On Aug. 19, 2007 I raced the Greenville Sprint Triathlon (400 meter swim/15 mile bike/5k run) in my hometown of Greenville, S.C. Hard to believe that I’ve been racing triathlons almost 7 years and have never done this race. It’s always nice to sleep in my own house the night before a race, and I’ve done that for plenty of races in upstate SC and north GA over the years, but this one was only 10 minutes from my front door! Nice! Also makes it easier for the world’s best 2 fans and supporters to go with me, my wife, Anna, and my biggest fan, our 3 month old baby girl Janna!
Since I started racing triathlons in 2000, each year I’ve noticed them becoming more popular, now almost the “trendy” thing to do it seems. I now see the same people who used to look at me like I was an alien showing up at these local sprint races. Just 3 years ago this Greenville sprint had barely 150 people. In 2007 it had over 500! That’s a lot of bodies for a short sprint race, packed into the pool and bike and run course.
I can usually do these short sprint races in just over an hour so they are a lot of speedy fun, especially since I race primarily Ironman distance, finishing anywhere between 9 ½ hours (yippee!) but sometimes as long as 11 or more hours (ugh, oh boy).
I made my first mistake in this race months ago when I registered. I was honest and gave an accurate estimated 100 meter swim pace/time. I know my pace from training hours in the pool and racing. The race organizers use this time to establish the start times for this pool swim. Through about 50 triathlons, 13 Ironmans and 3 World Championships with Team USA, I’ve become a pretty fast swimmer (as far as triathletes go) so I figured I’d be starting pretty close to front of a local sprint race. On race morning I was surprised to find I started 115th! Unless some speedy out-of-towners had snuck into the field, more than a few people had . . . uh, overestimated . . .(lied about?) their swim ability to get started up front. Individual times would be recorded by computer chips on our ankles, but its better to start near the front and avoid having to pass people the whole race. More on that below.
Two athletes started every 10 seconds. That meant when I started, the 8 lanes of this 50 meter pool were filled with arms and legs of about 75 to 100 bodies. As I expected, before I reached the end of the first 50 meter lane, I caught the 2 swimmers starting 10 seconds in front of me and eventually had to navigate around, through, and under several floating pods of people in the lanes. Kind of reminded me of rushing through the airport when everyone else seems not to be in such a hurry. “Excuse me, pardon me, coming through.”
On to the bike I felt pretty good, immediately catching more of those 115 who started ahead. With about 3 miles to go around mile 12, I was climbing a fairly long hill, passing cyclists on my right strung out on the hill, when a race referee passed me on a motorcycle. I saw him making notes on his pad. An official writing on his pad is a good sign that someone in the area is getting a penalty (usually for drafting). But I knew it was not me since I was doing all the passing, and assumed (hoped) it was the guy who had been hanging behind me in and out of my draft zone for several miles.
I finished this hilly 15 mile course in just over 37 minutes, averaging just under 24 mph. I hit the run feeling pretty good, but definitely pushing the red line. It’s fun for me to race this hard in a short race since I have to concentrate on being patient and pacing in the long Ironman distance races. I felt okay on the run, but not great, holding around a 6:45 pace. I finished the 3.1 mile run in just over 20 minutes.
I finished in just over 1 hour, 5 minutes (1:05) and was happy to see preliminary (unofficial) results at the finish that put me 15th overall and 1st in my 40-44 age group. But I was soon shocked to find that I had received a 2:00 minute “position” penalty on the bike. Honestly, I’ve never known anyone to get a position penalty. Seems that official passing me on the hill thought I was spending too much time in the middle of the lane rather than on the right edge of the road. My protest that I had to be there to pass all the cyclists clogging up the right side of the road did not matter to him. I learned my lesson the next time they ask for a swim estimate at registration!
With my penalty, I dropped to 2nd in my age group and out of the top 15 overall. I still had fun though! It was great to see 500 people out there pushing themselves to be fit. Next week is Ironman Louisville for me. See you then!