Race Report: Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon

Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon, swim bike run

The Montauk Point Lighthouse was the spectacular finish at the Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon. (Photo: United States Coast Guard)

The Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon on Sunday, July 21, 2013 was my third and, by far, most scenic triathlon. The race was a point-to-point course that served as a fundraiser for the Montauk Point Lighthouse, a National Historic Landmark and the oldest lighthouse in New York state, dating to 1796.

Montauk sits at the very tip of Long Island surrounded by Block Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Starting with a swim in the sound, a bike course that toured triathletes around Lake Montauk and a run through a tree-lined state park, the Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon course put Montauk’s natural beauty on full display. Pair that with a finish beside the lighthouse at the top of Turtle Hill overlooking the sea, and you have a challenging but beautiful triathlon course.

I was tackling the race with my husband, Phil, who was doing his first triathlon. With my new bike in hand, I was ready to race.

Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon, swim, bike, run

With my new ride. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)


The Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon was well organized. Athletes picked up bibs on their choice of four days in four different towns including New York City and Montauk. Race communication e-mails were thorough, and the triathlon started promptly on time.

But preparing for the race proved tricky logistically as a point-to-point course. This necessitated two different transition zones: one from the swim to the bike and another from the bike to the run. This meant triathletes had to stop at Transition 2 to drop off their running gear early in the morning before driving back to Transition 1 to park and prepare for the swim.

From the parking area, athletes had a half a mile walk or bike to the transition zone, then another half mile walk to the swim start.

After the race, runners had the option of taking a shuttle bus or biking the 6 miles back to Transition 1 to pick up their gear. Phil and I chose the latter option. Bikes weren’t allowed on the shuttle so we would have had to shuttle to T1, pick up our stuff, take it to our car and then drive back to T2 to pick up our bikes. So we ended up biking 20 miles total that day.

Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon: My Race

Racing a sprint triathlon in the middle of a heat wave had me worried. But the weather was on our side come Sunday morning. The temperature was in the low 70’s with overcast skies in the morning. It drizzled a little bit on the bike and a nice ocean breeze kept me cool the whole time.

Despite the great weather, it was a tough race for me. I went into it knowing I wasn’t going to score a personal record due to a lingering hip injury from a horseback riding fall in early June, but also wanting to push as hard as my recovering hip would let me.

The race played out much like I expected. I didn’t come anywhere close to a PR. But I did give it everything I had. And that felt really good. Here’s the breakdown.

Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon, swim bike run

Phil and I are ready to race. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

The Swim: .5 Miles

I was confident going into the swim. Save two weeks of missed training from my injury, I’ve been swimming once a week. I also managed to get in two open water swims, so I knew I was ready for this leg of the race.

Swimmers made their way to a start buoy off shore while a race official with a bullhorn counted down minutes to each wave. You couldn’t hear him from the water, but you could hear the starting horn just fine.

The swim was a half-mile of open water in Block Island Sound at the very tip of Long Island. I’d read from previous race reports to expect a tough current. They weren’t kidding.

As I waited with the women in my wave for our start, the current continually pushed me well behind the start buoy. I had to keep swimming forward to stay on the starting line. I knew right then it was going to be a long swim.

Boy, was it ever. I settled into an easy pace, but miscalculated the angle to the shore I needed to swim. The buoys were parallel to the shore, but this was not a race where you could just swim straight for the buoys as in a calm lake. You needed an aggressive angle to the shore to stay on the right tangent. The current pushed swimmers back and away from land. I swam far too wide of the first few buoys and then corrected my angle to come in closer to the next few. So I know I swam a much longer distance than I needed to.

To give you an idea of the kind of current I’m talking about, my last half-mile triathlon swim took me 12:08. This one took 22:56 and I was much better trained for it. But I made it through and managed to finish third out of 16 women in my age group.

Lifeguards on paddleboards and kayaks lined the swim, and the exit from the water was well marked with two flags leading into the transition zone. The run into the transition zone was very short and included one of the most thoughtful touches of the entire race—a plastic kiddie pool filled with water to rinse sand off your feet. I splashed through it on my way to the transition zone.

I knew I was in good shape when I saw the majority of my wave’s bikes still racked.

But I also knew that the swim would be my strongest leg. So I got out of my wetsuit as quickly as possible, slipped on my shoes, sunglasses and helmet and ran to the bike. My Transition 1 time was 2:09.

Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon, swim bike run, Trek Lexa S

The Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon was my first race with my very own bike. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

The Bike: 14 Miles

The bike has long been my nemesis as I documented in my first and second triathlon race reports. But after buying my own bike this season, I’ve started to make peace with it. I dug in and rode as hard as I could.

On the bike course, the roads were open to traffic, but many police officers were in place to direct traffic and cyclists, especially at all potentially dangerous intersections so that helped ease some of my jitters.

