I’m happy to report I’ve done my first triathlon in almost three years, and I returned to the sport by completing the Ironman 70.3 Virginia Blue Ridge (VBR) race. I’ll be forthcoming, I was a little nervous at first with my terrible performance at Luray, but I felt that I learned where my weaknesses were from that event which allowed me to focus on…. which was pretty much everything.
IM70.3 PRE-Race events
I drove down to Roanoke, VA early Friday morning after having breakfast with Colleen and Gavin who just graduated from high school and was celebrating his 18th birthday. I arrived to the hotel shortly after noon where I quickly grabbed a bite to eat, headed over to the Athlete Village to check in, and then headed out to drive the bike route. I remember from Louisville it was important to drive the route so you can get a sense of the course and key milestones to take in before the race. More on the actually course details will be provided below in the bike race recap section.
Later that evening waited for more friends to arrive from the DC area so we could hang out and grab dinner.
Saturday morning did about 25 minutes of bike openers around the area and then walked around the Athlete Village again as teammates were doing their check-ins. We also needed to complete our our bike drop off so they could be transported to Transition 1 for Sunday’s race. Colleen was also able to drive in around 5pm so we had an early dinner, then relaxed at the hotel waiting for Sunday morning.
Sunday Race Breakdown
Race morning his hear! The day is started early at 3am so I can eat a large breakfast (coffee, 2x English muffins with peanut butter and honey) and get ready for the 4:30am bus drive to the swim start. The bus ride was long, and reminded me a lot of MMTR having a bunch of sleepy-eyed zombie people all being carried away for a long day’s events. We finally arrived at Carvins Cove Reservoir where we quickly learned the temperature was 76.1 degrees making the swim wetsuit legal. Swimming in the reservoir is something unique as normally only paddle boats are allowed to be in the water… no swimming. IRONMAN had to acquire a special use permit to use this as the starting point of the race.
Swimmers were divided into group based on their estimate on the total time they thought it would take to complete the full route. I assumed 2:00 per 100 yards which put me in the 40-44 minute range. Our group slowly made its way forward to the dock where three athletes would jump in at the same time at 5 second intervals. Once we got to our group the process of getting all the athletes into the water was quite efficient and effective.
One of the downsides of not being a venue for swimmers is that we couldn’t do a pre-race swim warmup. It is helpful to do this for long races to make sure your wetsuit is on correctly and the initial shock of jumping in the water doesn’t surprise you. Well, when I jumped in and started the water temperature was fine, but found the wetsuit constricting me a little which was making me uncomfortable and anxious. I passed the first Red turn buoy and needed to find a paddle boat to calm my nerves. I paused for a couple of seconds and tried to get myself collected and move forward, only to need to find another paddle boat in the next 100 yards to again get myself collected. This time I looked around and found the water to have calmed down which helped my nerves and was able to push off and actually swim. For the next mile I was face down, had good rhythm, decent stroke technique and feel like I did well. The turns will still a little choppy from people bouncing the heads up and down trying to sight, but I remained calm and kept moving forward.
Strava Swim Activity
The bike route was the BIG reason I needed to prepare for this race and also the thing I was most looking forward to completing. VBR is the SECOND most hilly course of all North America’s IRONMAN 70.3 courses and is only short to Calgary by 80ft.1
|IRONMAN 70.3 Calgary||4396 ft|
|IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge||4316 ft|
|IRONMAN 70.3 Coeur d’Alene||3445 ft|
|IRONMAN 70.3 St. George (WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP Course)||3442 ft|
|IRONMAN 70.3 Mont-Tremblant||2953 ft|
|IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder||2059 ft|
The other item that I was really looking forward to was riding on a closed course on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Leaving the reservoir we found ourselves on SR 11. The first 6 miles is a 1% incline so it looks like your are going up but it doesn’t really impact your ride. We then had a 14 mile mostly descending route with a few small hills in the middle to make things fun and entertaining. During the whole stretch of SR 11 I knew I had to be conservative because once I hit the mountains I couldn’t stop and rest.
