Smithfield Sprint Triathlon
3/16 AG 24/247 Overall
April 6, 2019 – I’d originally planned to start my tri season in late April with the RTC Sprint, but after a long winter of training in the cold and the dark, I was chomping at the bit to race again. That was probably fueled by how my 2018 season fizzled at the end – with a DQ (for taking a wrong turn on the run course) at the Patriots Olympic, followed by a 4/22 age group finish at the Giant Acorn Olympic. 2018 had started with three straight age group podiums and then I went 0/3 to close it out. I actually had a really good race at the Giant Acorn, and was simply beaten by better competition.
I’d had a productive off-season with minimal time missed for injury/illness (unlike last year), so I was also looking forward to testing my current fitness level. Over the past few years, the Smithfield Sprint Triathlon has been the first early-season triathlon in the Richmond area, and I’d had my eye on it for awhile. I was already scheduled to have somewhat of a recovery week in the week leading up to the race, so on sort of a whim, I registered six days ahead of time. There wasn’t really time or a place in the training plan for a full taper, but with my pre-planned recovery week, i figured that I’d be rested enough for a decent showing. At least, that’s what I was hoping.
The Smithfield Sprint also gives out pig trophies to the top three in every age group, and I also wanted to win one of those. Ok, so maybe I mostly wanted to win a pig trophy more than I wanted to test my fitness level. Perhaps I’d even mentioned the possibility of winning a pig trophy once or twice during race week. Actually, my wife’s last words to me before I left home on race morning were, “don’t come back without a pig trophy.” Pig pressure?
Smithfield is about an hour and a half from my house, but the race was starting late (at 10:00 a.m.) since its early in the season. Presumably, the race director wanted a little more time for it to warm up so the athletes wouldn’t freeze on the bike leg after hopping out of the pool. The good news was that I didn’t need to leave home until 6:15 a.m. The bad news was that I arrived and set up in transition by 8:15, so I had almost two hours to wait before the swim start.
I did a warm up run and rode my bike a bit, but there was still a ton of time to kill. Eventually, I headed inside to do a warm up swim, but they’d just closed the pool when I got there. Thus, I did some stretching and tried to stay loose, and we eventually began lining up for the swim around 9:45 a.m. I hadn’t raced a tri since late September, and I hadn’t even ridden my bike outside since then (lots of trainer miles though), but I felt like I was ready to go.
Swim- 5:08 (1:43/100m) 3/16 AG
Pool swims can be problematic since they’re self-seeded, and some people seed themselves poorly. Basically, you enter your estimated 300 meter swim time when you register, and the faster your predicted time, the lower your bib number. I put in 4:40 for my time, which I knew would be accurate plus or minus 10 seconds. That put me as bib 56. In looking at the actual swim times from 2017 and 2018, however, I saw that I should probably be about bib 30. Oh well, there was nothing I could do to change other people’s estimates, and I hoped that they were being honest and accurate.
Swimmers were sent into the pool every 10-15 seconds, and it was finally time for me to hop in after the long wait. I’d watched the guy immediately ahead of me take off and had seen that he was swimming fast before I went. Thus, I was hopeful for a well-spaced swim since passing in the pool is challenging at best.
The first 100 meters were smooth and fast, and I noticed that I wasn’t catching or being caught, so I started thinking to myself that I might have lucked out with the seeding. The next 50 meters were also uneventful, but I began to notice that I was catching the person ahead of me. By the time I finished 200 meters, I was almost on top of the guy ahead of me. In actuality though, I’d caught a guy who started two or three spots ahead of me. The guy who started immediately in front of me had already passed him.
I caught the other swimmer about 10 meters down the pool on the next length and tapped his feet a couple of times. That should have alerted him to my presence, and I figured that he would let me pass once we got to the end of the lane. Nope, he immediately took off. That pissed me off and I stayed on the wall for a second or two to catch my breath since I knew that I wouldn’t be able to pass him until at least the end of the next length.
