I raced Don’t Tread on my Tri for the first time on July 14, 2019 and I’m wondering why I waited so long to do it. This race met my requirements of fun, safe and challenging. I love to support local, especially when it’s a well executed race. The race directors and volunteers are all good people. Their heart is to serve you. You can tell that when you show up race morning. I would highly recommend you add this race to your 2020 calendar.
Because I can’t help myself, I wanted to share my experience so you can gain some insight and show up next year prepared for a great race!
Go short! As a coach I often find that triathletes would rather do longer distance race (i.e. Half and Full Ironman) than short distance ones. I have so many thoughts on this, but I’ll keep it brief. You gain experience in the sport by racing. Racing gives you the opportunity to improve upon weaknesses, gain confidence, try a new nutrition plan, test out a pacing strategy, use new equipment, and more! You become a better triathlete when you race. So it would make sense to race often. Sprint triathlons give you all the opportunities to achieve what I just listed without it taking a half or full day to complete and without waking up the next morning feeling like a train wreck. Meaning you can race Sprint triathlons often and recover quickly. I’m not saying don’t do Ironman, but it shouldn’t be the race distance you primarily gravitate towards.
What can you gain from doing Don’t Tread on my Tri? If you’ve ever said you wanted to get better at riding hills, this race will give you that opportunity. If you want to get stronger on the run, this run course is the perfect challenge with hills and trails. And if getting better in the open water is your goal, then push pace in this short and easy to navigate swim!
Packet pickup. If you’re from San Antonio, just get it the day before. It’s nice to show up on race day with everything you need already in your hands. Having to show up extra, extra early on race morning can add additional stress. Make the morning run as smoothly as possible by knocking that out the day before.
Arrival & set up. I arrived to the race site early. Early arrival means you’re not feeling rushed and you have ample time to set up your transition area, use the restrooms (there are always lines so you won’t stress out having to wait in it) and show up to the swim start with time to spare. Being rushed produces anxiety and it’s hard to have fun and think clearly when you’re anxious. A relaxed, stress-free mindset is the way to go!
Comfort tip. bring an old pair of running shoes or sandals and leave them at the swim exit. Your feet will appreciate some protection on the trail as you exit the water and head into transition. I navigated it just fine barefoot, but next year I’m bringing shoes.
Warm up. My warm up consisted of stretches, arm swings, dynamic drills and jumping up and down to get the heart rate up. If you’ve ever felt like you’re going from 0 to 100 once the race starts, try warming up next time. Dynamic run drills are great for working on running form and warming up the body (fast knees, skipping, etc). It’s also easy to do while you’re waiting in line to start.
Swim start. The swim start was a rolling start with triathletes going every 5 to 10 seconds. We were instructed to line up with fast swimmers up front. Let me share some advice (I’m a coach, that’s what I do). 2:00 per 100 pace is a good pace, but it’s not the fast they are referencing. What they mean are triathletes that can swim faster than 1:15 per 100yd… and then 1:20ish and 1:30ish…and so on. When in doubt, ask several people around you to make sure you’re in the right spot. You might be fast, but make sure you’re not in front of someone who’s faster. A lot of people rushed to the front and I was about the 20th person in line. After I jumped in, I was immediately passing athletes left and right, some of which were barely moving. Please heed this advice in all swim starts, especially pool swim triathlons. I share this for your enjoyment and safety and for those around you.
Water temps. Be ready for cold water. Water temp is 68 degrees but for some (like me) that’s cold. If you’re ready for it, you won’t be surprised by it. No, you don’t need a wetsuit. You’ll warm up in a few minutes.
Calming tip: If you find yourself panicking, I would recommend holding onto a kayak or treading water and do the following breathing exercise to calm yourself down: face in the water for 2 seconds and exhale out through the nose, face out of the water and inhale through the mouth for 2 seconds. Repeat this process until you feel yourself calming down.
Water quality. This swim is clear and beautiful. You can see everything. For some, this can be a freaky experience if you’re used to cloudy, brown water. But don’t overthink it. You’re going to see beautiful plants, fish, and possibly turtles. I got to see a turtle!
Sighting tip: I recommend not just depending on buoys to help you swim a straight line, also use landmarks. Before I jump in, I like to look at trees, buildings, cell towers, etc that line up with the buoys. So in case I can’t see the buoys, I have something else to help me. When I made a left turn at the last buoy to head to the swim finish, I could not see because of the sun blaring in my eyes. I noticed an athlete in front of me swimming a straight line, so I took a risk and put faith in his ability to swim a straight line to the finish. I followed the bubbles from his feet and drafted off of him. I was able to save energy and swim a straight line to the finish! Sight feet, too! Work smarter, not harder!
This bike course was deceptively challenging so if it feels hard, it’s because it is. Lots of false flats. It’s not an impossible course and if you’re looking to get better at climbing, this race is a great opportunity to practice. You get better by doing things you’re not good at. Pace yourself and take your time. And if you’re great at climbing hills, this is your chance to shine!
Course. The bike course had very little car traffic, good road conditions, easy to navigate, well marked. As a coach I definitely approve. And as an athlete, I appreciated this bike course. I felt safe the entire time.
Pacing tip: While I could have pushed a little harder on the bike, I didn’t want to fall prey to a common race day error. The error of pushing too hard on the bike and not having much left for the run. The trick is to “under-bike” so you can have a strong run. Pushing too hard on the bike can turn your run into a walk (or walking more than you planned). Being that there were hills, I rode conservatively and intentionally held back. I recommend you do the same. Ride your race and stick to your goals.
I made sure to drink plenty of water (an entire bottle) on the bike because of the heat and humidity. I wanted to set myself up for a good run where I wasn’t dehydrated. It’s important to ride smart and fuel up so you can run strong. It’s a short bike distance but you still need to hydrate!
Course. The run course had it all – grass trail, sidewalk, asphalt, hills (and more hills) dirt trail, rock trail. There was also a lot of shade in the second half of the run. It requires strength to navigate a course like this. So if you’re looking to become a stronger runner, this course will give you a great challenge!
Aid stations. I appreciated the two water stations with (very) cold water and Gatorade. Both stations were well manned and one of them had a hose you could run under. Felt so good!
Pacing tip: After a few minutes of running, I looked at my Garmin and saw that my pace was waaay too fast. This is an easy mistake to make when starting the run (you’re excited) but also easy to fix (slow down). Be aware and look at your watch. Don’t go by feel because the run doesn’t feel hard in the beginning and if you go by feel, you’ll run too fast too soon and pay for it later.
I settled into a pace that was challenging, but a pace I knew I could hold for a 5k. I was thankful I rode smart because now I was able to run strong. This course definitely required strength. I kept a steady effort and caught up to several athletes that had passed me on the bike. When I hit the hills in mile two, I tried to run up them, but the pace was about the same as walking. Walking would let me grab my breath and relax, so walking it was! I call that wisdom!
The last part of the run course was all downhill on a completely shaded trail. After the hills in the second mile, it was a much appreciated! At the bottom of the trail was the finish line area.
I personally like races that have a small town feel to it. Races like this also provide an inviting atmosphere where you can mingle with other racers.
The finish medal was really nice. The post-race food was SO good! Amazing selection of fresh fruit! There were vendors with food and drinks as well. I filled up on Jimmy John’s chips, Whataburger taquitos and fresh fruit. I’m not a fan of beer, Monster drinks, or pickle juice, but all those options were available. I was full and happy!
Spectator friendly. Lots of shade if you’re standing around supporting your friends and family. Vendors were giving out food and drinks to spectators as well.
Great race! Sign up!