Oh where to begin with the disaster that turned out to be the Hartford Marathon Foundation Women’s Triathlon race in Farmington last weekend? It actually started out great for me but ended in disappointment for so many and confusion and uncertainly for everyone. I guess the best place to start is the beginning since, things did not come undone until the very end.
I should also remind everyone that I raced this event last year and vowed to never return. But, since I’m now a full blown triathlon addict, I decided to go back and try to qualify for the USAT national competition in 2017, you know, just to get that out of the way.
To qualify for nationals you need to finish in the top 10 percent or be the top finisher (whichever is greater) of your age group. This is no easy task which is why so many women chose this particular race to qualify. The Women’s Triathlon is known for and marketed as a race for beginners, of which there are many. However, there is also a small group of hard core triathlete women looking to qualify for nationals. I was one of them.
THE SWIM | 1/2 Mile
The water temperature, at 74 degrees was perfect. It was still wetsuit legal but not freezing cold or sweltering hot. The air temperature was about 70 degrees with overcast skies. It was perfection. I promised myself to swim hard, be bold and fight for position in the water though out the half-mile swim. Mission accomplished!
Although I was kicked, elbowed, jostled and swam over, I gave as much as I got and was fourth or fifth out of the water in a group of 51 women ages 40-49. This was my best and fastest swim to date!
I also passed two women while running the long path to transition. This is a race people, move it!
Swim time 2016: 16:40
Swim time 2015: 19:18
Difference: 3 minutes 22 seconds
Transition 1: 58 seconds
THE BIKE | 12 Miles
I was downright giddy to get on my bike after the swim. I was so happy with my swim time and knew I was going to crush the bike with my new Cervelo P2! The route is pretty flat with only one or two smallish hills. Plus, this year I was in wave 1 which meant I wasn’t constantly passing other women on the bike. I did get passed twice (once by the 26 year old who ended up winning) and another by a friend of mine who is 49 and amazing!…so I didn’t mind.
Ok, fine, I did mind but I knew I was pushing as hard as I could and that’s all I can ever ask of myself. I was also feeling great and having fun out there. I’m so glad I enjoyed it while it lasted.
Bike time 2016: 35:54 | 20.3 mph average
Bike time 2015: 36:29 (I have 11.5 miles for the bike last year instead of 12 so…?)
Difference: 25 seconds
Transition 2: 43 seconds
THE RUN | 3.1 Miles
This is where it gets ugly. I absolutely hate the run in this race and it was one of the major reasons I didn’t want to do it again. It’s on a trail. The trail is pockmarked, has gravel, deep sand, roots, rocks, wood chips and it’s pretty technical. There are steep uphills and scary downhills with jagged rocks and sliding sand underfoot. I hate it. It also starts uphill.
I was fourth coming out of transition and passed two women within the first mile, putting me in second. A little less than a quarter mile ahead of me was the first place woman and she was being escorted by a biker on a neon green bike. The color of the bike is important, as you shall see.
The trail had a lot of other trails shooting off of it. For the most part, it was clearly marked and I know full well that the athletes are responsible for knowing the course (I just wrote about it for Women’s Running!) but there were many places where the path of the race was confusing. If not for the neon green bike, I may have made the mistake that many other competitors made that day.
Very near the end of the run the trail split. There was no marking by HMF and I literally stopped and yelled “shit!” then, suddenly, I glimpsed the green bike ahead and knew which way to go. If it had not been for the neon green bike, I would have been at a loss and may have chosen right instead of left, which cut the course by about a quarter mile.
Run time 2016: 21:53 | 7:21 pace
Run time 2015: 22:16
Difference: 23 seconds
Unfortunately I was not alone in being confused at the trail split and, it was extremely unfortunate that many women chose to run the wrong way and inadvertently cut the course, disqualifying them from the event.
This would happen many times over as the confusion grew at the finish line.
I’m sure you can already guess the debacle that ensued. First of all, unless you were wearing a GPS watch, you wouldn’t know if you cut the course or not. Second, HMF was not posting anything but overall times so, if you had no watch, you had no idea what your run time was and whether it was a time you know you’re not capable of.
The awards were supposed to have been announced by 9:30 and, at 10:30 we were still waiting.
THE WORST PART I
There was so much confusion and uncertainty. No announcements were made so athletes were just talking amongst themselves. The USAT official on hand was being inundated with questions and, as time went on, frustration mounted.
The course was most certainly better marked last year and, at the point of confusion on the course it was just so obvious there should have been a sign or a volunteer or both.
According to the result sheet that was posted, I came in fourth overall and first in my age group. This was a definite nationals qualification and, although I hate fourth place, I was very happy with my overall performance. I had placed eighth overall last year and had PR’ed the course by three minutes this year. For the moment, I was still happy.
Until the awards were announced…
THE WORST PART II
The race director finally addressed the crowd and explained that a lot of athletes had cut the course. She asked that if anyone who raced knows they had a run time they were not capable of, to please come forward.
Then, this bomb was dropped – – HMF decided to give out the awards based on the swim and bike times only since those were the only results they knew were accurate. Wait, what? Seriously?
Just to drive home the ridiculousness of this I can tell you that my friend who initially placed 12th overall was suddenly awarded 3rd when the run was excluded. I was given 2nd in my age group and I haven’t a clue where that put me overall.
Worst of all, USATriathlon may not even recognize this as a sanctioned event with accurate finishing times and, therefore, nationals qualifications for the athletes who placed.
At the time of my writing this I still do not know if the results will be upheld by USATriathlon. The only thing I really cared about, one of the only reasons for even racing this event, was to qualify for nationals and now that may be taken away though no fault of my own.
I can only hope that lessons were learned and that mistakes won’t be repeated. I feel terribly for my fellow athletes who were handed a DQ when they had no intention of cheating.
Again, I know it’s the athlete’s responsibility to know the course but, it’s the race directors responsibility to clearly mark it.
Only time will tell what happens with my results. For now, I’m going to chose to be happy with the race I finished and, if I need to re-qualify for nationals in the spring, that is exactly what I will do!
[Tweet “Just another reason to know your #race course! A cautionary tale. #womenstriathlon”]
Have you ever been confused on a race course? What happened?
What do you think will happen with the results? What is the fair thing to do?