“A place that has to be believed to be seen…”
2019 RTC Sprint Triathlon
3rd Masters Men (3/77) 12/196 Overall
April 27, 2019 – The Richmond Tri Club Sprint is one of the more popular local races, and one that I’ve done every year since 2015. This time around, it was set eight days before the inaugural Ironman Virginia 70.3, so it would serve nicely as a tune up for that race. I’d signed Leigh Anne up for the half-Ironman this past fall, so she decided to race the RTC Sprint as well (for the first time). Since we were both racing we’d need childcare for Jackson and Jillian, but instead of getting a babysitter, we decided to press them into service as aid station volunteers for the race. They were excited to volunteer, but decidedly NOT excited to have to leave home by 5:00 a.m.
I’d finally made the age group podium at the RTC Sprint in 2018 after three years of futility, and I really wanted to do so again in 2019. An additional goal was to run a sub-7 minute pace for the 5k run, which I’d been working towards for years. That equates to a 21:44 5k or better. My fastest 5k off the bike had been a 7:08 pace (22:11) at the Smithfield Sprint a few weeks before, but I didn’t feel like I’d completely emptied my well on that run. I’d run hard for sure, but for some reason, I just didn’t have the mental fortitude to find that final gear.
After that performance, and coming back to what I’d consider my home course, I fully believed that a sub-7 pace was possible. One thing that I’ve leaned over the past few years is that you rarely exceed the expectations that you put on yourself because your brain gets in the way of what your body can do. After three years of training with Karen and Erin, I’ve certainly improved physically, but I’ve also toughened up some in the mental department as well. There have been plenty of times when I haven’t been able to complete a bike or run workout as planned since I went into it “knowing” that I’d fail. That still happens to me for sure, but not as much as it used to. Occasionally, the ladies will even admit that they play games with my brain to keep it from holding me back. Going into the RTC Sprint, however, I knew I could run a sub-7 minute pace off the bike and was determined to do it.
After arriving at SwimRVA around 5:30 a.m. on race morning, the kids went inside and tried to sleep on some chairs while Leigh Anne and I got set up in transition. We weren’t anywhere near each other since our bib numbers were tied to our expected swim times, but we both had pretty good rack locations. After I got squared away, I found Jill and Meredith, who were volunteering, and they set about putting the kids to work.
Since I was all set up, I went inside and did a warm up swim in the instructional pool to loosen up. Upon finishing, I realized that I’d left my pre-race banana outside in my transition bag, but it was cold out and I was soaking wet from swimming. I needed that banana though since I’d only had a bowl of oatmeal around 4:15 a.m! Thankfully, Busher was nice enough to go retrieve it for me since he was still dry. Still, giving him instructions on how to find my banana led to a couple of interesting looks from people nearby. By the time that my banana was retrieved and ingested, it was time to line up for the swim start, so I wished Leigh Anne and our friend Mindy good luck and took my spot on the pool deck. Jill sang the National Anthem like a boss, and then we were off.
Swim: 6:56 (1:44/100 m)
The 400 meter swim takes place in the 50 meter pool at SwimRva, but is conducted “open water” style. Groups of ten swimmers start every 30 seconds, and there are four laps of 100 meters each. Instead of touching the wall at the end of every length, you turn around a buoy, which leads to congestion and a little bit of pandemonium at times. Quite frankly, I’m not a huge fan of this particular swim, and it always seems much harder than it should. There’s a lot of jostling and congestion, and the pool gets pretty rough with so many swimmers in it at once. I also always end up swallowing a ton of water.
Since I was bib 52 I was in the fifth swim wave, and I’d seeded myself a little faster than in 2018 since I’d been behind some slower swimmers that year. As soon as we started, I accelerated and hugged the left side of the lane against the edge of the pool. I was hoping that most of the others in my wave would be over to the right in anticipation of the right turn around the buoy, and I did have some clean water during that first 50 meter length. That ended at the buoy, and it was a bit of a cluster trying to make the first turn. I swallowed some water at that point, so there was a bit of coughing involved.
The next few lengths weren’t terrible since I’d managed to get ahead of most of my swim wave, but there were two guys ahead of me that were slower, but who I just couldn’t get around. I would almost be past them by the time we got a turn buoy, but since they had the inside line on me, they’d pull ahead again as we rounded the buoys. There were a few times when I had to pull up and do some breast stroke since I was on top of them.
