211.7 miles raced, 1400 meters swam and 57.4 miles biked in 2011
Race: St. Anthony's Triathlon
Place: St. Petersburg, FL
Miles from home: 2348 miles
Weather: 70-80s degrees; windy and humid
To say I was excited about this brand new chapter of racing in my life is an understatement. I love running. I cannot see me ever getting tired of toeing the line hearing a gun fire and running as hard as I can toward the finish. Granted, I do not get to do that exact scenario as often as I like (part of my own decision to often pace groups or take on other interesting side events such as my Charity Chaser) but I definitely love it. But to add something new to my calendar that is completely out of my wheelhouse was exhilarating and exciting.
Now if it had been as simple as competing in my first Olympic Distance Triathlon, which is what the St. Anthony’s triathlon is, I am sure the story could still be interesting but I had to throw in some patented Dane hurdles. First and foremost, I forgot I had double booked myself. I usually am on top of my schedule and can do a Rainman-esque remembering of where and when I will be at the drop of a hat. But when I signed up for St. Anthony’s is just so happened to be on the same weekend where I would be doing a speech at an elementary school in Austin and then leading over 40 students on a 5k run that same weekend. The only saving grace keeping me from having to eat my registration fee for the triathlon was that the 5k was on Saturday and the tri on Sunday.
After figuring out how I could get my bike to Tampa, picked up, checked in and somehow get my packet from the race as well, all while not getting into Tamp from Austin until 8 PM the night before the race, everything else should be a cakewalk, right? Wrong. Arriving in Tampa, I found out that my reservation for my rental car was still valid- they just did not have any cars. Now I know this dates me a little bit but whenever I run into something of this nature I am instantly reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry is confronted with a similar situation. He calmly tells the person it is not clear they know how to hold a reservation – they only know how to “take” one. I cannot say I was as funny or calm.
A full hour and a half after I was supposed to have my car, I finally was sitting in it.
My excitement for the race was building as I drove to my hotel. I knew sleeping would be difficult, especially since I need to be up at 5:30 AM to get to the starting area. Even though the first wave of athletes did not go until 6:52, I still had not gotten “body-marked” yet with the appropriate marking to denote my age and race number. My own personal wave would not start until 8:25 AM but all body-markings needed to be done prior to 6:45AM. As I was traveling alone I had to also find parking nearby and get everything I needed for the race into the transition area by myself as well. That’s when Tyler Perry decided to apparently host his next atrocious movie and/or sitcom in the hotel room next to mine. Jamming earplugs in my ears and putting my alarm clock 3 inches from my face I was finally able to fall asleep around 2 AM, waking up every hour fearing I would not hear my alarm. I finally got up at 5 AM and gave up any hope of sleeping more. It was time to head down to the race.
I did have one angel helping me out and that was my friend Jacqueline. The fantastically sweet winner of the Running For the Bay Marathon, Jacqueline has become one of my best friends. She was also volunteering at this race with her sister-in-law. Jacqueline would keep me up-to-date on many of the happenings around the race such as the fact that the winds were so strong in the bay, making the water so choppy that the swim would be shortened from a 1500 meter swim to a 1000 meter swim.
Now, I have had next to know triathlon training, really. My swims have been sporadic and my time on the bike has been laughable. But at the very least I have latent swimming abilities and recently I felt like my gills were reforming. If I had any chance to do as well as I hoped, that chance relied on me being able to get a little bit of a head start on the rest of the field in the water. Finding out that my advantage was being cut into 2/3 of what it was before was a bitter pill to swallow. I am still getting used to this weird world of triathlons and can honestly say there are definitely parts I do not particularly care for. At the very least, I was reminded, they were having the swim at all. Often these events turn into what I did last week: a duathlon. The swim portion can be taken out all together if weather prohibits it from being swum safely.
So I got my body all marked up, found my bike where my friend Bryan had ever so kindly placed it on the rack for me, pumped up the tires, got my transition area all prepared and then left the transition area at 6:42 AM. In a pair of very tight swimming trunks and a t-shirt. To wait until 8:25 AM. On the beach.
