Giant Acorn Olympic Triathlon

My one triathlon this year has come and gone, and it almost didn't happen (for me) at all.  My wife was less fortunate.

Last week, we took the kids to Sesame Place.  It was a grueling, but fun and rewarding day.  Six-plus hours in the car and no naps will do that.  But there was so much fun stuff to do for the kids that they powered through it.  We somehow managed to leave that trip without a single thing from the gift shop, but we still took home a souvenir.



My wife, son, and I all got a different ailment - upper respiratory for me, eyes for my son, and flu for my wife.  My son and I are both doing just fine now, a week later, but my wife is still recovering and was not able to run the race.  And because of how close we were to the race when she got ill, she wasn't able to defer her entry.

There was no chance my wife would run the race, but I also encouraged her not to come down to spectate.  I thought waking up at 4am would not be conducive to her recovery.  We left the kids with my inlaws as we had originally planned to do, so she had all day to recover.

I thought I was sick, and maybe I was (and still am), or maybe I'm just being a big baby about allergies, which are a new thing to me.  It's definitely not the flu, but it's something, and it had me worried about whether I'd be able to run the race myself.  The Thursday before I realized I would definitely be able to run the Saturday race, and then my fear turned to whether I'd be able to give a full effort.

The morning of the race, my alarm went off at 4:20am and things were already not looking good.  I had a splitting headache, but considering I only gave myself 20 minutes to have breakfast and get on the road, I didn't have time to wallow.  I programmed the coffee the night before, made some breakfast, packed a peanut butter honey sandwich for breakfast number two closer to race time (which was 3.5 hours later), filled my water bottles, and jumped in the car.  I left exactly when I planned on leaving and got down without a problem.



I managed to make up some time on the trip, and it ended up taking about 95 minutes.  I was there plenty early, so I was able to pick up my packet, get body marked, and set up my transition area at a very casual pace.  After all of that was done, I got on my tri suit and made sure all of my tech (HRM, bike cadence, and footpod) was pairing to my watch correctly.  The footpod wasn't connecting for some reason, so I reset my watch and then it was good to go.  After that, the start time was approaching so I got my wetsuit on - or half on, anyway.  I needed one of my 300 new friends to help zip me up all the way.



The wetsuit was definitely not necessary, as the water temp came in at 78°, but since it was legal, and it makes swimming easier, I suited up.

The race takes place at Lake Anna in Virginia.  This lake has a warm side and a not-warm side.  The warm side is heated by nuclear power, so it's always pleasant to swim in.

The 1500 meter swim left from the beach and was an out and back, returning about 100 meters down the beach from where it started.  It was done in waves, with the first wave being collegiate males, followed four minutes later by collegiate females, followed by men under 40, and so on.  My mom showed up for the race as the first wave went in the water, and my sister and her new boyfriend not long after that.  I said hello briefly and then jaunted over to the beach for my wave's start.

I always get nervous before the swim.  Partly because I get nervous before every race, but also because swimming feels like the only discipline where I could legitimately die if things go (very) poorly.  The gun fired and I started running through the knee-deep water to get to the point where I could actually swim.  I'm always excited and want to be at the front of the wave, but I know my place in the swimming pecking order.  If I finish in the top half, I'm pretty happy, so I try to hang back to start.

I'm very glad I did that for this swim.  I went about 3 minutes before I forgot how to swim.  I'm not kidding.  I just couldn't do it.  I felt like I was being constricted and that I couldn't breathe.  I had no clue what was happening to me.  I thought maybe my wetsuit was too tight.  I thought maybe I hadn't gotten in the pool enough over the summer.  I thought maybe my sighting technique had been lost.  I just didn't know.  I wouldn't say I was having a panic attack, but it felt akin to that.

I knew I had to do something until my brain started working and my body calmed down, so I started to do a mix of doggy paddle and breaststroke.  I guess it was better than treading water, but not by much.  I did that for about 6 minutes and realized I would never finish the race if something didn't change.  I contemplated calling over one of the boats and having them take me out.  The race director in the pre-race meeting had said that you can complete the bike and run even if you don't finish the swim.  I thought long and hard about taking that way out.  I mean, I had gone probably 200 meters, had another 1300 meters to go, and at this rate, there was no way I could be competitive anyway.

About ten minutes into the swim something finally clicked.  Maybe "clicked" is not the right term, more likely slowly started working again, and I finally started swimming freestyle.  It's like my body remembered how to swim.  And it's a good thing, too.  In those six minutes of modified breaststroke, I had gone approximately 100 meters, so I was not in a good place, time-wise.  After that, though, the swim was fine.  I had one sighting issue where I nearly swam into oncoming swimmers, and my goggles fogged up, and I was trying to sight directly into the sun, but that's all normal swimming for me.

Somehow, that six-minute boondoggle only cost me a couple of minutes, because I ended up finishing the swim in 31 minutes, which was only 90 seconds slower than the last time I did this race.  This year I had a heart rate monitor on and I saw that I got my heart rate up to 170bpm, and it was steady in the mid-to-high 160s for the last 10 minutes of the swim.  That's typically what I do when I'm running in a 10k and definitely not sustainable over the course of an event as long as an Olympic distance tri.  I'm new to swimming with a heart rate monitory, so I don't know if I was overcompensating for my freakout or if that's my normal swim race effort.

