Running on Empty

Richmond Rox Olympic Distance Triathlon

Race Report


 6/14 AG     92/244Overall


rox overview

September 21, 2014 – The culmination of my first triathlon season was the Richmond Rox Olympic distance triathlon.  The name stems from the fact that the race is the same distance as the triathlon in the Olympic Games, which is 51.50 kilometers.  Alternative names are the “international distance,” and the “5150” for Ironman brand races of the same distance.  Most people, however, simply refer to it as the Olympic distance.

This race was going to be quite a step up from my two prior triathlons, which were both sprint distance races.  The Olympic distance triathlon features a 1500 meter swim, a 40k (25 mile) bike and then a 10k run.  My two prior races were completed in approximately 1 hour 15 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes respectively, and my goal for the Richmond Rox triathlon was sub 3 hours.  In addition, my longest triathlon swim was only 650 meters in the Tavern Triathlon, but that was all down river with the current.  The swim at Richmond Rox was upriver and downriver, so there could be no faking it by floating along with the current.  Slow down enough on the upriver portion, and you’d be carried backwards.


On race morning I was up at 4:00 a.m. to have my obligatory bowl of oatmeal and my cup of coffee.  Just enough nutrition to get some calories and caffeine in my body without weighing me down.  I had checked and rechecked my gear the night before, so it was simply a matter of grabbing a quick shower and hopping in the car to head down to Rockett’s Landing.

It was still dark when I arrived at the race site, and it was slightly cool.  By the time that I walked my bike down to the transition area and set up, however, the sun was beginning to rise.  Rockett’s Landing has a fantastic view of the Richmond skyline a mile or so away, and I took it in a few times to try to relax.  As always, my nervous bladder sent me to the porta-potties more than once.  I’m not the only one who has that problem, based upon the fact that the porta-potties seemed to have a higher athlete density than the transition area.

Leigh Anne, the kids and my mom were my spectators, and arrived about thirty minutes before my start time.  The half-iron race participants were beginning their swim prior to the Olympic distance folks, and we watched them take off and head up river.  Soon enough, however, it was time for the Olympic race to start, so I said my goodbyes and headed towards the dock.


Yeah, I don’t wear yellow swim caps well…

Swim- 33:02 (2:12/100 m) 

Swim Course Olympic

rox swim

The swim start is near the smoke stack in the background.

Unfortunately, I did not yet have a wetsuit and the race was wetsuit legal based upon the water temperature.  The water temperature was nearly perfect, so the lack of a wetsuit was not all bad.  Still, wetsuits make for faster swims, so I made a mental note to acquire one in the offseason.

The swim was a wave start, and I was in the second wave to take off.  Prior to the starting horn, the swimmers were required to jump into the river from a dock, and we had to swim forward a bit to keep from being swept backwards by the current.  The current was not terribly strong, but the first half of the swim was upriver, and the going would be slower than normal for me.  Once the horn sounded, I did my best to swim away from the mass of swimmers so that I would not get kicked or have my goggles knocked off.  I also headed towards the left bank of the river, hoping that the current would be less severe near the shore.

The first half of the swim was relatively uneventful (other than turning left a bit too much), and I soon neared Gull Rock, which marked the turn around point.  As I rounded the rock, something odd occurred – my hands began hitting the bottom of the river.  In fact, the area around Gull Rock was only a couple of feet deep, and I considered crawling since I really could not swim.  Instead, I pushed myself farther away from the rock, and soon enough, I was in deeper water.

Once I made the turn, the current was with me and I continued to sight the smokestack at Rockett’s Landing to stay on course.  On the way back I stayed more in the center of the river to take advantage of the current.  The only issue that I had coming back in was the inadvertent intake of a leaf into my mouth.  That led to a 10-15 second coughing fit, but soon enough, I was on my way again.

The dock marking the swim exit soon became visible, and I tried to increase my stroke turnover, knowing that I would soon be done.  The last 100 meters or so went by quickly, and then I was climbing the ladder out of the water.  The inevitable dizziness of standing quickly after swimming hit me once I got upright, but I was ready for it this time and never really lost my balance.

