2009 Callaway Gardens Sprint Triathlon

I participated in the 2009 Callaway Sprint Triathlon a few weeks ago, on a whim. It was the week before and I happened to get an email from the race director mentioning the race. I thought to myself, “self, why not do that race?” So I did.

It was a good, fast, PACKED race. The swim start was in five or so different waves and thankfully for me, I was in the second. This meant a relatively clean bike course, other than the people in my own wave. By the time I was coming in from the bike course, it was wall to wall bikes coming out of transition. This was not a USAT race and there weren’t any officials on the course, but even if there had been, there was no way to enforce the drafting regulations; there wasn’t enough room to avoid the draft zone.

Swim CourseI’m getting a bit ahead of myself. This was a short race: approximately 400 meter swim (although given my time, I’d bet on 350 meters), nine mile bike (my bike computer said 8.2) and a two mile run. The swim course circled a quarter of the perimeter of one of the lakes at Callaway and it was in such shallow water that anyone having problems could stand up, if necessary. The transition zone was in the parking lot (lanes 8-10, I think) and was laid out reasonably fairly. More on that in a moment.

The bike course was through the gardens and at the time my wave hit it, there wasn’t any traffic yet, although the race director did specifically warn us that traffic was not being prohibited and to watch out for “grandma behind the wheel”. The course was relatively flat with a few rolling hills and only one downhill section that might be a challenge for a beginner (ess curves). The bike course was not the same as the one used during the 2008 duathlon, which was a surprise to me.

The run course was a clockwise run around the lake that the swim was in, ending outside Callaway’s big-top circus facility. Flat and fast.
Finishing the Callaway Sprint
Running pictures can look so dorky, can’t they?

    What did I like about this race:

  • Speed. I finished this race in 50:34. That’s the same time it takes me to run a 10k. This was fast!
  • Attitude. There wasn’t much pressure given that it’s not a USAT race (no ranking) and that there were so many beginners there. I had fun talking with several people at the swim start who were doing their first triathlon.
  • Location. Callaway is a nice place for a race.
  • Course. The swim, bike and run courses were all pleasant.

What I thought could be done better:

  • Transition setup. Yes, I know I just got finished talking about how it was a low-key non-pressure race, but the transition layout was first-come first-served for bike positions and there were definitely places that gave you better transition times than others. See my little sketch here for an illustration. As you can see, the path for transitioner number one is considerably shorter than for transitioner number two. Given the physical layout of the swim exit, I don’t think this problem could be addressed
    unless you moved the transition zone down a few parking slots and made the swim exit longer. Just remember to get there early and claim a spot down by path number one.
    Sketch of the Callaway Transition Area
  • Portable Waste Facilities. Sometimes you just got to go, and the bathrooms available at Callaway were not sufficient to bear up under the number of people who wanted to use them all at the same time. A few portapotties would have been useful.
  • PA System. The race director tried to give a pre-race briefing at the swim start but it was next to impossible to hear him with the handheld bullhorn he was using. In fact, the people who came with me to the race said that they had an easier time hearing him from all the way across the lake than I did at the start line.
  • Transition security. I walked in to setup my transition spot with David and Sharon. No one objected. Typically only race competitors with numbers are allowed into transition. Afterward, I got my bike and gear without showing any one my race number. I know were all one big happy family, but it would be really easy to swipe someone’s gear. I’d be willing to pay a bit more in my entry fee for better security.
  • Draft Enforcement. This one would be hard to do. Honestly, for this race, I’m not sure it matters, especially for those of us who aren’t competitive in our age groups anyway. But it still burns me a bit when I see three guys going past on Cervelos and playing Tour de France peloton. Either they don’t know the rules, or they’re cheating. Even in the scrums that develop on packed courses like this one, I make an effort not to ride directly behind someone and take advantage of the draft. Why? Because that’s the rules. I don’t think that you could really enforce the draft rule on this course, but you could post a few people at undisclosed locations around the course to take down the numbers of obvious tire-clingers.

Here are my times.

8:01 Swim
1:54 Transition 1
23:15 Bike
1:50 Transition 2
15:36 Run
50:33 Overall

I finished 67th overall (out of ~1200) which sounds great except that this was a beginner’s race. Still, I’ll take it. More importantly, I finished 25th out of 107 in my age group. Again, this was a beginner’s race. We’ll see if that top-quarter finish time holds up this weekend at the Chattanooga Triathlon.

More race coverage to come after we get back from Chattanooga on Sunday! Wish me luck.

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