I did it! I finished my first Oly!! And I gotta say it was a really good race. I would definitely recommend the Buckhead Border Challenge Tri for beginners or anyone wanting a flat, fast race.
About a week before the race, the race director found out that the city would not allow them to close down the bridge for the run portion of the race due to construction traffic because they needed the extra arteries into the city. The race was prompt about informing us of this last minute change and quickly got a new run course selected, approved, and uploaded to the website.
It poured buckets the day before the race so I didn’t get a chance to run or bike some of the course, but drove as much of it as possible before I went to packet pickup. They had people from a local multisport shop on site for last minute bike checks and to purchase nutrition. And they had 2 pre-race meetings so you could learn more about the logistics, race course, and ask any questions. The swim was self-seeding by time, so you got to pick out your wave and swim cap at packet pickup. Everything else I needed was in my registration bag.
Passed this on the bike course in Indiana. Really disappointed no Leslie Knope sighting.
About 11:45pm, the night before the race we got several text messages from the race that due to the heavy rains, the bacteria levels in the river were “slightly to moderately higher” than normal. However the race would proceed as scheduled, but gave anyone the option to switch to the Duathlon if they wanted and had instructions on how to do that at check-in.
Upon reading my texts about the river after my 3:30am (yes you read that right) wake up call, I sent a couple panicked texts to my Coach. I hated to bother her at 4am, but I knew she also had a race that morning so she might be up before I had to decide what to do. I decided I would do the full race. It was what I trained for and the levels probably weren’t that bad if they weren’t cancelling the swim entirely. So I made my way down to pack the car and head over to the race at 5am. There was also a major 3-day music festival going on at the same time, so getting on an elevator with your bike in full tri gear with intoxicated music fest goers who are just coming home is surreal.
I got to the race site and the weather seemed to be looking good, though it was still dark and hard to tell. Parking was plenty and easy to find and close to the course. I got body marked and got my timing chip and then went to set up in transition. First I did a quick ride on the bike to make sure everything was working properly, get a better look at road conditions, and make sure that I was in a low gear for when I first head out after the swim. Then I set out for a quick 5 minute jog to get warmed up and burn off any nervous energy. Bonus that this race was sponsored by a restaurant, which meant that they had the bathrooms indoors also open for use! A real bathroom, with lights, and toilet paper, a toilet that flushes, and had a sink to wash your hands. So luxurious!! They also had portapotties and I think everyone else was using those because I had no wait for the indoor toilets. Lastly, I made sure everything was all set up how I wanted it in transition, and made sure it was USAT legal (i.e., not taking up too much space). Then I grabbed my throwaway flip flops (thanks Megmo!), my swim cap, ear plugs (yes I’m that person, but I get waterlogged ears easily!), my goggles and a Cliff Shot (mocha flavor for just before the swim), and headed to the big yellow school buses that were shuttling the Olympic swimmers to the Louisville side of the River.
SWIM – 1 mile – 32:56
We had a long delay to the start of the swim because they were waiting for EMS to get set up at the extraction point. Yeah, I’m fine waiting for that, I’d like medical to be at the end in case I need it! Then the buoys wouldn’t stay in place and they tried to reset them, but they kept moving and changing the swim course. Finally they decided to just go ahead and I watched the first 2 swim waves try to figure out where to swim and had mass chaos. By the time they got to our swim wave, we were directed to just follow the line of kayakers. I was one of the last people off the dock and into the water and within a few seconds he sounded the horn and we were off. I was pretty far back in the group and still was met with arms and legs and accidentally grabbing other people. I just tried to stay afloat and get away from the mass churn of people. Our wave was one of the largest waves (all us average to slow people!) so it took a while to find a place that I wasn’t completely entangled. I was a little anaerobic (having trouble breathing regularly) so I side stroked partly to avoid people and to keep my head above water until I could calm my breathing. Had to flip on my back and kick to adjust my goggles twice. It might have only been spit in my goggles, but I sure didn’t want bacteria laden river water in my eyes just in case.