My overall time for the 1500 meter swim was 33:02, which was in the ballpark of what I was expecting.

T1- 3:00

T1 involved a long run from the water up to the main transition area.  I would estimate several hundred yards, which led to a 3:00 transition time.  Once I found my bike, I put on my socks and shoes, and then threw on my sunglasses and helmet.  It was then a short run to the “bike out” area, accompanied by the click clack of my cycling cleats.  I hopped onto Blue after crossing the mounting lines, and had no issues clicking in and taking off.

swim exit


Bike – 1:18:29 (19.02 mph) 

Olympic Bike Course Map

Having never completed an Olympic distance triathlon before, I was not sure how my body would react to running a 10k after a 25 mile bike.  Thus, I did not want to overcook myself on the bike, so I was definitely trying to pace myself, particularly early on.  Based upon my training rides, I knew that I had the ability to hold 19.7 mph for 25 miles, and my training takes place on relatively hilly courses.  The Richmond Rox course was not quite as hilly as the normal courses that I ride, so I was hoping to average 19.4 – 19.5 mph, leaving some juice in the tank for the run.

I had one water bottle with me on the bike, and there was a single aid station just past the turnaround point.  Unfortunately, my bottle was filled with water instead of Gatorade, and I neglected to bring any nutrition with me.  I had not had any nutrition during my two prior sprint distance races, and I wrongly assumed that I could get by without nutrition during an Olympic distance triathlon.  So, off I went on the bike, having consumed no calories since my breakfast of oatmeal and coffee around 4:15 a.m.

The first two miles of the bike course were largely uphill, as you gain approximately 140 feet of elevation while heading south on Route 5 out of Rockett’s Landing.  Its then mostly flat or downhill until mile 9.5.  I took it easy in first two uphill miles, and then began to push it a little harder once the course flattened out.  There were a lot of other bikers around early on, and I did my best to avoid incurring any drafting penalties by keeping my distance from them or by passing them quickly.  Things got a bit more spaced out after the first 20 minutes or so, but there were generally several people in sight at any given time during the first half of the bike.

There was a big drop off as I crossed over I-895, and I remember thinking that I was not going to be happy when I came back in the other direction.  Immediately following the drop off, the course went back uphill, and then was fairly flat through the turn around.

Once I hit the turn around cone, the one and only aid station was a few hundred yards off.  I still had about 40% of my water bottle left, and I naively bypassed the station, thinking that it would just slow me down.  I could have just slowed down for a few seconds to grab a bottle of Gatorade, but I had made up my mind that those few seconds would be costly and difficult to make up later.  That was a rookie mistake and a bad idea.

The second half of the course backtracked over most of the first half, but a few portions were different.  In particular, we crossed back over I-895 in a different spot, but there was still quite an incline to go up.  The incline was not quite as steep as the prior descent, but it was a longer grade.  At the time, the uphill climb looked as though it would never end, but in fact, it only went on for about two miles.  By far, the hardest portion of that climb was at the I-895 crossover, and then it was about a 1.7 mile long stretch of incline.  To make matters worse, there was a slight headwind, and I really began to start feeling tired.  That 1.7 mile stretch felt much longer than it actually was, but I finally reached the crest of the hill.

From the top of the crest, the course flattened out a bit, and I knew that it was only a short distance before I descended back down towards the river at Rockett’s Landing.  I was feeling OK at that point, and the last few miles passed fairly quickly.  I rested my legs a bit by coasting towards dismount point, and I dismounted without any difficulty.

