“And we can swim as the tide choose to turn you, around and around…”
2015 I Love The Tavern Sprint Triathlon
8/29 AG 40/429 Overall
June 28, 2015 – Less than one month after my first Half-Iron distance triathlon in Raleigh, its time for the I Love the Tavern sprint triathlon at Robious Landing. This particular race features a river swim, and the 19 mile bike course is a bit longer than the normal 12 mile sprint distance. I was particularly excited for this race since it is one of the best in Richmond, plus it was my second ever triathlon in 2014. It would be the first time that I had completed the same race twice, and thus, I would have an apples-to-apples comparison to see how much I had improved since year one.
There was nothing out of the ordinary for me on the morning of the race, other than wondering if the swim would be cancelled. It had rained heavily a few days prior to the event, and the James River was fairly swollen. I ate breakfast at home and then left around 4:45 a.m. to head to Robious Landing. I always try to get into the transition area as soon as it opens to try get the spot at the end of the bike rack. As you can see from the photo below, I was early enough to nab the coveted spot, and set up my transition area.
Additionally, I had recently purchased a pair of used Zipp 404 wheels, which have a 58 mm rim depth. This was going to be my first race with them, so I was excited to see how much they helped my bike split. I had rented a Zipp 404/808 combo for Ironman Raleigh 70.3, but it was nice to finally have a set of my own. Many thanks to Holly Olson for selling them to me…with Busher acting as the finding agent and middleman.
The weather on the day of the race was warm but nice, and after setting up, I walked down to the river to take a look at the swim course. All I can say is that the river was ROLLING! Everyone was saying to make sure that you didn’t miss the dock at the swim exit because it would be very tough to fight the current to get back to it if you did. They probably would have been justified for calling off the swim for safety reasons, but I was glad that they didn’t.
Eventually, Busher showed up and got himself ready to race. He had just gotten a new Felt tri-bike and was eager to show it off. When the starting time neared, we walked up the trail to the swim start, and after the National Anthem was played, we got in the James River and waited for the starting horn.
Swim- 7:29 (1:09/100 m)
My swim wave entered the water about two minutes before the start, and it was a major struggle to stay behind the starting buoy due to the strong current. When the countdown neared ten seconds, I was actually in danger of being swept downstream, so I actually hung onto the first buoy. The horn finally sounded, and off I went with about sixty other guys in my wave.
Thankfully, I was positioned far enough away from the bulk of the other swimmers to have some clean water, so the punching and kicking was minimal. The swim is only 650 meters, but it felt more like 450 meters due to the current. Honestly, by the time I settled into a good groove I noticed the dock rapidly approaching from my right.
When I was about 100 meters from the finish, I made sure that I got as far to the right of the river as possible so as not to miss the dock. I managed to stand up a few feet before I got there, but nearly toppled over the underwater boulders. Still, the exiting process was fairly smooth given the speed of the river, and up the ramp I went towards the transition area.
My time of 7:29 was nearly two and a half minutes faster than my 2014 swim time of 9:57. While some of that was from a full year of swim training, I’d still have to say that the majority of the time gain was based upon the lightning fast river current.
Nothing major in T1. I came out of the river about the same time as Busher and we went our separate ways in transition. I threw on my sunglasses, helmet and biking shoes, and then ran my bike towards the bike out area, with Busher seconds behind me.
Bike – 52:08 (21.4 mph)
The first half mile or so of the bike course is uphill away from the James River towards Robious Road. Thus, there is a slight incline at the bike mounting line. In 2014, I hopped on my bike and took off without incident. Unfortunately, I could not seem to get my left foot clicked into my pedal. I lost all of my forward momentum without getting clicked in and almost toppled over. About that time, Busher took off up the hill in front of me. I finally got situated on the second or third effort, but lost a good 10-15 seconds struggling with my bike at the mounting line.
I chased Busher up the initial incline and finally caught up to him after making a right on Robious Road. I passed him, only to have him come by me a mile or so later. Soon after getting back in front of me, however, he sat up out of his aerobars due to ongoing neck pain from his car accident. He had a brand new Felt tri-bike, but was in too much pain to ride it correctly. I leapfrogged him a second time and never saw him again on the bike course.
