Playing Pac Man in Cohasset

Attention readers: I interrupt the stroll down Memory Lane that is SEEK ALT ROUTES (those of you who are “jones-ing” for more, the stroll will resume…sorry… I’ve been wicked busy these days) to bring you a speedy race report from the Cohasset Sprint Triathlon, which took place Sunday June 26th and which still has me beaming.

I’ve been super-excited about this race since 10 a.m. on December 1st 2010—that’s when the final race slot sold, two short hours after registration opened. Race director Bill Burnett says the head honchos in Colorado Springs (and by that I mean the folks at the helm of USA Triathlon, the sport’s official governing body) confirmed this is the nation’s fastest sellout of a sprint tri.  Super cool! For months (whenever I wasn’t fretting about training for marathons or half Ironmans) I’ve been anticipating chilling in Cohasset with hundreds of likeminded others who all did a 50-yard dash for their plastic cash when Bill said “go!”

I was also super excited that the number tattooed on my biceps (no Sharpie this time, they gave us all not-so-washable “Tri Tats”, the remnants of which you can still see on me if look hard enough) was 61. Unlike last year (when I raced with numbers  like 407 and 648) this low number meant only one row of bikes separated Maverick from the unnamed rides owned by those with single-digit bibs (that is to say the ‘Elites’). NB: it was luck not athletic prowess that landed me a low number; all sky-blue-capped 40- to 49-year-old chicks were in the third closest rack to Bike Out/Run Out. Very, very cool.

Since we were Wave 7 of 8, we sky-blue-cappers had a lot of time to chat pre-swim—50 full minutes after the single-digits hit the surf, to be precise. Chatting with people who are the same kind of crazy is one of the great joys of tri-ing. Being a fairly gregarious girl I usually head home having made a few new friends (ok, really just acquaintances but that’s still yummy soul food).

This time was different. As we waited in the funnel leading to the water’s edge, it occurred to me how much bonding was taking place over totally negative stuff; I was floored by the nonstop self-defeating chatter being uttered with big smiles. “Oh, I HATE the swim!” one declared. “I can’t wait to get this part over!” another said. “There’s so much seaweed out there—ocean swims are so yucky!” Many looked confused as to how precisely they came to be on this beach. Some confessed that they had toyed with thoughts of backing out.


They confessed winter indolence and lackadaisical spring-training efforts.  One woman said she’d exhumed her bike from the shed mere days ago; another claimed this morning’s ‘neoprene shimmy’ was her first since last season.


My coach is sadistic and my tortured brain is hell-bent on scoring some of his Spartan praise, so the words “indolent” and “lackadaisical” could only be used to define my efforts on Backwards Day—you know, a day during which you speak in antonyms. Hills and flats…2000/1600/800/400… 500-yard time trials…fast 50s on send-offs that leave only a second or two for recovery. You name it, my coach assigned it and I did it. Many days I laughed with incredulity upon receipt (“are you sure you didn’t inadvertently give me Jarrod’s workout?” I’d email him, referring to his star pupil, Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker; he’d reply some encouraging words that translated to “suck it up, you wuss”); later I’d cry and swear loudly as I finished executing it. (Here I insert my apologies to the high-school long jumpers and the couple who walks in the first lane of the track—they’ve all witnessed this mom behaving badly on more than one occasion. Sorry ‘bout that, folks.)

My bike has never seen—make that will never see—the inside of a shed; my wetsuit barely gets a chance to fully dry between workouts these days.

If being social meant I’d need to diss Chris and minimize my efforts, I’d rather remain silent. I popped in my dorky silicone earplugs (hate-hate-hate water in my ears, plus I like feeling like I’m in my own little cocoon) and pulled on my even dorkier skull cap (yes I was one of only a half-dozen racers wimpy enough to require neoprene not just over our hearts but also over our brains—I bet you can guess how many of the single-digit dudes were in that silly six-pack). I snuggled into neoprene isolation and thought happy thoughts. Well, mostly happy thoughts; I also thought about the allegedly haunted Minot Ledge Lighthouse, which kept watch over our Sandy Beach swim start. I wonder how many ghosts will swim with us today.

