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Casco Bay Swim-Run (Long Course) - Biathlon (swim/run)

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Portland, Maine
United States
60F / 16C
Total Time = 6h 10m 24s
Overall Rank = 49/89
Age Group = Male
Age Group Rank = 32/43
Pre-race routine:

Months before Race Day, my partner Dale and I began devising a Race Strategy, including equipment selection, and fine tuned it all during our joint SwimRun-specific training sessions. We agreed pretty early on to not use the tether unless necessary. This would limit time spent detaching/re-ataching and detangling seaweed.

Our Swim/Run Strategy was simple: The Swim was my responsibility. I would lead and sight, and Dale would stay in my draft. We had agreed on hand signals and even a morse code kind of tapping he did on my foot to assure he was behind me, and also alert me if I could speed up. We agreed not to use paddles because my partner had shoulder issues due to past injuries, and w/out paddles, my partner could draft and we were pretty much the same pace. I was okay with this because I viewed this Race more as an adventure and opportunity to build Swim fitness and experience something different. I also knew this was a Swim-heavy event that would favor the true fish athletes, which neither my partner or I am not!

Dale was responsible for the Run. He would keep us to our 9:00 road running pace, and maintaing the same RPE for trails and slower terrain. Dale would also be the first to look for road markings and flags, and of course I helped. Which reminds me of a good point: Race Director Jeff Cole mentioned several times during a very informative and detailed race briefing, aided via PowerPoint slides that showed the tides and key parts of the race, that "THIS IS NOT A TRIATHLON. THIS IS SWIMRUN."

Meaning: most road turns and trails were marked with chalk or flags; not volunteers pointing you in a direction to go. This was certainly heads-up racing. Jeff and Lars constant reference to "THIS IS NOT TRIATHLON" seem to anger an audience member. Personally, I thought it was appropriate and during the whole course I kept thinking, "Boy were they right -- this is nothing like a traditional Triathlon!"

If you've done a trail runs, or off-course type of endurance events, you're accustomed to stopping at intersections and going a dozen yards in different directions before seeing a flag.

Friday before the event I met Dale at the Portland Holiday Inn and we went together down to East End Beach to do a short warm up swim. Boy was the water cold initially!! Take your breath away cold. We managed a nice half mile swim along the shore line. All systems were go. Back at the hotel Dale noticed his wallet was gone. Uh oh!! He thought he might had left it in his bag on the beach while we were swimming, and someone may have swiped it!! Dale proclaimed, "Things happen in THREES!" He raced back to the beach, but lo and behold his wallet was in the hotel safe the whole time. Crisis averted.

The next day my wife, two kids and parents loaded into the elevator of the Holiday Inn heading for my pre-race dinner. But the elevator wouldn't get us to the lobby. Instead it clunked to a stop between floors. Long story short, the fire department had to come and evacuate us out through the ceiling of the elevator!! It was quite the rescue -- one none of us will soon forget!! Oh, and now we'd reignited the THREES theory. This was ONE - damn it.

I slept well that night and the next morning awoke at 4AM excited for the day ahead. I ate a banana, oatmeal and washed it all down with a Gatorade. I drove the family and my partner Dale down to Commercial St along the waterfront piers in Portland and found a close parking spot.

The Casco Bay lines ferry departed from Portland at 5:30 AM sharp. With my family in tow, my partner Dale and I settled in on the lower deck of the ferry.
I emptied the contents of my Race bag onto the table. Wetsuit - check. Timing chips - check. Pull buoy - check. Body glide - check. Goggles... goggles... Shit! I forgot my Goggles!!

Crap - this had to be TWO!

Slightly panicked, but staying calm on the outside for my parents, wife and kids, and SwimRun partner, I went upstairs and the ferry had just left the dock. Now what? I asked a few fellow LC racers and sure enough a lovely woman loaned me a pair! THANK YOU AGAIN!

Amazingly the goggles fit well and the optics matched my TYR goggles. Phew! Crisis averted!!

We were very glad to see no fog and enjoyed the brilliant rays of the morning sun washing over the bay. Race director Lars repeatedly offered instructions on the loud speaker, pointing out islands on the course and updating on our progress to the start at Cliff Island. The total ferry ride, including a stop at Peaks Island to pick up long course (LC) athletes staying there, was approx 45 mins.

