Slow but Speeding

2014 I Love the Tavern Triathlon Race Report


 16/25 AG     126/405 Overall

June 29, 2014 – My first “real” triathlon will be the I Love the Tavern sprint, which is held at Robious Landing.  Not only is this my first swim-bike-run format (my prior triathlon was a reverse format due to cold weather), this will also be my first open water swim.  Thankfully, the entire 650 meter swim is down river, so the current will be a big help.  By this time I had worked my way up to swimming 2000 yards during practice sessions, but my average pace for that distance was still only about 43 minutes per mile.  Not exactly Michael Phelps’ speed, but my stroke was much improved since the Chasing Chicken Triathlon in April.  I was still mixing in some breaststroke during training, but I was able to complete most of the 2000 yard training distance via freestyle.

The “Tavern Tri” as it is commonly known, is one of the more popular triathlons in Richmond.  It is also a bit longer than a standard sprint, whereas the bike leg is 19 miles instead of 12.  The run is interesting, in that, a portion is on winding wooded trails at Robious Landing, but cuts through the adjacent neighborhood for about 1 mile.  There are a fair amount of spectators in the neighborhood cheering on the athletes, and some even offer to spray them with water to cool them off.

By late June 2014, I had improved my bike handling skills and had made several upgrades to my bike to increase my efficiency.  My first purchase to upgrade Blue consisted of clipless pedals and cycling shoes, which helped tremendously.  Having your foot clipped into the pedals allows you to spin the pedals throughout your entire range of motion – not just on the down stroke.  I noticed a huge difference when training on hills, whereas I was still able to apply torque to the crank arm as my foot was in the upstroke.

The biggest downside to being clipped to the pedal is obvious, in that, you’d better remember to unclip when you come to a stop or you are hitting the pavement.  I had been warned by Chris Busher that everyone falls over at some point since they inevitably forget to unclip, but I was determined not to do so myself.  I particularly wanted to make sure that I didn’t topple over in front of spectators.

My other big addition to Blue was a set of Profile Design T2 aerobars.  Aerobars decrease wind resistance by getting your upper body lower and forward on the bike.  Since wind resistance squares with speed (doubling speed increases drag fourfold), getting into the most aerodynamic position possible results in much faster bike splits.  The downside to clip on aerobars for a road bike is that there are no shifters or brakes.  To shift or brake you have to take one hand off the aerobars and reach back.  Biking on the aerobars is already less stable since aerobars are narrower than the hood grips, and it can get dicey at times with just one hand on the bars. By the time of the Tavern Tri, I had only ridden with my new aerobars once, so I was a bit nervous about conducting my second test ride in race conditions.



On the morning of the race, I left home around 5:15 a.m. to get to Robious Landing early to try to claim an outer position on my pre-assigned bike rack.  The weather for the race would be perfect, but it was chilly before the sun came up.  I parked at James River High School and rode my bike down to the transition area.  Once I racked my bike and set up my transition area, it was time to grab my timing chip and get to body marked with my race number and age.  They put your age (as of the end of the year) on the back of your leg, presumably so you’ll know if the guy ahead of you is in your age group, and thus, needs to be passed in the finishing chute.

After readying myself and triple checking everything, I tracked down Busher, who was easy to find due to his colorful plethora of tattoos. His rack was a few rows over from me, and when it was time to vacate the transition area, we grabbed our swim caps and goggles and hit the trail.  Since the swim starts 650 meters upriver of the transition area, we had to walk a good ways up the dirt trails to our swim start.  The race coordinators have flip flop buckets that you can put your footwear in at the swim start and then collect them after the race, but I went barefoot, which was not a problem.

Once we got to the boat ramp that comprised the starting area, we were separated into 4 or 5 swim waves, and my age group was the second to go.  The National Anthem was sung, and the first swim wave hit the water.  They got a 5 minute head start, and then it was time for my wave.  I waded into the river with about 2 minutes to go, and thankfully, the water was warm.  Due to the current, you had to swim backwards in order to stay behind the starting buoy, but the current was fairly slow that day.  When my start time finally arrived, the air horn sounded, and off I went.

