Having completed my first half iron distance triathlon a couple of weeks earlier I was excited and determined to get back out there and do another triathlon (it’s an addictive sport). I also wanted to complete the course this year!!! My confidence was high having just gone almost twice the distance. I just wanted to put in a good time for myself and finish strong.
This was a hot weekend. Very hot. The temperatures were in the 90s which would be a challenge though. To make matters a little more complicated we had a family reunion down in Margate, NJ the day before the race which meant I had to drive home about 90 minutes after a day at the beach. Yeah, well planned…not to mention that I had to drive back after the race to pick up the family who were staying overnight.
I went to the race expo on the way home from work on Friday evening. It was held at the same location as last year, Mercer County Park in West Windsor, NJ. There was a full expo this year which was different from last year. It was a warm sunny evening and it was actually quite busy when I arrived. The Sprint race was on the Saturday while my event, the Olympic, was on Sunday morning.
The big difference from this year vs last year would be the distance. Last year the swim was 500m vs 1500m this year, three times as far. I had just completed a half iron distance of 1.2 miles (1900m) but that was wearing a wetsuit. This would be the longest swim without that aid of a wetsuit. Temperatures would be too high to wear them legally. Besides, I’d already returned my rented wetsuit so I had no choice. Also the bike and run courses were double the distance, although I wasn’t too worried about that as I’d completed that distance many times in training.
Packet pickup was fairly straightforward. We had to park in a field opposite the staging area and walk over. It was a very hot day and there was a lot of dust being kicked up in the parking lot but it was easy to access. I noticed from the pre-race details and confirmed at pickup that I would be in one of the last waves to start. That would mean 55 minutes from the start of the first wave (7:30am) until mine (8:25am). Coupled with the fact that transition closed at 7:15am meant that it would be a lot of waiting around on the day.
The expo was pretty small but more than they had in place last year. There was a merchandise section for the race which was new this year. The merchandise seemed good quality branded gear. I bought a visor (my usual race purchase) to add to my collection and I planned to wear it on the day.
I took the chance to walk around the staging areas. The set up was similar to last year with the only difference being instead of bike racks where the bike would rest and hand from the seat post, this year everyone was assigned a race box which held the bike from the rear wheel. Each box was equidistant so everyone would be evenly spaced.
I got back home from the day at the shore around 9:30pm the night before the race. I had packed up all my gear on the Friday night and pretty much had it ready by the door so I was able to grab a quick shower and get a few hours sleep before getting up at 4:15am the next day, packing my car and heading back to the race site.
On race day after packing the car, I grabbed a cup of coffee and a light breakfast (a Powerbar for breakfast with a Honey Stinger waffle to eat around 7am), and headed out to the race site. After unpacking my car I walked to transition and had my body marked with my race number and age and headed into transition to set up my gear. It was already quite warm.
I was earlier than I expected to be there so I set up my gear and made sure I went over my transition plan. As it was early and I knew I had time to wait I headed over to have a practice swim at the side of the lake where it was sectioned off. I didn’t go out too far, just a quick out and back. I noticed that the timing chip was chafing my ankle a little so it was a good opportunity to get all my gear right before I actually started the event. The water was warm (like bath water) and unlike my swim up in Kingston at the half iron, the water wasn’t clear so I could barely see my hand in front of my face. Based upon my exceptional ability to not swim in a straight line this would make the swim a lot of fun!!!
As the weather was warmer than expected, the race organizers announced that they would be reducing the time between each swim wave to 4 minutes from 5. This doesn’t sound like a lot but it would mean my time would start around 10 minutes ahead of planned and would allow for people to finish a little earlier in the morning as it was getting hotter.
I watched the first few waves go off and stayed under a shaded area out the sun. I wish I had thought ahead to bring a bottle of water to sip as it was a warm day and I had plenty of time to be waiting around. Eventually my wave was called into the waiting area (they would call up a wave and have the next wave waiting directly behind them to keep things moving). It was time to pop in the ear plugs, put on the swim cap and fix the goggles in place. Go time.
As per my usual start, I went off to one side and stayed back. I waited for the announcement to go and then waited as I counted to 10 before setting off. No point in getting caught in the tangle of thrashing swimmers at the front of the pack. I’m not the ‘podium type’.
Although it wasn’t planned, I tucked in along the left hand side of the course which pretty much had me tight along the course markers. At least I wasn’t off swimming in a different direction. This actually helped as all the buoys were on my left side (I don’t see out of my right eye) and this helped keep me straight. I maintained a pretty even and comfortable pace and was pleased with how the swim went. It felt a lot longer than it probably was and I didn’t have the extra buoyancy that a wetsuit would have provided so it was a little harder to maintain swim form, but this is what I had trained for so I kept it together and kept swimming.