After about 200yds or so I knew it was go-time and I had to start swimming freestyle and getting in control of my breathing or I’d never finish this swim with enough gas in the tank for the rest of the race. With calming thoughts in my head I started doing 2 stroke+breath until it got regular. I found the heavy rains had made the visibility in the water amazing. I could see well past my arm and even up the legs of the people in front of me, and the water was a very light green with my goggles on, the best visibility I’ve had in open water so far. This immensely contributed to calming my nerves. I got into a rhythm and was able to start catching up with people as the pack had thinned out. I would ride out someone’s bubbles until I felt like I was going to start swatting at their legs, then I would go around them and find someone else. This happened for most of the swim. Find bubbles, ride them out, realize I am going faster, go around and find more bubbles. Once we got to the other side of the river, we hung a left and just swam along the shore to the finish. This portion felt like forever! But I still passed a couple people and unfortunately had quite a bit of time by myself without any bubbles to draft off of. I got behind one big guy and tried to follow him for a while to save energy for the last 400 meters or so, but some girl kept coming up between us and squeezing me out. I tried to squeeze back, but eventually got frustrated and sprinted out ahead of both of them. I knew I was close to the finish and had the energy to spare, so I made sure I sprinted enough ahead so they couldn’t get behind and draft off me either. Once I could really see the final white buoy I started kicking hard to wake up my legs because I knew had a tough hill to run up to the transition. I swam until my hands were grabbing sand and stood up. Turns out it was quick sand mud that last 10-15 feet to the extraction point. Step down, then sink up to your shin or knee. A gross, squishy, suction-cup effect. But they got me out of the water and I started running up the hill.
See the 2 guys on the dock, that’s where we got out of the water. And ran up this hill to transition here.
Holy crap a long steep (wet) grassy hill to run up after swimming a mile. In fact the last super steep part, they put down kitchen mats so you had some kind of traction. But they had girls at the top with hoses that would spray off the sink hole mud. Transition was on a nice clean paved parking lot of the sponsoring restaurant. It was easy to find my rack every time because it was laid out well. Quickly put on helmet, sunglasses, shoved nutrition in my pockets, rinsed off feet and put on socks and bike shoes, turned on Garmin, grabbed gloves, and did a double check that I had everything I needed and ran to the bike out.
BIKE- 25 miles – 1:22:15 (Garmin showed it was more like 23 miles and other racers confirmed this.)
As I got on the bike I realized I was still holding my gloves…as in I wasn’t wearing them and now had to figure out how to put them on and pedal at the same time. Oops, but I managed to get one on before the first turn and got the second (without dropping it) after I got to the straightaway portion of the rest of the bike. Rookie move. The bike course is crazy flat, but as you would expect in small town Indiana the roads weren’t in the best condition. So you could go fast, but you had to be very mindful of the road and hazards ahead of you. There are also 3 separate sets of railroad tracks that you go over, and since this is an out-and-back course with 2 laps for the Oly, you actually cross train tracks 12 times. I made sure to slow down as I approached them, but they really weren’t bad. The manholes and pot holes and uneven surface were worse. Unfortunately the course was littered with people who had gotten flats. I was terrified I would get one too, but I figure a lot of these people weren’t really watching the course carefully and hit some holes, etc.
Not much to report about the bike course since it was so flat and straight. Interesting changes of scenery going in and out of industrial areas, residential areas, along the river, and past a ship building company. Since there were 4 different events (Oly & Sprint tri, Oly & Sprint Du) going on and a loop course, the bike course was pretty crowded and I was always nervous I would inadvertently get a drafting penalty. Then there were times I was riding along at 20mph and big guys would fly past me. The bike course wasn’t closed so occasionally we would have cars that didn’t understand what was going on and I heard several riders yelling at them. Fortunately I didn’t have any run-ins with cars, but there were a TON of USAT motorcyles on the course who would follow me over and over making me nervous and police riding along the course too. About every 15 minutes I took sips from my water bottle and I took some Cliff Shot blocks on each turnaround. I think this hydration/nutrition plan worked well for me, especially since I only decided to do that about 15 minutes into the bike! Hydration and nutrition always slowed me down, because I still haven’t mastered that yet and I’m still nervous about the responsiveness of the tri bike. But I felt good during the entire bike. I had my last sip of hydration at about 18 miles and realized my stomach was pretty full and I wasn’t thirsty so I stopped there to keep from getting a sloshy feeling on the run. Coming into transition was uneventful, but I managed to unclip both feet so I could come off the bike easily.
