No pre-amble, just into the race recap.
The swim for this race occurs in the Schuylkill River, which notoriously is not safe for swimming. I knew this signing up, so it was no surprise when I woke up race morning to find out that the swim was cancelled- the PhillyRiverCast had the bacteria levels at RED- “Unsafe for activities that involve contact with the water” so it was a good thing we didn’t need to get in there. The race director opted to modify the race to a 2mile run- 40km bike – 4.2mile run.
I modified my usual race warm-up to doing exactly what I would do to warm-up for a run workout. The less thinking required on race morning the better, so it was good to do a well-practiced routine. The race ended up starting a few minutes late, normally not an issue, but it was and we’ll get there.
At 6:39am the pro women started. I chose to pace the first run as a tempo effort and didn’t fret when some of the others started to pull away- I knew their run abilities and made the (correct) assumption that they were going to pay for their efforts once they got to the bike. There are times to take risks and times to be smart, and doing a 2 mile run before a 40km bike is a time to be smart, especially if you don’t train for it. I got into T1 about 40 seconds down from the leaders and 15-20 seconds off the next group of 3.
On to the bike it took me less than 2 miles to catch up to 4 of the 5 athletes ahead of me (and Alicia Kaye was not going to be caught). From then on it was a group of 4 of us who powered through the 2-loop bike course. It was a great battle as we pushed each other and was looking like it was going to come down to the run. But then we got to loop 2 of the course. Disaster. Now, the race director was supposed to delay the age group start so that the pro women could get to the second loop of the bike course without interference from the age group athletes. However, we started a few minutes late, and the age group race started at 7am. So we had a grand total of 21 minutes buffer to get through 20km of biking. Not gonna happen. This was compounded by the fact that it was a 2-mile run and not a swim at the beginning (a swim would have separated athletes a lot more). So we entered the second loop and there were athletes everywhere. Far too many athletes for the space on the course so there were times when I almost hit other athletes as I tried to pass (which these men were certainly not happy to see happening). Coming off a straight, flat section of the course I was at the front of a small pack of athletes as we hit one of the steep hills on the course. Now, anyone who has ridden in a group knows what happens in this situation. The athletes who were drafting off me on the flat section used my slip stream to go past me as I slowed down on the uphill. No-one has ever applauded my hill-climbing abilities (which are minimal at best), so a couple athletes passed me and moved right in front of me. I was hugging the right side of the road. Another athlete was directly beside me on my left. I had nowhere to go but into the ditch beside me if I wanted to get out of their draft zone. I had a 10 hour drive after the race to replay this scene in my head, and I stand by my analysis of the situation- I had nowhere to go, and I certainly was not receiving a benefit of a draft at my crawling pace up the hill. Nevertheless, I got to the top of the hill and the referee yelled at me to stand down. I let out one outburst “Are you KIDDING ME?!?” as I all but jumped off my bike. He was not kidding, by the way. I had a couple options at this point. I assumed my race was all but over, and it would have been easy to become very de-motivated for the rest of the race. But I chose not to take this option. I calmly let the official know I disagreed with his decision given the dynamics of the race and that I literally had no space to get out of the draft zone in the 3-second time limit (and we will continue to disagree), but acted professionally and accepted my fate, let him tell me why he thought I deserved a penalty, and unleashed my frustration into the remainder of the bike course when he finally let me go. I was counting on the fact that I considered myself a faster runner than almost everyone in the race, and was bound and determined to give it everything I had until I got to the finish line.
You can imagine my surprise when I got to T2 and there were only 2 bikes there. I thought I was being pranked, and as I got my running shoes back on I asked the official standing there “where is everyone else? Are there really only two athletes back?” I was not being pranked, and as it would turn out later, almost half the pro-women’s field received drafting penalties. On to the run I had a faint hope of catching the athlete ahead of me (who was directly behind me at the time of the penalty) but 4.2miles was simply not enough distance and I finished in third, but with the second fastest run split, only 4 seconds slower than the blistering pace set by Alicia Kaye.
So, while I am frustrated and absolutely disagree with the drafting penalty, it is what it is, and there are a lot of positives to take away from the race. I will remain a little pissed off and definitely be bringing my A-game to NYC in three weeks- 1 loop bike course so won’t have to worry about drafting penalties.
Thanks to my amazing homestay Kim and John Stoveld, and thank you to everyone who supports me in my triathlon journey: C3, Royal Containers, Skechers, Alto Cycling, Rudy Project, DKOS, Riplaces, and Caledon Hills Cycling.