2016 RTC Sprint Triathlon
6/22 AG 54/419 Overall
April 23, 2016 – Its been a year since my debacle at the 2015 Richmond Triathlon Club sprint triathlon where my goggles busted at the start of the swim and then I flatted on the bike. I had additional complications after changing my flat tire, which forced me to push my bike two miles back to transition. No fun task in cycling shoes. Technically, that race was a DNF since I didn’t complete the bike course, but I still took out some of my aggression on the run course just for the heck of it.
Thus, in 2016 I felt like I had some unfinished business with this race, and was determined to have a better go of it the second time around. The 2016 version would be an improvement, but factors outside of my control would negatively affect my swim once again. Frustrating, but the only thing you can control in life is your own effort. Credit to Mark Cuban for that insight.
One of my other concerns going into this race was my ongoing left-sided piriformis issues. It always flared up with increased intensity workouts, and sprint races are definitely high intensity. I’d seen my physical therapist two days days before the race, and she’d taped me up and made sure that my hips weren’t out of whack. A couple of hours before the race, I’d also taken my prescription anti-inflammatory, along with two Ibuprofen. If those didn’t work, then I’d just have to tough it out.
The RTC Sprint takes place at the Collegiate Aquatics Center (aka SwimRVA), which is where I do the majority of my swim training. I always try to arrive at races early to snag the end of the bike rack, and since I live only 20 minutes away, I was obscenely early. Parking was had at the nearby Martin’s, and since I wasn’t comfortable transporting my bike on my bike rack with the rear disc cover on, I had to swap out my rear wheel in the dark parking lot. That was a bit of a challenge since I forgot to bring a flashlight, but I managed. A lot of people were riding their bikes down to the transition area in the dark, but I walked my bike, not wanting to pop a tire on an unseen rock or other hazard. Thankfully, my coveted end-of-the-rack spot was still available when I got to the transition area.
I hadn’t picked up my race packet before race day, so after racking my bike I had to go inside to pick up my bib and bike/helmet stickers. Then it was on to body marking and chip pickup, followed by some jogging and stretching to warm up. It was cool outside, but thankfully it was warm enough to be relatively comfortable, even in a tri-suit. The sky was overcast, but it was a good 10 degrees warmer than the 2015 race.
After obsessing over my transition area for far too long, I decided to go inside to warm up in the instructional pool. I had a fairly new pair of TYR Spec Ops 2.0 goggles, and I was hoping that they’d hold up better than the Aquaspheres that snapped on me the year before. I did several laps (with no goggle issues), and then decided that it was time to head over to the 50 meter pool to start lining up for the swim start. Busher was bib 86, so he was starting a couple of swim waves ahead of me. After wishing each other luck, we took our spots in the line of people winding around the pool deck.
Swim- 7:48 (1:57/100 m) 14/22 AG **Official time
7:05 (1:46/100m) **Actual time
The RTC Sprint features a 400 meter “open water” pool swim. Its 8 lengths of the 50 meter pool, where you round buoys instead of touching the wall. Groups of 10 are started 1 minute apart, and your bib number is based upon your predicted swim time. Thus, bib 1 has the fasted predicted swim, and the first swim wave includes bibs 1-9. Bibs 10-19 start a minute later, and so on and so on.
The biggest problem with this format is that there is no timing mat at the swim start. The official race clock is followed, and if swim wave 1 starts at 7:30, then swim wave 2 is put down as starting at 7:31, even if something happens to hold them up. In my case, I was in the 11th swim wave as bib 107, and two girls were coordinating the swim start. The protocol was to make sure that the correct 10 people were ready to go for any given swim wave, and then they’d be allowed to jump in the pool. They’d tread water for about 30 seconds, and then they’d be sent off at the appropriate time.
That protocol went smoothly in 2015, but in 2016 one of the two starters didn’t seem to know what she was doing. The first girl checked our numbers and then we got ready to jump in the pool. The second girl then stopped us and said that we needed to line up numerically, which made no sense since we were all starting together en masse. I noticed that the clock had already passed our official start time, but the one girl was still trying to make us line up lowest to highest. The second girl finally realized what was going on and told us to jump in the pool.
I was the first or second person to jump in, knowing that my time was already going to be off due to the foul up. As soon as I hit the pool they started shouting “go,” and I was promptly jumped on by another guy in my swim wave. He didn’t hit me directly, but it was enough to shove my head under and cause me to swallow a bunch of water. I came up coughing and my heart rate went through the roof.
