Every triathlon this season feels like a real treat after not being able to do any swim-bike-run racing the past two seasons! This wasn’t my top choice for a race this season, but I did want to do an Olympic distance race before my 70.3, and I had limited local options that worked well in my schedule once the monkey wrench of Worlds was added in.
Here’s a few reasons why I wasn’t so keen on this race initially:
- Culpeper. Is. Hilly. And while I’m not afraid of a challenge, I haven’t been doing much training on hills (especially running-wise) as my A race this season (Atlantic City) is pancake flat.
- August in Northern Virginia…need I say more? I’m sweating just thinking about it.
- Eugene did it last year and emerged from the swim course with a dirt beard and a brown tri kit. Yikes!
That being said, the schedule reigns supreme over all of my lame excuses, so I signed up for my first-ever VTS/MTS race (shocking, I know – I have spectated plenty but had never done one!). After all, I had the benefit of being familiar with the race site, and at least I enjoy hills on my bike!
My goal for this one was to not get too worked up as I had a very minimal taper and needed to view this as a C-race — basically, just wanted to shake the dust off and get used to being out there racing for longer than a sprint distance.
Given that Culpeper is only an hour and a half drive from home and packet pickup was available on race morning, I opted to just drive down. And since my wave didn’t go off until 7:38, I barely even had to get up any earlier than my typical 4:15am Monday/Friday alarms. I had what has become my usual race/long training day breakfast (oatmeal, protein powder, cinnamon, egg whites, mashed up banana, almond milk all mixed together and topped with peanut butter) which is inspired by Peanut Butter Fingers’ Three Minute Banana Egg White Oatmeal. After packing up the car and waking up Eugene, we were out the door around 4:30 to get to transition right when it opened at 6am.
Before the start of the race, I got to see several friends — Margaret who was just one row away from me in transition and also doing the Olympic distance, Zan who is another teacher at Wired Cycling and did the sprint (won the athena division!), and Matt who is one of my regular students at Wired and did the sprint aquabike (and got second place!). It was awesome to see so many familiar faces before the race and on the course!
Oh, the swim! The water temp was 84ish degrees, so not wetsuit legal for anyone. Meanwhile, it was only in the 60s as we were getting started, so getting into the water felt great but we knew it’d be a bit chilly once we emerged. My swimming has been going great lately, and after Williamsburg’s great swim, I was super ready to have another great OWS experience.
Unfortunately, I didn’t live up to my expectations because I struggled with something I’ve never experienced until this race: actually seeing the buoys! We were swimming directly towards the sun for about 75% of the swim course (the entire way across the lake seen above), and despite wearing mirrored goggles, I just could.not.see. Rather than sighting off the buoys, I ended up just trying to follow other swimmers — a good strategy, but of course that assumes that they are on course and only works if we are swimming at similar speeds.
This meant I got off course a few times, had to stop, tread water, and find the buoys on several occasions, and got out of the water feeling frustrated. When I got out of the water I tried very hard to shake it off and leave my frustration in the water — I mostly succeeded but am still a bit annoyed at no one/no thing in particular about how this went.
Time: 35:11, official pace of 2:09/yard, but according to my Garmin all of my redirects cost me a few hundred yards and put me in at 1:57/yard. This time put me at right around the middle of my age group.
Athletes begin the bike course by lugging their bikes up a large grassy hill to get to the start line, mounting bikes and going down a steep hill, then almost immediately turning right and beginning to ascend. The rest of the bike course remained like this – lots of descents, plenty of turns, and ample climbing. The course was absolutely beautiful with most of it bordering farmland and open fields.
Roads were in very good shape, and every single turn/major intersection was manned by either volunteers, a police officer or both. I made sure to thank every volunteer I passed and it helped me find joy in the ride as I ticked down the miles. I did notice that I passed more people than usual with flat tires – so glad I wasn’t in that camp (been there, done that, more than once).
One notable (and extremely embarrassing thing) from the bike course — about three miles in a man cruised passed me and said “great job, looking strong!” which was quite nice, but then he also said “but your helmet is on backwards!”. Can you say mortifying? I had NO idea (obviously), and of course I had already ridden by the race photographer so my T1 screw up is now immortalized in race photo purgatory. Meanwhile, I am still laughing about it – how ridiculous!
Besides the great helmet incident of 2017, my other issue on the bike course is that my heart rate monitor wasn’t registering on my bike computer or my Garmin watch. This was extremely frustrating as this is how I had planned out my pacing, and I ended up having to go by rate of perceived exertion instead. Despite my frustration at the time, looking back I realized that if it HAD to happen at a race, this was the one for it to happen at as pacing by heart rate can be very challenging when doing so much climbing.