The first portion of the bike was largely flat. But the back end was hilly—at least for me. We climbed from sea level to 168 feet to the base of the Montauk Point Lighthouse over the course of a few rolling hills. There was one very steep, but short climb that forced me to come out of my saddle and a few smaller climbs as well.

I managed to spot Phil on an out-and-back portion of the course. His wave started 10 minutes ahead of mine. I gave him a cheer, and it made me happy to know he survived the swim alright.

Perhaps because there were no mile markers and I didn’t ride with a GPS watch, the bike finish and dismount line snuck up on me. A rider behind me almost crashed he came in so fast. I did see one “slow down” sign shortly before but I’m guessing he didn’t.

I finished in 50:19 at a 16.7 MPH pace. It’s a huge improvement over my first triathlon where I rode at 14.4 MPH pace on a shorter course. So overall I’m happy with my bike time. I finished right in the middle of my age group on the ride: eighth out of 16. It was definitely my weakest leg. But I also know I’ll only get better with time now that I own a bike. So I’ll take it!

I cruised in from the bike and had a fast transition. I racked and ran for a T2 time of 53 seconds.

Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon

The run finished up the hill to the lighthouse. (Photo: Beyond My Ken [GFDL via Wikimedia Commons])

The Run: 3.1 Miles

The run was really tough for me.

The Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon run course started with a small flight of stairs and then flattened out with a few very short rolling hills. It wasn’t a particularly challenging course and it was well shaded in the lushly green Camp Hero State Park.

But I have a love-hate relationship with the run portion of the tri. On one had, I love running. This blog is called “Run, Karla, Run!” after all. But in two of my three triathlons, I’ve just been toast by the time the run rolled around. The 3.1-mile run in a sprint triathlon is roughly equivalent to the last three miles of a half-marathon. And, unfortunately, I historically start to tank at mile 10 in a half-marathon.

Last year, I had a fantastic sprint triathlon run. I felt strong and finished 3 miles in 26:15. This year, my legs just had nothing left in the tank. I pushed with everything I had and managed to eke out a 28:50 for the 5K.  My hip had really tightened up on the bike. While it certainly didn’t hurt, I could feel how tight it was and my muscles just had nothing left to give.

The run had two water stops on the out-and-back course. They were place so you got to hit each one twice, and I certainly did.

Once again, Phil and I saw each other and managed to high five. He was heading into the finish as I was heading into the run.

Unlike the bike course, the run had mile markers. I was very happy to see the 3 Mile marker.

The finish line was up a steep hill leading to the lighthouse of honor, and once at the top, runners were treated to a spectacular view out over the sea.

Another woman in my age group passed me in the last mile. We all had our ages written on our calves so you could tell who was your direct competition. I used that as motivation and hung behind her. In the last few hundred meters we traded leads. Just before the finish line she surged past me again to finish 3 seconds ahead of me. I found her afterward and thanked her. She really helped push me across the line.

Possibly because of that, I almost vomited for the first time ever after a race. I managed not to, but that was my sign that I had given it everything I possibly had. You really can’t ask more of yourself than that.

After a cool down walk, I found Phil, who regaled me with tales of his first triathlon. We hit the post-race spread, which included Danishes, muffins, watermelon slices, plums, bananas, sweet potato chips, an assortment of juices and water. And I stretched out my hip with the gorgeous ocean views below me.

Montuak Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon, swim bike run

Phil and I celebrate a tri well done. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)


I finished sixth out of 16 women in my age group in a time of 1:45:04. I finished just 2 minutes and 35 seconds behind the winner, and seventh place was over 7 minutes behind me.

Overall, I took 56th out of 167 women and 210th of 431 triathletes.

Phil, who has qualified for the Boston Marathon twice and regularly bikes to work, had a great first triathlon. He finished fourth out of 25 men in his age group. He took 10th in the swim, 10th in the bike, and won the run handily among his peers in a speedy 20:08. His swim, at 25:10, was five minutes slower than his run and he turned in a solid bike at 44:00.

After he heard his stats he said, “Well, that tells me I ought to stick to running!”

But I hope I can talk him into another triathlon. After all, he finished 93rd out of 431 people total. Not shabby at all.

Knowing I was so close to the top of my age group and knowing it was an off race for me makes me hungry for an age group win some day. It’s a goal I’ll likely work toward. I’m already eyeing another sprint triathlon in August…

Montauk Point Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon Vital Stats

Distance: .5-mile swim, 14-mile bike, 3.1 mile run

  • Overall: 1:45:04, 6th of 16 in age group
  • Swim: 22:56, 3rd of 16 in age group
  • Bike: 50:19, 8th of 16 in age group
  • Run: 28:50, 6th of 16 in age group
  • T1: 2:09, T2: 0:53
Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a regular contributor to SHAPE.com, the host of NYRR's On The Run web + TV show, and a race announcer at events like the TCS New York City Marathon. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now she freelances as a running reporter. She's run 7 marathons, 20 halves, 6 triathlons, sings in an '80s cover band, spoils her dog + travels compulsively.

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07 2013

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