For those who choose to partake in this race in the future, note there is only one bathroom stall on each level. Hit it early as the line was long and slow!!
Event warmup:

When we arrived at Cliff Island all LC racers, paired with there partners, gathered around a flag pole just 50 yards from the ferry. I was hoping there was a port-a-potty here, but alas there wasn't and I'd have to wait till the first water entry. My warm-up included some arm circles and hammy stretches. Dale and I planned a very conservative 9:00 pace to start, so really the first opening 1.4 mile run would serve as a proper warm-up.
  • 00m
  • 8800 meters
  • / 100 meters

All LC athletes mulled around the flag pole race start, in front of a country store. We were all waiting for instructions of when to start as it was now 7:20. The ferry horn sounded and I figured the boat was leaving already with my family and other spectators to view athletes from the water as we progressed along the course. Then the ferry horn sounded again. All the SwimRunners turned to look at the boat once more. And then people from the back of the pack yelled "GO!" "The horn means GO!" and immediately the horn sounded a third time and we simultaneously began to Run!!

Many of us laughed. It was the funniest, awkward start to a race I could recall.

Dale and I settled into the first mile of running which quickly changed from road, to trail, and went UP. At the end of the first mile I pointed out to Dale the view (100 ft elevation) and in the distance we could see the sun rising over the bay and several items. It was so damn picturesque and we were only 1 mile, 9 minutes into the Race!

The remaining .4 mile of terrain on Cliff Island was rocky and rooty. The water entrance was a super-steep drop down on potentially treacherous rocks, which resulted in a log jam of athletes. We probably waiting a solid two minutes in line, and then it took another couple of minutes to very carefully climb down to the shore.

Cliff Island Run: 1.4 miles, 10:58 avg (Mile 1 8:58 ; Mile 2 15:38)
Strava link:

The Swim crossing to Sand Island was next. In my opinion, this was one of the toughest crossings. The tides were moderately strong, and it just felt like forever to get to that damn sand bar of an island. The tide pushed us to the left and I just kept angling to the right, focusing on brightly colored wetsuits in front of me, and felt reassuring taps on the soles of my Icebugs from Dale.

After a little over 30 mins of swimming we finally reached Sand Island. Steadily we made our way across the barren island and started on our way to Big Chebeague. The landing point was very visible and this second swim was a bit faster and easier.

Cliff to Big Chebeague: 2,174 yds, 52:19 total time, 2:24/100 yds (Race guide reported 1850 yards total, so we swam an extra 324 yards)
Strava link:

As was the case with most shore line Swim to Run transitions, the rocks were slippery, seaweed and moss covered, and it was always better to err on the side of caution. On top of the slippery terrain, after the longer swims it was common to have weak legs and feel off balance temporarily.

Immediately there was an aid station upon arrival at Big Chebeague, and throughout the course their was an abundance of aid stations well placed - 7 total if memory serves correctly. For someone like myself who is a big sweater, this was perfect. I'd also like to mention the course drink, Precision Hydration, was an awesome electrolyte drink. It was very mild tasting and had a consistency very close to water; not like syrupy Gatorade. It worked very, very well for me and I'm ordering more to begin training with it and perhaps transfer it to my triathlon racing.

Just a few minutes into the Big Chebeague run you come to an road intersection. You must go Right or Left. My partner and two other teams stop dead in our tracks. No chalk markings on the ground. No flags tied to any tree branches that we can see. Yep, this is definitely NOT Triathlon. Resorting to the map we knew to turn right. And in fairness, this was one of the few intersections not marked, but C'MON it's the first one!!

The Run on BC was uneventful. The locals were very nice and encouraging. Dale made sure we got in nutrition and stuck to our nutrition and paced correctly up a decent climb. It felt just like any other summer morning training run with a buddy, but wearing a bright yellow bib over a wetsuit with a pull buoy strapped to my thigh.

The BC run is 4.2 miles but since it was low tide the 560y Swim from Big to Little Chebeague became a Run. Once on LC we ran into a pleasantly non-technical, grassy trail run.

