2021 Smithfield Sprint Triathlon
2/15 AG 24/209 Overall
April 10, 2021 – Thanks to Covid, it had been 18 months since I’d toed the starting line of a triathlon at Ironman Louisville in October of 2019. Since that time, I’d undergone a lymphadenectomy surgery due to melanoma, followed by a year of social distancing and virtual “races.” I’m not getting any younger, so I was chomping at the bit to get back to an in-person multisport race, and the Smithfield Sprint was the first one in what felt like forever. I’d raced it back in 2019 and had a decent showing…going home with a nice pig trophy for getting third in my age group. Of course, I wanted to do better this time around, and hopefully earn a larger pig trophy to put on conspicuous display in my office. Nothing proves you’re a top notch attorney to clients better than swine paraphernalia.
Training had gone pretty well over the winter, and I’d run a marathon in November 2020, followed by a half marathon in March 2021. Thus, I had a fair amount of running miles under my belt, but sprint tri’s are all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed – as Eleanor Roosevelt said in 1936. I was hoping to beat my time from two years prior, but I’d have been happy with something pretty close.
The race was held at the YMCA in Smithfield, and I drove down alone on race morning and got set up. After snagging a spot at the end of the rack, I took the bike out for a spin and did a quick warm up run. Soon enough, it was time to line up for a self-seeded swim start. After not racing for so long, I did have some nerves, and wondered how rusty I might be in an actual race setting.
Swim- 5:15 (1:45/100m) 5/15 AG
The 300 meter swim takes place in the YMCA pool. Athletes were supposed to seed themselves based on their expected swim times, and sometimes that works out fine. Sometimes not. I got in line near the 5-minute swimmers, and then had a long wait in line, which snaked inside and then around the pool. It was chilly outside, and then it felt like a sauna indoors.
When my time came, I jumped in the pool and took off. I was probably over-swimming the first 100-200 meters, and got tired a little sooner than I expected. I also noticed that I was very anxious about the gobs of other swimmers in the pool. I typically train alone in my own lap lane, so I’m not used to sharing a lane. Since it’d been so long since I’d been in a lane (and a pool) with so many people, I did get a little stressed. The self-seeding worked out pretty well though, I passed one person and got passed by one other.
I was running pretty low on O2 for the last 100 meters, but ultimately, the swim went ok even though I was out of practice in a race setting. I made it to the end of the pool, and then there was a climb up some steps, and then a run outside of the building before I got to the timing mat that marked the official end of the swim. I finished in 5:15 (I was probably done swimming right at 5:00), but I was still 7 seconds slower than in 2019. Good enough though.
T1 – 1:16 3/15 AG
I sprinted past the timing mat and it was a pretty long run from there into transition and to my spot. I threw on my biking shoes and then flipped on my helmet. All I had to do from there was to buckle it, and then I could run to the Bike Out exit. For the life of me though, I couldn’t get my chin strap clipped. I practice it a few times before every race, and it can still trip me up a bit, but this time was the worst. It felt like it took forever, but in reality it was probably 10-15 seconds. Once I got situated, I ran as fast as I could to exit T1. I made it in 1:16, which was still 4 seconds faster than 2019! Not sure how I pulled that off, but I could have been faster for sure.
Bike – 27:50 (21.6 mph) 1/15 AG
The Smithfield Sprint bike course is a 10 mile out-and-back, which is mostly flat and fast. The biggest hills are actually right out of T1 and going back into T2. I was mentally kicking myself for my helmet snafu, but I told myself just to forget it and to focus on not crashing on the bike. Since most of my bike training is indoors (particularly from late Fall to early Spring), I knew that I’d be rusty in the aerobars on the road.
I took off and got as aero as I could, and pushed the pace to the point where my legs were just beginning to “load” with the effort. There are a lot of younger racers in the field who are super swimmers and who started ahead of me, and I began to pick them off one by one, which felt good. In addition to the mental boost, there’s also the slight slingshot aero boost you get as you pass then. I don’t know how many other racers I passed on the bike, but it was a fair amount. I only recall getting passed by one or two.
I had no issues on the “out” section of the course, and went around the turnaround cone and headed back in. I picked up a tailwind on the return trip, so that made the final few miles nice. Once I got back to the last hill before transition, I caught some people who were easing up it. I pushed hard up the hill, passing most of them. I then took a left back into the YMCA parking lot, dismounted and ran across the timing mat. Total time – 27:50 – good enough for first in my age group. The bike course had changed slightly from 2019 due to a bridge being out, so I really couldn’t compare my two splits, but I was happy with my ride.
T2 – 1:02 1/15 AG
Thankfully, T2 was uneventful, and I was able to rack my bike and head out onto the run with no issues. I was 1/15 in my age group for the transition, which I view as getting “free” time on the field. I need it, since I often see top age group placings slip through my grasp on the run course.
Run – 21:54 (7:03 min/mile) 2/15 AG
Mile 1 – 7:18
The run course hadn’t changed, and was the same out-and-back from 2019. I’d run a 7:08 pace in 2019, and measuring myself against that pace was my real litmus test for my 2021 fitness level. When I took off out of T2 my legs felt heavy, but not really any different from any other time. Still, after I got out of the downtown area (probably about .4 -.5 miles in), my GPS was still showing a pace around 7:45. Way off of where I wanted to be. I thought to myself, “its going to be one of THOSE runs,” and figured that I’d end up around 7:20 – 7:30. Nothing to do though, but keep moving forward, and somehow I got it down to 7:18 by the end of mile 1.
Mile 2 – 7:03
Even though my pace had started to come around, things still didn’t feel quite right, but my overall pace on the GPS kept trickling down. I was concerned about mile 2 though, since there was a nice climb prior to the turnaround near the halfway point. I tried to keep my pace up on the uphill, and kept the legs turning over quickly on the way down in the other direction. I was remembering how much a sprint race could hurt, but turned in 7:03 for the second mile. Things were looking up.
Mile 3 – 6:57
The final mile of the 5k run is tough at Smithfield since its got a little climb to it, coupled with some speed-killing turns through local vehicular traffic. I was determined to keep the party going though, and just kept pressing on. The home stretch to the finishing chute goes on for what seems like forever, but I tried to feed on the ever-growing finish line music and the crowd support. I was hovering just over a 7-minute pace for mile 3, so I told myself that I was going sub-7 for mile 3come hell or high water. I picked it up and turned in a 6:57 – followed by a 6:20 pace for the final .1 miles. Final run time was 21:54 – 17 seconds faster than my 2019 time of 22:11. That made me very happy.
Ultimately, my race time of 57:18 was good enough for 2/15 in my age group – missing first place by about 50 seconds. Sadly, my excitement of earning another (larger) pig trophy was doused by the fact that wooden medals were given out for the awards this time around. There was no post-race awards ceremony due to Covid, so the awards had to be mailed. I suspect that the cost of mailing a bunch of pig trophies was cost prohibitive, but I was disappointed nonetheless.
Overall though, I was happy to see that surgery, Covid and two additional trips around the sun hadn’t slowed me down. I wasn’t bringing home any actual bacon from the race, but I was still pretty high on the hog. 2021 was going to be the year of the Sprint and Olympic distance races, and it had started off pretty well.