I took off once again, but by the middle of the pool I’d caught him again and tapped his feet again. I couldn’t go around him in the middle of the lap since swimmers were coming in the other direction in the same lane, so I had to pull up and do some breaststroke. By that point, the girl behind me caught me and was tapping me to pass. Not much I could do for her though. Once I reached the 250 meter point I hit the wall at the same time as the guy ahead, but I’d swum under the lane line to his left (which I was going to have to do anyways per the race rules).
I pushed off the wall before he could and finally got ahead of him. I tried to go as hard as I could for the last 50 meters and then climbed up the steps out of the pool at the 300 meter point. I looked at my watch for the first time as I started up the steps and saw 4:50 on my Garmin. That was pretty close to my 4:40 estimate, and I would have beaten that for sure had I not gotten held up. I wasn’t done with the “swim” yet though, because the timing mat was still a long run out of the building and then along the outside of the transition area. My official swim time was 5:08, so it took me about 18 seconds to get out of the pool and to the T1 timing mat outside.
I hated to lose time in the pool due to poor seeding, but that’s almost inevitable in a self-seeded pool swim. Still, my swim was good enough for 3/16 in my age group, so I was generally happy with the result.
T1 – 1:20 1/16 AG
It was still a fairly long run from the timing mat to my rack, and I was running barefoot on asphalt with little rocks all around, so it was a bit painful. I’d studied my rack location extensively prior to the race to make sure I could find it easily when I was in a hurry, and the bright pink bike near the outside of the rack led me right to it.
Once I got to my bike, I didn’t try to put socks on my wet feet and I got my shoes and helmet on without incident. It was then a short run to the “bike out” area and I had to cross the timing mat before I could mount my bike. I got it all done in 1:20. I pride myself in transitioning quickly, so I was happy to find out later that I was 1/16 in my age group in T1.
Bike – 27:47 (21.6 mph) 4/16 AG
I was riding on new Flo wheels for the first time and I hadn’t ridden my bike outside since September, so I was hoping that my bike handling skills would come back to me like…well, riding a bike I guess. The bike course is a ten mile “lollipop” course with some rolling hills and I headed out of transition, I immediately noticed that my legs were loading much quicker than they should have been. That was due to my quasi-taper caused by a late registration, and I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t about to have an A+ bike. I still had some hope that my legs would feel better a few miles into the bike, and I settled in for the ten mile ride.
The first couple of miles were up and down, but were primarily uphill. The wind seemed to be coming out of the north, and since I was riding northwest it was against me. I tried to tuck in tight to reduce my profile, but I knew that I wasn’t making very good time. I took a right turn to the north around mile 2, and I was then headed directly into the wind. My pace slowed even more at that point.
As I headed north, a female biker passed me at a pretty good clip, and I was a little surprised at how quickly she left me behind. It turned out that the biker in question was my transition rack neighbor, and I applauded her when I found her at the finish. After the dust settled, she was the second female overall and is heading to Worlds later this year. It was kind of fun to have her humble me and remind me of just how far apart normal age groupers are from the elite athletes.
Anyways, it was slow going to the north, and then there was a big downgrade at the end of mile 3. I’d been warned about this portion of the course, because its very fast and then you have a 120 degree left turn with a steep uphill portion immediately upon turning. To make matters worse, there was mud all over the road on the downhill portion, and I held on tight and tried to steady myself as I went through the mud. I really didn’t want to wreck at high speed, particularly with new wheels on my bike. I braked heading into the turn, and then it was a fairly tough climb in the small chain ring thereafter.
After climbing the hill, the course flattened out a bit, but I was still dealing with a cross-wind that was slowing me down. I kept pushing as hard as I could, but my overall pace on my GPS wasn’t thrilling me. At mile 6, I made a left turn to head back towards transition, and it was at that point that I finally picked up a tailwind. I knew the last four miles would be pretty fast.