I was able to pass a few other swimmers as the race went on, but I just couldn’t get around the two guys right ahead of me. Eventually, I knew that I was going to be stuck behind them until the end, so I just took my time around the buoys. I’d be on their feet by the time we hit the next buoy, and then I’d do the same thing again. It was a bit frustrating, and the RTC Sprint swim always seems to be that way.
Eventually I finished the 400 meters, climbed out of the pool and then made it to the timing mat that was outside the building. My final swim time was 6:56, which was 15 seconds faster than last year. Its always nice to beat the year before, and overall, I had the 28th fastest swim of the field. I was predicted to finish lower than that since I was bib 52, so I’ll have to remember to seed myself faster next year.
I had a decent spot in the transition area, and T1 was quick and uneventful. I put on my bike shoes and helmet, and then it was a short run to the bike out area. I crossed the timing mat, made it to the mounting line, and then I was off.
Bike: 32:48 (22.6 mph)
I’m a big fan of the RTC Sprint bike course because its mostly flat and fast. The slowest part of the course is right at the beginning where you mount your bike and then you have to immediately pedal uphill away from SwimRVA. Then there’s a downhill with a right turn onto Ironbridge Road, which takes you off on a twelve mile loop.
It was a brisk 46 degrees when I got on the bike, which was made even worse by the fact that I was still wet from the swim. The initial climb away from the pool helped warm me up a bit, and soon enough I wasn’t thinking about being cold. I passed a bunch of riders as I headed down Ironbridge Road towards the airport, and shortly before the right turn onto Whitepine Road a biker in a military tri suit passed me. He wasn’t moving too much faster than me, so I tucked in behind and went with him. The legal USAT following distance is three bike lengths, so I tried to make sure I stayed about 4-6 lengths behind him. USAT marshals patrol the bike course on motorcycles, and I didn’t want to get a drafting penalty.
After turning onto Whitepine Road near the airport, I noticed that another guy was riding behind me (at a legal following distance), so there were three of us riding together. The guy ahead slowed down a bit, so I went by him to take a turn pulling for a while. About that time one of the motorcycle marshals went by, but we all had the proper spacing, so he continued on. The three of us continued leapfrogging each other until about mile 10, when I finally pulled away from them.
By that point, I hurting pretty good, but I was almost back to Ironbridge Road. I kept pushing hard and then made the left turn onto Ironbridge. The bike course is kinda tricky at that point, whereas the outgoing bikers are sharing a lane with the incoming bikers, with cones separating them. Passing gets really dicey, and the bikers coming in are all the way to the left of the paved surface on the fog line. There are always a bunch of small rocks near the shoulder, and I did my best to avoid them so as not to blow a tire. Thankfully, I didn’t need to pass anyone during that stretch, and I was also successful in keeping my tires inflated.
There was one final left turn to head back towards Swim RVA, which was followed by a nice little climb. After cresting the hill, there was a downgrade back into transition to complete the ride and I eased up a bit to try to get my heart rate down before the run. I finished in 32:48, which was 45 seconds faster than in 2018. So far so good, but the real test on the run was still ahead of me.
T2 was fast and flawless. I hopped of my bike at the dismount line and ran my bike over to the rack. I swapped out my shoes, took off my helmet and grabbed my ProK hat and sunglasses. I took off towards the “run out” area with my race belt in hand and got it strapped on before exiting the transition area.
Run: 21:28 (6:55 min/mile)
Mile 1 (7:06)
The run is a two-loop course that takes you around the soccer fields, and then up through the parking lot of the old Ukrops/Martins. After rounding a turn-around cone in the parking lot, you run down the hill and past the pool to start the second loop. The course is mostly flat, with a small hill that goes up to the grocery store parking lot. You then come back downhill to start loop 2 and to finish.
My legs felt pretty good coming out of transition, and the water stop where Jackson and Jillian were working was right at the start of the run. I gave them a quick wave and kept running towards the soccer fields. I was shooting for a pace just over 7:00 minutes for the first mile, and my goal was to descend every mile. The first mile felt okay, and my 7:06 pace was spot on for what I wanted to do.
Mile 2 (6:57)
Things got tougher as I hit the hill to go up to the parking lot, but that portion of the course had a little crowd support, which helped. The hill took a little out of me, and it was nice once it leveled out again. I did see Busher running in the opposite direction at the top of the hill, and he was part of a relay that had started in an earlier swim wave. He had a pretty good lead on me, but I was hoping that I might be able to catch him, or at least close the gap. That gave me a little bit of extra motivation.
After finishing the parking lot loop, I headed down the hill that took me back past SwimRVA and ran to the right of the finishing chute to start loop two. I saw the kids again and was able to give Jackson a fist bump as I ran by. I then headed back towards the soccer fields to close out mile two.
