Keystone State Triathlon – Gifford Pinchot State Park

The 2012 Keystone State Triathlon marked my 7thcareer triathlon, and last of the season. Despite having completed 2 longer races, this would be my first attempt at the Olympic distance. I almost did this race last year but, being a new rider, was kind of scared off by the hilly course. The Keystone State Tri is held at Gifford Pinchot State Park near Lewisberry, PA in York County. This is our very favorite PA State Park for camping and we have been there numerous times but not yet for the triathlon.

From a training perspective, my riding has included a lot of hills. On all my rides, if there was a hill I rode up it. Funny how hills get smaller as the season goes on. We regularly ride a road called Moravian School road in Oley Township. In April, it seemed like a monstrous climb. The last couple times up after a summer of riding, it didn’t seem so bad. I felt like I was ready for the Keystone State Tri.
Race weekend found Janice and I camped in a great site at the State Park enjoying an evening campfire. Saturday morning, I walked along the trail we would later run to watch the Super Sprint Tri, and Duathlon. In hindsight, the smart thing would have been to a) pay closer attention to the trail b) wear my swim gear and swim in the lake after the Super Sprint was over. The Super Sprint was only 41 people but it gave me the opportunity to check out the logistics of transition.
Race day dawned early for Janice and I. With our little motorhome, we wanted to be sure we got a good parking spot at the race location and, since transition was first-come-first-served for a spot, I wanted to ensure a good spot there too. We were one of the first few vehicles in the parking lot so I fired up the generator and toasted my bagel and made a cup of coffee. I kept one eye peeled out the window. As soon as I saw the first bike headed for transition I left the uneaten portion of my bagel on the table and dashed off for transition.
With a prime end spot in transition claimed, I returned to breakfast and watched car after car pull in. Oddly, all the people that parked around me were part of my Endurance Multisport club. Almost immediately I met Leslie Billowitch and her friend Dianne Andresen. We tracked each other down with our EnMu shirts. Leslie was in need of some tire inflation and I was happy to help.
In short order, it was time to get body marked, don swim caps and goggles and head for the water. Olympic men (including Yours Truly) were the first to go. The water was 80 degrees and not wetsuit legal. The Olympic distance involved 2 laps around 5 buoys. No problem. I’ve done a half-ironman. This should be easy. Right? Hmmm. Maybe not. It occurred to me as I entered the lake that this was the first time I had actually LOOKED at the swim course. “Where are the buoys? Gosh that one to the left seems awfully far away? Did they measure right? Do we go around all these? Twice!? Okay Pete, calm down”. I felt I better take a quick warm-up paddle (a little late for this). I waded out and dove into the surprisingly cool water and noticed immediately it was all kinds of dirty and you couldn’t see even a couple inches. Ugh. I made sure my goggles were sealed and got ready to race. 30 seconds to go. 10 seconds. BEEEEEPPPPP! Go!
I dove in and began swimming. I was toward the front of the pack and immediately got swept up into the speed of those swimming around me. Paddling hard, kicking hard, and breathing hard. My heart rate raced. The occasional leg and arm swatted me and half my breaths wound up with a mouthful of water. “Oh my God. Why did you sign up for this again”!? I paddled on. “I can’t do this”. Shit. Here we go again. I was badly out of my race pace and quickly failing. I needed to calm down. I alternated between freestyle, back stroke and stopping trying to find some free water to swim in. I let the faster swimmers go. Finally I started paddling again. “Come on just get to the first buoy”. Through brute force I made my way to the first buoy and went around it. This was getting to be an all-to-familiar theme. I lined up the second buoy with a distinctive tree top and kept paddling. I was still in panic mode and my heart rate was through the roof. I still wasn’t sure what I would do when I got around to the start of the second lap. I backstroked a bit more to try to stare at the sky and calm myself down. I flipped over and began focusing on buoy #2. Before long, I was there. My breathing had calmed and I was in a more relaxed, regular stroke. Of course I had already sacrificed minutes to my age group companions. The remainder of the swim was fine. I swam 1 ½ laps with a calm, relaxed (if not slower then average) stroke. But there was not thought of quitting as I got near shore and the end of the first lap.
