2015 Richmond Rox Half-Iron Triathlon
6/8 AG 23/73 Overall
October 4, 2015 – The Richmond Rox half iron distance triathlon was my last tri of the year, and was intended to be somewhat of a litmus test for my overall conditioning level. I had already completed the Ironman Raleigh 70.3 race in May in searing heat, so I was looking to see if I could best my time in cooler conditions. I had also signed up for the Richmond Marathon in November, and I was trying to train for that in conjunction with the Richmond Rox race. My primary focus was on the triathlon, but I had been extending my long runs to prepare for the marathon as well.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Joaquin decided to head up the east coast on race week, and I was anxiously watching the weather forecast, fearing that the race would be cancelled. In fact, Ironman Maryland was scheduled for the same day, and it had to be pushed back two weeks due to excessive flooding. A day or two before the race it was announced that the triathlon would be turned into a duathlon, whereas the James River was in flood conditions. Thus, the 1.2 mile river swim would be replaced with a two mile run.
Run 1: 13:20 (6:40/mile)
With the swim being replaced with a “two mile” run, this would be my first duathlon. I really didn’t know what the appropriate strategy should be for run 1, and whether I should go easy or hard. I decided to do something in between, and figured that running near a 10k pace should suffice. I didn’t want to give up too much time to others in my age group, but I also didn’t know how running instead of swimming was going to affect my half marathon at the end of the race.
Run 1 began from inside an old building outside the transition area, and I was in a group of about 40 that started at the same time. The run took us away from Rockett’s Landing and back towards Richmond on the Capital Trail, and rain was falling, but the whipping wind was more concerning.
I took off at a good clip, but there were a few guys who looked like they were shot out of a cannon. I was running along with the first third of the field or so, and even though I had been cold standing around at the starting line, I warmed up pretty quickly once I got going. Run 1 was a straight out and back, and before I knew it, I hit the turnaround cone beneath the elevated train tracks along Dock Street. My GPS read a little more than .8 miles, so I knew then that the course measurement was incorrect. That, or my GPS was off. This was my first race with my second-hand Garmin 910, so I wasn’t sure whether to believe the GPS or not.
I kept a steady pace on the way back in, and the run took us straight back to the “run in” portion of transition area. When I hit the lap button on my GPS to signal the start of T1, it showed 1.71 miles – a fair amount short of the 2 miles claimed by the race officials. Run 1 had taken me 13:20, which equated to a 7:47 pace on my GPS. That is a little slower than my 10k pace, and I felt slightly winded, but still pretty good. The race results had me running a 6:40 pace based upon a two mile course, but the course (and not my GPS) was obviously off. Had I run a 6:40 pace for two miles, I would have been a lot more winded upon entering T1.
The transition area was fairly large, and was laid out on an elevated concrete slab. It took me awhile to make it to my bike, and while I didn’t dillydally in transition, I didn’t rush either. Half Iron distance races are long, and I wanted to make sure that I got everything correct. Due to the cooler temperatures and the wind, I decided to throw on a short sleeved cycling jersey over my tri suit. I am cold natured, and the prospect of shivering for 56 miles was not enticing to me. I saw many people wearing long sleeves, and even rain jackets in transition and during the ride.
After getting situated, I began a long run towards the “bike out” area. The concrete transition area was wet, and it was difficult to run quickly in cycling cleats without falling. I finally made it to the timing mat, straddled my bike and took off.
Bike: 2:50:17 (19.8 mph)
Prior to the race, I had purchased a rear disc cover for my Zipp 404s from Wheelbuilders.com. At $100, it was far cheaper than a full carbon disc, but nearly as aerodynamic. I had ridden with the disc cover once in a training ride (in calm conditions), but never during a race. Given the windy conditions expected in the forecast, I was on the fence of whether I should use the disc cover on race day. Just like a kid with a new toy at Christmas, however, I just had to play with it.
The first two miles out of transition on Route 5 were all uphill, and the going was slow. I knew that I had a long windy ride ahead of me, and I took those miles to get my legs warmed up and to test out the handling of my bike with the rear disc cover. The wind was really blowing, and I was concerned about a gust hitting the disc and shoving me off the road. The wind was coming out of the northeast, and since I was initially heading southeast, it was coming from my left.
Once I climbed away from the river and got moving a little faster on level ground, I really noticed the benefit of the rear disc. The sound of wind whipping through spokes was replaced with a totally different sound. Its hard to describe, but I guess its the sound of speed. I headed southeast for the first 9-10 miles, and even though I had a two mile climb and a cross-wind, I still averaged 20.6 mph for the first five miles and 21.1 mph for miles 6-10. I was feeling good and loving the disc. I did have to be careful to maintain a firm grip on the aerobars, however, because I was getting shoved around a bit.