Embracing the Swim
As I watched the chaos that was Wave 6 bob between Buoys 1 and 2, a guy in a Team Psycho jersey quite literally drew a line in the sand and poof our 50-minute wait was over. Once the sand settled I found myself second row center, but then a woman opted out of her front-row position and just like that I was leading the pack to the water’s edge. This is not a place I’d usually choose for myself—not on a swim—but in my neoprene cocoon I decided to be a good swimmer today. I am a swimmer. I can be in the front row. I do belong here. A little seaweed doesn’t scare this chick; during my Cape Cod summers when I wasn’t chasing flounder I’d play pizza parlor or hairdresser—seaweed made for great pasta or ponytails, depending upon the game. Seaweed was my friend when humans failed.

GO!  All 122 of us sky-blue-cappers—72 in my age group, 50 in the 45-49 division—hurtled wave-ward with reckless, youthful abandon. Well, at least I did; I can’t speak for the others as they were behind me and I couldn’t see ‘em. This was my first shore start—every other triathlon I’ve done we’ve started hip- or chest-deep in water. I loved this. I ran as if I was six years old and I could hear my father crashing through the waves behind me; back then I’d run as fast as I could even though truth be told I couldn’t wait for him to catch me, effortlessly flick me onto his shoulders and promptly buck me off, sending me barreling under the surface. Dad wasn’t there so I had to do the flicking myself— I gave one last glimpse at the haunted lighthouse and plunged under, thanked God that my goofy mask stayed affixed to my unique face as I entered. Hurrah!

Since early in my Boston Marathon training, my race day mantra has been “Strong and Ready” (well, except for during the marathon’s final 10K, when it became “Left Foot, Right Foot”). It’s the phrase at which I stare single-mindedly through the toughest of stuff, much as a soon-to-be-mother sets her steely sights on her unborn child’s teddy bear as she bares down. But as I swam in the Atlantic (my Atlantic) through the seaweed (my seaweed) my mantra changed.

I belong. I belong here, in the front row of the line in the sand. I belong here, charging through the waves first. I belong here, with the good swimmers.  

And belong I did. At every other tri I’ve done, my operating assumption has been that the swim is simply to be feared and endured, not embraced and won. My utter lack of confidence in my swim becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy—case in point: before I stumbled ashore at Mooseman, a full 30 of the 50 women in my age group were already on their trusty steeds (and by that I mean bikes).  I had let myself become accustomed to catching a glimpse of a competitor’s cap and then within moments letting her feet flutter-kick right on by (often knocking my mask askew in the process).

Not this time. This time I kept pace. I accelerated through my strokes. Used more traps than triceps. I found wakes and used them to my advantage. Net-net: I was by no means what you’d call a predator in the water but I wasn’t easy prey either. Blue caps did pass me but not without working for it. As I rounded the third and final buoy and headed ashore, for the first time I felt like I’d not just survived the swim but done it a modicum of justice.       

My swim time: 9:24

What that means: I wouldn’t know this until much, much later, but 11 out of the 72 women in my age group got out of the water before me, which means the vast majority of them were still swimming whilst I wrestled with my wetsuit. This is a huge breakthrough for me. While I did a .25 mile swim in 9:25 last year (Title 9 Tri), that swim took place in the completely chop-less lake in  Hopkinton State Park, so I don’t think you can really compare the two.

Here’s the G2 on my division’s “Top 12” out of the water:

 Best swimmer:         7:48 Rebecca Padera of Milton
 2nd best swimmer:  7:55 Judith Stavis of Cohasset
3rd best swimmer:   7:56 Jameila Haddawi of Newton
4th best swimmer:   8:01 Linda McLaughlin of Boylston
5th best swimmer:   8:34 Shannon Porges of West Bridgewater
6th best swimmer:   8:38 Karen Monks of Concord
7th best swimmer:   8:39 Sarah Charron of Cohasset
8th best swimmer:   8:56 Erin Caswell of North Falmouth
9th best swimmer:   9:06 Laura Stone of Cohasset
10th best swimmer: 9:17 Ann McDonough of Milton
11th best swimmer: 9:22 Sarah Filion of Cohasset
12th best swimmer: 9:24 Christine Johansen of Marlborough – that’d be me 🙂