The course is an out and back, and the elevation peaks right at the turnaround point. I was able to stay in the aero position pretty much the entire ride, with the exception being the last climb up to the turnaround point. After rounding the cone, there was a very fast descent before the course flattened out again. There were a few guys that passed me on the bike, but by and large, I was doing most of the passing.
I felt good coming back up Robious Road towards James River High School, but the last bit on Robious is uphill and slowed my progress. Once I made the final left turn to head back down towards the river, I eased up a bit and got my legs spinning easily to prep for the run. There were a fair amount of spectators in the last half mile before transition, and I hopped off Blue at the dismount line and headed back to my transition spot.
My bike split was 52:08, which was four and a half minutes faster than my 2014 time of 56:38. That was an increase from 19.07 mph to 21.4 mph, so those early morning sessions on the bike trainer in my bonus room were paying dividends. The race wheels certainly helped as well, but most of those gains were from an improvement in bike fitness.
Thankfully, my stomach felt fine after getting of the bike, whereas it felt like I had a load of bricks in it in 2014. My cycling shoes were swapped for running shoes, and after grabbing my race belt, I was off.
Run- 21:33 (6:57 min/mile)
The run course starts off on shaded, winding trails, and then emerges into a neighborhood near the 1 mile marker. Mile 2 is an out and back in the neighborhood, and then you go back into the trails for final mile. The run is supposed to be a 5k, but I believe that it is a few tenths short of that – particularly since I can’t run a 21:33 standalone 5k, much less one of those off the bike.
I felt pretty good at the start of the run, but there was still the “heavy leg” feeling for a couple of minutes. I wound through the wooded trails in the first mile, and I did have a couple of guys that I passed on the bike run by me, much to my dismay. Unlike 2014, the first mile passed pretty quickly for me, and soon I was out in the sun in the neighborhood.
I really hadn’t felt hot at all during the race, but as soon as I hit the direct sunlight in the neighborhood it got pretty steamy fast. Thankfully, there was a water stop near the turnaround cone, and I saw Busher running the opposite direction a couple of minutes after passing the turnaround point. He seemed to be struggling, and he had been about the same distance AHEAD of me at that same spot in 2014. Thus, our positioning had flip flopped – due in part to my training, and also due in part to Busher’s car accident.
Soon I was back in the shaded area of the trails and winding towards the finish line. As always, I was struggling in the final mile, but I found a renewed vigor once I heard the music playing near the finish line. I knew I was only a few tenths of a mile from the end, so I picked up the pace. After crossing the initial timing mat at the beginning of the finishing chute, I heard the race announcer call out my name. I sprinted across the line for an 8/29 finish in my age group.
After the race, there was the obligatory milling around and waiting for the results, along with some post-race food. Much to my kids’ chagrin, there was no bounce house like there had been the year before, which left them sorely disappointed.
In the end, I finished the race in 1:23:58, which was more than twelve minutes faster than my 2014 time of 1:36:02. Granted, the abnormally strong river current probably shaved two minutes off of my swim time, but that still left a ten minute improvement, which equates to more than ten percent of the total race time. I was very happy with my result, and particularly my bike split and my ability to run off of the bike. There was still a lot of work to do, but the work that I had put in over the past fifteen months were definitely paying off. I had still yet to make an AG podium in a triathlon, but I was moving up in a very competitive AG, and I was inside the top 10% of the overall standings.
Sadly, Busher had regressed from 1:31:28 in 2014 to 1:34:03 in 2015 – even though he had upgraded to an electronic shifting tri-bike from his Fuji road bike. Obviously, his car accident had severely impacted his fitness, and even his ability to stay in his aerobars. While I had come out ahead of him in this race, there were no bragging rights to be had. Had he been healthy, then I think that we might have had a race to the very end.
Next up on my calendar was the inaugural Independence Day 17.76k run, followed by the Charlottesville Sprint Triathlon. Both of those races would be memorable, but for vastly different reasons. In the short term, however, it was time to rehydrate, recover, down a few brews and then hang some new hardware.