2009 Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon

Swim Course End: Tennessee River

The 2009 Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon has come and gone. I had a good race (although I was rather sore the day after) and I’d definitely do it again.

Race central and transition were situated one block west of the Tennessee Aquarium, in and around the riverside greenspace next to the Tennessee River. Transition was well laid out and convenient to access before, during and after the race. The swim course was a point-to-point 1500 m swim (with the current!) from some docks near the Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences down to the boat pier adjacent to the aquarium. The bike course was an out and back on US 27 to the north of town. The run course was an out and back along the riverside trails upstream of transition.

The swim was great! My only “complaint” was the length of time I had to wait to actually get into the water. They did interval starts, every three seconds, and they did it by race number. Therefore I, #1029, got to wait for a while. Officially the race started at 7:30 and I don’t think I got into the river before 8:30. Once in the water, it was great swim. Given the width of the swim course and the disbursement of the swimmers getting into the water there was hardly any jostling, and that mostly by accident. Everyone could choose their own line with ease.

Before the race, I kept asking people what the speed of the current was but no one had a good answer. Well, I usually swim 1500 meters in about 30:00. I did it in about 23:00. My math puts that at about 0.56 mph on the current (~0.25 meters per second).
Stairs to T1
Transition out of the water was something of a pain because it involved a set of stairs, but once up and out of the watefront, T1 was easy and we were off on the 26 mile bike course.

A major thing I took away from that race was a desire for both a bigger and a smaller chain ring on the bike course. It was challenging with two hills that made me wish for a lower gear to get into. By the time I crested those I was hoping I hadn’t crushed a sub 55 minute 10k out of my legs. The lower gear would have been useful.

On the other side of those hills, I didn’t have a high enough gear to avoid overspinning on the downslope! I’m a biker who enjoys making up time by going as fast as possible on the downhill sections, but on a few of those hills I was spinning at ~120 cadence which is way too high to maintain good form (and with some of the bumpiness of the road, might have led to me dumping on the asphalt at ~40 mph). Something I took in stride, but other people less comfortable at high speed on their bikes noted, was the bridge/pavement joints coming into town on the last serious downslopes. These joints were jarring if you weren’t ready for them and caused some mental anguish because of the speed that we were going when we hit them.

Many of the members of the North Atlanta Multisport Club agreed that the bike course was a tough one, so it’s not just me being a wimp.

Once back into town, I broke a rule (“never do anything new on race day”) and did a flying dismount coming into T2. Apparently my old bike skills from doing this as a kid were present because I did not slide into T2 on my face.

T2, as T1 was easy. I was gifted with an easy-to-locate rack position (plus I practiced both T1 and T2 approaches before the race began) then I was off onto the run course.

Ugh, ugh and triple ugh. The 10k run course was a struggle for me. I left a lot of my legs out on the bike course due to those hills I mentioned and the normal “it takes a mile to get up to speed out of transition” was more like four. In fact, I never really did feel like I was working the run well, so I had to push through it. My mile splits on the 10k were 9:44, 9:00, 8:52, 9:21, 8:46, 8:51, so yes, I did pick up the pace, but it certainly didn’t feel like it.

The course had one cruel aspect to it: A stairway up to a pedestrian bridge at about mile 0.6. This was tough enough on the way out, but then you had to do it again on the way back, this time down the stairs, and my quads were very unhappy with me. I had to walk it or I was going to fall over with cramps. But, after you’re off the stairs, it was a mostly downhill sprint to the finish where I thought about collapsing, but didn’t.

My times were:

Swim Rank 46/137 66th Percentile
Swim 0:24:42
T1 0:02:30
Bike Rank 71/137 48th Percentile
Bike 1:21:16
Rate 19.2 mph
T2 00:01:18
Run Rank 78/137 43rd Percentile
Run 0:55:36
Pace 0:08:58 per mile
Penalty 0
Final 2:45:21
Place 78/137 43rd Percentile

Compared to my age group (men 35-39), I was faster than both the average and the median swimmer and the T1 transitioner. I was slower than both the average and median on the bike but faster than both the average and median in T2, and just barely beat the average run time but was slower than the median run time.

M35-39 Times Swim T1 Bike T2 Run Total
Mean 0:25:36 0:03:07 1:20:32 0:02:17 0:55:25 2:45:26
Median 0:25:40 0:02:50 1:18:48 0:01:39 0:53:10 2:41:23

This is not a good thing. If I’m beating the average on any of these items, it should be the bike course, because that’s where you spend most of your time. 41.8% of your time, on average if you were a 2009 Chattanooga male racer aged 35-39. Another 33.5% was on the run followed by 15.5% in the water (for the whole field of racers it was 42.7%, 32.9%, 15.8% respectively). So if I want to be faster than my age group competitors, biking is the best focus.

My total time was slower than the median but (barely) faster than the average. You can see that the times are skewed toward the faster end, with a tail off to the slower triathletes. As I just mentioned, my total time was just a hair faster than the average, but I placed at the 43rd percentile mark and the median total time is over four minutes (2.5%) faster than the average. That’s quite a bit. In fact there were ten runners between the median and the average finish times.

As it stands, biking is a prime focus of my Ironman training regimen, so we should see some improvements.

The data are pretty noisy, but a ten person moving average shows between 15 and 22 seconds per athlete per place in the range around where I finished. So for every 20 seconds I improve, I’ll move up a place. I’ll have to look at other olympic races and see if that holds up. Here’s a graph that shows finish times by placement. Again, only for M35-39. In my zone (78th) it’s pretty close to linear.

Finish Times by Placement

Notable happenings:

  • I passed at least three people in my age group during the run. Go me. Of course, I didn’t check their race numbers (remember, people with higher numbers started after me at the swim) so I don’t know if that meant I beat them or not.
  • Jenn came with me to the race and took all the pictures.
  • This was my new bike’s first race! It did great.
  • I passed at least four Profile Design aerobottles littering the bike course. The bumpiness of the road obvioulsy jarred them loose. They weren’t secured as well as this one. Likewise at least three pairs of sunglasses and one pair of prescription glasses.
  • IMG_5952_edited-1

  • US 27 on the bike course was coned off for us to use the left lane both going and coming. I didn’t encounter any cars that took exception to this. It seemed like all the drivers took this in stride, in fact lots of them were cheering for us.
  • Parking race morning was easy. That was appreciated.
  • A friend, Gabriel Chavrat and his girlfriend Kelly stayed with us at the hotel the night before. Gabriel finished strong at 2:58:00.
  • IMG_6247

  • We had a wonderful pre-race dinner with the rest of the North Atlanta Multisport Club in Chattanooga. It’s a great club, if you’re in the vicinity.

This was a fun race and I look forward to it next year. Make sure you check out my full flickr set.

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