T2- 1:40

T2 was uneventful, and I saw my family cheering for me as I ran my bike back to the rack.  Off came the bike helmet and shoes, and on went my running shoes and my race belt with my bib number.  My legs felt as though they belonged to someone else at that point, but I had begun to get used to that sensation by practicing bike to run transitions.  As I hit the run exit of the transition area I reset my watch to monitor my run pace, and off I went for the final 10k of the race.

rox t2

Run- 52:48 (8:31 min/mile) 

Olympic Run Course

I am not a big fan of the run course, but to be fair, I did not know that at the time, having never run it before.  The first mile is fairly flat along the river, and then the next two miles to the turnaround point are pretty much all uphill past Legends Brewery.  It is tough to gauge your pace when you first transition off of the bike (particularly without a GPS), whereas your legs feel a bit numb.  My stretch goal for the 10k run was 50 minutes, which equates to an 8 minute/mile pace.  I really had no training basis for that goal, so I didn’t know if it was possible, but I was going to give it a try anyways.

I was still feeling decent leaving T2, and I set my internal pace to 8 minutes/mile.  The first time that I’d be able to check my pace would be at the 1 mile marker, which was on Dock Street on the flat portion of the course.  When I got there my watch read 7:05, and I was really hoping that the mile marker was off.  Otherwise, I knew that I had really overextended myself on the first mile of the 6.2 mile run.  I decided to dial it back a bit, and soon I was crossing the river to the south side.

From the south side of the 14th Street Bridge to the turnaround point, it is pretty much a constant upgrade until you take a right onto 12th Street just before the half way point.  The grade is never super steep, but its constant and feels like it will never end.  That feeling is compounded by the long lines of sight that show nothing but climb.  The mile and a half climb was a soul crusher for me, and my lack of nutrition was really beginning to hit me at that point.  I knew that my pace was slipping, but I still had the hope that I could make it up by hammering back down the hill on the way back in.

When I finally hit the turnaround cone, my run time was around 26 minutes, so 50 minutes was still within my reach due to the downhill portion on the back half.  I did pick up my pace as I headed down towards the river, but I still couldn’t seem to get moving as quickly as I should have been able on the downgrade.  Once I got back to the river and the flat part of the course, I no longer had gravity assisting me…and that’s when the wheels started coming off.

I was nearly back on my 8 minute/mile pace 5 miles into the run, but as I headed back down Dock Street towards Rockett’s Landing everything began shutting down.  I had an overwhelming urge to slow down, and then an overwhelming urge to walk.  Even though I had less than 1 mile to go, I was literally running on empty, having depleted my glycogen stores.  By that point, I had been racing for the better part of three hours at a high intensity, and I had failed to take in ANY calories, solid or liquid.  Big mistake.

My body was telling me to stop, and sadly, I was forced to comply – mostly.  I didn’t stop, but I did walk for about 10 seconds.  Another competitor passed me and urged me on, and I began to run again.  About a quarter mile later, however, there was another 10-15 second walk break…and then another.  Three walking breaks in the last mile of a 10k run!  I thought that I was mentally tough, but my body was talking louder than my brain and I simply couldn’t push through the urge to walk.

When I was about a 1/3 of a mile from the finish line, I decided to finish strong, and ran in from there.  The end of the course goes through an old building, and the finish line is not visible until you emerge from the other side.  When I finally saw the finish line I kicked it into high gear and sprinted the last 100 yards.  After crossing the finish line I resisted the urge to collapse, and managed to get my medal and walk out of the finishing chute.  My run pace was 8:31/mile instead of my 8/mile minute goal, but that probably wasn’t too bad considering my final mile bonk.

Post Race

After my first two triathlons, I had a brief recovery period and was then able to hit up the post-race food.  This time, however, I felt bad.  Really bad.  The kids tackled the bounce house, but I sat in a folding chair under the food tent nursing a 24 ounce Gatorade.  Once I got the Gatorade down I began to feel a bit better, but the recovery period was slow.

In a full Iron distance triathlon (140.6 miles), they say that nutrition failures are measured in hours, not minutes.  Thankfully, my nutrition failure came in a triathlon of less than a quarter of that distance, so I only lost minutes.  Still, I managed to finish in 2:48:56, which was more than 11 minutes faster than my goal.  My run time suffered, but I learned a valuable lesson in the “4th discipline” of triathlon – nutrition.  That lesson would serve me well in 2015, as I planned to tackle the half-Iron distance of 70.3 miles.  I was already signed up for the Raleigh Ironman 70.3 race, and a winter of training was awaiting me.