T2 – 2:05
Racked my bike, removed helmet, and changed shoes. Clipped my race belt on. I had already pulled my bandanna off my aero bars and tucked it into my tri shorts while on the last lap of the bike, so I didn’t have to worry about that. I grabbed my handheld water bottle, and yanked out some of the nutrition from my pockets I wouldn’t need. I put on my run hat, double-checked I hadn’t forgotten anything, and reset my Garmin as I was running to the Run Out.
RUN – 6.2 miles – 1:00:04 (Garmin and other racers confirmed this was over 6.5 miles.)
The run was along the Ohio River Greenway. I love running on greenways. Seriously love it, like a sick obsession love it. So the change in the run course was a delight for me. Although I wanted to cross the state border one more time during the race, this potentially offered more shade and less stubborn hills of a bridge to contest with. Just shy of a mile, there is a “hill” that is terraced (read: EASY) and is very short. These poor Midwesterners were walking up it and I felt sorry for them. They better not race in Nashville any time soon. There were plenty of water stops staged about every mile on the course. I skipped the first one that was crowded with sprint runners and on the opposite side of the course since I just came off the bike and had a handheld. At the second water stop, they had water, Gatorade, and cups of ice. I took some water and dumped it on my head. I also grabbed a cup of ice and dumped most of the ice in my sports bra* and tried to put some under my hat fairly unsuccessfully.
Not long after the water stop, I felt like I might get a side stitch, and at about 2.5 miles I suddenly realized one of the pieces of ice was skittering across the greenway in front of me. That’s when I realized I was on the ground. I fell. I don’t remember tripping or anything like that. But I ate it. Hard. Skinned the hell out of my right knee, bruised the inside of my left knee, and scraped the hell out of my left hand. Dammit! So I got up, assessed my injuries and decided I’d walk for a minute while I took some salt from my handheld. A guy coming back on the course saw me and asked if I was ok, I said “Yeah, I think I just bruised my ego.” He laughed and took off. After I got the salt down and a sip from my handheld I took off running again.
I don’t think I lost much time for the fall and it didn’t hurt to start running again. But the running made the blood pump more and trickle down my shin. I was hoping my bloody leg would freak out my competition. Most people seemed to ignore it. The rest of the run went well. Got Gatorade and ice at the water stops and finished off my handheld so I could attach it to my race belt in the back and I wouldn’t have it in my hand for the finish. I managed to only drink fluids and take salt once during the run and didn’t end up taking or needing any sport beans or other nutrition like I usually do.
Then, with about 1/2 mile to go, my left shoulder started burning and cramping. I was still doing an ok pace (and thought I was closer to the finish than I was) so I walked a little bit hoping it would let up. Unfortunately the run was longer than a 10k so I still had a ways to go. I tried running again and the pain was searing and felt like my left side of my chest was tightening up. I think it was my PTS flaring up, because it definitely felt like nerve pain. At about 0.3mi left to the finish (at the true 10K mark when I just wanted to be finished) a guy ran up beside me and I said something encouraging like “Looking good, keep it up,” hoping he’d go on and I could maybe walk again and audibly let out my whimpers from my burning shoulder without embarrassment. But no, he says back “C’mon! You can’t let an old guy beat you!” Dammit! I slowed enough to get a quick check of the age on his calf (you can never tell with triathletes) and it was 58, not that old, but hell he’s right. He kept encouraging me every time I started to slow down and really helped bring me in to the finish. And even picked up the pace and sprinted with me to the finish and shook my hand and congratulated me once we crossed. Thank you “old guy” whoever you are!
