A sprint triathlon on a U.S. Naval base? Sign me up! The MWR Naval Station Newport Sprint Triathlon on the Naval Station Newport base in Rhode Island is part of the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation programming, designed to support Navy personnel, their families, and civilian employees.
Members of the general public, like me, were welcome to support and take part in the event for a $65 registration fee, while active duty, retired and reservist military members and their families paid reduced fees.
Nearly 50 of the 140 participants at the 2014 race on Sunday, July 27 were active duty military personnel.
I headed to the race with my friend, Justin, a budding triathlete, and my husband, Phil, who came to cheer us on.
We had great weather with cool temps, starting in the high 60s and reaching 70 by the end of the race. A sunny, blue-skied morning gave way to storm-clouds as the triathlon got underway. But the rain held off until later in the day.
As you would expect from the U.S. military, the Naval Station Newport Sprint Triathlon was incredibly well-organized. Pre-race communication via e-mail in the week before was thorough. Packet pick-up on race morning was a breeze; right next to the parking lot, with one table for race packets, another for chip timing, and a third for body marking.
As I walked from bib pick-up to the transition area, military marches played over a loud-speaker at the stage near the finish.
Transition was set up in bib groups of 10 for triathletes to rack bikes, lay out shoes and the many accoutrements one needs to swim, bike, and run in the same race.
Timing mats sat at the entrance to transition from the swim leg and at the bike and run exits. All the zones were clearly marked, making it easy to mentally walk through the motions of where I needed to be and when for each leg of the triathlon. Best of all, I waited behind exactly no one to use the port-o-let. I think that might be a race day first.
Organizers ushered athletes to the water well ahead of the 7:15 pre-race meeting on the beach.
Both the race director and swim director gave us the lay of the land, including instructions not to stop for the “morning colors” at 8 a.m., when the base stands still for the hoisting of the U.S. flag, accompanied by the national anthem. Personnel usually stand at attention, facing the flag or the sound of the music. But not on race day.
Instead, we listened to two girls from the local high school sing a beautiful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in perfect harmony.
With that, the men’s Wave 1 entered the water for the start.
Only two aspects of the triathlon were a little odd, and neither affected the actual race itself. But they’re good to know if you’re planning to race this sprint.
First, the timing company didn’t time the transitions separately from each leg of the race, as is common at most triathlons. This meant an extra long bike time, as both my Transition 1 (T1) and Transition 2 (T2) times got lumped in with the bike leg.
Thankfully, I wore a new triathlon watch courtesy of Bia, who asked me to wear test their GPS multi-sport watch. Thanks to Bia, I know exactly how long each leg was: Swim, Transition 1, Bike, Transition 2, and Run, with paces for each leg, all in one workout.
Without a watch, I wouldn’t have known how much of my bike time I actually spent cycling and how much time I tinkered away in transition.
Second, the race used odd age group clusters. Instead of the standard five-year age groupings that USA Triathlon sanctions—25-29, 30-34, 35-39, for example—the Naval Station Newport Sprint Triathlon broke up athletes into odd age groups: 10-29, 30-37, 38-44, 45-49, and 50-99.
The sport of triathlon is more focused than the sport of running on age group competition. And I am not immune. Having finished just outside the medals with a fourth place age group finish at my last triathlon, I’ve had an eye on a Top 3 age group placing. This came into play for my own race.
But those are two peccadilloes that didn’t actually affect how I, or anyone else, performed.
Overall, the Navy MWR put on a flawless event with the Naval Station Newport Sprint Triathlon. The course was accurately measured—which is not always a given at triathlons, and especially at sprint triathlons where the distances vary from the international standard. (The International Triathlon Union sprint distances are 750m swim, 20K bike and 5K run.) The entire event was incredibly well supported with volunteers everywhere, and the post-race spread was a feast that included pancakes. Yes, pancakes!
The Naval Station Newport Sprint Triathlon took place almost entirely on the Navy base. The race ran largely along the waterfront in the town that Conde Nast Traveler readers voted one of the 10 best small cities in America. (I agree; it is.) However, I wouldn’t exactly call this race “scenic.” Cool yes, scenic no. This is a Naval base—industrial, functional, practical.
