As noted above, this is definitely no ordinary triathlon. Far and away, this was the biggest (in terms of number of competitors) and the overall atmosphere.
I flew down to Tampa Bay (just 30 minutes east of Clearwater) with my whole family on Wednesday, November 10th. It was nice to get there early and see the whole setup of this race fall into place. The excitement built each day, as more and more athletes converged on Pier 60, where all the events were taking place.
On Thursday (the race was Saturday), I attended the athlete's welcome banquet that was held at Sand Key Park. It was a very nice banquet in which a band was playing and hundreds of tables were setup on the beach. They brought in all the flags of all the countries represented by the athletes and we all listened to what they had to say about the race. I sat with a triathlon group out of Waterloo called Studio Energi. Former pro Jeff Beech is the team coach, and he was also racing in my age group. Below is the best picture I could get on my crappy BB camera.
I obviously had no expectations to podium or even get close to it really, so my main focus was to just have a fun day and do the best I can in each discipline. Race morning came early thanks to a few very restful night sleeps in the days prior and due to the fact that the fire alarm in the hotel room started beeping lightly because the battery was low. That was at 11:30pm, and I think I only got about 3 decent hours sleep after that. I was up for good at 4am, which was half an hour earlier than I set my alarm for, but I didn't feel too tired. I was just too excited, so I got up and had a shower and had a banana wrap with peanut butter and some oatmeal. Shortly after 5am, I was on my way down to the transition zone to get body marked and my bike setup done. That was all wrapped up by 5:45 or so, and then I did a quick jog back to the hotel to grab my wetsuit and hang out with the family before going back for my 7:25 wave start.
By the time the pro's started at 6:45, the sun had barely even came up. I bet they hard a hard time seeing in the water for the first bit. Slowly but surely, the wave starts ticked away, and eventually, I found myself in the pens getting ready for mine. I was in wave 10 at 7:25. The Gulf of Mexico was a bit choppy race morning, but not too bad. An ocean swim is certainly more challenging than many of the lake swims we do here in Southern Ontario, so I don't have much experience with this. I was in the first of two waves for men 35-39, so I think there were about 100 of us that went off at 7:25am.
The horn blasted, and the race was on. I actually felt quite calm and relaxed as the swim began. I tried to stay out of the mix as much as I could and find some feet to swim behind, but with the waves and cloudy water, it was difficult to see. Only a couple of hundred meters into the race, I found myself on the inside more or less swimming from buoy to buoy. Since the faster swimmers were already way ahead, I didn't find it too congested. I focused on trying to keep everything under control and trying to make good strokes through the water. Going out to the far buoy was tough, as it was going into the waves. Once we made the first turn, it was only about a 100 meter swim to the next large buoy where we did another 90 degree turn back to shore. This was good and bad. Heading back, we were going with the waves, which was easier to swim in, but we were looking right into the sun, as it was coming up over the beach. I got back to the beach just over 33 minutes later. I was hoping to go around 32 minutes or slightly less, so I was slightly disappointed with my time, but given the conditions and the fact that I once again improved over my Muskoka time of 34 minutes, I don't want to complain much about this. Swimming is the one area where I will continue to work on this winter.
The run up to transition was about 100 meters through the sand from the water, where we went through a refreshing sprinkler system to get the salt and sand off of us. A quick use of one of the wetsuit strippers got my suit off fast and I grabbed my bike bag and was over to the transition tent to get my race number on. T1 took 3:17, which is a bit long and is another area where free time can be gained by trying to make a conscious effort to get in and out more quickly.
Onto the bike, and where the fun was about to begin. Only 2K into the bike, we had to go up the biggest (and one of only two) hills on the whole course. It was the Memorial Causeway bridge. At the 88K mark, we had to go back over it again. Other than that, the course was totally flat, and that meant two things....fast speeds and drafting due to the packs. I think I was in a unique situation, as I was in one of two waves for my age group. Unfortunately, I'm not a front of the pack swimmer, but I can certainly hold my own on the bike. I think when I came out of the water, I was coming out with the front of the pack swimmers (and likely top athletes in my age group from the 2nd wave). That put me in a position to likely be doing some fast riding with some fast guys.
My nutrition plan on the bike was similar to the Muskoka 70.3 race:
- Start off with a normal concentrate (260 calories) of Infinite in my aero drink bottle;
- Carry a double concentrate (520 calories) of Infinite in a bottle on my frame;
- After the aero drink is empty, put the 2x concentrate bottle in my aero drink bottle and pick up 1 water at each aid station to last the rest of the race;
- I also grabbed one gel at each aid station and nibbled on some Powerbar gel blasts to give me that little extra bit of calories.
