“I was brain dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed…”

2018 Giant Acorn Olympic Triathlon

Race Report


 4/22 AG     67/341 Overall

September 22, 2018 – After my disqualification for going off course at the Patriot’s Olympic triathlon earlier in the month, I had one more chance to snag a spot at the Age Group Nationals in 2018.  September hadn’t been kind already, whereas my DQ had been followed by a cancellation of the OBX triathlon the following week because of Hurricane Florence.  That had been my “A” race for the year, and I was disappointed to lose it.  Still, since Kinetic Multisports had given me a free entry to the Giant Acorn race after the fiasco in Williamsburg, I was determined to try to turn lemons into lemonade.

Several of us had planned on racing in the Outer Banks together, including Leigh Anne, Jill Blankenburg, Mindy Reece and Candace Broaddus.  We actually had an Airbnb house rented in Manteo close to the race site, which was also a short walk to a brewery.  Jill and I are ProK teammates, and the rest of the girls swim together in coach Karen’s guppies class.  Leigh Anne’s first Olympic distance triathlon was supposed to have been in the Outer Banks, so she was signed up for the Giant Acorn as well.  Mindy was also racing with us, but Jill couldn’t race since she was announcing and Candace had other plans.

The Giant Acorn race takes place at Lake Anna State Park, which is the same venue where I’d done the Kinetic Half back in the Spring of 2017 – (Kinetic Race Report).  I knew from my experience at Kinetic that it would be a hilly course, particularly on the run, so I wasn’t expecting a PR on the bike or the run.  Thankfully, the weather on race day looked like it was going to be nice, and Leigh Anne and I drove up to Lake Anna on race morning.

Packet pickup and check in went smoothly, and we ran into Mindy after racking our bikes.  For this race, I planned to put water in my aerobottle and to carry a separate nutrition bottle with water and 400 calories of Carbopro.  I was going to give Leigh Anne the same setup on her bike, and I pre-filled our bottles with Carbopro powder the night before the race.  I made sure I remembered to bring water to fill our bottles at the race, and after we arrived and checked in, I began getting everything set up in transition.

Leigh Anne needed me to adjust one of her aerobar arm rests, which resulted in me dropping one of the bolts in the grass.  I searched for about ten minutes, but could never find it.  There was still one bolt holding the arm rest in place, so I told her that she’d have to race with one bolt missing, but that it shouldn’t be a problem since the arm rest seemed secure.  Not to mention the fact that she isn’t yet comfortable enough on the bike to ride in aero, so she wouldn’t really be using it anyways.

By then, I had just enough time to go for a short run, and then we headed down to the beach for the swim start.  There were five or six college tri clubs at the race, including UVA, Maryland, Liberty and VMI.  The college kids were set to go off in the first swim wave, and I was going to be in the third wave.  The swim waves were four minutes apart, so the first wave would have an eight minute lead over me onto the course.  After wishing Leigh Anne and Mindy good luck, I waded into the lake and waited to begin.


Results Link

GPS Data

Swim – 28:56  (1:56/100m)  (2/22 AG)


swim snip.PNG

My goal for the swim was to set a non-wetsuit PR for myself.  My previous best was 30:12 at the Patriot’s a few weeks prior, and I thought it was doable since my swim fitness and form have never been better.  After the horn sounded, I took off and quickly decided that I’d have to breath to my right on the way out since the sun was to my left.  It was pretty blinding, even with my tinted goggles.  I made sure I didn’t go out too fast so that I could keep my heart rate under control, and I was sighting frequently to make sure I stayed on course.  Still, I felt like I was drifting too far to my right as I headed away to the beach.

The swim course was a triangle, and by the time I got to the first turn buoy I’d began to catch a lot of people in blue swim caps who were in the second swim wave that started four minutes ahead of me.  For some reason, I swung out too wide on the cross-section of the swim, which added some distance.  I eventually corrected myself and turned right at the next turn buoy to start the long swim back to the beach.