One of the toughest parts about triathlon swimming is controlling your heart rate, particularly at the beginning of the swim when there is a lot of congestion around you. Once your heart rate gets too high, you can’t catch your breath and swimming is very challenging. My high heart rate was compounded that day since I had also swallowed a bunch of water. Thus, for pretty much the first half of the swim I felt as though I couldn’t catch my breath. Getting into any sort of a rhythm was impossible.
By the time that I neared the mid-point of the swim I was starting to feel a little better. My heart rate had come down a bit and I was finally able to swim in rhythm without feeling like I was out of air. Still, I was pretty upset about the delayed chaotic start, and was already thinking about sliding down the age group standings due to the delay. In looking back at my Garmin data, my swim pace was pretty abysmal for the first couple of minutes. It picked up just before the mid-point, and then peaked in the last third of the swim.
By the last 100 meters I was ready to get out of the pool and to start making up some time on the bike. I put as much into the final 50 meters as I had in me, then I climbed out of the pool and ran across the timing mat.
T1 involved a long run out of the pool, around the side of the building and then into the transition area in the front parking lot. It was fairly uneventful for me this time around, but in 2015 I lost a good amount of time struggling to put on a long sleeve Under Armour shirt. Body-hugging technical shirts don’t go on wet bodies very easily. It was chilly in transition in 2016, but warm enough were I wasn’t going to fight another shirt and lose all that time. Once I got geared up, I ran my bike across the next timing mat and took off up the hill to Route 10.
Bike – 34:38 (21.8 mph) 6/22 AG
This was my first race on my new tri bike, and I was determined to have my fastest sprint tri bike split. The first third of a mile out to Route 10 was uphill, but the course was pretty flat thereafter, with the exception of a few rollers after rounding the Chesterfield County airport. Once I took the first right onto Route 10 I got into a good groove, and I began catching some of the people who’d been in the earlier swim waves. Present in the back of my mind, however, was my flat tire around mile 2 the year before, and I was glad to get past that portion of the course this time without incident.
By the time that I took a right onto Whitepine Road near the airport I had begun to space out from the other riders a bit. There were typically at least four or five other cyclists in sight at any given time, but things weren’t so bunched up that I was worried about a drafting penalty. Miles 6-9 on the back side of the airport had some rolling hills. Nothing major, but I did have to shift and get up out of the saddle a few times on the uphill portions.
After mile 9 the course was flat once again and I tried to hammer as hard as possible to increase my average speed. My GPS showed my average inching up constantly, and I was hoping to get close to 22 miles per hour for the ride. My best sprint distance bike split had been 21.6 at the 2015 Powersprint, and I definitely wanted to beat that on my new bike. Sure, the courses were different, but both were relatively flat, and thus, comparable.
My only near-mishap of the day on the bike came near Mile 11.5 after turning left on Route 10 to head back towards the Collegiate Aquatic Center. I was trying to overtake a female rider, but the coned off area for the bikers was particularly narrow at that point. I yelled to her that I was passing, but due to the limited cone spacing we almost collided. To be fair, the smartest thing to do would have been to wait for a more suitable place to pass, but I really didn’t want to get stuck behind her for a half mile or more. Thankfully it worked out, but she probably made a mental note that bib 107 almost ruined her day.
From there, it was only a left turn onto Ridgedale Parkway back to transition. The first bit was uphill, and then it was back downhill to the timing mat. I dialed it back once I crested the hill and tried to catch my breath and lower my heart rate before the run. After crossing the timing mat I dismounted without incident, and was pleased to see that I’d held 21.8 mph for the ride. A PR on my first race with the new bike – I had mostly forgotten about the swim fiasco. Mostly.
Like T1, T2 was pretty uneventful. I racked my bike, swapped out my shoes, grabbled my visor and race belt and took off. I headed back to the area of transition where I’d come in from the pool, and then there was a sharp left turn to head back from where I’d just come from – albeit on the outside of the transition area. It was at that point that I saw my family for the first time since the swim start. After a few words of encouragement, I was on my way onto the run course.
Run- 23:12 (7:27 min/mile) 9/22 AG
My goal for the run was to set a new PR for a 5k (off the bike). Since I’m relatively new to triathlon, I’m actually looking to PR every time out. My previously best was 23:33 at the 2015 Powersprint triathlon. I’d actually run a 23:16 at the RTC Sprint in 2015, but that was only after I flatted and pushed my bike back to transition – so it really didn’t count. I’d also run a 21:33 at the 2015 I Love the Tavern sprint triathlon, but that run course is short of a full 5k. Thus, 23:33 was my time to beat, which translates to a 7:33 minute per mile pace.
