Have you ever heard the phrase “an uphill battle? Keep that in mind as I spin this yarn about a former fat-boy who is now tri-ing.
So last year I ran my first 70.3 at Try Charleston. At the time, it was the most physically challenging thing I had ever done. I have come so far from the days where I thought I was going to die with a “3” being the first number in my weight. But the Law of Diminishing Returns is a thing and I guess that I can’t be satisfied at this point with having only FINISHED a half-iron distance race.
There is something to be said in the triathlon world for participating in the “M Dot” races. That is to say, the Ironman branded triathlons. Earlier this year, a whole slew of folks from the Chucktown Triathletes club decided that Ironman 70.3 Florida was going to be the long-course race of choice for the early season. I, not being one to back down in the face of adversity, decided that I too would add this race to my list. And so it happened.
Enough chit chat.
Race week arrived and we hit the road…
Trotta and I arrived on scene in Haines City, Florida around 5:30 on Friday afternoon after a pretty uneventful trip down from Charleston. (Well I guess there was that whole high speed chase thing in Georgia and the ghost in the air conditioner…) We hit Ironman Village and checked the scene.
We went and picked up our race packets and then tooled around the expo for a little bit. I wasn’t all that impressed with the expo bee tee dub (BTW). It didn’t seem that much better than some local races I have been to. While there, however, I picked up a new pair of 2xU compression leg sleeves and a pair of recovery socks. We met up with some of the other Chucktown crew and scoped the lake and the transition area. Lake temp that day was 72.4 … Hmmm, maybe I should have brought my wetsuit. Oh well. At that point the race was imminent and I was checked in.
Fast forward to Saturday morning where we hit the resort hotel’s breakfast buffet. I killed some French toast and bacon…like a lot. Carbed up like a bawws. Then we headed back out to Haines City for a short leg opener on the bike and a little 1 mile run. I got my bike checked in to transition and it was time to chill. We headed back to Orlando and had our pre-race tradition of an early movie and grilled chicken and sweet potato dinner. Then on to sleep. For most. I never sleep before a race. I am always so nervous. I basically lie there in bed and go over all of the “what-ifs” for the next day. Then the alarm goes off (at 3:30). Which is what happened. Oh well. Sleep is for the weak anyway right? (jk)
We arrived on site around 5:00 in the A.M. and started getting everything ready. It was right about then that I heard the call going around that the lake temp was 74 degrees and therefore the race WOULD be wetsuit legal. Hmmm. Florida, it seems that I have been underestimating your wild mood swings and terrain inconsistencies. I really wish now that I had brought my wettie…
Regardless, I feel so comfortable in transition now that I had everything ready and set up with in 30 minutes and was basically left to sit around and wait. Which I hate.
I stripped down to my race skivvies and grabbed my swim cap and goggles and headed down to the lake. My wave started at 7:34 so I had time to mill around and chat it up with my home crew as well as some of the other 5000 folks there. Before I knew it, it was go time.
Swim – 1.2 Miles “M” Shaped Swim in Lake Eva
This was an in water start, which I prefer to beach starts because I am not that great at running out into the water and then getting through the shallows and dolphin diving and all that. The water temp was 74 degrees which made the race wetsuit legal even though I had left mine in Charleston, hanging in the laundry room. Darn you Florida. The water felt great though. I got a new pair of Aquasphere Kayenne goggles a few weeks ago and was using them in this race. They are the “small” frame style which I had not used in a race before but they turned out to be perfect. No leaks what-so-ever. My wave had no more than 200 people in it which is another blessing considering some of the other waves were much larger. I waded out to the start buoy and prepared to get my swim on. When the horn went off, I jumped ahead to the front because I was not too worried about traffic early because of the wave size. There were a few knees and elbows in the way, but for the most part I cleared my own path and headed for the first turn buoy. I felt like I was swimming well and I did not have any trouble holding my own in the washing machine. I made the first turn with no trouble at all and started heading for the two inside turns. At one point I realized that I was sighting off of the wrong pencil buoy (which interestingly enough I can see on the GPS printout there) and corrected. I hit the inside turns and still felt great. Looking back, I guess that I was not swimming as hard as I usually do, possibly for fear of tiring out too soon. But while I was swimming I was feeling really great. I made the inside turns and hit a little more traffic. At one point an errant arm swung down and took a hard pull making contact with me and narrowly missed my man parts. It was a glancing strike with no real pain, but I realized that if there had been direct contact, I may have been out of commission. That was a definite triathlon first. I made the last outside turn and was headed for home. I saw several swim caps from the waves that had started after me, but I also saw several caps from the waves that started before me. I felt like I was in good shape. I took a long recovery stroke and looked at my watch and realized that I was NOT on pace. I am not entirely sure why but I was about 4-5 minutes off of my goal and I wasnt even finished yet. I picked up the pace a little and about 300 yards from the shore, right leg seized up. It was really weird. It did not hurt bad like a cramp. I just could not move it. I basically one leg kicked and arm stroked until I felt the bottom. I was still a bit far from the shore so I started kicking off of the bottom with my good leg. When I finally got close enough, I stood up. I had to take a few seconds to work the kink out of my leg and then was able to run into transition. I have no idea what happened with my leg AND it never bothered my again for the rest of the day. Weird weird. Looking back at the data, I obviously lost time in the turns. It would seem that I did not take a straight line on them. But I also think that I did not push myself as hard as I could have. One advantage to that, however, is that outside of the weird leg thing, I felt incredibly good and ready to move into the next sport.
