Dr. Stephen Pfister did what many Mainers and tourists alike do each summer — visit Islesboro.
But rather than take the ferry from Lincolnville, the 67-year-old Bangor pathologist simply swam the 3 miles from the mainland to the island.
“I ended up swimming quite well,” Pfister said.
Truth be told, Pfister wasn’t addressing any tourist urges that day. His purpose was twofold, helping to raise funds for LifeFlight of Maine and preparing for Sunday’s Ironman 70.3 Maine half-triathlon in Old Orchard Beach.
“Doing the LifeFlight event, if you can swim that far it’s real good mental preparation for this event,” he said.
A sold-out field of 2,500 competitors representing 32 states, the District of Columbia, six Canadian provinces and the United Kingdom is registered to participate in the Old Orchard Beach Ironman 70.3 event.
The event is particularly popular among Canadian triathletes, with 719 competitors from Quebec alone and 859 entrants from north of the border overall. The field also includes 131 entries from Maine set to begin the race at 6:20 a.m. at the iconic Old Orchard Beach pier with a 1.2-mile swim in Saco Bay.
That’s followed by a 56-mile bicycle leg through the rolling hills of Saco, Scarborough, Hollis, Waterboro and Buxton before an out-and-back 13.1-mile (half-marathon) run leads to the finish line in downtown Old Orchard Beach.
For Pfister, this was one of seven half-triathlons he completed within an eight-month span last year en route to becoming the 2017 Ironman 70.3 world champion in the men’s 65-69 age group.
It also produced his second-fastest time of the year, with his clocking of 5 hours, 13 minutes and 14 seconds good for one of his three age-group race victories.
“The weather and everything last year cooperated almost perfectly,” recalled Pfister, whose fastest Ironman 70.3 finish came three weeks later when he placed 127th overall among 2,463 finishers in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with a time of 5 hours, 9 minutes and 20 seconds.
Pfister hasn’t been as active in triathlons this year as he was a year ago. Ironman 70.3 Maine will be Pfister’s first and perhaps only half-triathlon of the year, appealing in part because it requires minimal travel compared to a year ago when he raced in Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Utah, Puerto Rico and Florida (twice).
“I had a few other things to do and it took me until this time to get my desire back up to want to do a race again,” he said. “But you’ve got to back off even if you’re not hurt to give your body a chance to regenerate and recoup. If you don’t you will get hurt.”
The convergence of 2,500 competitors, their families and friends as well as an estimated 1,000 race volunteers on Old Orchard Beach gives the event a carnival atmosphere, Pfister said.
“It’s kind of a privilege to have this type of event here in Maine,” he said. “Someone tried to put one on with a different race series a couple of years ago and I think the maximum number of people they had was 400 or 500, and now Ironman comes in and sells out a field of 2,500.
“Ironman has a real organized way of doing things, and I go because everybody’s anxious and excited to be there, everybody’s interested and happy. Nobody starts talking politics or income or IRAs or anything like that. You’re there for a positive event and it’s just nice to be surrounded by that for 48 hours or so.”
Pfister said Ironman 70.3 Maine is made less intense by its start, where racers are not matched by competitive factors.
“In many races they set you up in heats in your age group and that creates a little competition,” he said. “In this one, you just get in line when you happen to get in line and then you start out four at a time so it doesn’t get congested.
“I think that lends to a sense of participation and fun and enthusiasm as opposed to creating a little unneeded competition at the start. The whole point for everyone is just to finish. It is a race but the point is to finish and to do as well as you can.”
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