Taking Stock – 2018 Year in Review

2018 was a weird year for me – it started out strong and then just sort of…fizzled.  I made my age group podium in the first three triathlons of the year and then went 0/3 to close out the year, which included a self-disqualification at the Patriot’s Olympic Triathlon in September.  In actuality, I had a fantastic race that day, finished first in my age group and even qualified for Age Group Nationals…until I made the walk of shame to the timing tent to take a DQ for going off course.  I won’t elaborate on that in detail since its been covered before here, but it was still a tough pill to swallow.  There was also the fact that my “A” race for the year in the Outer Banks was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence.

On the bright side, my fitness level has never been higher and I performed well in the back half of the year, even though I was off the podium.  My last three races included a 4/14, a 1/24 (pre-DQ) and a 4/22 in my age group in some competitive fields, so I was really knocking on the door.  I was also able to set a 5k PR in November, so the focus on improving my running speed in 2018 paid off.  There were a fair amount of 800s on the track to get there, so it was good to see the track work pay dividends.

There was no full Ironman in 2018, but I’d done Maryland in 2016 and Chattanooga in 2017 so a year off from the 140.6 distance was in the cards.  Fall Ironman races make for an exhausting summer, particularly as the long Saturday bike rides and the long Sunday runs ramp up in June or July.  Once you’ve done a full though, its really hard to readjust to some sense of normalcy once its over.

From a training standpoint, I went from 303 hours in 2016 to 394 hours in 2017 to 354 hours in 2018.  That equates to 6.8 hours/week over the course of the year, with the training load being somewhat higher in the summer than in the winter.  That was a slight pullback from last year, but I trained for Ironman Chattanooga in 2017 and I wasn’t training for a full Ironman this time around.  I also lost some training time in the Spring due to injury and illness.

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On that note, 2018 was okay for me in the injury department, but there were some bumps in the road for sure.  I continued to see Tressa once a month so she can work on my piriformis issues and my IT bands (and whatever else is bothering me at the moment), and she’s kept me moving forward pretty well.  Her sessions can be pretty painful, but she’s worth every penny.  Plus, she lets me bring my dog.  Actually, I don’t think I’m allowed to come to an appointment without my dog.

Two new issues came up this year though, with the first being (what I think is) an oblique strain on my left side.  I’m not sure what the precipitating event was, but I began having pain under my left rib cage just before Easter.  The pain was never overwhelming, but it was nagging and noticeable during training.  Diagnostics didn’t reveal anything concrete, and prescription anti-inflammatories helped for a while.  I was almost back to 100% when I ran out of pills, and then I re-aggravated it doing swim sprints.  It was re-aggravated again after spreading mulch this Fall, and its still bugging me today.  Not enough to need any additional treatment, but its getting pretty old at this point and I’d like for it to go away.

The other issue was intractable headaches that started in June and which went on for 2-3 months.  I had a headache pretty much everyday all day and I was taking 6-8 Ibuprofen per day to try to deal with it.  That made training difficult at times, because riding a bike with a splitting headache isn’t a whole lot of fun.  The only thing that I could think of that might have been causing the headaches was the fact that we’d gotten a kitten in May.  I never had pet allergies growing up, but maybe I’d developed a cat allergy over time.  Tressa finally gave me some supplements to take, and the headaches resolved within a week or two of starting on her regimen.

So overall, 2018 was a pretty good year, even though there were some hiccups.  I also turned 40 this year and aged up into the “masters” category, which is certainly bittersweet.  Still, I’m blessed to be able to say that I’m faster and fitter at 40 than at any other time in my life, but its getting harder and harder to keep the upward trajectory going.  The performance gains are definitely diminishing at this point, but I’m going to try to hold on to them for a few more years.

Looking ahead, 2019 is going to be an awesome year – with two Ironman brand races already on the books.  Ironman created a new 70.3 race in Williamsburg that takes place in May, and I think most of the Richmond triathlon community is going to be there, including Leigh Anne (its her first 70.3).  I also got the go ahead to sign up for Ironman Louisville next October, and I can’t wait to get back to another 140.6.  My current race calendar is here.

In closing, thanks to Karen Holloway and Erin Wittwer for coaching me, for putting up with all of my whining and for letting me wear the ProK dots even though I can’t seem to stay on course.  Thanks to Leigh Anne and the rest of my family for living through this with me and for the motivation and encouragement that they provide.  Thanks to my friends, who are probably sick of seeing anything remotely workout related on my Facebook wall, and thanks to the two or three people who actually read my blog instead of just looking at the pretty pictures.

As always, thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

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Ok, so I lied about the pictures being pretty.

“You’re the face of the future, the blood in my veins…”

2018 Richmond 8k

Race Report

55:01    (11:04 min/mile)     1/5 AG

(Jillian’s Results)

November 10, 2018 – For the past few years I’d run either the Richmond Marathon (2015 and 2016) or the Richmond Half Marathon (2017) in November as my last serious race of the year.  Technically, the Turkey Day 5k comes last, but my real prep work after tri season ends has been for the full or the half marathon.  Leigh Anne had planned to run the half this year, so I was going to be on parenting duty for the race.  I could have inquired about a babysitter if I really wanted to race, like we’d done in the past, but for a couple of reasons, I decided against racing.

Still, over the summer Jillian and I began talking about whether she might be interested in running the 8k.  She’d done a couple of 5ks in the past, but nothing over that distance.  Jillian told me that she wanted to run it, but I made her commit to training for it before I would agree to sign her up.  Jackson had no interest in racing, and he’s old enough now to stay home alone by himself for a few hours.  So, after Jillian promised to put in the training, I signed us both up.  We planned to run the 8k while Leigh Anne tackled the half marathon, and then Jillian and I would have a bit of time to wait around before Leigh Anne finished.

Generally speaking, I made Jillian run with me at least once a week over the summer and fall, and Leigh Anne would take her some as well.  Most of the time, I’d do my Saturday morning bike and transition run and then I’d collect Jillian for her training run.  We started off running about 1.5 miles and I tried to add about a half mile every week.  Jillian has a lot of natural running ability and loves to race, but man, she doesn’t like to train.  It probably didn’t help that it was hot and humid on some of our runs, and there was a lot of complaining early on.

In those moments, I tried to remind her that it was her idea to run the 8k, and that she needed to follow through with her training commitment if she wanted to race.  On one particularly gruesome three mile run, the complaining (and even crying) got so bad that I stopped, began to walk and told her that I was done training her for the race.  Since it was so terrible, we could just walk back to the house and call it quits.  Now, I always let her run at the pace of her choosing and we took walk breaks whenever she needed, so its not like I was setting the pace and forcing her to keep up with me.  She was just having trouble getting her head in the right place on the training runs.  I guess my comment about quitting got through to her though, because she ran the rest of the way home and then apologized for having a bad attitude.  She promised to have a better attitude in the future if we could still train for the race.

Shortly thereafter, I found her pink Ipod Shuffle in a drawer and gave it to her for our next run.  Well apparently that was the magic elixer, because I never heard another complaint on any of our other runs.  If I heard anything from her at all while we ran, it was typically her singing Imagine Dragons songs.  I hate running without music too, so I’m not sure why it took me so long to solve that piece of her puzzle.

Most of the time, our training runs were done at just above a 12 minute/mile pace, which seemed to be the pace that Jillian was comfortable running longer distances.  Since the 8k equates to almost exactly five miles, my goal time for her for the race was one hour.  I was cautiously optimistic that she could make it once the adrenaline of race day kicked, but I was afraid to push her too much since she had never run five miles.  Her longest training run was just over four miles and included some walking.  Thus, I planned to run very close to 12 minute miles for miles 1-4 and then hope she had a strong finishing kick so she would come in under the one hour mark.  I was really afraid of pushing too hard early and having her bonk at the end.

Pre-Race

Race morning was clear and sunny, but it was in the 30’s as we drove downtown to the race site.  The temperature was supposed to rise into the low to mid-40s during the race, but there was going to be some wind chilling it down a bit.  I always over-dress for cold weather runs, but I was cognizant of the fact that Jillian and I would have an hour-plus wait for Leigh Anne in the cold after we finished our race.

We used Leigh Anne’s parking pass to park in the MCV Hospital parking deck and then wound our way to the 8k starting line through the hospital.  That also gave us all the opportunity to use indoor plumbing instead of having to hit the portapotties outside, and after I checked my backpack at the bag drop, Jillian and I made our way into the starting corral and nestled into the one hour pace group.  It was fairly crowded, so we held hands to make sure we didn’t get separated once the gun went off.

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Getting ready to race!

Garmin Data

Race

 

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Mile 1 (11:31)

We were in a mass of people at the start, and it was tough to maneuver for the first quarter mile or so.  Eventually, we made our way over to the left side of Broad Street and found a little bit of breathing room.  We’d started at the back of the one hour pace group, so most of the people should have been moving at about our pace.  Nevertheless, I felt like we were constantly weaving around slower people in the first mile, including a lot of folks who’d already started walking.  There was a slower pace group behind ours in the starting corral, so I was a little perturbed by the walkers who had seeded themselves ahead of us.  I’ve got no problem with people walking the course, but a little better self-seeding would be helpful.

Jillian was cruising along in the first mile and basically silent since she had her Ipod going.  She continued to hold my hand, and I asked her every quarter mile or so if she was happy with the pace.  She voiced no concerns, so we kept plodding along and hit the one mile mark at 11:31.  A little fast, so I decided to throttle us back a little.

Mile 2 (11:50)

The second mile continued west on Broad Street and it was basically more of the same.  Jillian continued to affirm that the pace was good for her and the spacing between us and the other runners was still improving.  There were a fair amount of spectators on the sidewalk, including a band or two.  Jillian had never run in a large race, so I think she was pretty excited to see all the sights, and it probably kept her mind off of running a bit.  We finished the second mile a little closer to our 12:00 minute/mile goal, and things seemed to be going well.8k race.jpg

Mile 3 (11:41)

We hit the first water stop just after mile two and I was hoping that we could just run through it.  Jillian said that she wanted to get some water, and I figured that she would stop and take her time.  Nope, she grabbed a cup and threw it back like a champ without missing a beat.  I’m not sure when she’d practiced that move, but I need some pointers from her since since I invariably choke when I do the same.

Around mile 2.3 we hit the westernmost part of the course and took a left turn towards Grace Street to head back east.  There were a lot of spectators near the turnaround and Jillian got a lot of encouragement.  I told her that we were about halfway done and she seemed to be having no trouble maintaining our pace, even though we’d averaged about 20 seconds per mile faster than our goal pace up to that point.  I was wondering if I should push the pace even more, but I was still concerned about her bonking near the end since she’d never ran five miles before.

Mile 4 (11:20)

Right after the turnaround point we’d passed a boy who was running with his dad.  He looked like he was a year or two older than Jillian, so I pointed him out and told her that she was doing so well that she was passing a boy.  She smiled and pressed on.

We didn’t get too far though before she pulled up and said “I need to walk.”  I was immediately concerned since we had almost two miles to go, and I was already having heartburn in thinking that I’d pushed the pace too hard.  As it turned out, one of her ear buds had come out and she just wanted to fix it.  I did my best to get it to go back into her ear as we make a quick stop, and then we were off and running again.  The boy had passed us while we were stopped, and Jillian was motivated to pass him again.

All was well again until mile 3.75, when the ear bud popped out again.  We stopped to fix it once more, but Jillian told me to take it off and that she’d finish without the Ipod.  Even with the two stops, we were actually having our fastest mile so far, so I was pretty happy about that.  We only had a mile and a quarter left, so I was cautiously optimistic that we’d make it to the end without a bonk.

At that point, I decided to take a page from Coach Karen’s playbook and wage a little psychological warfare.  Even though were were ahead of schedule, I told Jillian that we were slightly behind, but that we could finish in under an hour if we went a little faster.  She said “lets go,” so off we went.  We finished mile four in 11:20.

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Mile 5 (8:34)

As soon as we passed the mile 4 marker Jillian looked at me and said, “I want to run fast.”  I told her to set the pace and that I’d follow.  The next thing I knew, she was running at a sub-9:00 minute pace and we were passing people left and right.  I reminded her that we still had about a mile left to go, but she was on a mission.  I knew that the end of the course was downhill and fast, but she was running so hard that I was still a little worried.

