After three straight years at the New Jersey Devilman triathlon and it’s muddy duck pond swim, I decided to change things up a bit and try the Bassman Triathlon held at Bass River State Forest, near Tuckerton, NJ. Other than a clean, clear lake the other major appeal factor was the ability for us to camp within walking distance of the start. This way my support crew (aka Janice) could sleep in a little and I wouldn’t have to drag her out of bed in the middle of the night to go with me if she wanted to.
Friday May 2nd, late in the afternoon we departed for Bass River State Forest. In staring at Googlemaps I could experience the fun and joy that is the Schuylkill, Vine Street, and Atlantic City Expressways or I could take the PA turnpike all the way into New Jersey and duck down along some charming back roads all the way to Bass River State Forest. Option B was the easy choice. Heck, once we got off route 130 in New Jersey I sort of wished I was riding my bike the rest of the way. Upon arrival at Bass River State Forest we found a neat and well-maintained facility with a clean, modern office and helpful staff. There are no electric or water hook-ups but there is water available and our little motorhome is self-contained with a water tank, batteries, and a generator. I also had randomly picked a site off the campground map that turned out to be a) large b) completely level c) right next to a water faucet that I could actually reach with two hoses without moving the camper. Bonus. Oh . . and there wasn’t anyone else camping anywhere in sight. I think there were less than a dozen total camping units (tents or otherwise) in the whole campground the entire weekend even the night before the race.
As a good camper I alway take a moment to read the rules of the campground. Number 4 of Bass River’s list is worth mentioning:
4. Unduly Annoying Behavior Prohibited.
This should be a rule at every campground. And, frankly, anywhere else too.
We quickly setup camp and enjoyed the rest of the evening with a light dinner and a campfire. As I walked the campground loop and paths I was suddenly reminded of the tales of the Jersey Devil from when I was a kid. For those not from the area, the Jersey Devil is the local legend/demon/monster. Kinda like bigfoot only meaner. Tall tales of this creature have emanated from the pinelands of New Jersey for decades and every kid that overnighted at a summer camp anywhere in South Jersey was regaled with terrifying tales of amorous teenagers found impaled on trees, men who’s hair turned white upon seeing the beast, and other horrifying encounters. I decided I’d rather have my hair turned white than be impaled on a tree. I thought that perhaps the race organizers of Bassman and Devilman should get together and swap race names. I turned in that night after refreshing my memory of all the Jersey Devil stories expecting at any moment to hear the leathery flap of wings and heavy claws scratching the roof of the camper. Instead I fell asleep to the sound of Whippoorwills and owls.
Saturday involved a morning run, an afternoon bike ride on part of the course and a visit to Batsto Historic Village. This facility is also run by the State and preserves one of the many long lost small villages around South Jersey that played an integral role in the founding of the Nation. It was interesting to re-learn about Bog Ore, it’s contribution to the continental army, and of the industrial and philanthropic efforts of Joseph Wharton. New Jersey has a rich heritage of places like Batsto along with a wonderful natural heritage. It is a shame they chase everyone out of the State with ridiculous laws and high taxes.
South Jersey must be a bike riders paradise. The roads were in reasonably good shape mostly with light traffic and good shoulders and significant parts of the bike course even had miles of bike lanes. Chatsworth road in particular was fantastic and where I rode on Saturday. The road to Batsto even includes an official measured mile.
I’ll say up front that CityTri & Bassman apparently have a reputation for being a bit disorganized. I’ll give any RD the benefit of the doubt since I know how difficult it can be to find cooperative and helpful volunteers, get all the pieces in place, and to satisfy perfection-seeking athletes. That said, while there were certainly snafus throughout the weekend, I didn’t find it to be THAT bad. Packet pick-up was a bit slow. But that’s okay. I was waiting in line with a few folks including a very pretty young woman that I was SURE I recognized. We were talking to each other and those around us discussing the race and she finally asked me if I was in a Triathlon Club. I said I was part of Endurance Multisport. “Oh. Do you know Dave Henkel”? I said “Yes. I know Dave”. It turns out it was Dave’s fiancee Sara! When I met her before she wasn’t doing triathlon herself and she also wasn’t a fiancee so I never put two and two together. Ah ha! What a small world. She was doing the sprint and Dave would be spectating after straining a leg muscle. We got through packet pick-up, checked out transition then found Dave and chatted a bit before I got back on my bike and rode “all the way” back to camp. (8/10ths of a mile).
We enjoyed a quiet campfire and dinner before being lulled to sleep by the whippoorwills again. No Jersey Devil sights or sounds on night two either. How disappointing.
Race morning dawned a bit cold but clear. I’d like to say how excited I was but the mental demons of the swim were already busy at work in my head. Transition opened at 6:30am and I rode my bike down a bit early to wait. The lake was calm, and the far buoys shrouded in a misty fog. It should have been exciting . . . but I was dreading getting in there. It shouldn’t be this way.