Shutting Down the T1 Party
Damn the run through transition all the way to Rack # 3 was long, and damn it is hard to run on wobbly swim-weary legs whilst wriggling out of a wetsuit and trying to not drop your goofy swim mask. Still, if I could do the swim justice I could do T1 justice too—today I would stop treating T1 as a mini-party, lop massive amounts of time off my transition, stay with the big girls where I belong

As I approached Maverick, most of my competitor’s bikes were still suspended from their metal poles—proof that I really had done OK in the water. The Cheshire Cat grin leapt to my face. Yes!

Pre-race I had put a lot of thought into my transition area, incorporating lessons I’d learned the hard way at other races. I intentionally left my RoadID, the one that cost me several seconds at Mooseman, at home. I had also duct-taped a pre-opened pack of Clif Bloks to Maverick’s frame (yes, I fretted over whether it would hurt his paint job…so I applied the tape rather lightly).

My streamlined T went pretty darn smoothly once the wetsuit was off. Ditch the mask and caps. Slip on the socks (I’ll practice not wearing them for the next race, but this race I still wore ‘em) and bike shoes (just get ‘em on; secure the Velcro once in the saddle and on the course). Grab helmet, shades, Maverick. Go! 

My T1 time:
What that means: Once the full race results were posted I’d discover that 21 women in my age group beat my T1 time; I sure as hell would like to know how Tori Stevens of New York, New York (who would go on to finish 16th in our age group) hit 00:59. Tori, you either biked in your wetsuit or you are a transitioning goddess: you were one of only three competitors in the entire field to have a “sub-one” T1—and one of them was Jarrod himself.  Oh! I want to T like you!

Including Tori, 12 in my division finished sub-two minutes. So even though I did much better than usual, I’ve still lots of room for improvement.

Playing Pac-Man with Maverick
At packet pick-up the day prior, a friend teased me as I ogled $10,000 time trial bikes with super-sexy Zip wheels. “Remember,” he said, “it’s the pilot, not the plane.”

Remember I did as I zipped past a few racers who could have been mistaken for sightseers were it not for the bib numbers on their bikes and hurtled towards two mighty fine sets of wheels that were spinning at 100 spm.

One was an Orbea, the other a Cervelo. Their wheels likely cost more than Mav’s frame.

My Cannondale and I crashed their party of two. We switched off positions A, B and C as our new threesome passed dozens of slower riders. It felt like an odd game of Pac-Man; I was gobbling up Pac-Dots while trying to escape the Pac-Monsters, Blinky and Pinky (Inky and Clyde were nowhere to be seen).

We did this for miles. I loved playing in this mini-pack. I have an insane amount more to learn about handling a bike and I coveted Blinky and Pinky’s far superior bike-handling skills. Apexes, scrubbing, riding in the drops…these are all terms that are brand new to me  and I’m struggling to translate what I read in my (many) books into what I do on the road. They used their prowess while I relied on my power to keep up.

Then I asked myself why—why are you content to be here? You know you belong on the bike. You belong ahead. They may have paid four times as much for their rides, but you’ve done four times the work. And with that I stood up, powered up the next hill and didn’t let up when I reached the summit. Somewhere around mile 7 they were gone.  Attaboy, Mav!

I missed Orbea Blinky and Cervelo Pinky once they were in my rearview mirror. I was now in a No Man’s Land as far as viable competition was concerned, so I just kept chomping my Pac-Dots and, every once in awhile snagged a Power Pellet.  From Mile 8 on (it took me a mile to trust I’d cemented my lead over Blinky and Pinky) the game became Girl versus Garmin. I pretended I was doing one of my coach-assigned time trials and strove to create a file worthy of uploading to TrainingPeaks, one that might provoke a reply from my coach like the “wow that’s some pretty good speed” I got on May 12th (yes, I have his few-and-far-between “atta-girls” memorized). I chased away thoughts of needing to reserve energy for the next level—the run.

