On Sunday morning 250 hardy souls will encircle the Vineyard on foot, on bike and in the sea in search of glory. The scope of the first ever Vineyard Warrior Triathlon reminds race organizer Matthew Brackman of Homer’s Odyssey, and promotional materials feature racers attacked on all sides by creatures from Greek mythology. When rosy-fingered dawn rises on Sunday, Mr. Brackman hopes a new Vineyard tradition will be born.
“I’ve been doing triathlons myself for 10 years,” Mr. Brackman, of Longmeadow, said on Thursday. “I come to the Island every year with my family on vacation and about two years ago I said to my wife, ‘This is such a great place to train, I’m going to enter the Martha’s Vineyard Triathlon.’ Well, I went back to the web and I’m typing and typing and I can’t believe I can’t find it. Then I realized there wasn’t one! So I said to my wife, ‘I’m going to bring a triathlon to Martha’s Vineyard.’ She said, ‘Please, please don’t do that.’”
On Sunday at 7 a.m. the race will kick off with a one-mile swim off of Inkwell Beach, followed by a 25-mile around-the-Island bike ride that will take riders down Beach Road to Edgartown, across the Island to West Tisbury via the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road and then back up State Road and over the drawbridge to Oak Bluffs for the final six mile-run around East Chop, ending in Waban Park.
Mr. Brackman said he has registered some 250 runners for this year’s race, 40 from on-Island. But he has still grander ambitions for the race.
“The first year you’re not going to get a thousand participants, but I won’t be surprised if in three years it’s a thousand,” he said.
Vineyarders may be unfamiliar with triathlons, which is why Mr. Brackman, who didn’t skimp on production values, hopes to make a big impression. Beckoning swimmers into the water and serving as the turning buoy for the first leg of the triathlon will be the tall ship Providence, the official flagship of the State of Rhode Island, also notable for its cameos in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Mr. Brackman also recruited the talents of Mark Allen, royalty in the world of endurance athletics. Mr. Allen ran in 12 Ironman Triathlons in Hawaii, the legendary race that combines a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and ends, cruelly enough, with a marathon.
“The first six I didn’t win and the second six I won,” Mr. Allen said on Thursday. At 37 years old during his final race, Mr. Allen was also the oldest men’s champion in Ironman history.
This week Mr. Allen has been running clinics in anticipation of the race and at one such clinic, a swim training at the Inkwell Beach on Thursday (eventually cancelled due to lightning) three Islanders, Jennifer Marcus and Liza Williamson of West Tisbury and Suzanne Flanders of Oak Bluffs came to learn from the master.
“I don’t know what to say other than that I’m obsessed,” said Ms. Marcus. “I’ve been training since the end of April and I have three kids so I’ve just been squeezing this in. I’m 100 per cent addicted and everyone knows it. I love the technical aspects of it with the gear and I like the time by myself really focusing on a goal and improving in each of the three sports.”
Mr. Allen says that a balanced approach to the race is the best, but the most experienced triathletes know when to make their move.
“We usually say that you can’t win the race on the swim but you can lose it on the swim,” he said. “But the run is where most of the key passes happen because it’s the last event and that’s when people start getting tired and the differences get magnified. In the Ironman in Hawaii you can make a two to three minute difference in the swim, then on the bike the difference might be ten minutes. But on the run the difference between a good run and a bad run can be an hour. To win it you need to be balanced in all three and you need to learn how quiet that little voice in your mind that’s saying, ‘What am I doing out here? It’s too hard, it’s too hot.’ You need to get that to shut up.”
The weather for Sunday’s event is expected to be sunny but Mr. Allen says that he prefers heat to cold when competing. On Thursday he reflected on one winter triathlon in Grenoble, France.
“Towards the end of the bike race I was dying of thirst and I grabbed my water bottle and it was frozen solid,” he said.
After two deaths in the August New York City Triathlon the swim portion of the event has come under some national scrutiny, but Mr. Brackman says that he has done everything with an eye towards safety.
“There were 3,000 people in [the New York City Triathlon] and at any one time there could have been 500 people in the water,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to identify someone who’s in trouble when there’s 500 people swimming around. With this race you’re not going to see a wave of racers that has more than 20 people. There are kayakers that are going to be out there, a police and fire rescue boat will be out there with an EMT in it, the swim course is triangular so we can keep a closer tab on people. I was trying to focus on the safety first because no one will invite me back to do this next year if I have any kind of problems.”
There is another threat to swimmers, albeit an astronomically small one, besides exhaustion. Earlier this summer Mr. Brackman made waves after making an off-hand — and facetious — comment to the Boston Herald about how racers should avoid wearing shiny jewelry that, he said, could attract sharks. Ms. Williamson is not worried.
“Jen and I are lawyers so we expect some professional courtesy,” she said.
The Vineyard Warrior Triathlon expo in Waban Park will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and will include sponsor booths, a rock wall and six-time Ironman champion Mark Allen. Racers should pick up their registration packets on Saturday. On Sunday the Vineyard Warrior Triathlon begins at 7 a.m. at Inkwell Beach.