We continued east on Grace Street, and then the course cut over to Franklin Street for a couple of blocks.  There was then a right turn onto 5th Street, which left a half mile to the finish line.  Jillian’s breathing was getting really labored and she started telling me that her legs hurt.  We were too close to the end to ease up though, particularly with nice downhill finish.  Thus, I told her that it was a good burn that that she’d feel great once we crossed the line.  Her favorite shirts of all time (mine and hers) say “Suck It Up Buttercup,” so I told her that the shirts were talking about that particular moment and to revel in the pain instead of hating it.

At that point, I started picking out people ahead of us and telling her that we’d better not let them beat us.  Lady in a purple shirt…guy with a red hat, etc. We’d pass that person and then I’d pick someone else out for her to catch.  We did that all the way down the hill and we passed a lot of people!  Finally, we saw the finish line camera so I told Jillian to make sure she looked up and smiled.8k finish.jpg

As we crossed the finish line, the announcer must have read his screen wrong.  He said, “here comes Justin Gravatt, how about that folks, only eight years old.”  We got a good laugh out of it, but I was concerned that perhaps our bibs had gotten mixed up or something.  Thankfully it was just an announcing error, and we’d finished in 55:01 – five minutes ahead of our goal.  Jillian had run the last mile in 8:34, so she had plenty left in the tank coming into the last mile.  Who knows how fast she could have run if I hadn’t held her back for four miles.  Maybe we’ll find out next year?

Post-Race

After finishing, we went to the bag check and got my backpack so that we could both put on some additional clothes.  It was getting pretty chilly since we’d stopped running, and we had about an hour and a half to wait for Leigh Anne to finish the half marathon.  As Jillian and I walked back towards the finishing area, a girl approached us and asked me for my number so she could text me the photos she’d taken of us on the course.  One of those photos is the cover for this post, and she said that she thought it was cute that we were holding hands while running.  In actuality, Jillian held my hand for the entire race, with the only exceptions being the times that she’d grabbed water at the aid stations and when I was fixing her Ipod.  I don’t really track the stat, but I’m pretty sure that five miles of hand holding beat my prior hand holding PR by at least four miles.

After a while, Leigh Anne finished her half marathon and earned a PR of her own, even though it hadn’t been a perfect race for her.  She’d followed the pacing plan that her coach put together for her though, so it had all worked out in the end.  As we walked back up Broad Street towards the MCV parking deck we came across a reporter for the Richmond Times Dispatch, who asked us a few questions about ourselves and about the race.  We made it into the paper the next day, so that was neat.  Even better though, was finding out later that night that Jillian won her age group by over seventeen minutes – despite being the youngest female in the entire race!  Hopefully that’s a sign of great things to come for her.

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“I will reach inside just to find my heart is beating…”

2018 Martinsville Turkey Day 5k

Race Report

21:41     (6:59 min/mile)     1/5 AG     10/180 Overall

November 22, 2018 – For the past few years, we’ve run the Turkey Day 5k in Martinsville when we’ve gone to my in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving.  Its not a super competitive race with a deep field, but there are always some really fast runners out front.  In years past, either Leigh Anne or I would run with the kids to help pace them and make sure they didn’t get lost.  This year, however, the kids wanted to run on their own, so it was going to be every man, woman and child for themselves.  Ultimately, Leigh Anne began having piriformis issues after the Richmond Half Marathon, so she’d decided to run with Jillian (much to Jillian’s dismay).

My triathlon season had ended in September with the Giant Acorn Olympic distance triathlon, and coach Karen had dialed back my running pretty substantially for 4-6 weeks.  I’d also bought a pair of Hoka Bondis to replace the Nike shoes (same model, not actual shoes) that I’d been wearing since 2014.  The Hokas had really taken some getting used to since they were much larger and heavier than my Nikes.

I needed the extra cushioning to lessen the pounding that my body had been taking, but I began having horrible foot pain soon after making the switch.  The pain was consistent with plantar’s faciitis symptoms, and it began getting so bad that I could hardly walk when I first got out of bed in the morning.  I was fine when running, but when I finished and took my shoes off, my arches were killing me.  The mornings were the worst.  I began rolling my feet with lacrosse balls and saw my friend Tressa for some therapeutic work, but nothing really helped.  Finally, after about a month of running in the Hokas my feet must have adapted and the pain began to abate.

The other issue that I had coming into the race was that I was over my ideal race weight by 5-7 pounds and felt out of shape due to my running hiatus.  Karen had started me back into some speed work a week or two before, but nothing super fast.  Ok, maybe I wasn’t out of shape, but certainly didn’t feel like I was in peak form for 5k speed.  As always, I bellyached to Karen about being “fat” and out of shape and received her standard response about being a crybaby.  She also said that I might surprise myself since my body was more rested than normal.

Karen must have a psychology degree, because she seems to know how to get me motivated.  A little bit of encouragement mixed with a hefty dose of snark typically does the trick.  I wanted to prove her right because I wanted to PR, but I wasn’t really buying it.  At a minimum, I planned to run as hard as I could so that when she looked at my heart rate stats she couldn’t accuse me of sandbagging to prove her wrong.  I’ve been called a sandbagger once or twice before (mostly on swim sprints), and I was going to make sure that I didn’t give her that ammunition…

Pre-Race

We arrived in Martinsville Wednesday night, but didn’t have time to make it to packet pickup.  Thus, we got to the YMCA around 8 a.m. for the 9 a.m. race and got situated.  It was cold out, but not terribly so.  Still, it was nice to be able to hang out inside the YMCA to warm up.  They have an indoor track above the basketball court, which is good for getting loose.  After some light jogging, some strides and some dynamic stretching, we all headed outside for the start.

Race

Garmin Data

My 5k PR was 21:54 (7:03/mile), which was my time at this race in 2017.  My goal was to beat that, but as noted above, I didn’t think I was in shape to do so.  I’d taken the time to look at my mile splits from 2017, which were 7:01, 7:23 and 7:03 respectively.  My plan in 2017 was to try to negative split the run, but based upon the topography of the course, that was a mistake.  The first mile is predominantly downhill and fast, with the second mile the exact opposite.  Mile three is rolling, but still has more gain than loss.  Thus, I needed to go out fast in the first mile instead of sitting back and trying to negative split since the hills would be against me in the last two miles.  My concern though, was that I might overdo it early on and blow apart near the end.  Well, that might be fun at least…

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Mile 1 (6:47)

I lined up near the front of the field, and I took off hard as soon as the air horn sounded.  The course goes around the block in the beginning and is relatively flat.  You then take a left onto a paved trail, and there’s a fairly steep downhill section, which includes a slippery bridge.  I’d taken off at about a 6:30 pace, and did my best to keep from braking on the downhill portion of the trail.  The trail was damp and there were some leaves on it, so I still couldn’t run quite as fast as I wanted without risking a fall.

The trail bottomed out around the .7 mile mark, and there was a gradual incline for the remainder of the trail.  I was pleasantly surprised to find my legs responding well to the uphill section, and I did my best to maintain a fast pace.  Still, the pace on my Garmin had begun to tick up as I climbed, but I hit the first mile marker at 6:47 – 14 seconds faster than last year.  It was an encouraging small victory, but the worst hills were still ahead of me.

Mile 2 (7:15)

The trail finished up around mile 1.3 and the course dumped us out onto Franklin Street.  There was then a quad-crushing climb up the steepest hill on the course.  I tried to choose an effort that balanced speed and stamina, and I wanted to make sure that I could accelerate over the top of the hill.  Leigh Anne’s parents were standing at the crest of the hill and got a video of me slogging up it.  My legs and lungs were hurting pretty bad at the top, but I was still able to get myself back up to speed quickly enough.  Thankfully, there was a slight downhill after the crest, but that was then followed by another small climb once I rounded the block and headed back in the other direction.

After finishing the loop around the block, I almost had a SNAFU and went off course.  I’m getting concerned, because going off course seems to be my signature move all of a sudden.  Anyways, I knew that the next turn was to the right, and I was about twenty feet behind the runner ahead of me.  He turned right onto Walnut Street, even though we had about another block and a half before the actual turn.  I was hurting pretty bad and was myopic at that point, and I began to play follow the leader without really thinking about where I was going.  Thankfully, someone behind us yelled “go straight,” and we righted ourselves pretty quickly.  I had’t yet made the complete turn onto Walnut Street, so I lucked out and ended up passing the guy ahead of me since he had to turn around.

I hit the two mile mark about a block later, and saw that I’d done my second mile in 7:15.  Not bad considering that there was 100 feet of elevation gain, and it was eight seconds faster than in 2017.  I was starting to believe in Karen’s prediction by that point, but I knew that the wheels could still come off in the last 1.1 miles.

Mile 3 (7:06)

The last full mile of the course is a roller coaster ride through the downtown area, with about 79 feet of gain and 59 feet of loss.  I did my best to let my legs churn on the downhill portions, and on the uphill portions I kept telling myself that it was almost over and to suck it up.  There was a nice uphill stretch from mile 2.5 to 2.6, and then I turned right onto Church Street for the last half mile to the finish.

I’m not quite sure whether I love that part of the course or whether I hate it, so I guess there’s a love/hate relationship.  You’re almost done and its initially downhill, so that’s nice.  But from 2.8 to the finish its all uphill and it seems to go on forever.  The finish line is just over the crest of the hill, and you know its up there somewhere, but you can’t see it until you’re right up on it.

As I headed down Church Street on the downhill portion I was still able to make pretty good time.  As soon as I began heading uphill, however, things started getting really rough for me.  It was at that point that I started feeling like my heart was going to beat out of my chest.  I also began to feel a bit nauseous.  I was almost done, so I just needed to keep it together for a little bit longer.  I finished mile three in 7:06, which was three seconds slower than 2017.  Maybe that fast start was coming back to haunt me.

3 – 3.1 (6:36/mile pace)

Somewhere around the three mile marker I noticed another runner coming up on my left side.  I like to do the passing at the end, not the other way around, so I was determined to stay ahead of him.  We began running shoulder to shoulder and began accelerating together.  The heart pounding and nausea were getting worse, but I still had it in my head that I had one last burst left in me.  I planned to make a move on him about 50 meters from the finish, and hopefully I’d catch him off guard with no time for him to respond.

The joke was on me though, because he accelerated with about 75 meters to go and got the jump on me.  I tried to dig deep and go with him, but it just wasn’t there.  Nothing was left in the tank and he beat me by three seconds.  I suppose that means that I paced myself well and left it all on the course, but it still bugs me that he passed me at the end.  Still, I finished in 21:41, which was a PR by 13 seconds.  I guess Karen was right again.

After crossing the finish line I immediately collapsed on the grass to the right of the finishing chute.  My heart was racing like I’ve never felt it before, and for a moment it was a little scary.  As it turned out, my heart rate had gotten up to 193 beats/minute at the end, and I’d set every possible “All-Time” heart rate record possible for the race, per my Training Peaks account.  At least I couldn’t be accused of sandbagging!  The nausea and chest pain quickly abated, and after about 60 seconds I had myself back under control enough to get up and to think about circling back to find the rest of my family that was still on the course.

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As I headed back down Church Street I eventually came across Jillian and Leigh Anne headed in the other direction towards the final hill.  They looked like they were doing well, so I continued on to find Jackson.  I found him trudging up the hill on Chestnut Street and ended up running with him for the last .75 miles.  I know why he likes to run by himself, because there were a few times when he didn’t seem to enjoy my encouragement.

When we were all done, we gathered in the basketball court of the YMCA for the awards.  Jillian, Leigh Anne and I all won our age groups, which was cool.  I think I’d been second in my age group every year before since a similarly aged guy named Greg Dean always runs circles around me.  I’m not sure why Greg didn’t run this year, but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.  Standing atop the podium was nice, but really and truly, I was racing against myself to try to set a PR.  I also wanted to be able to say that I’d fought off Father Time for at least one more year since that’s getting harder and harder to do.

So…2018 closed on a high note after my tri season ended with a fizzle (DQ and 4th AG).  My 2019 calendar was already starting to take shape, with Ironman 70.3 Virginia looming large in May.  The question still remained, however, as to whether a 140.6 was in the cards for later in the year.

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Do these pants make me look fat?

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“I was brain dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed…”

2018 Giant Acorn Olympic Triathlon

Race Report

2:33:09

 4/22 AG     67/341 Overall

September 22, 2018 – After my disqualification for going off course at the Patriot’s Olympic triathlon earlier in the month, I had one more chance to snag a spot at the Age Group Nationals in 2018.  September hadn’t been kind already, whereas my DQ had been followed by a cancellation of the OBX triathlon the following week because of Hurricane Florence.  That had been my “A” race for the year, and I was disappointed to lose it.  Still, since Kinetic Multisports had given me a free entry to the Giant Acorn race after the fiasco in Williamsburg, I was determined to try to turn lemons into lemonade.

