The Wild Dog Triathlon on August 11, 2013 in the charming town of Bristol, Rhode Island did not disappoint with a gorgeous course and great organization. I’ve long been a fan of the state known as “Little Rhody.” It’s one of my favorite summer vacation getaways. I’ve run a small handful of races there—the UnitedHealthcare Providence Half Marathon and two local 5Ks.
But the Wild Dog Triathlon was my first multi-sport event in Rhode Island, and it has to be the most scenic of the bunch I’ve done. With a swim in the warm waters of Narragansett Bay, a looped bike course around the dazzling Colt State Park, and an out-and-back run entirely along the water, this is a race I’d happily do again.
Bristol, Rhode Island
The town of Bristol recalls many a fictional, but picturesque New England hamlet like Stars Hollow, Conn., of “Gilmore Girls” fame or Cabot Cove, Maine from “Murder She Wrote.” There’s also a touch of Quahog, R.I. from “The Family Guy.” How cute is Rhode Island and Narragansett Bay? They’ve served as the backdrop for idyllic films like Moonrise Kingdom, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, and Dan In Real Life, not to mention many a Farrelly brothers’ movie like There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber. The Big Blue Bug? It’s actually mounted on the roof of a building in Rhode Island.
But Bristol is the real deal. The town is most famous for its 4th of July parade, the oldest in the U.S., dating back to 1785. The double-yellow line that marks two-way traffic on most streets isn’t yellow at all in Bristol. Along the parade-route, it’s red, white and blue year-round.
But that’s only part of Bristol’s charm. Throw in a town common with an actual white gazebo (take that Stars Hollow), a bustling downtown on the waterfront, a 14-mile bike path that goes all the way to Providence, and an embarrassment of museums, grand old mansions, and public-access green spaces like Colt State Park and Mount Hope Farm. Simply, Bristol is a perfect place for a summer retreat…or a triathlon.
Wild Dog Triathlon
The race was exceedingly well organized. Registration and packet pick-up was a breeze, the race started on time, and the courses were well-marked.
There’s just one thing: the course distances. Triathlon course distances are notoriously inaccurate. I’ve even heard that USA Triathlon allows a 10 percent deviation from the published distance, but haven’t able to verify that.
The most understandable explanation I’ve heard is that with fixed transition zones, it can be difficult to arrange a perfect 10-mile bike or 3-mile run course, for example, to and from that fixed zone. It’s not like a road race that can adjust the location of the start or the finish, or add another run around a city block, to arrive at the perfect distance.
If a course isn’t exactly the distance advertised, does it really matter? Certainly not in relation to your competition, but it does matter in relation to your own personal best times.
Coming from the world of running, where courses are certified as accurate by USA Track & Field, and being a silly runner who obsesses over PRs, this is taking some getting used to.
The race was billed as having a quarter-mile swim, 10-mile bike and 3-mile run. By my GPS and online tracking, the bike was one mile longer and the run was one tenth of a mile shorter. Both are within the 10 percent deviation; I can live with that.
I only mention it because I went into this race with two letters in my mind: P and R. I’d run a 5K personal best during a training run earlier in the week so I was excited to get out there and race. My training runs had been going so well that I was a little worried I’d peaked too soon. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. I nabbed a huge personal record during the run no matter how you measure it, turned in a solid swim, and a slightly disappointing bike. Here’s how it all went down.
The Swim: .25 miles
After picking up my race packet and bib, I readied for the start of the race with a short warm-up in Narragansett Bay.
The Wild Dog Triathlon started with a quarter-mile swim at the Bristol Town Beach. Race organizers from Fiske Independent Race Management said they’d planned for a land start, but switched to an in-water start once they got on location. The race hit at low tide and the beach was very rocky, so the starter didn’t want anyone tripping or slipping on rocks running into the water.
All the men started in the first wave and all women and relay teams started in the second wave.
The swim course was a triangle from the start and finish out to two buoys parallel to the water. Because the tide was so low, some triathletes actually ran all the way to the first buoy instead of swimming. It was that shallow. But not me. I got in and swam right away, wanting to save my legs for later in the race.
I tried to hit the swim hard. There was a bit of chop from all the bodies flailing about, but I just kept on pushing. I managed to catch some men at the back of the first wave, which always feels good.
Two buoys marked the exit of the swim, which had the nicest touch of the entire race: a carpet lining the swim exit from the water to the grass to cover up all the rocks on the beach. My feet really appreciated that.
