LANCASTER — There’ll always be preferences among triathletes, favoring one or two of the disciplines and using those to make up for a weakness or shortcoming of the other.
Swimming or cycling can pose challenges to runners coming to the sport, and distance running may not be a strong suit to competitive swimmers entering the fray.
For Stuart Hughes of Lancaster, who turned 60 in June, swimming and biking are his preferences, but his running carries him in competition.
“I don’t love running, but I can do it,” he says, while adding dryly yet humorously, “Running is my strongest event, and I’m very upset by that.”
Yet Hughes’ feet to the pavement propelled him to winning the 60-64 age class at last month’s Boston Triathlon, an Olympic tri event featuring a 1-mile swim, 22-mile bicycle ride and 10-kilometer run.
Trailing the leaders by about six minutes entering the running leg, Hughes made up those 6 minutes, and left those leaders 6 minutes behind. He finished in 2 hours, 20 minutes, 21 seconds, placing 56th of 243 overall, while raising money for Boston Medical Center.
Hughes’ home on Spec Pond provides a paradise for a training triathlete, beginning at his dock with the sparkling clear water naturally aligned for frequent 1- to 2-mile training swims, with hardly a wake to be had.
And the local scenic roads serve up an ideal 12.3-mile cycling circuit and 4-mile running loop, assets Hughes doesn’t take for granted.
“I’ll see in my work calendar that I have a 40-minute gap, and I can just do a swim, just do a run, just do a bike,” he said. “That’s why this is paradise, you can do all three of those things.”
Hughes, however, is concerned about the future quality of his training environs as a large distribution center is proposed for construction off Route 70, about a half mile from his home.
“All three of my sports are under stress now,” he said. “The scenic roads will be exposed to more traffic, and we are in such a risk of runoff into the lake, which is quite beautiful.”
Lancaster is taking up the matter, whether to change the zoning of the proposed site from residential to industrial, at a special town meeting on Tuesday.
“The intense truck and commuter traffic that comes with developments of this size will cause road safety issues and introduce air, water and noise pollution including diesel particulate matter from idling trucks and cars,” Hughes added.
Cycling became second nature
While Hughes competed in field hockey, rugby and squash in his native England (“In my heart of hearts, I’m a fairly average athlete, but I am very focused”), he developed a liking for cycling at a young age, when his grandfather owned a bicycle shop near the south coast of England. Before moving to the States, Hughes frequently commuted 32 miles by bike from Wimbledon to his office in London.
“England is very bike friendly, and I think Boston is getting there,” he said.
Hughes, a vice president for finance/accounting for Gannett (the Telegram & Gazette’s parent company), met his wife Kathy, a Leominster native, when she was on a project in London while working for Bank of Boston. They’ve been married 31 years and in England raised their three children, including oldest son Madison, a two-time U.S. Olympic captain in rugby sevens, before Madison (Dartmouth), son Cameron (Providence) and daughter Cassie (Fairfield) attended college in the United States.
As Madison was preparing for the 2016 Games in Rio, Stuart and Kathy were moving to the States. They now live in the home they purchased on Spec Pond, a traditional vacation and living spot for Kathy’s family, with the children having spent 4-6 weeks each summer at Kathy’s parents’ place while growing up.
Stuart spreads out his training while working from home, a couple of days a week with a 1- or 2-mile swim, a couple of days with a 12.3-mile bike ride and couple of days with a 4-mile run, which he completes in approximately 31 minutes. Hughes had taken part in several corporate challenge running events before taking on his first triathlon.
“The thing about the triathlon is the organization required,” he said, “and is more tactical than running a marathon (he ran a 3:12 in the 1997 London Marathon). You can get by in a triathlon on good organization and tactics … and a very expensive bike.”
Lessons learned from triathlon debut
Hughes learned valuable lessons from his first Boston Triathlon, in June 2019 in South Boston, starting with the swim in Dorchester Bay.
“I did everything wrong,” he said. “On the swim, it’s a total zoo out there. I’m used to training on crystal blue waters. Here, they’re kicking you in the face, you can’t see a thing. My goggles got steamed up, and I went way off track. My family watching me, and ‘there’s a guy going way off course’ … ‘oh, that’s dad.’ I had done about 400 extra meters of swimming, which accounted for about seven minutes.”
“I then got changed, got on the bike, and forgot my sunglasses,” Hughes recalled. “So I went back, and that cost me about a minute.”
There Hughes encountered many even stronger cyclists than he. “I did 19.3 miles an hour, the top guys were doing 23, 24 on the average.”
His run three years ago in the heat “went very well,” clocking about 46 minutes over the 10K for a 2:34:44 overall time, finishing almost 15 minutes behind winner Fabrizzio Giovannini in his 55-59 age group. “I was a bit disappointed, but then I thought oh well, I didn’t spend enough on the bike, I swam too far, I forgot my sunglasses, and this was my first one.
“So being an accountant, I did a lot of analysis,” said Hughes, who downloaded pictures of the leaders, looking at their bikes, looking at their splits. “There was one guy in 55-59 who finished in 2:10, I’m never going to beat him, ever. But I did identify an opportunity, that when I’m 60, I can win this, but I’m going to have to improve by 15 minutes.”
COVID then came along and canceled the 2020 and ’21 Boston Triathlons, so Hughes didn’t get the chance to gradually lower his times at the event leading up to his age-60 shot. But he was ready this year.
“I did a lot of studying, I borrowed a friend’s bike, a Quintana Roo — this bike wants to go, it’s very good.”
At the 2022 Boston Triathlon on Aug. 21, Hughes “only swum an extra 70 meters … a little bit extra, but my goggles weren’t so misted up.
“And I got my transition just right,” he added. “On the bike, I had four gel packs, two full bottles on water, and I start the run with a little bottle of water, so you’re going into the run fueled. You can’t feed while going on the swim, but on the bike, you have the gel packs in the back pocket — on each lap, I had a gel pack.”
Hughes had given up three minutes to the leader on the swim, clocking 27:55, and gave another three minutes on the bike after finishing the circuit in 1:02:21, “but I’m still on track” entering the 10K run.
Madison was following the event’s web site and was tracking his dad’s nearest competitors, who were wearing bib numbers in the 200s, signifying they were from the 55-59 and 60-over age groups. “You’re going to catch one of them, but not the other,” Madison relayed to his father.
Again, Stuart, who wore No. 211, turned in a strong 10K, as the two ahead of him “kind of melted down,” he said. “Maybe they pushed too hard or hadn’t fueled.
“Right at the end, I sat on 205’s shoulder for half a mile, figuring he could be in my age group, and in the closing, I sprinted past him, and he didn’t respond. As it turned out, he wasn’t in my age group, he was in 55-59.”
Like in 2019, Hughes clocked the fastest in his age group for the 10K, 46:18, an impressive 7:28 per mile, even in the hot conditions.
Not too bad at all, especially for a man who favors water and cycle, though the running makes him the winner.
—Contact John Conceison at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ConceisonJohn.