Swim- 9:57 (1:32/100 m) 

650 meters (.4 miles) is not all that far, but it looks like a long ways when you have a direct line of sight and no open water swimming experience.  From the swim start, I could see the giant orange buoy in the distance that marked the swim exit, and it looked a long way off to my eyes.  I had never swam freestyle in anything but a pool prior to the race, and I immediately noticed to the biggest difference between pool swimming and open water swimming.  In a pool, visibility is good and you have a nice black lane line to follow.  In the river, however, all you can see is brown outside of your goggles and it is tricky to swim in a straight line.  For some reason, I naturally turn left while swimming freestyle, and I found myself struggling to maintain a relatively straight line.

To make matters worse, I have a bad habit of taking in a small amount of water when I breath, which is fine in a pool thanks to the chlorine.  Nasty things like parasites can live in river water, and I had been reminded of the same by mother in advance of the race, who was convinced that I would either drown or become violently ill from a parasite and die.  Thus, every time that I took in a bit of river water, my body generated a gag reflex.  Several times in that 650 meters I was forced to do a bit a breastroke while my body expunged the brown water that had gotten into my mouth.

Swim starts in open water triathlons are prone to having competitors kick and punch each other in the pandemonium that is the start, so I had positioned myself towards the middle of the river before the air horn sounded.  This served two purposes, the first of which was to be as far from the main mass of swimmers as possible.  The second was to try to take as much advantage of the current as possible, which is strongest in the middle of the river.  I was able to avoid getting kicked or punched at the beginning, and I quickly decided to breathe solely to my right so that I could keep an eye on the closest river bank.  Doing so allowed me to swim in the general direction that I needed to go, but I did need to perform several course corrections along the way due to my left turning tendency.

Even though the orange buoy seemed so far off at the beginning, it quickly began to grow larger, and before I knew it, I was actually getting pretty close to the end.  I allowed my swim track to take me ever closer to the right bank of the river, and soon it was time to plan my exit from the river.  Busher had warned me about the underwater rocks next to the swim exit in advance, so I was not surprised when I stumbled several times when I was finally able to stand up near the dock.  The footing was precarious in the last 10 yards, but I was able to climb out without falling.

What I was not prepared for was the dizziness that hits you when you try to stand and run immediately after swimming.  I managed to stay upright, but the first 5-10 seconds were a bit rough.


Yes, the picture is blurry, perhaps I was moving too fast for the photographer…

T1- 2:21

The transition area was up the stairs from the dock, and then about 50 yards or so straight ahead.  I managed to find my bike quickly, but I struggled to get my socks and cycling shoes on.  Socks are tough to put on with wet feet, and I had not yet seen the wisdom of going without socks in sprint distance races.  Once the shoes and socks were on, I strapped on my helmet and threw on my sunglasses.  Then the awkward run to the bike out area began with the “click clack” of my cycling cleats on the asphalt.

As I neared the timing mat, I saw Leigh Anne, the kids and her parents there cheering me on. I hopped on my bike, and thankfully I clipped in quickly and was able to begin pedaling before I lost my forward momentum and toppled over.  The timing mat is actually on a slight upgrade, and if you don’t clip in right away it can get dicey quickly.  I’d be less successful in that regard in 2015, but in 2014 I clipped in right away and off I went onto the 19 mile bike course.

Bike – 56:38 (19.07 mph) 

tavern 2

The first half mile of the bike is a slight incline up to Robious Road.  I stayed in a relatively easy gear initially to get my legs warmed up, and then switched to a harder gear once I made the right onto Robious.  The first mile or so on Robious is mostly downhill, and I felt good.  The only difficulty there was due to the fact that I was still getting used to my aerobars.  I almost had a bad accident when I reached back to shift with my right hand.  When only one hand is on the aerobars, that hand wants to push you in the opposite direction, and I found myself careening to the right towards a mailbox.  I managed to save myself with inches to spare, and thankfully, that was my only near-mishap on the bike.

In the last few miles before the bike turnaround there was a series of three inclines, which were followed by brief plateaus.  It seemed like each incline got progressively steeper, and the last incline forced me into my easiest gear.  I was able to make it up the grade by standing up out of my saddle, but the guy in front of me was not so lucky.  He lost all of his forward momentum and ended up toppling over since he failed to unclip his feet in time.

Once I hit the last plateau, the turn around cone was 50 yards or so ahead, and I rounded the cone and headed back down the declines.  The first mile back in was very fast, and I was a bit nervous at hitting 30-40 mph on the aerobars for the first time.  By the time I made it back to Robious Road my quads were burning, and I was just trying to keep a good pace going since it was mostly uphill.  Another guy and I “leapfrogged” each other a couple of times, but he finally passed me for good on the last incline before turning left to head back down to Robious Landing.

