2014 Chasing Chicken (Reverse) Triathlon Race Report
4/11 AG 45/190 Overall
April 6, 2014 – I am ready to take on my first triathlon…I think. Due to the time of year, it is a reverse triathlon. Why? Well, you don’t really want to swim and then get on a bike when it is 50 degrees outside if you can avoid it. Riding a bike in 50 degree weather can get pretty cold. More so when you are soaking wet. Thus, the Chasing Chicken Triathlon was a run-bike-swim format in order to avoid hypothermia in most of its participants.
After my relatively poor showing in the Monument Avenue 10k because of ongoing IT Band Syndrome in my left leg, I had returned to Dr. Young at Ortho Va. Physical therapy, stretching, ice, home exercises, snake oil and Voodoo magic had failed to markedly improve my ITBS, but thankfully, Dr. Young was ready, willing and able to stick a needle in my knee. It sounds much worse than it really was, but he did indicate that the cortisone shot would be fairly painful. I prepared for the worst and avoiding making eye contact with the needle, but it really was not all that bad. Dr. Young informed me that the shot might work for 7 weeks or 7 years, but either way I was ready to get rid of my nagging knee pain.
Once my knee was taken care of, I had one other major issue to deal with – I swim like a stone. Sure, I was on the Old Church Swim team when I was 5 or 6 years old, but I never really learned how to swim freestyle. Granted, the Chasing Chicken Triathlon only required a 300 meter pool swim, but I had never been able to swim more than about 25 meters without gasping for air. I really needed a crash course on swimming.
Thankfully, the triathlon included a free swimming assessment on a Saturday a couple of weeks before the event. I was one of about 10 people to attend, and they started with a 300 meter time trial so that we could see where we stood. At that point, I was wearing baggy swim trunks, but I had purchased a decent pair of Aquasphere goggles. After struggling with freestyle for the first 50-75 meters, I switched to breaststroke for the remainder of the time trial. My total time was right at eight minutes, which equates to 2:40/100 meters. Quite frankly, that was awful. Due to my swimming ignorance at the time, I didn’t know just how awful it was, so I was less embarrassed than I probably should have been.
Over the next two weeks, I watched swimming videos on YouTube and had one more training session (alone) at the Collegiate Aquatic Center. I felt like I knew freestyle swimming theory a little better, but I had yet to really put it into practice. I figured, however, that I could wing it with a 300 meter pool swim, and you can’t exactly drown in a pool with dozens of people watching, can you?
As for my attire, I had invested in a $100 tri-suit so that I would not need to have a wardrobe change in T1 and T2. After years of avoiding and mocking Spandex, it was a bit odd to squeeze myself into the suit. I had yet to invest in clipless pedals and cycling shoes for the bike, so I would be biking in my running shoes. Not the best for pedaling efficiency, but at least I wouldn’t have to change shoes in T1.
The morning of the race was chilly, but tolerable. I had attended the pre-race briefing the prior afternoon, and I had done my best to memorize the course and the transition layout. My wife, kids and mom planned on spectating, and they dropped me off early so that I could check in and set up my transition area. They went to have breakfast while I tried to stay warm by running around. After over-analyzing my transition setup, and after many trips to the Portapotties (thanks to a nervous bladder), it was finally time to race.
Run – 23:35 (7:37 min/mile)
Again, this was a reverse triathlon due to the cold weather, so the run was first. The course was fairly flat, but there were a few moderate inclines to deal with. My run strategy was actually pretty simple – run 3.1 miles as fast as possible. I figured that there was no real reason to conserve energy, and that I would be able to recover a bit on the bike. In hindsight, I think that my strategy was sound, because conserving energy on the run really would not have led to significantly faster bike or swim splits. Plus, in a sprint distance triathlon, you are really going as hard as possible the entire time.
The run began in four waves, and my age group was in the first wave to take off. Well, the first off the line was the guy dressed in the chicken suit that everyone was trying to catch – hence the name, Chasing Chicken Triathlon. I believe that he got a five minute head start…and…I never saw him again. I guess that shows my level of triathlon fitness at the time, in that, I couldn’t even catch up to a guy in a giant chicken costume.
Anyways, my wave took off, which included the three professional men, and the professionals were out of sight within the first few minutes. I was really running by feel thanks to no GPS, and my main goal was 24:00 or less. I felt like I paced myself well, but I was starting to struggle near the end. Thankfully, when I got back near the Tuckahoe YMCA all the spectators were there cheering, so I was able to finish strong. I came in at 23:35, which was a somewhat respectable 7:37 per mile average. Even better, zero knee pain!