I often feel like I missed out on a lot by not swimming seriously as a kid.  Certainly flip turns and proper form, but also something that would have served me well in this particular instance: urinating while swimming.  Instead, I had to stand there awkwardly before exiting the water, costing me a handful more seconds.  Over the course of a 2.5 hour race, I didn't think it would matter.  My official swim time was 31:05, which put me 14/25 in my age-group and 168/331 overall.  (Almost) top half.



The transition was pretty difficult for me.  I'm not sure why, but my heart rate was in the high 170s as a jogged off the beach, up the hill to my bike.  I struggled mightily to get my wetsuit off, but my transition time was still good.  I've been doing flying starts for the bike portion of tris for many years now (three is "many", right?), so I feel pretty confident.  But this year, the rubber band holding my right shoe broke, so my shoe was just dangling from the pedal.  If I was smart, I would have taken the shoe off, carried it with me to the mounting line, and put it on there.  As it was, I decided to do the flying mount which was a bad idea.

This bike course starts uphill.  And no joke, it's 2.5 miles of uphills.  The first kilometer is a legit climb, so finding some time to coast and fiddle with my shoe was not possible.  I struggled and nearly came to a complete stop before I was able to finagle my right foot in my shoe.  I nearly dismounted to do it, but was glad that I didn't need to.

This bike course was new to me this year.  I'm not sure if they changed it last year (I didn't do this course last year), or if this was the first year of the new course, but they somehow managed to find more elevation in an already hilly area.  It's all backroads in the towns around a lake, so it's very scenic.  Some roads were a pleasure to ride on, making me feel like I was floating on air, while others made me feel like I was doing some cyclocross.

I train exclusively on an indoor trainer which displays my power.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to justify a power meter for my bike yet, so I'm racing blind.  I just have to go by feel, which is pretty difficult to do when you haven't ridden outside in over a year.  I'm sure I went too easy on the bike.  My average heart rate was 155.  I would think it should have been closer to 160.

Normally, I feel really good when I pass people on the bike - I have to make up my atrocious swim time somewhere.  But in this race, there are certain athletes I feel bad passing.  Namely, the collegiate athletes on $50 Huffy bikes.  Now, my bike isn't exactly a TT masterpiece - it's a Specialized road bike I bought used back in 2008 and slapped some clip-on aero bars and got a seat that shifts to put me in a more aero position, but it's no Huffy.  I just know that these kids would do so much better if they just had a decent bike.



Coming back into transition is also tough - that big hill I had to climb up to get out of transition, I had to glide back down on to go back into transition.  It sounds easy, but when you're trying to get your feet out of your shoes and navigate a pretty sharp turn at the bottom of the hill, it makes it tougher when you're riding your brakes.

I crossed the mat at 1:11:47, good enough for 29th overall and 4th in my age group.  It's not really fair to compare to my previous time since it's a new course, but compared to the field, I went from top 16% to top 8%, so I'm pretty happy with that.  I guess those Zwift sessions are paying off.

I didn't have any issues going into T2.  I ran barefoot from the dismount line to my rack, tossed my bike up and put on my socks, hat, and running shoe.  Notably absent from the list of things I put on was my race belt.  I realized it almost immediately after leaving T2.  I was tempted to run back for it, but I knew not only would that cause all sorts of issues for the timing people, but it would but a ton of extra effort for a few race pictures.  Of course, during the race, I wasn't quite thinking that straight, and I was sure that one of the race officials would see me without my bib and take me off the course or give me a penalty.  Obviously, either of those things happened.

The run course is a 2-loop course.  It starts on the same uphill as the bike course.  Running uphill off the bike is probably the least optimal way to do a brick, but c'est la vie.  I've done this race before and I knew it was coming, so I mentally prepared myself.  I also bonked this run course when I ran in 2016, so I was hyper-aware of that possibility.  I decided I was going to negative split the course, and sure enough, I did.  My first lap was ~21:25 and I did the second lap 22 seconds faster.  I guess I could have done the whole run a bit faster, but my overall run time of 42:25 was a new PR for me and put me 18th overall and third in my age group.

If you put all of that together, my time was 2:28:47.2 which placed me 62nd overall, 50th amongst men, and 6th in my age group.



They let you check the results "live" after the race, and at that time, I was 5th place; however, the 3rd place time in my age group was 2:28:28.2.  Less than 20 seconds separated us.  If I just hadn't stopped to pee at the end of the swim, I would have moved up two spots and gotten third in my age group.  As I'm writing this I went back to double-check the results and it seems as if somebody that wasn't on the list before showed up ahead of me, so I would have needed to improve my time by over six minutes to actually place, which honestly makes me feel a little better.

I'm happy with my time - it's another PR for me at this race.  I know that I can easily take off another two minutes off my time and I'd like to think that I can continue to bring down my run and bike times, even if only by a minute or two on the bike, and a minute or less on the run.  I may not be in a position to place next year, either, but as long as I'm continually getting faster, I'll feel good.

And the great thing about next year is that unless we have another kid, my training schedule will get that much more consistent.  The Boy started sleeping through the night at the end of June which gave me two months of less complicated training schedules, but I'm looking forward to what I can do with a year of dependable morning training times.



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