Race Report: MCM Quantico Sprint

I hadn’t planned my tri season out past Williamsburg and New Jersey, but riding the July high from those races I was jonesin’ to add more to my schedule. My teammate Bill put out feelers for the Quantico Sprint on August 26th, and right away I threw my visor in. Happily, so did a whole slew of other Speed Sherpa athletes and so the Quantico Sprint turned into quite the party! (As much of a party as one is allowed on an active Marine Corps base.)

It will probably come as no surprise given the race location, but the Quantico Sprint is one of the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) organization’s growing roster of races. Even though I’d never heard of this tri, MCM’s involvement was further reason to sign up – I had faith in these (literal) veteran race organizers’ abilities to take care of we multisporters.

The race was a Saturday which was a blessing and a curse. Saturday races can be great because they don’t devour your entire weekend, which I think can be relationship-saving when you’re married to the saintliest race sherpa of all time. The problem in this case was that Quantico, while pretty close to DC, was far enough to make a Friday evening packet pick-up problematic. DC area traffic is infamous (there’s a reason I live in the city – ok many reasons but one is I’m not about that commuter lifestyle) and rush hour on a Friday would have taken this city girl (woman) hours upon hours. Fortunately (and later, unfortunately) MCM was apparently not super set on following USAT rules, and so they let Speed Sherpette Peyton pick up packets for a large number of the team. This was a real logistical life (weekend [sanity]) saver. It may not be feasible on the Marine Corps Base, but if MCM wants to conduct a Saturday, USAT-compliant race in the future, they could (maybe? I dunno maybe they can’t) move the start time back to 8 or 9am to accommodate day-of packet pick-up. A number of MTS/VTS DC “local” races do this, but then again those courses aren’t located on active military instillations.

As it was, the race started at 7am, with transition closing at 6:35am(!), which meant factoring in the drive, the porta potties, set-up, and more porta potties, Scott and I (and the doggies) had to get up at 3:30am. Even for race-addicted me, this was early. And with the day before being a work day, it was impossible to get to bed at an early enough hour to log multiple REM cycles with that middle-of-the-night alarm. By the time I got home from the office, cooked dinner, set out my stuff, took the dogs out, and got ready for bed, it was almost 11. I think in the end I came away with around four hours of sleep, which I was feeling by the time we returned home Saturday afternoon.

Scott, the doggies, and I got to Quantico around 5:20am, went through security, and then had to navigate the pitch black Base without much signage. Fortunately Waze knows its way around military installations too apparently and we made it to the race site. Marine “volunteers” (voluntolds I think, but I’m appreciative either way) guided us through a longish line of cars and we were parked by 5:40 or so. Chris and teammate/chef extraordinaire, Will, were right behind us. Peyton pulled up around 5:45 and handed out the packets she’d collected for our growing Speed Sherpa crew, including Coach Dave, who we located by finding the sickest looking bike (wheels) in the parking lot.

Race pup 1 (Birkin!)
Race pup 2 (Daenerys!)

I’d wanted to get to the race early as the athlete guide said to budget a 20 minute walk to transition. In reality it was maybe a five minute walk – very convenient and easy. We got set up in each of our respective spots, and then I hurried to the porta line. The loooooong porta line. Set-up took me longer than planned as I’d left something in the car and Scott (and the dogs) had to run back and get it, and by the time I got in the line it was a) all the people and b) I was approaching a bathroom emergency.

Did you notice how I said “line” singular? Yeah, that’s because there was only one line for the insufficient number of porta johns. There was a second (also small) bank of potties by the parking lot, but with time running short and no insight into how long that line was, I opted to stay in the closer queue. Maybe this is why they force everyone out of transition so early: to mitigate the piss-poor (potty pun obviously intended #toilethumor) ratio of bathrooms to athletes. By the time I got to the front I was a) cutting things closer to start-time than I like to do and b) in agony. And obviously I only got to go once.

The Swim

Pre-swim teammates – me, (the itty one), Chef Will, and blog-star, Chris!

From the close-call bathroom experience I rushed to the small beach another maybe three minute walk away from transition. Waves weren’t divided by AG – we honestly couldn’t tell how they were divided, but Dave and Peyton were in the first, Chris and I were in the second, and Bill and Will were some time after that. While waiting to start, I met a gorgeous four month old German Shorthair Pointer (GSP) named, Milo and fell in puppy love. (I grew up with GSPs and they’re a) the best and b) insane. [I don’t know why I started this two-part enumeration scheme but I’m just gonna go with it.]) As always, some puppy kisses made me a) calm and b) happy (nope, it’s getting to be too much) as the second wave was called into the water.

