2018 Patriot’s Olympic Triathlon
1/24 AG 14/265 Overall
September 8, 2018 – My penultimate triathlon of 2018 was the Patriot’s Olympic in Williamsburg. It’d been an unstated goal of mine for a while to qualify for the Olympic distance Nationals, and I thought that I’d have an outside shot at the Patriot’s if I had a good race. My chances of qualifying would also depend upon the level of competition that showed up. There are a few ways to qualify, but basically, I’d need to win my age group or finish in the top 10%. So, if there were at least twenty in my age group, I’d qualify if I placed in the top two. My fitness and health were good coming into the race, so I was hoping for a strong performance.
My buddy Clay Westbay was doing the race as well, and it was his first Olympic distance triathlon. In fact, I think it was his first ever triathlon – he’d done the Robious Landing race, but that had been converted from a tri to a duathlon. Clay hitched a ride with me to Williamsburg on race morning, and after a short detour to go back and get his GPS, we made it to the race site with no issues. Clay and I got through packet pickup, then got our timing chips, body marked and got set up in transition. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to do a warm run before transition closed, so after hitting the portapotties, Clay and I walked down to the swim start at the river.
In years past, I’d done the Half-Iron distance race at the Patriots, and they start the swim first, about a half hour before the Olympic distance racers. Thus, we still had a decent wait before it was our time to go off. Clay seemed pretty relaxed, given that this was his first Olympic distance race, but then again, he’s always pretty stoic. After what seemed like forever, our start time was upon us, so I wished him well. He waded into the river first since he was in the first Olympic swim wave (being younger than me), while I waited on the beach for my swim wave.
Swim: 30:12 (2:01/100 m) (4/24)
The 1500 meter swim wasn’t wetsuit legal this year due to the warm water temperature. The swim is an out and back in the river, and they try to make it so you’re swimming with the current on the leg that has you farthest from shore. I hadn’t done an Olympic distance swim without a wetsuit since 2014, so I really didn’t have a good baseline time to try to beat. My wetsuit legal swim at Monticelloman in May of 2018 was done in 27:34, so I thought that something under 30 minutes was a reasonable goal. I figure that a wetsuit is good for a 2-3 minute advantage in an Olympic distance race.
Thanks to turning 40 this year, I was in the second swim wave of the Olympic race and took off about 5 minutes after wave 1. The river had a decent amount of chop to it, and the waves were coming from my left. Thus, I had to breathe to my right on the “out” leg to keep from swallowing water. Still, I made really good progress to the turn buoy at the far end of the course, and felt like I was having a strong swim.
By that point, I began catching a lot of people in the first swim wave, and the swim course began to get a little more cluttered, After swimming towards the middle of the river, I rounded another turn buoy to head back downriver. I didn’t notice it at first, but after several minutes of swimming back in the other direction, it became apparent that the current was against me. I felt like I was swimming on a treadmill and the “in” portion of the course felt like it took forever. I was still doing fine with my stroke, but the going was slower than I expected. Basically, it took me 10 minutes to go “out” and 16 minutes to come “in,” not counting the swim back to shore.
I finally got to the last turn buoy and took one final left turn to head towards the shore. The water got too shallow to swim about 50 yards from the beach, so I had to dolphin dive and wade a bit there at the end. The timing mat was a little ways up the beach out of the water, and I looked at my GPS for the first time as I crossed the mat. It read 30:12, which was pretty much spot on my 30 minute goal – particularly when you account for the current and the run from the water to the timing mat. Ultimately, that would put me at 4/24 in my age group, and I’m very pleased with the swimming progress that I’ve made with Karen over the past couple of years.
T1: 2:36 (1/24)
There’s a very long run from the beach up to the transition area. My rack was then at the opposite end of transition from the “swim in” area. There’s always some initial dizziness when getting out of the water, so it took me a few seconds to get my legs under me. I ran off the beach at a pretty good clip, not sprinting, but not wasting time either. Once I got to my bike, I threw on my helmet and shoes and off I went. Fast enough for 1/24 in my age group – and some time banked that I would need on run course.
Bike: 1:03:28 (22.1 mph) (2/24)
The Patriot’s Olympic bike course is flat and fast, with the sole exception being the Route 5 bridge that you hit on the way out and on the way back in. The Olympic course follows the bike route for the half, but instead of making a full loop, there’s a turnaround cone around mile 12.5.
After crossing the mounting line, I hopped on my bike and took off. There are a couple of turns in the first few miles, but after turning onto Route 5, there’s a straight shot of about eight miles. I was pushing hard and was making good time, when a stronger biker went by me around mile 5. I tucked in behind him and rode at a draft legal distance in his wake until we hit the bridge. He slowed as soon as we started up the bridge since he began to take in some nutrition, so I went by him. I had 400 calories of Carbopro in my aerobottle, so I was good to go in that department and didn’t need to slow to take in calories.