But that’s what was so cool about it. I’ve run the gorgeously scenic Montauk Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon on Long Island in New York and the Wild Dog Sprint Triathlon in nearby Bristol, Rhode Island. But neither of those had a decommissioned aircraft carrier as a focal point. Enough said. We were the last swim to enjoy the USS Saratoga’s company. The decommissioned ship left Newport on August 21 for Brownsville, Texas, where it will be dismantled and recycled.
The swim was one-third of a mile in Coddington Cove off Narragansett Bay, in the shadow of the USS Saratoga. The race employed a hip-high in-water start. The course was a rectangle, swimming from shore to two buoys and out to a different point on shore. A tenth of a mile jog took swimmers to the transition zone. In water, the swim director had nine lifeguards at the ready on kayaks and one motorboat standing by.
The bike leg was a 10.5-mile out and back course along a delightfully flat road with just a few minor dips and bumps. Volunteers lined the course, pointing out railroad tracks, a gate to the base, and the turn-around. I was also surprised to see a few mile markers on the bike leg, a luxury I haven’t had at most triathlons.
The run leg was 3.1-miles around the base, which started with an initial climb, then slowly made its way to the waterfront before another short climb into the finish. Two water stations awaited runners near the 1 and 2-miler markers, and announcers called runners into the finish by name.
I went into this sprint triathlon with zero expectations. I’d only been triathlon training for two weeks, and was using the race as a tune-up before the Triathlon Valleyfield in Quebec on Sunday, August 24. With just four bike rides totaling 29.5 miles and three swims totaling 1.5 miles, I knew I wouldn’t be in shape to go for a personal best.
Add in the fact that, on a whim, I went to see Beck at the Providence Performing Arts Center the night before. I’m a huge Beck fan, and couldn’t say no when someone offered me a ticket. I never would have done it the night before a big goal race. But since this was a training race, I threw caution to the wind. Yep, I didn’t get home until midnight and had a 5 a.m. alarm set. But Beck brought Jack White and Sean Lennon on stage for the encore. Totally worth it!
So come race morning, I just wanted to swim, bike and run as hard as my body would let me. That’s exactly what I did.
I was also excited to try the brand-new-multi-sport function on my Bia watch. In the past, I’ve raced with the stopwatch function on a regular running watch, which was great for clicking off splits for each leg of the race, but not great for anything else—no mileage, no pace, no nothing.
This would be my first triathlon with GPS. Bia is different from most watches in that it actually has two pieces: a super slim, lightweight wristwatch and a white “Go Stick” clip that houses the brains of the operation. You can swim with both. Bia suggests clipping the Go Stick to your goggle straps, then moving it to your bra strap, waistband, or elsewhere for the bike and run. That’s exactly what I did. I clipped it to my bra strap for the bike and run.
The watch worked seamlessly throughout each leg of the race. One click of the watch button started the swim leg. Another tap of the button moved the timer to T1, and so on through the entire race. The watch uses activity appropriate pacing: minutes per 100 yards for the swim, miles per hour for the bike, and minutes per mile for the run. (You can also choose metric measurements.) It made logging my race, especially in the absence official transition timing, a breeze. The online training log gives you your vital stats and a map of the race.
The GPS was perfectly accurate for the swim and run. The swim was .33-mile with a.1-mile run to transition, and the watch clocked me at .44-mile. Right on the money. The run was a measured 5K and Bia clocked me at exactly 3.11 miles, a perfect 5K. Only the bike was slightly off. The race was 10.5 miles, which I checked and confirmed via USATF’s mapping feature, but Bia clocked me at 10.21 miles, off by less than 3 percent. When it comes to GPS, I’d rather have it short me on distance than commit the cardinal sin of telling me I’ve gone farther than I actually have.
I started in the first wave of women and the third wave of the race. The swim felt harder than it should have for me, a testament to how little time I spent in the water in the weeks leading up to the race.
But I was glad that one of my three swims had been in open water. That’s the most important race-day prep for me.
I finished the .33-mile swim and .1-mile run to transition officially in 12:40.
Since I wasn’t worried about racing this one, I took my time in Transition 1, clocking 2:24 per my Bia. It’s my slowest T1 time ever.
On the bike leg, I was delightfully surprised at how easy it felt and I loved having a bike-specific GPS watch on. I was able to glance at my watch and see mileage progress, time ticking by and MPHs flying high. It definitely encouraged me to push harder.