The run is a two loop course, which goes around the nearby soccer fields, then circles back into the Martin’s parking lot. You then head back to the Collegiate Aquatics Center to either head back out for loop number 2 or to head into the finishing chute. The course is almost all flat, with the exception of a small hill going up to the Martin’s.
Mile 1 (7:29)
As I took off on the run, I realized that I hadn’t seen Busher since we’d parted ways on the pool deck. He was two swim waves ahead of me, so he’d had a little bit of a head start. Our cycling abilities are pretty even, but I’d been able to out run him since his car wreck/neck injury. Thus I was hoping to find him out on the run course and then reel him in.
I felt good at the beginning of the run, and it didn’t take very long for my legs to adapt off of the bike. I didn’t want to go out too fast, but then again, I didn’t want to leave any time on the course either by taking it too easy. I was cognizant of wanting to improve on a 7:33 pace, and I made sure that I was running faster than that, but not too much faster. By the end of the first mile I’d made my first trip around the soccer fields and had begun heading up the hill to the Martin’s. I clocked a 7:29, so far so good.
Mile 2 (7:31)
The small hill up to the Martin’s parking lot taxed me a little bit, and I started feeling a bit winded. I still hadn’t seen Busher and wondered how far ahead of me he must still be. Since the run course loops around itself, I thought it was odd that I hadn’t even glimpsed him, and began wondering if he’d had bike trouble or had to withdraw due to neck pain.
I did my best to keep my pace even for the second mile, but my lungs were starting to hurt and I still had a decent ways to go. After coming back down the hill from Martin’s I ran around the Collegiate Aquatic Center to begin my second and final loop. Once again, I saw my family near the transition area and they provided some additional words of encouragement. Well, I think my dad actually said something about me running too slowly, but that was pretty much his way of encouraging me. By the end of the second mile I’d made it back to the soccer fields and the hurting had really begun. Mile 2 was a couple of seconds slower than mile 1. Hopefully things wouldn’t fall apart in mile 3.
Mile 3 (7:24)
I felt like I was beginning to fade at the start of mile 3, but my Garmin data suggests otherwise. My pacing remained stable, it just hurt more. After making my last loop around the soccer fields I had to run back up the hill to Martin’s. I was at mile 2.5 at that point, and decided that I was close enough to the finish to go all in so I picked up the pace.
The run through the Martin’s parking lot felt like it went on forever, and I’d forgotten just how far into the lot the turnaround cone was. I finally made it to the cone, so all I had to do was head back the way I’d just come and then run down the hill to the finishing chute. I still hadn’t seen Busher, so I pretty much figured that he’d crashed his bike into a ditch and was bleeding out.
From the turnaround cone to the finish, I still had enough left in me to run a sub-7:00 minute/mile pace. By the time I got back to the hill leading down to the finish line my lungs were screaming, and I was very happy not to have to turn left to make another loop. I sprinted down the hill and across the finish line in 23:12, which was good enough for a 7:27 min/mile pace and the PR that I was seeking.
After crossing the finish line, my timing chip was removed and I was able to find my family. By the time I caught my breath and inquired as to whether anyone had seen Busher, they were announcing him as a finisher over the loud speaker. Apparently, I’d passed him on my way out of T2 and he’d been shadowing me for most of the run. He’d been in my blind spot until I accelerated up the hill to the Martin’s on the second loop. At that point, he’d been unable to stay with me, but was close enough to me in the Martin’s parking lot that I hadn’t seen him as I went around the turnaround cone. I guess that was better than him dying in a ditch on the bike course, but in all actuality, that would probably be his preferred method of death when its his time to go.
Overall, I was pleased with my race, even if I was disappointed with the 43 seconds that I’d lost in the swim due to the starting screw up. Thankfully it didn’t change my age group standing at all, and I finished 6/22. Pretty good, but still a ways off the podium. Lots of work left to do. I was also pleased that, between my taping and meds, my piriformis pain had been relatively minor. I definitely felt it during the run, but it was merely a nuisance and didn’t affect my overall performance.
Since a local chiropractic clinic was giving out free post-race massages, I got in line and got my 5 minute freebie. The chiropractor could tell that my left side was extra tight, and he did his best to recruit me as a patient, but failed. After the massage, it was time to try out the catered food and then head over to Jillian’s soccer game.
Next up on my 2016 race calendar was the Rumpus in Bumpass Olympic distance race a week later, and that would be only my second ever race of that distance. My first Olympic distance race concluded my 2014 season, and included a bonk in the last mile of the run due to a fueling fail. Hopefully things would be different this time around.