The other biker re-passed me about a half mile past the bridge and I tucked in behind him again. He didn’t seem to mind that I’d leeched onto him, and we were cruising and passing a lot of other bikers, many of whom were doing the half. The course eventually took a right off of Route 5, and when we got to the turnaround cone for the Olympic course he kept straight since he was doing the half. I turned around the cone to head back in, and was on my own for the remainder of the ride.
After turning left on Route 5 to head back east, I thought there was going to be an aid station. It was actually west of the turnaround point, and only accessible for the people doing the half. In fact, there were no aid stations on the Olympic bike course, which I thought was odd. I was planning on taking a bottle mid-way through the ride, but it looked like I was going to have to make do with what I had on my bike. I typically get an hour out of my aerobottle unless its really hot or humid, and it was pretty humid on race day. Thus, I knew I’d be a little short on hydration, but not so much that it was a major concern.
I made good time back down Route 5 and pushed hard over the bridge. There were then a few miles before the course turned right to head back towards the race site. About a mile before transition, I adjusted my helmet and my helmet shield fell off. I always have issues with it since its so temperamental, and even though I caught it, I couldn’t get it back on. I didn’t feel like crashing while trying to reattach the shield, so I held onto it as I headed back in – silently hoping that I wouldn’t take a bug to the eye.
Soon enough, I was back at the race site and cruising back into transition. I’d hoped to finish the bike under 1:05:00, and I ended up making it in 1:03:28, which was the second fastest in my age group. Two legs down – so far so good. I had no idea where I stood in my age group, but I was having a strong race.
T2: 1:29 (7/24)
Off the bike and to the rack quickly. I’ll do sprint triathlons without socks to save time, but I always put on socks for the Olympic distance run, which adds time to my T2. After getting on my socks and running shoes, I grabbed my hat, glasses, race belt and water bottle, and was off to the run course.
Run: 49:16 (7:56 min/mile) (2/24)
My goal for the 10k run was sub-50 minutes, but it was humid as hell and a lot of the run course is in direct sunlight. The run course was basically a lollipop, and had been changed from years past. There are some wooded trails that provide some shade, but about two-thirds of the run is in the sun. I felt okay coming out of transition, but by the time I hit the first mile marker, I was already beginning to overheat and figured that I might have to re-evaluate my 50 minute goal.
My Garmin 920 is always a tad unreliable on the run in triathlons, but it had clicked 1 mile exactly at the 1 mile marker on the course. Nevertheless, when I got to the 2 mile marker, it was only reading 1.95 miles. Sometimes the mile markers are off and they even out after a while, but my Garmin was even further off at the mile 3 marker. In the interim, I was struggling with the heat, even though I’d brought a flask of water with Carbopro. My GPS pace crept up over 8 minute miles, so I was really hoping that the course mileage was correct instead of my GPS. If so, I was running faster than my GPS indicated.
Around mile 2.5 I hit a timing mat near an aid station, and then began making my way towards the local high school. I hit the high school just after the 5k mark, and was holding together, but it was a struggle with the humidity for sure. With my flask in hand, I bypassed the aid station and then there were a couple of signs directing me into the woods on a trail. I was familiar with the trail from the past two years, but we were running in the opposite direction this time around.
I was alone on the trail, and after a few hundred yards I came to a “T” intersection. I looked for signs, or anything to mark the turn, but saw nothing. Due to the gravel, I couldn’t even look for footprints to see which way to go. The only thing I knew was that if I took a right, it would take me in the direction of the course from the prior years, and back towards the Capital Trail. I had no idea where I’d end up if I went left. So…making an educated guess, I took a right.
I continued on for about a third of a mile and then came to a wooden bridge that formed part of the Capital Trail – the same bridge I’d crossed between miles 2 and 3. I turned left to head back down the Trail towards the race site. I presumed that I was still on course, but I wasn’t clear since I hadn’t seen a sign marking the run course since just after the high school. Still, I was pretty sure that I’d gone the right way.
Eventually, a field opened up on my left, and I continued to run towards the aid station up ahead. As I was about 50 yards from the aid station, I saw a runner coming out of the field from my left. If you look at the photo below, the aid station was at the red dot, and I was headed south-east on the blue line. The other runner was coming down the dirt path bisecting the two fields. As soon as I saw him, I started thinking that I’d gone off course. I wasn’t sure though, because the other runner may have been off course. I was closer to the aid station though, and I saw one of the volunteers look at me and say, “where’s he coming from.”
That comment left me little doubt that I should have turned left at the “T” instead of right, and that I had a problem. A series of four-letter words came out of my mouth shortly thereafter. I’d been killing myself for over two hours and suddenly it had dawned on me that it might have been all for naught. Still, I didn’t know if my detour was longer or shorter than the official course. Turns out, it was exactly the same distance, but I would’t know that until several hours later. All I knew at that point was that I’d likely gone off course, so I was pissed. Pissed at myself, pissed at the race and pretty much pissed with the world.
I had about two miles left with the run after the aid station and I decided not to kill myself coming back in. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t slow down, but I chose not to empty the tank – so to speak – due to my possible DQ situation. I had a 70.3 scheduled for the next weekend in the Outer Banks, and I was already worried about doing a 70.3 one week after an Olympic distance race.
