The MTS featured one last event this season. It was at General Smallwood State Park, the same location as a previous event the club had attended in June. The June race was infamous for it’s excessive heat and 85 degree water temperatures, which ultimately led to the cancellation of the second day of competition (the sprint race). So it was rather ironic that this race would also be notable for it’s extreme temperatures as well– The weekend was marked by unseasonably cold lows.
The day started early. General Smallwood is about an hour drive from Arlington, and the transition area closed at 7:45. So we headed out at 6:15 to give us plenty of time to set up.
When I got up I had a bowl of oatmeal and some Greek yogurt. On the road we stopped for gas, and I realized I should probably fuel up a little better. So I pounded a Green Machine Naked Juice, a couple bananas, and a 5 Hour Energy. That put me up to about 600 calories, which is enough for me for a sprint event lasting less than 2 hours. Generally, I like to not eat too much pre-race, but being hungry is never good.
Parking was easy, as it was before in June. The setup was nearly identical to the prior race. They even had the same announcer (He remembered me, and I got a few shot outs during and after the race; celebrity status?). However, unlike the other races, the most noticeable thing was the arduously long registration line. We got through with 15 minutes left until the transition area supposedly closed.
The best part was that we were treated to a surprise pair of technical socks in addition to the standard free t-shirt. More events should seriously consider this. I love new socks. Wearing a fresh pair rivals the feeling of sleeping in freshly laundered sheets for me. In one season you collect enough shirts (even the technical ones) to last you quite a while. But, I go through socks much more quickly.
We were able to get setup in transition with time to spare. They ultimately ended up leaving transition open until the swim wave of the Olympic race finished to take into account the registration delays.
Air temperature was really cold for that time of year. I got an email a few days before the race stating the water temp would be in the mid-60’s. For all you non-swimmers out there, that feels a little warmer than a cold plunge. I did not have time to rent a wetsuit, but luckily I was able to find my (now FINA-outlawed) BlueSeventy suit. It uses a rubber-based fabric that holds water, but is definitely not as warm as a 3 or 5 mm wetsuit. Another precaution that I took (and highly suggest) is what I call “double-capping”, or wearing two caps. The colored swim caps they usually make you wear are typically of really low quality and the latex is really thin– not the best insulator. I threw on a thick silicon cap under it as a precaution. I was still a little worried about the temperature, but my swimming hubris took over, forcing me to man up.
A couple things I would have done differently:
Bring an extra pair of shoes (or if you’re feeling especially fashionable, Crocs) to wear after transition gets locked down before you swim. It’ll keep your feet warm.
Parka or bathrobe (for warmth) before the swim would have been nice.
After waiting an hour for the Olympic racers to finish, they started the sprint waves. It was an in-water start. After I jumped in, shock and hyperventilation immediately set in. Treading some water and focusing on slowing my breathing helped a lot. I did a few warm-up strokes down and back from the start and tried to line up at the front on the far left to avoid the crowds. I was still freezing, but getting the blood flowing was a little comforting. All of the guys in full sleeve wet suits were complaining plenty, which gave me a little edge, knowing I was somewhat comfortable while being less equipped.
The horn sounded, and we were off. It was all kind of a blur of coldness and poor sighting on my part. The pack thinned out pretty quickly, and I found myself in wide open water. On a positive note, the vegetation from June seemed to be less invasive this time around. I played my recently discovered “don’t try too hard” cruise strategy, which worked pretty well. I came out towards the front of the pack without being too winded, saving some easy speed for the bike. Luckily my friend Charles (first timer and my ride) has a girlfriend who was nice enough to come and cheer us on (also the photographer responsible for these pictures). She was there to unzip my swim skin, since it was not designed with a zipper leash like most wetsuits have.
I was able to get the top down while running up the extra long sidewalk from the lake to the transition area. Aside: Race organizers, please sweep the stray gravel from the sidewalk next time; carpeted sections would be really nice as well. The suit came off more easily than expected (which was still rather difficult). I threw on my bike shoes and helmet and was off.
The bike was a little more hilly than I expected. Definitely more hilly than Nations. It was also pretty breezy, as a rider rocking 808’s was sure to point out to me as I passed him. This made it chilly as well: Wet body + 20 mph windchill + cross winds. It was pretty empty on the bike course as well. I was not used to being toward the front of the pack, as normally I am in a later swim wave. Overall, I passed about the same amount of people that passed me. But towards the end, I think a lot of them were doing the Olympic distance, so the numbers might be deceiving. Looking at the results I dropped in the pack a little here, but held my own for the most part.
Standard. Put on my running shoes and threw a Gu under my suit shoulder strap on the way out. Accidentally went down the wrong aisle in transition, which was really embarrassing The aisles were not marked well at all, with many of the signs flipped to show nothing. Luckily, the colorful towel trick saved me.
Ah, my worst leg. I was also certainly sure it had not improved at all since I had not run at all since my last race. But, I think my pacing or the cold temperature helped preserve my leg muscles. They felt much less tight and broken down than usual. I started off at a brisk but comfortable pace. The water station volunteers were great. Free gels and plenty of cheers.
The sun came out and warmed things up a little, making the weather conditions pretty ideal. I actually got a little sunburned. The course unexpectedly had a trail section, which was really uneven. For the pace I was going, I could not really get upset though. A lot of people passed me here, no surprise there. I finished, feeling good. Threw up the index finger for the finish, even though I was no where near first place in any division.
They had tons of free (hot) pizza, fruit, and beverages after. Overall, 4/5 on event hosting; 3/5 for the course. They were really hospitable but there were a few gaffes, as noted above. The course was scenic and rural, but nothing particularly special or noteworthy.