Over the past few years I’ve always heard great things about the Pumpkinman Triathlon Festival in South Berwick, Maine: the scenic, fast courses, flawless organization, good prize money and competition, and an awesome post race feast (beer included!). But every year something always came up as an obstacle to me competing here. Usually I’d have another race in California planned for that same weekend, or Pumpkinman would fall the week before a key race. However, in 2012, for the first time, nothing stood in my way, so I jumped at the opportunity to compete. Although I’m traditionally a short-course racer, I figured I had nothing to lose by jumping into the half-iron distance race on Sunday, too (Saturday was the sprint). The way I saw it, I could most likely still finish in the top-five even if I crumbled out there. So the decision was made – I would go for the Pumpkinman Double.
On Saturday morning I was all set to go for the sprint. Although it was overcast, it was still very humid out. After scrambling with last-minute adjustments in transition, I found myself running to the swim start while trying to get my wetsuit on. I made it with a few minutes to spare. Among the stiff local competition of Mike Caiazzo, Connor Jennings, and Kyle Burnell, defending champion Matt Russell was also in the field. The race got underway and we began sprinting for the first buoy in Knights Pond. I got to the buoy first and began to open up a small lead. I had the rest of the field hot on my trail, however. I exited the water with a 20-second lead, but I knew there were some fast cyclists in the field that I would have to deal with. Coming out of the water you are greeted with the Powderhouse Hill Challenge, a 250-meter hill that feels like a kick to the face after being completely anaerobic in the water. I buried my head and tried not to think about how bad my legs hurt as I sprinted up the hill to t1. I made it to my Parlee TT bike and raced out onto the rolling bike course.
My heart rate was still sky rocketing from Powderhouse Hill, but after a few miles in the saddle I began to get into a rhythm. I certainly wasn’t comfortable, especially when I could see a couple guys behind me down the road chasing hard. I knew where my heart rate needed to be, and I locked it into the low-170s as I went bombing down the 14 mile bike course. Most of the bike course was freshly paved, which made for a smooth ride. Ideally I would’ve liked to back off and conserve my energy a bit for the half-iron tomorrow, but the competition wouldn’t allow it. I never felt great on the bike; I muscled through it as best I could. I came back into t2 still holding a 30 second lead. Still too close for comfort! Getting out on the run course it took me a while to find my legs. They were still burning from the combination of the hill before transition and the bike. However, after about a half mile I began to lock into a solid rhythm. I came through the first mile in 5:15. I looked back and could still see Matt Russell not too far away. I kept pushing. The humidity wasn’t doing me any favors. I doused myself with water at the aid station. Second mile came through in 5:20. Only one to go! My 30-second+ lead would be good enough to hold on. With a half mile to go I was finally able to back off a tad and conserve a bit of energy. I couldn’t relax too much, though. Connor Jennings was flying through the run course. He had moved into second place and was closing on me. My lead was too much, though, and I was able to cross the line first. Connor was second, only 20 seconds back. I was relieved to have won, but it wasn’t an easy victory, and I worried about the 4-hour race that I had coming up in less than 24 hours. On the bright side, I was 50% done for the weekend. Kat Donatello, the race director, was kind enough to offer me a homestay at her amazing home just 20 minutes away from the race venue. After eating a massive brunch, I headed back to this temporary haven and promptly passed right out for a much-needed nap. I took it easy for the rest of the day in my Zensah compression socks. Recovery was the #1 priority at that point, and I was lucky to have some awesome support from Zensah.
On Sunday when my alarm went off at 3:50 AM, the Pumpkinman Double seemed like the worst idea that I could possible imagine. I did a body assessment: my legs were sore, my body was tired, and I could barely open my eyes. I knew I had to eat a big breakfast, but I had trouble getting anything down that early in the morning. Nevertheless, I went back to Knights Pond to embark on a half-iron distance race. I took a little comfort in knowing that my biggest competition for the day, Caiazzo and Russell, had also raced yesterday. What I didn’t know was: Were they holding back? Did they expend as much energy as I did in the sprint? We would all find out.