The race start was fantastic. The elite athletes went off like a shot and I stood and watched in awe as they sliced through the water. They made the turn near the buoy and headed back toward the beach. The lead swimmer, however, veered off course for a little bit. Instead of heading directly along the buoys marking the course, he cut a more direct line toward the beach. The kayakers out trying to direct traffic did not seem to know what to do as more than a few swimmers followed. Soon, the lead swimmer who appeared to be swimming much further than he needed to popped up and was running in the knee deep water. He soon cut down the gap from the swimmer who passed him, and was sprinting along the beach before they even got to their feet. It appeared that he knew this beach like the back of his hand and that his route taken, while seemingly longer, would allow him to run much further than others who were still swimming, giving him a huge advantage. Weird sport, this triathlon. I wondered if any of the swimmers who took this “faster” route would receive any penalties but it did not appear that was the case. As more waves of swimmers took to the bay, the kayakers formed a more formidable line, refusing to let swimmers take the faster route.
Meanwhile, as time ticked on by it was more than evident I would not start at 8:25 AM. Furthermore, not only would I have to pass through hundreds and hundreds o athletes who started before us, even my own age group had two separate waves. In triathlons, I am learning, for the most part you race against your age group. However, with the group divided in two like this the race becomes more or less a time trial. This was definitely one of the things about triathlon I do not care for.
At 8:43 (give or take) my group finally hit the water.
Swim: 14:42 (Third in my age group)
I lined up at the very front of this line simply because I had a feeling this was where I belonged. When we were sent off, a short 20 yard sprint had us off of the beach and into the surf. Instantly the water became a washing machine of arms and legs. The wind white capped the water and added to the mix. Swimming out to the first right hand turn, I was able to put up with a few pushed and pulls and soon found myself nearly alone. This however did not last long as soon we began to run into the tail end swimmers from the groups which had started before us. As annoying as this may be in running, it is ten times worse in the water. I did the best I could to swim around them with the current pushing us to and fro. Everything felt good. This being the first time I had ever raced in open water of this nature, I did not know whether I was going fast or slow. I had zero visual clues and no competitors nearby to help me out. So I just swam.
One more turn and now I was heading to the beach, flanked by the now ever-vigilant kayakers. Upon hitting the sand I knew we had quite a jaunt to go to get to the bikes.
Transition 1: 4:50
The last minute change in the swim required a reconfiguring of the course a bit. As such, we were close to half of a mile away from the bike transition area when we exited the water. So onto the beach, up onto the sidewalk and all the way down the road we ran. I could not see many people wearing the same color cap of me 9which denoted my age group) in front of me so I felt for sure I had a fairly decent swim. M y bike was nearly all the way at the end of the transition area so I was nice and tuckered out from running once I finally got there. The actual transition went fairly smooth but I could definitely learn how to get much faster (simply judging by the time of others in my age group who I know did not run to the area as fast as I did, which shows they were much better at the wardrobe change portion!)
As I mounted my bike and got ready to hit the streets of St. Petersburg, Jacqueline just happened to be stationed at the “mount area” and gave me a good luck cheer. I knew I would need it.
Bike: 1:07:27 (50th in Age Group)
Swimming in the open water leaves me with no real way to tell my speed. But in a pool I could definitely be able to know how fast I was going, if not by the clock then by the simple number of strokes I take to get from one end to the other. As such a novice on the bike, I have nothing of that sort to tell me what is pushing it or not. I most definitely need to invest in a speedometer so I can tell if the effort in my head equals the effort I want to give.
Like the swim, I was now passing cyclists left and right. This gives the false impression of a much faster speed than one is going. However, the first 5 miles went by much faster than I thought they would and it wasn’t until that point that the first cyclist passed me. Very aware of the rules of drafting which state that you immediately must slow down when passed lest you incur a penalty, I was probably taking the ruling far too seriously. I say this simply because I saw next to no one else slowing down when being passed as I was. I guess it is a learned thing about what is the proper amount. Regardless, I did not want to add 2 minutes t my time by inadvertently staying in someone’s slipstream for too long. So when passed by someone I would drop back. However, as I now had something to gauge my speed against I would get a surge and pass the cyclist who had just passed me, more often than not staying in front of them. This told me for certain that I was not pushing as hard as I needed to and really needed to learn my perceived effort.
The bike portion was completely flat even if it contained more than a few twists and turns. I am still quite wary of attempting to do any sort of maneuvering on the bike and always slow down a big notch on turns. Then I have to get my gears back in the right place and it is not totally intuitive for me yet where the gears need to be to accomplish that. I definitely have much to learn.
