2019 New Jersey State Triathlon – Race recap

 

This July was my fifth year (attempting) racing this event. My first attempt (my first triathlon) back in 2015 was cancelled mid race and in 2017 I had to withdraw following my bike injury in the 2017 Rev3 Triathlon. So this was my third finish. The weekend is split into a sprint triathlon on Saturday and an olympic distance triathlon on the Sunday. I was entered into the olympic distance event. I’ll sum this up quickly….it was HOT but I finished!!!

The weather conditions for the event this year…all were ‘outdoor activities’

It had not done much pool or bike work since last year’s event and it did show at the beginning of this training cycle. However, I was signed up for IM70.3 Atlantic City this coming September so I was using this as part of my training on my journey into the half ironman. Having completed the Los Angeles Marathon back in March I took April easy and started my triathlon training cycle in May this year. The goal was to use a 12 week training plan into this race and roll into the half ironman training for the balance of the cycle.

Going into race week we were in the middle of a sustained heat wave in the area. I kept looking at the temperatures hoping that there would be some relief. A couple of days before the event the race director sent out the following announcement:

“IMPORTANT EVENT UPDATE

We are excited to have you compete with us at the 2019 New Jersey State Triathlon. It’s set to be a hot one this year! Due to the warmer-than-normal conditions forecast this weekend, our operations team will be implementing the following course changes in consultation with local public safety officials:

Sprint Distance – Saturday, July 20
No changes to the swim and bike portions. The run course will be approximately 2 miles. The event will begin as planned at 7:30am.

Olympic Distance – Sunday, July 21
Athletes will complete a 750m swim, one loop of the bike course (13.5-miles) and a 5k run. The race will also start at 7:30am.

We sincerely appreciate the understanding and cooperation from all of our athletes as your safety is our paramount concern. Additionally a comprehensive heat plan will be instituted above and beyond the extensive medical support we have always provided on site.

We’re here for you and the whole New Jersey State Tri team are ready to support you having your best event yet! Good luck this weekend.

Phew….Essentially they halved all the distances for the olympic triathlon.

My goal for this was to complete the distance. The weather was not going to be conducive to a hard effort and I was not in any danger of pushing anyone of a podium place. I’d use this as planned as an organized (and well catered) workout on the road to my half ironman.

On the day before the race I drove up to Lake Mercer (in Mercer County Park) to pick up my race packet. It was so hot. All the volunteers out in the sun were amazing for their dedication. Race packet was quick and easy (I had registered for the correct event this year) and I also took opportunity to register early for next year’s event. There were some iPads set up for early registration. Unfortunately they were left in the sun and were hot to touch…the one that still worked that is. I took advantage of the early discount for registering for 2020 and signed up for the olympic distance again, only to find out when I came home that we have family plans…luckily a quick email to the race director rectified my error and I was adjusted down to the sprint. Crisis averted. It was so hot I was literally dripping with sweat under the tented areas. It was dangerously hot. The New York City Triathlon was held on the same weekend and it had been cancelled completely for the safety of the athletes. We just had our distances cut back. I was good with the downgraded distance.

Attending race packet pickup – a view of the finish line for tomorrow’s race

Packet pickup was quick and easy

Transition all empty and quiet before the next day’s events

Lake Mercer – where we would be swimming tomorrow

All packed and ready to go the next morning

Arrived early with enough time to set up and try to relax

Early on Sunday morning I headed down to the race site, got to body marking and made my way into transition with enough time to set up my gear and have time to hit the bathrooms before transition closed. With my age group placing I was not due off until after 8am and the race started at 7:30am. Transition closed around 6:45 so I had plenty of time to walk around before the race. I took a Hammer Gel, some salt tabs and some water before heading out. It was still warm. The race was too warm to be wetsuit legal although that wasn’t really a factor as I’ve never used a wetsuit for this event. It’s usually too warm this time of year.

My gear is all set up

Ready to make a fun day of it

Finally my age group was called and we went across the timing mat and into the water to the sounds of ‘The Who’ blaring over the speakers. And then we were off.

I did my usual routine of watching everyone go, counting to ten and then setting of myself. The water was warm and visibility as usual was pretty much zero. I sighted pretty well but got bumped and battered a bit on the out part of the swim course. As I was on the back straight of the swim course I started to be passed by some of the faster female swimmers in the group behind but no major incidents. No one dug their fingernails into me this year!!! Once down the home straight I set my sights on the buoys marking the route to transition. Although the swim felt okay I didn’t seem to be making much progress to the swim exit but eventually I reached the swim exit and made my way to transition. Another example of my lack of training was that I pushed the stop button on my watch and not the lap button to move my GPS into transition mode. I noticed that before I jumped on the bike so I missed a couple of minutes but nothing major. My swim time was 22:09 (a 2:57/100m pace). Much room for improvement.