“We’re strange allies with warring hearts…”

2014 Wintergreen Spartan Super Race Report

Time: 3:42:26

98/872 AG    550/6483 Overall

August 23, 2014 – It’d been 364 days since I took on Wintergreen Mountain by myself in the 2013 Spartan Super.  I went into that race totally naïve as to what I was facing and came out the other side beaten, battered and totally spent.  I had expected 8 miles or so of mostly running, and was unprepared for the constant up and down trek through the woods and streams around the ski slopes.  Based upon the comments after that race, however, the vast majority of the other participants were similarly unprepared.  I was given a 50/50 chance of completing that race by Richard Engel, who seemed to have a difficult time accepting my post-race description of the course.  In 2014, I was ready for round 2, and Richard was going to find out firsthand just how fiendish the Spartan Race folks could be at course design.

Rounding out “Team 50/50” with Richard and I was my neighbor Alan Posey, who had taken on the Tough Mudder with me in June.  The three of us agreed that we wouldn’t necessarily be running the Spartan Race together, as our group did for the Tough Mudder.  We would all start together, but whether we all finished together remained to be seen.


In 2013, Leigh Anne and I drove to Wintergreen on the morning of the race, but in 2014, our group rented a house through for Friday and Saturday night.  This would allow us to have a non-rushed Saturday morning, and we could then enjoy the local breweries after the race without having to drive back to Richmond.  As luck would have it, I had a deposition on Friday afternoon in Brookneal, so I headed to Wintergreen once I finished and was checked in ahead of everyone else.  Somehow, this nominated me as the chef for the night, so I had a giant pot of spaghetti ready when everyone arrived.

Before cooking, I walked from the rental house up to the top of the mountain to look at the course setup.  The Spartan Race crew was still working vigorously, but I did get to look at the course map.  The course appeared to be slightly under 8 miles this time around, but I was glad to see that they still had the “death march” up the black diamond ski slope. In 2013, the sides of the “death march” were littered with lifeless people, and I was glad that Richard would get to experience that fun firsthand since I had talked it up to him so much.

course map

The “death march” is from obstacle 16 to 17 on the right side.

In addition to Richard and Alan running with me, Jackson and Jillian were able to participate in the kids’ version of the Spartan Race.  They were both very excited, and particularly about the fact that they would get medals.  Both kids did awesome (so I heard), and claimed that they wanted to do the full course next time.

The night before the race the heavens opened up and it rained…a lot.  At one point, it was raining so hard that I was having water drip on me in bed.  I swore that the roof was leaking, but I later learned that Leigh Anne had cracked the bedroom window.  Regardless, I knew that we were going to be in for wet, muddy and slippery conditions the next day.

Upon waking, it was still raining and there was heavy fog.  The rain slowly began to subside as our start time neared, but the fog was there to stay.  In fact, when we got checked in and looked down the mountain at the course, it seemed as though barely 50 yards were visible.  I wondered how the television crews were going to make out since visibility was so limited.

Sadly, the kids’ race was set to begin a few minutes after our start time, so I would have to miss their first Spartan Race experience.  Alan, Richard and I made our way to the starting corral around 10:30, and then after a motivational speech from the starter we were off.


As in 2013, the first few miles of the race took place on the Eagle’s Swoop side of the mountain, which is a mixture of intermediate and expert trails.  The initial ascent of the day was the top half of Eagle’s Swoop, and is designed to get your legs burning quickly.  Richard and I made it to the top together, but Alan was somewhere behind us running his own pace.  We then made a descent down a very slippery black diamond slope, complete with muddy trenches.