Big Chebeague and Little Chebeague Run: 5.2 miles, 9:55 avg pace
Strava link:

Little Chebeague to Long Island Swim was one of the easiest Swims. As always, the frigid water as very welcoming after the 5-mile Run. It was a super-quick straight shot with very little tide, almost more like a 640y lake swim. Due to shallow waters we were able to walk quite a bit in the water and my Garmin ended up recording this as a 393yd Swim.

Little Chebeague to Long Island Swim: 393 yds, 1:57 100y pace
Strava link:

On LI another aid station with enthusiastic volunteers and locals awaited, along with a super-short 1.4 miles of mostly paved roads. The coolest part of this run was the end, where you run off road, past another aid station, and then through a beautiful homestead nestled on the coastline. And older man sat on a chair, and we thanked him for allowing the race to go through is beautiful property. There was a steep rocky trail down to the next swim. Both Dale and I were still feeling pretty fresh and on a "Casco High". But that was quickly about to change.

Between both transitions and two aid station stops, our overall pace was 10:20 per mile.

Strava link:

The next Swim was from one point on LI to another point on LI further down (Andrews Beach). The waters were pretty choppy here, and sighting was a bit more challenging. And Dale's prophecy of 'things happening in THREE" was about to be fulfilled. Due to the chop Dale and I had a bit more challenge staying close. This swim was feeling more like the initial Swim and so I just kept my head down and chugged away.

About halfway cross I realized I hadn't felt Dale's morse code taps, and in fact - I hadn't seen Dale. I turned to my right and left. WTF is DALE!? I look completely back and I see him several yards back slapping at the water in a panicked state. I quickly swim back to him and can hear him screaming, "My goggles broke!! I've lost my goggles!" Yep, number THREE had struck.

Treading water, in the middle of Sharks Cover, Dale asks me panicked, "Do goggles float?"

I wasn't sure... But what I was sure of was we weren't making forward progress, and several teams in the water right behind us were!!

But this is the underrated, dynamic aspect of SwimRun. It's not about *Me*. It's about the the Team. Having grown up playing team sports, I understood this concept well. So without further thought, I dove under water and looked around earnestly trying to spot my partner's goggles. But no luck. Seeing as Dale wears contacts he absolutely needed goggle protection to continue. And seeing as I grew up a few miles from Fire Island and during my youth spent all day swimming in the Atlantic Ocean without goggles, I gave him mine. I kept my eyes closed when my head was down, and just opened them to sight. Keeping calm we made it to shore and immediately began asking teams for an extra pair. I knew I could finish the race without goggles, but it'd be much nicer to have a pair.

LI to Andrews Beach "Sharks Cove": 883y, 2:20 100y pace
Strava link:

The next section was the appetizer to Vail Island terrain. Although we were still on Long Island "Andrews Nubble" was a super gnarly coastline scramble littered with giant boulder slabs. Midway through boulder jumping we encountered a lovely women's team who said we have a pair of Swedes!! Saved again! THANK YOU! Although I'd only tried swedes once -- and it was a horrible fail, as the plastic cut into my eye-bone socket -- I was determined to transition from my cushioned triathlete gasket mask to a pure swimmers eyewear and make it work!

The Swim from LI to Vail was reasonably short, but the tide was strong. Luckily my newfound swedes fit my skull like a glove, with no leaking and clear optics. Dale and I were back on a Casco High. Thank you again to the supportive SwimRun women who bailed us out!!

LI to Vail Swim: 277 yards 2:20 100y (true distance stated 270 yards, but with the current seemed much further)
Strava link:

Next up was Vail Island. Words can't describe what a cool and primal experience this is. The landscape was like Superman's fortress of solitude but instead of ice, made of rock; a landscape of giant granite slabs and flatirons forming a closely linked puzzle you had to solve as you ran. Constantly you had to decide: Do I go up, down, vertical or straight?

It was such a fun, different experience. You have to experience it first-hand to understand. But, yeah, it was a blast!!

Scarmble across Vail: .5 mile 11:33 pace
Strava link:

The swim from Vail back to LI was uneventful, but once again the tides played a factor.

