Kelly the Culinarian: 2015 Pigman Long Course Triathlon Race Recap

Monday, August 17, 2015

2015 Pigman Long Course Triathlon Race Recap

Six-word recap: This course and race are terrible.

Ugh, this race. I don't even know where to start. I am struggling to find nice things to say about it. I signed up for the Pigman Long Course triathlon because where else could I do a half-Ironman triathlon for $87? I've done cheap races before. In fact, Circular Logic is my favorite marathon, and at $45, it's one of the cheapest events I participate in. And it's a million times better than Pigman, for reasons that will become evident.

I feel bad. I understand this race was totally different this year because they changed the course to be more spectator friendly. And indeed, if I had a support team traveling to see me, this would have been ideal. They had a VIP viewing area for $19 that would have been worth it for spectators.

But for athletes, this course was miserable. Let me paint a picture for you: It's an incredibly complicated swim course with five turns, followed by four loops on a bike that included crossing rough train tracks eight times, closing out with a four-loop run through a campground. In 91-degree heat. With a total of three aid stations. One on the bike, two on the run. Oh, and they ran out of ice on the first loop of the run.

At least the race packet was loaded
This was the first race I considered quitting multiple times. Backing up, I picked up my packet Saturday afternoon at the race hotel, which is where we stayed the night before race day. That process was a nonissue, but we all knew it was a new course and tried to study the maps, just to get more confused. We rolled out to the state park Sunday morning and parked right next to transition without issue. It was already hot and steam was rising from the Iowa farmlands.

The alarm bells started going off as soon as I hit transition. The racks were rickety and not numbered, leaving athletes to DIY. There wasn't any water anywhere at the start, and it was already well above 80 degrees. I went back to the truck to fill my bottles and hoped my bike didn't topple over. My group went down to the beach by 7:15 a.m. and I started to full on panic. The water was HOT and the "meeting" failed to actually explain the course. From what I surmised, we would be swimming out and making two left turns, keeping the buoys on our right. The microphone kept cutting out, and it was so poorly explained that 1/3 of the elites got it wrong on the way out. I did enjoy the time trial swim start, and the water was as smooth as glass. I knew the swim was going to be a challenge by two things: the lack of buoys and the color of the men's swim cap. Who sends a bunch of swimmers out to open water in a black swim cap sans and marking at all?

Can you see this? Neither could the lifeguards
So I took to the water and swam like an idiot. I felt like I was doing well, but there weren't enough buoys to sight from, especially between the last turn and the turn around flag. I ran into swimmers going the opposite way more than once, and added an extra 1/10 of a mile to my swim in the process. The lifeguard situation was lacking, at that the race was very lucky the water was calm or else the scant staff they had in the water would have been insufficient to quell any legitimate safety concerns.

The swim course - what would you even call this shape?

I got out of the lake and found zero water to rehydrate, so I just got on my bike and hoped to suck down an entire gatorade immediately. There was no mount line, just get on whenever. The pavement for the bike was incredibly smooth, but the course was not. It was hilly and shade less. It was also not a closed course, despite what the website advertised, and I saw a handful of cars driving like their wives were in labor.

There was one aid station, which you reached at the end of the loop (so about every 13 miles). That was the only place to drop bottles without a penalty - I ended up having a spectator take one of my bottles. It was virtually impossible to NOT litter as there weren't trashcans on the beach and very few on the run and bike, too. The aid stations only had water or AdvoCare, which was straight garbage. It was strawberry flavored and had nothing in the form of electrolytes or salt. After I ran out of my own-gatorade, I switched to water and relied upon the SaltStick I brought to get me through. Yet another safety concern in the heat, for sure. There was one toilet on the bike course.

I felt great coming off the bike, despite the sweltering heat, but that changed quickly. I grabbed my handheld in transition and the water I filled it with might as well have been boiling. There was no sunscreen to be found anywhere and it was full sun. In the first two miles of the run, I lost it. My water was hot, I didn't get enough ice at the first aid station and I realized the run was another set of infuriating loops. In fact, there were four 3.3-mile loops ... and I didn't realize
there was a fourth loop until I set out onto my third (and what I thought was final) loop because the signage was unclear, at which point I got murderously angry.

