Sunday, July 16, 2017

RACE REPORT: 2017 HMF Litchfield Hills Olympic Tri

Hartford Marathon Foundation

July 16th, 2017


This was my 7th running of this race in 8 years.  Sorry 2011, I was busy.

My first was in 2010, seven days after my very first Olympic triathlon; apparently I was hooked.  I can't tell you that it was a wonderful experience (I've performed much better since then!), but I love the challenge, camaraderie, and community.  For many reasons, this race always feels like a trip back home.

Ok - An insight.  I consumed 90 mg of caffeine during the race (Aside from race day, I have not consumed caffeine in my normal diet since 2003), so while I would normally be sleeping right now, I decided to expel the energy with words instead.  You're welcome!

Honestly, I don't know how anyone lives on caffeine.  I would never get any sleep. 

Onto the race!


I was up at 3:45am.  (*cue non-morning people shock*)  That's still early for me, but it's race day - it's part of the package.  I put on my breathe right & tatoos, had breakfast (3 eggs, 2 toast, 2 bananas, and water), put on sun tan lotion, packed up the car and headed out.


I got into my car, punched in the address on my GPS, and away I go.  I stopped the car 5 seconds later.  Why are my headlights not on?  Are they dimmed?  I know they're not the brightest things in the world.  (*Turns high beams on*)  Okay, those work.  (*Turns high beams off*)  Where are my headlights??  (*Gets out of the car to make sure he's not crazy*)  Yup, both of my headlights decided to sleep in today.  I drove the whole way to the race (40 min) saying "sorry" to the 10 people I passed on the road for blinding them.  Gotta' get that fixed this week! 

I got to the race without driving someone off the road or getting pulled over and set up my triathlon team's tent (HEAT).  The race staff were busy getting everything set up and some friends were already on site for volunteering.  One is very much NOT a morning person.  Kudos Dennis!

Tent was up!  I grabbed my gear from the car, picked up the packet, got into transition, set my stuff up, and was ready to go!

You are no longer allowed to set your transition up outside of the bike racks.  I arrive early to this race because you get to set your bike up anywhere you'd like on the rack that lists your race number.  I choose the end, so that I can set my gear up on the end.  Nope!  USAT is not having it.  This year, USAT edited that wording to state that all transitions must be within the bike rack.  Good to know!

I headed down to the swim start (0.25 mile away from transition) with 20 minutes until race start.  I never manage to get down there by the time I plan to.  At least I'm consistent!  I downed a GU with caffeine, wipe the goggles with a Foggies, and into the water I go.


We stood in the water for 4 minutes while Wave #1 headed off.  I swam a few strokes out to the side and back.  I stopped just short of the group, go to stand, and subsequently sink right under the water.  I realized the bottom of the lake drops off rather suddenly right there.  That made a couple people laugh.  Great way to start race day!

You can't take life too seriously!
No, seriously... You can't.
It will spit that $^#* right back at you.

Swimmers take your mark - GO!  We were off.  As always, my swimmer ego takes over a bit and I head out hard to get away from the fray.  A few guys to my left (I started right - a tactic I'm employing to keep myself from veering left off course), take off with me.  They start to pull ahead, so I make my way over slowly like the socially awkward kid looking to blend into the "cool" crowd and wouldn't you know, two of the three guys fall off.  What is something I said??

I stuck with the lead swimmer for another 100 yards or so.  We were wide left of the buoys, but it was a draft, so I was fine taking a longer route.  Then I noticed that we were drifting FURTHER away from the buoys.  Nope!  I won't let he blind lead the blind.  I pulled back right and swam on my own the rest of the swim.  Loner!!

After the first buoy, I pulled back out of the anaerobic push and found a rhythm that did quite well for the rest of the swim.  As I made my way through Wave #1, it was surprisingly helpful for me mentally to do so.  All I did was focus on making it to the left or right of the next person so I didn't swim over them or scare them and it made the buoys go by quicker (in my head). 

The end of the swim was a little flat for me.  I tried to push, but my body ramped up the effort with little perceived speed gain, so I stuck to it and finished strong.  I grabbed an Olympic swim PR, so I can't complain.  Of course, I didn't know that until I saw the results afterwards (no watch on the swim), but it still felt good. 


Litchfield Hills has a notoriously nasty swim-to-bike transition.  The distance from the swim start to transition is roughly 0.3 miles.  Yes, it's a hike.  On top of that, it's mostly uphill.  Oh, and it's packed gravel.  What FUN!!!  Therefore, most athletes bring an extra pair of shoes to leave at the swim exit.  

I popped up out of the water, put the goggles on my forehead, unhooked the wetsuit, and ripped off the top all while finding my shoes.  I leave them towards the end; get me out of the fray.

I got the wetsuit off, put on my shoes, and ran up the hill.  A video of said "run" may have looked more like a hobbling penguin, but to my knowledge no such video exists so I will continue with my fantasy. 

Once in transition (a beautiful grassy area to make up for the packed gravel run), I swapped the shoes, suit, and goggles for a helmet, sunglasses, and bike.  And off onto the bike I went. 


The goal for today was to make the run fall apart.  Not in the way a delicious apple pie crumbles when correctly put together, but like when a bridge begins to collapse while you're stuck in rush hour traffic. 

The plan was to push the swim and the bike so that by the time I got to the run, my body would be like your old dog Fluffy who would just sit down when he decided today's walk was over.  The swim was done, so it was time to crank it on the bike.  Once I was strapped in, I found a comfortable rhythm in the 80-85 rpm range and went to work.

