Monday, September 15, 2014

Race Report: Claytor Lake Sprint Triathlon

Like my finish arch "crown"?!

The Claytor Lake Sprint Triathlon began in 2011 as an informal event that has steadily and carefully grown into a successful sanctioned race run by the Bike Barn and TriAdventure. This is the first year I've been able to participate and support it, and I'm so glad I could! It's rare for us in Southwest Virginia to be able to race without many hours of driving and the expense of a hotel room, so this was quite a treat and packing was refreshingly simple.

My parents came from Pennsylvania to visit and to watch the race. Unfortunately, we had rain for most of the three days they were here, including during Saturday's triathlon, but it really didn't dampen the enthusiasm.

This race had everything you'd want for a great experience: ample convenient parking, a beautiful venue (even with the clouds), good organization, dependable timing, and lots of local athletes and first-timers. Around 175 athletes registered; 129 individuals completed along with 11 relay teams.


The swim was ideal for those new to open water as it was point-to-point heading out of a cove and along the shore, never in deep water, and never far from land. There were three waves - men, women, and relays.

As we were collecting at the swim start, I made the snap decision to line up with the fast swimmers (including Rebecca of swim group who is crazy fast) and go out as hard and as fast as I could to stay with them. That decision paid off as I found myself sandwiched in an ideal draft behind fast swimmer Sara Zeigler and alongside fast swimmer Sarah Abbott. I believe I came out of the water as the fourth female and I saw Rebecca at her bike as I ran up from the swim. I was excited to see I was not that far behind her.

Swim group: Justin, me, Ed, and Rebecca (Eric raced too but he had left for the VT game)


My experience on the rainy Blue Ridge Parkway ride of the prior Saturday paid off. On the bike at this race, we had a steady rain and one harder downpour but I knew my best bet was to push my foggy, wet sunglasses down the bridge of my nose and peer above them, wiping my eyes as necessary. It was an out-and-back course, with only two turns, and a good road surface that minimized risk even on a rainy morning.

I hadn't done a great job of reconnaissance on this race and wasn't real clear on where to go the last 200 yards and knowing where the chalked dismount line was. Thankfully, I saw my husband and yelled "where do I go?" and he pointed me down a narrow bike path while yelling "you are first in on the bike!" YAY!


One of my favorite things about this race is that 90% of the run is on trails, which is really unusual in my triathlon race experience. It's unusual because trails are usually paired with mountain biking and kayaking, not swimming and road-biking. Given my trail navigation "fails" of the past, I did take the time to study the run course map noting the intersections and main trail names. The rain had made the trail pretty muddy and slick, so I kept a high cadence, and paid very careful attention to where I ran. I'd bound from one side of the trail to the other where it was dryer, or run off to the side of the dirt trail through the undergrowth. I found it VERY fun to pick my way through. It was a nice change from the all-out sheer sufferfest of running and baking on asphalt.

Krista and I opted to wear old shoes for this race...good call!

In most places, yellow barricade tape made it easy to see which trail NOT to take. At two intersections, I had to figure it out. I made the right call on the first, the wrong call on the second. But at that point I was with three other runners including my friend Justin. We were about to exit the trail at a campground and I yelled to a guy, "Have you seen other racers go through here?" To which he replied, "No, you are going the wrong way!" Uh-oh, moment of panic! I have this funny image of the four of us at a standstill, ready to run, arms out, thinking of what to do...and off we shot!

We backtracked and found our way back to the correct trail and saw some confirming evidence we were back on track. Phew! Apparently this happened to some other folks, and I am SURE it will not be an issue next year, but really, this was just a funny little thing that will make this race really memorable for me. It's a race, things happen, you figure it out, and you go on! And ultimately, it's the athlete's responsibility to know the course.

Since I was running with some degree of safety in mind rather than all-out, I had plenty left for the final run to the finish line, and I was sure happy to be the first woman across (11th overall) especially with my parents and hubby there!

emerging from the woods

 nearly to the finish arch

with fellow podium-ers Sara and Sarah

Here are the top finishers (note both winners are 47 years old :-)  and full results:

On the importance of local races like the Claytor Lake Sprint Triathlon

It is so vitally important to have local races like this, and the organizers have done it right. They started small with an unsanctioned "event" and have slowly and carefully grown the race into a sanctioned triathlon. I've seen RDs take the other approach, investing beyond the race means, too much too soon, losing money, and folding the race. So if you notice little things that might be "missing" at a local race, chalk it up to choices made in favor of having a viable, sustainable race that can return the following year.

I love that there were lots of first-timers, relays, folks on mountain bikes, and even a bike with a baby seat (sans baby, fortunately).

It's a big BIG job to organize a three-sport race and a challenge to break even the first few years. I thank Anne Jones/TriAdventure, Johnny Garrett/Bike Barn, and all the volunteers who stood in the rain the morning of a VT game for making this race possible!

Please put the Claytor Lake Triathlon on your race calendar for next year!! It's a lovely event and very welcoming and supportive for athletes of all experience levels!