This past weekend I raced my last triathlon of the season, Waterman’s sprint, along with a few other DC Tri Club fellow athletes. What follows is a race review for those of you considering the race for next year, and a few insights I wanted to capture which we’ll make me a better and smarter athlete in future races (and maybe help you too).
The race took place on Rock Hall, MD. This is located about two hours from DC, which makes it convenient to drive to on race morning. This year the Waterman’s sprint course was the same as the Rock Hall sprint triathlon course, which takes place in the Spring. Waterman’s is put together by Setup Events. It drew together some 350 athletes, including top performers.
Race day conditions
A cold front blew through the night before the race, lowering the air temperatures to 50 degrees on race morning. Temperatures in previous mornings otherwise were around 60 degrees. This weather variability is something to be mindful of when registering for a race this late into the year. Conditions were also windy, which was to be expected of a coastal location. Water temperature was in the upper 60s. It had been in the lower 70s in days prior.
Preparing for the race
I spent my entire triathlon season training for Ironman Louisville, which took place around six weeks ago. I was on a “fitness and racing high” post Louisville, which I did not want to end. I wanted to take advantage of my conditioning to try to excel in a few events post-Ironman. Since Louisville, I switched my training to short distance, high intensity workouts. I raced Nation’s, Ragnar, and the Battle of the Tri Clubs swim meet. I picked Waterman’s sprint with the goal of getting on the podium for my age group. I knew I was capable of swimming in ~12 mins, biking in the low 40s, and running a sub-20 5k, despite my limited fast-twitch muscle training this year.
My biggest concerns and doubts going into the race had to do with the cold weather and what to wear on the bike. It was a trade off between saving time in T1 and not freezing on the road. I borrowed arm warmers from a friend the day before, tried putting them on in the bathroom with wet arms, and decided it was too difficult and time consuming. I decided to race with a long sleeve shirt on the bike.
I ended up being cold on the bike, but not because of my choice of bike clothing. As it turned out, I was cold and “brain numb” by the time I came out of the water. I should have swam in my wetsuit. Instead, I swam in my speedsuit for two reasons: 1) because I feel restricted in my stroke movements when I wear a wetsuit, and 2) because I figured I could gain valuable seconds in T1 on those who would have to wrestle to take off their wetsuits.
I completely underestimated the primary purpose of wetsuits: to keep the body warm! Duh! By the time I came out of the water, my body temperature had dropped. I was unable to think clearly and function quickly, so much so that I momentarily grabbed my running shoes in T1. My T1 time was much too slow. Subsequently, I was unable to perform at my best on the bike. I was actually concerned for my safety, knowing I would be unable to quickly react to anything in front of me. As for the run, it went well (2nd fastest in age group), but there is only so much catching up one can do in a 5k.
Not only did I feel cold in the water, but I also had a poor swim. This is unusual for me given my teenage swimming background. I had a bad swim in part because I was cut off to a halt 4-5 times by other swimmers unable to swim straight. There was also quite a bit of chop in the water as a result of the wind and currents, which I did not expect for a harbor swim. Relative to most swimmers wearing wetsuits, I invested a greater effort staying high on the water line. Retrospectively, a wetsuit would have helped with buoyancy. Fellow DC Tri Club triathlete Glenn E. mentioned the idea of swimming with a speedsuit and a neoprene skull cap as an alternative to staying warm without wearing a wetsuit. While I had never heard or thought of this idea, it makes sense given that most body heat is lost through the head.
Waterman’s sprint triathlon taught me a few things. First, I should consider racing in my wetsuit more often than I do. There is no point in putting myself at a disadvantage against other competitors. Second, I may have set an unrealistic goal to get on the podium, as a result of my “Ironman fitness high.” As competitive as I am and as strong as I was feeling in weeks prior, the reality is I have not been training for short course racing this year. My fast twitch muscles were not prepared to fire with all cylinders. In addition, given my 11hr 19min time (top 10% finish) for my first Ironman in Louisville this past August, I may just be a slow twitch athlete. Lastly, I learned that as athletes we all have racing and training days when things don’t go as planned, and this is ok. The important part is learning from our experiences to become better, smarter athletes and improve upon in our future performances.
In the end, I finished 5th in my age group, which is not too bad after all.