Several of us had planned on racing in the Outer Banks together, including Leigh Anne, Jill Blankenburg, Mindy Reece and Candace Broaddus.  We actually had an Airbnb house rented in Manteo close to the race site, which was also a short walk to a brewery.  Jill and I are ProK teammates, and the rest of the girls swim together in coach Karen’s guppies class.  Leigh Anne’s first Olympic distance triathlon was supposed to have been in the Outer Banks, so she was signed up for the Giant Acorn as well.  Mindy was also racing with us, but Jill couldn’t race since she was announcing and Candace had other plans.

The Giant Acorn race takes place at Lake Anna State Park, which is the same venue where I’d done the Kinetic Half back in the Spring of 2017 – (Kinetic Race Report).  I knew from my experience at Kinetic that it would be a hilly course, particularly on the run, so I wasn’t expecting a PR on the bike or the run.  Thankfully, the weather on race day looked like it was going to be nice, and Leigh Anne and I drove up to Lake Anna on race morning.

Packet pickup and check in went smoothly, and we ran into Mindy after racking our bikes.  For this race, I planned to put water in my aerobottle and to carry a separate nutrition bottle with water and 400 calories of Carbopro.  I was going to give Leigh Anne the same setup on her bike, and I pre-filled our bottles with Carbopro powder the night before the race.  I made sure I remembered to bring water to fill our bottles at the race, and after we arrived and checked in, I began getting everything set up in transition.

Leigh Anne needed me to adjust one of her aerobar arm rests, which resulted in me dropping one of the bolts in the grass.  I searched for about ten minutes, but could never find it.  There was still one bolt holding the arm rest in place, so I told her that she’d have to race with one bolt missing, but that it shouldn’t be a problem since the arm rest seemed secure.  Not to mention the fact that she isn’t yet comfortable enough on the bike to ride in aero, so she wouldn’t really be using it anyways.

By then, I had just enough time to go for a short run, and then we headed down to the beach for the swim start.  There were five or six college tri clubs at the race, including UVA, Maryland, Liberty and VMI.  The college kids were set to go off in the first swim wave, and I was going to be in the third wave.  The swim waves were four minutes apart, so the first wave would have an eight minute lead over me onto the course.  After wishing Leigh Anne and Mindy good luck, I waded into the lake and waited to begin.

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Results Link

GPS Data

Swim – 28:56  (1:56/100m)  (2/22 AG)

swim

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My goal for the swim was to set a non-wetsuit PR for myself.  My previous best was 30:12 at the Patriot’s a few weeks prior, and I thought it was doable since my swim fitness and form have never been better.  After the horn sounded, I took off and quickly decided that I’d have to breath to my right on the way out since the sun was to my left.  It was pretty blinding, even with my tinted goggles.  I made sure I didn’t go out too fast so that I could keep my heart rate under control, and I was sighting frequently to make sure I stayed on course.  Still, I felt like I was drifting too far to my right as I headed away to the beach.

The swim course was a triangle, and by the time I got to the first turn buoy I’d began to catch a lot of people in blue swim caps who were in the second swim wave that started four minutes ahead of me.  For some reason, I swung out too wide on the cross-section of the swim, which added some distance.  I eventually corrected myself and turned right at the next turn buoy to start the long swim back to the beach.

I was generally feeling good coming back in, and in addition to passing people in the blue swim wave, I began passing some of the college stragglers from the first swim wave.  I had to adjust my breathing to the left at that point since the sun was now to my right.  My sighting and swimming were on point on the homeward leg, and I was able to maintain as fairly straight path to the swim exit.  Eventually I made it ashore and saw 28:56 on my GPS.  That was good enough for second in my age group, and was a non-wetsuit PR by over a minute!  I was happy with my swim.

T1 – 1:50  (4/22 AG)

There was a fairly long run uphill from the beach to the transition area and I hadn’t been blessed with good rack location.  I was on an inside rack near the perimeter fencing, which hurt me a bit in my transitions.  I put on my cycling shoes without socks, then donned my helmet and was off.  There was a run up a small incline to the mounting line and then I was on the bike and off onto leg two.

Bike – 1:11:43  (20.6 mph)  (3/22 AG)

bike

The bike course is nothing but rolling hills, with the first three miles being uphill away from Lake Anna.  Knowing that, I’d racked my bike in the small chain ring and didn’t plan on switching to my big ring until I got out of the State Park.  As I spun up the hill, I grabbed my nutrition bottle to get in some calories before I layed down in aero at the top of the hill.  As soon as I lifted my bottle to take a swig, however, I knew that I had a problem.

I’d filled Leigh Anne’s nutrition bottle with water in transition, but I’d apparently gotten distracted while adjusting her aerobars and had totally forgotten to fill mine.  Thus, I had a bottle with nothing but a few inches of white powder in it at the bottom.  Mercifully, I had remembered to fill my aerobottle with water, but without my Carbopro, I was staring at a 2.5 hour race with no calories until I hit the run course.  I knew from experience how that would end – with me totally bonking around mile five of the run.  There was then an outpouring of expletives, and thankfully there was no one else in my general vicinity at that time.

My only option was to pour my Carbopro into my aerobottle and to make due with what I had.  Of course, I didn’t want to pull over and stop to get that accomplished, so I popped the top of my aerobottle, unscrewed the top of my nutrition bottle and then held the top between my teeth.  I then had to pour the white powder contents out of a three inch wide bottle and into a one inch opening – all while trying to ride uphill without crashing.  The outcome was entirely predictable.

I managed to get perhaps half the Carbopro into my aerobottle.  The other half was blown backwards onto me, and I was still wet from the swim.  Soon enough, I was coated in white powder and looked liked someone with a bad drug habit.  There was nothing I could do about it at that time, so I closed my bottles and continued climbing up and away from Lake Anna.

The course took a left onto Lawyers Road at the top of the hill, and I was finally able to begin making some good time.  I began passing a lot of other bikers, including lots of the college kids.  There was a nice downhill section from miles 4.5 to 6, and then the course was predominately uphill again for three miles as we headed north.  Unfortunately, the wind was coming out of the north, so that made for some pretty slow riding.

Around mile 9.5, there was a left turn onto Tatum Road, which gave me a respite from the wind and the climbing.  The next seven miles were on the fastest portion of the course, and I was able to stay low in aero and push hard.  Near the 12 mile mark, I passed bib 10 and I noticed that he had a “40” on his right calf, which meant that he was in my age group.  I wasn’t quite sure where I stood in the age group placings at that time, but I knew that I’d had a good swim and was having a good bike.  Thus, I figured that I was close to the front.

I went around bib 10 and tried to accelerate past him as quickly as possible.  I was hoping that he wouldn’t see the “40” on my calf and try to come with me.  After riding hard for about a minute I looked back and saw that he was about 100 yards behind me, so I eased back into my normal pace.  I checked over my shoulder again a few times over the next few miles and saw that I was maintaining my lead over him.

The course bottomed out after mile 15 and there was a fairly steep small chain ring climb thereafter.  About halfway up the climb, bib 10 went by me on my left and then pulled in front of me.  I figured that he’d be able to out run me, so I knew that I needed to put some distance on him before the end of the bike.  Thus, I came up out of the saddle and drove up the hill past him.  To my dismay, he decided to come with me and I just couldn’t shake him.  There were about four more climbs in quick succession, and no matter how hard I pushed, bib 10 stayed right behind me.

The last four miles were predominantly downhill and fast, and I hoped to be able to shake my pursuer during that stretch.  He continued to sit about 3-5 bike lengths behind me at legal following distance and was letting me pull him back to transition.  I was mad that I hadn’t left him behind for good during my initial pass, but I didn’t blame him for what he was doing.  I’d have done the same thing if the roles were reversed, and it was smart riding on his part to let me wear myself out trying to shake him.

I eased up with about one mile left to transition and let gravity do most of the work since there was a nice downhill.  I wanted to get my heart rate under control for the run, and at that point I knew that bib 10 and I would be entering transition together.  We did so a few seconds apart and I knew that he’d probably be leaving me in his running wake in short order.  I did out-swim and out-bike him, but as the old saying goes, “bike for show, run for dough.”

T2 – 1:24 (7/22 AG)

I had to put on socks in T2, so I wasn’t as speedy as I would have hoped.  Bib 10 beat me out of transition and from the way I saw him take off, I knew that I had no chance to catch him.  He ended up beating me on the run by over nine minutes, so my suspicions about his running ability were confirmed.  I focused on running my own race and headed out onto the run course.  I knew the first mile would be tough due to the elevation gain, but I was ready for it.

Run- 49:18  (7:56 min/mile)  (8/22)

run

Miles 1-3 (8:27)(8:20)(7:53)

The Big Acorn run course is two loops and is no joke, with hardly a flat spot on it.  The first .9 miles out of transition are pretty much all up a soul crushing hill, which you have to manage appropriately if you’re going to have a good run.  I was looking to run sub-50 minutes for the 10k, but I knew that I’d have to make my speed on the downhill portions and to limit my losses going uphill.  I also planned to run the second loop faster than the first, so I wanted to make sure I left something in the tank.

My legs felt heavy after being on the bike and the first mile was certainly a challenge.  I bypassed the first aid station, whereas I was carrying a flask that I’d pre-filled with water and 100 calories of Carbopro.  Thankfully, I’d filled that the night before so it wasn’t just a flask of white powder.  I made my way up the long hill and finally hit the 1 mile marker shortly after turning right off of the main park road.  Mile 1 was slow at 8:27, but there was 115 feet of elevation gain according to my GPS.

Mile 2 was pretty much an out and back on a side road, which was flatter, but not flat.  I tried to run a little faster, but I was having trouble getting my legs to turn over.  The college kids didn’t seem to have that problem, however, because they were like little gazelles running past me.  Around the 1.3 mile point I hit a turnaround cone and an intermediate timing mat and headed back the way I came.  I still couldn’t quite get myself up to speed, but I knew that mile 3 would be downhill and fast.  The course took a left around mile 1.8 onto another side road, which left just the downhill portion of the first loop.

giant acorn

It was nice to head downhill for a change and I was finally able to get my legs turning over quickly.  The road went on for a bit, and then we turned down a paved trail in the woods.  The trail was a bit steep in portions, but nothing terrible.  Once it bottomed out, the trail turned to the right and dumped me out near the finish line.  Sadly, I had another loop to complete, so I had to head left towards the start of loop two instead of running right into the finishing chute.  I did the third mile in 7:53, which was better, but not as fast as I’d hoped with all of the elevation loss.

The course was flat for a moment near the lake at the end of the first loop, and then I began to head back uphill near the transition area to start the final loop.  Jill was race announcing and saw me coming, so she gave me the best shout out that one could ever hope to get in a race.  She said, “here comes Justin Gravatt from Chesterfield of ProK Racing.  He puts the ‘A’ in…well, this is a family friendly event…so we’ll just say he puts the ‘A’ in awesome.”  I appreciate the call out Jill, but any more like that and they just might take away your microphone!

 

Miles 3-6 (8:53)(8:25)(7:30)

The next mile was basically all uphill again, and the first bit after the aid station near the bottom hit me hard.  I actually walked for about ten seconds on the steepest part, but then got moving again.  By that time, a lot of bikers were headed down the hill in the opposite direction so I was looking for Leigh Anne.  I tried to do the math in my head to predict her arrival time, but was having trouble with the calculations in my tired state.

After a long climb up away from the lake, I finally made it to the top of the hill and took a right turn onto the flatter portion of the course once again.  By that point I’d begun to feel like I was overheating.  Overall, the weather had been good most of the day, but the sun was out and the humidity was in full effect.  It wasn’t as bad as it’d been at the Patriot’s two weeks earlier, but the second loop of the run wasn’t pleasant.

I hit the intermediate timing mat for the last time, then turned around and headed back uphill.  I just had one more hill to climb, and then the last mile would be mostly downhill back to the finishing area.  That encouraged me a bit, but I was still getting passed by a fair amount of the college tri club kids.

After reaching the top of the last hill, I took a left turn and had about one mile left to the finish.  About that time, Mindy ran past me and told me to get my ass in gear – or something similar.  She was on the first loop of her run and was flying down the hill.  I sped up a bit, but she left me in her dust pretty quickly.

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Wooded trail near the end of the run loop.

