2018 RTC Sprint Triathlon
3/10 AG 30/328 Overall
April 22, 2018 – USAT rules sort you into age groups based upon your age at the end of the year, not your current age. Thus, the RTC Sprint was the first triathlon where I had to put the dreaded “40” on my calf. I still had about two months left in my 30’s, but officially, I was 40 and had been bumped up to the 40-44 age group.
Generally speaking, there’s an advantage to aging up, particularly in running races. In triathlon, however, the 40-44 age group is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, in a lot of races. I presume that’s due to the fact that people seem to get into triathlon a little later in life, but whatever the reason, its a fast age group. I’d never made the AG podium at the RTC Sprint since its a pretty competitive race, so I really didn’t think that I had much of a shot this year.
Typically, my biggest weakness in triathlons is my lack of running speed, so I’d made that the focus of 2018. Thus, pretty much since the close of the 2017 season, Karen had been working to make me faster. In reality, it was more about making me “less slow,” but semantics aside, there were a fair amount of track workouts and speed work. I still couldn’t run a 6 minute mile, but at least I was in shouting distance at 6:26.
Unfortunately, every time I began to get into a good training groove, I got derailed by circumstances outside of my control. At Christmas, there was a minor illness that took away a week. In February, everybody in my house got the flu, except for me. I went contrarian and contracted strep throat, but poor Jillian had the flu twice and ended up in the emergency room. Even when I wasn’t sidelined by my own illness, the lack of sleep and stress from worrying about everyone else affected my training.
By the end of March we were all illness free, but then I began getting strange pains on my left side near the bottom of my rib cage. The pains were tolerable, but after they failed to subside after a week or two, I finally told people what was going on. After a trip to Patient First revealed nothing but normal chest x-rays and lab tests, I finally diagnosed myself (with the help of Google) as having an oblique strain.
The good news was that the pain was bearable and intermittent. The bad news was that it was an injury that would linger for quite some time without rest – which just wasn’t in the cards. I nearly healed after several weeks of anti-inflammatories, but then I re-aggravated it doing swim sprints. Karen cut back my training and my speed work a bit, but soon enough, the RTC Sprint was upon us. I was excited to see if my winter speed work had paid off, but was a tad concerned about my injury and my recent training limitations. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to hold back in the race and was going to cross my fingers and hope for the best.
The weather for race day looked really good, even if it was going to be a little bit chilly in the morning. As always, the alarm went off around 4 a.m., and there was a flurry of dressing, eating and heading out the door. In 2017 I got stuck with a pretty poor rack position, but this year was much better. I even arrived early enough to nab the coveted spot at the end of the rack.
After setting up my transition area and warming up, I headed inside with lots of time to spare. It was a little chilly, and I didn’t feel like sitting around outside. I said hello to Meredith (who was volunteering), and then did some warm up laps in the instructional pool. Busher was doing the relay, but I didn’t see him before the race. I did run into his parents on the pool deck, but he must have been occupied elsewhere.
The pool is a pre-seeded start, and in years past, they did a good job of lining everybody up early according to their swim waves. It was less organized this year, and with about ten minutes to go until the start, there was a mass of people around the pool in no coherent order. I didn’t think that they’d ever get organized before the start, but miraculously, things came together just in time. Thus, as soon as Jill Blankenburg sang the National Anthem, we got underway.
Swim- 7:11 (1:48/100m) 3/10 AG
The “open water” pool swim of 400 meters is always interesting in this race, and I’ve yet to have a really good swim. I pegged 6:50 as my estimated time, and felt as though I was under seeding myself. I didn’t want to hold anyone up, but apparently, a lot of people overseeded themselves.
You start in groups of ten, and swim eight lengths of the 50 meter pool. I decided to start myself on the outside (left) of the lane to avoid most of the pandemonium of the swim start, and had no problems in the first 50 meters. The first turn was to my right, and I hit some congestion as I made my way around the first buoy.
I found some clean water heading back in the other direction, but as soon as I turned around the 100 meter buoy I began catching up to people in the earlier swim waves. Passing in the pool isn’t like passing on the bike or run course. Your relative velocity to “lapped traffic” is fairly low, and you have to work pretty hard to get around someone before hitting the next turn buoy. Otherwise, the person ahead of you is going to take the inside lane around the buoy and you’re going to have to go the long way around, which makes passing even more difficult. Thus, passing is a chore and can wear you out much faster than you’d like.
For the last 300 meters of the swim, I was constantly catching and trying to pass people who started ahead of me. This slowed my progress considerably, and made for a disappointing swim. I finished in 7:11, but felt like I lost at least 30 seconds by getting caught up behind slower swimmers, but was only 1 second slower than last year. I made a mental note to over seed myself in 2019. Nevertheless, I was still 3/10 in my AG in the swim, so it wasn’t a total bust.
T1- 1:00 1/10 AG
I exited the pool motivated to get on the bike and to make up for what I considered to be lost time in the pool. I sprinted to my transition spot, threw on my cycling shoes (without socks), donned my helmet and then took off for the mounting line. All this was done in exactly one minute, which was the fastest in my AG, and 36 seconds faster than in 2017. In a sprint race, every second matters, and transitions become that much more important.
Bike – 33:33 (22.4 mph) 2/10 AG
I had one of my strongest ever bikes at the RTC Sprint in 2017 and I was hoping to best my time of 32:56, this time around. I didn’t feel quite 100% coming into this race, however, so I was skeptical of my chances. Still I planned to push as hard as possible and see where that left me.
