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Lush forest and glassy smooth, unobstructed roads aren’t the hallmarks of the city of Philadelphia, but rough old pavement and dense urban development are nowhere to be found on the Johnson and Johnson TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon sprint course. It feels more like a race in rural country by completely obstructing the busy intersections and overcrowded streets of downtown Philly that can disrupt a triathlon.
After a 10-minute walk from the grassy transition area, the race begins in the Schuylkill River. Instead of entire age groups jumping into the water at once, participants are sent off about 10 at a time, with one bunch leaving every 20 seconds. Staggering the starters led to a much more open swim course. Instead of banging into dozens of other athlete and fighting for space, the water was nearly clear from the first meter to the swim exit. Dispersing each age group eliminates an element of head-to-head competition, so the open wave in the Olympic distance race is a great alternative for those looking to bang heads with other agro multisport veterans.
Gigantic buoys were another element that added order to the swim. Brilliant orange buoys the size of vending machines marked every 100m of the swim, helping with both navigation and pacing. “I’ve never swum in open water before this race and I was nervous about sighting,” said one first-time finisher. “The buoys were tremendous. I picked my head up and saw the huge row of them and knew right were to go.”
After setting foot on dry land, the grass transition is easy on the feet—no pebbles driving into the bottom of your feet. The bike starts along the river, giving a little time to ease into the effort, and the flawless pavement is locked off to cars. With the added space between athletes, the course was practically wide open. Nearly every rider was staggered. After about four miles, the road starts gradually climbing away from the Schuykill and into a wooded part dotted with historic buildings. One second-time triathlete thought the hills helped keep her feeling fresh by creating an opportunity to move around a little, saying, “I liked the bike course because there were hills, but not too many.” While athletes started to fill the two-loop course during the second half of the ride, they were evenly dispersed in ones and twos. Almost no giant groups formed.
Five kilometers of running along the riverbank went by quickly, with trees overhanging the flat pavement. Head hunting for a top-three age-group finish is a bit difficult if that’s your thing because nearly every athlete is racing from their own individual start time. The run had a party atmosphere with music playing at every mile and enthusiastic volunteers. It’s an out-and-back and seeing other racers created the feeling of “camaraderie,” for one relay racer. With the time-trial start, giant swim buoys and completely closed and clear roads (and soft pretzels after the finish), TriRock Philadelphia an inviting yet challenging race that sets the stage for participants to reach the finish.
For information from the race, visit Trirock.competitor.com/Philadelphia. TriRock Philadelphia is owned by Triathlete.com’s parent company, Competitor Group.