The above is a 100% legal way to make your way through the bike course.  It might not lead to a PR or even a finish, but feel free to give it a try.  40k "Run with Bike."

Bee Attack!!

Not even 1 mile into the ride, I get pelted by two small items.  It's happened before; usually bugs of some sort Jay-flying across the street directly into oncoming traffic.  They were solid enough that they gave me a momentary sting and then I was good.  ...until I wasn't.

I kept pedaling and the spot I got hit on my left quad kept stinging.  Once I was over some rough pavement, I looked down.  Maybe it was a thorn or just my imagination.  Unless my imagination comes in black and yellow stripes, I was sure this feeling had more substance to it.  In that moment, years of being afraid of bees flashed before my eyes as I swatted the bee off of my leg, who was likely having just as much of a fearful experience as I was.  I had mild reactions as a kid (nothing life threatening but I swelled a good amount), but I list bee stings as an allergy for that reason. 

I continued on thinking "Well, we're going to find out one way or another if I still have a reaction to bees."  Luckily, it didn't go past an unpleasant sting.  Phew!!  On the side of the road struggling to breathe and covered in hives was not how I planned to spend my Sunday!

Onward I rode!  The first 14 miles of the course are net downhill.  There are some rollers, but for the majority of the ride, I cranked out the big gears on flats and downhills attempting to keep the effort level up as I kept riding down. 

More caffeine into the system - 2 gels; one at mile 5 and the second at mile 15.  Still riding the high 12 hours later.  

Then I turned onto 202 and the uphills began.  Again, I stuck to the 80-85 rpm range and cranked it out as best I could keeping the effort up.  Remember, I wanted my run to blow up and I can't do that as easily if I take it easy on the bike. 

One gentleman did pass me around mile 16.  I worked to keep him in sight up until the final 5 miles and he was gone.  I told myself I would catch him on the run.  I did! 

There is one part of the Litchfield Hills Olympic bike course you will hear about; Bruning Road.  This is the 2nd to last road of the day with several climbs/inclines including the final

And then 0.25 mile from the bike finish...

Dropped Chain (Ugh!!)

After the killer finish to Bruning Rd, we ride down a quick descent with a subsequent ascent before the dismount area.  As I approached the incline, I shifted both the front and back derailers and OFF goes the chain.  For a brief second, I think 'Maybe I can coast in or get it back on without stopping.'  Short lived.  The incline brings me to a stop. 

Quickly off, man-handle the chain, reset it, back on, and GO!  Maybe 20 seconds lost at most.  And a laugh.  I told the spectators standing there watching me "This is an omen for sure!"

Finished up the bike without any further issues (the final 0.25 mile), dismounted, and off to see if I was going to blow up. 

This is my trademark Uber Aero bike dismount.  Or maybe I'm just riding a really awkward version of side saddle.  The jury is out!


Straight forward as always.  Bike racked, helmet/glasses off, socks/shoes on, grab everything else, and run.

As I entered transition, a friend yelled out "Only a relay and duathlete ahead of you."   Even the announcer said "And here is our first triathlete into transition."  I did my best to push that out of my head and keep pushing.  Placement wasn't going to do me any good.  ...but who's gong to complain about being in first??

I actually have before.  My dad has video proof.


This is it!  Show time. 

Mile #1 goes "okay."  I stopped to pee quickly (10s) and I had the same gravel road from the swim-to-T1 run to deal with.  Throw that one out!

Mile #2 clicked off much faster than I expected (albeit downhill), so I let my body do its thing.  It did not continue to impress me. 

Mile #3 was on par with my perceived effort.  The heat along with the swim/bike push started to take a toll.  But I managed to push on for another 3.2 miles. 

I reeled in one athlete at 1.5 miles.  I reeled in a second athlete (relay) at mile 2.  But then there's another up ahead.  'Did my friend back in transition count them wrong?'  'Who else could be out here?'  I catch up to the taller gentlemen - the only person to pass me on the bike today - and we exchange "Nice job"s.  He also has a bike escort. 

I've now commandeered my very own bike escort.
Or at least I will once he catches back up
I just passed him.

Despite my run falling apart (aka. running much slower than I would expect and pushing harder spikes the effort level WAY high), I am still able to pull close to the bike as we hit an incline.  This becomes a little mental game for me as I tick off the last 2 miles.  I will take anything to distract me!

As I pass mile 4, I try to push harder (make it HURT!) and I do speed up (though my data doesn't show it - lying data! #alternativedata).  Again at mile 5, I dig in and push harder.  The HR went up 1 bpm; more likely cardiac drift given my oncoming headache and the rising heat.

As I come up to the finish, I kick it in for the final 0.2 miles and I get to break the tape for the first time ever.  Then Bill, who started in Wave #3 four minutes behind me, comes up 3:14 later and beats me by 46 seconds. 

No complaints here!

We both had good days.  I hit all of my process and target goals.  I took home a pie (which is delicious!!).  I had fun racing and hanging out with friends.  It was  darn good day all around. 


Onto Rev3 Poconos Olympic on August 13th!


1.  What is the best race award you've seen or heard about?
I've seen Thule racks, free race entries, very crafty homemade medals (always cool!), but I personally love the pies that you get at Litchfield Hills Olympic.  Now that's a prize I can put to good use!

2.  What non-day ending "fun events" have happened to you on race day? 
Flat tires, going off course, dropped chains, throwing up for 16 miles, bee stings, falling off my bike trying to unclip... That's all that I can recall. 

3.  Does anyone use caffeine only on race day and have the side effect of being wide awake 12 hours later?
Please tell me I'm not the only one!


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