In my first triathlon of this new racing season, the JCC Triathlon By The Sea, I made the rookie mistake of not doing my homework on the race course, which led to mistakenly neglecting to do 2 loops of a 3 loop section of the bike course, turning a 10 mile leg into a 5.5 mile leg and a DQ in the process. I was quite miffed with myself as it likely cost me my first Age Group placing ever. Consequently, I was looking for redemption at the Summer Solstice Triathlon, a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision race put on by MRA Multisport in Sutton, MA. The race is a sprint in the purest sense, with a 1/4 mile lake swim, 10 mile bike, and 5K run.
I generally like to give myself roughly an hour before a race so I can get settled in, which I find especially important when it comes to triathlons as there’s just more to get done before the race starts. So, you can imagine the stress I was feeling as I crawled westward on the Mass Pike at a stop and go pace for 2 hours, finally arriving at the parking lot 25 minutes before the swim meeting was scheduled to start. Thankfully, parking for the race was about as easy as I’ve ever seen, requiring just a couple minute bike ride to make it from the lot to the actual race location. As it turned out, all my fretting was for nothing as this was a very low-key race and I was able to breeze through the check-in, taking roughly 2 minutes to check in with registration and get marked up with my number and age.
Having now had a few opportunities to practice in other races, it did not take long for me to get my transition area set-up done just how I like it. The best addition to my set-up from last year is definitely my new transition mat. While giving me a clean, dry spot to put my bike and running shoes, it also serves the handy purpose of giving me something bright to look for in the transition area when coming in from the swim and bike legs, cutting down on any wandering about.
Also pictured is my TYR Alliance Team II Backpack, which I highly, highly, highly recommend for anyone looking for a transition bag. It just so happens Mrs. R got me both the mat and backpack for Hannukah this year.
Heading into the race, my biggest concern was the water temperature for the lake, which the race packet had listed at a brisk 67 degrees. Even though the swim was only a 1/4 mile, the temperature had me scared enough to want to go with my wetsuit, which I also thought was important given that this would be my first open water swim of the season and I had to get used to wetsuit swimming again. Figuring I should be a Big Boy Triathlete, I made myself get in the water to get acclimated and warm up a little. Lo and behold, it wasn’t so bad! In fact, it was rather nice!
Thus mentally prepared, I lined up towards the back of the swim start, which was organized men, women, newbies, fastest to slowest in each group and with a 2 person departure on the beach every 3-4 seconds. Now, the trouble with this configuration is that it meant the fastest women would be right on the slowest men’s heels, i.e. my heels. Because the first turn was fairly close, this caused a fair bit of congestion in the water and made for a decent amount of grappling and swimming on top of other racers. Though I would have prepared a clean swim for performance reasons, I looked at this as one more opportunity to work on my race condition techniques. Things started getting hairy after the first buoy thanks to a combination of perpendicular chop, murky waters, and continued congestion. Still, I felt relatively strong in the swim, with a final time of 8:23, 50/144 overall.
T2 was not as fast as I would have hoped, taking 3:01, largely as a result of difficulty getting my wetsuit off over the ankle timing chip. One more thing to work on.
My goal for the bike leg was to work on keeping my heart rate fairly level without red-lining, which would kill my run. The course was not closed to traffic, as I’ve learned is the case with many triathlons but, for the most part this was not a problem. The only times I really noticed cars being a potential issue were when passing a racer on the left and having impatient cars then pass me on the left, creating a dangerous situation for all. Still, no complaints, it just required some heads-up riding at times. On the flip side, the roads themselves were in great condition and made for pleasant riding. The course itself had a few rolling hills with one screaming downhill.
Despite this being a non-draft race, there was definitely a lot of non-legal maneuvering during the race, myself included. If everyone dropped back 15 feet after being passed it just would have been a complete mess. I found myself in a group of 5-6 riders making moves and counter-moves depending on the terrain, but I didn’t think anyone was actually trying to draft off anyone else. For nutrition during the bike, I went with Skratch Labs mix in my water bottle. Rolling into T2, I was happy with my ride and felt like I had a decent amount left in the tank. I finished with a time 29:17, a 20.5 MPH average, and 36th overall for the bike.
T2 went very well for me, largely thanks to my NiteIze laces, which let me just slip on my shoes like slippers without comprising the tightness of the lacing. 59 seconds after entering the transition area, I was off on the run, which meant a hill right off the bat. Though it might not be the hardest course as a pure 5K, it felt quite challenging as the last leg in a sprint triathlon.
As you can see, there wasn’t a lot of flat to the out-and-back course, which mostly involved running on a sidewalk on the way out, and road on the way back to avoid the runners coming in the opposite direction. For the run, I tried to concentrate on even splits, knowing I’ve gone out too fast in the past (for both road races and tris) and not wanting to hit the wall halfway through. I think I largely succeeded in that respect.
After a nice downhill, I turned the last corner for an uphill finish, giving everything I had left to push for that elusive AG placing, finishing the run leg with a time of 22:56, a 7:24 pace and 27th overall for the run.
My final time was 1:04:34, placing 30th overall and…5th place in my age group. In 2013 and 2014 that time would easily have put me into 2nd place but, no such luck this year. Oh well, at least I made it into the Cool Running listings?
The race was followed by a nice little BBQ and some spectacular lake views of the sunset.
If you’re looking for a super low-key, friendly sprint triathlon to add to your early season schedule for 2016, I’d highly recommend the Summer Solstice Sprint.