Transition was 6 minutes. I’m not going to move away from Injinji socks any time soon but that does take time each event trying to get the toes in the right place with damp feet 🙂 . At least this year I remembered to apply sunscreen before heading out on the bike.  I grabbed a Lara Bar on my way out of transition and downed a couple more salt tabs before making my way out into the heat. I headed out on the bike course for what would now be one loop. I felt okay going out but towards the last couple of miles my legs were getting tired. It’s a flat course so there was nothing serious in terms of effort was required. I put this down to the heat. I was drinking plenty but I’m sure I was losing more than I was drinking. At this point I was happy to be done on the bike.  Bike split was 52:25. Not my fastest. Time for the run.

Before I headed out to transition I took a couple more salt tabs, downed some more water and made my way out to the run course with my 20oz hand held water bottle. It was here with the current heat conditions that I was most grateful that the course had been cut in half. The normal 10K run starts with an out and back going left out of transition and the run for the most part is shaded as you approach the turnaround but with this heat 5K was enough for me.

The course winds around the boundary of the park and as it was close to the transition areas and finish lines there were crowds on this part of the course. Within the first mile volunteers were handing out towels soaked in ice water. Welcome relief for sure. I took a towel and squeezed as much water over my head as I could and placed it around my neck as I ran. Turning the corner I saw a trash can full of towels so naturally I thought we had to throw them away. Little did I know that there was another ice station ahead where we could re-wet the towels. Oh well, lesson learned. This part of the course is also an out and back. On the way out I could see that on the other side of the course cold showers had been set up for runners to pass through if they so wanted to cool down during the run. I’d think about it as I ran further out.

The volunteers on this side of the course were offering to throw water on our heads if we asked for it. I was stopping at each aid station for Nuun electrolyte fluid which during a 5K I would typically skip a couple of aid stations. Not today. I don’t recall seeing hoses spraying runners out on the course as in previous years but I’m writing this so long after I may be mistaken. Certainly they were very accommodating for the runners, trying to keep us cool and healthy.

After the turnaround you retrace your steps until you reach the finishing chute. I was so happy to see this and pumped to cross the finish line. Based upon the pictures below you can see I was more than relieved to be done. Run time 33:30. Let’s just put that down to the heat shall we?

Almost home

Finally!!!

Water was handed out to us as soon as we crossed the line. The race also had a mist tent beyond the finish line. Essentially a big tented area spraying cold water on participants. Let’s just say it was very well utilized. While we stood in line for the food tent, volunteers were handing out ice pops to all participants to help cool down. I grabbed my refreshments and headed back to the transition to sit for a while, catch my breath and try and cool down. Not easy.

Another finish line is always a reason to smile

As I was sitting in the transition area with the remaining participants who were still there we heard a ‘pop’ and someone pointed out that because of the heat, tire tubes were beginning to over heat and explode. Yes, it was that hot.  I took my time to pack up and then made my way back out to my car where, once my bike was racked and my gear stowed, I sat in the car with the air conditioning blasting on me for about 10 minutes before I attempted to leave for home.

All packed up and ready to head home

CGI Racing put on a great event every year and their focus on runner safety is respectable. I’m a fan of their races and as already pointed out, I’ll be back again in 2020.

2018 New Jersey State Triathlon – race recap

At the end of July I made my triathlon comeback. If you recall from last year, I had a ‘slight’ accident during my Half Iron distance triathlon in Williamsburg, VA and as a result I had to pull out of this event last year. As soon as the registration opened up for 2018 I signed up. I wouldn’t say my wife was happy about it but I needed to get back in the saddle…so to speak.

The hardest thing for me going in to this event was my lack of training. Since my accident I had not either gone on a bike or trained in a pool since last July. My main concern was not the bike, I’d just go slower if needed, but training in the pool. My shoulder has not been the same since the incident and still has both an audible and physical pop when I rotate it, so when the first swim training session appeared on my TrainingPeaks app I was a little apprehensive. Fortunately, I survived that and my actual fitness in the pool wasn’t as bad as I thought it may have been. With that said, I stuck very closely to the training plan and was able to maintain and build upon my swimming strength over the next 12 weeks.

That gap certainly did a number on my fitness…well, that and the extra 10 pounds that I put on since last tri season. Oh well. I was committed now and was willing to squeeze everything into the spandex when the time called for it. What was cool about this year though was that my whole family are now riding bikes so I got to do more recreational riding with my wife and my boys.

Race week was rapidly approaching and I was getting excited and eagerly awaiting receiving my race number and final instructions. When I received my confirmation I noticed that it said ‘Aquabike’. Wait a minute? Aquabike? That’s the swim and the bike…but not the run? I quickly went back through my race registration emails and it also said aquabike. Oh no! This was a disaster. After all the build up (in my own mind) for this come back race I seemed to have registered for the wrong event. This is also a race that constantly posts updates about selling out. (Insert audible head slap here!). I emailed the race director only to get their ‘Out of Office’ response. 😦 Ultimately I did get a response which told me to look to speak with them at packet pick up on the weekend to see what could be done.