I was generally feeling good coming back in, and in addition to passing people in the blue swim wave, I began passing some of the college stragglers from the first swim wave.  I had to adjust my breathing to the left at that point since the sun was now to my right.  My sighting and swimming were on point on the homeward leg, and I was able to maintain as fairly straight path to the swim exit.  Eventually I made it ashore and saw 28:56 on my GPS.  That was good enough for second in my age group, and was a non-wetsuit PR by over a minute!  I was happy with my swim.

T1 – 1:50  (4/22 AG)

There was a fairly long run uphill from the beach to the transition area and I hadn’t been blessed with good rack location.  I was on an inside rack near the perimeter fencing, which hurt me a bit in my transitions.  I put on my cycling shoes without socks, then donned my helmet and was off.  There was a run up a small incline to the mounting line and then I was on the bike and off onto leg two.

Bike – 1:11:43  (20.6 mph)  (3/22 AG)


The bike course is nothing but rolling hills, with the first three miles being uphill away from Lake Anna.  Knowing that, I’d racked my bike in the small chain ring and didn’t plan on switching to my big ring until I got out of the State Park.  As I spun up the hill, I grabbed my nutrition bottle to get in some calories before I layed down in aero at the top of the hill.  As soon as I lifted my bottle to take a swig, however, I knew that I had a problem.

I’d filled Leigh Anne’s nutrition bottle with water in transition, but I’d apparently gotten distracted while adjusting her aerobars and had totally forgotten to fill mine.  Thus, I had a bottle with nothing but a few inches of white powder in it at the bottom.  Mercifully, I had remembered to fill my aerobottle with water, but without my Carbopro, I was staring at a 2.5 hour race with no calories until I hit the run course.  I knew from experience how that would end – with me totally bonking around mile five of the run.  There was then an outpouring of expletives, and thankfully there was no one else in my general vicinity at that time.

My only option was to pour my Carbopro into my aerobottle and to make due with what I had.  Of course, I didn’t want to pull over and stop to get that accomplished, so I popped the top of my aerobottle, unscrewed the top of my nutrition bottle and then held the top between my teeth.  I then had to pour the white powder contents out of a three inch wide bottle and into a one inch opening – all while trying to ride uphill without crashing.  The outcome was entirely predictable.

I managed to get perhaps half the Carbopro into my aerobottle.  The other half was blown backwards onto me, and I was still wet from the swim.  Soon enough, I was coated in white powder and looked liked someone with a bad drug habit.  There was nothing I could do about it at that time, so I closed my bottles and continued climbing up and away from Lake Anna.

The course took a left onto Lawyers Road at the top of the hill, and I was finally able to begin making some good time.  I began passing a lot of other bikers, including lots of the college kids.  There was a nice downhill section from miles 4.5 to 6, and then the course was predominately uphill again for three miles as we headed north.  Unfortunately, the wind was coming out of the north, so that made for some pretty slow riding.

Around mile 9.5, there was a left turn onto Tatum Road, which gave me a respite from the wind and the climbing.  The next seven miles were on the fastest portion of the course, and I was able to stay low in aero and push hard.  Near the 12 mile mark, I passed bib 10 and I noticed that he had a “40” on his right calf, which meant that he was in my age group.  I wasn’t quite sure where I stood in the age group placings at that time, but I knew that I’d had a good swim and was having a good bike.  Thus, I figured that I was close to the front.

I went around bib 10 and tried to accelerate past him as quickly as possible.  I was hoping that he wouldn’t see the “40” on my calf and try to come with me.  After riding hard for about a minute I looked back and saw that he was about 100 yards behind me, so I eased back into my normal pace.  I checked over my shoulder again a few times over the next few miles and saw that I was maintaining my lead over him.

The course bottomed out after mile 15 and there was a fairly steep small chain ring climb thereafter.  About halfway up the climb, bib 10 went by me on my left and then pulled in front of me.  I figured that he’d be able to out run me, so I knew that I needed to put some distance on him before the end of the bike.  Thus, I came up out of the saddle and drove up the hill past him.  To my dismay, he decided to come with me and I just couldn’t shake him.  There were about four more climbs in quick succession, and no matter how hard I pushed, bib 10 stayed right behind me.

