Will to compete

Towne qualifies for Half Ironman world championships

Milton’s Brent Towne endured a 34-degree low during his September showing at the half Ironman competition in Lake Placid, N.Y. (Courtesy photo)

Steam shrouded Brent Towne as he pulled off his wetsuit last month, 1.2 miles of lake behind him and a 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run to go.

Towne has raced all his life. A 2002 Milton High School graduate, many may remember him from his state and New England qualifying cross country and track performances. Others may know him as their former MHS coach for the two sports.

Most recently, though, he’s renowned as a Half Ironman world championship qualifier.

“I was able to hold on for fourth place finish overall,” Towne said. “It was well beyond what I had gone in expecting.”

He began training last March, after conceding his preparation for the Boston Marathon. Losing motivation, he said he set out to “spice up” his regimen. Seven months of 15-hour training weeks later, he was in Lake Placid, N.Y. this September ready to compete.

Methodically swimming through the 62-degree lake, Towne was toying with 85th place. The steam cloaked him as he changed into drier clothes, and he was off on the bike eight minutes later — but it was twice the time his competitors took to transition, and the bike was his weakest activity.

Yet the difference worked to his advantage. The group hit 34 degrees at the ride’s coldest point, leaving many wet bikers with hypothermia. Towne said he continued to count backward from 10 to one, keeping his mind — and motor skills — in check. 

Deep in the Adirondacks, hitting an elevation of 2,200 feet, bikers soon descended 1,700 feet, some averaging 49 miles per hour. To keep focused, Towne dialed in on his bike analytics and ensured his wattage was around 220. No more, no less.

He’s a goal-oriented athlete and always has been, he explained. Setting small, specific time goals is one motivator. So, too, is his coach Kim Loeffler of Burlington’s OnTrack Health and Fitness, where Towne also coaches runners.

Having a coach provides accountability, Towne said. September marked his first-ever triathlon, and while Towne knows he’s athletically capable of competing, having someone to push him helps, he said.

The same will come into play as he begins in January to train for his first full Ironman next July. He’ll swim, bike and run this year’s course, times two.

It’s a feat some people can’t fathom undertaking. But it’s also one others are physically incapable of doing, which is part of the reason Towne is inspired to take it on.

He looked to his friend, Maxwell Curtiss, as an example. Curtiss, another MHS graduate, often trains side by side with Towne.

That changed, however, when a driver struck Curtiss on his bike at the intersection of Route 7 and Lake Road in Milton this July, sending him to the hospital in critical condition. The 25-year-old is now back home but has a long recovery ahead of him, Towne said.

Former Milton High School cross country and track runner and coach Brent Towne qualified for the Half Ironman world championships, which includes running 13.1 miles. (Courtesy photo)

This in mind, Towne said he’s lucky to be out the door at 6:30 a.m. for a 70-mile bike ride. So he takes advantage.

Along the way, he travels to places he otherwise wouldn’t. He sees sights from Milton to Smuggler’s Notch and from Essex into the Appalachian Gap. On swim days, his training brings him to the beach.

After a day of work at Dealer.com and a three-hour workout, Towne often catches the sunset among the Green Mountains, reminding him: “This is what living in Vermont is all about,” he said.

Back in Lake Placid, Towne finished the bike portion in seventh place. Off to run a half-marathon — his strong suit — he gained some ground, inching into fourth place overall and first in his 30-35 age group.

In a peculiar contrast, he likened his triathlon goal to growing giant pumpkins, another larger-than-life hobby. In 2014, Towne grew a 1,290-pound pumpkin in his Milton backyard, earning first place in the Vermont Giant Pumpkin Growers Association weigh-off.

“You just get an idea, and you’re like, ‘I wanna do that; that would be awesome,’” he said. “And when you start doing it, you think, ‘I don’t wanna just do it, I want to be good at it, and I want to get personal satisfaction of accomplishing something.’”

Like the pumpkin, his goals are fast growing. He’s flirting with the idea of completing the Ironman in less than 10 hours with a three-hour marathon split and 22 mph biking average.

Either way, 2018 brings two major goals to the forefront: compete in a full Ironman and get married. The latter just so happens to be scheduled the same time as the half-Ironman worlds in South Africa.

In this case, love wins.

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