Vail to LI Swim - 443y 2:22/ 100y (course stated dist 430y)
Strava link:

A paved run on LI flew by. Dale and I made sure to get in more nutrition. I popped a caffeine gel. We knew now was when the Race truly started as we were upon the LI to Peak swim -- the swim across the Hussey Sound. And this is were the short course race actually starts. We were determined to nail this Swim across a major Casco sound!! I had read race reports from 2016 were it reportedly took some teams an hour to cross Hussey. I was determined to sight well and swim strong. Of all the swims, I really wanted to nail this one!

Entering Hussey Sound my Garmin 910XT had reached it's SwimRun MultiSport capabilities of 10 transitions. * Guess SwimRun is too extreme for the Garmin!! My plan was to simply hit Save and restart -- which is what I did. But unfortunately on-the-fly it restarted in Swim mode and when I hit lap it recorded "intervals" instead of alternating between Swim and Run. Oh well, I was still able to record the distance and time of the Swims.

Lars and Jeff has mentioned to us repeatedly, and pointed out in the presentation, that Pumpkins Knob -- a tiny island would blend into the larger Peaks Island. I'd also watched the videos several times of last years swim segment. So I'd done my homework and although the sight point was super far off, I felt confident.

Dale and I started with one male team ahead of us, and one to the left of us. The team to the left us was veering left. My gut told me not to follow them and sight to what I thought was the right way to go. I must say, maybe it was the caffeine gel kicking in, but halfway across this sound I found myself squarely in my Happy Place. I was enjoying the bobbing, the up and down sensation of the swells was so soothing. I was basking in the beauty of the sun above and truly feeling one with nature. I even made small talk with a volunteer kayaker who informed me we'd just missed the dolphins swimming by. Darn it!!

Before I knew it, Dale and I were gliding past Pumpkin Knob Island and I could clearly see the Peak Island landing spot a few hundred yards away. Luckily it was still low tide and all the seaweed I'd seen in last years Casco video was dry sea bed. All along the course we pretty much encountered zero seaweed.

Approaching the aid station and cheering volunteers and locals, I gladly declared to Dale we'd completed the swim in 35 mins!! I was stoked!

LI to Vail (Hussey Sound) 1839yds 35:53 1:57/ 100yd pace!!! (course states 1700yd)
Strava link: [looking back at the data, I definitely could've steered us a bit closer to Pumpkin Knob - maybe next year)

Still on our Hussey High, Dale and I immediately hit a few short, but steep paved hills. Peaks had lots of folks on golf carts, bikes, walking and jogging. The place was alive with summer activity, and crazy SwimRunners. Along the coastline we ran on residential roads knowing the single track, technical trail run awaited. We ran alone. Know other teams in sight. Our high was wearing off and the temps were rising. Where is that damn trail?! And finally, there it was. After the mail box numbers XX6, as promised.

The trail on Peaks was very technical. Both Dale and I rolled our ankles a number of times. Although the shade was welcomed. As promised by Jeff and Lars, it was well marked with flags, but the trail continuously spit us out onto a road where you had to go right or left a few strides to spot the next flag and correct entry back into the trail. There was a section of wooden planks over swamp, roots, tight single track; it was a lot of fun!!

Upon leaving the trail and back into the coastline road, I definitely started hurting a bit. Fatigue was setting in and the thoughts of "when will we be done" ... crept in. Although I didn't want the experience to end, mentally I began wrestling with the idea of wanting to be done soon. The seashore run felt long; the flags were far apart; and we were alone except for the scores of vacationers. Of which some routed us on, some didn't pay attention, and others stared with a strange expression.

At last we finally came to our next Swim entrance and to my surprise my wife, son, daughter and parents were waiting!!! Man that was the boost I needed at just the right time!! I high fives all of them - kisses and hugs are for the finish line only - it was freaking awesome!!

Although the actual distance was 3.2 miles it easily felt double.

Peaks Island Run: 3.2 miles, 37:46, 11:48 per mile
Strava link / Lap 2 -

Despite the family encounter boost, both my partner and I were entering full grind-it-out mode. It was very tough to sight the next landing. In the pre-race meeting Jeff had said the local Fire Dept would park a Fire Engine truck so we could sight off the bright red color. Hmmm... I see a beach, but not a Fire truck....

We were able to wade pretty far out into the water. A female team next to us was grumbling and not in a good place. They'd walked into a pole hidden by the water and their tether had tangled. I tried to stay positive and joke with them, but they weren't smiling.