Once we reached the bottom of the black diamond, Richard was finally able to begin seeing the parts of the course that I had described for him over the past year.  The trek back up the mountain wound through the woods on what can only be described as a “goat trail.”  Most places on the trail were too narrow for more than one person, and it was difficult to find good footing, especially due to the heavy rains.

The course wound up and down for awhile, and Richard and I kept running together.  The first few obstacles were relatively minor, but we soon came to the Atlas Carry.  The Atlas Carry consists of a 60-70 pound round boulder, which you are forced to carry about 20 yards.  You then drop the boulder, do 5 burpees and then carry it back.  What makes this obstacle difficult is that it is tough to get a good grip on the stone while walking, and you certainly don’t want to drop it on your foot.  Richard and I made it through the Atlas Carry unscathed, and within an hour and a half or so, we were through the first half of the course.  In 2013, the second half of the course took almost twice as long as the first half.  2014 wouldn’t be any different.

spartan trail

Has Captain America has already conceded defeat?

As we crossed back into the main area of the resort, the course took us back up the mountain towards the monkey bar obstacle.  I took off my wet and muddy gloves in order to have a better grip, and I made it across without falling.  Richard was not so lucky, and was forced to do 30 penalty burpees.  I thought about moving on without him, but decided to wait for him to finish his burpees.  Quite frankly, part of me wanted to tackle the Spartan Race with a friend, but the other part of me also wanted to see if Richard’s first encounter with the course would hurt him as much as my first encounter hurt me.  I also hadn’t forgotten how he ran backwards during the end of our run at the beach the year before to taunt me.  Thus, a little friendly payback was in order.

After the monkey bars and then the Herculean Hoist at the top of the mountain, Richard and I headed down the slope to one of the most insidious obstacles of the day – the Bucket Brigade.  This was the first obstacle of the race that was really intended to break people, and it consisted of carrying a five gallon bucket full of driveway gravel a quarter mile up and down an intermediate slope.  The misery was compounded by the fact that the buckets had no handles, and it was illegal to carry it on your shoulder.  Thus, you were forced to carry the bucket in front of you with your hands beneath it, which also made it difficult to walk.

spartan bucket

The bucket brigade course.

The sides of the path were littered with people sitting and resting on their buckets, and I was forced to stop 3 or 4 times myself.  Still, I made sure that I held out a little longer than Richard on every effort no matter how bad I was hurting, and soon I was good 30-50 yards ahead of him.  I finally made it back to the rock pit and dumped my bucket, and then waited for Richard to catch up.  It was at that point that Richard’s mood began to get a bit darker, and it would grow darker still as the course difficulty ramped up.


A well-worn track for the Bucket Brigade

Immediately after the Bucket Brigade, Richard and I ran into our families, and I stole a banana from Leigh Anne, which would be my only nutrition during the race.  The Spartan Race is a “self-supported” endeavor, so there was only water on the course, no food.  Leigh Anne asked Richard how he was doing, and being fresh off of the Bucket Brigade obstacle, his remark was a very terse, “How do you think I’m doing?”  After gathering ourselves for a moment and saying our goodbyes, it was off to the lowest part of the course on the expert side of the mountain.


About to take on the difficult side of the mountain.

From obstacles 15 to 16 on the course map above, we were headed downhill through a creek with very slippery rocks.  The going was incredibly slow, since one bad step could result in a broken ankle.  When we finally emerged from the creek we were at the bottom of The Highlands Express lift, but had to flip a 6-7 foot log over several times before we could proceed up the mountain.

And then it was time for the “death march” up the black diamond side of the mountain.  Once again, the sides of the expert trail were covered with people sitting down to rest, but Richard and I were determined to stay on our feet the entire way.  The slow trek up the steep incline burned the hamstrings and calves, but I told myself that I wouldn’t stop to rest until after Richard told me that he needed to stop.  I was successful in my mental game of “chicken,” with Richard asking to stop about 3 or 4 times on the way to the summit.  It was so much fun to hear him sheepishly ask me to stop after all the shit he’d given me over the past year.

