Last weekend, I raced in the Olympic distance event at Trifest for MS. However, this is not your ordinary Olympic distance triathlon, it’s what is called F1 format. So, it is two back-to-back sprint distance triathlons with five transitions going swim, bike, run, swim, bike, run (800 m swim, 20k bike, 5k run, 700 m swim, 20k bike, 5k run). It is a unique and different format which made me really excited to try something new. The biggest question for me, and I’m sure others, is how do you race/pace it. Do you race it at a sprint effort? Or do you back off and go closer to your Olympic distance effort? Or do you even go a little easier than Olympic since you’ll still essentially have another full sprint triathlon after already completing one, which I had no idea how that would feel?
Swim #1: 11:00 (800-meter swim in a 50-meter pool)
We drew lane assignments and split a lane with one other athlete. I was very happy to have my friend, local triathlete, and swim masters lane mate, Chad, just across the lane rope from me in the next lane. I knew I’d be able to gauge my effort off his and just try to keep him in sight. When the race started, I was sitting just a half stroke behind Chad. I knew we were moving at a pace I wouldn’t be able to sustain, but I just went with it. After the first 50, I ended up pulling even with Chad, which was odd for me and I was a bit worried I was still going too hard. Then, by 200 meters, I was already pulling away from Chad and couldn’t believe it. I don’t think I have ever beaten him out of the water, so this gave me a massive confidence boost and I just thought, “alright, I’m doing this. Let’s go!!” What’s weird to me is after a summer full of struggling (fatigue) in the pool and in races during the swim, I felt absolutely amazing during this 800. I felt super strong and had a great rhythm. I also noticed every other 50 meters (since I breathe to my right), there was another athlete two lanes over, and we were literally keeping the same pace, which kept me honest the whole time. What I didn’t know is two lanes over the other way was another athlete also swimming the same pace. We actually all three got out of the pool at nearly the exact same time.
Very short run from the pool to the parking lot where transition was set up. I had some trouble getting my swim skin over my hips (I must be getting fat), but after a few attempts I quit being so gentle and eventually got my swim skin off. Then I put my helmet on and got my bike. However, something weird happened. When I got my bike off the pvc pipe, I don’t know if the pipe bounced a small amount to make the first athlete’s bike slide off or if the person running behind their bike cut the corner too tight and knocked the back wheel making it move and fall off. Regardless, the bike fell off the rack and stood straight up for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably really only a second or two. My first thought was, “Did I do that?” And then I instantly thought of Pigman. (Short story time) Two years ago at Pigman triathlon, I got to T1 after the swim and my bike was laying on the ground. I can 100% confirm the bike was not like that when I left transition right before it closed. So, it definitely got knocked over by another athlete who started before me. It through me for a loop as I was a shocked and wondered how and why, but eventually picked it up and headed out to bike. As I left transition, I realized my water bottle was missing so I raced the entire 15-mile bike without my electrolytes and hydration, which wasn’t ideal. I certainly wasn’t going to let this happen to anyone else whether it was my fault or not. So, before the biked tipped over, I leaned my bike against my body, grabbed the bike, scooted myself and my bike a little closer, bent at the waist and placed the athlete’s bike against the posts of the bike rack. After I got the bike to stay put, a volunteer came over and re-racked the bike by the saddle in its original position as if nothing had happened. The other two athletes I came out of the water with were gone, but in all, this probably only cost me about 10 seconds, so it didn’t ruin my race. In my mind, it was the right thing to do.
Bike #1: 28:30
Once out on the bike course, I set out to go catch the first two guys. My legs felt pretty good early in the three-loop bike course. I caught the leader about 3/4 the way through loop 1 and I put in a really hard surge to try and discourage him from going with me. I kept pushing hard for two more loops and didn’t really ease off until I was in the last 45-60 second of the bike. At this point, my mindset was everyone was going to hurt on the second swim/bike/run and I wanted to try and get as big of a lead by the end of the first run as possible.
Run #1: 16:33
After a smooth transition, I started the run and my legs were feeling strong. This was definitely a very good thing and I ended up going through the first mile in 5:17 part in thanks to a slight downhill during this section. The second mile was a little harder, but I kept pushing, ran a 5:27, and was able to see where the other athletes were. During mile three, I started to ease off a bit around 2.5 miles and get the heart rate to come down since I was about to do something I’ve never done before; swim after a hard 5k (and a swim/bike before that). Mile three ended up being 5:41.
So weird. I took off my race belt and shoes and grabbed my goggles. I had a momentary, “is this all I need” thought/hesitation before I ran to the pool to start my second swim.
Swim #2: 9:59 (700 meters)
Wow was this awkward!! My goggles were a bit fogged, but not enough to impact my visibility (yay for the black line in a pool!) and I had no issues. Despite feeling like complete and utter trash, I had a decent rhythm and just kept counting down the 100s as I did my flip turn under the lane rope to move to the next lane (swim 2 was a snake style, started in lane 7 and did a 100 before moving to lane 6 where I swam down and back, then lane 5, etc.)
Bike #2: 30:09
I struggled getting my feet on top of my shoes as they kept swinging around and I couldn’t time it right. I noticed on the first bike that my rubber bands on the back of my bike shoes were still intact and I contemplated if I should take a few seconds in one of the transitions to set up my shoes like I do before my races where they’re flat and won’t swing, but I didn’t and in hindsight I wish I had. Right away on the bike my legs were toast and I could tell this was going to be rough. I hoped they would come around at some point during the bike, but they didn’t. I couldn’t get my heart rate or watts (power) anywhere near what the first bike was. I just kept going and tried to enjoy it as much as I could. I said good morning and thanked the volunteers (one of the cops probably thinks I’m weird as I said hi and waved to him on every lap) and encouraged the other athletes still doing their first bike.
Run #2: 16:34
Despite a rough second swim and bike, my run legs felt pretty good early on run #2. I even shocked myself a bit by running the exact same first mile as the first run of 5:17. At this point I thought, “let’s do this, let’s run faster on the second run than first”. So, I kept pushing hard and ended up running mile 2 in 5:30. I laughed as I was only about 2 seconds behind where I was earlier on run 1. I knew I could run quicker because I eased off in the last mile earlier. I ended up running the third mile in 5:29 and kicked hard for the finish line and technically ran faster on the second run than the first despite being one second slower (3.02 miles for run 1 on my Garmin vs 3.06 miles for run 2).
Finally!! I’ve been waiting for a performance like this all stinking year. I’ve had good fitness most of the year, but haven’t been able to show it in a race yet. Guess I saved the best for last!
Overall, this race was incredible. Not only is it a well-run event with three days of racing (5k, sprint triathlon, super sprint and the Olympic F1 format), but it also has tremendous local support and supports a great cause in benefiting multiple sclerosis research. This race has raised over $300,000 for Rampy MS Research Foundation since 2012. It is a very spectator friendly course and I definitely plan to keep this race on my calendar each year. Unique and fun format, great event and great cause.