Sunday – September 16th. Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, PA.
My alarm went off at 3:45 AM. I had packed my transition bag Saturday, briefly before heading out to attend my cousin’s wedding. You might question my sanity for scheduling a race for a morning following a wedding, and as soon as I have a cogent answer for why I did that, I’ll be sure to get back to you…
I arrived right at 5:10AM, and saw a line of red brakelights. Apparently the park police did not want to grant access to the growing throng of insane racers appearing out of the darkness. After about 15 minutes of watching more headlights appear in my rearview, they finally relented and allowed us in to the parking areas.
I unpacked the car and immediately realized I left my hoodie at home, and considering the pre-dawn temp was 50 degrees I was not a happy camper. I headed over to check in and begin to stage for the race in the pitch black. In a few minutes I was checked in, race packet received, and body-marked with a Sharpie (for the uninitiated – they stencil or write your race number and age class on your leg and arm). I also had to visit the BikeLine tent for a bar endplug, since on of mine wiggled loose during the ride.
So as the sun came up, I laid out all my gear in a logical way that would make for easy-pickin when “transitioning” (the time to transfer between swim and bike, bike and run). The gentleman to my right was a great guy and was also doing his first tri. He was an experienced swimmer and rider and said that his run was his weak part. Going into this race I felt confident in my swim and a little leery of the bike, given the terrain.
No matter how much I tried, this was the neatest I could manage.
So as the race got closer, the transition area began to REALLY fill up. The photo above looks like ample room, but there was another bike that came in late that squeezed between our bikes above. He could have been a little nicer about it, and come to think of it that guy was the only borderline poor attitude I encountered all day – in fact the overwhelming helpfulness of folks at this race is very much like the other runs and bike rides I’ve participated in this year.
As time drew close, I put on the wetsuit, grabbed my yellow cap and goggles and began the walk over to the swim entry. I was in the 2nd wave, and I tried (unsuccessfully) to get over to the far right side of the pack. Once the word was given, the “washing machine” started. Within the first 30 seconds I knew it was going to be rough going. I was slammed in the arms a couple of times, took a kick to my right hip, and then someone decided to swim ACROSS the line-of-march and swam ACROSS MY BACK, forcing me under water and swallowing about a quart of the lake. I couldn’t get my heart rate under control and my breathing was panicked. I have swum 4-6 times this distance in open water and haven’t had any problems, but in a race all bets are off. I survived well enough and made it to the other end (this was a point-to-point swim) and into the transition area for T1.
T1 was good. I gathered myself since I was so freaked and calmly made it to my setup. I forgot the gel pack I planned on taking about 2 miles from the end of the bike along with my sunglasses (which sounds frivolous, but at speeds over 30 mph your eyes tend to dry out and catch bugs!).
I had trouble with my flying mount (which I practiced quite a bit), but the combo of an immediate hill along with chopped up pavement and an oncoming ambulance made this tough. I dropped a shoe out of my pedal clip and just ended up pulling over and remounting.
The bike was hellacious. The hills were tough, and those 12 miles was a tougher ride than the
45 mile 49.8 mile LIVESTRONG ride. I got passed a lot, but I also did my share of passing as well. I made it a point to gear down on the hills and I think I rode a very smart bike leg today. I even kept it light and pedaled rapidly with low resistance to loosen the legs for the run, and I think it worked.
T2 was smooth. I put on socks since I had a bad blister on the top of my right foot from 3 days of tradeshow-booth-standing in poor fitting dress shoes. I set off on the run and guess what?—MORE HILLS! But this one was just one big uphill grade for a mile. The good news was that the out-n-back made the last mile downhill, and I pushed it pretty good. In fact, that last mile was the best feeling run I’ve ever experienced (including training).
I am smiling, right?
So I cruised to the finish line and I’m happy to say it was a great race!
Things I would do differently:
- Dress Warmer for the cold early morning
- Don’t forget the gel and glasses on the bike
- Stock up on Dollar Store flip-flops for the walk over gravel parking lots to start the swim (tough on bare feet!)
So I’m off to watch the Eagles for a bit, and then an afternoon/evening date with my wife!