There is a hill immediately out of transition, and then you take a right onto Route 10, which is fairly flat and fast. I immediately began making good speed, and there were a lot of people from the earlier swim waves to pass on the bike course. Drafting is illegal, but there is a small “sling shot” effect when you legally pass people ahead of you.
I checked my GPS after turning right near the airport and I saw that I was slightly behind my 2017 pace. I tried to pick it up a bit, and I played leapfrog with a couple of other guys on the road that runs parallel to the runway. By the time that I made the right turn on the back side of the airport I’d left them behind, and tackled the small hills without any problems.
The course then winds around towards Route 10, and that’s when I encountered the only problem of the day on the bike. There was a person flagging traffic, and he was directing it all to the right up ahead of me. Traffic began to back up, and I was moving faster than the cars ahead of me. I slowed down, but then realized that I needed to go past the traffic or else I was going to have to come to a complete stop. I went to the left of the cars and was basically on the center line of the road. I passed 3-4 cars, and then the flagger waved me to the right. I knew that couldn’t be correct, having ridden the course 3 times before. The biker behind me and I finally realized that the flagger was only gesturing to the cars, and that we were supposed to go straight, so we continued on. The whole experience probably only cost me 10-15 seconds, but got me out of my biking groove just when I felt like I was making up some time.
From there, I turned left onto Ironbridge Road and was not far from the finish line. I gave it everything that I had left on Ironbridge, but after turning left to head back towards transition, I eased off a bit to lower my heart rate. A few extra seconds on the bike course would be worth the reduced heart rate heading into T2 and into the run course. I’d learned that lesson the hard way previously.
T2 :54 3/10 AG
T2 was faster than T1, but still only good enough for third in my AG. I ran my bike to the rack – finding it quickly with the pink shirt tied to the outside of the rack. I slipped off my helmet and cycling shoes, threw on my running shoes and my race belt, and then I was off. By this point, I knew that my overall time was very close to my time from 2017, which I was determined to beat. Another year older, but I didn’t want to be another year slower. Thus, it was all coming down to the run. I wasn’t quite sure if the lost training time and the injured oblique would slow me down, but I was going to give it my best.
Run- 22:11 (7:08 min/mile) 4/10 AG
I completed the run in 22:33 in 2017, which equates to a 7:15 pace. Prior to the race, I’d asked Karen what she wanted my run pace to be, and she’d told me 7:30 – since that’s what my post-injury training runs had been. I knew that she’d been taking care of me in preparation for the race, but didn’t think that she actually planned for me to run at that pace. I’m not sure if she was serious about the 7:30 pace or whether she was goading me, but I was sure as heck going to beat 7:30 if at all possible.
Mile 1 (7:13)
I felt good coming out of T2, and my legs were minimally “heavy” from my bike effort. I thought to myself, “Ok, we’re good to go,” and then my race belt promptly fell to the ground behind me. I’d failed to secure it properly, and I had to turn around and go back for it. So much for getting off to a good start…but I had no one to blame but myself.
After getting my race belt squared away, I took off again and headed down to the soccer fields. That part of the course is pretty much flat, so I was able to make good time. I completed mile 1 in 7:13 and was still feeling okay, so all was going according to plan.
Mile 2 (7:06)
Near the start of the second mile, there is a small hill that leads up to the parking lot of the old Ukrops. Its not terrible, but its pretty much the only uphill portion of the course and it does slow you down a bit. After cresting the hill, I ran the out and back in the parking lot, and then completed the first loop down by the transition area. There was a little boost gained while running past the crowd near the finish line, and then I set out on loop number two.
By this point, I was breathing pretty hard but my legs felt fine. In longer races, its typically the legs that go out on me in the run, but in the shorter races, there’s the hard breathing and the feeling that my chest is going to explode. I finished the second mile down by the soccer fields and was feeling pretty rough, but the thought of almost being done helped to ease the pain.
Mile 3 (7:07)
I had to deal with the small hill one last time, and it definitely slowed me down more than the first time. I kept trying to accelerate at the top of the hill, but was having trouble getting going again. I’d wanted to run a sub-7 minute pace for the remainder of the race after cresting the hill, but I wasn’t able to get my pace up that much until after I hit the turnaround cone in the grocery store parking lot and headed back towards the finish line.
Normally, I make the last left turn and then sprint down the hill through the finishing chute. I was able to pick up my pace down the hill a little bit, but I just didn’t seem to have the same finishing kick in me this time around. Still, I finished the run in 22:11, which equated to a 7:08 pace, and it was my fastest ever run at the RTC Sprint. Not too bad for having aged up.
Overall, I was very happy with my performance, especially since my spring training had been derailed a bit because of sickness and injury. I was a tad slower on the bike in 2018, but some of that was due to getting caught behind vehicle traffic on Cogbill Road. Still, my transitions and my run were faster than in 2017, and I was 48 seconds faster overall. Older, but not slower.
Jillian had a soccer game, so I didn’t have time to hang around long after I finished. As it turned out, I got third in my age group, so Busher was nice enough to snag my award for me. This was the first year that I’d been able to make the AG podium in the RTC Sprint, and its a pretty competitive race, so that was a nice bonus. The number of people racing was down a bit from years past, but a podium is a podium I guess.
Next up for me was Monticelloman near Charlottesville, and I’d had my eye on that race for several years. I’d decided to do the Olympic distance event, and those will kick your butt pretty hard if you do them right. I was hoping to go 2/2 in age group podiums in my inaugural year of racing in the 40-44 age group, and only time would tell if that was in the cards. What was in the cards were heavy rains on the bike and hills…lots and lots of hills.