You see, there were two aid stations. Both ran out of ice. On the first loop. It nearly 100-degree "real feel" weather. And I've had a resurgence of plantar facitiis in both feet.
An aid station at the orange star would have been amazing

I feel bad for the volunteers. In addition to toiling in ridiculous heat, it was clear they were not adequately prepared and trained for this. It seems easy, handing out water to athletes. Except there wasn't enough supplies or manpower, to the point that Alyssa's husband ended up in charge of the second aid station.

The run course left transition and went to the right to a turn around, then back down and to the left through a campground. We had lungs full of campground smoke and the campers couldn't leave, but were surprisingly cool about it. One campsite set up their kids with super soakers and offered coolers of ice, which meant they were better prepared than the race was to deal with the heat. If I hadn't taken my handheld, I would have been in a world of pain. The spacing of the aid stations meant that for quite a long stretch, there was nothing. I was empty by the time I got to each. If they had added one more at the turn around loop in the camp station, it would have made a big difference. There were toilets in transition, at the second aid station and one in the campground, plus two of the campground toilets, so I did wait for a port-o-potty at one point.

I caught up to Alyssa in the last loop of the run and we agreed on the spot we are never doing this again. Like I don't even want to think about doing a triathlon again after this.

We crossed the finish line at the same time, I got into the lake to cool off and hit the food tent hard. They had all-you-can-eat spaghetti, pizza, cookies, watermelon, bananas, pretzels, granola bars, beer and soda. It was easily the best thing about the race. I chowed down, then took an ice-cold open air shower and changed behind the bathrooms building because alas, the bathrooms at the park were locked.

I wanted this race to be awesome. I wanted a sub-six finished. I trained all summer for this moment. But the day and the course did not cooperate. I get the race was trying for a new concept in racing, but it could have been executed so much better. When you try something novel, you have to do it top-notch or else you won't get the support you need to keep doing it. Double the aid stations and you'd have a totally different day. Increase the lifeguards and the number of buoys on the swim. Add misters or sprinklers and more kids with water guns. Unlock the bathrooms at the post-race party. And for all things holy, do not use dark-colored swim caps in murky water.

Time: 6:22:10 for a half ironman (6th in my age group)
Cost: $87
Pros: Wave swim start, smooth pavement for the bike
Cons: Literally everything else, just read above
Would I do this race again? No, nope, never.


Unknown said...

I'm sorry. They changed the course to make it more spectator-friendly? Um, who is paying for this race, anyway? The athletes or the spectators?

I have very little tri experience but it's starting to sound like you get what you pay for. Were other athletes grumbling, too?

KellytheCulinarian said...

I didn't see anything on their Facebook page yet, but I heard one of the elite women dropped out on the fourth loop of the bike and another person in our group DNFed after an asthma attack, so I feel pretty confident my experience was not isolated.

I also just saw a post in an IMWI training group about wetsuits, which I forgot about. It wasn't wetsuit legal, and they told people at the start if they chose to use a wetsuit, their time would not be counted. One of the athletes talked to USAT and had her time counted from DQ to non AG eligible.

Unknown said...

Sorry to hear it was a rough race! Definitely sounds like they were skimping on some of the amenities, especially in the heat. It's odd that they had such a spread at the end... like they put planning into the post-race food but not the aid stations.

When I was trying to decide on my first 140.6 last year and couldn't do IMWI, paying the extra $$$ for an Ironman event v/s non-WTC 140.6 was I think the best advice I received. While there may be a bit of "evil empire" to them (#50womentokona) they do know how to put on a race.

Maybe look at that rumble in St. Louis race? Late sept?

Doc said...

I was there yesterday and my friend volunteered for the race so that she could be helpful while spectating. I want to say that it was super rough. I finished about an hour behind you, and somewhere in the last hour of the race they put another water station out exactly where your star is on that map, so they did get their act together eventually. My friend said the volunteers were totally well meaning but completely uneducated about what to be doing. My friend has never raced a tri, but she has watched and volunteered at other tri's, which made her the area expert. That was very unfortunate.

I totally agree with you about safety in the water and confusion about the entire course. This race had a really great reputation of being cheap, friendly, awesome, etc. Other triathletes told me this was the best non-IM branded 70.3 you could do. That was not true this year. They need to re-evaluate and do better next year.

Great job finishing. I looked at the results and of the 500 participants, 325 appear to have finished and were timed. The DNF rate was exceptionally high yesterday, so even though neither of us got the times we worked for all summer, I feel we both accomplished something by gritting it out.

Unknown said...

That sounds hideous. Ugh. So much Ugh. :(