It seems as if a whole summer has passed since my last blog entry, which is unsurprising I suppose given that a whole summer has passed since my last blog entry. I’d feel bad about that, but truth be told there’s really been very little to write home about as I’ve spent the summer trying to prepare myself for this past weekend’s Pilgrimman Olympic Distance Triathlon. The advertised distances for the race were 0.9 mile swim, 28 mile bike, and 6.6 mile run.
I’m not entirely sure why, but there seems to be a naming convention for triathlons that includes “-man,” particularly if they include a 70.3 distance or longer, see Timberman, Eagleman, Pumpkinman, etc. Though the timing is a bit off to be associated with Thanksgiving, Pilgrimman did take place in the Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth, MA, Myles Standish being a passenger on the Mayflower and first commander of Plymouth Colony’s militia. Check out the flow on the pilgrim.
I set Pilgrimman, in its inaugural year, as my target race for my inaugural season training for triathlons and spent the summer building up my swim and bike strength while trying to maintain a semblance of running shape. Of course, when I signed up for the race I didn’t have a very good sense of exactly where it was, nor did I know that registration would close at 7:30 a.m. These two factors combined led to a 4:50 a.m. alarm so I could make sure that my whole race day wouldn’t be scuttled by a failure to get through registration on time. This leads me to my first gripe with Pilgrimman, two gripes actually. First, registration did not close at 7:30. This gripe has more to do with being annoyed that I lost out on maybe 30 extra minutes of sleep and less to do with an insistence that races keep their word about when they say registration will close. Frankly, it’s a good thing if they accommodate stragglers. Still, it was clear that the 7:30 time was unnecessarily early. Second, they had run out of all but extra-large size t-shirts by the time I checked in, around 7:20 a.m. This was particularly vexing given that the shirt was included in the registration fee and I doubt there were many triathletes interested in XL size t-shirts. Big deal? Nah. Annoying and an issue that should be addressed next year? Yes, absolutely. In any event, I was glad I had everything ready to go the night before so I didn’t have to wake up any earlier than I already had to.
With registration materials in hand, I headed over to the transition area and got all markered up. I wouldn’t exactly say the transition area was especially clearly laid out, but it was good enough and I was able to snag a primo piece of real estate on the bike rack. Unlike at the Dam Triathlon, this time I had a decent sense of how to set up my transition area with the hopes of cutting down on my T1 and T2 times from my first attempt. I munched on a half a pack of Honey Stinger chews to go along with my breakfast of toast and butter (note I include these details mostly in anticipation of a potential coach reading them at some point and critiquing my pre-race fueling) and passed the time talking with some fellow competitors, including one older gentleman rocking a wicked sweet pair of jorts over his tri-kit. Finally, with everything in place, it was time to head down to the beach for the swim.
Despite my instincts towards laziness and an aversion to swimming any more than absolutely necessary, I convinced myself that everyone else who was in the water warming up must have some better idea about the right way to get ready for a swim than I did. So, ever so slowly, I made my way into what turned out to be cold, cold water, at least to my delicate sensibilities. Though all I wanted to do was rush back to shore and get warm, I ducked under the water and embarked on a roughly 50 meter warm-up swim. OK, it wasn’t a lot, but I think it let me get over that first chest-crushing rush of coldness and anxiety that could otherwise completely sabotage the swim leg. Fast forward through other age group swim starts and it was finally time to start.
The swim was 3 laps for the Olympic distance, laid out in rectangular fashion with a short beach run from the end of each lap to the start of the next. I’d like to think that I maintained a fairly even pace throughout the swim, slow that pace may have been. There were two notable exceptions to the swim going pretty smoothly, the first being when, during the third lap, I veered too far left going around the first buoy (in a counter-clockwise fashion) and had to course-correct back up to the second buoy so that I didn’t cut the course. Next, on the home stretch I somehow found myself swimming perpendicular to the beach, which, if you are unfamiliar with how races work, is not a good idea. This is not a good idea, at all. Thankfully I didn’t get too far before realizing my mistake, and powered through to the beach, dragging myself out of the water and beginning the trudge uphill to the transition. Final time for the swim was 36:22, a 2:18 pace, good enough for a solid 109th place…out of 146…dang it. I’m a slow swimmer. Still, the performance was about what I would have expected, which makes it fine by me.
I tried doing the whole “running” thing but mostly ended up yogging and walking to my bike. Learning from a mistake I made at Dam, which essentially boiled down to not listening to my mentor Jocelyn’s advice, I put my calf sleeves on under my wetsuit for this race, which meant I didn’t have to spend time pulling them on in T1. I was dismayed to see that my helmet, which contained my sunglasses and gloves, had been knocked to the ground off my handlebars, but I can’t say it really cost me any time as a result, just annoyance. I made it out of T1 in 3:44, a big improvement from the 5:01 it took me at Dam.
On to the bike leg. The course was an out-and-back format, 7 miles out, 7 back, therefore requiring 2 circuits for the full distance.
Though the elevation gain doesn’t seem to reflect it, the course felt like it was an endless series of slight hills with very few flat stretches to speak of.
