TriRock Philadelphia, and its predecessors, Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon and simply Philadelphia Triathlon, has always been my favorite triathlon. (Come to think of it, this race has changed names almost as many times as some of the banks in town.) As my hometown race, it’s the only triathlon I get to ride my bike to and from. No hotels, no flights or trains, no driving – just an easy 20 minute ride to the race site, and then a 30 minute ride home, afterward.
I like this race because of the swim in the Schuylkill River. Yes, the Schuylkill. It tastes better than the Hudson and the Ohio, it’s clearer than the Ohio and the lakes at most race venues, and the swim course is practically a straight shot downstream until the final 100 meters.
I like this race because the bike has everything I like: long flats to cruise along, four climbs to grind out the leg strength, and four descents for some great yeehaw speed.
I like this race because the run is about as flat as they come. The first half is mostly shaded so you can maintain a good pace, and the second half is mostly sunny and hot so you have to dig deep to keep pushing.
My plan for TriRock was to put together the best swim I could. I’m a slower swimmer, with my best non-Hudson Olympic distance race swim at a non-wake-producing 34:12. I was in the New York City Triathlon a couple times, and with the all-downstream swim in the Hudson River, my best time was 23:30, still slower than many people in the current-less Schuylkill. For the bike, my plan was to keep a relatively consistent effort with a heart rate in the low-160’s, my Lactate Threshold zone. I don’t have a power meter on my bike, so I use heart rate to gauge my effort. The effort let me push it on the flats and downhills, and make it up the hills without going into the red zone too much. My run plan was similar: stay in the low-to-mid-160’s for the first half, and then start building effort to the end (Super LT building to V02 Max).
How did it go?
Swim: 1,500 meters (.93 mile)
The swim starts at the St. Joseph’s University boat house, on the Kelly Drive side of the Schuylkill. Like past years, each age group goes to the dock. Unlike past years, a new swim start format, a modified time trial start, had swimmers starting, ten at a time, with each group of ten starting a few seconds apart. This format is similar to changes taking place throughout the triathlon world in an effort to increase safety (or at least the appearance of increased safety) by reducing the chances of injury that can happen during mass swim starts. From the start, the course is nearly straight downstream before making a turn toward the Martin Luther King Drive side of the Schuylkill for the last 100 meters. Large, orange buoys mark the course every 100 meters, making sighting and keeping the line much easier than many tri swims, but again, mirrors a widespread evolution in the sport.
Getting into the water, it took a few meters to get into my stroke rhythm, and then it was pretty much straight and smooth sailing (er, swimming) until the last 400 meters, when I ran into traffic. Usually, I don’t run into traffic – traffic runs into and over me. I am used to seeing different colored swim caps pass me from two or more swim waves that started after me. That happened here. What is not usual is catching up with a group of swimmers from my wave. I attribute that more to the larger number of first-timers than to my swim speed.
After making the turn to the swim exit, I had 100 meters of smooth strokes before exiting via an aluminum ramp (new this year, previously we exited via a sand “beach”). Once on my feet, I took a glance at my Garmin 310XT, which said 29:55 – an all-time fastest swim for me in open water. I crossed the timing mat at Transition at 30:21, for a swim pace of 2:01 per 100 meters, 16 seconds/100 faster than my fastest non-Hudson swim.
Transition 1: swim-to-bike
As soon as I exited the water, I pulled off my swim cap and goggles, and while running to Transition, unzipped my Blue Seventy Helix wetsuit and pulled the arms and torso down to my waist. As soon as I got to my bike, Maybellene, on the bike rack, I finished pulling off my wetsuit, put on my helmet, sunglasses, and race belt, pulled Maybellene off the rack, and ran her out to the bike start. Time in T1: 2:43, about average for me in a wetsuit transition.
Bike: 40 kilometers, 24.85 miles
The bike course comprises two loops around Martin Luther King and Kelly Drives and includes trips around the Philadelphia Museum of Art and over the Falls Bridge, with two climbs on each side of the river. None of the climbs are too hard: three are long but not steep, and one is steep but not long. The flats along the drives and in front of the art museum are nice stretches to make up for speed lost on the climbs. Along the way, riders have great views of Boat House Row, the High School of the Future, the Please Touch Museum, and Smith Memorial Arch.