Thankfully, the last half mile was all downhill, and I did some easy spinning rest my legs a bit for the run.  As I came back towards the transition area I saw Leigh Anne with the kids and her parents again, and I unclipped both feet a good ways before the dismount line to make sure that I would not tumble over.  Once I crossed the line I hopped off the bike and began the awkward “click-clacking” run in my cycling shoes back to my transition area.

T2- 1:20

The second transition consisted of switching shoes, removing my helmet and strapping on my race belt, which had my race bib attached.  I felt fine on the bike and during the transition, but as soon as I began running towards the run out area it hit me.  By it, I mean the feeling of have a lead weight in my stomach.  I hadn’t done any brick sessions (bike to run) in my training, and I imagine that the feeling I had came from the shock my system felt when trying to switch from a strenuous bike to a strenuous run for the first time.  My transition area was near the run exit, and I stumbled out onto the dirt trail as quickly as I could, all the while, feeling like I had several bricks in my stomach.

Run- 25:49 (8:19 min/mile) 

The first mile of the run was brutal.  I figured that I was running at a 9:30/mile pace, and I actually considered walking a few times due to abdominal pain.  Had it been a training session and not a race, I certainly would have given in to the voices in my head and walked.  I told myself just to keep running, even if I felt like I was moving at a snails pace, and around the 1 mile mark I emerged from the trails into the neighborhood.

By that point the stomach pain was beginning to get a bit better, but I was still struggling.  In the direct sunlight on the paved roads it began to get hot, so the trisuit got unzipped a bit.  I saw Busher running towards me a short time later, whereas he had already hit the run turnaround point and was headed back in.  After what seemed like forever, I finally saw the turn around cone, and was glad to be halfway done with my run.

In actuality, the second portion of the run went by a lot quicker than the first, and by the 2 mile point my stomach pain was beginning to abate.  Miles 2 to 3.1 were back on the wooden trails, and I was trying to make up time since my stomach was getting back to normal.  It is difficult to gauge mileage on winding trails (without a GPS), but I knew that I was getting close to the finish line when I heard the music from the DJ getting louder.

As the music intensified, I began closing in on another runner and I was determined to pass him before the finish.  When we finally broke out of the woods, the finishing chute was just ahead.  I let go of everything I had left for the last 75 yards, and passed the other guy in the finishing chute and went across the finish line.  I crossed the timing mat and then tried not to collapse while the volunteers removed the timing chip from my ankle.  Sprint triathlons might not be that long distance or time-wise, but they will certainly exhaust you if you go hard the entire time.

tavern 3.jpg


After hitting up the food line and downing a barbecue sandwich, I milled around with the family a bit checked in with Busher.  He’d beaten me by about 4.5 minutes and had gradually pulled away from me during the race.  Busher and I were in T1 together, but he clobbered me by 2 minutes on the bike and almost 2 minutes on the run.  My bike fitness was still lacking, but our run splits could have been a little closer together if I’d been able to avoid my stomach pain and cramps.

Overall, I was pleased just to get through the swim with no major problems.  A downriver swim is a great equalizer of swim splits, and it was nice to get into T1 in sight of the frontrunners.  As for the bike, I had averaged 19.07 mph for 19 miles versus 18.1 for 12 miles in the Chasing Chicken Triathlon.  That was a pretty good improvement, but some of those gains could be attributed to equipment and not overall fitness.  My run was disappointing, but I really hadn’t trained to run off of the bike like I should have, so I had no right to complain.

As of the 2014 Tavern Tri, triathlon was still not “my” sport, and my training had not yet become triathlon specific.  I was still mainly focused on obstacle course racing, whereas I had second date with the Wintergreen Spartan Race in August – this time with Richard Engel in tow.  Thus, there was more emphasis on weight training and running, and still not enough on swimming and biking.  That would need to change, however, since I was signed up for the Richmond Rox Olympic distance triathlon in September.  That race included a 1500 meter (up and downriver) swim in the James River, followed by 25 miles on the bike and a 10k run.  As I began to take on longer races, my training needed to get more tri-specific.

Over the next few months, my training in the three triathlon disciplines would increase in focus, distance and intensity.  Nevertheless, I would learn the hard way in September that longer triathlons also have a fourth discipline – one that I failed to take into account.  That failure would ultimately lead to another sub-par run at Richmond Rox, with a quasi-bonk in the last mile of the 10k run.