I even managed to pass two female cyclists ahead of me. Counting the women I pass and those that pass me is a game I play to keep my mind occupied. This one was typical: I passed two cyclists, but eight passed me. Really need to work on cycling.
At one point, I heard the “morning colors” playing in the distance. Suddenly, I felt really lucky to be on a U.S. Navy base competing in a triathlon, when there are so many people fighting for us and fighting for their own lives around the world. It was a somber reminder.
The turnaround came up on me quickly. But then I noticed it: a heavy headwind. I hadn’t noticed the tailwind pushing me along the first 5 miles of the race until I had to work against the headwind on the way back. Wow! That was brutal. It was the first thing Justin commented on too when we compared notes after the race. So what was going to be my fastest bike leg ever became my second fastest. I finished the bike in 44:03 per the race (that included T1 and T2 times) and 40:33 per my Bia without the transitions at a 15.56 mph pace. I’ll take it.
I tried to hustle a bit more through T2, so much so that I forgot to unclip my bike helmet. I ran out of transition with the helmet on my head until two volunteers flagged me down. Whoops! I guess my helmet is pretty comfortable. So I ran back to my transition spot, dropped my helmet and then ran back to the run entrance. Phew! Note to self: unclip your helmet as soon as you rack your bike (but not before; that would be against the rules). After that kerfuffle, my T2 time was 1:04.
The run started with a decently steep climb and my legs felt like bricks filled with jello; I’d expended too much energy fighting that headwind on the bike. But I turned to my trusty mantra, “Just Keep Pushing.” I passed two women ahead of me and two others caught me, coming out Even Steven on the run.
But the truth was I just didn’t have a lot of push in my legs or my lungs. I gave it everything I had and finished the run in 28:10 officially at a 9:04 pace. It definitely wasn’t my fastest triathlon run, but under the circumstances I was happy with that.
There is an inverse relationship between my bike and run times. The better the bike, the worse the run. The worse the bike, the better the run. I have yet to figure out how hard to push on the bike and still leave juice left for the run. At my last triathlon, I tried to save energy for the run, and I did. I ran a 3-mile PR, logging a time of 23:22. Fast! But my bike was the slowest of all my triathlons. At this one, I decided to give the bike my all. I sure did, but at the cost of my run. Thankfully, I’m still a beginner triathlete. Maybe I’ll figure it out one of these days.
Justin and Phil cheered me into the finish. Justin finished a few minutes ahead of me. Overall, I completed the Naval Station Newport Sprint Triathlon in 1:24:52.
Here’s where that age-group thing comes in. I was fifth out of six in my race-designated age group of 30-37, but second of five in my USA Triathlon age group of 35-39. Eh, what are you gonna do?
You enjoy the post-race pancake breakfast, that’s what you’re gonna do. Triathletes and friends feasted on a spectacular post-race spread with blueberry pancakes, plain pancakes, syrup, bagels, croissants, Danishes, apples, bananas, oranges, granola bars, coffee, Gatorade, water and more. I had pain au chocolate. When was the last time you got one of those at the post-race party? Yum.
Despite hinky transition timing and age groups, I thoroughly enjoyed this race. The organization was second to none, the course ran through a U.S. Navy base, and the post-race spread was among the best I’ve ever seen at any race—triathlon, marathon or half-marathon—just about anywhere.
I’ll say this about the U.S. military: they know how to organize and execute. If my schedule permits, I’d happily return to the Naval Station Newport Sprint Triathlon in 2015.
What I Wore
Fancy my gear? Here’s what helped get me through the race. For a complete guide to triathlon gear, check out Triathlon Gear List For Runners, Beginners and Beyond.
Bia Multi-Sport GPS Watch (Provided by Bia)
New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Shoes (Provided by New Balance)
Naval Station Newport Sprint Triathlon Stats
Distance: 1/3-mile swim, 10.5-mile bike, 3.1-mile run
- Overall: 1:24:52
- Swim: 12:40
- Bike: 40:33, 15.56 mph
- Run: 28:10, 9:04 pace
- T1: 2:24, T2: 1:04
Bia sent me a unit to wear test and asked me share my thoughts about the Bia GPS Multi-Sport Watch. I’m always honest about my experiences. Seriously. For more information, read my disclosure policy.