The only time I veered off course was the final turn. The first three turns were all left turns and I was tucked in along that side. The final turn for home was on the right. As I said earlier I don’t see out of that side and we were swimming straight into the sun. I didn’t turn early enough when I should and so went a bit further in one direction and had to make up some ground just to get into the finisher chute. Still, I felt like I held it together well and wasn’t too tired or out of breath getting out of the water and heading into transition. I was out of the water an into transition in a time of 43:20.
As I didn’t have to change out of a wetsuit this race my transition time was much quicker although it still takes time to get into the Injinji socks. The transition area was large due to the number of entrants in the race (about 1,500 I think) and I was well at the back of the transition so there was a long walk/jog out of transition to the point where I was able to mount the bike.
Where I had struggled in the last triathlon with the bike, this was a lot easier. Well for a start it was pretty much flat. It was the hills that did me in last time. I managed to get up a good speed on the bike and maintain it. I was passing quite a number of people considering I was in one of the last few waves of swimmers. I was feeling pretty good on the bike. There were quite a number of turns on this course but everything was pretty clearly labelled or they had a volunteer showing the direction.
On the way back towards the transition area we had to take a detour into and around a school campus. You can see from the map above where the course turns right and has a small out and back. As I said the course was pretty flat and at this point as it was a parking lot I put the hammer down as we were not on the road and was able to pass quite a number of riders. I’m not a fast cyclist by any means but I was able to average 17.4mph over the 20 mile course to finish the ride in 1:07:55.
Finishing the bike and dismounting meant the long run back into and to the back of the transition area. I had neglected to put on sunscreen for the bike portion even though I had left a note in my bike shoes. I had been in the blazing sun for over an hour. I had a pretty interesting tan line later. I had left a second reminder to put on sunscreen in my running shoes and this time I didn’t forget. It was around 11am by this stage and it was hot.
The run course was a two out and backs. 3 miles out and back towards transition followed by another 3 miles out and back on the other side of transition. Because of the heat the organizers had set up sprinklers at a couple of locations on the course. The run was mainly on black top which made the heat a little more intense but there were some shaded areas. At two points on the course there were ice-cold towels available which were definitely appreciated.
On the first half of the course it was a little tight as we passed through a narrow pathway among the trees but at least it was shaded. At this point I was planning to stop at every water station and drink water, pour a cup over my head and have some Gatorade at every other station. The volunteers were great. It cannot have been easy for them to spend all this time standing around in the heat either.
The water was cold, ice-cold on occasions. I loved that. I’ve not been to many races where they have made sure that the water temperature was well-managed. It was so hot and running a 10K around the middle of the day after a 21 mile swim/bike warm up meant that most people were in danger of overheating. The volunteers made sure that we were taking on water. At some stations they had people offering to splash you with cold water in addition to giving you something to drink. Nice.
The second out and back started beyond the transition area and passed briefly by the finisher chute. Only a few miles to go. Again, a narrow pathway with two directions of runners but this time there was less shade. I saw many people at this point just walking because of the heat. I slowed down to keep my heart rate from being too elevated but was able to maintain a steady pace. The second sprinkler on the course was truly appreciated. Just around mile 4.5 and was perfect. Once I reached the final turnaround I had a huge smile on my face. Just 1.5 miles to go until the end. I was ready to head in.
And then I heard it, the finish line was ahead. Music and cheering. I turned towards the finish chute and ran towards the finish with a huge smile. I had been pulled off the course less than half a mile from the bike transition due to weather last year and never had the chance to finish the race. There was no one or no conditions stopping me this time.
I crossed the finish line with a 10K time of 59.20, well short of my sub 50 minute PR but less than an hour in these conditions, for an official total time (including transitions) of 3:02:02. Now I have a baseline time to work with for my next Olympic distance.
At the finish line they had cooling tents where you could walk through cold showers. I was already wet enough so I grabbed my medal and water and headed to the food tent to grab the post race goodies. We were given water, fruit, a soft pretzel, chocolate milk. There was some type of sandwich which I couldn’t eat (as a vegetarian) but the food was plentiful. I briefly stopped by the Bucks County Tri Club tent to say congratulations to everyone before heading back to transition to pack up. I had to drive down to Ocean City, NJ to pick up the family. No rest…
I have to say that this was a fun distance. It wasn’t as exhausting as the half iron distance (which makes sense) but it was still a challenge and just long enough to make me feel like I really had to push. The heat was a big factor in my slow run pace but overall I am very proud of being able to finish this one. This was definitely a place I had to return to complete my race from last year and I think I did a pretty good job. It was fun. This triathlon sport is getting very addictive. It is so rewarding. If you have thought about doing this but never pulled the trigger, I say give it a go. You never know if you don’t ‘Tri’!