I ran as hard as I could after her, but eventually Mindy was out of sight.  I hit the wooded trail for the last time and knew that I was almost done.  The course bottomed out again and this time around I was able to bear right into the finishing chute.  I crossed the finish line in 2:33:09 overall, with a run of 49:18.  Given the hilly course, it was a strong run for me, and my pace came out to be 7:56 minutes/mile.  I wish I was a stronger runner, but I feel like I’ve just about maxed out in that department.  Karen’s done her best to whip me into shape, but you can only put so much lipstick on a pig.

Post-Race

I didn’t feel like checking the results right way, so I grabbed a couple of slices of pizza and headed up to the deck and hung out with Jill for a bit.  She said that she’d just seen Leigh Anne run by, so I figured that I had another 25 minutes or so before she finished up.  Mindy came through the finishing chute a little while later, and after she recuperated a bit, she and I headed over to the end of the run course to wait for Leigh Anne.  Mindy had injured her hamstring on the second loop of the run and was struggling to walk.  Leigh Anne came through a little while later looking strong, and then the three of us checked the results.

I was disappointed to see that I’d finished 4th in my age group, but once again, the run had been my downfall.  I was 2/22 in the swim, 3/22 on the bike but only 8/22 on the run.  I was on the podium coming into T2 and just couldn’t hold it.  On the other hand, Mindy was second in her age group after smoking the bike and the run.  A little faster swim and she would have won.  Leigh Anne was 9/23 in her age group, which was great for her first Olympic race.  She was last in the swim, but 6/23 on the bike and run.  Once she gets a few more open water swims under her belt and learns to ride in aero, she’ll be competing for podium spots.

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female ag mindy

mindy

Sadly, Mindy can outrun me on one leg.

After Mindy got her award, the three of us headed over to the beer tent and were joined by Jill in short order.  It was all-you-can-drink from a local brewery, but I was driving so I had to temper myself a bit.

So, as I wrapped up my last triathlon of 2018 I was feeling a bit melancholy.  I’d had a strong race – even with my nutrition SNAFU on the bike – but I was still off the podium.  I was even farther away from snagging a spot at Age Group Nationals, which made me feel even worse about my DQ two weeks prior.  I didn’t do a full Ironman in 2018, so Karen and I had been really focused on speed work for the past year.  I’d definitely gotten faster, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to what I need to be able to run with some of these guys.  If it hasn’t happened by now, its just not going to happen.

Looking ahead, I’m not really sure what 2019 holds.  I want to do another full, but I’m not sure that’s in the cards for me at the moment.  Ironman did create a 70.3 race in Williamsburg in May, and a bunch of us have already signed up for it.  There’s also my comped entry into the OBX Half-Iron triathlon next September due to this year’s cancellation, so 2019 might be the year of the 70.3.  I guess we’ll see.

In more immediate terms, Karen was going to curtail my running for a month or so after the Giant Acorn since my body was ready for a break.  The nagging injuries were starting to mount again, so I needed some recovery time.  I also planned to switch over to Hokas after years of running in Nikes, which would turn out to be a somewhat painful process, but one that needed to happen.

“Withdrawal in disgust isn’t the same as apathy…”

2018 Patriot’s Olympic Triathlon

Race Report

DISQUALIFIED

PRE-DQ RESULTS

2:26:52

 1/24 AG     14/265 Overall

September 8, 2018 – My penultimate triathlon of 2018 was the Patriot’s Olympic in Williamsburg.  It’d been an unstated goal of mine for a while to qualify for the Olympic  distance Nationals, and I thought that I’d have an outside shot at the Patriot’s if I had a good race.  My chances of qualifying would also depend upon the level of competition that showed up.  There are a few ways to qualify, but basically, I’d need to win my age group or finish in the top 10%.  So, if there were at least twenty in my age group, I’d qualify if I placed in the top two.  My fitness and health were good coming into the race, so I was hoping for a strong performance.

My buddy Clay Westbay was doing the race as well, and it was his first Olympic distance triathlon.  In fact, I think it was his first ever triathlon – he’d done the Robious Landing race, but that had been converted from a tri to a duathlon.  Clay hitched a ride with me to Williamsburg on race morning, and after a short detour to go back and get his GPS, we made it to the race site with no issues.  Clay and I got through packet pickup, then got our timing chips, body marked and got set up in transition.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to do a warm run before transition closed, so after hitting the portapotties, Clay and I walked down to the swim start at the river.

In years past, I’d done the Half-Iron distance race at the Patriots, and they start the swim first, about a half hour before the Olympic distance racers.  Thus, we still had a decent wait before it was our time to go off.  Clay seemed pretty relaxed, given that this was his first Olympic distance race, but then again, he’s always pretty stoic.  After what seemed like forever, our start time was upon us, so I wished him well.  He waded into the river first since he was in the first Olympic swim wave (being younger than me), while I waited on the beach for my swim wave.

Race Results (I can be found at the bottom due to my DQ)

Swim: 30:12     (2:01/100 m)    (4/24)

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The 1500 meter swim wasn’t wetsuit legal this year due to the warm water temperature.  The swim is an out and back in the river, and they try to make it so you’re swimming with the current on the leg that has you farthest from shore.  I hadn’t done an Olympic distance swim without a wetsuit since 2014, so I really didn’t have a good baseline time to try to beat.  My wetsuit legal swim at Monticelloman in May of 2018 was done in 27:34, so I thought that something under 30 minutes was a reasonable goal.  I figure that a wetsuit is good for a 2-3 minute advantage in an Olympic distance race.

Thanks to turning 40 this year, I was in the second swim wave of the Olympic race and took off about 5 minutes after wave 1.  The river had a decent amount of chop to it, and the waves were coming from my left.  Thus, I had to breathe to my right on the “out” leg to keep from swallowing water.  Still, I made really good progress to the turn buoy at the far end of the course, and felt like I was having a strong swim.

By that point, I began catching a lot of people in the first swim wave, and the swim course began to get a little more cluttered,  After swimming towards the middle of the river, I rounded another turn buoy to head back downriver.  I didn’t notice it at first, but after several minutes of swimming back in the other direction, it became apparent that the current was against me.  I felt like I was swimming on a treadmill and the “in” portion of the course felt like it took forever.  I was still doing fine with my stroke, but the going was slower than I expected.  Basically, it took me 10 minutes to go “out” and 16 minutes to come “in,” not counting the swim back to shore.

swim

I finally got to the last turn buoy and took one final left turn to head towards the shore.  The water got too shallow to swim about 50 yards from the beach, so I had to dolphin dive and wade a bit there at the end.  The timing mat was a little ways up the beach out of the water, and I looked at my GPS for the first time as I crossed the mat.  It read 30:12, which was pretty much spot on my 30 minute goal – particularly when you account for the current and the run from the water to the timing mat.  Ultimately, that would put me at 4/24 in my age group, and I’m very pleased with the swimming progress that I’ve made with Karen over the past couple of years.

T1: 2:36    (1/24)

There’s a very long run from the beach up to the transition area.  My rack was then at the opposite end of transition from the “swim in” area.  There’s always some initial dizziness when getting out of the water, so it took me a few seconds to get my legs under me.  I ran off the beach at a pretty good clip, not sprinting, but not wasting time either.  Once I got to my bike, I threw on my helmet and shoes and off I went.  Fast enough for 1/24 in my age group – and some time banked that I would need on run course.

Bike: 1:03:28    (22.1 mph)    (2/24)           bike.PNG

The Patriot’s Olympic bike course is flat and fast, with the sole exception being the Route 5 bridge that you hit on the way out and on the way back in.  The Olympic course follows the bike route for the half, but instead of making a full loop, there’s a turnaround cone around mile 12.5.

After crossing the mounting line, I hopped on my bike and took off.  There are a couple of turns in the first few miles, but after turning onto Route 5, there’s a straight shot of about eight miles.  I was pushing hard and was making good time, when a stronger biker went by me around mile 5.  I tucked in behind him and rode at a draft legal distance in his wake until we hit the bridge.  He slowed as soon as we started up the bridge since he began to take in some nutrition, so I went by him.  I had 400 calories of Carbopro in my aerobottle, so I was good to go in that department and didn’t need to slow to take in calories.

The other biker re-passed me about a half mile past the bridge and I tucked in behind him again.  He didn’t seem to mind that I’d leeched onto him, and we were cruising and passing a lot of other bikers, many of whom were doing the half.  The course eventually took a right off of Route 5, and when we got to the turnaround cone for the Olympic course he kept straight since he was doing the half.  I turned around the cone to head back in, and was on my own for the remainder of the ride.

bike route

After turning left on Route 5 to head back east, I thought there was going to be an aid station.  It was actually west of the turnaround point, and only accessible for the people doing the half.  In fact, there were no aid stations on the Olympic bike course, which I thought was odd.  I was planning on taking a bottle mid-way through the ride, but it looked like I was going to have to make do with what I had on my bike.  I typically get an hour out of my aerobottle unless its really hot or humid, and it was pretty humid on race day.  Thus, I knew I’d be a little short on hydration, but not so much that it was a major concern.

I made good time back down Route 5 and pushed hard over the bridge.  There were then a few miles before the course turned right to head back towards the race site.  About a mile before transition, I adjusted my helmet and my helmet shield fell off.  I always have issues with it since its so temperamental, and even though I caught it, I couldn’t get it back on.  I didn’t feel like crashing while trying to reattach the shield, so I held onto it as I headed back in – silently hoping that I wouldn’t take a bug to the eye.

Soon enough, I was back at the race site and cruising back into transition.  I’d hoped to finish the bike under 1:05:00, and I ended up making it in 1:03:28, which was the second fastest in my age group.  Two legs down – so far so good.  I had no idea where I stood in my age group, but I was having a strong race.

T2: 1:29    (7/24)

Off the bike and to the rack quickly.  I’ll do sprint triathlons without socks to save time, but I always put on socks for the Olympic distance run, which adds time to my T2.  After getting on my socks and running shoes, I grabbed my hat, glasses, race belt and water bottle, and was off to the run course.

Run: 49:16    (7:56 min/mile)    (2/24)  

run course.PNG

My goal for the 10k run was sub-50 minutes, but it was humid as hell and a lot of the run course is in direct sunlight.  The run course was basically a lollipop, and had been changed from years past.  There are some wooded trails that provide some shade, but about two-thirds of the run is in the sun.  I felt okay coming out of transition, but by the time I hit the first mile marker, I was already beginning to overheat and figured that I might have to re-evaluate my 50 minute goal.

My Garmin 920 is always a tad unreliable on the run in triathlons, but it had clicked 1 mile exactly at the 1 mile marker on the course.  Nevertheless, when I got to the 2 mile marker, it was only reading 1.95 miles.  Sometimes the mile markers are off and they even out after a while, but my Garmin was even further off at the mile 3 marker.  In the interim, I was struggling with the heat, even though I’d brought a flask of water with Carbopro.  My GPS pace crept up over 8 minute miles, so I was really hoping that the course mileage was correct instead of my GPS.  If so, I was running faster than my GPS indicated.

Around mile 2.5 I hit a timing mat near an aid station, and then began making my way towards the local high school.  I hit the high school just after the 5k mark, and was holding together, but it was a struggle with the humidity for sure.  With my flask in hand, I bypassed the aid station and then there were a couple of signs directing me into the woods on a trail.  I was familiar with the trail from the past two years, but we were running in the opposite direction this time around.

I was alone on the trail, and after a few hundred yards I came to a “T” intersection.  I looked for signs, or anything to mark the turn, but saw nothing.  Due to the gravel, I couldn’t even look for footprints to see which way to go.  The only thing I knew was that if I took a right, it would take me in the direction of the course from the prior years, and back towards the Capital Trail.  I had no idea where I’d end up if I went left.  So…making an educated guess, I took a right.

I continued on for about a third of a mile and then came to a wooden bridge that formed part of the Capital Trail – the same bridge I’d crossed between miles 2 and 3.  I turned left to head back down the Trail towards the race site.  I presumed that I was still on course, but I wasn’t clear since I hadn’t seen a sign marking the run course since just after the high school.  Still, I was pretty sure that I’d gone the right way.

