2017 RTC Sprint Triathlon
7/22 AG 44/445 Overall
April 22, 2017 – Since 2015, the RTC Sprint has been my first tri of every season, and its a pretty big event in the Richmond triathlon community. That being said, I hadn’t had the best of luck in prior years. In 2015, my goggles broke in the first 10 meters of the swim and then I flatted on mile two of the bike course. In 2016 things had improved, but a SNAFU at the swim start due to confused volunteers had cost me some time. In 2017 I hoped things would go better, and my friend Meredith was running the swim start (since she was pregnant and could not race), so I was hoping for a smooth race. I’d been training all winter, so I was ready to see if my suffering at the hands of Erin Wittwer and Karen Holloway had been worth all of the lost sleep.
The focus over the winter had been on making me faster, so the training had been focused more on intensity over volume. Even though I had only begun swimming in 2014, Karen quickly figured out that my weakness was running. I don’t know if that means that I was a quick study in the pool or just a slow runner, but I was used to sliding down the age group standings on the run in triathlons of every distance. In sprints, I was averaging 7:30 minute miles off the bike, but the AG winners were consistently running in the 5:45 to 6:30 range in the local races. Thus, I was hoping to improve in that aspect the most to limit the damage.
The forecast for race day was cool and rainy, and I arrived at the Collegiate Aquatic Center (or SwimRVA…or whatever its currently called) well before dawn. It wasn’t raining when I arrived, but the radar showed heavy rain inbound. Thus, I set up my transition area and then went inside in order to stay dry. Unfortunately, my transition spot was much closer to the pool than it was to the bike out/bike in area, so I’d have a long run out of T1 and into T2 in my bike shoes. That may not sound like a big deal, but every second counts in sprint races.
After an hour or so inside and warming up in the instructional pool, it was time to line up according to bib number for the start. Due to my problems in prior years, I had seeded myself a bit lower in the swim, and was two groups behind Busher. Since the swim waves were sent off in 30 second intervals, he had a 60 second head start on me. He was still suffering from his car accident in late 2014, so he hadn’t been training very much. Even so, I was looking to catch him on the run course.
Swim- 7:10 (1:48/100m) 8/22 AG
The 400 meter swim started uneventfully (thanks Meredith!) and I made sure that I didn’t go out too fast. Nevertheless, by the 100 meter mark, I began to pass people in my swim wave, and it isn’t easy to pass in the pool, particularly near the turn buoys. By the 200 meter mark, I was catching up to people in the swim wave ahead of me, even though they’d had a 30 second head start. It turned into a real clusterf*ck about that point, and I lost a lot of time trying to go around people.
I began regretting my swim seeding decision, and it takes a lot of effort to pass people in this particular race due to the turns. By the last 100 meters I was held up by “lapped” traffic, and even resorted to breast stroke since I was “trapped” by some of the other swimmers and had no where to go. Lesson learned, next time I will over seed instead of under seeding myself.
As I approached the swim exit I saw Busher climbing out of the pool. I was only a few seconds behind him, and was surprised that I’d gained nearly a minute on him in the swim alone, particularly since I didn’t have a great swim. He would later tell me that he had a bad swim as well, and that he really hadn’t trained for this race due to ongoing neck pain from his accident. In fact, he wasn’t actively training through ProK/Sweet Spot and was considering giving up the sport entirely. Sad news since he got me into the sport and had been my primary mentor…but that would need to wait for later, the race was on.
T1 was uneventful, but took me a little longer than I’d have hoped due to the location of my transition spot. After putting on my helmet and cycling shoes, I ran down the hill to the bike out exit, clipped in and took off. Even though the temperature was on the cool side, I decided not to put on a long sleeved shirt and just to ride in my tri suit in order to save time.
Bike – 32:46 (22.8 mph) 5/22 AG
When you come out of T1 there is an uphill portion as you ride towards Ironbridge Road. I didn’t have any trouble clipping in, and then took off up the hill and made the right turn onto Ironbridge. As soon as I made the turn I tucked in tight and took off. This was my first sprint race since Erin had started training me on the bike in late May of 2016 and I felt like I was flying. I was fully tapered and riding on well-rested legs. I must have passed 10-15 people in the first few miles, which included Busher – who wasn’t looking like himself at all. I didn’t know if I could keep up the pace, but I felt great and was rolling. It was a ton of fun.
