The slogan for American Triple-T Ohio pretty much sums it up. These triathlons were set on some of the toughest courses I have experiences and came with the added bonus of racing them all in one weekend. Normally I am pretty excited to sign up for a race, but this one gave me some apprehension. Talking with people in the club usually makes me feel better, but it didn’t help this time. Most thought it sounded ridiculous even by triathlon standards. A trip to Internet forums was no help either as many deemed the race:”tougher than a full Ironman.”
Still, I was encouraged by my coach, Laura Wheatley, who has completed the event three times, to challenge it as a way to enter the training season in a big way. Against my better judgement I went with her advice. She hadn’t been wrong about anything in my training so far, so hopefully her flawless streak would continue. If nothing else after the event I would be able to use the mantra, “It couldn’t be any worse than Triple-T,” whenever things seemed tough.
Laura and I traveled to Shawnee State Park in Ohio and set up camp out of her RV. The race plan assigned to me was simple: Complete Triple-T. Period. I was supposed to give the events a solid effort, but not supposed to kill myself trying for specific times. I was told that the event is unique in that it is challenging and most (myself included) are not at peak training since it is so early in the season, so me actually “racing” the event would be a formula for disaster.
One of the cool things about the race is that you are given an official Triple-T singlet at registration. It is pretty cool as everyone wears it and it helps build a spirit of camaraderie. The downside is that you are wearing this item for FOUR triathlons. At least it looked cool.
Now to the race recaps.
RACE 1: A Cute lil’ super sprint
Friday night kicked off with a super sprint–250 meter swim, 6K bike course, and 1 mile run. It was a beach start with runners starting in pairs every five seconds. With close to 500 racers and me near the end of the line, I was baking in my wet suit. Sweat was drizzling out of the sleeves in a steady stream. Of course it didn’t occur to me to unzip the wet suit, so instead I kept walking to the drinking fountain to stay hydrated before my turn. When the time came, no big problems. This was my first open water swim of the year and although the 71 degree water felt brisk, it certainly was tolerable. The short bike course saw racers tackling one significant hill, and the run course was an uneventful trail run. The whole time I managed to keep down my urge to put real effort into the sprint. I heard from a few that actually racing the super sprint (unless you are a legit competitor) is a rookie mistake. And so I crossed the finish line for the first time at Triple-T.
BETWEEN RACE 1 and 2
During this weekend you think triathlon, eat triathlon, and sleep triathlon. Case in point after each race we would return to the RV, make a meal to replenish energy and stage our gear for the next race while recapping the last race. Grilling made meals enjoyable and we even got a movie in while we were getting ready for day 2.
RACE 2: It begins
The second race consisted of a two-loop 1500 meter swim, a 24.8 mile bike, and a 6.55 mile run. What I hated most about this race was getting out of bed at the crack of dawn to get ready. I really wish triathlons began at 10 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. Then I would have time to get decent sleep, have some eggs and hash browns, read the news… anyway this time I didn’t zip my wet suit up until I was about ready to go, so I was not stewing in my own juices for an hour prior to race time. The swim went fine. It woke me up if nothing else. And then it was off on the bike course.
I was having a lot of fun for the first half. I really enjoyed zooming up and down rolling hills. I dare say I actually had a smile on my face, which is not common for me on the bike. I don’t hate biking, it just doesn’t always bring joy. The second half of the course was a bit more sobering. Coming down a fast hill I saw the course marked for a sharp turn and volunteers calling out “Gravel.” I slowed as best I could and made the jackknife turn to begin a VERY steep ascent. Holy crap this was steep. Unfortunately in the rush I didn’t have a chance to shift into the big ring, making it a brute force climb. Not for long though. A biker a few feet in front of me fell over climbing the hill. If I had had a chance to get into my small ring I might have been able to get around him. But I wasn’t. So I got to pick between clipping out and running up the hill since it was way too steep clip back in. Or I could keep going, hit him, fall, and then have to run up the hill.
I clipped out.
Even running with the bike I still managed to pass a few riders. At the top I clipped back in and enjoyed a well deserved, fast descent.
Finishing off the bike course, I took off for the run. I was very surprised to find out the run was an out and back up and down a mountain. This was the most challenging run course I have spent time on. Up the long ascents my speed dropped to 11:30 minute miles. To call it tiring would be an understatement. Nonetheless, I learned a long while back that bitching, pissing, and moaning doesn’t make the road flatter, the wind weaker, or the temperature cooler, so I plodded on. An hour later and I crossed the finish for a second time at Triple-T.
