really strong second lap would help me shave enough time off to break an hour.

It didn’t. I finished the bike in just over an hour… 1:00:57.

I do manage a decent run leg, catching my future daughter-in-law on the final straightaway. (She didn’t read the race packet warnings on me and the finish line…) When it’s all over, my son has shattered the MFR book, posting some big times for the swim, bike and run.

I am redeemed courtesy of faster bike and run splits than my brother and a faster overall time, but still not quite the effort I was hoping for. But I chuckle that my recovery the next day is nothing like the pain I experienced a year before.

“One good thing about music, when it hits, you feel no pain.” — Bob Marley

June 6, 2010

Don’t ask me how, but I’ve picked up some speed over the winter. Serious speed for an old guy like me. At my first sprint at Hempfield in April 2010, I dropped 10 minutes off my time from the year before. I can’t realistically expect that will happen at a longer race like Pinchot, but I did well enough on the April bike to think I’ve got a legitimate chance to break an hour this year.

In fact, my son calculated the wattage on my bike time from Hempfield and says I should be able to do Pinchot in around 58:30. I’m more than a little skeptical of that. If I do 59 and anything, I’ll be happy.

If I thought I was a swimmer last year, I’m definitely a good swimmer this year — relatively speaking. I had participated in a Masters Swimming class over the winter and my form and pace had both improved dramatically. My goals for this year’s Pinchot race are a little higher. Break 18 minutes on the swim, an hour on the bike, keep my transitions under three minutes total and maybe, just maybe, run good enough to medal.

I probably earned a medal at the April race, but there were some issues with the timing chip, so they gave it to a guy based on the time his wife clocked him in. To be honest, I had improved so much in that race, and the age group was twice the normal separation, that at 49, I was pleased to even be 4th in the 40-49 group.

But I try not to think about that as I prepare for the swim start. I’m not hanging at the back of the pack this time, and I pay the price. I go out with the front-runners and there’s tons of jostling at the start. I get elbowed and grabbed at repeatedly until everyone spreads out. I’m surprised to still be able to see the lead swimmers at the first buoy. Usually, they’ve all but lapped me by then.

I stay steady but strong through the swim, but when I exit the water, I misread my Garmin and think I’ve missed my time of 18 minutes. My watch reads 18:20 and I still have a long run up the beach to the timing mat.

Turns out I did miss my time. I was out of the water at 14:30, crossing the mat at 15:30.

I nail my swim transition for the first time ever, and I’m on my bike and across the second timing mat in less than two minutes.

From there, it’s a doubt-filled pukefest as I race around the first lap, convinced I’m desperately behind schedule and even more off my pace than the year before. That illusion is shattered when I glance at my watch after the first lap. Instead of 31 minutes, I’m at 28 and change… and I know I can do the next lap in at least 30 minutes.

The monster hill is brutal the second time around, more so than I remember it being the first time. But I force myself to open it up at the top. I’m all about high rpm’s this year and I focus on that during the second lap. As a result, I watch my average speed for different sections climb 2-3 mph faster than the year before.

When I make the turn into the park to finish my second lap, my watch is at 54 minutes and change. Take that, big bro! Tell me neither one of us could break an hour on this course, will ya?

As near as I can figure out, I finish the bike around 56:50. I waste no time transitioning to the run. I don’t break a minute on the transition, but I’m close enough to still break 3 for the combined transition times.

The run is lackluster to the extreme. I never really caught my breath during the ride, and I’ve been redlined since the final turn of the swim. It’s all I can do to maintain a good stride, let alone work any sections of the course.

To make matters worse, an old buddy from high school, Bryan Wert, is hanging off my right shoulder as we make the turn into the final lap around the parking lot. Bryan didn’t need to read the warnings — he knows firsthand how good my kick can be. But I figure he’s been sandbagging me the whole run, waiting until the end to make his move.

He wasn’t… he didn’t… so I did.

I picked it up the final quarter mile, but even then I was sure my run time from the previous year was better. I just didn’t have any one section of that trail run where I felt like I attacked anything. In reality, I was barely hanging on.

I crossed the line in 1:36:49. I hadn’t seen anyone in my age group (AG) pass me. That finishing time would have given me third place the year before, so I figured I had a good chance to medal. It was now just a question of whether or not anyone in my AG got out of the water ahead of me and stayed ahead of me for the rest of the race.

No one did. It turns out I had just notched my first AG win. I did it in G-style too… notching MFR bike and run splits for the course, nearly 20 seconds and 10 seconds faster respectively for the two events. (Those splits will be shattered if my son ever decides to do the race again, but for now, I’ll enjoy them while I can.)

Hit me with music, Bru-tah-lize me with music.” – Bob Marley.


Bob Marley and I go way back, back to my 21st birthday when I got a copy of “Bob Marley Live” and first heard the best song line ever written. Bob has been brutalizing me with music almost every Friday since… but I chose him because when he got the right of a thing, he got it right all the way through. And he kept that positive vibration going after he was shot at and after he was given six months to live. He never gave up hope.

I know another guy who couldn’t ever see a day where his pukefest of an effort would get him on the podium again. He knew he had undergone a profound physical change, one that he had to accept. He was older and doomed to die an also-ran’s life. I know this because the guy wrote his brother about it after his second triathlon, saying these prophetic words.

“I’ve come to accept the fact that racing — as you and I know it — is a thing of the past.” — George T. Maffett Jr.

Talk about clueless…


1. Reiverat on June 20, 2010

well done and welcome aboard, oh clueless one. ;)

2. pearhater on June 21, 2010

Great read!

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