The last four miles were predominantly downhill and fast, and I hoped to be able to shake my pursuer during that stretch.  He continued to sit about 3-5 bike lengths behind me at legal following distance and was letting me pull him back to transition.  I was mad that I hadn’t left him behind for good during my initial pass, but I didn’t blame him for what he was doing.  I’d have done the same thing if the roles were reversed, and it was smart riding on his part to let me wear myself out trying to shake him.

I eased up with about one mile left to transition and let gravity do most of the work since there was a nice downhill.  I wanted to get my heart rate under control for the run, and at that point I knew that bib 10 and I would be entering transition together.  We did so a few seconds apart and I knew that he’d probably be leaving me in his running wake in short order.  I did out-swim and out-bike him, but as the old saying goes, “bike for show, run for dough.”

T2 – 1:24 (7/22 AG)

I had to put on socks in T2, so I wasn’t as speedy as I would have hoped.  Bib 10 beat me out of transition and from the way I saw him take off, I knew that I had no chance to catch him.  He ended up beating me on the run by over nine minutes, so my suspicions about his running ability were confirmed.  I focused on running my own race and headed out onto the run course.  I knew the first mile would be tough due to the elevation gain, but I was ready for it.

Run- 49:18  (7:56 min/mile)  (8/22)


Miles 1-3 (8:27)(8:20)(7:53)

The Big Acorn run course is two loops and is no joke, with hardly a flat spot on it.  The first .9 miles out of transition are pretty much all up a soul crushing hill, which you have to manage appropriately if you’re going to have a good run.  I was looking to run sub-50 minutes for the 10k, but I knew that I’d have to make my speed on the downhill portions and to limit my losses going uphill.  I also planned to run the second loop faster than the first, so I wanted to make sure I left something in the tank.

My legs felt heavy after being on the bike and the first mile was certainly a challenge.  I bypassed the first aid station, whereas I was carrying a flask that I’d pre-filled with water and 100 calories of Carbopro.  Thankfully, I’d filled that the night before so it wasn’t just a flask of white powder.  I made my way up the long hill and finally hit the 1 mile marker shortly after turning right off of the main park road.  Mile 1 was slow at 8:27, but there was 115 feet of elevation gain according to my GPS.

Mile 2 was pretty much an out and back on a side road, which was flatter, but not flat.  I tried to run a little faster, but I was having trouble getting my legs to turn over.  The college kids didn’t seem to have that problem, however, because they were like little gazelles running past me.  Around the 1.3 mile point I hit a turnaround cone and an intermediate timing mat and headed back the way I came.  I still couldn’t quite get myself up to speed, but I knew that mile 3 would be downhill and fast.  The course took a left around mile 1.8 onto another side road, which left just the downhill portion of the first loop.

giant acorn

It was nice to head downhill for a change and I was finally able to get my legs turning over quickly.  The road went on for a bit, and then we turned down a paved trail in the woods.  The trail was a bit steep in portions, but nothing terrible.  Once it bottomed out, the trail turned to the right and dumped me out near the finish line.  Sadly, I had another loop to complete, so I had to head left towards the start of loop two instead of running right into the finishing chute.  I did the third mile in 7:53, which was better, but not as fast as I’d hoped with all of the elevation loss.

The course was flat for a moment near the lake at the end of the first loop, and then I began to head back uphill near the transition area to start the final loop.  Jill was race announcing and saw me coming, so she gave me the best shout out that one could ever hope to get in a race.  She said, “here comes Justin Gravatt from Chesterfield of ProK Racing.  He puts the ‘A’ in…well, this is a family friendly event…so we’ll just say he puts the ‘A’ in awesome.”  I appreciate the call out Jill, but any more like that and they just might take away your microphone!


Miles 3-6 (8:53)(8:25)(7:30)

The next mile was basically all uphill again, and the first bit after the aid station near the bottom hit me hard.  I actually walked for about ten seconds on the steepest part, but then got moving again.  By that time, a lot of bikers were headed down the hill in the opposite direction so I was looking for Leigh Anne.  I tried to do the math in my head to predict her arrival time, but was having trouble with the calculations in my tired state.