Official swim time: 46:21
The run up from the lake shore to into transition was not too bad. I hustled in because I knew that to get to my bike and then out was going to take a bit. I sort of had to go around my arse to get to my umbow. I got to bike and got ready to roll out on the 56 mile trip. I chugged some Skratch Labs hydration mix that I had waiting and then started getting my helmet and sunglasses on. I had prepared my 40 oz Spedfil Aero bottle with GU Roctane endurance (grape if you “must” know) and two more 24 oz bottles in rear mounted cages and I had Honey Stinger waffles and Lara Bar Alts for my solid nutrition. I also put on my race bib and swung it around back. I am still not sure if we were supposed to wear it on the bike. I think the athlete guide said no, while the lady at packet pickup said yes. I defaulted to yes. My shoes were already clipped to the bike so I threw on my dry-fit socks and started running out… Looking back, there is nothing that I feel I could have done to make this transition any faster. PS- Someone yelled my name as I was leaving T1 and I looked up but I didn’t recognize you. If you happen to read this recap please comment and let me know it was you…
Official T1 Time: 4:01
Bike – 56 Miles – One Loop from Haines City to Lake Wales and Back
I hopped on my bike and got my feet in my shoes and headed out. I felt really strong and so I pushed the pace in the beginning. There were a few up and down rollers in the beginning of the course but for the most part the first 30 miles were flat, smooth and fast. There were points where I was holding 21-22 mph wihout even trying. Come to find out that there was a tailwind going out. I will own it though. I held a 19 mph average through the first bike split and it felt good. There was a lot more bike traffic than I have ever seen before, but then again, this is the biggest race I have ever participated in so I guess that stands to reason. I was chunking people left and rigt (well not really right, that would be bad form and dangerous…) I know that there are always newbs on the course and I concede that I was just as newb as the next guy last year, but please, for the love of all that is good and for your own safety and mine, please learn the rules of the road when biking. I came upon a small pack of folks at one point and there was a guy who was riding side by side with another biker and was not attempting to pass. I came up behind him and yelled “on your left” and he didn’t even pretend to move. I yelled again and he looked back over his shoulder at me but didn’t move. So I passed him very closely on the outside and yelled right in his face, “You don’t cruise on the outside.” He started to use most unfriendly words that the village children had not yet heard and yelled threats by canzonette to curse my crafty biking but I was already way past him and never saw or heard from him again. Learn the rules folks. A bit later on I saw a woman on a bike in front of me seemingly get knocked off of her bike by some apparition or phantasm. Either that or she hit an awkard spot in the road. Either way, she took a nasty spill. I checked on her really quickly and she said she was ok so I kept on moving. At one point I saw a group of what I suspect were pterodactyls standing on the side of the road. They were either that or some sort of red capped whooping crane or some such. So as I made my way around the back side of the loop and as I started to turn back towards Haines City, I noticed a shift in the wind. There were several sections of fierce 20-25 mph gusts of crosswind. At one point I was hunkering down in aero, pedaling my heart out when a gust ALL BUT took my bike out from under me. I very carefully popped up back up to the horns and held on for dear life. Someone came up from behind me and made a comment about almost getting knocked over by that gust as well. I just kept on kepting on. The winds shifted from cross to head and back a few times and there were even a few hills on the backside of the course. I really nailed my nutrition on this leg and I felt well hydrated and well nurished. I knew that I was putting up a pretty good time and it gave me a moment of thinking that I was really going to PR this half. Oh Florida, you tricksy hobbit. I got back into town, saw the chute for T2, pulled my feet out of my shoes and made a spectacularly adequate dismount right at the line. I pumped my feet into transition 2 feeling pretty darn good.