Milo the GSP! (Today’s blog is mostly dog pics and I’m not sorry about that [and neither are you.])
Chris and I waded down the beach and into the shallow, silty-bottomed Potomac for the in-water start. Josh had warned that the swim conditions here would be very similar to Williamsburg: a) shallow enough to stand the entire way (for normal height people anyway) and b) too disgusting on the bottom to actually want to do that. (Ok, I think that’s the last bipartite list I’m gonna throw at you readers [mom].) The water was in the low 80s – again similar to Williamsburg – but in the cooler-than-average air I was still chilly. As we waited for the gun to go off, my teeth chattered. I treaded water to avoid the bottom, then put one foot down and discovered the bottom was gross but also warm. (Let’s not ask too many questions about why that is.) I alternated treading in the cold-feeling river and putting my feet down for a little mysteriously-sourced heat until we were finally off and swimming.

Much like New Jersey, somehow this in-water start – usually my preference – managed to be totally cluster-f*cky. Maybe because of the confusing seeding? I dunno but bows were thrown and I hung back to avoid the scrum. Once some of the chaos had dissipated – or just gotten farther downstream – I found a steady rhythm and focused on knocking out the 750m. I also focused on not adding too many extra meters to that 750 as I’ve been known to do. I’m too slow to be swimming more than the prescribed distance!

The cours starts downstream, though there’s not much current at that point in the Potomac. We swam south about 150 meters before a 180 back north for around 400m. Then we hooked a left for 200 or so meters back to shore a bit north of the beach where we’d entered the river.

Besides the early violence of which I’d generally steered clear (by being the most passive swimmer ever) there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement. The river was smooth and the temperature comfortable once we got moving. I did bump into a couple people who were indeed walking as Josh had predicted. It’s probably really comforting for nervous or novice swimmers to have the security of being able to stand any time they need, but I still shudder to imagine walking on that slimy river floor. To each their own, as long as you’re not punching or kicking me, you do you! I finished the swim in an unimpressive, very Liz time of 17:42 by MCM’s count. Their sensors were a a good distance from the water exit though so I was slightly less mediocre than that in actual water-time. (According to my Garmin I only added 23 extra meters though, which is a huge swim-like-you’re-sober win for me!)

The Bike

It was a steep run up into the oddly shaped-transition. Because of the uneven terrain and tight space onto/into which organizers had squeezed us I struggled a little to find good path to my bike and then to the mount line. I also dawdled as I decided to wear my gloves at the last second as my hands felts clammy and slippery. MCM says my T1 was 2:00, Garmin says it was longer but I know I didn’t line myself up well with the sensors so who knows. Either way I finally made my way out of the confusing non-grid transition area and out onto the bike course.

It was turning into a very pleasant morning and I felt really comfortable as I took off. In no time I passed Sherpette Sarah out with her camera and her cheers – a  big morale booster heading into 12.5 saddle miles. I’d been nursing what I thought was a stress fracture all August so I wasn’t feeling very well-conditioned for a stronger ace performance – having teammates out cheering on the course helped me get my mind right, even if my body was a little behind the curve that morning.

Bike course photography by Sarah

The course starts off up a hill to get away from transition and onto the Base’s bigger roads. And pretty much immediately the potholes and uneven pavement appeared.

This was really the theme of the Quantico bike course. That and false flats. It bothered me that the roads on a major Marine Corps base were so decrepit. [Political sentiment warning: like there’s not room in the bloated defense budget to pave some streets???] These blown out roads were wildly unpleasant to traverse on a tiny tri bike, and really disruptive to my attempts to stay low and aero; I feel much more secure sitting up when navigating such obstacles.

Over the first few miles there was also a lot of traffic. Almost the entire bike course was open to cars and in places it was heavily-motor-vehicled, causing a minor pileup at one point as two-way traffic tried to give us space that didn’t really exist. The cars were all very polite – there just wasn’t much room sometimes for multiple cars and multiple bikes abreast – it put a damper on passing in places.

I felt slow and heavy the whole way. Teammates later confirmed that the first half was a false flat, which made me feel a little better, but mostly it was a fitness issue. In addition to the heel injury, Scott and I had been out of town a lot and I’d been battling some mid-season burnout. It all added up to very little quality bike/run time. After my 20.4mph performance in the Garden State, I was embarrassed by how little I had in my legs. I pushed myself as hard as I thought wise knowing I still had to run on those same sad stems, and minding the craters (and water bottles that had been launched from cages) which comprised the bike.

