2016 I Love The Tavern Sprint Triathlon
4/24 AG 29/332 Overall
June 26, 2016 – The one triathlon that I’ve done every year is the I Love the Tavern/Robious Landing sprint triathlon. It features a 650 meter down river swim, an 18.8 mile bike and then a 5k run. Its one of the most popular triathlons in Richmond, and I’ve always had a good time doing it. After many months of poking and prodding, I’d finally convinced my friend Richard Engel to sign up. In actuality, he’d promised to sign up about a year in advance, but Richard has a bad habit of waiting until the last minute to actually register. He’s even been known to have backed out once or twice since the entry fees are so high for late registrants. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when he finally logged on and claimed a spot.
You may recall Richard from some of my prior posts, and yes, he is the same person who taunted me at the beach in 2013 during a friendly jog when he decided to run backwards as I was collapsing from exhaustion due to the pace he’d set. He also informed me in all seriousness that I had a roughly “50/50” shot of finishing the 2013 Spartan Race at Wintergreen. I’d gotten some retribution on him at the 2014 Spartan Race, when he’d underestimated the difficulty of the course and had to drag himself across the finish line several minutes after I finished. In hindsight, perhaps I should have run the last bit up the mountain backwards to motivate him, as he once motivated me.
I’d been mentoring Richard on his cycling skills a bit, but this was going to be his first triathlon. He was new to swimming, but he’s built for cycling and running since his legs are freaking enormous. I mean, proportionally, he’s a T-Rex. Due to his lack of swimming experience, however, I figured that I’d be able to beat him in his inaugural triathlon.
Unfortunately, the week before the race was filled with major storms on the east coast. They were so severe that there were houses in West Virginia that ended up floating down river, and one was actually on fire as it floated off. I’m sure the video of it can still be found on YouTube. When I went to packet pickup for the triathlon, the James River was swollen and cluttered with logs and tree branches. Since it wasn’t going to be safe to swim, the race officials converted the triathlon into a duathlon. My biggest advantage over Richard (the swim) had been turned into another run, which was his biggest advantage over me. As such, I knew that I’d need to have a strong bike if I was going to have bragging rights over him.
Since I’d recently bought a new tri suit, I loaned my old one to Richard for the race. He somehow managed to get his meat-eater legs through the same leg holes that were tight on my chicken legs. I thought for sure that he wouldn’t get through the race without having a wardrobe malfunction. Nevertheless, strained as it was, the Lycra was holding fast, and I headed to the starting line with Richard, along with a newfound respect for the tensile strength of the man-made fabric.
Run 1 – 6:22 (7:09/mile)
The first run was .89 miles per my GPS, and was an out and back. It was primarily uphill going out and was downhill coming back in. Groups of six were sent off thirty seconds apart, and it was pretty much a first-come-first-served send off. Richard and I were lucky enough to get in one of the first few starting waves, so we didn’t have to stand around very long.
Coach Karen had told me to hold something close to my 5k pace for the first run, and to try not to get my heartrate out of control too early in the race. My starting wave took off at a pretty fast clip, with Richard leading the way. He had indicated that he’d probably stay with me during the first run, but I’d told him to run his own race and not to slow down on my accord.
As we headed up the hill and away from the transition, I noticed that Richard did a lot of talking while running, and he seemed to want to carry on a full-fledged conversation. He was used to running with one of our mutual friends, and I almost always train alone, so I don’t converse much. Quite frankly, we were running at a pace that made conversation difficult for me, but Richard was coasting along. After essentially talking to himself for several minutes, he finally realized that I wasn’t up for friendly banter and decided to focus on the race. At that point, he accelerated and left me behind.
We eventually turned a corner and headed back downhill towards transition. Richard opened up a lead on me, but I never lost sight of him. I finished the first run in 6:22, and according to my GPS, I’d covered the distance at a 7:09/mile pace. Not blazing fast, but not slouching either. Richard entered T1 seven seconds ahead of me, but I was determined to exit the transition area before he did.
T1 was uneventful for me, and consisted of changing shoes and putting on my helmet. Richard’s transition spot was several racks over, so I lost track of him while I was changing. I then headed towards the “bike out” area and stopped short of the mounting like to get on my bike. The mounting line is on a slight upgrade, and I’d had some minor difficulties in years past when I failed to clip in quickly. There were no issues this time, and as I took off, I saw Richard running towards the mounting line. His T1 was 16 seconds slower, so I’d managed to take a slight lead on him. Given, however, that this was his first ever transition under race conditions, he was pretty quick.
Bike: 53:03 (21.3 mph)
My goal for the bike was to beat my 2015 time of 52:08 and to build a large enough cushion on Richard that he wouldn’t be able to catch me on the final run. I learned immediately out of transition, however, that I didn’t have an A+ ride in store for me. As soon as I headed up the incline from the transition area to Robious Road, my legs began “loading.” I’d certainly expected to take some time to settle into the bike, but I didn’t expect to feel tired at the bike start.
Less than a month before the race, I’d signed up for coaching services with Erin Wittwer and Karen Holloway, and the increase in training intensity had really hit me hard over the first few weeks. The Robious Landing triathlon was not an “A” race on my calendar, so Erin and Karen didn’t fully taper me for it. They certainly would have if I’d asked them to, but being at 100% that day wasn’t my goal. Ironman Maryland was my primary focus, so Robious was more like a spirited training session on a quasi-taper.
I struggled so much on the first hill that Richard rode right past me. We took a right onto Robious Road, and when I got into the aero position I passed him back rather quickly. I wouldn’t see Richard again for the rest of the bike portion, but as it turned out, he was never that far behind me. My legs did a little better after getting warmed up on the bike, but no matter how hard I tried, I could never get moving quite as fast as I had the year before.
