I realized later in the day that it was almost three years to the day that I last won my age group in a triathlon. Three years ago, I thought I was perhaps in the best shape of my life. I had just had a great race at the Rev3 Poconos Olympic distance. The plan was to step up and absolutely crush a 70.3 the next year before taking on the full Ironman after that. I had no idea that I would actually end up in the hospital instead with a tumor, a chronic disease, and the mandate to not do much of anything for six months.
It was a long and winding road back (hello, arthritis), but last weekend I finally felt like the old 2015 version of me as all the preparation came together in a great race and I once again climbed up on the top step. I have no plans to do a half or full iron anymore, that shipped sailed with the cartilage in my knee, but it felt really good crossing that finish line knowing I put everything I had into the race.
But let’s back up and start at the beginning.
The Dover-Sherborn Boosters triathlon is a local sprint (.25 mile swim, 14.3 mile bike, 3.4 mile run) triathlon that supports the local town’s high school student-athletes. Now in its 14th year, it’s not sanctioned, but it’s well-run and well-supported and a great way to cap off the triathlon season. I’ve done this race once before in 2016 and while I didn’t have my best day, that was on me, not the race or the volunteers. I didn’t hesitate to sign up again. It also has the best post-race spread I’ve seen among similar events. Breakfast pizza! Ice cream! Do I need to say more?
The one quirk to this race is that it’s a two-stage race. The swim and T1 is separate from T2 and the finish. There are plenty of volunteers and shuttle buses, but you do need to leave a little extra time to drop off your bike, then drive back and park at T2, set up your run stuff and then jump back on a shuttle bus to get back to T1.
I picked up my packet and t-shirt the day before to give me as much time to sleep as possible. Transition opened at 5:45 am, but I didn’t drop off my bike until closer to 6:30 (race start was 8) and still had plenty of time to get back to T1 and bus it back. A good number of people were simply parking at T1, setting up T2, and then riding the 3 miles over to T1. It might have been a good warm-up, but I wanted to save all my bike legs (my weakest leg) for the race.
The previous weekend, I had practiced the bike and run course after doing a short run with the running group in the morning and felt really good on both legs. I think the extended warm-up really helped, so after checking on my bike and getting my chip and body markings (oddly, they didn’t mark your age, I think someone gave the volunteers the wrong info), I went off for a solid 20 minute warm-up jog.
Appropriately sweaty, I did one last check of my T1 set-up and then walked down to the beach for the swim.
The swim is in a fresh water pond and by September the water is usually pretty warm. I never heard an official temperature, but it had to be around 70 degrees. With the sun also coming out and the humidity, there were not too many people wearing wet suits. I opted just for the tri kit.
One quirk worth mentioning, there was no provided swim cap in the packet. Bring your own or go lid-less.
It was a rolling, wave-based start with 2 people going off every 5 seconds or so. On one hand, I like these lower-stress starts. On the other hand, it does make trying to “race” a little more difficult as you never really know who started when.
I’ve aged up into the 40+ category so I had the new experience of having to wait for half the field to get into the water first. This resulted in quite a bit of traffic in the water. I’m not the fastest swimmer, but I’m not slow either, so I spent much of the 500 yards dodging and weaving feet.
Given that I really haven’t swam that much this summer, I was very happy with my overall pace of 1:27/100 for the 500-ish yards I actually ended up swimming. First half the swim was a little quicker and I had to slow around the last buoy, but I’ll take that time.
Swim: 7:31 63rd/268, 7/20 AG
When I did this event 2 years ago, they lined the gravel path from the beach to the parking lot for T1 with mats. That made it a bit easier on the feet and less debris to wipe off prior to getting on the bike. This year, for some reason, they got rid of the mats. It was not a pleasant (or short – it’s probably at least 200 yards) jog.
Typically in sprints, I go without socks for the bike and run, but for some reason, this time I decided to take some time in T1, really wipe my feet and put on socks. Probably cost me 30 seconds. Not sure if it helped or not. No blisters or chafing, so maybe it was worth it?
This is sprint triathlon, but it’s not easy. Both the bike and the run course incorporate a lot of rolling hills. There is a rarely a flat section to really re-group, you are either going up or down. Living nearby, I’ve ridden many sections of the course throughout the summer, so I knew what to expect. The roads are very well maintained. You rarely have to dodge potholes, most of it is smooth, newer macadam, and none of it is chip seal.
I was trying to balance pushing my bike fitness, yet still keeping enough to handle the hills on the run. Last time, I probably went too hard on the bike and ended up having to walk a few of the bigger hills on the run. With that in mind, I still wanted to try to hit my goal of averaging 20 mph on the bike. At the moment that seems to be the magic number for me. If I can maintain that speed, I can race the bike, but still have enough to take advantage of my run fitness.
Unlike in the swim, being in a later wave was an advantage in the bike and run. There were plenty of people out front for me to chase down and act as a carrot when my legs started complaining. I think this really helped me get through the middle of the bike after the adrenaline had faded, but still being quite a few miles from the finish. I was never out of sight from another biker.
I did watch my power on the bike and consciously backed off a notch in the last five miles to try to save the legs. I think this ended up helping me in the final parts of the run.
In the end, I’m not sure I could have managed and raced the bike better given my current fitness. I was right around my FTP at 253 watts and I hit that magic 20 mph average at 20.4. Unlike the swim or run, I still see a good amount of room to improve and get faster on the bike. Most the better age-groupers would be closer to 21-22 mph on the bike.
Bike: 42:58 38/268, 6/20 AG
By this time, the sun was fully out and it was heating up. At T2, I grabbed some water, threw on a visor and my shoes and headed out. I didn’t feel quite as springy as my previous weekend practice run, but I could tell the bike hadn’t trashed my legs either. I knew after a brief climb much of the first mile was a net downhill. I tried to use the downhill to get my legs turning over and settle into a fast pace.
I quickly caught up to a group of runners, including one guy that I kept going back and forth with on the bike. I tried to talk him into running with me, but he didn’t have it, and I quickly left that group behind and came up on a younger woman that was keeping a good pace. I soon learned her name was Micah and she was a local student as every group of volunteers screamed her name. I tried to steal a little of that energy.
The second mile we stuck together and pushed through the two biggest climbs. Like the bike, it’s a challenging run course with a number of extended uphills and downhills. I was definitely feeling it by the end of the second mile and our pace slipped a bit. Still there were enough people around both cheering and running that chasing down people kept us going (I think, she didn’t talk much).
Finished with the hills and closing on the finish line, Micah pulled away, but I was able to pick up the speed in her wake.
I averaged 6:35 per mile, that was over a minute faster per mile than the last time I ran the race. I attribute this mostly to my better bike fitness.
Run: 22:22 8/268, 2/20 AG
The post-race festivities does help this race stand out from some other similar local events. There is the typical music, water, results and free massages (unlike some races where it’s a token rub down, I got an almost 15 minutes massage!), but there is also a vast food spread. Eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, breakfast pizza, bagels, bars, fruit, yogurt and ice cream. It’s truly impressive.
I’d recommend this race for anyone in the area. Whether you are looking to cap your season with a challenging bike/run course or want to experience your very triathlon, this even does a great job of being well-organized, welcoming and supporting a good cause.