TOTAL FINISH TIME – 2:59:49
Holy crap, I finished about 20-30 minutes faster than I expected! I attribute a lot of that to the swim course probably being shorter than a mile due to some technical difficulties. Though I did feel like I was passing a lot of people without much effort. Also the bike course was super flat, fast, and easy to navigate and was short a couple miles, so that made my time seem faster. Unfortunately the run was longer and that’s where I took the fall and fought through the shoulder issues. But all in all I’m really pleased with this race. I didn’t die (for any number of reasons) on the swim and felt pretty good coming out of the water. The bike was good, and I fought through the leg burn and managed nutrition fairly well.
After I crossed the finish, retrieved my phone from my car and got my race results receipt, I was finally directed by a volunteer to “medical” which was a golf cart with a bunch of paramedics who seemed somewhat uncomfortable with blood. But they got me cleaned up with alcohol and bandaids, that promptly fell off.** I was able to get my stuff from transition and put it in my car because the restaurant needed to open up its parking lot for it’s Sunday brunch crowd. They had excellent water and Gatorade in frigid ice water tubs at the finish and a huge spread of food at the finish, though it took me at least 45 minutes before I thought I could stomach a bagel or banana.
Post race spoils. Even if it’s cheap crap beer.
I felt like there was great volunteer support throughout the race and pretty good spectator support too, especially at the finish line area. Plenty of fluids along the course (including cups of ice on the run!) and at finish and good post-race food. I think the race director handled any hiccups very well and quickly got the information out to the racers as soon as possible and kept us updated on any changes. The immediate race results printed out on a receipt (that included a ticket for a free beer – another perk of a bar/restaurant as a sponsor) were fantastic! The indoor bathroom access at the start line was a huge bonus! Transition was laid out really well and not so spread out it took you forever to run to your rack. The bike course was clearly marked. The entire race seemed very well organized. The weather was fantastic; not too hot or humid with lots of cloud cover. Kentuckiana triathletes are a really friendly bunch. Everyone was really nice and chatty and seemed pretty laid back which helped put me at ease. And there was pretty sweet bling at the finish. I’m a sucker for good swag and bling in a race!
I didn’t see any medical at any point other than at the finish line. I think I may have seen an ambulance drive by on the bike though I don’t know if it was race support, but I never saw any on the run. It would have been easy to set up at any number of points along the run. I don’t know if I would have taken advantage of them for my knee because I don’t like losing a lot of time and the bleeding wasn’t out of control, but it would have been nice to know they were there. I was also frustrated with the distance on the run. When we were well past the 5k mark on the run and I still couldn’t see the turnaround I was a little annoyed. There weren’t hardly any photographers. From the race website, it appears one of the boats must have had a photographer because they have some great shots. And I saw one photographer on the bike course. I didn’t see any on the run or at the finish line. (I’d love to the see the grimace on my face as I crossed and with my bloodied shin). (NOTE the pictures above aren’t from the official race photographer, but from a guy who was on the bike course who posted them on Facebook.)
* I really feel sorry for male racers. The sports bra is the best invention ever for holding ice and cooling you down. It’s close to your heart and theoretically can help cool the blood pumping through your body and lower your temperature faster. And you can dump it in and get rid of the cup quickly. Plus it makes an awesome percussion sound as you run, and since you can’t wear headphones, it’s like having your own personal jazz drummer tapping on a high hat as you glide along. Tish, tata, tish, tata, tish…
** Note about medical: I did a better job cleaning up my wound when I got back to the hotel and applied some antibiotic ointment. Given the bacteria levels on the swim and my infection related hospitalization earlier this year, I’m taking extra precautions. I had some leftover antibiotics I started taking when I got home and I got a new tetanus booster today because I was overdue and we get them free at work.