The weather was a bit cooler and the humidity was higher in 2016, which is evidenced in the fog shown in the picture below. That may have also affected my bike split a bit, but fatigue was the overriding factor. Since Richard and I took off in one of the earlier run waves, there weren’t a lot of cyclists on the course ahead of me. I felt like I rode most of the course on an island, which is evidenced by the lack of any other visible riders below. In hindsight, the lack of riders to (legally) draft off of may have also contributed to a slower bike split.
The first half of the out-and-back bike course is primarily uphill, and concludes with a moderate hill in the final mile before the turnaround cone. The course gains about 150 feet over that distance, but approximately 100 feet of the gain comes within a quarter-mile span. If my math is correct, that’s a 7.5% maximum grade, which sends most people, myself included, into the small chain ring and an easy gear. When I did the race for the first time in 2014, the guy in front of me got going too slow and toppled over. Thankfully, that’s never happened to me, but it does take some effort to get to the top.
One you’re over the top, the turnaround cone isn’t far, and then its back down the hill the way you came. I maxed out around 35 miles per hour, and I’m always crossing my fingers that I don’t blow a tire at that speed. Richard said that he saw me just after I started back down the hill, but I missed seeing him. I was actually looking for him to see how much of a lead I had on him, and when I didn’t see him within a mile of the turnaround, I mistakenly believed that I had a sizeable advantage.
The course loses a little more than 300 feet on the way back to transition from the turnaround cone, so its a much faster ride heading in that direction. The elevation loss gave my legs a bit of a break, but I still didn’t feel all there. The last part of the course on Robious Road does go uphill, but after I turned left to head towards transition, it was all downhill. I let gravity due the lion’s share of the work in the last half mile to try to lower my heartrate and get ready for the run. I saw Leigh Anne and the kids near the dismount line and did my best to wave and say hello while planning for the dismount.
In total, it took me 53:03 to complete the 18.86 mile bike course, which was 55 seconds slower than in 2015. Perhaps the cooler and more humid conditions were a factor, but I think that riding on tired legs was the primary factor. I hoped that my legs would be ready to run, and Richard wasn’t far behind, having completed the bike in 55:21.
I almost crashed coming into T2 when I tried to do a quick dismount. I’d unclicked both cleats as I neared the dismount line, and I swung my right leg over to the left side of the bike. Somehow, my left cleat snapped back into the pedal, and as I began to run, the bike came with it. Thankfully, it unclicked again, and even though I stumbled a bit, I was saved the humiliation of toppling over.
I didn’t know how much of a cushion I had on Richard at that point, but I knew that his 5k PR was about three minutes faster than mine. Thus, I racked my bike as quickly as possible, changed shoes and then headed towards the “run out” area with my race belt with all due haste. I was only two minutes and twenty-seven seconds ahead of Richard by that point, so the chase was on.
Run 2: 21:19 (7:35/mile)
**My GPS had this “5k” at 2.81 miles, and the pace above is based upon the shorter/actual distance.
The first half of the run winds through trails at Robious Landing, with an out and back portion through a nearby neighborhood. You then hit the trails again until the finish line. My legs didn’t respond well off the bike initially, which is evidenced by mile 1 being completed in 8:08. The trails were wet and winding, and the going is certainly a bit slower on that portion than on the paved neighborhood roads. That being said, I just didn’t feel super terrific at the beginning of the run.
I broke out of the woods into the neighborhood around the 1.25 mile point and things started getting a little bit better for me. I finally began to settle into the run and was feeling OK when I hit the turnaround cone at mile 1.67. Mile 2 was completed in 7:30 – a marked improvement over mile 1. As I headed back towards Robious Landing, Richard ran by in the opposite direction towards the turnaround cone. He was much too close for comfort and I began trying to do math in my head to try to figure out whether I’d be able to hold him off.
Due to the wet conditions, they had changed the run course a bit, and had added another turnaround cone on the Robious Landing property. I was unaware of this new turnaround cone, whereas it wasn’t in the original course map. The last portion of the run is always a bit confusing to me since its easy to lose track of direction on the trails, and since you can hear the finish line music and announcements from a ways off. As I approached the final turnaround cone, the music got really loud, and I thought I was close to the finish. I began my “final kick,” only to see the second turnaround cone off in the distance. I quickly realized that I had to turn back around, and that I had farther to go than previously believed.
After rounding the cone and easing up the pace, along came Richard again, albeit much closer this time. I was determined not to let him pass me in the home stretch, and poured everything I had left into the run. After winding through the woods a little more, I finally saw the finish line off in the distance. I was slightly behind another runner and was determined to pass him before the end. I began sprinting towards the line and pulled ahead of him a few feet before the final timing mat.
After crossing the finish line, I turned around and waited for Richard. He finished 28 seconds later, and much too close for comfort. After recovering a bit, we checked the standings, and I was happy, yet disappointed, to see that I’d finished 4/24 in my age group. Very respectable, but one position off the podium. Richard was surprised to see that he’d won his age group – not bad for a first timer – but the conversion from a triathlon to a duathlon played to his strengths and eliminated his weakness.
My family and I didn’t stick around the race site long after I finished since we were headed out of town to the Outer Banks for vacation. We posed for a quick picture in front of the podium (Heidi included), and I was sad to have missed out on a podium spot by a mere 35 seconds. It would have been great to podium in a race with 24 people in my age group, but I was still pleased with my performance. By the time this race comes around again in 2017 I’ll have a full year of coaching under my belt, so maybe a podium spot will be within my grasp at that point.
In the meantime, it was time to head to the Outer Banks and to have a few adult beverages for my birthday.