I was a little concerned when I arrived at the race site on Saturday afternoon. They were just clearing up from the Saturday morning Sprint race. Fortunately the first person I spoke to happened to be the race director. Things were looking up. I explained my predicament, that this was my comeback race, that I had to pull out of last years event from injury and that I messed up (honesty is the best policy, right?) and it didn’t hurt that I was wearing a prior year event shirt and I mentioned the year when they cancelled the event mid race which was supposed to be my first triathlon. Okay, I poured it on a bit. No worries though. She walked me over to the timing table and let me adjust (and pay the extra fee) to upgrade to the Olympic triathlon. Yeah. They moved my number into the right category although I would still be racked and staged with the aquabike athletes. After that, race packet pickup was fine. I just had to swap out my swim cap color now that I was in the corrected event. Once All was taken care of I took a lap around the staging area and merchandise tent to see if there was any fun (or something unique) to buy. Seeing as I had just paid to upgrade my race the wallet stayed in my pocket this time.

The finish line for tomorrow’s event

The transition area was spacious for the event

The merchandise tent

So with everything now settled with the race all I had to do was go home, get my gear together and hope that my training had been enough (and that my confidence was there for the swim and the bike). It was a little surprising then (and not very settling for my nerves) when I got my race packet out to put with my race gear and noticed the name on the bib was not mine!!! Who the heck is ‘Gary’?

What the… #identitycrisis

I immediately jumped on to the Facebook page for the event (who doesn’t turn to Facebook for answers?) and before I sent a message to the race team I noticed that many people had experienced the bib name mess up. Phew.  I was not alone. I hadn’t picked up the wrong bib. Okay, if that is the worst that happens I’d be fine the next day.

Usually, this race is extremely hot. The water is usually so warm that wet suits are not allowed. The day is hot and sunny. This year however I woke up to find out that it had rained overnight and it was misty and cool. I arrived at the race site and racked my bike and got my equipment all set up. It had been raining and the ground was soft and damp. I laid my gear out on plastic bags to keep everything dry and packed my socks and shoes inside plastic bags as it was still misty. This was the year that people had wetsuits. I was ill prepared. It was misty and raining. I had sunscreen but no wetsuit. Oops. Anyway, I headed down to the race start by the side of the lake and waited for my wave to get into the water.

A wet start to the day and glad I brought the plastic bags

Ready for the off

As I was now in the 46-50 age group my wave was much later than it had been in previous years. We were almost one of the last waves out. It was such a big wave that it was broken into 2 groups so I was in the second half as my last name starts with ‘S’. Although apparently my first name is Gary!!! Finally the time to go arrived and I got into the water with everyone else ready for the off. The water was still warm so I was going to be okay without the wet suit.

My goal for this event was to finish (without any embarrassing incidents). My swim was okay. I managed to keep a good line but I was actually faster than my last race in 2016 when I had just finished my first 70.3 race (43 minutes in 2016 vs 40 minutes in 2018). Quite a surprise.

The swim leg

My transition was pretty much a lonely event. As I was racked with the aquabike racers, they had all set off earlier than I had. There was practically no-one around when I was in the transition area where I was set up. That’s at least good as the struggle I endure to put on Injinji socks on damp feet during a triathlon is something no-one needs to see (LOL).

With the swim portion complete it was time for the bike. Did I mention that rain and the mist? Wet roads and slick tires for someone who’s last race ended with a bike fall. Yeah, that was going to to boost my confidence at riding at speed! The transition area was wet and muddy and my cleats were caked in mud by the time I got to the bike mount area. I subsequently slipped while trying to clip in and whacked my ankle bone. Ouch!!! Eventually I was able to clip in and was off. The ride was incident free but I was over cautious especially in the corners. It didn’t help that I saw someone go down and saw an ambulance at the side of the road 😦  This is where I lost a lot of time in the race. In sunny 2016 I did this course in 1:07, this year 1:34. That’s a significant decline in performance. Yes, some could be explained by road surface conditions, but how much was due to nerves. I don’t know but we will see in 2019 (I’ve registered for the correct race this time!!!)

The bike leg

The weather had begun to improve by the end of the bike leg. While the sun wasn’t out as it had been in 2016 (that day was in the 80s) but it was dry and warm. The run was uneventful for me but I saw a couple of people stagger and go down due to the heat. I was tired by the end of the run and my splits definitely declined in the second half of the 10K. I ran this slower than in 2016. I think this was more due to the extra pounds than any else. I ran this in 1:06 vs 59 minutes in 2016.

The run leg

At least I finished this event without needing a trip to the medical tent. That’s a win. I really like this event. It is well run by CGI racing. They do a great job with all their races that I have participated in (Love Run, Rutgers Unite Half). Slower this time than last time I ran the event, but I will be back in 2019 and will now have something to beat.

The spandex may be tighter than previous years but I finished without a trip to the med tent

Well done ‘Gary’!!!