Shortly after making the turn to come home, another guy passed me and I could tell that he was a monster biker. The legal USAT following distance is three bike lengths, so I tucked in behind him at about 4-5 bike lengths and went with him for a while. I was actually working harder to keep up with him than I had been alone, but I was getting a little bit of a draft benefit and we were moving at a fast pace. I was able to stay with him for about two miles before he pulled away, and then I had about two miles left to transition.
It was at that point that I noticed another biker behind me, who had apparently come along with me for the ride behind the super biker. He was legally drafting off of me, and he let me pull him along for another mile or so. As we got within a mile of transition, there was a pretty long uphill slog and he decided to go past me. Per the USAT rules, as soon as he nudged ahead of me it my my duty to fall back three bike lengths, but he immediately started slowing up. That got under my skin, but I fell back. He then decided that it was a good time to slow even more and pull out his water bottle for a drink, and I mumbled a few 4-letter words under my breath about why he felt the need to pass me if he was immediately going to slow up. I took that opportunity to pass him back even though we were very close to transition, and then took the final left turn into the YMCA parking lot.
Overall, it was a pretty solid ride, but my legs definitely weren’t feeling 100%. I was wondering how they would hold up on the run.
T2 – 1:01 2/16 AG
When I got back to the transition area, sadly, the bright pink bike that had been on my rack was out on the bike course somewhere. Even though I’d taken great care to make sure I knew which rack I was on, I somehow turned left one rack too soon and ran down the wrong aisle. Oops. I realized my mistake pretty quickly, and made my way to the proper rack. Then off came the helmet and bike shoes and on went my Hoka running shoes and my sunglasses. I grabbed my race belt with my bib and strapped that on as I headed to the “run out” area. Even with my brief detour to the wrong rack, I was still 2/16 in my age group in T2. Not bad.
Run- 22:11 (7:08 min/mile) 4/16 AG
Mile 1 (7:06)
Since my legs weren’t completely up to snuff on the bike, I didn’t quite know what to expect on the run. The first third of a mile is always a bit dicey anyways as I try to transition from biking to running, but I was actually feeling pretty good. Even though my quads were loading on the bike more than normal, my legs were ready to run right out of the box.
I settled into a good pace as I headed down the street away from the YMCA and there were a couple of 90 degree turns in the first mile that slowed me down a little. The course then had one last 90 degree turn to the right, and then straightened out with a nice downhill portion. I was running nice and smooth and was pleased to see a pace below 7:10 on my Garmin. My fastest 5k off the bike was a 22:11 (7:08 pace) at the RTC Sprint Triathlon in 2018, and I really wanted to beat that time. If possible, I wanted to run a sub-7:00 pace.
My Garmin read 7:06 when it tripped one mile, but I noticed that I wasn’t quite at the 1 mile marker on the road. Sometimes the markers are off and sometimes its the GPS that’s off. I had no way of knowing which one it was this time around, so I just went by what my GPS was telling me since I didn’t really have any other option.
Mile 2 (7:04)
There was a long uphill section near the beginning of the second mile, but it was fairly gradual. I did begin to feel a bit taxed by that point, but I was still feeling ok. I was looking forward to hitting the hill in the opposite direction on the way back in though since it would be downhill. That part of the course was on a fairly secluded road without any vehicle traffic, so it was nice not to have to worry about getting run over.
There was a left turn around mile 1.5, which led to a short out-and-back section with a turnaround cone. There was a water station just after the turnaround, but I avoided it, not wanting to slow down. When my legs slowed down to go around the cone they really didn’t want to get back up to speed, so I didn’t want to repeat that process by slowing for water. I then turned right to head back towards the downhill portion of the course, and shortly thereafter my Garmin tripped two miles.
It read 7:04 this time, which was faster than the first mile – even with the uphill portion. I was pleased by that, but not pleased by the fact that the mile 2 marker on the road was still 20-30 yards ahead of me. The discrepancy between my GPS and the course was getting worse.