Since my second mile was done in 6:57, my total run pace was hovering around 7:02/mile. I was definitely hurting, but I knew that one more sub-7:00 mile would put me below my goal pace. I just had to suck it up for a few more minutes.
Mile 3 (6:54)
I rounded the soccer fields again and then headed back up the hill to the parking lot. The hill certainly sucked, but I was encouraged by the fact that I was close to the finish. As I headed towards the turn-around cone I saw Busher again, closer this time, but still too far ahead of me to catch. After rounding the cone, I tried to accelerate a little bit more, and I tried the Jillian method of picking out runners ahead of me to pass. There were a fair amount of people on their first loop, so I was able to pass a few. By that point, my overall pace was under 7:00/mile, and I knew that I had it in the bag so long as I didn’t do anything stupid like trip and hurt myself.
Mile 3.1 (5:15 pace)
The last tenth of a mile was all downhill towards the finishing chute, which made it easy to finish with a sprint. As I came across the line I saw a pace of 6:55 on my Garmin and was able to smile a bit before I doubled over to catch my breath. It’d taken me five years of racing triathlons and three years of coached training to finally run sub-7 minute miles off the bike. It hurt like hell in the moment, but it felt good all the same.
I didn’t see Busher outside the finishing chute, and I immediately went over to check on the kids at the aid station. They were doing fine and said that Leigh Anne had just passed them on her first loop. That gave me time to go get a quick rubdown from the chiropractor sponsors, and then I made my way back over to the aid station to see Leigh Anne start her second loop. She took her time getting water and talking to the kids when she came through, and I gently chided her to quit socializing and to get a move on. That would lead to a misunderstanding a week later at the half-iron race in Williamsburg, and would come back to bite me.
After Leigh Anne finished her race (6/15 in her age group and only 2.5 minutes off of her AG podium), I looked for Busher again, but couldn’t find him. I finally decided to go through the food line and heard that his dad, Bob, had been hit by a car on the bike course. I found two or three people who’d seen it and got some details, and it sounded serious since he’d been taken away by ambulance. Apparently, Busher found out as soon as he crossed the finish line and high-tailed it to the emergency room, which I why I couldn’t find him.
Thankfully, Bob was OK, but he’d fractured his scapula and was in the hospital for several days. A motorist was unhappy about a road closure due to the race, and disregarded a police officer and drove directly across the closed lane just as Bob was was riding past. Bob went over his hood and probably would have died if he wasn’t wearing a helmet, which was completely smashed. Bob’s accident put a sour note on the day, but it could have been much worse.
After the dust settled, I finally checked the race results and saw that I’d gotten third overall in the Master’s Men category. That category is for men 40 and over, and it was actually better than a top-3 age group finish for me. I was 3/77 in the Masters category, and it was the first time that I’d finished on the Masters podium. Overall I was 12/196, so I was almost able to crack the top 10. So, other than Bob’s unfortunate accident, it was a great day. I beat last year, I finally ran sub-7:00 minute miles and I also made the podium. Coupled with an age group podium at the Smithfield Sprint a few weeks prior, it was a promising start to the 2019 season.
Still, the RTC Sprint was merely a prelude to the Ironman Virginia 70.3 race the following weekend. Most of the Richmond triathlon community seemed to be signed up for that event, and it was to be Leigh Anne’s first half-iron race. She’d been on the fence about signing up for it in the Fall, so I’d gently nudged her into it by signing up for her. Only time would tell if her first 70.3 experience would cause her to thank me or divorce me.
As an added bonus, I found out about a month later that I’d qualified for Age Group Nationals in the Olympic distance due to my placing. Qualifying for Nationals is complicated, and I actually didn’t know at the time that I could qualify for Olympic Nationals in a sprint race. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I qualified last year at the Patriot’s Olympic until I DQ’d myself for going off course, which took me a good long while to get over. Ok, maybe I’m still not over it! Thus, it was a nice surprise to find out that I’d qualified once again.
Unfortunately, Nationals are in Cleveland in August on the same weekend that we get back from our family vacation in Maine. Leigh Anne and the kids offered to extend our vacation so that we could go to Nationals, but its a long drive from the Atlantic northeast to Cleveland, and I really didn’t want to complicate our vacation. It was a nice gesture, but the logistics were going to be tough. I’ve performed well enough to qualify twice now, so I’m optimistic that I can do it again for 2020. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and we’ll see how that works out.