I felt very strong for the whole bike ride and wasn’t passed by too many people (also passed some). The course felt pretty quiet, likely as I had started in one of the later waves, and the only big snafu was that when we re-joined with the Sprint distance race with just a few miles left, a lot of the racers didn’t seem to be familiar with USAT rules and were drafting/making illegal passes/etc. Don’t think any of it was intentional, and it’s hard to execute a legal ride while on a crowded climb, but that made for a bit of an annoying experience.
The end of the bike course is a descent, right turn at the bottom of the hill, then a short and very steep climb to the dismount line. Lucky for me, Coach Dief was at the bottom of the hill and reminded me to downshift which made things fairly straightforward, although stopping to dismount at the very peak of the climb was a bit challenging. Apparently Eugene saw multiple people fall on that hill, so definitely something to be aware of for future racers who might be reading this!
Looking back at the bike, I really wish that my HR monitor had been working so I had real-time info to gauge my effort. I definitely think I could have worked harder on this part of the course, and given that I felt this way in Williamsburg too, I would certainly benefit from some more pacing practice.
Nutrition: 1.5 bottles of Raspberry Buzz Tailwind (2 scoops each)
Time: 1:30:27, or 16.49 mph. Not my best speed, but given the hills and all of the turns, I’ll take it! Again, this was right around the middle of my age group.
Oh, the run! This one starts with a short portion on grass along a levee, then gets onto the road where you have multiple out and backs on a two-loop course shared with the Sprint race. So, that means you’re covering a lot of the course four times on the Olympic course. And, of course, most of the run is extremely hill! The upside of this is that you can anticipate what is ahead on the course, and you are never alone out there with all of the runners pretty concentrated on the road.
I was really hoping that somehow I’d miraculously get my HR monitor working once out on the run course, but no dice. Back to RPE! As I mentioned before, I really had not been training on hills at all — my go-to routes around the house are all flat, and while I do have hills nearby that I could (should?) run on, I had mostly avoided them in my very conservative return to running after the broken hip incident of 2016.
Anyway – without HR data or hill training, I ended up walking a lot of the hills. Not my favorite thing to do, but it felt like the right decision at the time, especially with this being a C-level race. The course seemed to take forever to tackle, but there were plenty of people out there so it was fun to cheer people on and see some familiar faces. Finally I summited the final hill and it was downhill or flat from there on out! I spotted Eugene at the bottom of the hill and he cheered me on, then bolted to the finish line while I crossed the grassy portion on the levee again.
Crossing the finish line felt great, and my friend Margaret was just a few minutes behind me — perfect timing to cheer her on as I was cooling off!
Nutrition: Almost one whole bottle of Raspberry Buzz Tailwind, two scoops (I ran with the bottle to skip the aid stations)
Time: Welp, the shiz really hit the fan here! 1:17:42 for a 12:30 pace — with the amount of walking I did, this honestly could have been way worse, but unsurprisingly it was the slowest time in my age group.
I rounded up my stuff pretty quickly to beeline out of the race site – but not before spotting my friend/indoor cycling student Matt on the podium for the sprint aquabike! Woo! I felt pretty good at the finish and was really happy to see Eugene and talk through my race with him. Swapping stories after races is one of the best parts of the day! I’m so thankful he was able to adapt his Ironman Louisville training schedule to make it down for sherpa, cheer and Instagram-story update duties.
Overall time: 3:26:14, 8/9 in my age group, 54/66 women and 172/195 overall.
Despite coming in second-to-last in my age group (womp womp!) I still somehow managed an Olympic distance PR! Hoping I can fit an Olympic distance in early season next year since I could definitely crush this PR on a more-suited-to-me-course and a more well-executed race day.
Overall, I would definitely do this race again. I’d love to see them reverse the swim course to reduce the amount of time spent swimming directly towards the sun, but besides that I have zero complaints. I was impressed with the volunteers and police officer presence and everything ran as smoothly as it could have. Next time I promise to train on some more hills!
Confession: I am usually pretty lame after races. I hate the idea of pizza and other heavy foods so I tend to get grumpy at food offerings. And while I enjoy taking in the post-race atmosphere, I also enjoy showering and napping 🙂 But, this time around Mountain Run Winery was offering free tastings to triathletes and a friend was going, so Eugene and I met her there. It was a beautiful setting and a fun way to “wine down” (har har) after the race. After about an hour of tastings (the rosé was yum!), Eugene and I packed into the car to head home – but not without a stop at Sibby’s in Warrenton for BBQ lunch. Nom!
Next up: Church Creek Time Trial – my first ever cycling-only race – just one week before worlds!