From the beach, triathletes ran approximately a tenth of a mile to the transition area on a grassy field, where our timing chips checked us in.
As I came out of the water, I saw my husband, who told me that there was just one woman in my age group ahead of me. I finished 13th of 74 women, polishing off the swim and run to the transition zone in 7:49. The woman in my age group who beat me? She won the women’s race overall, which means I won the swim in age group competition. I was pretty happy with that.
The Bike: 10 miles
I had a great transition, getting out of my wetsuit, into my shoes and out with my bike in 1:08. From the transition area, it was another tenth of a mile run on grass to the road for the start of the bike.
The bike course consisted of 3-loops of the road through Colt State Park, a gorgeous 464-acre park with rolling lawns, stone walls, rocky coastline and salt-water marshes.
My GPS clocked it at 10.97 and I used USATF’s mapping feature to double check afterward. Yep, it was an 11-mile bike total—10.8 miles on the road and .1 miles running out of and into the transition zone where your chip recorded your time.
Regardless of whether it was a 10 or 11-mile bike, it was my slowest ride since my triathlon debut in 2011. I finished in 42:04, coming in 46th of 74 women. Why was it so bad? I have no idea. It wasn’t a hilly course, instead offering mostly flat pavement with a few small bumps to climb.
All I can think was that I just didn’t push hard enough. Judging by the fact that I giggled and smiled every time I passed my husband, methinks that’s it.
Maybe I was too busy enjoying the lovely scenery—people fishing, grassy lawns, seagulls crying, and the whooshing sound of speedy men from the first wave lapping me on the course.
My mother and aunt came out to cheer me on along with my husband. The race coincided with a family reunion, so it was fun to have a fan club. I appreciated the 3-loop course because I got to pass them a lot and get lots of cheers. They even brought out my dog, Cinderella, to watch me race.
Come to think of it, Cinderella would be a great mascot for the Wild Dog Triathlon, being a former wild dog herself.
But I digress. My aunt, who is an avid cyclist, also thinks all of the turns might have been what slowed me down. And when I look at my GPS map of the ride, she’s right. My speed plummeted at every turn. It’s something to work on.
I had another great transition, ditching my bike in 24 seconds. After I saw my horrendous bike time, I was determined to redeem myself on the run.
The run course was an out-and-back from the transition area, following the coastline the entire way with spectacular water views. We were in the full sun the entire time, but we lucked out with a beautiful cloudless morning with temperatures in the 70s. We only had to battle one small hill near the turn-around. Otherwise, the run was largely flat.
Instead of concentrating on my time or the distance, I focused on passing runners ahead of me. Wow, did that work for motivation. I’d spot someone ahead of me and try to reel them in.
I picked off 12 people that way—probably folks who passed me on the bike. There were plenty of them. But only two people passed me on the run. That felt really good.
I only looked at my watch once at the half-way mark and was shocked to see it read 12:14. I knew I was on track for a huge personal record. That gave me all the motivation I needed to push even harder the second half.
I ran a negative split in 11:08 for the second half to finish in 23:22, nabbing a huge personal record at a 7:47 pace. My previous 3-mile best was 26:15 at an 8:45 pace. Even if the run was 2.9-miles, it’s still a big win for me at an 8:03 pace.
I came 20th of 74 women on the run, finishing second in my age group (not counting the overall triathlon women’s winner, who isn’t eligible for age-group awards).
It was hugely satisfying to run so well, and at the end of a triathlon too. The run at my last triathlon was a tough slog, so I felt redeemed.
I finished the triathlon in 1:14:49, 23rd of 74 women overall. It was good enough for 4th in my age group, 5th when you include the overall women’s winner. Though I was first on the swim and second on the run, my lethargic bike pulled me down in the rankings. But I’ll take it. For the first time, I made it onto a race website as an award winner. Hurray!
It was really fun to have my family there to cheer me on, and I’m sure that helped my performance. And I had my husband, Phil, as my personal videographer. Be sure to check out the video we put together that captures just how pretty the race was.
Overall, I would love to do the Wild Dog Triathlon again. It was well organized race on a beautiful course, and I had a ton of fun.
Wild Dog Triathlon Vital Stats
Distance: .25-mile swim, 10-mile bike, 3-mile run
- Overall: 1:14:49, 4th in age group
- Swim: 7:49, 1st in age group
- Bike: 42:04, 7th in age group
- Run: 23:22, 2nd in age group
- T1: 1:08, T2: 0:24