My bike time: 35:33
What that means: It means I really like the bike…I might have mentioned that a time or two before 🙂 It also means that I don’t have to list 11 or 21 names before mine this time—just three, two of whom “podium-ed”  🙂

Best rider:               33:28 Linda McLaughlin of Boylston
2nd best rider:       33:29 Judith Stavis of Cohasset  (would place 2nd)
Third  best rider:   34:28 Karen Monks of Concord  (the soon-to-be 1st place chick)
Fourth best rider:  35:33 Christine Johansen of Marlborough – big Cheshire Cat grin! 🙂
Fifth best rider:      36:00 Erin Caswell of North Falmouth

I was flying high as I dismounted and did my best to run in my bike shoes through the transition area, swap them out for running sneakers after hanging up Mav…grab visor…go!

My T2 time: 1:18

What that means: In my insane post-race, Xcel-spreadsheet-powered number crunching, I’d find that 15 ladies T2’d faster than me. But just as I wonder whether the NYC chick biked in her wetsuit, I wonder whether some of these women ran in their bike cleats (or, more likely, biked in their running sneakers)—since they T’d far faster than the inevitable podium-ers but biked slowly. In a nutshell, I did okay but can improve.         

Running With Tricky Dick
Never before have I hit the run feeling great about all four preceding segments—swim, T1, bike and T2—so I was all sorts of atta-girl-ish as I headed towards RUN OUT. I am thrilled to report that, unlike at Mooseman, I actually did head towards RUN OUT and not in the opposite direction (granted, I was racked feet away from the big-ass RUN OUT sign). I wasn’t even wearing my bike gloves (granted, I never put them on in the first place).

The run leg and I have a tortured past. I’ve replayed “I am not a runner” both aloud and internally more times than YouTube users have replayed Nixon’s infamous “I am not a crook” press conference (as of right now, that’s 530,296 times). Well, Nixon was wrong…so maybe I am too, I thought as I banked right onto Beach Street to start the 3.3-mile loop around Cohasset’s Little Harbor. I had already ditched the dissing today, so I would believe that my sweat, tears and swears on the track had earned me the right to run faster than ever before.

I was alone on the run at first; a good two or three pool lengths separated me from the pack. Normally I’d resign myself to being behind those runners the whole way, and in the process seal my fate. Today I would show some gumption, have faith in my feet (even the one with plantar fasciitis). I looked down at my Garmin, which I had pre-programmed to show three data fields: the two smaller fields on the bottom displayed distance and cadence, while the biggest field was reserved for current pace.

I glanced down: 7:11. Now that’s a number I like!

I glanced down again: 6:40. Hurrah!

I quickly caught up to the pack and started charging up hills, reminded myself of my crazy training, my crazy coach, and the fact that I am world-class when it comes to withstanding short-term suffering on too many levels. A measly 3.3 miles of pain? Bring it on. The faster I run the faster I finish.

Like on the bike, I gobbled up Pac-Dots and Power Pellets. Like on the swim, my mantra was I belong. It felt great to run fast. It felt great to set my eyes on the next group and will them closer to me. It felt great to not stop at the water stop.

Then along came Blinky and Pinky. I didn’t even have to glance at their numbers—I knew them from a peripheral-vision-view of their tri suits. They both passed me, one chasing the other, around mile two. That’s OK, I thought. They can pass all they want but I will still swim with them—won’t get my mask kicked off with their flutter kick.

Once again we were together, each within a few strides of the other, this similarly-paced triumvirate. We gobbled up lesser runners together.  A half mile or so later Pinky made her move, charged ahead of Blinky. Blinky’s frustration and exhaustion was as thick as the salt on my neck—I was exhausted too, but I wasn’t frustrated at all. We had less than a half mile to go, and I suspected that if I too passed her, the one-two punch would make her blink, put her out of our little game. So I picked up the pace.

Pass her I did. Disappear behind she did.