By the time that I turned right near the Chesterfield County Airport I was still feeling good, and had continued to pass people. My average bike pace kept creeping up, and I was already closing in on my 2016 average speed of 21.8 mph. My legs still felt good, so I continued to push the pace.
The back half of the bike course is somewhat of a blur, but I do remember a car pulling in front of me around mile 10. Thankfully, it made a right turn before it became much of a problem, but I thought I was going to get stuck behind it since it was stuck behind a couple of cyclists in front of me. As I closed in on the end of the bike course, my average speed ticked up to 23 mph. That was uncharted territory for me, but I lost a bit of speed as I came back into the transition area. When I hit the lap button on my GPS it read 22.8, which was 1 mph faster than 2016. That may seem a bit insignificant, but a 1 mph gain on the bike is pretty huge. All those Sweet Spot intervals paid off – thanks Erin.
Once again, my transition was a bit slow, but I had an unfortunate transition spot. I racked my bike, took off my helmet and then changed shoes. I was then off towards the run-out spot of the transition area, and saw Meredith directing traffic as I headed out onto the run course.
Run- 22:33 (7:15 min/mile) 10/22 AG
Mile 1 (7:19)
Karen had challenged me to run 7:15 miles off the bike, which would have been a big improvement from my 7:27 mins/mile effort in 2016. I came out of T2 “hot” and quickly saw that I was running a sub-7:00 pace. That’s easy to do when you’re fired up by the spectators, and I’d just run by my family, so I was definitely overdoing it. I slowed up, and was determined to negative split the run. I eased into a 7:20 pace, and figured that I’d speed up every mile.
Mile 2 (7:17)
The first mile went by pretty quickly, and I was looking for Busher as I ran. I never saw him on the run, and was wondering how his race was going. By mile two, the pain had begun to set in, but I still pushed the pace a little harder to make sure that I could hit Karen’s goal of 7:15 mins/mile. I was a tad worried about blowing up, but by the end of mile two, I still felt OK.
Mile 3 (7:12)
Mile three was painful (as always), but in a good way. I continued to increase my pace, and even though my legs and lungs were burning, I found that I still had a little more left in the tank. As I headed up the lone hill on the course towards the Martin’s parking lot, I began to pass some people, which spurred me on even more.
The last 1/2 mile is mostly an out and back in the Martin’s parking lot, and I ran as fast as I could convince my legs to carry me. I saw my ProK colleague Jill (who was also volunteering) near the turnaround cone, but she didn’t see me and I didn’t have enough wind in my sails to say hello. The final 1/4 mile seemed to go on forever, but the run into the finish line is all downhill. I sprinted towards the final timing mat and finished about two minutes and thirty seconds faster than in 2016. Again, that might not seem like a lot, but it’s quite a bit in a sprint race. Thanks Karen. Thanks Erin. That was a huge improvement in less than twelve months of training.
I was only 7/22 in my age group, but the RTC Sprint is super competitive and is one of the largest triathlons in Richmond. I actually finished worse in my AG than in 2016 (6/22), but I was 44th overall, compared to 54th overall in 2016. I was faster in every discipline, and probably would have been another 30-60 seconds faster if I’d had a more fortuitous transition spot and if I’d seeded myself more aggressively in the swim. Even though I was well off of the 35-39 AG podium, I was extremely pleased with my performance.
After finishing, I caught up with my family and then saw Busher finishing amongst a lot of fanfare from the announcer. He didn’t have a particularly good race, but as always, was in good spirits. There wasn’t a lot of time to hang around since the kids had soccer games, so after some post-race food, we were off.
My first triathlon of 2017 was definitely a success, even though the swim had been suboptimal due to poor swim seeding. I’d made big gains on the bike and run, even though I hadn’t yet had a full year of coached training, and I was excited to see how the rest of the season would develop. Next up was the Kinetic Half Iron Triathlon at Lake Anna in May, which I’d never done before. All I knew is that the run was supposedly a bear due to the hills. I was hoping that the weather would be a little better for that race due to the fact that I’d be spending over five hours on the course compared with the 65 minutes that it took me to complete the RTC Sprint. Unfortunately, that would be another cold, wet and windy race, which would tax my mental and physical fortitude.