Eventually, a field opened up on my left, and I continued to run towards the aid station up ahead.  As I was about 50 yards from the aid station, I saw a runner coming out of the field from my left.  If you look at the photo below, the aid station was at the red dot, and I was headed south-east on the blue line.  The other runner was coming down the dirt path bisecting the two fields.  As soon as I saw him, I started thinking that I’d gone off course.  I wasn’t sure though, because the other runner may have been off course.  I was closer to the aid station though, and I saw one of the volunteers look at me and say, “where’s he coming from.”

reroute

My detour – 1.03 miles

That comment left me little doubt that I should have turned left at the “T” instead of right, and that I had a problem.  A series of four-letter words came out of my mouth shortly thereafter.  I’d been killing myself for over two hours and suddenly it had dawned on me that it might have been all for naught.  Still, I didn’t know if my detour was longer or shorter than the official course.  Turns out, it was exactly the same distance, but I would’t know that until several hours later.  All I knew at that point was that I’d likely gone off course, so I was pissed.  Pissed at myself, pissed at the race and pretty much pissed with the world.

real route

Correct Route – 1.03 miles

I had about two miles left with the run after the aid station and I decided not to kill myself coming back in.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t slow down, but I chose not to empty the tank – so to speak – due to my possible DQ situation.   I had a 70.3 scheduled for the next weekend in the Outer Banks, and I was already worried about doing a 70.3 one week after an Olympic distance race.

My head was in a pretty dark place for the last two miles as I thought about what to do after crossing the finish line.  I’m not going to lie, there was a part of me that wanted to check the standings to see where I finished before making a decision on what to do.  I’d trained hard for the race, and I’d been suffering for almost 2.5 hours.  I was also mad about the fact that there were no markings at the “T” intersection on the trail, and I didn’t think that going off course was my fault.

The other part of me was thinking that I do a lot of local triathlons, and I knew that my reputation was more important than a single result.  I was also wearing a ProK tri-suit, so I wasn’t just representing myself in the race.  I was also representing my coaches, my team and my teammates.  I knew what I needed to do, even if I didn’t want to do it.

About a quarter mile from the finish, I caught up to another runner (Darin Stiefvater), who was struggling a bit.  I could have passed him, but something in me said not to – particularly since my race was probably illegitimate.  I gave him some encouraging words and we finished together, with him slightly ahead of me.  He was gracious after we crossed the line, and I promptly told him that I think I needed to go DQ myself since I was pretty sure that I’d gone off course.  He seemed a bit shocked by that.

I finished in 2:26:52, which was a PR for me.  I’d also completed the run in 49:16, which was great, considering the oppressive humidity, coupled with the fact that I didn’t red-line it in the last two miles.

Post-Race

I immediately proceeded to the timing tent and told one of the female officials what had occurred.  She asked me if the “T” intersection was on a trail, to which I responded, “yes.”  She then stated that the first finisher had mentioned the unmarked turn, but that he’d taken the correct route.  She also said that they hadn’t had a chance to get anyone out there to fix the problem yet.  I was very aggravated by the situation, and told her that other people were going to do the same thing as me since there was no way to know which way to turn.  She took down my bib number and told me to check back in with her in a while to discuss the situation.

From there, I made my way to the results tent and Darin was standing there.  He told me that I’d won my age group, to which I replied, “not for long.”  I told Darin what I’d learned at the timing tent and that I was pretty sure that I’d be DQ’d.  From there, my thoughts turned to finding Clay, who finished in 2:56:03.  He was 6/9 in his age group, and did fantastic for his first real triathlon.

Thankfully, there was a beer tent, so Clay and I headed in that direction so that I could drown my sorrows for a bit.  We got to talking with two other guys, both of whom had gone off course like me.  Nevertheless, neither of them had placed in their age groups, so they were disinclined to report themselves to the officials.  Clay had taken the correct route, but confirmed that no turn signs were present on the trail when he went through.  His tracking and directional skills are clearly superior to mine.

After having two (or three) beers, I checked back in with the race officials and told them that I’d spoken with other people who’d gone off course like me.  I was the only poor sap to come forward, however, so I alone would be DQ’d.  Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled.  I knew that it was the correct decision since I hadn’t completed the actual course, but I was still upset about the lack of signage.  I know, I know…its ultimately my responsibility to know the course, but in the heat of the moment its hard to keep your bearings, especially when you’re on a wooded trail.

It was a long ride back to Richmond, particularly when it occurred to me that I would have qualified for Nationals, but for my DQ.  Later that night, Darin sent me a Facebook friend request and I sent him my Garmin data.  About an hour later he messaged me that the route I took was equidistant to the actual course, which was like rubbing salt in the wound.  I was glad that I hadn’t shorted the course, but it just threw fuel on the fire.

The next day I sent an email to the race director, explaining what had happened, and asking about the unmarked turn.  He responded as follows:

“This is a first for us but we had someone steal signs from our course during the race, twice. Our run director replaced them 2x during the morning and stayed in the area to monitor them after the 2nd replacement. Some athletes reported a person was actually out there with a rake erasing our multiple chalk arrows on the ground and throwing signs into the woods. We have had this race for well over a decade and never had a problem here (or anywhere) like this.”

In a way, this made me feel much better.  First, it proved that I wasn’t blind and hadn’t simply missed the turn sign.  Second, it resolved any lingering animosity that I had towards the race.  Crazy people are going to do crazy things, and the race can’t plan for idiots who are going to steal signs and erase chalk marks.  The RD was also nice enough to offer me a free entry to another race, so that was pretty awesome of him.

While I was happy about the free race entry, the DQ was still a tough pill to swallow.  I’d only won my age group one other time in four years of racing, so it was tough to give that up.  Even worse, was losing a spot at the Age Group Nationals in Cleveland in 2019.  Everything had come together for me in this race, which doesn’t always happen.  Moreover, my chances of qualifying for Nationals depends not only on me, but also on who shows up to race in my age group.  There are plenty of guys that can blow my doors off just by getting out of bed, and I just don’t know if lightening will strike twice.   To be clear, I deserved the DQ, but that didn’t stop me from throwing a pity party for myself.

Up next for me was my “A” race for the season, which was the OBX half-iron triathlon in Manteo, North Carolina one week out.  I didn’t have time to wallow in the mire for long, with a much larger task ahead.  There was, however, a small hurricane named Florence out in the Atlantic, and hopefully it wouldn’t affect my final race.  Lord help me if it did, since I was all out of pity party invitations..

finish.jpg

 

“If nothing can be done, we’ll make the best of what’s around…”

Iron Journey

2016 Ironman Maryland

Race Report – Part 2

9:44:09

 79/216 AG     424/1890 Overall

October 1, 2016 – Race day is finally upon me.  I spent a moment reflecting on how I came to be on the cusp of tackling a full Ironman triathlon, and it goes back to my 2013 New Year’s resolution to get in the best shape of my life.  2013 began with running and P90X, along with some obstacle course racing.  I stumbled into triathlon by accident in 2014 (Read about it here ), and by 2015 I had dropped the obstacle course racing entirely and had committed to triathlon.  I completed my first half-iron triathlon in May of that year, and had signed up for IMMD that Fall.

I didn’t have long to reflect since there was a lot to do before Busher and I headed out the door.  On went the trisuit and tri-tat numbers (with a…

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“So if you don’t rate, just overcompensate…”

2018 Rev3 Williamsburg Sprint Triathlon

Race Report

1:21:25

 4/12 AG     18/271 Overall

July 7, 2018 – Rev3 Williamsburg was hosting the Mideast Long Course Regional Championships in 2018, and the race weekend included a sprint tri on Saturday.  I’d heard good things about Rev3 for years, but just hadn’t had the opportunity to do one of its races.  I was more inclined to do the Olympic distance race, but that was being held on Sunday.  Rev3 had a free kids duathlon on Saturday, and my kids had been wanting to do another race for a while, so I signed them up.  It didn’t make sense for us to spend Saturday and Sunday in Williamsburg, so I signed up for the sprint so we could all race on the same day.

I knew there would be some stiff competition at Rev3, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  After four years of racing triathlons, two of which have been coached by Karen and Erin, I’ve managed to get to the point where I hope and expect to make my age group podium in most local races.  I was blessed with some amount of athletic ability, but only enough to play varsity sports in high school – no college scholarships for me.  Enough still though that with four years of consistent training, I’ve been able to do pretty well for a guy who took up swimming and biking in his mid-30s.  Nevertheless, when I race against anyone with college-level athletic talent – I’m looking at you Danny Royce – I get humbled pretty quickly.  No amount of training could ever put me in the same category as some of those guys.  Perhaps the same age group, but that’s about it.  As it would turn out, Rev3 Williamsburg would be a stark reminder of that reality.

Pre-Race

Even though the drive was a little over an hour each way, I decided to drive down to the race site Friday evening to pick up my race packet.  Heidi dog accompanied me from work, and she was happy to garner a lot of attention while we waited in the line.  After grabbing my race numbers and my goodie bag, Heidi and I scoped out the lay of the land and then headed back to Chesterfield.  It takes me a couple of hours to prep, even for a sprint race, and I like to be in bed by 9 p.m. at the latest since the alarm typically goes off by 4 a.m. on race morning.

Since I had a fairly long drive, the alarm went off around 3:30 a.m., and I immediately got my oatmeal and coffee and then hopped in the car to head down Route 5.  I made it to the Chickahominy Riverfront Park before 5:30 a.m. and then got set up in the transition area.  Interestingly, my bike was racked next to two other Cervelo P2s (see below), and our rack quickly became known as “Cervelo Row.”  I was cautiously optimistic that I wouldn’t take off on the bike course on someone else’s bike.

rack

Cervelo Row

I did a warm up jog down to the swim exit, which was a pretty long way from the transition area.  There was going to be a long run from the river to my bike on asphalt, and I was hoping that I wouldn’t scrape my feet up on the way.  Shortly before transition closed, I ran into my friend Erika Jurkowski in transition, and we ended up in line together at the swim start.  Erika was racing the sprint on Saturday and the Olympic on Sunday, as she was preparing to tackle Ironman Louisville for the second year in a row.  We wished each other well and then got ready to jump into the river.

Race Results

GPS Data

Swim – 18:51  (1:35/100M)  (3/12 AG)

The swim was a point to point in the Chickahominy River, and we were supposed to be swimming with the current.  The wind was blowing out of the north, however, so the surface of the river was actually moving south.  The race announcer promised that the current would still be in our favor, but there was a fair amount of chop because of the wind.  The river was also warm enough that it wasn’t a wet-suit legal swim, which I actually welcomed since I’ve been swimming pretty well of late.

swim

It was a self-seeded swim start, and I lined up somewhere near the 1:45 min/100M marker.  The swim line moved slowly down a dock, and when it was my turn, I crossed the timing mat and hopped in.  I did my best to keep my heart rate down as I began swimming, and I was very surprised by the amount of chop in the water.  There were times that I had to time my breathing just right so I wouldn’t catch a wave in my mouth.

Thankfully, I was able to keep calm, cool and collected, and I made my way north to the right turn buoy.  Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether you’re swimming better than your competition, but I did feel like I was passing a lot of other swimmers.  After rounding the turn buoy, I angled towards the swim finish along the shore line.  I found myself getting pushed to my right towards the shore by the wind or the current, and I had continually try to “swim left” to stay in deeper water.

After nearly 19 minutes of swimming, I ran up the boat ramp at the swim exit and formally entered T1.  I was happy with my swim, having stayed in a good rhythm the entire way.  I was also happy with my sighting, and felt like I’d stayed on a relatively straight line.  My GPS had the swim course at 1176 meters, which equated to a swim pace of 1:35 min/100M.  I can certainly swim that pace in a pool, but there was probably a little bit of a current assist for me to hold that pace in an open water swim, particularly one in choppy water.  It was good enough for 3/12 in my AG, which would be my best leg of the day.

swim exit.PNG

T1: 2:49

It was a long run from the boat ramp back to the transition area, and I was mindful of my footing since I was trying not to stub a toe on the asphalt.  Once I made it to the transition area, I made sure I found my Cervelo and I put on my bike shoes and helmet.  It was then a short run to the bike out area and to the mounting line.

Bike – 41:02 (22.37 mph)  (4/12 AG)

The bike course was a 15 mile out-and-back up Route 5.  Its pretty much flat, with the exception of the bridge that you have to cross at the beginning and the end.  The bridge doesn’t look all that steep, but its longer than you think it is and it’ll put you in your small chain ring unless you really want to stand on the pedals to attack it.  It also has some expansion joints that make me a bit nervous – particularly after my crash in 2017 on something similar.  I did a little bit of bunny hopping across the expansion joints just to be on the safe side.

bike.PNG

After crossing the bridge, it was a straight shot up Route 5 to the west.  I could feel a little bit of wind coming from my right out of the north, but nothing too severe.  I passed some riders early on but found no one to work with.  There were a few angry motorists wondering why all the bikers weren’t on the Capital Trail, but they probably should have put 2 and 2 together given the fact that we all had race numbers on our bikes and helmets.