We found our way to Buchanan, VA which is where we turned and started our climb. THIS is the challenge I was looking for and it did not disappoint. The first hill is a 4.7 mile hill where on average is a 6.5% incline, yet peaks around 10% grade a couple times during the switchback sections of the route. This section was brutal, as the higher we climbed the more I noticed riders needing to get off of their bike and start walking up the hills. I was thankful for deciding to get getting a new rear 11x32 cassette along with a compact crankset (34x50) to help me tackle the climb. The one nice thing about the climb is it is well shaded with the tree lines protecting you from the sun.
The fun part of climbing, is the descents! Strava has my peak at 47.7 mph as I was able to tuck myself low on the bike, but still had my hands on the outside (not in aero) lightly feathering the brakes at times to make sure I could pass people safely at such high speeds. I would have gone faster but I ran out of gears favoring the climbing assistance vs. the top speed.
Once we got back into town, it was fun riding along side of traffic speeding pass them on our late while they were slowly inching forward as police was giving use the right of way and we didn’t have to stop. The town roads were not as nice as the Blue Ridge Parkway with cracked pavement, pot holes, etc. But IRONMAN did a good job trying to mark those hazards in orange paint so riders could see and avoid.
Overall happy with my bike efforts as I completed the course MUCH faster than anticipated.
Strava Ride Activity
With such an excellent bike now behind me, I was off on the run feeling a little sore and a little tired. Unfortunately this is not a good sign when starting the run. I remember when racing Louisville I was running fast at the beginning and needed to tell myself to slow down after the first couple of miles, yet here I was slowly running and it was painful…. I was tired. The hills on the bike took a lot of my energy. I also did not do my nutrition very well on the bike as I planned on drinking three bottles (2x Scratch endurance and 1x water) of but I consumed almost four (course provided Gatorade at one of the aid stations). There was a LOT of liquid in my body which made me feel sluggish and tired. The route was nice with a 50/50 mix of shade and sun. Plenty of spectators cheering you forward, and the aid stations which were about 1 every mile were super helpful in getting water, Gatorade, and/or ice. I thought I could switch from a constant run to a “walk the aid stations” plan, but that only lasted until mile four or five. From that point on I had to walk to try and gain energy so I could start running again. Not until mile 11 could I return to a constant (slow) run and that was because I knew it was mostly a decline and also I could feel myself getting closer to the finish line.
The run is where I fell apart, but I didn’t quit.
Strava Run Activity
The end is quite obvious for the athlete while running the course and is perfectly setup that the spectators are blind to see you coming around the corn from a footbridge, giving you momentum and a push to be strong at the end until you cross the finish line. The crowd was great and it was wonderful to cross the finish line once again completing a triathlon.
Post Race Thoughts
The big question is always “would you do this again”? YES! I’ll admit the bus ride is the worst part about the day as it took a VERY long time to navigate the back rounds to get to the reservoir that included us parking in a church for what felt like an hour. However, to IRONMAN’s credit they knew exactly how long it would take to get everyone at the start with plenty of time to prep and get ready for the swim. I didn’t feel rushed trying to get my gear ready and wetsuit one, nor did I feel like I was standing around forever. The bike was hard, but you knew that from the elevation advertisement so it is best to find some local outdoor routes that mimic 4k feet climbing. The run was harder than I thought it would be due to how tired my legs were from the climb (need more brick workouts) and running by the riverside created a lot of humidity. Weather wise we had a great day. If this race had some early VA heat rolling through my opinions of the run would have been much more unfavorable.
- Overall: Placed 666th out of 1544
- Gender: Placed 515th out of 1089
- Male 45-49: Placed 64th out of 129
Among the Male 45-49 category there were 129 athletes.
- Swim: Ranked 74th
- Bike: Ranked 51st
- Run: Ranked 80th
|EVENT||1.2 Mile Swim||T1||56 Mile Bike||T2||13.1 Mile Run||Total|
Only four other courses around the world have more elevation than VBR. There are two courses in the Africa region (Rwanda and South Africa races), and two in the Europe Region (Nice [FRA] and Marbella [Spain]). ↩
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