The Hartwell YMCA sprint triathlon is a great little race just over the Georgia/SC border. It also features an Olympic triathlon that starts a half hour before the sprint and shares some of the bike and all of the run course. This was a new event for me, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It was well organized. The courses were clearly marked. The volunteers were enthusiastic. The venue, Big Oaks Recreation Area, was scenic. Just a great experience overall.
I signed up for the sprint triathlon pretty much on a whim. The event was mentioned on the TYB Coaching Facebook page. Some quick Googling showed that it was very close by and hey, it was about darn time that I got back out there. Since Go Race Productions had posted detailed course maps, it was easy to make a quick trip to Hartwell the weekend before and checked out the swim, bike and run courses. I’m much more likely to sign up for a race if course maps are easy to find.
Race morning came with almost perfect weather, 72 degrees, partly cloudy with a light breeze, which was a tremendous relief since a light-flickering, horizontal-rain monsoon blew through the night before.
I was trying to approach this race as a workout. This was a recovery week for me, and I was starting with a new triathlon coach on Monday. As usual I set multiple goals for the race. I wanted to have weapons-grade confidence on the swim. I wanted to see if holding back a bit on the bike would help my run. I wanted to be smoother on the run. Basically I just wanted to get a good start toward this year’s goal to do a half-iron race. All of my triathlons to date have been sprints. And as always the don’t get airlifted out rule was in effect.
As I watched the buoys being placed for the two swim courses, Christina, a triathlete I had met at the Clemson swims, came over and chatted. I was happy to see a familiar face. it helped calm my pre-race jitters.
As the mens’ wave got into the water at the boat ramp to wait on the start, I repeated my mantra: swimming is winning. As the horn sounded, I started swimming toward the first buoy. About a hundred yards in my confidence completely deserted me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t keep my face in the water. I had to roll onto my back and breath. Not a promising start. As I was assessing my new career as a floating obstacle, I heard the horn sound for the womens’ wave and that snapped me back to reality. It was time to get moving or get run over. I rolled back over and renewed my quest for the first buoy. The rest of the swim was uneventful. My confidence returned just as quickly as it had left. I had no problem rounding the second and third buoy and making it back to the boat ramp.
Then I was jogging up the boat ramp and into transition. I was reasonably happy with my 1:28 for T1. Getting out on bike course was easy with the help of local law enforcement. The course was described to me as rolling with one bad hill, and that’s a good summary. And the bad hill isn’t all that bad. The pavement was patched in places but still in better shape than the roads I ride near Townville, SC. The one turn and turnaround were well marked with police and volunteers in place to ensure a smooth ride.
Everything on two wheels passed me on the bike course, sprint participants, Olympic participants, mopeds, a paper boy, a chicken on a skateboard. This confirmed my suspicion that my bike is not as strong as last year. This is one of the reasons I decided to get a coach to help me train this year. I made it to the turnaround, back up the big hill and soon found myself dismounting and back in transition. Less than a minute later I was out on the run.
The run goes out of the recreation area, along the highway then up a service road through the woods onto the dike. It’s the only hill on the run course. There on top the view of the lake on one side and the forest on the other is spectacular.
The first mile of the run went very well. Aiming for a 95% effort instead of a 105% effort on the bike had paid off. The skies had cleared, it had warmed considerably. At the first aid station, a volunteer offered me an ice towel and even placed it on my shoulders as I walked through drinking my water. I have a new favorite thing. It’s called an ice towel. You should try one. They’re awesome.
I made it up the forest road with one walk break and a quick stop in the portajohn. Then up on top of the dike I came to the turnaround and another aid station where I got more water, and they dunked my ice towel into bucket of icy water. Making it once more cold, wet and wonderful. I ran along passed by the final aid station without stopping and picked up my pace going into the finish. All in all it was a great event. I plan to return next year and maybe do the Olympic.