A few miles before the turnaround point, I saw the first two bikers coming towards me in the other direction.  It looked suspiciously like they were illegally drafting, but I could have been witnessing a pass.  It was tough to tell in the short time that they were in my field of vision, but hopefully they were riding legitimately.  Shortly thereafter, I hit the far end of the bike course, rounded the cone in the middle of Route 5 and then headed back to the east.

I was feeling good and my speed was in the 23-24 mph range in the flats.  Erin has improved my biking a ton in the past two years and I really enjoy being able to turn in respectable bike splits.  My speed was cut as I headed up the bridge on my way back in, and the wind was really whipping on the bridge this time.  I was getting shoved to my right pretty hard thanks to the disc cover and it was a little nerve racking.  I crested the top of the bridge, and then it was a short downhill to the left turn that would take me back into transition.

With the mostly flat course, I’d been able to average north of 22 mph, but that was still only good enough for 4th in my age group.  The M40-44 age group had some really strong bikers in it, and the winner of my age group beat me by five minutes, which is a tad disheartening.

T2: :51

T2 was a lot faster than T1 since there wasn’t a long run from the dismount line to my transition spot.  I had to rack my bike carefully to keep it from falling over (not a fan of the Rev3 racks) and swap out my shoes.  I then grabbed my race belt and was off to the run-out area.

Run- 22:29  (7:14 min/mile)  (4/12 AG)

Mile 1 (7:33)

The 5k run was an out-and back on the Capital Trail right next to the bike course.  There was a fairly long run on wet grass out of transition, then a hard right turn to get on the Trail.  That also meant that we got the fun of going up and over the bridge going out and then again coming back in.  It was windy enough on the bridge that I had to make sure that my visor didn’t fly off.

run

I’d expected the bike course to be 12 miles instead of 15, and I could feel the extra three miles in my legs.  I was actually glad that the course was longer, but it does make running a little tougher.  I was hoping to do the run at a 7:10 pace or faster, but I knew pretty early on that that wouldn’t be in the cards, particularly as I slogged my way up and over the bridge.  My GPS read 7:33 when it tripped the first mile, so I knew that I was off-pace a bit, even though my GPS isn’t always super accurate on the run in tri-mode.

Mile 2 (7:22)

I was able to make better speed in the second mile since the course flattened out, but it seemed like I would never make it to the turnaround cone.  It finally appeared in the vicinity of a water stop, but I rarely slow down for water in a sprint triathlon.  I rounded the cone and headed back in, trying to pick up the pace a little more in the process.  I was doing just fine in that regard until I hit the bridge again.  As it had been on the bike, crossing the bridge to the east seemed harder than crossing it going out in the other direction.  I was encouraged, however, by the fact that I only had about one mile to go and that it was downhill from there.

Mile 3 (7:15)

After cresting the bridge I tried to throw on all the speed I had left, and I took the left turn off of the Capital Trail and ran through the wet grass around the transition area.  Then it was back on pavement again as I headed towards the boat ramp.  I felt like I was supposed to be done at that point, but the last bit seemed to go on forever.  I finally got to take a right off of the pavement and run through the finishing chute.  My overall pace was 7:14/mile, which was pretty close to my goal, so I was okay with that.  My GPS was a little short at 3.05 miles, so that pace is based on the official distance of 3.1 miles.

run

Interestingly, there was a timing malfunction, which listed my official run time as 17:52.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t run a 5:45 pace, but I like the thought of running a 5k in 17:52.  The malfunction affected everyone equally, so no placings were fouled up.

chute

Post-Race

I did a cool down run prior to checking the standings and was disappointed to see that I’d finished 4/12 in my age group.  That was actually after one guy in my age group moved up and out since he was in the top three overall.  As I mentioned above, my age group was crazy fast, and we had 3 out of the top 6 placings overall (3rd, 5th and 6th) in a race with 271 participants.  I was 1 minute and 19 seconds out of third place in my age group, so I got smoked pretty well.  By and large, the three guys ahead of me out-swam, out-biked and out-ran me, so it was pretty humbling.

By the time I checked my standings, it was getting close to the time for the kids’ duathlon to start.  Leigh Anne had left her purse at home, so they had to turn around and go get it, so they were running a tad late.  Thankfully, they made it in time and the kids had great races.  Their race wasn’t timed, but they both had fun.

Jackson

Jilly

peanut

Thankfully we don’t have peanut allergies…

The next race on my calendar was the Patriot’s Olympic Triathlon in mid-September, and I was (silently) hoping to qualify for Nationals in that race.  My season was set to culminate with the OBX 70.3 Triathlon the following weekend in Manteo, NC, where Leigh Anne would also be doing her first Olympic distance race.  My training regimen for 2018 was centered around those two races, but as it would turn out, issues would arise with both .  In fact, I’m still reeling from the what went down at the Patriot’s.

 

“Beneath the sea is where a fish should be…”

2018 Robious Landing Triathlon

Race Report

1:24:35

 2/21 AG     18/270 Overall

June 24, 2018 – Thanks to several weeks of storms, the Robious Landing Triathlon had been turned into a duathlon for the second time in three years due to dangerous river conditions.  I’m not a huge fan of duathlons since it takes away one of my strongest legs  (the swim) and replaces it with my biggest weakness (the run).  Karen has had me swimming pretty well recently, despite my humble swimming roots.  Leigh Anne was racing with me, and it was going to be her first river swim, so we were both pretty disappointed by the change.  Leigh Anne had been swimming in Karen’s “Guppies” class for several months, and was ready to show off her new swimming chops.  Several of Karen’s other Guppies were racing as well, including Mindy Reese, Candace Broaddus and Mills Babbs.  It was a Guppies reunion of sorts, but with the swim being cancelled, there were a lot of fish out of water.  Sorry…couldn’t resist.

Coming into the race I hadn’t been feeling well.  I’d been having daily headaches, fatigue and mild dizziness issues for about a month.  The only explanation I’d been able to come up with was the fact that we’d adopted a kitten just before my headaches began.  I’d always had cats growing up, but maybe I’d developed a cat allergy in the last decade or so.  I’d been taking 4-6 Ibuprofen per day to control the headaches, so I did have some concerns heading into the race.  I was hoping for the best, but was prepared to abort  if needed, particularly if I got dizzy on the bike.

Leigh Anne and I had gotten our race packets on Saturday afternoon, and we made our way into transition when it opened around 5:15 a.m. on Sunday morning.  Since I’d registered for the race long before Leigh Anne, our bib numbers, and thus, our racks, were pretty far apart.  We got set up, chipped and body marked, and then set off on a warm up run.

robious rack

A crappy rack spot on the inside.

robious la.jpg

When the race was a duathlon in 2016, the first run (of roughly .9 miles) was begun in a first come – first served format in waves of about ten people.  They had a timing mat at the start that year, so it didn’t matter if you started first or last – your start was tracked by your timing chip.  This time around, there was no timing mat at the start, so we started off as we would have in our swim waves.  Thus, if you didn’t start with your proper wave, your time would be off.

Even though I had two more days in my thirties, I’d aged up to the 40-44 age group since your age group is determined by your age at the end of the year.  As such, I’d be going off in the second wave, and I think Leigh Anne was in the fourth wave.  My only problem pre-race was the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to switch the swim to a run on my Garmin 920 in triathlon mode.  I left it as it was, and figured that the timing would be accurate, even if I wouldn’t be able to gauge my pace on the first run.  When it was time to start, I lined up next to fellow Pro-K teammate, Justin Koehler, and waited for the gun to go off.

Race Results

GPS Data

Run 1 – 6:18  (7:04/mile)  (2/21 AG)

Robious run 1 start 2018

Justin Koehler and I in the ProK kits

The first run was an out and back of about .9 miles, which is uphill going out and downhill coming back in.  Koehler and I started off together, and the guy in the middle of the photo above took off like a rocket and left the rest of us behind.  I was just hoping to run something close to my 2016 time of 6:22, but I was running totally by feel since the swim pace shown on my Garmin wasn’t helpful in the least.

The uphill portion of the run was mostly on a dirt trail, which was fairly muddy and slippery.  It was also super humid on race morning, and I was already soaking wet by the time I got up the hill to turn around and come back.  The downhill portion of the run was on an asphalt trail, so that made for much easier and faster running.  I increased my tempo coming back in and crossed the timing mat in 6:18 – 4 seconds faster than 2016.  I was happy about being faster, but more importantly, I was happy that I’d been able to pace myself appropriately without assistance from my GPS.

My 6:18 was good enough for 2/21 in my age group, which was nice, but the bike and the final run were going to factor more heavily in the overall standings.

T1 – :56  (2/21 AG)

I had a much better rack location in 2018 than I’d had the year before, and I made a pretty quick transition.  I had to swap out my shoes and put on my helmet, and then I set out for the bike out area.  My helmet is very snug and the helmet shield is temperamental and will fall off easily.  Thus, I have to put the helmet on slowly and precisely to keep the shield in place.  Even so, I was only one second slower than the fastest transition in my age group.

Bike – 52:32 (21.6 mph)  (2/21)

robious bike.PNG

I really like the Robious bike course, which is a 19 mile out and back with a nice little three-tiered climb just before the turnaround point.  Its mostly uphill heading out of transition and its fast and downhill coming back in.  The first mile or so is a gradual climb up to Robious Road from the river, but once I made the right turn onto Robious I laid down in aero and started making some good speed.  There were a few small ups and downs in the first miles and then a small chain ring climb around mile 3.  Koehler passed me just after that climb and I decided to ride along with him.

The legal USAT drafting distance is 3 bike lengths or greater, so I tried to ride about 4-5 lengths behind him to get a legal drafting benefit.  I followed him like that until we turned left onto Manakin Town Ferry Road, and then passed him to try to return the favor for a bit.  He rode behind me for maybe a mile and then passed me again.  I stayed in his wake until we hit first portion of the climb to the turnaround at mile 8.5, but went by him again since I was climbing faster.  I thought he might catch me again on the descent in the other direction, but I stayed clear of him for the remainder of the ride.

I checked my Garmin for the first time at the turnaround cone and saw that I was about 20 seconds behind my desired pace.  That lit a fire under me and I hammered back down the hills that I’d just climbed instead of just letting gravity do the work.  I hit 39.9 mph on the GPS, so I was moving pretty good.  Its a little nerve racking getting over 30 mph, and I’m always (mentally) crossing my fingers that I don’t blow a tire at high speed.

After the course flattened out I continued to push hard, and took a right turn onto Robious around mile 15.  The nice thing about being in the second starting wave is that there are other bikers on the course ahead of you.  If you catch and overtake them, there’s a small slingshot effect as you go by.  I was passing a fair amount of bikers coming back in, so that was fun and fast.  I passed Mills just before mile 15, and he said I sounded like a freight train as I went by – probably due to my rear disc cover.

After getting back onto Robious, I continued to push hard all the way up the hill where you take a left turn to head back down to Robious Landing.  I’d gone hard down that hill in 2017, and regretted keeping my heart rate up as I went out on the run.  This time around, I eased off a bit as I headed downhill towards the transition area and was intent on getting my heart rate down before I got off the bike.  I finished the bike course 31 seconds faster than the last time the race was a duathlon in 2016, so I was happy about that.  I’d been behind my 2016 pace at the turnaround cone, so I’d made up all of the time, and then some, coming back in.

T2 – :50  (3/21)

T2 was uneventful and consisted of racking my bike, changing shoes again and grabbing my race belt.  I was in and out in 50 seconds, which was third-fastest in my age group.

Run 2 – 24:04 (7:44/mile)  (3/21)

The second run was slow…abnormally slow.  Not just for me, but for everyone in the field.  I don’t know if it was the wet trails, the crazy high humidity or something else, but the struggle was real.  The run is supposed to be a full 5k of 3.1 miles, but my GPS always has it short.  That’s to be expected because of the twists and turns on the trails, but I still don’t think its a full 5k.  I usually have between 2.8 and 2.9 miles on my GPS, and I suspect that the actual distance is close to 3.0 miles.  My official pace for the run was 7:44/mile, but my GPS pace was 8:10/mile.

Mile 1 (8:39)

As soon as I came out of transition the humidity hit me again.  It’d been less noticeable on the bike thanks to the breeze, but it was stifling on the run.  The first mile was mostly on trails in the park, and my footing was uncertain in points thanks to the wet conditions.  There are also a couple of wooden bridges to cross that will lay you down if you don’t watch your footing.  I wouldn’t say that the run is hilly, but there are some hills on the trails that I always seem to forget about.