2016 Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon – Race recap

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On Sunday April 17th I ran my 20th half marathon, the Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon. It was a race I ran in 2015 and really enjoyed (I had a good race after a long winter) and it fit nicely into my training plan for the upcoming New Jersey Marathon. This was another race put on by CGI Racing who also host the Love Run Philly and the New Jersey State Triathlon, both of which I have participated in over the last couple of years. They do put on a good event.

I was looking forward to this race as I remember it being a fast and fairly flat course and was looking forward to seeing how my pace was during race conditions. I’ve been taking it a little easy this winter as my goal is to stay fit and healthy for the upcoming HITS Hudson Valley Triathlon this July. My goal race is the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon in October. I was close to my PR last year and I felt that it was achievable the way I was training.

This year I opted to pay an extra $15 for race day packet pickup so I didn’t get to attend the expo. From what I recall from 2015 it was a small expo so I didn’t miss out on too much. The extra $15 was probably the gas and tolls I would have spent driving up and back prior to the race.

The forecast was looking good and so I was able to put away the winter gear and planned on wearing a short sleeve shirt. I decided that this was a good enough excuse to debut my new INKnBURN Magnum PI tech shirt. Actually, I didn’t really need an excuse.

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Hard to tell the difference I know!!

I grabbed a cup of coffee and one of my new Honey Stinger waffles (mmm….tasty) for my pre-race breakfast and set out while it was still dark for the 40 mile or so drive to the start line. I got there early on and was parked fairly close to the start line and was able to walk to packet pickup and back to my warm car (it was still a little chilly in the early hours). Packet pickup was quick and seamless, although I was told I had to pick up my shirt and mug at the finish line. Not a big deal. In fact, I probably could have arrived a little later as it was a quicker process than I thought. My tip, register for morning of race packet pickup.

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You know when you have arrived on campus

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Packet pickup was quick and easy. Just had to show ID.

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Packet pickup was quick and easy. Just had to show ID.

It had not warmed up by the time I left my car so I was wearing a warm up jacket which I planned to check so I would have it at the finish line. I had packed a large trash bag to wear in the start chute so headed out to bag check. While I was there I met up with fellow Mickey Miler and host of the Runner Of A Certain Age podcast, John. It was thanks to John that I signed up for this race last year. I hadn’t seen him for a while but I had been a guest on his podcast a couple of times before and we keep in touch on social media.

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Meeting up with John pre-race.

In writing this recap I took a look at my last year recap. As you can see below, this picture made me chuckle when I re-read last year as we took the same photo in the same spot.

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Meeting up with John (host of ‘The Runner Of A Certain Age’ podcast)

It was almost time to start so we made our way over to the start line. I made the same mistake as I had the previous year and entered the chute at the back and had to make my way forward between the 8 and 9 minute pace groups. There were no corral placements, you would just line up at the approximate pace you planned to run. It was only when I reached that point that I realized I could have entered the chute from the side. Oh well. Not a big deal and I was very polite as I made my way forward. I was wearing my trash bag to keep warm but realized I didn’t need it as it was warming up nicely so I took it off to the side and waited for the gun.

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I made my way from the back to my pace time area.

 

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Always a stylish choice. Black goes with everything.

 

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I made it a little closer to the front.

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Get the chopper TC. I’ll meet you at Rick’s for a cold one after the race.

As this was a goal race, I didn’t stop to take pictures of the course. The course itself was a little changed up from last year. There was more time on the newer side of the campus and it seemed to take us around more of the back of house areas than through the campus itself. There isn’t much course support from spectators as such on the back side of the campus (glad I wore my headphones) and there is only so much maintenance equipment and housing blocks you can see before you get bored. The second half of the race (once crossing over the highway) is more picturesque as you run through a park but you really don’t hit the campus area until after the finish.

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2016 Course – more time at the back of the campus

2015.1

2015 Course – more time in the park

About 15 minutes after the half marathon started the organizers sent off the 8K runners. They started on the same place as we did but on the opposite side of the start line. Essentially they run the last 8K of the half marathon distance and would explain why we ran back through the start line around mile 8. It was noticeable that there were more water stations on the second half of the course as a result.

Personally I was having a fairly decent race. I was feeling good and the course wasn’t too congested. There were some nice open stretches and for the short inclines, there were plenty of declines. It was a fairly limited elevation through the first 8 miles. Here are my splits for the first 8 miles.

First half

My first half splits.

I was feeling good going into the second half the race. My 10K split was within a couple of minutes of my 10K PR so all I had to do was keep it going.

As I was going well I started to do running math in my head. Big mistake. It was a distraction and my numbers and timing didn’t seem to make sense. I abandoned that as it is a bad habit. I didn’t think I could make my goal time (sub 1:50) but I still knew I could make a good go of the race. There are no pictures that I took on the course but I did get this professional shot from the second half of the race.

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Doing my best Flyin’ Hawaiian pose.

