By Zabeth Billingham
In June 2019, I competed in the Aquabike division of the Patriot Half Distance Triathlon at Cathedral Camp in East Freetown, MA.
In 2018 I had trained for and raced the full Patriot Half Triathlon, and had a really awful time on the run, the hot weather caused previously minor neuromas to flare in both my feet in a most excruciating fashion to the point where I kept having to stop to massage my feet, between painful episodes of walking and even more painful jogging.
My feet had sent me a loud message and I listened. in 2019 I was going to embrace NOT running any more than the distance into and out of T1 and T2!
Patriot has a lovely scenic course, and due to its relative flatness, it’s quite user friendly. The race venue is large, and good parking spots are gone quickly. Because I was carrying the TE Team Tent and arrived early, I scored an excellent spot – always a big personal boost on race day! After registering, I unloaded and set up the tent overlooking the finish corral, before gathering my gear and heading to transition.
A nice perk at Patriot is that you have an assigned rack space, so you don’t need to rush to score the best available. You will also be greeted by a personal message that you selected when you registered. Mine was “Bubble UP!” in honor of TE.
Another fun Patriot perk is that the swag offered varies year to year. In 2019 I received a Patriot themed fleece blanket. In previous years I’ve received a backpack and a zip-neck tech tee.
Once organized in transition and having greeted teammates, I enjoyed a confidence building warmup swim. The weather was still pleasantly cool and the sun felt good, not oppressive, when I took my pre-race selfie. Chatting with Teammates Cathy, Ilyce, and Liz helped me stay relaxed while we waited for our swim waves. I nibbled on an RX bar as I waited, to maintain my energy for the later part of the swim as I had eaten breakfast over 3 hrs before.
Unless you are an elite, you won’t suffer a free-for-all washing machine swim start at Patriot. Instead, you self-seed in your wave, then line up three across as you enter the corral. You cross the starting mat with 5 seconds between you and the swimmers in front and behind. This is MUCH less stressful and my favorite type of swim start.
The 1.2 mile counter-clockwise swim forms a rectangle straight out into Long Pond. The orange buoys are well-spaced until about 1/2 way out, then for some reason are more sparse until you reach the yellow turn buoy. This pattern is mirrored on the return. Rounding the first turn my swim cap started to slip off, and I had to tread water and avoid being run over while replacing it. The wind and chop increased across the top of the swim and in a hurry to catch up after stopping to fix my cap, I didn’t sight as often as I should requiring a minor course correction and some lost seconds. After rounding the second turn I made another sighting error: as I was started heading back, some contact with other swimmers got me disoriented, and I confused the last orange buoy on the outbound side with the last orange buoy I should have been pointing at. Darn! More lost energy and seconds! Two more orange buoys nearer the turns would have really helped me and a few other lost souls I saw make the same error.
Mistakes like this happen. Over many triathlons I’ve learned not to beat myself up when they do. Instead of tensing up and berating myself for acting like a rookie, I focused on smoothing my breathing, tightening my core, lengthening my stroke, and finding my groove.
Why does the last 100 yds of the swim always seem to take so long? Something to ponder another day! I jogged out of the water and unzipped my wet suit. I greeted the wet suit strippers and relaxed into their competent hands instead of staring like a fish out of water as I had in my first Patriot two years before.
With wetsuit in hand I made short work of TI: I don’t wear socks for Aquabikes and have my shoes on the pedals in advance saving quite a bit of time. Starting out I worked to stay slightly under my desired pace during the first lap. I ate my first Kind Bar and settled in. I have found doing a recon ride of Patriot two weeks prior enormously helpful. Not only does it give you confidence, it helps you plan your pacing, hydration and fueling accurately – something much more critical in a half-iron distance that in shorter races. There are two water stations on the two loop 56 mile bike course, so you hit them both twice. Both are near the end of the first lap, relatively close together. I drink a lot while riding and had finished 1 and ½ bottles by the first aide station on the uphill after the causeway. I used UCAN superstarch in both water bottles so chose water to replace my first empty. Also, because I don’t like drinking from the flimsy floppy disposable bottles, I had practiced refilling my own seat tube bottle while riding, so that I could ditch the cheap bottle before leaving the trash zone. This is a fun challenge in bike handling!
The breeze was picking up a little as I crested the hill, and it created occasional head and cross wind for the rest of the race. I tried to stay as aero as possible for efficiency. I finished my second bottle of UCAN and refilled with Gatorade at the second water stop – knowing that it would be another almost full loop before more was available.
A few rolling hills separate the 2nd aide station from the end of the first lap at Cathedral Camp and they are a good check on your energy and pacing. I was feeling pretty good on them and decided to increase my pace a hair for the second lap – something I wouldn’t have done if I had to run afterwards! I kept up with my nutrition eating 100 calories every 45 minutes or so (a Clif Peanut Butter Bar, and another Kind Bar then gels toward the final third of the 56 mile course as I plugged on.
I used the short rollers to get out of the saddle and stretch and decompress squashed parts.
I also made sure to keep rotating my hand positions, checking in with my core, pulling my shoulder blades together, and flexing my neck back and side to side to work out the kinks caused by spending too long in one position – some tricks I’ve had to learn to avoid cramps and aches on long rides.
Passing through the aide stations the second time I was tired, but held my form to finish strong.
Knowing I did not have to run allowed me to leave it all on the course.
Finishing an Aquabike is anticlimatic compared to finishing a Triathlon – you dismount and run into transition, rack your bike, and YOUR DONE! You can change into recovery clothes, make a pit stop, and take your sweet time walking around to the finish corral for your finish photo and medal. But given the uncooperative state of my feet, I rather enjoyed not even having to think about running!
I recommend Patriot Half – it’s a well run and friendly race and highly enjoyable!