Near the end of the second lap (having long since started being passed by the Olympic women and probably the faster sprint swimmers) it suddenly occurred to me that it was raining. I had the ridiculous thought that I would be wet on the bike. Forget the fact that I was jumping on to the bike right from the lake. Of COURSE I would be wet on the bike.
Swim Time: 36:26
As I left the water I heard my loving spouse standing in the rain shouting encouragement. I found her and said something foolish to the camera she was holding on the way by. I dashed into transition grabbed helmet, glasses, and riding shoes, un-racked the bike and took off for bike out.
T1: 1:20
I climbed out of the transition area and on to the main road and was greeted immediately by one of the bigger downhill sections of the ride. I tucked down and rolled. As the course description said, “Don’t get too comfortable”. We made a right turn onto East Camping Area Road and went immediately hard uphill. I had run this course on a hot day the year before and was reduced to a walk on this section. But I was prepared and had dropped my 3 ring road bike down to my little ring and pumped my way up the hill passing a lot of folks walking their bikes. There was one other big hill later on the 9 mile loop and overall the bike course seemed more gradually uphill then down, but top speeds did reach into the low 40s on the biggest downhill. The surprising thing is that the hard rain for the first 2 of 3 laps really didn’t phase me a bit. There was only one sharp turn and that would have required slowing down regardless of rain. 3 laps and 27 miles later, I turned back into the day use parking lot and toward bike in.
Bike: 1:38:36
My slow swim had left me ridiculously far behind so transition was not crowded. T2 went well also, and I was off in the run in good shape.
T2: 1:02
The run took my by surprise. I’m not sure why. As mentioned we have been to this park a dozen times and I’ve walked the Lakeside Trail at least once every time I’ve been there. The description was that of a run on the shaded trails through the park. Mostly crushed stone and gravel. They sort of left out the ruts, roots and narrowness as the Olympic and Sprint distance triathletes competed for space. Trying to pass was a gamble at best on parts of the trail and dangerous at worst. There was also the ever-present risk of rolling an ankle or colliding with a returning runner on the 2-loop course.
We stayed on the lakeside trail all the way around the edge of the lake until we reached the campground and then turned off on other trails that would ultimately lead up through the woods. The highlight, or lowlight was the sign that read “Warning: Steep Grade Ahead”. ‘Cause that is what you want to see on the run in the middle of your race. There were people walking up the hill most of who were occupying the only “clean” section of the trail. The other half of the trail was ruts & rocks. I was slowed to a stop by a bit of a crowd until a young woman nimbly hopped over the rut and up the trail to my left politely skirting around the walkers. I followed. It was at this point I realized I wouldn’t be making up huge quantities of time on the run and decided to run with a bit of caution and not jeopardize my fall marathon training with a twisted ankle. This almost failed near the end of lap two and the conclusion of my race when, after waiting through a patch of mud, my foot landed squarely on a hidden root and I felt my foot start to roll. I quickly relaxed and went with the roll so as not to cause damage. No harm no foul.
A half-mile later I crossed the Finish line in a meek 3:06:04. Not quite what I had hoped for but in retrospect, I would classify this as a fairly difficult race. Training-wise, I was prepared though perhaps not for the fairly technical trail run. A trail runner I am not.
After catching up with my faithful spouse who waits through anything to see me finish, I grabbed a bite to eat and then headed back for the motorhome to get out of wet race gear and get a hot shower. Yes, the motorhome WILL be making future races with me. That was one of the best showers I have ever had.
Post-race, I caught up with Leslie, Dianne, and another fellow EnMu member Ryan Sell. It seemed everyone enjoyed their race despite the rain. I enjoyed my race too though still fairly annoyed with my poor swim start and mental panic again. That has got to change. Much swim work is required this winter.
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