Miles 10 – 25 brought me back down to Earth, and began to challenge me mentally and physically. After turning left, there was a fifteen mile stretch that was pretty much straight into the wind. My pace fell to 19 mph, even though I felt like I was pedaling much harder. It took me approximately forty-seven minutes to make it those fifteen miles, and I was very happy when I finally made a right turn onto Route 106 to head southwest. That turn finally put the wind at my back.
By this point the rain had begun to pick up, but I felt pretty warm due to my level of exertion, coupled with the double layering of my tri suit and cycling jersey. Miles 25-34 were largely with the wind, and I averaged around 22 mph during that productive clip. The only mishap came just after mile 34 during a right turn. I was going a little too fast and thanks to the wet road, my bike slid out from under me. I scraped up my rear derailleur and my saddle a bit, but somehow I managed to avoid anything but minor injuries and some wounded pride. I was back on my bike before I stopped moving, and off once again.
The remaining 20ish miles were tough, and I had a constant head or cross-wind. The wind also felt as though it was getting stronger, and the rain picked up once again with about ten miles to go. I remember the last five miles back to transition being particularly windy and rainy, and those were the only miles of the day where I was challenging my decision to go with the disc cover on the rear wheel. It got to the point where I didn’t feel comfortable in being in the aero position, and put my hands back on the hood for better control and stability.
The final two miles back down towards the transition area were the worst, and I ended up riding the brakes a bit because the wind kept shoving me to my left. I’m sure that I gave some time back to the field over those two miles, but I really didn’t feel like having a second (and undoubtedly, more severe) spill. I was very thankful when I got back to the transition area, and after a tough windy and wet ride, I was happy to be getting off the bike with just one minimal crash to my tally.
I’m not really sure why I spent so long in T2, because 3:35 is a pretty slow transition, even with a large transition area. Again, it was tough to run in cycling cleats on the wet concrete, but I should have been able to transition in under three minutes. I did have to take off my cycling jersey, but my T2s are almost always faster than my T1s. I guess I was just a bit dazed from all of the wind and rain.
Run 2: 2:03:31 (9:25 min/mile **official**) (9:03 min/mile **actual**)
My goal for the 13.1 mile run was sub two hours, which is a 9:07 min/mile pace or quicker. I had run a 2:05 half marathon off the bike in Raleigh in 90+ degree temperatures and direct sunlight in May, but I had faded hard during the back half of that run due to the heat. I felt pretty confident that I could run below two hours in Richmond given the cooler temperatures, even though the wind was blowing pretty hard. I settled into an 8:45 pace out of transition, and I was hoping to hold that pace for as long as possible.
I am not a fan of the two-loop Richmond Rox run course, and there is a long gradual climb up past Legend’s Brewery on the south side, which seems to go on forever. You then lose all of your elevation that you worked so long to gain in less than a half-mile, only to have to repeat the long upgrade once again on loop two. The first portion of half iron run course utilized the Olympic distance course that I had completed in 2014, so I was familiar with it. That portion of the course was well marked and had one or more volunteers at every turn. I’d learn, however, that the back half of the course would be a different story.
For the first three miles, I was on the Olympic distance course with a lot of other runners. After passing the turnaround cone for the Olympic distance runners, however, the crowd thinned out dramatically. I was doing pretty well with my pacing up to that point, but I had to cross the Lee Bridge to get back to the north side of the James River. It was about two-thirds of a mile across the bridge, and the wind was blowing right into my face (as it always does when running north on that bridge). My pacing fell to about 8:58 min/mile, even though my effort level felt like it had increased significantly, and I was thankful when I finally hit solid ground on the far side.
I was in uncharted territory on the run upon returning to the north side, but my memory of the course map made me think that I would be turning right onto Byrd Street. There was an aid station just across the Lee Bridge, and I asked the volunteers there where the next turn would be. The response that I received was “somewhere up there.” I proceeded on up Belvedere, thinking that there would be a sign or a volunteer pointing me in the right direction.
When I reached Byrd Street, there were no signs and no volunteers. I did see a group of eight or so runners ahead of me, and they were still headed north on Belvedere. Figuring that they could not all be wrong, and not wanting to get disqualified for cutting the course, I decided to follow them. They eventually turned right onto Franklin Street, and so did I, even though I still had not seen any course markers. By that time I was pretty worried about being off course, but I knew for sure that the course headed back down towards Brown’s Island via 5th Street. We all then hung a right onto 5th Street and headed towards the river.