After a long climb up away from the lake, I finally made it to the top of the hill and took a right turn onto the flatter portion of the course once again.  By that point I’d begun to feel like I was overheating.  Overall, the weather had been good most of the day, but the sun was out and the humidity was in full effect.  It wasn’t as bad as it’d been at the Patriot’s two weeks earlier, but the second loop of the run wasn’t pleasant.

I hit the intermediate timing mat for the last time, then turned around and headed back uphill.  I just had one more hill to climb, and then the last mile would be mostly downhill back to the finishing area.  That encouraged me a bit, but I was still getting passed by a fair amount of the college tri club kids.

After reaching the top of the last hill, I took a left turn and had about one mile left to the finish.  About that time, Mindy ran past me and told me to get my ass in gear – or something similar.  She was on the first loop of her run and was flying down the hill.  I sped up a bit, but she left me in her dust pretty quickly.

run snip.PNG

Wooded trail near the end of the run loop.

I ran as hard as I could after her, but eventually Mindy was out of sight.  I hit the wooded trail for the last time and knew that I was almost done.  The course bottomed out again and this time around I was able to bear right into the finishing chute.  I crossed the finish line in 2:33:09 overall, with a run of 49:18.  Given the hilly course, it was a strong run for me, and my pace came out to be 7:56 minutes/mile.  I wish I was a stronger runner, but I feel like I’ve just about maxed out in that department.  Karen’s done her best to whip me into shape, but you can only put so much lipstick on a pig.


I didn’t feel like checking the results right way, so I grabbed a couple of slices of pizza and headed up to the deck and hung out with Jill for a bit.  She said that she’d just seen Leigh Anne run by, so I figured that I had another 25 minutes or so before she finished up.  Mindy came through the finishing chute a little while later, and after she recuperated a bit, she and I headed over to the end of the run course to wait for Leigh Anne.  Mindy had injured her hamstring on the second loop of the run and was struggling to walk.  Leigh Anne came through a little while later looking strong, and then the three of us checked the results.

I was disappointed to see that I’d finished 4th in my age group, but once again, the run had been my downfall.  I was 2/22 in the swim, 3/22 on the bike but only 8/22 on the run.  I was on the podium coming into T2 and just couldn’t hold it.  On the other hand, Mindy was second in her age group after smoking the bike and the run.  A little faster swim and she would have won.  Leigh Anne was 9/23 in her age group, which was great for her first Olympic race.  She was last in the swim, but 6/23 on the bike and run.  Once she gets a few more open water swims under her belt and learns to ride in aero, she’ll be competing for podium spots.


female ag.PNG

female ag mindy


Sadly, Mindy can outrun me on one leg.

After Mindy got her award, the three of us headed over to the beer tent and were joined by Jill in short order.  It was all-you-can-drink from a local brewery, but I was driving so I had to temper myself a bit.

So, as I wrapped up my last triathlon of 2018 I was feeling a bit melancholy.  I’d had a strong race – even with my nutrition SNAFU on the bike – but I was still off the podium.  I was even farther away from snagging a spot at Age Group Nationals, which made me feel even worse about my DQ two weeks prior.  I didn’t do a full Ironman in 2018, so Karen and I had been really focused on speed work for the past year.  I’d definitely gotten faster, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to what I need to be able to run with some of these guys.  If it hasn’t happened by now, its just not going to happen.

Looking ahead, I’m not really sure what 2019 holds.  I want to do another full, but I’m not sure that’s in the cards for me at the moment.  Ironman did create a 70.3 race in Williamsburg in May, and a bunch of us have already signed up for it.  There’s also my comped entry into the OBX Half-Iron triathlon next September due to this year’s cancellation, so 2019 might be the year of the 70.3.  I guess we’ll see.

In more immediate terms, Karen was going to curtail my running for a month or so after the Giant Acorn since my body was ready for a break.  The nagging injuries were starting to mount again, so I needed some recovery time.  I also planned to switch over to Hokas after years of running in Nikes, which would turn out to be a somewhat painful process, but one that needed to happen.

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