After the end of lap 1, I took one Salted Watermelon Gu and also removed my cycling gloves, which were threatening to numb my hands entirely. Both turnaround spots featured hairpin turns around a cone, which leads me to the first of my 3 gripes concerning the bike leg, the first being the hairpin turns, which I found difficult to navigate in a narrow space and a big momentum killer. Frankly, I don’t know what could be done to avoid this, but I don’t like those kind of turns in road races, let alone on the bike. Next, traffic issues were a major concern for me. On the first lap I had a run-in with a car that I felt got too close to me on a turn and exchanged some pleasantries with the driver. I know it can’t have been easy for cars to pass riders given riders going both ways on the road, but as a result I ended up stuck behind cars going up a hill because they refused to pass the rider in front of me. I’ll give the Pilgrimman RDs some credit for course management in terms of giving directions to riders as I understand from various Facebook posts that there were major issues in the sprint race the day before. Still, course management remains a concern for me. Finally, though I love volunteers and am grateful they were there for the race, I found that they crowded the road when handing out water, though maybe I just don’t know how these things work in triathlons, never having been offered water on a bike before. I’m willing to chalk that last gripe up to personal discomfort with people being too close to me on the bike.
[EDIT: Pilgrimman has announced that the course will be changed next year to a closed course, which is great news. I really respect how quickly they have moved to address concerns from racers, it's the mark of a good RD and they should get credit for their alacrity.]
I didn’t pass as many people on the bike leg as I did at Dam, but I was still pretty happy with an average pace of 18.7 MPH. That said, I have a feeling that I extended myself too much, sapping crucial energy for the run. My time ended up at 1:29:39, good enough for 62nd place on the bike leg, which I can be pleased with. I quickly racked my bike, gulped down some Gu Brew and a salt tab (thanks to Alett for the suggestion), pulled on my New Balance 890 v4s and headed out of the transition zone to begin my last leg, with a T2 time of 2:11, down from 2:42 at Dam.
I started the run feeling tightness in my quads, and that was about as good as I’d feel all run. The run course started uphill. The run course continued uphill. The run course never stopped uphilling. OK, that’s an exaggeration, still, the course just felt brutal to me, even though it probably might not have been so hard if it was just a road race. I had to stop about a half mile in for a bio break – it would not be the last time I had to stop running. It didn’t take too long to get the feeling that I just did not have very much left in my legs for the run and I soon became fairly demoralized by the feeling that I was running on what seemed to be a net uphill loop, which I previously did not think was possible (that’s a lie, there was a long period in high school when I argued that the Stratton Brook XC course was more uphill than downhill, despite being a loop). I likely wasn’t in the best frame of mind, but I do have to point out my final two gripes for the course, both having to do with the water stops on the run. The first probably has to do with me being a curmudgeon, but at the mile 1 water stop the volunteer asked if I wanted water, bottled water, or Gatorade. I don’t blame the volunteer, and again maybe this is me not understanding the triathlon world, but at that point I just could not process or deal with trying to figure out why I was differentiating between “water” and “bottled water.” Upon reflection, I’ll move this gripe into a personal preference clash as, maybe, triathletes like getting bottles of water they can carry with them and sip as needed. Maybe some people put this feature of the race into their plus category. However, I think my second gripe, now technically my first, is legitimate, namely that the Gatorade on the course was really, really gross. I’m not sure what went wrong with the mixing process, but something did go terribly wrong, leaving it tasting really bad. Perhaps this is all to say that maybe I should consider using a fuel belt in the future such that I can have better control over my own hydration needs, something I’ve never worried about in a road race, but, again, triathlon is a different world.
As for the run course itself, other than feeling ludicrously hard, it was quite pretty running through the forest, at least during the times I could let myself appreciate the scenery. All my fellow racers were friendly and encouraging, despite everyone around me appearing to be in some sort of pain or another. Here are some pictures that relate to the course, and my slow, slow splits thereupon.
At long last I took the final turn onto the path leading to the finish, which, of course featured another slight incline. I finished hot, exhausted, but proud. Oh, did I mention it was hot? Like really hot? Like “unseasonably warm” but hotter? Well, it was hot. Was I pleased with the run, which should have been my best leg? Definitely not. But, was I proud of the accomplishment of finishing? You betcha. There’s plenty to build on and I learned a lot of lessons about both training and racing, including:
- Do. More. Bricks.
- Swim more, swim faster when swimming more.
- Run longer distances during training.
- More bricks.
- Think about adding a heart rate monitor to racing to not over-exert on the bike.
- Be less fastidious in transition.
- Swim straighter, sight more often.
- Finally, more bricks.
- Eat a better breakfast pre-race.
I’m sure there are more things I could have done better both in training and racing, but I’ll have to figure them out as I go along. For now, I can be content with placing pretty darn squarely in the middle of the pack, 76th place overall and 6th in my age group. I know I can do better. I know I will do better, and I can’t wait until next tri season to prove it.
p.s. I don’t want to come off overly harsh on my race experience. This was a first time race, and it can’t be easy to stage a triathlon in its first year. Overall it was a very good experience and all the volunteers were outgoing and helpful. Fixing the t-shirt ordering and traffic issues would go a long way to smoothing the race experience as a whole but, on the whole, I think it was mostly a job well done by the RDs.