The second half of the course in the park features a long out and back. It is about a mile and a half or so. As I had run this last year I had a sense of where I was. I remember it feeling a lot longer last year as it always does when you don’t know where the turn around is. I found this section a lot more comfortable to do this year.

Once out of the park you run through the back of a nearby neighborhood and into another park. The last couple of miles have the two biggest inclines (not hills as such). There is a final turnaround in the park as we run around a gazebo. It was at this point when I hit a mile to go that I realized I wasn’t going to hit my sub 1:50 goal, I was getting a little tired. I still thought I could be close to a PR but either way I knew it would be a good run for me.

second half

My second half splits. It shows that I slowed around mile 10.

After the final crest of course it is all downhill to the finish line. I just picked up my pace and ran it in. I was feeling strong and pushed through to the end.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:51:55. Really happy with my time but sad because I hadn’t PR’d. Still, I felt good.

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I grabbed a bottle of water and excited the finish chute making sure to take a couple of photos to document the experience.

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It was a great run in to the finish line.

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Happy to be done. I worked hard.

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The medal was so much nicer this year.

Before I left the finish line I took a quick look at my running data to see how close I had been to a PR when I realized that I actually had PR’d the race. No wonder my math hadn’t worked out on the course. I had my old PR of 1:52.43 (2013 Atlantic City April Fool’s Half Marathon recap) wrong in my head and I actually PR’d the race by almost a minute.

UNITE

My official finish time.

Needless to say I was very happy once I realized. It had been over 3 years since I PR’d so you can excuse me for forgetting!

Once past the finish chute we were shepherded out to the food and back check areas. The food was well organized. Everyone was given a plastic bag containing post race refreshments as well as more water and they had Coke/Diet Coke available (although I haven’t touched soda since last August).

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Post race refreshments were restricted to runners only.

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Food bags were well organized and runners were moved very quickly through the tent.

We then were able to sit and stretch out on the lawn area just outside of the race set up. This is really a wonderful area to sit and cool down after the race. It really was the most picturesque part of the day. Shame it was after the race and not during.

 

 

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Post race food done right. There was also a bag of potato chips included.

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Definitely earned this today.

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Some nice views of the post race area.

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A great place to rest up and relax post race.

After sitting for a while I went to bag check to receive my bag. I didn’t need my jacket after all as the weather was glorious. The bag did come in useful though as I had to pick up my race shirt and mug and it was nice to have something to pack it all up as I then had to line up for the shuttle to return to the starting line to get my car.

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In additional to my medal and race shirt (not shown) I got my race mug which CGI gives out for each race.

Really pleased with my day and again this would be a race I would recommend and return to. I think I would like my wife run it next year so she gets a chance and I will do something else, probably the Love Run Philly as they are back to back weeks and both run by the same company.

I guess it was all down to the shirt for me. I was thinking of heading the blog ‘Magnum PR’ but that would have been a little too cheesy.

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I outran ‘Apollo’ and ‘Zeus’ to earn my PR.

Thanks for reading. Sorry about all the Magnum references 🙂

2015 New Jersey State Triathlon – Recap (not race recap…)

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I have to start off by saying that this is a tough post to write, not because of my performance on the day but because despite all my training and all my preparation for this event it was not the outcome I had planned.

I was coming to the end of the bike portion of the race when I was called off my bike by a volunteer about half a mile from the transition to tell me that due to a report of a lightning strike on the course, the race was cancelled for the safety of the competitors.

The race directors posted a statement later which read in part:

“As disappointing as that is, we would much rather explain to you why we took such action then having to explain to the family of an injured athlete why we didn’t.

You cannot argue with that.

I would still like to record on this blog my experience leading up to, during and after this event so I can share the good and the bad as well as the surprises and the lessons learned for the weekend. Here goes…

Back in October last year I signed up for the New Jersey State Triathlon. This was to be my first triathlon. I originally signed up for the Olympic distance (1,500 meter swim/23 mile bike/6.2 mile run) but having not worked as hard in the pool as I really needed to I decided to pull back to the Sprint distance (500 meter swim/11.5 mile bike/3.1 mile run) so I knew I would be able to finish. It was the swim leg that really had me worried. I was confident about the bike and run sections having done three duathlons in the last few years.

After having joined a swim club back in October but going pretty rarely due to business travel and the access to the pool over the winter being limited I joined up with a pool closer to my house and committed to going 2 to 3 times a week and swimming. I kept up that commitment and have logged a number of long (for me) swim sessions over the last 2 months to give me the confidence that a) I wouldn’t drown, and b) I had enough in me to complete the Sprint distance.

I had joined the Bucks Country Triathlon Club for information and tips back in October and ordered my club tri-suit back in February. I picked it up in early May and it was snug but I guess it was supposed to be so it wouldn’t drag in the water. Tri-suits do not require any form of modesty whatsoever. It did fit a little more snug following our recent trip to the UK and the enormous quantities of chocolate I consumed over there…but it was worth it 🙂

The day before the race arrived and I left work a little early to head over to Mercer County Park for packet pickup. The race was being put on by CGI Racing which have put on a couple of other races I have participated in over the last couple of years, namely the LOVE Run Half Marathon and the Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon, both of which were very well run.