BETWEEN RACE 2 and 3
Laura and I rode back to the RV, where I pounded down some sandwiches and readied my gear for the next race. After that we used the remaining part of our three hour interval to recover. I spent some quality time in Normatech recovery boots, which are awesome, while Laura used some sort of fancy gizmo on her own legs. I couldn’t help but feel a bit sleepy while we hung out waiting for the next race, but I knew better than to chance a nap. I would have just woken up groggy and angry. Not a good place to begin a triathlon.
RACE 3: Let’s complicate things
The next race was the same distances as race 2, but with a twist: the order is bike, swim run…a first for me and probably most. Bikers began the race time trial style, leaving two at a time. The fast people were the first to take off (shockingly I was not among them) and after that everyone just paired up how they wanted. Three races in and people really treat the whole experience with a casual attitude. I started at the same time as Laura, as I had for all races. In a flash she was gone leaving me to hit the hills solo. The crowning jewel of this bike course was a monster hill with highway grade ascent that goes for a couple of miles. Since it was an out and back bike course, you enjoy riding down on the way out, and have to tackle it on the way back with less energy. I was returning from the turnaround point and trying to psych myself up when I felt a single drop of water hit my hand. Then another. And another. Those few drops were the beginning of a downpour.
I wasn’t thrilled by this unwanted hydration, especially during this climb. My sunglasses fogged up and were covered with rain. I didn’t remove them because I wanted to keep all of my efforts focused on spinning up the hill and was leery of how the rain would dampen my progress if my eyes had zero protection. After a looooooooong while, I made it to the top. Shortly after the rain stopped and I was clear for the descents.
Overall I think that rain was a blessing. I had been told that normally since leg muscles are warmed on the bike and then cooled during the swim, awful cramping can occur. Since my legs were soaked, that never became an issue for me. Actually the swim after the bike was really refreshing.
The run course, to my everlasting joy (NOT), was the same as the run course in race 2. It was just as awful as I remembered it, but once again I prevailed. It is kind of frustrating for me to run at a 10 minute mile pace when I am used to 7:30 minute mile paces during races, but conserving energy and a significantly more challenging course prevented me from doing anymore. For the third time I crossed the finish line at Triple-T.
BETWEEN RACE 3 and 4
I wolfed down a sloppy joe, watermelon, oranges, and a coke at transition and then rode back to camp. We grilled chicken breasts wrapped in bacon with sides of rice and veggies. It is fun to eat great meals before races. Normally I try to eat light and not overdo it, but replenishing fuel stores becomes a priority. I still felt pretty good at this point. Maybe a little tired, but fine overall. I had just been focusing on getting through the events and keeping a slow, steady pace. I was feeling good going into the final day.
RACE 4: Now it’s really hard (That’s what she said.)
Holy cow. I woke up on the final day feeling decent. Slightly fatigued, and my stomach felt a bit raw, though I attribute that from the human body only loving gels, powders, and other festively colored goops so much. We took our time getting to transition because we knew how to borrow time and didn’t really care about having the perfect gear set up. That attitude was rampant among the racers. The typical scene of people frantically rushing about before a race isn’t really there.
This race was a half–1.2 miles swim, 55.5 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. Bring it.
The swim was good. People were a bit more aggressive. I guess I was too. I felt like punching a guy in the spine for grabbing my shoulder. On purpose. I know that because we were both swimming high to get around the buoy. I settled for just leaving him in my wake.
The bike course was slow for me. The two-loop course had three major ascents with switchbacks before, during, and after. I dealt with some of this on the other days, but this was even more arduous. Some of the switchbacks on the descents could be freaky because of the speed and the prospect of shooting off the brink if you weren’t careful. I managed to make it through. I stopped twice, once to help another racer change a tire, and a second time because I encountered Laura, who had blown one of her racing tires on mile 42. Unfortunately there was nothing I could do to help, so after a SAG wagon showed up she encouraged me to push hard toward the finish.
I was not looking forward to that run course. Not much to say about it other than that. It was hot. I was tired. The ascents were grueling. I let myself walk for four five-second intervals. The rest didn’t do me any good, but it was enough time to remind myself that walking doesn’t make me feel any better.
I kept plodding through and finally, for the fourth and final time, I crossed the finish line at Triple-T.
First, congrats if you have actually read this far. It is not my first choice to write blogs this long, but c’mon! It IS about FOUR triathlons in all fairness.
I heard a lot of horror stories about this event going into it. Some were true. Some were not. Bottom line, it is not easy. One of our club’s best racers described the 70.3 triathlon that caps the weekend as the most difficult in the Midwest. I believe that, but I can tell you that it was worth it. The course was beautiful. The atmosphere is very fun and light-hearted. Plus, I have a ton of experience under my belt and am ready to really hit my other races and training for the year.
The slow and steady strategy worked out for me here. I was able to move around well the rest of the weekend much to the amazement of my coach and have earned some sweet bragging rights.