Transition setup is always fun. We had a lot of chatter and a lot of helping out of beginners. CityTri had issued temporary tattoos for age & bib number. I had tried to apply them but almost none of the numbers worked. Someone in transition mentioned they are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. I had to agree. A Sharpie works pretty damned well and it is a lot easier to get off. For those that aren’t familiar with Triathlon body marking, most races write your bib number on your arm, leg, or both and your age and event on your leg. There are no secrets among triathletes. The bib number is there so they can identify the body when they pull you from the lake. Okay, probably not the real reason, but it is partially because you can’t wear your bib in the swim. Anyway, several of us had Sharpies in our transition bags and we all had our own body marking session.
I also found friends Bill & Dawn Perry in transition. I met Bill & Dawn first virtually then in reality at Lake Placid. We had volunteered last year so we could sign up to race this year. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.) In a humorous moment, I was one of 4 people in line to sign up early post-race morning at Ironman Lake Placid. Since there was nobody there, I sent Bill a text message saying “I’m in line. There’s nobody here”! And got the response “Yeah, we’re here too”. At that point we both looked up, looked at each other and laughed.
After catching up with Bill & Dawn it was time to warm-up. There were several events going off that morning including a half-distance, international distance, and sprint tri as well as a duathlon. (As it turns out maybe one or two too many events for the number of volunteers). The half iron distance was scheduled to go off at 8:00 followed by the International at 8:30. I got in the water early to get a good warm-up in. The water, while cold was not as bad as I expected and the lake was delightfully clean compared to the muddy swill that is the Devilman swim. I tried to swim enough in warm-up that I was comfortable in the water. I got to a point where I felt good and then headed ashore to watch the Half start. Once they went off, I jumped back in and swam a bit more. Back to the meeting for the International. I was feeling pretty good . . and then the start got postponed for 30 minutes. Apparently, the race director had contracted with the local police department for coverage for some of the intersections. He had paid for services but several officers did not show up. Super. Well, nothing to do but wait. My plan was to hop back in the water and get another quick warm-up in before the start. Bill, Dawn, Dave, & Janice and I talked waiting for the RD to give an update. Suddenly he was there telling us we were ready. What? Now!? Great . . no more warm-up. Into the water we go.
The fog had cleared off the lake was calm, nothing to worry about. But my stomach churned. I hate this. I can easily swim this distance (a bit over 1000 yards) and it is still the easiest thing to do all day especially since it is a wetsuit swim. But my mind is not so easily convinced. Suffice it to say the first half of the swim was my usual mental game of trying to convince myself to just swim. No good form, some back stroking, and it didn’t help that my chip came loose and I had to find a kayaker to help me fix it. So much for the 20 minute or better swim. I finally got my stuff together about half-way through when I started to focus on the trees along the lake and swimming past them. I still really didn’t begin executing good swimming form until near the end. So much for all the time and practice. According to the results I was the next to last guy out of the water. 65th out of 66. Ugh. Oh well . . swim done. Off to T1.
In T1 I discovered we didn’t just have one spot for transition but rather two or at least that is what the person next to me must have believed. There was an XL green wetsuit piled in front of and around my bike covering my bike shoes. I also discovered a very enthusiastic fan scurrying around transition. A little white terrier of some sort was evidently enjoying all the excitement and zipping about among the bikes and people before finally being caught by a volunteer. (You can see him in the video). I ripped my wetsuit off, slipped on my bike shoes, grabbed Betty, wheeling her over the foreign wetsuit and was off. Out of T1 in 2:05.
The most interesting thing about the bike was there were a lot of flats and mechanical issues for a lot of riders. There were hidden ruts and holes in some some of the section of road and some wooden bridges that would have been extremely treacherous if it were raining. But fast tubulars can be fragile and I saw everything on the course from riders patiently gluing new tubulars to one guy walking back to the start, helmet in hand, sans bike. I briefly thought about abandoning the race to quickly search for a bike stashed in the woods but decided that was probably not good sportsmanship.
I thought my bike split was better than it actually was. It should have been great. Flat, reasonably good roads. Not a lot of traffic. Sure, it was windy but nothing ridiculous. It was a bit hard to gauge yourself off other riders since there were three events happening with a half-iron distance, International, and a sprint. I decided I need to move my bike computer. It is a Garmin 800 mounted on the stem and I can’t really see my power numbers from the aero position. I think I kind of lolly gagged through the first half of the ride and then finally picked it up about halfway through. Maybe it was due to the demoralizing swim or maybe just due to the physical effort involved when I don’t swim efficiently, but the bike leg was lacking.