There were a number of rollers and a couple technical turns, but besides minding the pock-marked pavement and my own athletic shortcomings, it was a decent course – challenging but not crazy. Coming back into transition was a little confusing, mostly because I didn’t do a good job memorizing where the different bike in/out entrances were. I unclipped and almost dismounted a couple hundred meters early so it was a slow roll back in. MCM says I finished in 41:45, Garmin has it a little longer so let’s go with the official clock. (I forgot to direct my watch to end the bike and start T2 until I was already re-racked thus the difference of opinion.)

The Run

Josh had set a sub-90 second T-2 goal, which MCM says I beat by 10 seconds so huzzah. (Here of course Garmin says I did a 24 second change into my sneakers which is obviously inaccurate.)

First run in weeks thanks to tendinitis…and it showed.

As I made my way onto the run course I was not sure what to expect out of myself. I’d laid off the heel for weeks so less-than-ideal run-training to say the least. But I also had this (misguided) idea in my head that somehow my legs had just gotten super fresh and stayed strong and I was gonna get out there and crush a 20 minute 5k like it was nothing. (I know, I find my unwarranted hubris exhausting too.) The course was also mostly a trail run which I have almost no experience in, but why would I factor that into my fantasizing?

I headed out a little tentatively, feeling out my heel. After the first mile – 7:53 – I had no pain so I thought I’d try to pick up the pace a bit.  Of course this attempted hammer-drop coincided with the gravel course starting to wind its way up hill. Said hammer remained undraped, my fitness just wasn’t there to sustain much pace uphill. Then as we headed downhill, the unfamiliar rocky substrate made me nervous. I was afraid I’d slip and damage my heel further or roll an ankle. Mile two went by with a meh 7:54.

The middle section of the course is an out and back during which I got a look at the hordes of people who were ahead of me – and who would stay there if I failed to pick up the pace. There were so many people in front of me and I didn’t understand how I was faring that poorly, even given my underwhelming performance. Lots of them were women who looked to be about my age too which further deflated me; healthy Liz had planned to be in podium contention. Then I started having grumpy New Jersey Tri flashbacks as I noticed that at least half of the runners were wearing headphones. I knew we weren’t adhering to USAT rules but WTF?! I had half a mind – two halves even! – to say something to the officials stationed at the turnaround.

As I arrived at the appointed 180 however – pretty much the halfway point of the course – I saw that we were merging with an 8K run race. I felt like an ass for getting so worked up, and my ego reinflated a bit knowing most of those 30-something women were not actually my competition.

The trail flattened out and I’d shaken off my miserly thoughts as I started mile three. If the hammer was going to fall at all now was the time. I picked up the pace and felt pretty good. I started wishing there were more run miles in which to make up for my swim/bike times. As we ran out of the woods and the last half mile towards the finish, I was able to open it up some more for a final mile of 7:28 and a sprint in the 6s up the shoot. Most of the Speed Sherpa crew had finished before me and were there to cheer me in that final stretch. MCM and my Garmin both agree I did the run in 24:22. They spilt ways on the distance which my watch says was closer to 3.2 miles for a 7:42 average, which I prefer to the MCM-reported 7:50/mile. (Ugh.)

Wrap Up

My  final overall time was 1:27:08. Glad to come in under 90 minutes; not in love with MCM’s non-USAT-compliant AG designations. Rather than F30-34, I was lumped in with all the women 30-39 and placed 11th. If they’d organized results properly I would have been 4th in AG and only 9 seconds off the podium – a result I could have lived with considering my flatlining fitness.

Not that any of that matters as there was no podium ceremony. This was especially a bummer since Coach Dave won the whole damn race and Peyton came in 2nd in her AG. It would have been fun to see our Speed Sherpa crew take the blocks – and it was Peyton’s birthday so that would have been a great way to celebrate!

Birthday girl: birthday burrito!

We made do with our own team party in the parking lot though. We’d each brought snacks and drinks including adult beverages and birthday cake. Being a military base we tried to be discrete with beer in paper bags and water bottles – very college tailgate-y. (Pro tip: wrapping your beer can in a doggy poo bag doesn’t work if the poo bag is clear.)

Dave’s sick bike (and disc wheel) and…
…team tailgate!

I don’t know if I would do Quantico Tri again – because a) the non-adherence to USAT rules, and b) that bike course was such a brain scrambler. (See my first ever post for a rambling reminder of why I don’t need any extra cranial-disturbance.) I did have a lot of fun though with so many friends there, so if the whole Speed Sherpa crew decided to sign up again next year and I was free that day, I would absolutely cave to peer pressure.

Ok one more of Milo!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *