The inaugural Plutonium Man long course triathlon took place on a calm, sunny and mild morning in Richland, WA on September 18, 2010. The race was promoted as a difficult bike leg sandwiched between a down current swim and relatively flat run. By the looks of the light weight carbon steeds being mounted at the first transition, this race would feature some aggressive bike splits. But first, we had to set up our gear for multiple point-to-point transitions. I was curious as to how the T2 would flow seeing that we stuffed our running gear into a sack and loaded up the back of a pickup truck with heaps of numbered transition bags. No time to worry about that though, after setting up our T1 it was time to drive upstream and get the pre-race briefing for the swim start.
At the start, we bobbed in the river awaiting the gun when we noticed that we were drifting past the starting line. We got things squared up just before the horn and it was a clean and fair start. The swim spread out very early as each participant picked a line carefully trying to balance the benefits of a better current towards the middle of the river and the extra distance involved with swimming away from the banks that we would eventually be exiting back onto. Even though I had to battle through a giant milfoil monster early on in the swim, I can still say that this was the most pleasant swims I’ve had in a race to date. I guess there is something very reassuring to know that the water is flowing with the swimmer.
With about 400 yards to go, the swimmers could sight off of a small yellow warning buoy. This was the first buoy sighting of the race, but it was very effective. The wide swath of swimmers began to funnel towards the red cones marking the exit from the water and a short run on the mats into the transition area. I don’t know if it was encouraged, but I was certainly happy to find a volunteer ready to help with my wet suit zipper just after exiting the water. Jm Storton lead the charge out of the water with a swim split of 25:14 and a near two-minute gap on the next swimmer out of the water, Michael Hoffner with a time of 27:09. The next four men out of the water were all within a minute of each other, setting up a tight pack for the early stages of the bike leg. The first women out of the water was Leslie Wukstich with a split of 29:23. This gave Leslie over a minute lead on Jennifer Comfort who posted a 30:36 swim split.
On the bike, the early miles of the ride featured a few intersections and round-a-bouts with traffic protection from the local law enforcement before we headed into the vineyards and farmlands just outside of town. There were a few changes in position early on before the riders found their order heading into and up the Webber Canyon. The 4.5 miles of incline looked fairly intimidating on a map, but the grade never got worse than 4% leaving most riders with a couple of rings left to downshift on the ascent. The motorcycle escort provided a bit of safety for the riders as we carved through farmlands during their fall harvest. I don’t think the combines have had to watch for too many cyclists in this area.
On top of the canyon, the riders headed about seven miles to the first of two turnarounds and an opportunity to get a gauge on the other riders. I was shocked to see a very large gap opening up at the front of the race, but later realized that several relay teams had entered the competition with talented riders. The individual triathlete race was actually quite tight with Michael Hoffner in the lead and Ladd Preppernau and James O’Brien about a minute back as we headed back into the canyon for a much anticipated 4.5-mile descent. Relative to other Northwest races that feature major hills (See Pac Crest here), this descent was not a white knuckle ride, but rather, a nice break from the work load and a good recovery before the rolling hills of the rest of the ride. In these rolling hills Ben Volk continued to move through the pack and pulled into 4th position overall as we neared the transition area. Hoffner’s effort would prove the fastest bike split at 2:32:29 followed closely by Volk’s 2:32:45. Preppernau and O’Brien split at 2:33:18 and 2:33:25 respectively to enter the run in 2nd and 3rd position overall. Jennifer Comfort would take the lead in the women’s race with a top bike split of 2:51:23 and a 17-minute lead on Kate Soldano entering the transition.
I should note that my concerns over the transition bags and the transition area that we had not set up were all for not. In fact, this was better than what is typical in a local event in that there was a bike catcher at the dismount area and a bag handler immediately following. Most of the racers made the turn in less than a minute.
On the run, racers began with a 1/2-mile downhill section before spending the next three miles running under overpasses or in a protected pedestrian corridor next to the freeway. The prize for surviving this section? A nice run in a quiet neighborhood before heading into the park next to the river for a scenic out and back which featured a turn around at mile post eight. There is something gratifying about making the turn around with less than half of the run left to cover. At the turn around it was clear that there would be a race to the finish for the individual title as Hoffner held the lead he had built on the bike, but would have a challenge from Thomas Derhart who was carving through the field of runners. Derhart came off of the bike in 10th position overall before laying down the top run split with a 1:30:34. This split was good enough to clip Preppernau (4:45:21) in the last mile, but it still left Derhart (4:44:42) 40 seconds short of overall winner Michael Hoffner (4:44:02). On the women’s side, Jennifer Comfort (5:12:09) extended her lead from the bike and clipped the tape over 32 minutes clear of 2nd place finisher Kate Soldano (5:44:34). Rounding out the podium for the women was Leslie Barber (5:59:22).
In it’s inaugural year, The Plutonium Man long course enjoyed cooperative weather and a very competitive race. The 3 Rivers Road Runners put together a very well supported event that should grow in numbers in the years to come. I met briefly with the race director the day before the race and discovered that they intend to put the race together for at least three years before assessing it’s future. That is good news for local triathletes looking for local avenues to compete in long course races.