Mile 3 (7:00)
The beginning of mile three was fun with the downhill portion, and another guy with an Ironman tattoo on his right calf went past me. He commented upon my “long stride” and I tried to pick up my pace a bit to go with him, having noticed the “40” on his left calf, so I knew that he was in my age group. I ran behind him for perhaps a quarter of a mile, but then he left me in his dust. As it turned out, he’s done a bunch of full and half-Ironman races and he ended up finishing third overall in the Men’s Masters (over 40) category.
By that point, I had about 6/10ths of a mile to go and the finish was going to be slightly uphill. I tried to keep pushing, but the twists and turns in the final mile slowed me down once again. The total pace on my Garmin was creeping down towards 7:00/mile, and I really wanted to break that barrier, so I kept running hard.
I finally got to the long straight away that led back towards transition and the finish line, and went into as much of a sprint as I could manage by that point. There was a young boy ahead of me who was racing as a part of a relay team, and I told myself that I had to pass him before the finish. I managed to catch him just before the left turn at the transition area, and then ran another 30 yards or so across the finish line.
My GPS read 22:11 for 3.16 miles at a 7:01 pace, but officially (for 3.1 miles), I was credited with a 7:08 pace. That tied my personal best, but I was still a little disappointed. I didn’t feel like I was about to vomit, so I knew that I had more in me to give on the run. In hindsight, I really feel like I was a little too comfortable during most of the run and maybe I should have pushed it harder earlier. I don’t know though, I was hurting plenty in the moment, so maybe I’m just wearing rose-colored glasses at the moment looking back on it. Its easy to second guess things after the pain has subsided, but I really don’t feel like I fully emptied the tank on the run. That will need to be remedied at the RTC Sprint.
After taking some time to catch my breath, I headed inside the YMCA to grab some food. They’d been smoking pork in the parking lot since I’d arrived that morning, and I’d been thinking about it for a few hours. I resisted the urge to check the race results since they were subject to change as additional people finished, so I went ahead and cleaned up my transition spot, swapped out my rear disc and put my bike back on my car. I’d been done for almost an hour before I finally went over to the results table.
In 2018, my time would have been good enough for first in my age group, but in 2017 I’d have been off the age group podium in fourth place, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. When the results finally came up, I was listed in fourth. Since I was surrounded by other people who were similarly interested in their results, I resisted the urge to let fly a four-letter word or two that would have expressed my disappointed in having failed to earn a pig trophy. Instead, I mumbled a few things under my breath and thought wistfully of the trophy that had so narrowly escaped my grasp. In fact, the guy ahead of me in my age group had only beaten me by 17 seconds. Dejected and forlorn, I immediately began wondering how I could have been 17 seconds faster and was certainly dreading the long ride home. I was also wondering if my wife would let me into the house, seeing that I was coming back without a pig trophy. I’ve been locked out for lesser transgressions for sure.
Thankfully, I looked at the results in greater detail and saw that there was a timing error that affected my age group, as well as the top three overall females. The lady on my rack who had passed me on the bike course had been bumped out of second overall and we reported the errors to an official. To their credit, we were assured that they were already on top of it, but of course, I was still worried about missing out on that trophy. I held my breath until they called my name during the awards ceremony, and gleefully accepted my giant trophy. Ok, so perhaps its diminutive, but I worked hard for that piece of plastic, so its prominently displayed in my office.
So….my first tri of 2019 was a success, but I still felt like I’d left some time on the course. The pool swim was a cluster (and out of my control), and my legs weren’t 100% on the bike. On the run I went hard, but I definitely feel like I could’ve pushed it a little more. Thankfully, there’s only a three week turnaround from Smithfield to the RTC Sprint Triathlon, and I expect to be fully tapered for that race. I’m hoping to put it all together a little better there.
****Featured photo with Smithfield Sprint logo courtesy of Kinetic Multisports.****