I chased Pinky as we approached the finish. You could tell we were close to the finish because people were now lining the streets, although they were oddly silent. Pinky was too far ahead for me to expect to catch now–I think it would have been a mathematical impossibility but I can’t verify that as I’m lousy at math–but she served as a great carrot. This was good as the crowds weren’t much help; I wished they would cheer and clap. They didn’t—they just stared at us, which was really weird.

I kicked it up to 5:57 as I crossed the line Pinky had already crossed, but Blinky hadn’t. If anyone announced my name or my finish, I sure as heck didn’t hear it. It was an odd way to end what was surely a PR of a race, but my gray matter made up for the lack of finish line fanfare. I belonged.

My run time: 25:14

What that means:  Turns out it means I made the Top Ten list in my age group on the run. So while my run is still negated some of my gain on the bike, it didn’t negate nearly as much as it did at Mooseman (where a colossally bad run knocked me from 19th place to 29th)

Best runner:             21:58 Rebecca Padera of Milton TOTAL: 1:08:45 – 3rd place
2nd best runner:     22:32 Karen Monks of Concord TOTAL: 1:08:32 – 1st place
3rd best runner:     23:21 Sarah Charron of Cohasset TOTAL: 1:14:00 – 8th place
4th best runner:     23:26 Charla Spellman of Pembroke TOTAL: 1:13:18 – 6th place
5th best runner:     24:17 Judith Stavis of Cohasset TOTAL: 1:08:45 – 2nd place
6th best runner:     24:38 Linda McLaughlin of Boylston TOTAL: 1:09:05 – 4th place
7th best runner:     24:58 Kerry Swords of Boston TOTAL: 1:19:28 – 18th place
8th best runner:     25:09 Heather Kelley of Hingham TOTAL: 1:16:04 – 10th place
9th best runner:     25:10 Shannon Porges of W Bridgewater TOTAL: 1:12:39 – 5th place
10th best runner:  25:14 Christine Johansen of Marlborough TOTAL: 1:13:46 – 7th place 🙂

 Aside from the dearth of finish-line fanfare, my only other disappointment du jour was that they didn’t Sharpie our ages on the back of our calves this year. Last summer I hated having “40” emblazoned on me—especially since I wasn’t yet 40, but USAT rules said I was. This race I really missed it, as I wanted to know who I was passing (Blinky and Pinky, in case you’re wondering, turned out to be in the 45-49 age group—they came in 5th and 6th place in their division. One beat me by nine seconds, the other trailed me by five seconds). Note to the race director: ages, please!

So this has turned out to be a crazylong blog post for a short-course race. Sorry about that.  If you’ve hung on my wheel for the duration, you’re a true friend, a true procrastinator of some task or a true tri-geek like me. A few poor souls may find themselves in all three categories.

To make this very long story short: I am super-psyched that out of 72 athletes my age I was 12th out of the water, 4th off the bike and 10th to blessedly be allowed to stop running. I am super-psyched that when you bundle those times and add in my tricky Ts I placed in single-digits (seventh!) in my age group in what is a genuinely competitive Cohasset field. But I am most of all super-psyched that I had the chutzpah to believe I belonged.

Keep it positive, people!


About garmin_girl

I'm a 40-something single mother of three--two great human girls and one four-legged Dalmatian banshee--who is hellbent on swimming, biking and running straight through my midlife crisis. Care to tag along? Crazy loves company! ;)
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8 Responses to Playing Pac Man in Cohasset

  1. kkirby says:

    Bravo, Chris!!
    Reading this made me realize what I missed by not being there.
    Never doubt that you do “belong”

  2. Marie Rock says:

    Chris, I supported you for the Childrens Hospital Charity run and I am so glad to see you are doing all this Olympic type stuff. I know your trainer can be a hard ass, but you sure can do it. Might see you at the Marlboro tri. Best of luck! – Marie

    • hellohellohello Marie! No memory-jogging required–of *course* I remember you, and I look for you in the gym but our schedules must not be aligned! I am tickled pink you’re still following my crazy journey…and I would be *thrilled* to see you on July 10th! 🙂 Thanks so much for writing! 🙂


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