The starting horn blasted and we took off towards the first buoy. The swim was two laps in Knights Pond. As a recently retired ITU triathlete, I knew I had the opportunity to do some real damage on the 1.2-mile swim. I went about building as big a lead as I possibly could. Today would be about fueling and pacing properly, so I settled into a strong but sustainable effort. I could tell I was growing my lead every time I made a sharp turn and had the opportunity to peak back at my competition. Sure enough, I exited the water with about four minutes on my closest competitor. Again I had to deal with running up Powderhouse Hill, although this time I wasn’t sprinting. The last thing I wanted to do was to burn my legs with a 56-mile bike ride staring at me.
I got out onto the smooth and fast bike course and immediately began hydrating. I knew it would be important to get down two+ bottles in the first hour to set up a solid, bonk-free day. Luckily the humidity wasn’t nearly as bad as the day before. The bike was a bit of an unknown for me. As an inexperienced long-course racer I wasn’t sure how long I would remain in the lead. I didn’t have a sense of where I stacked up to my competition in terms of a 56-mile ride. I had a solid pacing plan mapped out, and all I could do was stick to it. I locked my heart rate in at the low to mid 150s and made sure to keep my power and cadence relatively steady. For the next hour I focused on getting aero, hydrating, and keeping my pace on target. I made it to the halfway point still in the lead with no one in sight. Things were going well. I rode very conservatively in the first half, so I began to build my effort level a bit more in the second half. As I passed mile 30, 35, and 40 still in the lead I began to get excited and lift the pace even more. I have put in enough run miles in my career to know that I should be capable of having a solid run, so if I could hold my lead through the end of the bike I’d have a solid chance at taking the win. Mile 45 and 50 passed, still with no one in sight. I picked up the pace even more. With t2 just a few miles away, I knew that I’d get there first. When I arrived it was a big relief. I had finished the biggest unknown of the day. Despite the soreness and fatigue I felt when I woke up, I was in the zone now. The ride had taken me 2:12, and I had paced it well averaging 253 watts in the first half and 266 in the second. Now it was a run game.
The plan was for me to go out with my heart rate in the high 160s and hold it there. I wasn’t sure what kind of pace that would produce. I got a chance to see my competition coming in on the bike as I was heading out on the run course. I had a four-minute lead. Didn’t expect that! I now had the opportunity to be conservative on the run and just make sure I held it together. To my surprise, I came through the first mile in under 5:30, and my heart rate was much lower than expected. This was probably due to the cool conditions. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it! I knew no one would make up four minutes on me if I was running like that. I eventually settled in around 5:45-5:50 per mile. I was still holding back a little bit. I knew that if you blow up in a 70.3, then you could potentially lose massive amounts of time even in just a few miles. I focused on keeping a high cadence, taking a Powergel every 30 minutes, and getting water and Gatorade at each aid station every mile. At a little over 5 miles I got a chance to see my competitors at the first turnaround. Three guys were running pretty close to each other, battling for second place. My lead was not being cut into. As the miles kept flowing, I began to realize that I had the race locked up. Finally, around mile nine I began to pick up the pace and give everything I had left. My last four miles were 5:42, 5:44, 5:23, 5:38. As I approached the finishing area I received a massive welcome from the spectators and wonderful volunteers. I came sprinting across the finish line in 3:54:29, narrowly missing the course record. My run split was 1:15:57, and I had actually expanded my lead on the run, winning by about six minutes. Matt Russell was second with Caiazzo just seconds behind.
After finishing the race, the Pumpkinman Double again seemed like a great idea. I was pumped to have not only made it through the day, but to have surpassed my expectations of what I thought I was capable of, especially at the longer distance. After I caught my breath I spent a good half hour in the massage tent and then had about five Stonyfield yogurt smoothies (those things were good!). All in all, the Pumpkinman Triathlon Festival was a spectacular event. Each race went off smoothly, the aid stations were great, the volunteers were helpful, and the atmosphere was positive and fun. A couple hours later I made it into the food tent for a huge thanksgiving meal. There was also a beer tent with Shipyard Pumpkin Ale. I have to thank Kat Donatello for putting on some great races as well as all the volunteers that made it happen. As far as New England races go, this is a must-do. This is absolutely the fastest half-iron course around. I will definitely try to come back to this venue next year to defend my Pumpkin crown!