My bike was pretty much located at the farthest point of the transition area from the run entry, and it took me awhile just to get to it. I saved some time since I didn’t need to change shoes, and I threw on my helmet and glasses and began pushing my bike to the bike out area. Once I neared the bike mounting area, my wife started yelling at me to make sure that I crossed the timing mat before I got on my bike. I heeded her advice, but was not really sure why she was so adamant about it at that time. I would later learn that two of the three professionals had mounted their bikes prior to the timing mat, and that both of them ended up going over their handlebars in front of the crowd as they crossed it. If you were wondering, the third pro went to mount his bike, but had a flat tire and had to borrow a spare tube from another racer. Not the best day for the pros it would seem.
Bike – 43:09 (18.1 mph)
The first few miles on the bike were cold! I was thankful to be wearing long sleeves over my tri-suit, but my hands were exposed and were quite chilly. I began to warm up a few miles into the ride, and the first half of the bike course was reasonably flat. USAT sanctioned races prohibit drafting on the bike, so I made sure to keep the required distance between other riders and myself in order to avoid a drafting penalty. One guy and I ended up leapfrogging each other a couple of times, but I finally passed him for good around mile six.
I did have a dozen rides or so under my belt prior to the race, but I was still trying to figure out how to pace myself on the bike. It takes a while to learn how hard you can sustain an effort for any given amount of miles, but I think that I paced myself pretty well for all twelve miles. Once I made a right turn onto Patterson Avenue the course got pretty hilly. It was about that time that the really fit guys from the second wave began to pass me. I remember being tucked into the drops on my road bike going downhill as fast as I could, only to have some guy on a tri bike blow past me like I was sitting still. I didn’t have aerobars on my road bike at the time, and the guys in the aero position on their tri bikes had an advantage of several miles per hour.
The last few miles of the bike were constantly up and down hills, with several “single digit” hills mixed it. I didn’t know that Patterson Avenue was so hilly, but I was forced to switch into my small chain ring several times. When I was about a quarter mile from the entrance to the YMCA, my front tire made a weird noise. I presumed that I hit a rock since there was loose gravel near the shoulder of the road, and I was waiting for my tire to go flat. Thankfully it stayed inflated, and I took the right turn into the YMCA and biked up the hill to the transition area.
My assigned transition spot once again seemed to be the point farthest from the bike in and swim out area, and I certainly did not have a lightning fast transition. I parked the bike, took off my long sleeved shirt and shoes, and and grabbed my goggles. It was then a run of approximately 100 yards or so back down the hill and inside the YMCA to the pool.
Swim – 7:21 (2:27/100m)
I strapped my goggles on as I crossed the timing mat inside the YMCA and hopped into the pool (no diving allowed). The 300 meter swim consisted of an up and back of all six lanes in a “snake” format. Once you completed an up and back, you ducked under the lane line into the lane to your left. Rinse and repeat until you made it all the way to the left side of the pool.
I was determined not to swim any breaststroke, and I made it the first 150 meters doing freestyle. When I reached the halfway point, I actually caught up to two guys ahead of me – a minor miracle for sure. The standard pool swim protocol is to tap the person’s leg ahead of you if you want to pass, which I did. I kept waiting for him to let me pass at a wall, but he just kept swimming. I would have simply gone around him, but there was someone immediately ahead of him, and people are swimming both ways in each lane. Thus, I would have had to go into oncoming traffic and pass two guys at once in order to go around. Unfortunately, there was never a big enough break in the oncoming traffic for me to do so, so I ended up swimming breaststroke for the second 150 meters simply because I got held up.
After twelve lengths of the pool I had finally completed 300 meters (39 seconds faster than my time trial – even though I got held up), along with my first triathlon. It may not have been a “real” triathlon since it was reversed, but I wasn’t going to quibble over such details at the time. I hopped out of the pool, grabbed my orange finisher’s towel and dove into the free bagels and Oreos. Breakfast of champions to be sure.
After milling around a bit with my family and grabbing a few extra Oreos for the kids, I went to retrieve my bike from the transition area. I was shocked to find my front tire completely flat, and I must have punctured the tube when I struck that rock near the end of the bike course. I was fortunate, in that it was a small, slow-leaking puncture, which is a bit out of the ordinary. When a bike tube gets a hole, it typically deflates rather quickly since it is under so much pressure (90-110 psi). I would learn that fact the hard way in my first race of the 2015 season, but we’ll get to that fiasco soon enough.
I chose not to wait around for the awards ceremony, presuming (correctly) that I was not a podium candidate. Still, I did finish 4/11 in my age group, so I was not as far off of the podium as I thought, and I was encouraged by my placing. I was tired but not exhausted, and I was done with the race by 10 a.m. Sprint triathlons are nice, in that they don’t take up your entire day. They can, however, be quite painful in the moment if you are redlining yourself for the 60 to 90 minutes that it normally takes to complete them.
So, that was it for triathlon #1, and I had definitely caught the triathlon bug. Triathlon #2 would be the I Love the Tavern Triathlon in June 2014, which featured a river swim and a longer bike leg. Unfortunately, I would learn in that race that running off the bike is not at all like running on fresh legs. More importantly, my lack of “brick” sessions in training would result in a dramatically slower run split at the Tavern.