This past Saturday, I competed in my second-ever Olympic-distance triathlon, the Atlantic City Triathlon—or Tri AC—for short.
Now, I had done this same event in 2014. In fact, it was my second-ever triathlon, after a sprint-distance tri about a month earlier in Hightstown, N.J. But I had not done an Olympic-distance triathlon since then.
Also, five years ago, the Olympic Tri AC featured a 20-mile bike ride and a 5-mile run following a 1-mile swim. The current configuration has a 22.5-mile bike ride and a full 10K (6.2-mile) run.
I finished the 2014 incarnation in 3:04:34 with a 52:17 swim, a 1:08:53 bike ride (20 miles) and a 50:21 run (yes, my transition times were—and still are—terrible). Going into this year’s event, I set a mental goal of 3:14:00 and that was really based on a simple formula that the added 1.2 miles of running would add about 10 extra minutes (I figured any improvements in the swim, bike and transitions would cancel out somehow).
Well, about that. I swam my fastest mile ever in a pool and that was still about 44 minutes. In open water, I covered a mile in about 48 minutes a couple of weeks ago during training—and that was still with some breaks and floating. I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact I would never break 40 minutes in a mile swim.
That brings us to Saturday morning’s triathlon. After I was set up and done in transition, I went over to the back bay of Atlantic City to size up the mile course. It looked pretty daunting and I started wondering why I had signed up for an Olympic-distance triathlon.
When the Olympic-distance triathletes started lining up in the swim staging area, I immediately went to stand behind the volunteer holding the “40:01+” sign. I mean, as far as I was aware, I was not a strong swimmer.
Finally, at 7:47 a.m., it was time for me to start my swim. And right from the start, I felt strangely comfortable. Usually, I expend a lot of energy and immediately lose breath control, which means I wind up keeping my head out of the water gasping for air. But this time, I was moving smoothly and mostly efficiently through the water. Race organizer DelMo Sports put a floating timing device at the halfway point of the mile swim (a time didn’t register for me even though I definitely went under it). After I got through that little bottleneck, I checked my watch. It said 8:01.
As I continued on, I was dumbfounded. I thought to myself, “I’ve only been swimming for 14 minutes and I’m halfway through? That can’t be right!”
But it was! And not only that, I was still feeling strong and moving well. Yeah, I paused a few times to clear my goggles, but I immediately went back at it. I never rested. Strangely, I was catching and passing people in the groups that went ahead of mine and that meant there were more swimmers around me than I’m used to. I was getting kicked and bumped a lot. What slowed me down the most was the congestion I inexplicably found myself in.
When I made my way out of the water, I looked at my watch as I made my way to my bike and saw that it was 8:15. At this point, I knew I bought myself a ton of time in finishing under that 3:14:00 goal time.
*Later on, I found out my official swim time was 28:43, which is at least 20 minutes better than I had ever done in open water. However, two days after the race on Monday morning, a cryptic social media post by DelMo Sports and the subsequent comments implied that there was some kind of offline discussion about the swim course in the hours after the race. Apparently, the course was set up short of a mile. Unfortunately, as I write this, no one online that I can see has mentioned how short the course actually was. Somebody made a comment alluding to a difference of 300 yards, but I don’t know if that’s accurate.
However, in my case, it didn’t really matter because I still crushed that swim by my standards. Even if the swim was short by a quarter-mile, at the pace I was going, I was still going to swim a mile in about 38-39 minutes, which would still be my best mile swim time by far. Again, I was passing people in the water…and that literally has never happened before.
Anyway, after such a strong swim, I knew I had a lot of time to work with to finish under my 3:14:00 goal time. Going into the triathlon, I was assuming a 48-minute swim, a 1:15:00 bike ride and a 1:02:00 run with transition times of 5:00 and 4:00. Well, I still blew my transition times (more on that later), but after the swim and nailing the bike ride with a 1:15:15 time, I knew I had a lot of leeway going into the run.
Initially, I felt pretty good on the run, although I was taking it slow. But about 2.5 miles in, the sun really started getting to me. I started mixing in some walking at that point.
Now, just before the four-mile mark of the run, I realized that if I had pushed it a little bit more, I could have finished in under three hours. But at that point, I would have needed to go all out the final 2.2 miles or so in order to have a chance at a sub-3:00:00 finish. And that was not going to happen. I decided that would have to wait for a future race.
So 1:12:15 after starting my run, I crossed the finish line for a 3:07:32 finish, which was 6 1/2 minutes better than my goal time. However, my goal time was based on the bike ride being two miles longer and the run being 1.2 miles longer than in 2014†, when I finished in 3:04:34. But if I had known the swim was short, I probably would’ve pushed it more on the bike and on the run. And, honestly, I kind of suspected something was wrong at the time, but didn’t dwell too much upon it during the heat of the race.
(† Oddly enough, some participants back in 2014 speculated the course was longer than a mile that year because a lot of the times were so high, but we were all going against a rather strong current for a majority of the swim so it could have just been that.)
Here are my results from Saturday’s triathlon. Now, there are some issues here as well because my elapsed time from race start (7:47:47 a.m.) to race finish (10:55:20 a.m.) does come out to 3:07:33. However, my official result says 3:07:32 and all my component times are one second better than shown here. If that’s the case, five seconds would come off 3:07:32 for a 3:07:27 finish. But when you add up all of my times (swim, T1, bike, T2, run), you get 3:07:29…so I don’t really know what’s going on.
With all the varying discrepancies between the 2014 and 2019 editions, I’m probably just going to have to resolve to be happy with my effort this year. And I am. No matter what happened with the swim course, I killed it in the water…and that has always been my weakest element of triathlon. I really need to work on transitions and, especially, getting my legs back for the run after the bike.
Yeah, speaking of transitions…ugh. In 2014, I struggled to get out of a wetsuit and get on a bike and my T1 (first transition) time was 6:18.20. This year, I swam in just my transition suit and just put on a bike jersey, bike gloves, helmet, glasses, socks and shoes…and only improved my T1 time by 11 seconds (6:07). Even worse was my T2 (second transition) time. All I did was rack my bike, change shirts, replace my helmet with a hat, and take off my gloves…and that somehow took me 5:10 (I also downed some Gatorade and an apple sauce pouch). Now, a small part of this had to do with where my transition spot was, which was at the extreme end of the transition area from both the swim in and the run out. The good part about it, though, was that my bike was on a rack end, giving me some extra room to change gear, etc., and that also meant my bib number was on the signs at the end of the rows so I knew exactly where my stuff was coming into transition (I have gotten lost in transition areas more times than I am willing to admit here).
Anyway, now that I’m more confident in my swimming, I’m kind of rethinking my whole “never going to do an IRONMAN 70.3” mindset. I mean, I need to take training a bit more seriously, but I’m pretty sure I want to do IRONMAN 70.3 Atlantic City in 2021. I’ll be 50 then so I think it’s appropriate for that milestone. I already have a target goal of 6:40:00 in mind.
Before that, though, I want to do the Tri AC for a second straight year in 2020 with a goal of under 3 hours. If I can do that, I’m definitely doing IRONMAN 70.3 Atlantic City in 2021.
Here are some photos from the 2019 Atlantic City Triathlon.