One note about the race and race director. I heard a lot of rumors and complaints about things being a mess with a lot of disorganization. Okay, we started late and there was a dog in transition . . but hey . . what are ya gonna do? The most complaints were around people getting lost. I have to say while it can be tough to get enough reliable volunteers (or in this case, a paid police department), it is still and always has been the athletes responsibility to know the course. I spent time both at home and pre-race looking at the very accurate course maps for my event on the website. While the bike course seemed confusing, having pre-ridden and scouted the roads for a very short time on Saturday, the course was crystal clear. The same with the run. The directions were explicit and the course easily followed if you read where you were supposed to go. I’ll give the RD a break on that one.
Back to the bike. I returned to T2 in a rather disappointing 1:39:21. 49th place. Not as bad as the swim but I’ve worked pretty hard over the winter and find this number to be disappointing especially with an average speed of only a tad over 18 mph. I have done better than that riding almost as far on the hills around home.
I ducked into transition and found more piles of stuff in my way. It appeared that a homeless person had moved in to the neighboring transition area. I kicked a bag, shopping cart full of aluminum cans, and a giant cardboard box out of the way. Okay . . I might be exaggerating there but there was a lot of crap for one guy in transition. I racked Betty, threw on my running shoes, and then tried to put my running hat on over my helmet. Helmet. Okay, I probably wouldn’t need that for the run. (Although one wonders if you could run faster with one of those Star Wars aero helmets?) Off for the run in. T2: 1:23
Ah . . the run. My stand-by. I knew I wouldn’t be the fastest guy on the run but I did not get passed by anyone for long. (More later.) As I came out of transition there was a mixed up runner complaining he took a wrong turn and it was all some poor volunteer’s fault. The volunteer was working bike dismount so probably had nothing to do with his wrong turn. The lost athlete was also doing the International event. I got worried thinking something about the course would be confusing. I listened to Lost Guy mutter to himself the whole way up the road for nearly the first mile. Shortly up the road, the well-marked course was to turn right. I did that and continued to follow yellow arrows the entire way around the course. I’m not sure where the confusion was.
Anyway, I realized I hadn’t come up with a real game plan for the run and decided to hold something like 7:30 pace or better for the 5.1 mile run. In hind sight I probably could have set the bar higher (especially considering the weak swim & bike) but that seemed like a noble goal. Just after the 1 mile mark there was an un-manned aid station. There were coolers & cups to help yourself. I suspect it was intended to be manned but the volunteers pulled off to work the more dangerous intersections in lieu of missing police officers. That’s fine. I can pour my own. I didn’t stop on the first pass anyway. Most of this mile was down a shaded hard packed sand road into the woods. I knew there was a turn around and I’d be back by the aid station.
The turn-around was the honor system. There was no volunteer and no timing mat. I looked around and could easily have turned 50-100 yards short of the actual turn around and I am equally sure there are probably those who did. Hopefully they feel good about themselves. Personally, I ran to the cones and turned as indicated.
I stopped and grabbed a cup Hammer Nutrition Heed, swallowed it down and ran on. I had just past mile 2 and knew mile 3 would find me near our campsite. Somehow it made it easy to hold pace knowing where the next marker was. I continuously passed other runners including many in my event. (Not that difficult since most of them were well out in front of me.) I ran past our campsite and on toward the camping lean-tos. I knew the course well since I had ridden it on my bike. Somewhere along in here I saw Mark Wise who, until that moment, I had only ever seen on Facebook. I called out to him and he responded though I’m not sure he knew who I was at the time being. He was doing the half-iron distance so would have been long gone and would not recognize me as that dude that almost came out of the water dead last. I saw him again a few minutes later and called out my name.
Serious business now. Only a little over a mile to go. As I bore down to the finish one thing struck me that was definitely a course setup failure. The sprint distance event run was 3.1 miles, the International distance event run was 5.1 miles and the half-iron distance run was 13.1 miles. All clearly different distances but with a common finish so the 3, 5, and 13 mile markers should have all been together. However, the 3 and 13 mile markers were placed a good 2 tenths short of where they belonged with only the 5 mile marker being correct. Regardless, you keep running to the finish.
Just past the 5 mile marker a gentleman came running past me at a steady gate. I glanced at his leg and saw IT45. Oh. My age group and event. I remember thinking “I’m not sure I have a kick to beat him”. We then got within 50 yards or so of the finish. There were a series of pylons to theoretically make in and out lanes to keep inbound and outbound runners separate. But at the moment there were not outbound runners and it was clear which lane was which anyway. The gentleman who passed me hugged the inside of the curve. I took the tangent and was suddenly even with him. “Hmmm . . maybe I DO have a kick”. I surged forward and easily finished ahead of him. Run 38:06 and a somewhat respectable 19th place for the run. I’m sure I can be faster than that but for that goals of the day that was fine.
Total time 2:43:05. Kinda slow. But by the end of September I should have my Open Water swim demons beaten for the year and be ready to start racing . . .