AUGUSTA — One by one, competitors of various ages entered a big, black tent near the Kennebec Valley YMCA on Friday afternoon, anxiously ready to check in for a weekend of physical brutality.

The Ironman Maine 70.3 – a half Ironman triathlon with running, swimming and cycling – is set for Sunday. On Friday, athletes checked into their living quarters in anticipation of the big event.

An estimated 2,200 athletes will compete, including some who are getting back into the grueling sport after a few years away.

“I’ve done five full (Ironmans) and probably 10 halfs, but I haven’t done one in seven years,” said Joe Sofia, 55, of Clarksburg, New Jersey. “I had a few people from work sign up for this, and they talked me into this. They said, ‘come out of retirement.’ Here I am. …

My kids are here, and my wife is here, and they love to see me do it. I like to be an inspiration that as you get older, you either use it or you lose it. I just want to be a good role model for my kids.”

Kyle Pilachowski, 25, of Boston is a former standout swimmer at Westford Academy in Massachusetts. He also swam at Boston College before walking on to the football team as a kicker. Now an investment banker, Pilachowski has competed in three Ironman triathlons and a half Ironman over the past two years.


“Coming out of school, it’s how I keep my competitive drive going,” said Pilachowski, who was joined by Toffee, his goldendoodle. “Ultimately, I have a dog that’s a service animal, I have Tourette (Syndrome, which is a nervous system disorder that involves repetitive movements or unwanted sounds). The whole goal of this in the end, 15 or 20 years down the road, is to coach disabled athletes and be a guide. I want to keep competing while I’m young and while I can, and then give back.”

Pilachowski will be joined by his father, Robert, 57, who is competing in his first half Ironman triathlon.

“I used to do (sprint triathlons) and close-to-Olympic-distance (events) 30-plus years ago,” Robert Pilachowski said. “I did a sprint a month ago. This is my first ‘I’m going to regret this’ triathlon. … I’m the only one in the family who hasn’t done something like this. I’ve done training rides with (the family). It should be good; I think I can do it. The run may be difficult. I’m not a swimmer, but I think the swim will be OK, even down river.”

People shop for t-shirts Friday in the Ironman Village set up on athletic fields near the Kennebec Valley YMCA in Augusta. The shirts on the table have the names of the over 2,000 contestants printed on them. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The course features a 56-mile bike ride, a 1.2-mile swim along the Kennebec River, and a 13.1-mile run along the Kennebec River Rail Trail. While there are events that play to an athlete’s strengths in these half Ironmans, some also bring a sense of dread.

“For me, it’s the run,” said Emma Taylor, 30, of Brookline, Massachusetts. “It’s at the end, when you’re the most tired, the most fatigued. But that’s when the fans can really come in and help bring you home.”

“The swimming, I could probably ramp things up (in training),” added Maria Chalker, 38, of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. “But it’s such a small part of the event that I don’t really make up much time in the swim. The bike is probably my weakest (event), overall, and that’s the longest part. But it’ll be fine; it’s just a goal of mine to finish, feel good and feel strong.”


Athletes said they appreciate the sense of community an event like this brings.

“This is my 10th half (Ironman),” said Alan Lemire, 55, of Montreal. “The community is really friendly; you get to meet a whole bunch of new people every time. You’ve got people (here) from all over the place. The social aspect is a part of it.”

Sofia recalled a fellow athlete who helped push him through an event years ago in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I was doing Ironman Louisville, a full Ironman, and I was on the run,” Sofia said. “I was about halfway through the run, and I was hurting, really hurting. I came across this guy, who had a shirt, and on the back it said, ‘For Ma.’ She had dealt with breast cancer. My wife has (also) dealt with breast cancer.

“I stopped, walked with him for a little bit, and he told me the story, his mom passed away,” Sofia continued. “I just said, ‘Wow, and I’m sitting here complaining about hurting.’ I stayed with him and we finished (the triathlon). The sense of community is just amazing.”

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