The packet pick up area

The packet pick up area

Tomorrow's finish line

Tomorrow’s finish line

My goal when I got to the park was to pick up my race packet, ask a couple of questions that I had and then look at any expo they had (never having been to a triathlon expo). Packet pickup was in an open field by the transition area as was the expo. It didn’t take too long to pick up the packet and then the race shirt. I then went over to the information table to ask my couple of questions. A volunteer recommended I walk the transition area to get familiar with the swim entry/exit before the race. I hadn’t thought about that but it was a great idea. It also helped calm my nerves a little to see what I would be getting myself in for.

Packet pick up was smooth

Packet pick up was smooth

There was an information booth and an area to look up your bib number if you didn't have it with you

There was an information booth and an area to look up your bib number if you didn’t have it with you.

The expo was a few tents surrounding the packet pick up

The expo was a few tents surrounding the packet pick up. It was small with a few vendors.

Once I had my packet and shirt and the volunteer had walked me through all the items in my race packet (including the ankle bracelet for the chip) I walked around in the order of the next day’s events. The swim, the bike and then the run.

I walked down to the lake to see the entry point and the exit as well as to look out over the water along the course. The first thing that struck me was that I wasn’t too intimidated by the course. I wasn’t really sure in my mind how I would have pictured the swim as I’d only seen an Ironman competition on TV and not anything shorter and having only done lap swimming and no open water swimming before I didn’t really have a sense of the length.

Swim entry point

Swim entry point

Swim course outlined by buoys

Swim course outlined by buoys

Swim entry view

Swim entry view

A panorama of the whole course from start (on right) to finish (on left).

A panorama of the whole course from start (on right) to finish (on left)

The exit of the swim

The exit of the swim

The transition area from the swim to the bike

The transition area from the swim to the bike

As I was walking along the lake I came across this sign…

Yes...that will calm my nerves!!!

Yes…that will calm my nerves!!!

So on entry to the transition area I went over to see where my bike would be set up the next day and to look for where I would be going both out and then in once I was transitioning.

Racks and racks all set up

Racks and racks all set up

My designated spot for the race

My designated spot for the race

Worth checking where to head in advance so you don't panic on the day.

Worth checking where to head in advance so you don’t panic on the day.

Walk up the chute out onto the road with the bike.

Walk up the chute out onto the road with the bike. This was both the out/in route for the bike portion.

The start to the last part of the triathlon

The start to the last part of the triathlon

The finishing chute

The finishing chute

Having walked through the area I took a look at the VIP area as the Bucks County Triathlon Club had a team tent set up for the weekend.

VIP area

VIP area

Tent placed ready for the weekend.

Tent placed ready for the weekend

Benefits of being part of a triathlon club

Benefits of being part of a triathlon club – private port-a-potty

So with the packet picked up and the walk through completed I headed off to join the family for the evening. We were getting together by the pool to chill out with the boys for the evening. I was beginning to get a little antsy so I left early to start to get my gear ready for the next day.

I needed to get my bike off the bike trainer and oil the chain and pump the tires. All was going well until….ssssssssss…what? What’s going on? sssssssss….

Yup, my rear wheel tube had split at the valve. I have to admit that at 9:30pm the night before my first triathlon and having never changed a tire on a bike in my entire life I was a little freaked!!!!

A few messages to biking friends and a post or two on Facebook groups guided me to YouTube. I must have watched the ‘How to change a tire’ video about a dozen times. Ultimately…and messily I changed my tire tube. Luckily I had a spare. When I bought my bike they threw one into my gear bag. Never thought I’d use it though!!!

Eek!!!

Eek!!!

What????

What????

Done!!!

Done!!!

Ugh...

Ugh…

Ultimately I got through this little last minute emergency and packed my bag ready for the next day.

Finally ready for the big day.

Finally ready for the big day. I bet no one else has a transition bag this cool!!!

I didn’t get much sleep that night. Between the adrenaline rush of the bike incident and the thought of the swim and how I would handle the transition my mind was racing. I got about 4.5 hours of sleep.

Race Day

I got up around 4:15am with the goal of leaving home around 5-5:15am as it was a 30 minute drive to get to the race. I was a little tired but excited. I had all my gear laid out the night before and I had my Powerbar and some water ready for when I was getting dressed. I had left random notes all over the house to remember my Garmin, to remember my water bottles in the refrigerator, etc.

Packing the car and racking my bicycle in the dark was an interesting experience. Nevertheless I was all packed up and ready to go. I headed out to the race area. By the time I got to Mercer County Park there were plenty of people there. I parked next to a lady who looked like she was an experienced triathlete. I nervously made small talk as we unpacked our cars and then made my way over to the transition area where volunteers were marking up everyone with their race numbers (number on each arm and age on one calf).

