New England Season Opener Triathlon

The words, “Arctic cold front,” and “triathlon” aren’t often found in the same sentence, especially when swimming is involved. Today’s New England Season Opener Triathlon was an insane race because the weather was frightful. I went from nearly having heat stroke at 7 Sisters last week, to nearly having frost bite at today’s race. Only in New England could the weather be so drastically different from one week to the next. Today, it felt more like a late-November cyclocross race, at Hopkinton State Park, in Massachusetts.

When we waded into Hopkinton Reservoir for the 8:00 A.M. swim start, I don’t think the air temperature was more than 38 degrees Fahrenheit. The water was nearly 15 degrees warmer at 62. Unreal! No one wanted to get out. This sold-out triathlon demonstrates the pent-up desire of triathletes to race after a long winter. Folks were ready to get an event under their belt, and the ferocious start proved that. The churning of several hundred swimmers was a perfect complement for the white caps that were whipping across the frothy reservoir in front of a strong west wind. The gusts were nearly gale force, and the chop ended up sinking one of the fire department’s rescue boats. Note in the photograph that on the top of the dike, there is a very large wrecker truck getting ready to pull the boat from the drink.

Since one of the buoys kept moving, the swim course was shortened slightly. It was no more than a quarter-mile long. I could use the open water training, but I wasn’t complaining. Really, no one was. The real discomfort came on the 10 mile bike leg. I had trouble getting out of my wetsuit.  My feet were already cold. The short trot from the beach to the transition area proved that. I didn’t put socks on, opting to go barefoot. Between the wind chill and the fast pace, I couldn’t get warm no matter how hard I pedaled. I put on a long sleeve jersey in transition, but wore the same shorts that I had under my wetsuit, and I opted not to wear gloves. Another challenge was dealing with the wind gusts while in the aero bars. I’m glad that my Zipp 404’s don’t have that deep of a profile. Anyone with a disc or deeper dish rims needed to be careful not to lose control.

The bike course was in decent shape, with only a handful of bad spots on the roads. There were some potholes and frost heaves, but they were well-marked and easy to navigate. The bike course volunteers were numerous and helpful. They deserve thanks for keeping the course safe. I only had one close call with an SUV that turned in front of me. That was the only potential incident for me. I only went into the little ring once and I picked up a handful of spots on the bike leg. A duathlon was held in conjunction with the tri, and they started first, so I couldn’t really gauge where I stood in terms of placing. I just chased down as many people as I could.

I followed up my snail-like T1 with an even slower T2. I got my feet out of my cycling shoes and they were blocks of ice. They were so cold that I couldn’t feel them and I couldn’t get them into my running shoes. It was terrible. I struggled for what seemed like two minutes as I massaged them to get some blood flow. If I had elected to wear socks, they would have slid right in. I finally got them into the shoes, and took off on the five kilometer course. I picked up a couple more spots, but never warmed up. I finished in 58:12 and felt as if I never got going. The course was a mix of pavement, grass, gravel, and sand. The gravel section was across the top of the earthen dam that holds back the reservoir. The wind was blowing extremely hard across that dike.

The results were posted after the race, but they were hard to decipher. I got an award for third in the open division, but don’t know how I fared overall. It doesn’t really matter because I simply did the race to have some fun and get in the flow of a triathlon event. I know what I need to work on, and transitions are at the top of my list. It is bad to give up valuable time in the part of the race that requires no fitness. After the finish, I went back out and did another bike loop, then another run loop, and then one more bike loop. It was a really good training day despite the cold. I actually prefer this week’s conditions much more than last week’s.

The overall race organization was good. There were a ton of athletes, and a lot of newbies, which was great to see. Triathlon has gotten so popular and I love seeing the elite racers side by side with the weekend warriors. Let’s all hope that the weather gets better from here on out. There needs to be a happy medium between last week’s hot/humid suffer-fest and today’s arctic blast.

Race Results

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