The Three Little Pigs: A Triathlon Story
Smithfield North Carolina is like most other small American towns. Downtown streets are lined with local mom and pop businesses that seem to have been there for decades. Just beyond downtown lie the strip malls, box stores, and chain restaurants. Yet a little farther out is the high school which sits next to a beautiful park and recreation center, the SRAC.
This was the site for the Three Little Pigs sprint triathlon, which today, seems like a distant memory. But it was just eight days ago that my friend, John, and I drove the almost two hours to compete. Actually, I competed. John supported with pictures, video and colorful commentary of the varied personalities.
Racing here is always exciting for me. The short pool swim (250 yards) invites the absolute beginner so it is common to see many mountain bikes and commuter bikes in the race. On the other hand, Smithfield is very close to Raleigh which is a hotbed of good triathletes so the competition is very tough. Next to me in transition I overheard two athletes in my agegroup talking and one humbly mentioned that he had qualified for Kona. I was struck by his lack of arrogance in the way he revealed his resume and I immediately liked him. I still wanted to crush his Kona qualifying ass in this race but I liked him. That’s the thing about this sport that is so wonderful. You can see athletes at the top of their triathlon game making small talk with the Clydesdales and their mountain bikes.
A Clydesdale is a male athlete over a certain weight who competes against other Clydesdales. It’s not a derogatory term. I promise.
Spoiler Alert: That Kona qualifier that I liked crushed my non-Kona qualifying ass and pushed me off the podium. Not literally, of course, but he took first place and I took fourth. Congrats, number 27!
My sister was supposed to do this race last year, but the race was canceled due to a microscopic germ called COVID-19. It would have been her first. Instead she did a few virtual triathlons last year and really nailed them well. I look forward to the day she and I can race together so we can share that finish line feeling and maybe find some sibling rivalries that lay deep beneath the surface of our relationship. Maybe Lori can join us and we’ll make it a triathlon party. And if we do it in Southern California, Mom might be able to watch. She hasn’t seen me compete since… ever.
So back to Three Little Pigs.
As I mentioned, the swim is 250 yards of single lane luxury. Usually, pool swims involve swimmers going in opposite directions in the same lane. Not this swim. One lane. One direction.
My swim was not particularly fast at 4:02 and even though no one passed me, the athlete behind me was touching the wall as I climbed out of the pool. I definitely need to work on my sprint speed. On the bright side, 4:02 put me in first place for the swim in my age group by 40 seconds and 30th place for the swim overall. I hope you’ll excuse my bragging. It’s the only legitimate chance I have to brag about my performance when talking about this race.
No one passed me, but the athlete behind me was touching the wall as I got out
There’s not much to tell about transition, because it was fast and I don’t remember much of it. What I do remember is mounting the bike in my usual style and having trouble getting my feet into the shoes. I complained about those shoes in a video last year. Not sure if I should lose the shoes or work with them.
An annoying video of me complaining about my bike shoes
The bike course of this race, like many others, is open. That means cyclists have to share the road with people driving cars on their way to garage sales and swap meets as well as tanker trucks that “… Stop At All Railroad Crossings.” Police held the intersections open for the cyclists, but there’s nothing they could have done about the truck that pulled out in front of me and stopped at the tracks. In my head I was grumbling when another cyclist pulled up next to me and said, “At least it’s not a train.” I thanked him for that perspective as we carefully steered around the truck and he disappeared into the distance. You just have to be mentally prepared for that before the race even starts. But all bad feelings faded when I realized I averaged over 20mph for the 14 miles.
Transition two was fun, because there was John snapping pics and recording video as I came in from the bike ride at one end of the transition area. Then, on my way out of transition to the run, there was John again doing the same thing. He must have been doing his own little race to get from one end of the transition area to the other that fast.
I started the run barefoot. This is something I’ve been doing lately in an attempt to have the fastest overall transition time. It doesn’t always work, but I do seem to get the shoes on my feet faster when I’m already running. By the time I worked out the bike induced stiffness of the hamstrings and glutes, I felt I was running at an 8:30/mile pace. This year I’ve been trying to feel my pace and only check the watch when I really need to. So I checked the watch at mile two and read 8:59/mile. Uh oh. Too late to make up the lost time in the last mile. I was in a lot of pain and the 9:00AM sun was making for a slow and miserable run. But I’ve learned to use a little trick when the muscles are screaming in pain and the brain is convinced that we need to slow down.
The trick is a simple mind game. I give myself permission to slow down after I first speed up. Initially, it hurts to push the legs harder, but after a couple of strides the legs are ok with the new pace and I forget about slowing down for a little while. It’s like finding another gear on your bike that you didn’t know you had. Overall, the run cost me 27 minutes and 46 seconds. Slow for me, but I’ll take it after that fast bike and the hot, humid climate.
My overall time was 1:14:43. That’s good enough for fourth place among men aged 55 to 59.
Question: What would I do differently to secure my place on the podium of next year’s version of The Three Little Pigs triathlon?
Answer: More high intensity interval training.
Not a lot more high intensity, but enough to make up about 25% to 30% of my training each week.
60% to 65% should be zone 2 long endurance training
About 10% should be in between: tempo, sweet spot, zone 3
To John: Thanks for coming along. It was nice to see you at the finish line, but if we do this again, we definitely need to find some other place to eat than Waffle House.
To Deborah and Lori: The season is just beginning, so let’s try to find a race in SoCal we can do together.
To Everyone Else: Thanks for reading the blog and I hope to see you at a race soon.
Until next time…