Peaks to Cushings was a long 800 meters. The tide was all over the place, and sighting stunk. Or maybe I was just getting tired. I was grinding more than swimming at this point. Finally I saw the exit point and the, err... Fire Truck? The truck was more of a pale brown, then Fire Engine red. I guess island life sun and salt had taken it's toll on the truck. And I don't mean to underscore the local support!!!

Peak to Cushing Strava Lap Info Oddly Missing

On Cushing there was another aid station with some Red Bars. I broke a bar in half and forced it down, and Dale and I set off into a wide trail that went through some coastal backyards. At this point in the race, mentally it was tough leaving Peaks Island (which is where the finish line is) knowing you have to SwimRun to two more islands, just to return. But I tried to override these negative thoughts with positive notions that we were almost done!!

After a short 9 1/2 minute run across Cushing, which felt much longer in retrospect, we came to the shoreline and tough swim to Fort Scammel/ House Island. This crossing was exposed to the main bay, the water was super-choppy by this point, and we could clearly see the Day Beacon Jeff at emphatically instructed everyone to swim to the left of at the pre-race meeting. The female team that had lent us the swede goggles was also entering the water at the same time. I tried to take this as a positive omen as Dale and I started to grind across the second to last swim.

This swim was ugly for me. My shoulders were aching and I suddenly found myself struggling to keep up with Dale, who was swimming beside me and often in front of me. As a former "runner only" -- before my triathlete life, I equated this moment to hitting The Wall at around Mile 22 of the marathon. Only problem is, I couldn't stop and walk. I couldn't put my hand on my knees, breather deep, and gather myself. I couldn't stop -- I had to keep swimming!! I had to keep up with my partner. Standing still and drowning wasn't an option. And this is the beauty of SwimRun. I'd done the Swim training, it was just a matter of me mentally pushing myself to a place I'd normally wouldn't have gone.

To change things up, I peered behind me for a moment to try and see the girls team, but I only saw waves. Fighting through fatigue and sore shoulders, I buried my head and focused on keeping up with Dale, and swimming toward the giant Day Beacon. There could be no reprieve until I reached shore and completed the swim leg.

Finally we were upon the Beacon, swam past keeping the sight guide to our right, and around the bend magically a giant yellow Casco Bay SwimRun flag appeared! Thank God!! When we finally came ashore Dale proclaimed to the heavens, "We're alive!! We made it!" His friend Jeff was stationed at House Island and gave us a hearty House Island welcome. Man that was a tough swim. Easily the toughest swim I've ever done, and damn was that satisfying.

Cushing to House Island Swim: 961y, 23:24 min, 2:22/100y (course stated 900y)
Strava link / Lap 7:

House Island was a slow-go. The first half is boulder scrambling that was much more treacherous than Vail (or at least it felt so, probably due to fatigue), and the second half is a mostly upward climb on grassy trail though Fort Scammel. I found myself very gassed at this point and walking a bunch. Thanks to my emphatic partner, I was able to pick up the pace and attempt to shuffle/run a bit.

House Island/ Fort Scammel Run: .6 mile - 14:53

On the other side of House Island a volunteer pointed us to the finish line across the Bay. The water was much calmer on this side of the Island, but the tide looked strong and I knew would wreak a bit of havoc with the last swim leg. At this point Dale and I knew it was time to empty the tank and Get R Done. As per the advice of the volunteer we used a bright red roof to the left of the finish to sight.

Luckily this last swim felt more like a lake swim and we were able to power across in one of our faster paces.

House Island to Peak Swim: 834y, 15:00 flat, 1:47/100y pace
Strava link / Lap 9:

Luckily Dale and I came ashore alone and were able to bound up the final steep stairs, and run across the finish line. We were done. Wow, was that tough, fun, challenging, different and just plain awesome.

Lars gave both of us a big finishers hug. What a cool, well-run event. What a great Team adventure unlike we’d never experienced before.
Transition 1
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  • 00m
  • 15 miles
  •  min/mile
Post race
What limited your ability to perform faster:

I dragged the wife and kids to Portland for this race. FYI: Portland is a city for adults; not much going on for young kids. We went up to Bar Harbor after the race and had a blast! Hiked up in Acadia Park, ate a lot of superb seafood in downtown Bar Harbor, walked overt the land bridge to Bar Island and hiked Bar Isle end-to-end. We had one of our best family vacations ever! Can't wait to go back to Bar Harbor.

