Friday, August 3, 2012

Marshwood Teacher Wins Age Group in Ironman Triathlon

Science Instructor is 2nd in Amateur Division, 6th Best Overall

Vinny Johnson (courtesy photo)

By Timothy Gillis
Staff Columnist

Vinny Johnson, a science teacher at Marshwood High School, finished first in his age group (35-39), second in the amateur division, and sixth overall in the Ironman Triathlon, held two weeks ago in Lake Placid, New York.
The Ironman is a grueling race, one of a series of long-distance triathlons organized by the World Triathlon Corporation and consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike, and a marathon 26.2-mile run, raced in that order and without a break.
Johnson, who instructs students in biology and anatomy courses, said he uses what he teaches in the classroom when he is out on the race courses.
“People say they have a feel for the race; I don’t,” Johnson said. “I have an analytical approach to it. Everything is planned out, even the amount of carbohydrates I need.”
Things often have a way of changing doing the race, Johnson said.
“At end of race, though, I have a sense of trusting myself. Sometimes it can backfire, but for the most part, it gets me to a performance I feel like I’m capable of.”
He also returns the exchange and takes his triathlon experience into the classroom. So many high school classes are about rote memorization, he said, so he tries to infuse his lessons with real examples from his body’s chemical changes during such an exerting race.
“Remember high school? You were usually made to memorize charts and tables<” he said. “I try to use myself as an example, to have students note reactions in the body to tie into real life.” Johnson said he uses such personal examples as heart rate data over the course of a race to illustrate the way the body reacts to adverse conditions. He also covers such topics as nutrition and how it can help an athlete perform better.
“I try to tie in my own, real-world experience in class,” he said.
Johnson’s results meant that he qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, but he declined the spot.
“Instead, this allows me to pursue the professional license, allows me to race as a pro.”
Johnson, who has taught at Marshwood for thirteen years, is already gearing up for his next race, a “half Ironman” called Rev3 in Old Orchard Beach on Sunday, August 26. This race features a 1.2 mile swim at OOB, a 56-mile bike ride inland towards Buxton and back, and a 13.1 mile run to top it off.

Triathlon from the POV of a Champion
Johnson has written extensively, from a first-person point of view about his recent race.
“We do that so people can read through it and get the planning and mindframe that goes into it,” he said. “It’s not about just going out there and running as fast as you can. It takes planning, knowing what you’re actually capable of and (being able to) execute that, instead of trying to keep up with someone you shouldn’t be.”

Here are some excerpts from his writing, which can be found at

Ironman Lake Placid 2012
“Coming out of Ironman Florida, I had a whole new confidence level for my run segment. After checking out both mentally and physically on the first half of the bike leg in Florida, I was able to snap out of it. Snapping out of it meant, doing a bit of an experiment on the fly. I wanted to destroy my legs on the bike, and see how they would hold up for the duration of the marathon. Needless to say, they held up. As a result I gained a sense that regardless of how I felt coming off of the bike my run would be there.
Fast forward 8 months, and I was starting to taper down for Ironman Lake Placid. The training had been great. I didn't focus on working harder, I just focused on recovering harder. This focus allowed me to maintain a consistent effort level on the days that counted. I never faded, never felt like I “didn't have it,” never bonked. I'm not saying it was easy, and I enjoyed every minute, but when I had to dig deep it was there.”

Swim: Lined up right next to the dock, on the start line. Figured there would be some fast feet in that location, but once the chatter started about swim times I realized I was going to miss out on the front group. I’m never right up there, but at least able to hang on to the back of the lead pack. Cannon went off, and swam as fast as I could for 400 yds, the whole time seeing a group take off towards the middle of the field. That 400 hurt, almost too much. I was struggling just to keep the arms moving after such a violent effort.
Swim time. 53:24 1:23/100m AG rank: 2 OA rank: 21

Bike: Heart rate was through the roof, but with the terrain and heat it wasn’t going to be about heart rate on the bike. The ability to make a hilly course flat is key to a great run coming off of a tough bike leg. So today it was all about wattage. I figured I would be able to hold 225-235 watts and then run a 3:15 marathon. When you ride and run for over 8 hours over the course of every weekend for the last 6 months, you can figure that kind of stuff out. Every 5 minutes fluids went in, every aid station two bottles of water would be poured all over me, every 30 minutes fuel went in. Salt tabs at the 2 hr mark, and 4 hr mark. 98 grams of carbs/hour, 772 mg’s of salt/hour. Ironman racing can be more like a science experiment than any else, and I like science experiments! As we know, science experiments are only valid if they have been tested over and over again with the same results.
Bike : 5:19:53 21.0mph AG rank: 3 OA rank: 13

Run: Came out like I got shot out of a cannon. This is my segment. This is where I feel confident. This is where I can dig deep, run angry, run with a chip on my shoulder. So this is where I was going to make this thing happen. This is where I was going to get to that ledge and go for it. I knew, no matter how horrible I feel, I can run. As we made our way down Main St., all I could remember was QT2 coach Pat Wheeler walking towards me, almost felt as if he was going to jump in front of me, and he yelled “Slow Down”!!!! I just remember thinking, not today.
Then I realized, I had just covered .1 miles, and had 26.1 to go. That .1 felt fast, and for the fist time, I did feel like I dug deep, worked a bit too hard. I had 3 hrs plus left of running, so figured slowing down was some great advice, and did. As a result I watched as images of the racers in front of me got farther and farther from me. So I backed off the ledge, and didn’t go for it. Figured that last 6 miles might require some ledge jumping, so I would save it for then.
Run: 3:11:16 AG rank: 1 OA rank: 6

I thought if I had an OK day, I would go under 9:50. A solid day, around 9:40. An epic day would get me under 9:40. I had an epic x2 kind of day
9:32:58 1st in AG, 2nd OA amateur, and 6th OA.

I only found this out as I sat in the corner of the changing tent, by myself, looking at the results on my iphone. Still in shock, I called Brooke. Not much could be said due to the emotion of the moment. What people see as results on paper gives no justice to the amount sacrifice that goes into a “time” you get on race day.

I’m not going to Kona. I declined my slot. I knew going into this event, I wasn’t going to go due to too many variables that just didn’t make it the right choice this year. However, due to the stars aligning just right, I did earn the right to gain a pro card for the next few years. This is an opportunity that I will cash in on. This will allow me to race with more flexibility, and get to more races. That is what attracts me to the pro level. What I will lose, is the ability to get to Kona over the next few years. To get there at the pro level, under my circumstances is impossible. Impossible are odds I like, and need, to further improve myself as an athlete, coach and person. So bring on impossible!”