Besides the one car that rode down the middle of the one lane road we were on as both lanes were occupied with cyclist, nothing of any particular note happened on the bike portion. I rode, got passed by people whose bike I would look at and figure it probably cost the same as one year of my law school tuition and then passed some other people. I was simply itching to get to the run.
Transition 2: 1:27
I attempted to get both feet out of the shoes while leaving them clipped in, which I had been told would save me a few seconds but only managed the right foot. So after dismounting my bike I ran through the transition area with one show on and the other off. No matter. I had a fairly quick transition and was ready to tackle the run.
Run 40:34 (7th in age group)
As I began running I noticed my bib number had become unattached at the one corner. Fearful again of a penalty (I was told the number must be visible from the front at all times) I began trying to clip it back to my shorts while running. I slowed just a little bit and didn’t even notice until a mile later that I had obviously pricked myself pretty good when I looked down and saw blood all over my thumb. But one simple lick clean and I was good to go.
By now, the win which had blown the sea into chop and had definitely been blowing in our faces for portions of the bike, was non-existent. It was hot and humid and sticky. I have always disliked certain aspects of golf for the reason that the possibility of people playing on two different courses because of weather changes is always possible. You do not get that in basketball, football or baseball. Here, we started our race after the pros had completed theirs. Not that it would make much of a difference but running in much warmer temperatures, under the bright Florida sunshine was not my ideal way to spend a race morning. I could have used a little cooler temperature.
Alas, that was not the case and with no air cooling us, at least there was no headwind to slow us down. I began immediately picking runners off and noticed more than a few cyclists who had left me in their dust quickly coming into view. Throughout the entire run only one man passed me and he was obviously one heck of an athlete as he was in one of the age groups which started after me. I noticed he was wearing a singlet with "Navy" on it and I felt if someone had to beat me at least it would be one of our boys who protect this country. Who knew that just a few hours later we would learn that a Navy SEAL team would lead a strike to kill Osama Bin Laden?
Running along I developed side stitches on both sides, something I had not felt in eons. But I was able to push past these problems and take on runner after runner. I know longer was racing those round me, if I ever was to begin with, but was not just racing the clock. I was very much hoping to get a sub-40 10k time but knew with 1.2 miles left I would not get that. Instead I simply hunkered down and near the finish passed one more guy in my age group. One more second would have given me a 2:08 but instead I had to settle for 2:09:00.
I would finish 199th overall out of 3132 finishers. In my own age group I would place 10th meaning I had qualified for the National Age Group Championship Race. Unfortunately it falls on the same weekend as the Drake Well Marathon and Drake Well Pikermi I direct in my hometown of Titusville, PA. As such, I will have to take a rain check. Nevertheless, it felt good to make the Championship race.
In hindsight it is obvious where the most work needs to be done. When one is 3rd and 7th in two disciplines and 50th in the third, the glaring difference lets them know what they need to spend more time on. This is nothing at all shocking to me, even if it is a little frustrating. My current occupation and racing lifestyle simply do not allow for enough time on the bike. But soon that will come, as will more laps in the pool and hopefully I won’t have to worry about passing too many people as I will be up there in the elite start.
While I have been a little critical of the oddity of the triathlon sport itself, I have nothing but praise for the St. Anthony’s Triathlon organization and volunteers. As confusing as the sport can be on race day, everything was laid out simply for the athletes. The quick change of the course due to weather constraints and also letting athletes know that the water was too warm for wetsuits (something I was more than happy to hear) was done quickly and efficiently. It is no surprise why this was one of the deepest and most talented triathlon fields of any Olympic Distance race ever.
So this race left me with a yardstick to see how much further I have to go with regards to my rapidly approaching Boise 70.3 Ironman where I will be participating as part of the Idaho Beef Council’s Athletic team. It goes without saying I need to improve my bike time if I wish to be as competitive as I know I can be. However, I think with the longer run and long swim I will be positioning myself for an excellent race. And if I think I was excited for this Olympic Distance I can only imagine how thrilled I will be come June 11th!
Congrats to all those who participated in the St. Anthony’s Tri. I hope you had as enjoyable a day as I did.