Just before we reached the intersection of 5th and Byrd, a group of five runners came off of Byrd Street from our right and turned onto 5th Street ahead of us. I knew then that we’d gone off course, which was quickly confirmed by the other runners. They indicated that a volunteer with a flag had told them to turn right onto Byrd Street – but that volunteer had not been there when my group had gone by.
It turned out that I had run an extra eight blocks, which sent my mood into a very dark place. Ultimately I’d learn that I’d gone more than a half-mile out of my way, which cost me about four to five minutes. I kept telling myself to let it go and to focus on the eight or so miles that remained, but that was easier said than done when I was trying to re-pass a couple of guys that I had overtaken in the first few miles of the run.
From there, the course wound around near Brown’s Island and then back towards the turnaround cone on Dock Stret. I almost went off course a few more times because there were no volunteers on that portion of the course, and some of the directional signs were literally a few inches across and were stuck at random places on the ground. I finally hit the turnaround cone at mile 7.20 on Dock Street, and turned around to head back uphill for loop two.
By that point, fatigue was really starting to set in and I knew that I would be positive splitting the run. There was no respite from the wind, and I was dreading the long steady climb up past Legend’s, followed by the wind tunnel that would be the Lee Bridge. My pacing began to slip as my body and mental state continued to decline, and I began fading to 9:00 – 9:25 minute miles.
When I got to the intersection of Belvedere and Byrd Street for the second time, there was a volunteer sitting in a lawn chair holding a flag – who had not been there on my first loop. I resisted the urge to say something impolite to him, and turned right onto Byrd Street and started downhill. It was mostly downhill back to Brown’s Island, and then the course flattened out on Dock Street on the way back towards Rockett’s Landing.
In looking at my GPS, I knew that a sub-two hour run was no longer in the cards, and the wheels were starting to come off. I tried to hold it together as best I could down Dock Street, but mile 13 was run at a 9:24 pace. When my GPS clicked to 13.1 miles I should have been done, but I still had more than a half mile to go thanks to my unfortunate detour. Sadly, my brain told my body that the race was over since I’d covered a half marathon, and my body started shutting down. Its a weird feeling, and more than just feeling tired, its a feeling of being physically unable to keep moving forward at anything much more than a walk.
Coincidentally, this was pretty much the same area of Dock Street where my body had shut down during the Olympic distance race a year prior due to my nutrition failure. I tried to continue running, but every ounce of my body was telling me to walk. It had simply had enough punishment on a rainy and windy day and was through. I fought the urge to walk, but was only able to manage a slight jog towards the finish line after my 13.66 mile “half marathon.”
Officially, my run time was 2:03:31, three-and-a-half minutes slower than my goal. My consolation was knowing that I would have run the half marathon in about 1:58, but for my half mile detour.
Given the weather conditions, I didn’t stick around the race site very long after finishing, having had my fill of rain and wind for the day. Leigh Anne and the kids had come out towards the end of the race to see me finish, and I was glad that they hadn’t waited around the course for six-plus hours.
The race was fairly bittersweet for me, whereas my bike split was slightly slower than in Raleigh. I actually felt as though I’d had a stronger bike effort at Richmond Rox, but the crazy amounts of wind and rain had affected my split. I definitely had a better run (officially and unofficially) in Richmond than in Raleigh, and the cooler temperatures surely helped. I was still disappointed though, that my official run time still exceeded two hours.
The Richmond Rox half iron distance triathlon marked the end of my 2015 triathlon season. Nevertheless, I still had the Richmond Marathon on my calendar six weeks later. I had never run a marathon, and I had been trying to train for it in conjunction with my training for Richmond Rox. The triathlon was my primary focus during training, so the upcoming marathon was something as an afterthought – as much as a marathon can be an afterthought. I still had six weeks to finish my marathon preparation, but smack dab in the middle of those six weeks was our family vacation to Disney World.
So…….while Richmond Rox was not a smashing success for me, I felt as though my overall conditioning and racing had improved since Ironman Raleigh 70.3 a few months prior. Given the cancelled swim and the vastly different racing conditions, however, it was certainly not an apples to apples comparison between those two races. From a training standpoint, two half iron distance triathlons in 2015, plus the upcoming marathon were going to be a solid base for my 2016 season – which was set to culminate with Ironman Maryland on October 1, 2016. Nevertheless, there was no time to look that far ahead with 26.2 miles of marathon running coming right around the corner.