D-Day. Triathlon or bust.

D-Day. Triathlon or bust.

It was tight at the transition area as my neighbor seemed to have a lot of gear (well…a lot of space) and luckily I was at the end of the rack so I had a little extra space at the end to play with. I set up my gear and looked around at all the people there. I heard them announced the water temperature and they announced it was not wetsuit legal. I had looked this up in advance and this time of year was typically very warm so I had not rented a wetsuit for this race. Glad I hadn’t spent the money at that moment.

Setting up my gear

Setting up my gear

Pretty much ready to go

Pretty much ready to go

Craaaazy busy

Craaaazy busy

Craaaazy busy

Craaaazy busy

I made my way over to the port-a-potty’s and waited in line. The lines were not long but didn’t move fast. I figured it takes people so much extra time to get in and out of these tri-suits!!!

One last check of my transition area

One last check of my transition area

After the bathroom stop I made my way over to the transition area for one final run through of my gear, picked up my swim cap and goggles and made my way to the swim start area. I don’t have photos from here as my phone was in the transition area, my phone isn’t waterproof and my tri-suit doesn’t have any pockets. Ha. I guess I should get myself a GoPro 😉

I saw that people were being directed around the side of the boat house where they were allowed to do a practice swim. I hadn’t planned on it or given it any thought but I saw so many people going over there and it was almost an hour until my swim group went off that I decided to give it a try. After all this would be my first open water swim.

As I was walking down the ramp into the water I bumped into a colleague from work. We were both doing our first triathlon so it was nice to meet someone probably as anxious as me.

I took my first steps (it was rocky) into the water and although I didn’t follow the whole practice course I swam for about 5 minutes out and back. Wow. You cannot see anything in the water!!! At least I now how an idea of what to expect for the real deal within the next hour.

After exiting the water I bumped into a fellow Bucks County Tri-Club member and we chatted a little until I reconnected with my colleague. We hung out as the first few waves went off and he left about 10 minutes ahead of me and joined his wave.

The swim started in the water so there was none of that mad dash into the water. That was good for me as I was worried about that at the start. I only pictured what I had seen on TV and those usually are the beach starts when everyone runs in at the same time. By starting in the water I could make sure I had enough space around me when I started swimming.

Swim course

Swim course

I was given some advice before the swim which essentially was to wait for the gun (or the word to go), let the fast people go, count to ten then pick a spot and take my time going out. That would leave me a little behind everyone but out of the way of the main body of swimmers.

Eventually my wave was called to the start. As we watched the previous wave go off everyone took their place and we went into the water. The temperature was comfortable and I felt remarkably relaxed at this point. I wasn’t racing anyone but just wanted to complete the swim without any major issues. I had plenty of space around me although I did line up towards the rear. Eventually our wave was released and we were off.

Within the first 100 meters I was just focusing on staying calm and moving forward as I normally would with regular bilateral breathing every 3 strokes. At one point however I came awfully close with a fellow swimmer and almost took a mouthful of lake water. Yuk! As started to cough a little and one of the race supervisors on a nearby kayak asked if I was okay. I gave him a thumbs up and then continued on my way. Next thing I know I’m being yelled at to go left by another person in a kayak and as I looked up I was veering almost off the course. After a couple of course corrections I eventually figured out how best to keep sighting while swimming and I made it around the first turn.

I could hear another wave behind me be released as I was swimming. A little while after I made the second turn and headed in I was passed by the leader of the wave. I was swimming pretty steadily (mostly freestyle) and pretty much keeping a pace along with a bunch of other competitors and so I thought I was doing okay.

As I saw the exit approaching I focused on my form and made a beeline for the exit of the swim. As I made it to the shallow water I tried to stand up only to feel a little dizzy as I got upright. Luckily there was a volunteer in the water to catch me and hold my arm for a few moments until I could get my footing. As soon as I was steady I made my way up the exit ramp and headed out towards the transition area.

My one and only professional shot from the day - Exiting the swim

My one and only professional shot from the day – Exiting the swim. Proof I didn’t drown.

I got into the transition area and made it to my bike. I had read a few tips about bringing extra bottles of water to wash sand/grass/dirt off your feet and this was a really good tip. I dried my feet and put on some talc to help put on my Injini socks (not the easiest to put on in a rush), grabbed my bike shoes and helmet and made my way out of the transition area. Once we exited the grass area the volunteers told us to mount the bike after we crossed the red line which was the start of the bike course.

Bike course

Bike course

As I set off on my bike the sky was getting really dark. They had mentioned that there was a chance of rain towards the end of the race so I was hoping it would hold off while on the bike. I don’t mind running in the rain (although not when it was like the LOVE Run Half Marathon type of rain LOL).