Due to the fog, we couldn’t actually see the summit until we were almost there, and we heard many of the other racers wondering out loud how much farther the top could be.  All in all, it probably took us 30 minutes of near-constant trudging to cover the full length of the slope, and it was eerie to see nothing but fog above and below us during the trek.

Upon reaching the top, we were faced with two treacherous descents, which were even more dangerous than normal due to the wet conditions.  Climbing up a slick ski slope is one thing, coming back down on shot legs is another matter altogether.  Thankfully, Richard came up with a solution, which consisted of sitting on our feet and sliding down the wet grass on the slope.  The solution wasn’t without its own form of risk or pain, but was preferable to stumbling down at full speed and waiting to do a face plant down the mountain.

At the bottom of the second descent we were confronted by the log carry, which further sank Richard’s spirits.  We were forced to carry logs approximately a quarter mile down and back up the expert slope, which further taxed our already shot legs.  Thankfully, no out of control logs went blazing past me down the slope this time like one had the year before!  I began to get a little bit ahead of Richard on the obstacle, but waited for him at the top near the log drop off.  The lack of nutrition was really beginning to get to both of us at that point, and I could tell that Richard was ready to be done.

spartan 2

From the end of the log carry, all we had to do was make it up one more intermediate slope and we’d be done.  In true Spartan Race style, however, the course would maximize our effort over the remaining distance.  First up was the barbed wire crawl. In 2013, the barbed wire crawl was tough, but they really upped the ante in 2014.  The 2014 version was about 50% longer and on a steeper part of the course. Richard and I went in together, but I was soon ahead of him via my rolling technique.  Since we were so close to the end of the course, I decided just to push ahead and find him when we were both done.

spartan barbed wire

Lots of nice rocks to crawl through…

I continued rolling instead of crawling, but I had to stop a few times since I was getting dizzy.  I also had to crawl around people a few times to pass.  The ski slope was littered with rocks, so bumps and bruises were unavoidable.  The top of the barbed wired crawl was extra muddy, and it became difficult to make forward progress due to lack of traction.  After what seemed like an eternity, I came to the end of the wire and got back on my feet.

spartan mud

The rope climb was waiting for me, and the Spartan Race organizers love to put one of the toughest obstacles near the end for when you are completely exhausted.  I managed to make it up and back down without falling, and then it was a short climb to the finish.  One small pyramid wall and some flaming logs were all that remained, and then it was across the finish line.

Even though I was exhausted from the effort, I felt much better than the year before, and didn’t feel the need to collapse on the ground.  Richard finished about 10 minutes later, and apparently threw in the towel on the rope climb and just did the 30 penalty burpees in lieu of attempting the climb.  When he finished, he collapsed (as I had done the year before) and claimed that it was his first and last Spartan Race.

spartan finish 2

After getting cleaned up, Richard and I walked down the course to try to find Alan and encourage him to the finish.  Unfortunately, he had gotten really dizzy at the top of the “death march,” and took a DNF.  Sadly, he had made it through the toughest portion of the course and only had about 1 mile to go.  The lack of nutrition on the course caught up to him, and was really a surprise to us all.  There were gels at the water stops in 2013, but none in 2014.

That evening, there was some minor drama involving a hornet, and then we hit up one of the local breweries for some much needed sustenance and beer.  It began dumping rain again, but the rain had been fairly light during the race.

Overall, it was much better experience in 2014 since I didn’t have to race alone.  I felt as though my level of conditioning had improved substantially since the 2013 race, and my biking over the past year probably strengthened my legs for all of the climbing.  I think Richard finally realized that I wasn’t exaggerating as to how hard the course would be, and I was able to get a little payback on him for his 50/50 comment.  He can still run circles around me on a flat course, but I was the king of the mountain between us that day and got a little payback.

With the Spartan Race over, it was time to focus on the Richmond Rox Olympic distance triathlon, which was only a month away.  That was going to be my “A” race for the year, and I had a lot of recovering to do before I’d be ready to race again.

spartan kids

spartan finish