On July 20th I participated in the first Olympic distance triathlon race of this season in Jim Thorpe. The Anthracite Triathlon as the event is called is popular amongst the hill lovers as the course features nice 1 mile climb, nice downhills where you can easily reach 45 mph without even trying and a nice wall climb into the city of Jim Thorpe. And that is only the bike course. On the run you will start with nice easy gradual downhill for few miles followed by the Anthracite Ass-kicker (see below) and then the long gradual climb back to the finish line. Just a great race that I'm sure to do again in the future.
I'll skip the usual - I woke up early to make it there - and just summarize the on-site prep. I'm pretty diligent about preparing for my races. I drove on the bike course the day before to assess where I can hammer it and where I better conserve some energy or where I could easily spill my guts on the road (e.g. tight spots, sharp turns, etc.). On race day I got my transition setup early and made sure to keep only minimum stuff in there. I took my wetsuit back to the car as soon as the race director announced that the lake is as warm as your afternoon Starbucks Latte. So the transition was just - bike, helmet on the bike, bike shoes clipped to the pedals, on the bike I had two bottles (water in front and Hammer Heed in the cage - 200 cal mix.), tissue, salt tablets and Hammer gel in the bento box and my glasses on top of the bento. That sounds like a lot of stuff, but it is all on the bike and I do not need to mess with it in transition. The I had a towel, running shoes, visor, race belt with two gels and race number. That's it. I put my bike in the right gear for easy exit, double checked pressure in the tires and went down to the water to check it out.
Then I walked back to the transition to see where I'll be exiting the water, running up through the parking lot to the transition. Then I walked to my bike and from there to bike exit. Then I located bike return and walked back to my rack and then out to the run exit. I do this at every race venue that I have not done before just to make sure I know what to do when I race. I hate being confused and losing valuable T1 or T2 time. Then it was time to go get in the water and do practice swim.
The water was actually warmer than the outside air so I stayed in the water little longer. The lake was the best I ever swam in during the tri - crystal clear water. You can actually see few meters deep. That was pretty good later during the swim - much better than seeing nothing until that leg kicks your goggles off you head. After the regular pre-race briefing and national anthem we were ready to go.
I approached the swim differently than the Black Bear Tri. I gave the group about 5 seconds before I plunged into the water and swam. I did not want to get too much to the front of the pack and expire like I did few weeks ago. Instead I started later and made my way through the back of the pack swimmers and found my place somewhere in the not so fast swimmer pack. I swam alone from about 300m point until the second turn buoy and then I got passed by few people. But what really counted was that I did freestyle all the way. I kept my own pace, easy breathing. I really needed consistent swim to re-gain some confidence after the meltdown during the Black Bear. I exited the water in not very fast 36:56 (70 out of 100 - yeah I know this is where I will be putting more time next season). I ran up the parking lot, put on my helmet, grabbed my bike and off I went. There is something on no-wetsuit swim I like in T1.
The bike course was quite tough. It started with fairly flat section before we came to the almost mile long steep climb. Many people suffered there and I was glad I could pass most of them on the way up. I caught-up two more riders on the top of the hill and before we turned around the church I passed them. I kept going fast as what followed was a nice steep downhill. I was flying - not even checking my speed. Just making sure to keep control of the bike and focusing on the road ahead. Based on my post-race analysis I did 49.1 mph (79 km/h) on the down hill. I overshot the downhill a bit and had to do a lot of breaking before the sharp turn (almost taking down the volunteer and cop as I hit the pothole that launched my bike a bit). But all turned well and the police force and volunteers were unharmed. As I turned I saw another guy - I have to catch him. So I went for it - passed him some 2 miles later and kept passing people all the way to the wall back to the Jim Thorpe. The wall climb was pretty nasty as the wall had a little turn after which the wall was even steeper (if that is even possible). But all turned well and I caught up with group of four riders. Before we climbed back to the main road that leads back to the park I had them behind me. The rest of the bike were the regular PA rolling hills where you can easily ride between 23 and 35 mph so I did. At that time I had only two goals - not let anyone pass me and keep the average speed above 20 mph for the bike leg. All worked out well - although I almost wiped-out on the way back to the park just before the dismount as I was getting out of my shoes in the curve. But ultimately it worked out.
Bike to run transition was ok. The only thing was that I forgot to take off my helmet and had to head back to my rack (about 10 meters). So I guess I lost like 10-15 seconds there. The run was very scenic and I loved the fact that most of it was in the woods under heavy cover of trees and quite cool compared to the sections on open sun. Everything was great until mile about 2.5 where we faced the ass-kicker. Half mile climb - very similar to South Mountain 10 mile run. What I liked were the big boards the race organizer put down. First read (if I recall correctly) "Name this mountain.", second about 200m up the road "Breast of Jim Thorpe", next one read "Anthracite Ass-kicker" and the last just before the turn point read "Now you name it." The down hill was ok and I was able to relax a bit and catch my breath. The return back towards the transition was another 2.5 mile gradual climb. It was quite OK in the woods, but once we got out back to the road it was really hot. But from there it was not far to the finish line and once I figured out where that is I kicked into overdrive and finished strong. I realized the finish line was close too late otherwise I would have kicked into the overdrive more than 400m earlier. But well - that is lesson for next time - check the finish area as well.
I'm quite blurry on that picture, probably just kicked in the gear when photograph snapped it. My support crew was already in the park and we enjoyed nice swim after the race. Then I waited around for a bit to see how I did, but once I realized I did not get into the top three in my AG I left for home. It was an hour drive and we all wanted to go for lunch. I caught up with the rest of the crew in Red Robin and enjoyed a great burger. Nothing beats the good food after a good race.
For the numbers inclined crowd here is the summary: swim 1500m 36:56, T1 1:52, bike 40k 1:12:33, T2 0:51, run 10k 51:00 - overall 2:43:15 which put me to 22nd place overall in this fairly small race of about 100 finishers. I was 9th in my AG - did you notice that the 35-39 AG is very popular. My next race actually has 53 signed-up athletes in the 35-39 AG (it is this weekend). Anthracite tri is a great race, but I would not necessarily recommend it as the first timer race. I'll be back next year to conquer the mountains.