My head was in a pretty dark place for the last two miles as I thought about what to do after crossing the finish line. I’m not going to lie, there was a part of me that wanted to check the standings to see where I finished before making a decision on what to do. I’d trained hard for the race, and I’d been suffering for almost 2.5 hours. I was also mad about the fact that there were no markings at the “T” intersection on the trail, and I didn’t think that going off course was my fault.
The other part of me was thinking that I do a lot of local triathlons, and I knew that my reputation was more important than a single result. I was also wearing a ProK tri-suit, so I wasn’t just representing myself in the race. I was also representing my coaches, my team and my teammates. I knew what I needed to do, even if I didn’t want to do it.
About a quarter mile from the finish, I caught up to another runner (Darin Stiefvater), who was struggling a bit. I could have passed him, but something in me said not to – particularly since my race was probably illegitimate. I gave him some encouraging words and we finished together, with him slightly ahead of me. He was gracious after we crossed the line, and I promptly told him that I think I needed to go DQ myself since I was pretty sure that I’d gone off course. He seemed a bit shocked by that.
I finished in 2:26:52, which was a PR for me. I’d also completed the run in 49:16, which was great, considering the oppressive humidity, coupled with the fact that I didn’t red-line it in the last two miles.
I immediately proceeded to the timing tent and told one of the female officials what had occurred. She asked me if the “T” intersection was on a trail, to which I responded, “yes.” She then stated that the first finisher had mentioned the unmarked turn, but that he’d taken the correct route. She also said that they hadn’t had a chance to get anyone out there to fix the problem yet. I was very aggravated by the situation, and told her that other people were going to do the same thing as me since there was no way to know which way to turn. She took down my bib number and told me to check back in with her in a while to discuss the situation.
From there, I made my way to the results tent and Darin was standing there. He told me that I’d won my age group, to which I replied, “not for long.” I told Darin what I’d learned at the timing tent and that I was pretty sure that I’d be DQ’d. From there, my thoughts turned to finding Clay, who finished in 2:56:03. He was 6/9 in his age group, and did fantastic for his first real triathlon.
Thankfully, there was a beer tent, so Clay and I headed in that direction so that I could drown my sorrows for a bit. We got to talking with two other guys, both of whom had gone off course like me. Nevertheless, neither of them had placed in their age groups, so they were disinclined to report themselves to the officials. Clay had taken the correct route, but confirmed that no turn signs were present on the trail when he went through. His tracking and directional skills are clearly superior to mine.
After having two (or three) beers, I checked back in with the race officials and told them that I’d spoken with other people who’d gone off course like me. I was the only poor sap to come forward, however, so I alone would be DQ’d. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled. I knew that it was the correct decision since I hadn’t completed the actual course, but I was still upset about the lack of signage. I know, I know…its ultimately my responsibility to know the course, but in the heat of the moment its hard to keep your bearings, especially when you’re on a wooded trail.
It was a long ride back to Richmond, particularly when it occurred to me that I would have qualified for Nationals, but for my DQ. Later that night, Darin sent me a Facebook friend request and I sent him my Garmin data. About an hour later he messaged me that the route I took was equidistant to the actual course, which was like rubbing salt in the wound. I was glad that I hadn’t shorted the course, but it just threw fuel on the fire.
The next day I sent an email to the race director, explaining what had happened, and asking about the unmarked turn. He responded as follows:
“This is a first for us but we had someone steal signs from our course during the race, twice. Our run director replaced them 2x during the morning and stayed in the area to monitor them after the 2nd replacement. Some athletes reported a person was actually out there with a rake erasing our multiple chalk arrows on the ground and throwing signs into the woods. We have had this race for well over a decade and never had a problem here (or anywhere) like this.”
In a way, this made me feel much better. First, it proved that I wasn’t blind and hadn’t simply missed the turn sign. Second, it resolved any lingering animosity that I had towards the race. Crazy people are going to do crazy things, and the race can’t plan for idiots who are going to steal signs and erase chalk marks. The RD was also nice enough to offer me a free entry to another race, so that was pretty awesome of him.
While I was happy about the free race entry, the DQ was still a tough pill to swallow. I’d only won my age group one other time in four years of racing, so it was tough to give that up. Even worse, was losing a spot at the Age Group Nationals in Cleveland in 2019. Everything had come together for me in this race, which doesn’t always happen. Moreover, my chances of qualifying for Nationals depends not only on me, but also on who shows up to race in my age group. There are plenty of guys that can blow my doors off just by getting out of bed, and I just don’t know if lightening will strike twice. To be clear, I deserved the DQ, but that didn’t stop me from throwing a pity party for myself.
Up next for me was my “A” race for the season, which was the OBX half-iron triathlon in Manteo, North Carolina one week out. I didn’t have time to wallow in the mire for long, with a much larger task ahead. There was, however, a small hurricane named Florence out in the Atlantic, and hopefully it wouldn’t affect my final race. Lord help me if it did, since I was all out of pity party invitations..