The French Creek Triathlon was my first triathlon event of the year. I didn’t know a whole lot about the race, but the timing of it fit well into my schedule. After checking out the race course and past results on their website, I knew I was up for a challenging event. Most of the prior years’ Olympic distance finish times in my age group were hovering around the 3-hour mark. A bit long for typical Olympic distance events. Usually, I am around the 2:30 time frame for Olympic distance tris. Having mountain biked at French Creek in the past, I knew it was hilly and the bike and run course solidified this.
I drove an hour up to French Creek State Park on Saturday, via the beautiful back roads of the Oley Valley, to pick up my race packet and do a little bike/run brick workout to preview the course a bit. The bike route was definitely hilly and most of the roads were in nice shape except for a partial stretch of Rt 345 that is in dire need of repaving.
I had to delay my course recon ride a bit while the French Creek”Tough Kids” triathlon was finishing up. It was pretty cool seeing all these little kids out there giving it their all. While I was waiting a minivan pulled up and the guy driving rolled the window down and introduced himself. It was Todd Hydock, another Amrita Ambassador that lives in the Philadelphia area. I had known of Todd but had never met him in person. We chatted for a while until the kids race had finished. Todd was doing the sprint race on Sunday, so we would talk more on Sunday.
Race swag was pretty nice for a small event. They had a nice white race tech shirt and a Clean Bottle water bottle. I had always wanted to get a Clean Bottle but never got around to getting one. There was also a reusable cloth tote bag and some other items from Brandywine Valley tourism too.
It was pretty dark for the ride up and it was just barely cracking light when I arrived at the race venue. It had rained heavily overnight and was still overcast which kept things dark until I got to transition.
I found an empty space on the rack right at the swim-in/run-out end of transition. Everyone else seemed to be congregating towards the other end. I preferred having space. It was still quite damp out, so I was happy to suit up early with my wetsuit.
I gingerly made my down to the swim start in bare feet to get in a little warm-up swim before the race. I was the first one in the water. Water wasn’t too bad. A little cool but perfect for a wetsuit swim. The water was a light, muddy color but not so dark you couldn’t see at all.
I had a lot of time before my wave start since it was the 2nd to last wave. My toes were pretty much numb by the time the race started. I really need to remember to bring some old flips or socks or something. I chatted a bit with a lady named, Jennifer from NJ, who was also outfitted in full Amrita Kit. She was not an Ambassador but knew Arshad and was a loyal Amrita customer.
I also ran into Amy & Bill Kline who are good friends with my old tri-blogger-buddy Shanna. I have run into them a lot over the last couple years and they are really nice to talk too. I didn’t know it after the race, but it was their 17th wedding anniversary that day. Pretty cool to be doing a triathlon for your anniversary!
Finally, my wave was up. I sauntered into the water and was trying to stay back a little and to the left. The problem was everyone was staying back from the starting line. I was not about to stay back that far, so I ended up moving past everyone to the start line which was about waist deep. Not exactly where I like to be, but if they are going to lag back I might as well take the head start.
French Creek Olympic Triathlon 2016-Swim Exit
The first 200 yards kind of sucked like it usually does. It is just full of anxiety and nervous energy that it makes it hard to breathe. There was a little bit of bumping since some of the faster guys were going past or over me. Eventually, things settled out and got into my pace.
I had mostly clear water from there on out. Although I could have used some drafting help, not having to deal with others is nice too. I maintained a pretty steady swim and held steady for the rest of the two loop course. I never looked at my Garmin until I actually got out of the water.
I never looked at my Garmin until I actually got out of the water. It ready somewhere around 27 minutes, which is ok for me. I was hoping for faster but whatever. The worst thing is that the timing mats are the entrance/exit to transition, not at the swim exit. And it was at least tenth of a mile run to transition over little rocks. So my swim time ended up being around 28 minutes. I hate that!
The 1st transition went rather smoothly. Ditched the wetsuit and popped on my bike shoes, helmet and off I went. Ba-da-bing…ba-da-boom!
There were practically no flat sections on this entire bike course! You are either going up or going down. Nothing in between.
French Creek Olympic Triathlon Bike Course Elevation Profile
The road conditions are mostly good, except for one smaller section on Rt 345 that is in SEVERE need of paving. It also would appear to be a well-shaded course, but hard to tell when it was so overcast. The road was also pretty wet
French Creek Olympic Triathlon 2016-Bike
from the rain the night before.
My goal on this leg was to not overcook my legs on the hills and save something for the run. I would also try to bomb the downhills as much as possible and use “gravity” to my advantage.
I feel I executed that plan fairly well. It was surely not the fastest of rides, but my legs were still pretty fresh at the end. I ate one and a half Amrita Bars and 2 bottles of Skratch Labs during the ride. It is pretty easy to eat when you are climbing hills all morning.
T2 was a bit of a blunder. I left my running shoes tied in a double know…duh!! So I was there fumbling around with that for far too long. It was such a rookie mistake. I also put socks on, which cost me some more time. Despite that, I still got out in 2 minutes and looking at the results probably would not have made much difference in the end anyway.
The run started out flat for about a 1/4 mile and then it was up…and up…and up…for the first 4 miles. As soon as my legs were getting accustomed to running, the hills started. There was one section along a small lake that flattened out for a little bit, but then it was up again. The Olympic course also took a left, when the Sprint athletes went right back to the finish, to enjoy another larger hill climb. By the time I reached the top my legs were screaming. I even walked about 10 yards or so just to get my HR down a little bit.
French Creek Olympic Triathlon Run Course Elevation Profile
French Creek Tri Run
After the 2nd turnaround at the top of the last hill, it was all downhill for 2 miles to the finish. Ihave to say that last two miles were actually pretty fun. You knew you could just coast it in at that point. I felt bad for all the other athletes who were coming up those hills and was trying to give them some encouragement as I cruised past them.
I crossed the finish line feeling pretty good. The last 2 miles actually refreshed me a bit. Finish time was 3:01 and a few seconds. Not the best time for a Olympic distance event, but this was not your ordinary Olympic distance race.
French Creek Tri Finish
After the race, I met up Amy & Bill, My Amrita-buddy Todd, and also Terry & Sean Fenoff who I had met at my a strength training workshop that my strength coach had a couple years ago.
I stopped by the timing booth and looked at the posted race results. I saw that I came in 4th in my age group, which left me a little disappointed that I missed the podium by one place! Ugh…so close!
I decided that it wasn’t worth sticking around at that point and started packing up my bike and things in transition. I was also texting my wife telling her I got 4th in AG. While I was doing that Bill had stopped by and congratulated me on getting 3rd Place in my AG???!!! What??!! He informed me that the 1st place guy in my age group won the overall 1st place for the race, so that got me into 3rd! SWEET!!
I immediately text my wife back and said “scratch that…I actually got 3rd!” She was a little bummed that she wasn’t there now. So back I went and hung out for the post-race awards. It was pretty cool since Bill & Amy both won their Age Groups and they announced that it was their 17th wedding anniversary too! Also, Terry, Sean and Todd all podiumed too. So it was pretty cool to see everyone up there.
French Creek Tri Podium
I was pretty happy to finally get a podium finish in triathlon. I have been doing this for over 8 years and have yet to get a podium in a triathlon. I got one for running races and duathlons, but never a triathlon. I think the build up of experience over the years with good coaches and my focus on strength training this year is making a difference.
Next up Ironman 70.3 Syracuse…
Thanks for reading!