“Its not where but who you’re with that really matters”

2014 Tough Mudder Race Report

June 14, 2014 – Its time for the Virginia Tough Mudder at the Meadow Event Park in Doswell.  I had completed a Tough Mudder in West Virginia in October 2013, but this time I was not running solo.  In fact, Team 50/50 had four members this go round – myself, Leigh Anne, Mike Sprouse and Alan Posey.  Still no Richard Engel, but I think he was saving himself up for the Spartan Race in August.

In truth, this should not really be called a “Race Report,” whereas the Tough Mudder is not timed, and thus, is not truly a race.  It is, however, 10-12 miles with obstacles of varying difficulty.  Some are quite simple – crawl through mud.  Others can be a bit challenging, especially if you are lacking upper body strength – walls.  Some are designed to prey on your fears – heights and confined spaces.  Some are just evil – electrical shocks.  I was excited to be able to experience the full gamut of obstacles with others this time, and as they say, misery loves company.

Since the Tough Mudder was in Doswell, Leigh Anne and I stayed at my parents’ house in King William the night before.  They had volunteered for Sherpa duty while we tackled the course, which consisted mostly of wrangling Jackson and Jillian.  I use the term volunteer loosely, in that, it was more of a passive acquiescence to my request.   Mike and Alan were simply going to meet us at the Tough Mudder, apparently not wanted to bunk with us.


The day of the Tough Mudder was warm, but not too hot.  I think the high was around 85, and it could have been much worse in mid-June.  Once we met up with Mike and Alan in the parking lot, we headed inside the Event Park and hit up the bag drop.  As always, there was the obligatory bathroom break, and then the four of us headed for the starting corral.

Like the Spartan Race, the Tough Mudder has a wave start, and each “Mudder” is given a starting time.  Unlike the Spartan Race, however, you can start with any wave, and the starting times are more like guidelines.  We hit the starting corral around 10:15 a.m., and they trick you into thinking that you are about to start once you climb a wall into the corral.  In actuality, there is a lecture on course rules, about helping fellow Mudders and then the National Anthem.  At approximately 10:30 a.m. our gun went off, and we were off.


The beginning of the race consisted of a couple of miles of trail running, with a few minor obstacles mixed in.  The Tough Mudder folks like to get you wet and muddy early, and there were several ditches of muddy water.  Those typically don’t present much of a challenge, but it can be a bit difficult to find your footing, and you can’t really tell how deep some on the ditches are.  In fact, Leigh Anne took a wrong step and temporarily disappeared beneath the water.  She popped up quickly, with nothing wounded but her pride.

mudder 4

We soon came to the Boa Constrictor obstacle, which is a series of black piping that you have to crawl through, finishing up in more muddy water.  The Boa Constrictor is more of a mental challenge for people who are claustrophobic, but the portion where you are climbing uphill is tough.  The insides of the plastic tubes were wet and muddy, and it was hard to get good leverage to move forwards, especially since you are constricted in the tube.

10389518_10202694260051422_2557813628448521841_nOne of the most common types of obstacles the Tough Mudder folks use are walls of varying heights to scale.  Some are 6-8 feet tall, and can be tackled on your own.  Others are higher, and require the assistance of other Mudders to get over.  This particular course seemed to have its fair share of climbing walls, much to Leigh Anne’s chagrin.  By the end of the day she was thoroughly sick of climbing walls.  To make matters worse, Mike somehow managed to break a toe climbing over a wall near the mid-point of the course.  He continued on through the pain, however, and was still able to finish with a little help from his friends.


One of Tough Mudder’s signature obstacles is the Mud Mile, which consists of several mud filled ditches that are difficult to traverse.  The trenches are deep, and have muddy water that is about waist high.  If you aren’t careful, the mud at the bottom of the trench will suck off your shoe, and it can be challenging to get a grip on the top of the berm to pull yourself over.