The bike leg of most sprint triathlons is 12 miles, and the 19 mile bike course at Robious takes a lot more out of your legs.  This very noticeable in the first mile of the run, and I was very disappointed to see 8:39 on the GPS when it tripped 1 mile.

Mile 2 (7:32)

The second mile is predominantly on asphalt in the neighborhood that abuts Robious Landing, and I was able to pick up my pace on the straight and level running surface.  The downside, however, was that I was now in direct sunlight, which just made the overheating worse.  There is usually a landowner with a sprinkler set up as a “cool zone,” but I didn’t see one this year.

I hit the turnaround cone near the 1.5 mile point, and then headed back the way I’d came.  My legs felt slightly better by that point, and I was hoping that I’d be able to continue to pick up the pace all the way back to the finish.  After turning, I was also on the lookout for anyone else in my age group who might be close enough to catch me.  I saw Koehler not long after turning, and I knew that I’d need to keep pushing since he is a strong runner.

Mile 3 (8:21 pace)

The last portion of the run is back on the Robious Landing property, and has some more twists and turns and some additional trail running.  I was hurting badly by this point, and my pace deteriorated back above an 8 minute pace – at least per my GPS.  Thankfully, I hadn’t had a headache or any dizziness during the race, but the humidity was kicking my butt.

There was another turnaround cone and then I had to double back and hit the trails again.  I met some runners going out on the run, and I was just glad to be finishing up and not heading out.  Eventually, the finish line music and the announcer began to get louder, and I burst out of the woods and into the finishing chute with whatever was left in me.

Upon finishing I looked at my GPS and saw that I’d averaged 8:10 minutes/mile based upon a run of 24:04, which was much slower than expected.  My official pace was 7:44/mile but I’d done the run in 21:10 in 2016 and in 21:43 in 2017, so I was about 3 minutes off.  That’s an eternity in a 5k race, so I was definitely thinking WTF – even with the high humidity.

Robious finish 2018

Post-Race

After finishing, I immediately turned my thoughts to finding Leigh Anne at the finish.  She came through a little while later, totally red-faced due to the humidity.  She was 6/15 in her AG, which was impressive, given that this was only her third triathlon/duathlon to date.  Her Guppy friend Mindy was actually the third female overall, mostly thanks to the fact that she runs like a deer.

time l

Given my mild OCD tendencies, I had to find out if my slow-ass run was an anomaly, so I researched the run times from 2016 and 2017 to get an overall comparison.  I looked at the 1st fastest time, the 10th fastest, the 25th fastest and the 50th fastest for each of the past three years.  Interestingly, I found that the times in 2018 were all about 3 minutes slower than in the prior years.  Moreover, by the overall placings, my run in 2018 was actually better (29th) than in 2017 (32nd).  I really can’t figure out the drop-off in the run times in 2018, and I’d be surprised if the high humidity had that much effect on a 5k.  Nevertheless, my findings made me feel better about how I ran.

time 2

After the dust cleared, it turned out that my effort was good enough for 2/21 in my AG, and this was the second year in a row that I’d gotten second at this race.  Brian Defazio destroyed me by more than 4 minutes to win our AG.  I don’t know Brian personally, but he participates in a lot of local races and is a monster.  I was also happy to see that my teammate Justin Koehler was able to snag third.

Robious Results

When all was said and done, the Robious Landing Triathlon (duathlon) was pretty successful for Leigh Anne and I.  It was the first race with my wife, and hopefully, not the last.  She was still learning how to swim and bike, but based upon her early results, she can expect great things in the future with some additional training.  For me, I was happy with my result.  For the second year in a row, I was beaten out for first in my AG by a vastly superior athlete – Danny Royce having destroyed me in 2017.  I really hate to lose, but its much easier to take when you just don’t measure up against the competition.

Next up for me would be the Rev3 Sprint in Williamsburg in early July.  I’d never taken part in that event, but I’d heard good things about Rev3.  There was going to be some serious competition at that race, so I was looking forward to seeing how I would measure up.

robious couple

Me and my better half

Robious podium

guppies

Guppies

 

“Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup…”

2018 Monticelloman Olympic Triathlon

Race Report

2:29:19

 3/10 AG     19/125 Overall

May 6 2018 – A week after the RTC Sprint I was signed up for the Monticelloman Olympic race in Palmyra.  I’d been wanting to do the race for a few years, but it had never made it onto my calendar.  I’d signed Leigh Anne up for the Super Sprint race in the East Coast Triathlon Festival, forgetting that both races were on the same day.  She was not really happy about having to tackle her tri without me, but Busher was nice enough to go out and watch her race at Innsbrook as I headed off towards Charlottesville.

I was feeling well and rested for the race, with the exception of some nagging left oblique issues, but wasn’t really sure what to expect competition-wise.  I also was’t quite sure about the course.  I knew that it would be fairly hilly since the race takes place just outside of Charlottesville, and I keep forgetting how hilly that area can be.  I’d looked at the course maps and checked the bike and run course profiles in the days leading up to the race, but I really can’t fully wrap my head around a course until I see it in person.

The forecast was calling for mild weather, but rain was expected in the early afternoon.  I figured that I’d be done well before the rain began, so I wasn’t worried about that too much.  I was more worried about the alarm going off at 3:30 a.m. so I could get on the road by 4:00 a.m.  I was out of the house pretty quickly after some oatmeal and coffee, and made it up to Lake Monticello a little after 5:00 a.m.

Pre-Race

There were a fair amount of people already in the transition area when I arrived, and I had to go pick up my race packet before they’d let me enter.  That was a pretty painless process, and soon enough, I was set up.  Interestingly, they had blocks for your bike instead of racks, but I found the setup to be a bit wobbly.  I had to prop my bike up just right to keep it from leaning and possibly falling over.

monti rack

Once I got situated, I went for a short run and then hit the portapotty one last time before putting on my wetsuit.  The swim was taking place in Lake Monticello, so I headed down to the beach to survey the swim course.  I then learned that the swim started with a 100 yard run down the beach instead of starting in the water.  That was new for me, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.  After some initial confusion about the priorities of the different swim waves, we all gathered on the beach and waited for the start.

Results Link

Garmin Data

Swim- 27:34  (1:50/100m)  (6/10 AG)

swim.PNG

I was in the second swim wave of the day, and positioned myself on the water line.  We started a few minutes after the first swim wave, and when the gun sounded, I took off running at a pretty good pace.  We ran as far as the beach would allow, and then veered right into the water and ran a little more until the water was deep enough to start swimming.

monticello swim start.jpg

On the left at the water line.

As soon as I put my head in the water I knew that I had a problem.  I felt like I couldn’t breathe, which was due to jacking up my heart rate while running down the beach.  I tried to swim slowly to get my heart rate under control, but I had to pull up several times to try to catch my breath.  This was probably the closest to having a panic attack in an open water swim that I’ve ever had, and it wasn’t very pleasant.

I kept moving forward, but the first 500-600 meters were pretty tough….and pretty slow.  Shortly before the first turn buoy things started to get a bit easier, and my breathing was pretty much back to normal.  The swim back up the lake was smooth and easy, and I felt like I was making good time by that point.  I started catching a few people in the prior swim wave, and was also passing a few people in my wave who had gone by me when I was struggling.

At the 1300 meter mark I hit the last turn buoy and made a right turn to head back to the shore.  There were two guys swimming next to me, and it looked like we were having a race to get back to the shore first.  Sighting was easy thanks to the inflatable wiggly man on the dock near the swim exit, and eventually it got shallow enough to run out of the water.

I hit the lap button on my Garmin as I crossed the timing mat on the beach and it read 27:34.  This was a PR for me by almost a minute and a half, but I was still a little disappointed.  I felt like the first 1/4 of my swim was pretty dreadful, but at least I’d learned my lesson about sprinting into the water.  Next time I’d take it slower and would probably have a faster swim time.

swim.jpg

Wiggly men are only seen at used car lots and triathlon swim exits…

T1- 1:24  ( 2/10 AG)   

It was a pretty long run from the timing mat up to the transition area, but I tried to make it as fast as possible.  My heart was thumping pretty good by the time I reached my bike, and I got my helmet and shoes on as quickly as possible and took off for the bike out area.  I was quick enough to have the second fastest transition in my age group, and as it would turn out, my transitions and my bike split would be the driving factors in snagging an AG podium spot.

Bike – 1:09:32  (20.7 mph)  (2/10 AG)

bike profile

bike course.PNG

By the time I mounted my bike, the skies were getting pretty dark, but it wasn’t raining.  There was a hill coming out of transition, and then a right turn onto Lake Monticello Road.  There were some small hills there, but it was only about a mile before you had to make a right turn onto South Boston Road at a T intersection.  The roads were still wet from overnight rain, and the right hand turn was about 110 degrees and at the bottom of a steep hill.  The race director had warned us about the turn before the race, and there were signs warning us to slow down.  I rode my brakes all the way down the hill to the turn, but with the wet road and my wet tires, I couldn’t physically stop my bike (if I’d needed to).  I was able to make the turn, but if volunteers hadn’t been there to stop traffic, it could have been an ugly scene.

After turning right, there was a steep uphill immediately, and the course was a net uphill for the next 13 miles or so.  Around mile 5 the skies opened up and it began dumping rain.  There were several steep and winding descents in that portion of the course and the rain was coming down so hard that water was running across the road.  That made for some dangerous conditions, and I had to take it easy on the downhill portions because I was afraid of hydroplaning or losing it in a turn.

The dumping rain lasted for about 10-15 minutes and then became more of a steady rain.  The hills continued, and even though I passed a few other bikers, it just felt like the going was really slow.  Around mile 16 I was catching a couple of other bikers, but two cars passed me and got in between us.  I couldn’t go around the cars and they couldn’t go around the other bikers.  I was held up for a couple of minutes, but the cars continued straight when we turned right onto Martin Kings Road, and then I was finally able to pass the other guys.

I was on my own for the rest of the bike course, but it was mostly downhill from there.  I was able to lay in aero for the remainder of the ride and began making really good time.  There was standing water in some spots and some slippery corners, but at least the rain had already done its worst.  The last 8-9 miles of the bike were fast and fun, and I was actually a little disappointed to have it end.  My bike split was the second fastest in my AG, and I’ve seen a ton of improvement in my biking ability after two years of doing coach Erin’s workouts.  Some of her workouts are brutal, and at times, I like to remind her that Erin is a four-letter word.

T2 :1:32  (3/10 AG)

T2 was not quite as fast as T1, but was still pretty good.  I was, perhaps, a tad too concerned about making sure that my bike was properly racked so that it wouldn’t come crashing down, so racking it took longer than normal.  I then switched shoes, grabbed my race belt and visor and was off.  My legs felt pretty heavy as I made my way to the run out area, but that’s pretty normal and I figured that it would abate soon enough.

Run- 49:15 (7:57 min/mile)  (6/10 AG)

run profile.jpg

run.PNG

Miles 1-3 (7:56)(8:17)(8:11)

My goal was to run at an 8:00 minute pace or faster, and my stretch goal was a 7:45 pace.  I figured that’d be out of reach due to the hills, but I was going to try nonetheless.  The 6.2 mile run course nothing but hilly suckitude, and it hits you immediately out of transition with an initial climb that is about a third of a mile.  The course profile indicated that the “out” portion of the run was mostly uphill, so I knew that my 5k split should be a bit slower than my 10k split.

After the initial climb away from transition, the course flattened out just a bit, but then began climbing once again.  There were a few small downhill spots in between the climbs, but some of those were steep enough to really work your quads.  The hills were brutal, but at least it wasn’t hot.  I was having trouble hitting my 8 minute miles, but I was still hoping to make up some time coming back in.

Miles 4-6 (8:10)(7:58)(8:04)

I was pretty happy to hit the halfway point since it was a net downhill coming back in.  There was a short downhill portion to start mile 4, but that was immediately followed by another fun climb.  That process repeated itself pretty much all the way back.  The run was really taking its toll on me, more so than I had predicted.

The course flattened out again around mile 5, but then closed with a final climb that was about a quarter of a mile long.  There had been a guy ahead of me for a while in the last couple of miles, and I had finally gotten within striking distance of passing him.  I threw down everything I had left in the final 200 meters and was able to pass him just before we crossed the line.  When I was behind him, I wasn’t sure if he was in my AG, and I didn’t want to give up a spot to him if at all possible.

