Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tri Rock Philadelphia Race Report

Tri Rock Philadelphia

Olympic Distance (23 Jun 2013)

Race Report – Larry Bowers

2 hrs 22 min 35 sec (4th AG, 137 OA – about 1,300 finishers)


Guess what?  It was NOT a dark and stormy night.  Alas, some good weather for a race this year.  Yeah!

I made it clear to my wife and daughter that for Father’s Day this year I did NOT want a tie, a cake, a card or another shirt I do not need.  I wanted to compete in the Tri Rock Philadelphia Olympic Triathlon.  Plus, my daughter was out of state, my wife’s family is from Philly and the dog was going to dog camp as a loaner dog (for a week and free of charge).  So how could my wife say “no” to that?  She didn’t.  She agreed and I then dropped a lot of $ to enter a big city race at the last minute.

We both arrived in Philly on Friday and on Saturday I went down to Fairmount Park for the mandatory package pickup.  The sprint race was just finishing when I arrived.  But the big race that draws the pros is the Olympic race and it’s on Sunday, the next day.

I scout out what I can of the course, the transition area primarily and the swim arrival point.  I note the transition area is about 4 times larger than what I am used to.  This is going to be big.  I check out the bike course on Google Earth and quickly surmise that it has a lot of sharp turns and four technical climbs (and descents).  As a double loop bike course, this means I will see the same up and down challenges TWICE.  Joy.  The swim is point to point.  They bus us up the Schuylkill River, across the Falls Bridge, down Kelly Drive and then drop us off at Joe’s Boat House.  After package pickup, I head back to my mother in law’s house in Swarthmore for a night of tossing and turning, my typical pre-race ritual and preparation.

Swim (1500 M, 23 min 58 sec, 8th AG, 271 OA)

The next morning I arrive at 515AM and it is actually “not” dark.  Two days past summer solstice and a northern latitude helped with that.  I set up my gear and then head to the buses for the drive to the swim start.  The buses are at least 1 mile away which I find out only after I start walking, in bare feet of course.  Lesson learned - wear shoes and use the swim bag drop off service at the swim start.  I arrive at the swim start and watch the pros depart 30 minutes before the elites and the rest of us age groupers.  Way cool seeing Andy Potts, Cameron Dye, Matty Reed, Sara McLarty, Jenna Shoemaker and about 15 other pros.  After an hour and half, my age group goes and it is a time trial start.  Every 10 seconds a group of about 10 swimmers would jump off the floating dock at Joe’s Boat House.  I depart and instantly get smacked in the face multiple times by several swimmers.  Crap, I thought the time trial start was intended to stop that kind of mayhem.  It felt like I just got a black eye from one of the impacts and then the goggle crushes into the other eye and almost comes off.  I don’t even know if I am swimming with my goggles after all of that.  I finally pull everything together and get into a smooth and solid roll.  I get PO’d and pass all the bone heads that pummeled me at the start.  At least I channeled that anger properly.  The swim buoys are fantastic.  They look like a floating VW Beetle with 100 meter markings on them (100M, 200M, 300M).  That was nice and in the post-race awards ceremony one of the female pros made a lot of nice comments about the swim buoys.  At 300 meters I plow into a female doing the back stroke.  What the heck was that, was my initial reaction.  Maybe I should get my surf board out here next time to blend in with the locals.  I felt fast in the swim and at about 1300 meters I was getting a bit winded so I dialed it back a bit to ensure I could actually climb onto the floating dock I was approaching.  I snagged a few twigs and floating debris in my mouth in the last push for the dock and ran into a few other swimmers trying to converge for the same platform.  Been there and done that.  We slug it out but maintain our cool.  Everyone gets to the dock and out of the water, fast.

Bike (40 KM, 1 hr 9 min 38 sec, 8th AG, 137 OA) T1 2 min 13 sec

Into T1 I go.  I try something different with my wet suit stripping this time.  I yank it down to the trouble area (calves) and then stand on part of it and do some weird dance.  It still is a royal pain to strip but I do get it off eventually.  I swear I must get rid of that thing.  My bike is racked about 300 yards from the bike mount area on MLK Boulevard so I plan to run with my shoes in one hand and the bike seat guided by the other hand.  It worked.  I fly up to the mount area and then I see if my “complete” theory works.  I bend over and actually get my feet into my shoes fairly fast, mount the bike and go.  Maybe next time I will clip the shoes onto the pedals.  In practice it has been working out ok but after swimming 1500 meters I could see myself getting a gut cramp as soon as I bend over to strap the shoes after I mount the bike.  Onto the ride.  My plan was to gauge and scout out the course on the first loop, and hopefully adjust my tactics for the second loop.