Even though it was not a super hot day, it was warm enough, and we were ready for the Arctic Enema once we arrived at it near the halfway point.  This is essentially a dumpster filled with icy water, and you have to completely submerge beneath the water in order to get to the far side since there is a wooden wall in the middle.  They only let 2-3 people go in at once, whereas the icy water can paralyze you, and they don’t want anyone drowning in a dumpster of ice for obvious reasons.  Leigh Anne, Mike and I all jumped in at the same time, and Mike and I came out on the other side of the wall together.  We struggled to catch our breaths and wade to the far side, but once we got there, we realized that Leigh Anne had not come up out of the water.  I turned around and started to go back to see if she was at the bottom of the dumpster, but then she finally popped up out of the ice.  She had apparently tried to come up too soon on her first attempt, and was still on the other side of the wooden wall.  She then had to resubmerge and go under the wall.


Once again, I felt energized by the shock to my system after climbing out of the dumpster, and eagerly took on the Killa Gorilla – which is simply running up and down a hillside multiple times.  Next up was the Monkey Bars, which were in the shape of a V.  Thus, you climbed up at an angle and then back down.  The bars were wet and slippery, but there was a pool of water beneath them.  There was a slight backup since someone ahead of us had slipped at the very end of the bars and knocked his head on a metal support rail.  We waited while he was taken off on a gurney.

Leigh Anne went first, and has never been a fan of monkey bars.  She fell into the water on the third or fourth bar, and swam to the other side.  Before she could do so, however, she was almost crushed by the guy behind her, who didn’t wait for her to get out of his way before starting his short-lived climb.  Alan, Mike and I made it across without incident, and on we went.

mudder 3

The most interesting obstacle of the day by far was the Pyramid Scheme, which was an inclined wall about 15 feet tall or so.  In order to get up the wall, you were forced to make a human chain, starting with someone standing on another person’s shoulders.  A Mudder already of the top would then have to lean down and pull you up.  After arriving at the top, it was expected for you to assist other people up, as others had assisted you.

Getting to the top took some doing, and then I turned around, hooked my feet to the top and laid face down with my arms out to pull people up.  All modesty was put aside while traversing the pyramid scheme due to its high level of difficulty, and I think I got to second base a few times as I was climbed over by girls in tank tops.  Leigh Anne got even farther, and “accidentally” grabbed another Mudder in the crotch as she pulled him over the wall.  There was a lot of blushing and apologizing, but he didn’t seem to mind at all.   In fact, I think he wanted to climb up again.


Near the 10 mile point, Alan began having bad calf cramps, which forced him to a slow jog.  He and Leigh Anne bypassed the last set of 10-12 foot climbing walls and then we got ready to finish up with the Electroshock Therapy obstacle.  Having completed that obstacle in 2013, I was really not looking forward to getting shocked again, but I was happy that my misery would have some company.

As we rounded the corner to the electrical wires, there was a backup of Mudders watching other people get shocked and waiting for their courage to build up before proceeding themselves.  Sometimes thinking about what is coming next is counterproductive, so we left the line behind and ran full speed into the jungle of hanging electrical wires.  I made it 3/4 of the way through and then got hit by multiple wires at once.  Just like in 2013, the jolt knocked me off my feet and into the mud I went.  Since I was so close to the end, I simply crawled out to avoid getting shocked in the face when trying to stand back up.

mudder 5


Mike and I getting shocked while Alan (in the blue shirt) looks on.




Down I go…

After pulling myself out of the mud, it was just a short jog to the finish line, where my parents and the kids were waiting.  I could tell that it had been a long day for them, especially my dad, who apparently had Jillian on his shoulders most of the time.  We all grabbed our finisher’s beers and orange headbands, and then hit the communal showers to try to clean off before the ride home.  Mike limped back to his car, and confirmed a few days later that his toe was definitely broken.  All in all, he managed to complete roughly half of the 10-12 miles with a broken toe, and Alan fought off debilitating muscle cramps at the end.  Leigh Anne and I made it through relatively unscathed, save for her trauma of pulling a stranger over the Pyramid Scheme via his crotch.


Overall, I felt as though the 2013 Tough Mudder in West Virginia was a much better venue, and it definitely had more varied obstacles.  The 2014 Virginia version had too many climbing walls, which really got repetitive, and the scenery was not nearly as nice.  Still, the process itself was much more enjoyable in 2014 since Team 50/50 had four members instead of just one.

Upon completion, however, I really was not motivated to sign up for another Tough Mudder.  They really are not races since they untimed, and the triathlon bug had already bitten.  The Tough Mudder was enjoyable in its own right, but I still preferred the challenge of racing against myself and others to see how far and hard I could push myself.  Thankfully, I would have several such challenges in the upcoming months, starting with my first real (non-reverse) triathlon in a few weeks.