The first 15K of the bike wasn't too bad for groups. There seemed to be sufficient space to avoid any drafting calls. That would soon change though. I'd say that 25K in, it started getting ridiculous. At this point, we were only riding in one lane of a two lane highway, so only about 10 feet wide or so. In addition, we were passing a lot of the slower female riders from earlier waves as well. All it takes is a few slower riders to be trying to make passes at the same time to get the packs formed. Likely for the next 50K of the race, I was in and out of these packs. There were times when I was stuck in the middle of a group of male riders doing 44kph only inches from a guy in front of me, a guy to the right of me, a ditch to the left of me and someone right behind me. I could not move or go anywhere until something opened up. Despite good intentions and honestly trying to avoid drafting as much as I could, I ended up getting TWO drafting penalties on the bike. I can see how I got the first one, as it was at a point where only minutes earlier I was trying to make a break from the pack. I pushed hard and got out front to only find the riders taking it easy behind me, turn-around and pass me again just a minute later. As 4 or 5 riders made the pass, I likely didn't drop back fast enough, and that was bad timing, as an official had just pulled up behind me to watch. That was penalty one. Penalty two took place on the Bayside bridge, and this is the one I have a problem with. This was a long causeway bridge that had only a very small incline, and it was closed to traffic. There were 3 lanes of the highway to use, and somehow I got another one. As the official pulled up and told me that I had another drafting penalty, I was pissed. I asked them where, and they said "a quarter mile back". I was trying to be very careful after the first call and to get a penalty on this part of the course seemed absurd. We were actually fairly spread out, so I totally had no idea what they were talking about. I didn't see any point in trying to argue with them, as that wouldn't have got me anywhere. Unfortunately, after the second penalty, I lost some motivation. All I could focus on was avoiding another penalty, which would result in a disqualification from the race.
By this time also, we had to head back north into a bit of a headwind. There was pretty good separation between everyone now too, so instead of focusing on a hard effort to the finish, I started daydreaming a bit. In the final 10K of the ride, I started to hear what sounded like a hissing sound coming from my front end. I thought to myself "great, a flat tire". I kept looking down to see if any of my tires were getting flat, but nothing seemed to be happening. This went on 10 or 15 minutes, but eventually stopped, right before climbing the Memorial Causeway bridge for the 2nd time. I figure it was something like a wrapper stuck on my bike or wheel, as it seemed to just fly off. The final 2K was really fast as we came down the bridge and flew down a nice flat stretch to T2. At T2, I hoped off my bike and gave it to a very nice volunteer and proceeded to the "penalty box" to serve my 8 minutes in drafting penalties :(
Speed 25.25 mph (40.4 kph)
Bike Course Garmin GPS Data
The only good thing about sitting in T2 for 8 extra minutes was the stretching that I was able to do prior to running the half marathon. Not sure if that really did anything or not, but all I know, is that I wish my T2 time was 2 minutes or less, but instead it was 10:50.....total bummer!! When I got to the penalty box, they give you a stop watch to wear around your neck so you know when to leave. At about 5 minutes and change, mine actually stopped accidentally, so I don't know with certainty that I got out of there in exactly 8 minutes. By the time I noticed it, I think I was pretty close to 8 minutes and I had to argue with the officials in the box to let me go. Eventually they did, and I was off to grab my T2 bag and head over to the change tent to get ready. The clean transition zones are a nice feature compared to the other races I've previously done. The volunteers are great and they take all your stuff so you don't have to worry about it.
The run course in Clearwater was a two loop 10.55K course that went up and over the Memorial causeway bridge (again) and then into a few subdivisions before coming back over the bridge and hammering through a flat 2K stretch back to transition and the turn around to do it again.
My nutrition plan on the run was simple.....use what was available on the course to avoid having to carry my fuel belt. I really wanted to run a faster half than Muskoka, and not carrying that extra weight around your waist definitely helps. I did carry my large salt stick dispenser to get a little extra salt on the course.
Starting the run, I felt pretty good and was moving through a lot of people. Up and over the bridge the first time was no problem either and I think I was doing about a 4:15 pace through the first 3K that included the bridge. There were lots of aid stations throughout the course. Likely every 2K or so. The thing I liked the most were the cold water sponges. At this time of the day, it was starting to get pretty warm, and there is nothing more refreshing than squeezing out some cold water over your head or down your shirt. It was even nice to just wipe your face off!
Once I went up and over the bridge for the second time and was heading back to transition for the turnaround, I came across something I had never seen before, but had heard of happening on Slowtwitch. I was running beside a guy and began to smell something really really bad. I think you know what I mean. I looked at the guy's shorts, but there was nothing there. Then I looked ahead, and about 50 ft in front of both of us was a female running, that obviously could not hold a #2 until a port-o-potty. It was definitely very gross, as it was running down her legs. Myself and the guy I was running with rather quickly passed this girl (thank goodness really) and then I looked over at him and said that is the grossest thing I have ever seen while running, and he nodded and agreed with me. Given how fast she was running, I seriously doubt she was going for a podium spot, so how could you not stop somewhere and do that right? Unbelievable for sure!
The splits on my second loop started off a little slower, as I was starting to get a bit tired. I knew I was going to be pretty close to my goal time of doing a 1:30 half marathon. The climb back over the bridge on the second loop (now third time going over this) was tiring, but I kept turning my feet over and eventually got to the top and back down again. Just one more time weaving through the subdivisions and the final charge home. It definitely seemed longer to get through all these streets the second time, but eventually, I came back to the bridge and knew I had just one more climb to go. This was by far the toughest of the four bridge climbs we had to do. I even took a few walking steps just to settle the heart rate down. Nobody passed me while doing this, which was good. Once I got to the top, I knew it was all down hill from here (almost literally). I used the final decent to get the pace up, and then I tried holding this through the final 2K flat stretch to the finish line. As it turns out, the last 5K of the race was the fastest of the whole run, as I knew the end was in sight, and just tried to run as hard as I could. The crowds were big near the finish, and it was motivating to just push right through to the end. Reaching the finish line felt great!
Pace 6:54/mile (4:18/km)
Run Course Garmin GPS Data
My family was close to the transition zone on the run, so were able to snap a few pictures.
|Race stuff. I also got a tech shirt, sunglasses and a finshers headsweats hat!|