Once on the bike, a flat section gave me a chance to get my heart rate under control, get my feet into my bike shoes (which I leave clipped into the pedals in transition so I can run barefoot through transition), and build some initial speed. The first climb of the bike, up Ford Road to Chamounix Drive, is long but at no point very steep. Once on Chamounix, the road gets mostly flat and passes the bike aid station (also passed on the second loop), where I took a water bottle, from which I pulled a couple sips and soaked my head and back. The course then does a tight loop in front Chamounix Mansion International Hostel before starting a long and fast descent back to MLK Drive, over the Falls Bridge, past the Trolley Car Cafe, and on to the next climb up Strawberry Hill Drive for a nice flat along the ridge and then zooms down Fountain Green Drive. Back on Kelly Drive, the course runs along the upper half of Boat House Row, then the only technical climb up Lemon Hill Drive and then quickly down Edgely Drive to Kelly Drive for the spin past the art museum. Finally, the last climb up Sweetbriar Drive and Lansdowne Drive, then a final quick descent down Black Road before heading back out for the second loop or dismounting for T2.
Time on bike: 1:17:30 at an average speed of 19.1 miles per hour. Some day I hope to hit an average speed of 20 mph in a race. Any race. My fastest bike split in an Olympic distance tri was during my first Olympic tri, during my first season, at the Philly Tri in 2006. That day, I averaged 19.6 mph, which proved to be too much of an effort when I melted on the run and walked about a mile.
Transition 2: bike to run
Before descending Black Road, I took my feet out of my shoes for the coast down to MLK Drive and to do a rolling dismount going into T2. This doesn’t really save me more than a couple seconds, but it looks so cool. I ran Maybellene back to her spot on the rack, switched helmet for my Headsweats ProTech running hat with a neck-covering, turned my race belt so my bib was in front, pulled on socks and running shoes, and ran out to the run start. Time in T2: 2:15, my fastest Olympic distance bike to run transition.
Run: 10 kilometers, 6.21 miles
The run course heads upstream along MLK Drive, turns around after the Strawberry Mansion Bridge to head back downstream, crosses onto the grass to run between Transition and the Schuylkill, and back onto MLK Drive to turn around for the home stretch just before the MLK bridge over the Schuylkill. The first 3.5 miles is mostly shaded and comfortable, so holding a good pace is not much of a struggle (save for the tiring legs). The last 2.7 miles, however, is completely exposed to the sun, which usually shines on race day, causing runners to heat up and paces to slow down. Working with my Garmin’s heart rate monitor, I kept my effort even in the low-to-mid-160s beats per minute, while my pace slowed from 8:08 for mile three to 8:31 for mile five. I picked up the effort at the beginning of mile six and pulled out an 8:15 pace for that mile, and then peaked at 7:20 pace for the final two tenths of a mile. I took on only water at the aid stations during the run, have fueled during the bike. See “Nutrition,” below.
Swim: 30:21, 2:01/100m, my fastest non-Hudson swim, 876th of 1333 finishers
Bike: 1:17:30, 19.1 mph, 421st of 1333 finishers
Run: 50:31, 8:08/mile, my fasted Olympic distance run, 380th of 1333 finishers
Overall: 2:43:21, my fastest non-Hudson Olympic tri and only 16 seconds slower than my fastest Hudson Olympic tri, 415th of 1333 finishers
Top 31 percent of finishers, top 35 percent of my age group (Males 45-49)
My race day nutrition is based on my current understanding and race/training experience with metabolic efficiency, as explained by Bob Seebohar in Metabolic Efficiency Training. I have not had ME testing, but last fall I adopted the nutrition and training practices Seebohar suggests.
I drank two packs of Generation UCAN Vanilla when when I woke up, along with two cups of coffee. I took a bottle of water to drink while waiting for my swim wave to start. I had one pack of Generation UCAN Pomegranate-Blueberry in the aero water bottle on Maybellene – I drank about half of it during the bike, plus a few sips of water from the aid station. During the run, I had only a gulp of water at each aid station. The Generation UCAN provided enough carbs to make it through the bike and run given my current level of metabolic efficiency, and provided enough electrolytes to keep my synapses firing and avoid hyponatremia.