Official Bike Time: 3:11:32
As far as I can remember, nothing weird happened in this transition.Oh yeah, there were Sunscreen girls applying suncreen on the way out of transition. I bet that is where I lost 20-30 seconds… I came in and racked my bike. I got my helmet off and my visor on. I sat down to put on my 2xU calf compression sleeves then put my shoes on. I grabbed my hydration belt and headed out. This is where things start getting hairy…
Official T2 Time: 4:35
Run – 13.1 miles – Triple Loop Around Lake Eva
Right out of the gate I was feeling pretty good. I ran out of transition and around the chute surrounding IM Village. There were tons of people there cheering everyone on and it felt good to be at that point of the race. It was around then that I noticed that it was starting to get pretty hot. There were at least two aid stations sort of inside the village area before we set out into the streets of Haines City. I made use of the cold water to douse myself and cool my gullet. There was a small hill just as we started to make our way out of town. I ran up it and got back to level ground and was feeling down right okay. Then we made another turn onto a side walk that seemed to go straight up forever. Did I mention that everyone was basically running on a torn up sidewalk that was mostly cracks and broken slabs and patches of dirt and gravel? Did I mention that once I finally crested that hill there was a quick downhill before another steep climb? Did I mention yet that I suddenly realized that I would have to tackle those hills 2 more times? I had gotten past the hills and was only about 2 and half miles in when I hit a sudden and almost debilitating mental wall. My body was hurting, not from cramps or anything, it was just hurting. I felt like my feet were nailed to the road. Every movement was hurt. I started feeling the soles of my feet sliding. And I don’t mean between my feet and shoes. I mean between my soles and my bones. I was painin y’all. I started shuffling because I just couldn’t seem to move any faster. Trotta caught up to me somewhere around that point and was pep talking me, but it was in one ear and out the other. He told me later that he was really worried about me. I told him later that he really should have been. I was very, very close to giving up. I figured that I could at least get back to the end of the first loop and that way no one would have to come back out and get me. Somewhere around that time I started to do a little quarter mile shuffle, quarter mile walk thing. I started really having disturbing thoughts around then too. But I kept on going. I got to the entrance chute back into IM Village and decided that I didn’t want anyone to see me walking so I trotted down the line and people were cheering and whooping and hollering. It game me a little resolve. I decided not to stop and quit. I decided that I would never forgive myself for giving up. I realized that I was NOT going to PR, but it suddenly hit me that it didn’t matter. Realizing that it did not matter that I was not going to PR is what did it for me. I was able to shift from a dark and nasty mental place into a place that said, “Damnit Hank! You will shuffle, or walk, or crawl, or roll, but you ARE GOING to finish that race!” I hit the set of hills again and walked up them. I didn’t care. Then I looked around me. I was not the only one walking BY FAR. I made sure to take full advantage of every single aid station. I was pouring ice down the back of my tri suit and I was mixing water and Perform drink and taking in as much as I could. I was inching my way there. I ended up walking with a few different groups of people at a few different times and having fun little chats about how, no matter what, we were going to finish. I kept going and I came to the end of the second loop. I ran through the chutes again for as long as I could and then I hit the hell hills for the final time. I knew that I was going to make it by then and my attitude had completely shifted. I was happy. I was as alert as I could be. I still hurt all over, but it didn’t matter. I was going to finish.
I was about a half mile out from the finish when I saw a familiar butterfly and skulls tri-kit up ahead. My friend Bree had worn a similar suit at the Parris Island triathlon earlier this year. I knew that her coach and fellow blogger, Meredith (aka Swim Bike Mom), was in the race and that was her custom kit. I yelled up ahead, “Hey! Are you Meredith!” She turned around and said, “You bet your handsome tri-britches I am!” (some liberties taken in the actual dialogue) We were both walking at that point. She had a similar story about feeling ready to give up. I told her that no matter what, we had to come into the finish chute and run in. She agreed. So that’s what we did.
Here is a screen cap that one of her friends caught on the live feed of us crossing the finish line.
We crossed the line. They handed me my finisher’s bling. And that was that.
Official Run Time: 3:11:46
I am now a 2x 70.3 finisher. I cannot say that this race was pretty. It was far from it. But I finished.
Official IM 70.3 Florida Time: 7:18:15
It was by far the hardest physical thing I have ever done. I really have no idea where the fortitude to continue actually came from. I was in bad shape and wanted to quit, but I didn’t and I still don’t know why. I will be analyzing this for a while to come. But there will be more races. More chances for redemption. More opportunities to shine. I will learn from this race and move forward.
I want to take a few lines to thank some important people. I want to thank my awesome coach Anne Moore, who is the jam. Without her guidance and training I KNOW I would have quit. Making her proud is not my goal, but it is is still good motivation. I want to thank my tri-muskuteer training partners Jason Trotta and Pearce Fleming. They push me to places I didn’t know I could go. I want to thank my children for their awesome support. Charlie almost always asks me, “How your race was, Daddy?” And last but not least (at all) my incredible wife Deetz. She supports me like no other. She comforts me when I am hurting (physically, mentally, and emotionally – and to train like I do, there is a lot of emotional injury) and supports my endeavor to be a triathlete. Thank you guys. I love you guys.
I’m done and done and I’m on to the next one…
PS- Remember those sunblock lotion girls? Yeah, well…