I started off steadily and used the first mile to get down some water and a Gu gel packet. As I was progressing through mile 2 the rain started. Gently at first but by mile 3-4 it was steady and beginning to get harder. By mile 5 the rain was beating down hard and stinging my exposed skin. I started to see flashes of lightning and felt a little concerned about being out in a storm. I keep moving along (a decent pace for my hybrid bike) and despite the rain and the puddles was maintaining a consistent pace. I was however getting wet. Very wet. I could feel my socks squelching in my bike shoes and my bike helmet was not keeping my head dry from the elements.

Interestingly there were a number of cars on the course as we were riding and some were not very considerate to the cyclists. There police were doing a great job at the road junctions but it was still a little hairy given the conditions at the moment.

The rain was a downpour as I was approaching the last third of the bike route but I hadn’t seen any notification from the course volunteers and I hadn’t heard any siren or anything at this point.

As I approached mile 10 the rain seemed to lighten up and I made my way back into the park. I was hoping that my shoes that I had left in the transition weren’t soaked but luckily I had another pair of shoes and a dry pair of socks in my bag (which hopefully wasn’t soaked itself).

As I made my way to the transition area all of a sudden I started to see a whole bunch of folks walking on the side of the road ahead of me. I saw a few wearing medals so I just assumed these were the folks who had finished much faster than my wave. But then I heard a volunteer telling us to slow down and get off our bikes. At this point I was at mile 10.9 of the 11.5 mile route. They told us that the race had been cancelled due to lightning. I was stunned. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do at that point. I got off my bike and started walking back to the transition area in a daze.

As I walked my bike in I heard a member of the race organizing team shouting at everyone to get away from trees, metal and bikes as there was lightning in the area. They told us the transition area was closed and if we should go and sit in our cars until the storm had passed. As my keys were in the transition area I asked if I could get them and they said yes if I hurried.

I saw a bunch of folks standing under the Bucks Country Tri Club tent and so I quickly ran up and left my bike there and then ran to the transition to grab my gear. Yes it was soaked. I quickly dashed back to stand under the tent with everyone else. I was totally at a loss for words. I felt I was doing great and I was so happy to have completed the swim but I just felt that I had had the stuffing knocked out of me.

I was very disappointed. But not mad. What could I do?

We waited under the tent until the storm passed. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I noticed while I was standing under the tent that I had damaged my front brake…needless to say that was part of my tire changing experience from the night before so I decided to say goodbye to everyone and head over to my local bicycle store (Guy’s Bicycles) and have it checked out.

As I was driving home I called my wife and told her how upset I was. She said it had been very dark but it had never rained at home. In fact the sun was out. I asked her if it would be alright if I went for a short run when I got home so I could get my mind clear and plan my next move and she was okay with that. She was disappointed for me too.

I was still dressed in my wet tri suit as I dropped off my bike but the sun was now shining again and so I quickly went home, changed my shoes and grabbed a hand-held water bottle as it was very hot by now and just went out and ran my 5K. That was pretty much all I had left to do to finish the triathlon.

I must have looked a little silly running through the local park in a skin-tight suit all marked up with permanent marker on my arms and leg but I didn’t care. I was out and I was finishing my race my way.

Feeling determined after my 5K

Feeling determined after my 5K

I took a long hot shower and hung my gear out to dry, stuffed my wet shoes with newspaper and came back to reality. I uploaded all my data after I’d had a chance to eat and relax and few hours to remove myself from the events of earlier in the day.

Overall I cannot be that disappointed. I didn’t quit, I didn’t DNF the race, the elements were out of my control. I was really pleased and proud to have completed the swim and the swim to bike transition. I learned a few lessons during that and also take away confidence that I can do this.

Looking at my stats I did a triathlon on the day. I just did it my way and didn’t give up despite the situation. It would have been too easy to be down about the experience but by getting myself out for that 5K it turned a bad situation around and I know now that I can do this.

My triathlon - my way

My triathlon – my way

My goal for next year is to return to the New Jersey State Triathlon and do the Olympic distance as I had originally intended for this year. I am confident that I will do this now. I have committed to my swim training and will only get stronger and have more endurance in a years time.

My next move was to find a local triathlon in the next few weeks to achieve my goal of completing a triathlon this season. I don’t want to wait another year. I took  a look around and settled on the Medford Lakes Colony Sprint Triathlon on Sunday August 23rd. By the end of next month I will be a triathlete.

As a follow-up, the race organizers wrote to everyone and said “A decision will be made in the next few weeks on what will be offered to our Sprint athletes please be patient as we must first do our post race due diligence.” I will wait patiently.

They also offered to send finisher medals to Sprint participants. I was not sure what to do. I usually display my race medals but I didn’t get a chance to finish this one. My wife says that after all the training and in completing the distance on the day I should take it but I don’t feel like I would want to display it. So what I have decided to do is to accept the medal, not display it but put it on the side with the goal of replacing it with the real deal in 2016. That will be my motivator. Once I have my 2016 New Jersey State Triathlon finisher medal I will donate the 2015 medal to ‘Medals 4 Mettle‘.

That is my silver lining and my motivation for next years event.

Thank you for reading.