Event comments:

Kudos to both Jeff and Lars for bringing a phenomenal SwimRun event to the US. The residents of the Casco Bay Islands were gracious and enthusiastic hosts. I've run marathons in NYC and Philly, completed triathlons in Montauk, Lake Placid and Mont Tremblant, and none of these events can compare to the picturesque settings and exotic terrain on this event. Casco Bay SwimRun is a very unique and challenging adventure that must be experienced first-hand to truly grasp the beauty and depth of complexity offered in this dynamically different event.

Last updated: 2017-07-06 12:00 AM
00:00:00 | 8800 meters | / 100meters
Age Group: 0/43
Overall: 0/89
Start type: Plus:
Water temp: 60F / 16C Current: Medium
200M Perf. Remainder:
Breathing: Drafting:
Waves: Navigation:
Time:  00:00
Removing cap, goggles and wetsuit:
Getting into shoes:
00:00:00 | 15 miles |  min/mile
Age Group: 0/43
Overall: 0/89
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2017-08-20 2:07 PM

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Subject: Casco Bay Swim-Run (Long Course)

2017-08-20 7:17 PM
in reply to: #5226610

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South Windsor, CT
Subject: RE: Casco Bay Swim-Run (Long Course)
You ROCK, my partner. I love you for the experience and all you brought to it. You are an amazing athlete. Your family is wicked cool and thanks for letting me be a part of it for a while.

This is a treasured memory now.
2017-08-21 6:05 AM
in reply to: dtoce

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Middle River, Maryland
Bronze member
Subject: RE: Casco Bay Swim-Run (Long Course)
That's an epic race report. Congrats, Bobby and Dale!
2017-08-22 12:37 PM
in reply to: #5226610

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Houston, Texas
Subject: RE: Casco Bay Swim-Run (Long Course)

Wow, what a race and race report! 

I've been sorta interested in these SwimRun events, but I can't wrap my brain around how I'd run and swim in one set of shoes without getting gnarly blisters.  Did you have any issues with the cold water after running? 

2017-08-23 5:39 AM
in reply to: #5226610

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Lierskogen, Buskerud
Subject: RE: Casco Bay Swim-Run (Long Course)
Great report! Makes me (almost) want to try out this crazy sport!
2017-08-24 6:58 PM
in reply to: #5226610

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South Windsor, CT
Subject: RE: Casco Bay Swim-Run (Long Course)
Thanks Mike, Nicole and Scott.

Bobby may be busy and not be following BT. I can tell you that my feet were FREEZING for the first run, then just cold on the next one and then they were OK. 58 degree ocean water chills you pretty darn quickly.

I knew from SOS that my legs would be somewhat dead and not respond so well so we needed to ease into our comfortable 'pace'. We held run paces pretty good. Those currents were BEAST. I believe we lost some time there as we were just rookies at that. We were triathlete's in a world of very elite/competitive swimmers with significant run backgrounds. It was a bit weird for me seeing our placing be so low, but that was what it was.

But you must understand, that this is beyond words in terms of the challenges it brings. Just another level, or more.

Nicole has some solid swim and run background, so I think this is in her wheelhouse. It would be a totally different experience. I suggest finding a team-mate and considering an application.





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2017-08-24 7:09 PM
in reply to: dtoce

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South Windsor, CT
Subject: RE: Casco Bay Swim-Run (Long Course)
more pics-not all of us





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2017-08-31 8:38 AM
in reply to: dtoce

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Houston, Texas
Subject: RE: Casco Bay Swim-Run (Long Course)

Originally posted by dtoce Nicole has some solid swim and run background, so I think this is in her wheelhouse. It would be a totally different experience. I suggest finding a team-mate and considering an application.

The only problem is the lack of biking

I have considered it though.  I have a few concerns -- 1) lack of biking , 2) blisters from swimming in my running shoes, and 3) I don't love "scrambling" and would prefer to just run, so I don't know if it's something I would truly enjoy.  But I suspect I will give it a shot at some point!

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