The bike course was flat as long as you stayed along the river (duh, river level).  On the west side was MLK Boulevard and on the east side was Kelly and Segley Drives (and a few others).     But there were at least 4 off- branches away from the river.  This meant maybe 2 miles of flat road then an abrupt turn for some hill climbing and then descending.  And repeat and repeat.  So within 2 miles of mounting the bike, the course veers left off of MLK Boulevard and your speed goes from 24 mph to 20, then 18 then 8 real fast.  I spin up the hills and never stand up (to save the legs for the run).  By time you get to the top, you almost want to fall off your bike.  It takes a while to build up your speed on the top and then you make a few turns and head right back down.   The road surfaces are so so (hey, this is the wicked NE, whatcha expect?).  And this is where things got scary.  Not being able to see around corners, I played it safe and would usually get out of aero position to help slow me down and then I would have to also hit the dreaded brakes.  And this is where I lost some key ground on the bike portion in my AG.  There was no way I could descend at the same rate as some of the top level riders.  They knew the course and they could hammer it.  I played it safe and would only go all out heading down when I could see ALL the road ahead of me .. yet it never worked that way.  Anyway, there were 4 hills for each loop and I knew that Lemon Hill would be tough.  And it was.  Finally, you go blasting right in front of the Art Museum where Rocky ran up the steps.  Now that was way cool.  You cross back over the Schuylkill River and head up a few more hills and then repeat the loop again.  There have been fatalities on the bike course in the past and I could see why.  For the second loop, I still could not adjust my descent rate as much as I hoped.  Blame it on mental fog I guess.  On the second loop I finally see the pros on the run course.  They are cooking it.

Run (10 KM, 44 min 52 sec, 4th AG, 160 OA), T2 2 min 1 sec

Into T2 I go with another 300 yard trot with my bike.  Shoes off in the other hand and I am flying … so I think.  About 200 yards into it, some guys blows by me and he is wearing his cycling shoes while running with his bike.  How did he do that??  Guess I was not running as fast as I thought but it felt fast.  I rack the bike, change gear and grab my running belt.  The guy five bikes down from me “tosses” his bike onto the rack and almost takes everything down with it.  I look at him like “What’s the rush, the pros left this area about 45 minutes ago.”  I head out of T2 and could feel some unexpected heavy legs.  My blown calves are healing and seem to be doing ok though I could feel some tightness and tingling in them on the bike.  I think the hill climbing on the bike, without a doubt, took a major toll on my running.  Anyway, I ran and kept a decent pace which was maybe only 1 minute shy of what I ran in Jamestown.  The heat started to arrive by then and I really could feel the fatigue setting in.  I kept thinking “it’s only 6.2 miles Larry, come on, get with it.”  The volunteers at the aid stations, as always, are great.  I had one volunteer running me down to hand me a Gel that we both missed.  I keep a steady pace and finally see the red carpet of the chute.  I don’t quite gun it because there is nothing left to gun.  So I run it in but get a bit confused where the timing strip is.  I slow down before it but continue through.  More on that later.

The post-race food was great which included 3 types of wraps (I ONLY had two), fruit, pesto pasta and of course some Philly pretzels.  I see a few really messed up folks as I walk by the Med Tent.  Without doubt, some of them went off the bike course somewhere.  The awards ceremony for the pros was neat and Andy Potts gives away a $5K Kestrel tri bike, nice.

A few weeks before the race, I checked the previous race results for several years and saw several repeat names in my age group.  Barry Lewis and Bob Pugh were the top dogs.  And both were present in this year’s race.  Oh joy.  Anyway, Barry runs a 36 to 39 minute 10K and Bob swims 1500M in 18 minutes.  Catching either of these guys is impossible (at least for me).  Both are apt technical downhill riders and are able to ride the bike about 3 to 6 minutes faster than me.  They are local and dominant the race in their age group.  So, I got 4th place in my age group and I was hoping they would move Barry (and Bob) to the masters group which moves the rest of us up 2 places.  Sly eh?  They have done this in the past but for this year, Tri Rock took over the race venue and they do things differently.  No masters group.  Darn.  At least Barry moves up in AG next year (and he will kill all of them).  So back to slowing down on the red carpet in the chute.  The 3rd place position was about 4 minutes ahead of me so I feel good about that.  But, the 5th place position was only ONE second behind me.  Just when you think the race is long enough and that seconds would NOT matter … you need to think again.  That was lesson learned number two.

Overall, what a great venue and race.  You could not beat the back drop of a big city race.  Fairmount Park, downtown Philly, swimming the Schuylkill River with all the crew teams nearby, buzzing around the oval in front of the Art Museum (Yo, Adrian!), pros on the attack, TV stations present … way cool.  And I even got my first “tri tat” which by the way took a week to remove.  Now that was a nice Father’s Day gift.  Thanks ladies!

Pro Report

All the details are on the web site but I do know that Andy Potts and Cameron Dye exited the swim only a few seconds apart.  Cameron then built up a 3 minute lead over Andy on the bike.  And Andy then gained about 30 seconds per mile on Cameron on the run, but fell short of passing him by about 27 seconds when the finish line arrived.  If the run would have been longer, Cameron would have been caught.  For the women, Sara McLarty flew out of the water about 3 minutes ahead of everyone else.  She was caught on the bike by 1 or 2 other female pros.  During the run, some Canadian pro came up from several places back and picked off the women ahead of her to take first place.  These athletes can fly.  The top men completed the race in about 1 hr 49 min, and the women in just over 2 hrs.  Wow.


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