Executive summary: this was my first Olympic triathlon. It went better than I expected but not quite as well as I wanted.
This is the second year of Renaissance Man. Last year, my friend Laura (who was in Tri101 with me) did it as her first Olympic, and she spoke highly of how well the race was organized and how much fun it was. I hadn’t planned to do another Olympic before Rocketman, my goal race, but I decided to do this as a checkpoint to assess my fitness and race readiness. I wanted to try to complete it in under 3:30. The last several races I’ve run have been out of town, so one of the things I wanted to see was whether racing away from home has been slowing me down. Another thing I wanted to check out was whether my new race nutrition plan would make a noticeable difference. My coach has me eating a target number of calories (with specific targets for protein, fat, and carb intake) each day. The actual target amount varies according to that day’s planned activities.
The big question: exactly how hot would it be on race day? The other big question: how would I perform on a 1500-meter open-water swim in the scenic Tennessee River?
I should have taken pictures of all the crap I had set up before the race because it was pretty epic. Apart from all the normal contents of my triathlon bag (bike shoes and helmet, running shoes, race belt, towel, transition mat, sunscreen, and so on), I also had food strewn all over the kitchen counter. My coach’s recommendations were for ~ 50g carbs and ~30g protein an hour or so before the race, and I knew that I’d want plenty of Mercury (the hydration drink I use). I mixed all that stuff up on the counter the night before, strapped my bike on the back of the car, and packed my bag the night before.
Race day dawned and I was up and rolling just before 5am; the race venue is about an hour’s drive from my house and I wanted to have as much time as possible to get set up in transition and have a warmup swim. After a totally uneventful drive, I found the place, parked, got my race packet, and started setting up in transition… only to find that I didn’t have a race number for my bike. Yikes. Under USA Triathlon rules, that would result in a 2-minute time penalty if the refs caught me. I went back to the packet tent but they couldn’t make a replacement, so I decided to brazen it out, set up the rest of my stuff, and headed to the beach for a warmup swim. Not, however, before taking this panorama:
My warmup swim went well, the pre-race briefing didn’t contain any surprises, and the singer who performed the National Anthem was terrific. TIME TO RACE.
I’d been fairly nervous (for me, anyway) about the swim. I’d swum 1500+ yards in a single workout, but never without stopping, and never more than about 600 yards in open water. I really felt good about the swim after the easy 600 I did on Thursday– that was just supposed to be an easy cruise without stopping, and that’s just what it was. After a quick warmup, which was really just some splashing, I lined up to wait for the time trial. This race featured an
My target time was 45min, and I ended up swimming 1637y in 41:10. If I hadn’t done such a poor job of sighting, I would have been under 40min. If you look at the course plot on Strava you’ll see what I mean. Still a lot of work to do here but I am überproud of myself for swimming that distance without stopping— that’s a big milestone for me.
The ride was pretty decent. I rode about the first half of it in the small chain ring because I’m a dumbass; on one section of flat road, I was doing about 110rpm and couldn’t get above about 20.5mph, and then when I figured it out, boom. My average speed went up after that. (Takeaway: pay more attention). My sustained cadence still needs work but this was very close to a 40km PR for me— my previous PR was done on a group ride (so drafting) with two breaks en route. I actually passed a few people, which was a real treat for me. Had ~40oz of Mercury on the ride + 1 Gu. I probably should have had a third bottle; that’s on my shopping list, though it means I need a new bottle cage.
This was my first race with my new Stages power meter, about which more later. It wasn’t super useful to me, apart from being able to see my average and instantaneous power. I am not yet at the point where I can produce a consistent power output on demand, nor where I can figure out what power output I should be targeting. But I’ll get there.
I got into T2 and out again in just over 3min, which is decent for me. During that time I scarfed down a Honey Stinger waffle, swallowed 4 SportsLegs with a swig of Mercury, swapped out my helmet for hat, and off I went. Next time I need to eat my waffle on the run.
“Trudged” is a word I might use here. The run was miserable. It was my slowest-ever 10K, at a 13min/mi pace. Coming out of transition my legs were leaden. It didn’t help that the first half of the course had lots of rollers and zero shade. I never even saw the famous lions at the University of North Alabama. I guess I was too busy suffering. I had 2 x 8oz bottles of Mercury with me and the first one was gone inside the first mile. Luckily there were aid stations about every mile, although the first one was out of water when I got there! I was pounding water like it was free beer. My quads and calves were both equally bad; I think I need to work on my swim kick, among other things.
I’m really disappointed by this aspect of the race, frankly, because I know I can run a 10K faster than this.
Side note: the hottest I have ever been in my entire life was when I stopped to use a dark green port-a-potty in downtown Florence. Never in my life have I experienced such a temperature.
Registration was simple, packet pickup was efficient, and the volunteer support was superb (especially the Borden Dental ladies at body marking and the Listerhill Credit Union staff who manned a drive-through aid station on Court Street, complete with music, food, and ice water). I was disappointed that by the time I got to the finish line, they weren’t still announcing finisher names and times, and that there was nothing other than half-bananas to eat post-race (though some pizza did eventually appear). Overall, you expect these kinds of glitches during a race’s first few years, so I’m sure next year they’ll have them sorted out.
The big takeaways
53 weeks ago, I had never run a triathlon (nor a half-marathon, nor any distance over five miles). On the one hand I am delighted by my progress– I ran an Olympic distance triathlon, something I never would have guessed I could or would do as recently as 54 weeks ago. On the other hand, the gap between how I want to perform and how I do perform is pretty clear. I’m setting some aggressive goals for my next race and will be working hard to hit them.