My official pace for the run was 7:57, which was bit faster than my GPS pace since my GPS was slightly off on the mileage (6.09).  I was OK with that pace, particularly since the run had felt pretty shitty from start to finish.  Still 6/10 on the run in my age group isn’t good enough, and I still need to improve in that discipline.  Karen and her 800 meter repeats have been helping, but hot, nasty, bad-ass running speed has never been in my DNA, so I’m still a work in progress.  Karen still has her work cut out for her.

Post-Race

After crossing the line and collecting my medal, I grabbed a slice of pizza and then found fellow Pro-K teammate, Justin Koehler, who had finished less than a minute after me.  He’d had a monster run, and his run was the fastest in our age group.  Had the run course been much longer, he would have caught me for sure.

When we checked the results we saw that I was third and he was fourth in the 40-44 AG.  I was happy to be on the AG podium for the second time in two races in 2018, and had missed out on second place by only 23 seconds.  Of course, I immediately began to wonder how I could have been 24 seconds faster on the day.  That’s not a lot of time in a 2.5 hour race, but I felt like I’d left it all out on the course.  I didn’t have anything on my schedule until the Robious Landing Triathlon in late June, so I had some time to do a little more speed work.

monti results

 

Monticelloman podium

 

monti bling

 

“Old, but I’m not that old…”

2018 RTC Sprint Triathlon

Race Report

1:04:46

 3/10 AG     30/328 Overall

April 22, 2018 – USAT rules sort you into age groups based upon your age at the end of the year, not your current age.  Thus, the RTC Sprint was the first triathlon where I had to put the dreaded “40” on my calf.  I still had about two months left in my 30’s, but officially, I was 40 and had been bumped up to the 40-44 age group.

Generally speaking, there’s an advantage to aging up, particularly in running races.  In triathlon, however, the 40-44 age group is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, in a lot of races.  I presume that’s due to the fact that people seem to get into triathlon a little later in life, but whatever the reason, its a fast age group.  I’d never made the AG podium at the RTC Sprint since its a pretty competitive race, so I really didn’t think that I had much of a shot this year.

Typically, my biggest weakness in triathlons is my lack of running speed, so I’d made that the focus of 2018.  Thus, pretty much since the close of the 2017 season, Karen had been working to make me faster.   In reality, it was more about making me “less slow,” but semantics aside, there were a fair amount of track workouts and speed work.    I still couldn’t run a 6 minute mile, but at least I was in shouting distance at 6:26.

Unfortunately, every time I began to get into a good training groove, I got derailed by circumstances outside of my control.  At Christmas, there was a minor illness that took away a week.  In February, everybody in my house got the flu, except for me.  I went contrarian and contracted strep throat, but poor Jillian had the flu twice and ended up in the emergency room.  Even when I wasn’t sidelined by my own illness, the lack of sleep and stress from worrying about everyone else affected my training.

By the end of March we were all illness free, but then I began getting strange pains on my left side near the bottom of my rib cage.  The pains were tolerable, but after they failed to subside after a week or two, I finally told people what was going on.  After a trip to Patient First revealed nothing but normal chest x-rays and lab tests, I finally diagnosed myself (with the help of Google) as having an oblique strain.

The good news was that the pain was bearable and intermittent.  The bad news was that it was an injury that would linger for quite some time without rest – which just wasn’t in the cards.  I nearly healed after several weeks of anti-inflammatories, but then I re-aggravated it doing swim sprints.  Karen cut back my training and my speed work a bit, but soon enough, the RTC Sprint was upon us.  I was excited to see if my winter speed work had paid off, but was a tad concerned about my injury and my recent training limitations.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to hold back in the race and was going to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Pre Race

The weather for race day looked really good, even if it was going to be a little bit chilly in the morning.  As always, the alarm went off around 4 a.m., and there was a flurry of dressing, eating and heading out the door.  In 2017 I got stuck with a pretty poor rack position, but this year was much better.  I even arrived early enough to nab the coveted spot at the end of the rack.

rtc rack 2018

Not my pink shirt on the rack….

After setting up my transition area and warming up, I headed inside with lots of time to spare.  It was a little chilly, and I didn’t feel like sitting around outside.  I said hello to Meredith (who was volunteering), and then did some warm up laps in the instructional pool.  Busher was doing the relay, but I didn’t see him before the race.  I did run into his parents on the pool deck, but he must have been occupied elsewhere.

The pool is a pre-seeded start, and in years past, they did a good job of lining everybody up early according to their swim waves.  It was less organized this year, and with about ten minutes to go until the start, there was a mass of people around the pool in no coherent order.  I didn’t think that they’d ever get organized before the start, but miraculously, things came together just in time.  Thus, as soon as Jill Blankenburg sang the National Anthem, we got underway.

jill.jpg

GPS Data

Race Results

Swim- 7:11  (1:48/100m)    3/10 AG

The “open water” pool swim of 400 meters is always interesting in this race, and I’ve yet to have a really good swim.  I pegged 6:50 as my estimated time, and felt as though I was under seeding myself.  I didn’t want to hold anyone up, but apparently, a lot of people overseeded themselves.

RTS swim

You start in groups of ten, and swim eight lengths of the 50 meter pool.  I decided to start myself on the outside (left) of the lane to avoid most of the pandemonium of the swim start, and had no problems in the first 50 meters.  The first turn was to my right, and I hit some congestion as I made my way around the first buoy.

I found some clean water heading back in the other direction, but as soon as I turned around the 100 meter buoy I began catching up to people in the earlier swim waves.  Passing in the pool isn’t like passing on the bike or run course.  Your relative velocity to “lapped traffic” is fairly low, and you have to work pretty hard to get around someone before hitting the next turn buoy.  Otherwise, the person ahead of you is going to take the inside lane around the buoy and you’re going to have to go the long way around, which makes passing even more difficult.  Thus, passing is a chore and can wear you out much faster than you’d like.

For the last 300 meters of the swim, I was constantly catching and trying to pass people who started ahead of me.  This slowed my progress considerably, and made for a disappointing swim.  I finished in 7:11, but felt like I lost at least 30 seconds by getting caught up behind slower swimmers, but was only 1 second slower than last year.  I made a mental note to over seed myself in 2019.  Nevertheless, I was still 3/10 in my AG in the swim, so it wasn’t a total bust.

T1- 1:00    1/10 AG

I exited the pool motivated to get on the bike and to make up for what I considered to be lost time in the pool.  I sprinted to my transition spot, threw on my cycling shoes (without socks), donned my helmet and then took off for the mounting line.  All this was done in exactly one minute, which was the fastest in my AG, and 36 seconds faster than in 2017.  In a sprint race, every second matters, and transitions become that much more important.

Bike – 33:33  (22.4 mph)    2/10 AG

I had one of my strongest ever bikes at the RTC Sprint in 2017 and I was hoping to best my time of 32:56, this time around.  I didn’t feel quite 100% coming into this race, however, so I was skeptical of my chances.  Still I planned to push as hard as possible and see where that left me.

There is a hill immediately out of transition, and then you take a right onto Route 10, which is fairly flat and fast.  I immediately began making good speed, and there were a lot of people from the earlier swim waves to pass on the bike course.  Drafting is illegal, but there is a small “sling shot” effect when you legally pass people ahead of you.

I checked my GPS after turning right near the airport and I saw that I was slightly behind my 2017 pace.  I tried to pick it up a bit, and I played leapfrog with a couple of other guys on the road that runs parallel to the runway.  By the time that I made the right turn on the back side of the airport I’d left them behind, and tackled the small hills without any problems.

The course then winds around towards Route 10, and that’s when I encountered the only problem of the day on the bike.  There was a person flagging traffic, and he was directing it all to the right up ahead of me.  Traffic began to back up, and I was moving faster than the cars ahead of me.  I slowed down, but then realized that I needed to go past the traffic or else I was going to have to come to a complete stop.  I went to the left of the cars and was basically on the center line of the road.  I passed 3-4 cars, and then the flagger waved me to the right.  I knew that couldn’t be correct, having ridden the course 3 times before.  The biker behind me and I finally realized that the flagger was only gesturing to the cars, and that we were supposed to go straight, so we continued on.  The whole experience probably only cost me 10-15 seconds, but got me out of my biking groove just when I felt like I was making up some time.

From there, I turned left onto Ironbridge Road and was not far from the finish line.  I gave it everything that I had left on Ironbridge, but after turning left to head back towards transition, I eased off a bit to lower my heart rate.  A few extra seconds on the bike course would be worth the reduced heart rate heading into T2 and into the run course.  I’d learned that lesson the hard way previously.

T2 :54    3/10 AG

T2 was faster than T1, but still only good enough for third in my AG.  I ran my bike to the rack – finding it quickly with the pink shirt tied to the outside of the rack.  I slipped off my helmet and cycling shoes, threw on my running shoes and my race belt, and then I was off.  By this point, I knew that my overall time was very close to my time from 2017, which I was determined to beat.  Another year older, but I didn’t want to be another year slower.  Thus, it was all coming down to the run.  I wasn’t quite sure if the lost training time and the injured oblique would slow me down, but I was going to give it my best.

Run- 22:11 (7:08 min/mile)   4/10 AG

I completed the run in 22:33 in 2017, which equates to a 7:15 pace.  Prior to the race, I’d asked Karen what she wanted my run pace to be, and she’d told me 7:30 – since that’s what my post-injury training runs had been.  I knew that she’d been taking care of me in preparation for the race, but didn’t think that she actually planned for me to run at that pace.  I’m not sure if she was serious about the 7:30 pace or whether she was goading me, but I was sure as heck going to beat 7:30 if at all possible.

Mile 1 (7:13)

I felt good coming out of T2, and my legs were minimally “heavy” from my bike effort.  I thought to myself, “Ok, we’re good to go,” and then my race belt promptly fell to the ground behind me.  I’d failed to secure it properly, and I had to turn around and go back for it.  So much for getting off to a good start…but I had no one to blame but myself.

After getting my race belt squared away, I took off again and headed down to the soccer fields.  That part of the course is pretty much flat, so I was able to make good time.  I completed mile 1 in 7:13 and was still feeling okay, so all was going according to plan.

Mile 2 (7:06)

Near the start of the second mile, there is a small hill that leads up to the parking lot of the old Ukrops.  Its not terrible, but its pretty much the only uphill portion of the course and it does slow you down a bit.  After cresting the hill, I ran the out and back in the parking lot, and then completed the first loop down by the transition area.  There was a little boost gained while running past the crowd near the finish line, and then I set out on loop number two.

By this point, I was breathing pretty hard but my legs felt fine.  In longer races, its typically the legs that go out on me in the run, but in the shorter races, there’s the hard breathing and the feeling that my chest is going to explode.  I finished the second mile down by the soccer fields and was feeling pretty rough, but the thought of almost being done helped to ease the pain.

Mile 3 (7:07)

I had to deal with the small hill one last time, and it definitely slowed me down more than the first time.  I kept trying to accelerate at the top of the hill, but was having trouble getting going again.  I’d wanted to run a sub-7 minute pace for the remainder of the race after cresting the hill, but I wasn’t able to get my pace up that much until after I hit the turnaround cone in the grocery store parking lot and headed back towards the finish line.

Normally, I make the last left turn and then sprint down the hill through the finishing chute.  I was able to pick up my pace down the hill a little bit, but I just didn’t seem to have the same finishing kick in me this time around.  Still, I finished the run in 22:11, which equated to a 7:08 pace, and it was my fastest ever run at the RTC Sprint.  Not too bad for having aged up.

RTC.jpg

Post Race

Overall, I was very happy with my performance, especially since my spring training had been derailed a bit because of sickness and injury.  I was a tad slower on the bike in 2018, but some of that was due to getting caught behind vehicle traffic on Cogbill Road.  Still, my transitions and my run were faster than in 2017, and I was 48 seconds faster overall.  Older, but not slower.

Jillian had a soccer game, so I didn’t have time to hang around long after I finished.  As it turned out, I got third in my age group, so Busher was nice enough to snag my award for me.  This was the first year that I’d been able to make the AG podium in the RTC Sprint, and its a pretty competitive race, so that was a nice bonus.  The number of people racing was down a bit from years past, but a podium is a podium I guess.

Next up for me was Monticelloman near Charlottesville, and I’d had my eye on that race for several years.  I’d decided to do the Olympic distance event, and those will kick your butt pretty hard if you do them right.  I was hoping to go 2/2 in age group podiums in my inaugural year of racing in the 40-44 age group, and only time would tell if that was in the cards.  What was in the cards were heavy rains on the bike and hills…lots and lots of hills.

rtc plaque.jpeg

 

rtc finish 2018.jpg

Pro K post-race gathering.