>War & Peace…in this case, not meant to signify the length of my time on the race course, but rather the length of this race report :-)…although it still might apply to my actual race. Sit back, grab a bowl of popcorn, and let me share with you my experience at the race this weekend:
The Day Before:
My friend Martin and I drove from Jax to Orlando on Saturday afternoon. Easy 2 hour drive, with great conversation and music along the way. Once we got to Orlando, we met up with Jeff, my friend from Atlanta. We all headed over to Disney and did the whole registration thing. This was Martin’s first triathlon (ever). We filled out the requisite paperwork, got our caps, chips and numbers, and got our goodie bag. WTC is typically pretty lame in terms of goodie bags, and this race kept that tradition up. An ad for another 70.3 race, a sample of eye drops from the sponsor of the race, a coupon book, and that was it. We did get a race technical shirt and Headsweats cap though. Odd that they gave us those items before the race; typically with this race, you get the shirt & hat once you finish.
Martin and Jeff endured a half hour of waiting as I stood in line at the technical tent – I needed to get my seat adjusted and didn’t bring the required tools to do so. Once I got to the front of the line, it took the tech about 90 seconds to lower the nose of my seat a couple of millimeters. Afterwards, we made our way into transition and racked our bikes.
While we were at the expo, I ran into and met fellow Trakker Jacqui Gordon. She’s one of the elite team members, and was just coming off of a strong race at Rev3 Knoxville last weekend. We chatted for about 5 minutes, and I wished her luck in the race. Nice lady!
We decided that driving the bike course was probably a good idea, so off we went. The first part of the bike is on Disney property and isn’t readily accessible via the Goofy parking lot, so we went off in search of the middle part of the course. Along the way, we saw some really interesting things. For starters, as we pulled up to a stop light we saw a bald eagle just sitting on the side of the road. Like 10 feet from us. We were all amazed, and rushed to get our our cell phones to take a picture. Luckily for us, we got a great picture of the grassy part where the eagle was sitting; he took off and flew away mere seconds before we snapped the picture! The other really interesting thing we noticed was that the race organizers had taken away the one true hill on the course. I’m not exactly sure why they did this, and honestly I had mixed emotions. I was glad on the one hand, because I don’t really like climbing (refer to my posts about IMKY), but also saddened as this hill was a good equalizer and test.
After driving the bike course, we checked into our hotel and then hit Carrabba’s for dinner. During dinner, the conversation naturally turned to some good-natured ribbing. I kidded Jeff for carrying a multi-tool with him on every bike ride, including IMKY last summer. Jeff’s response (and insert foreboding music here) was that, “you never know when you’ll need a chain tool.”
We had agreed to meet at the Goofy parking lot at 4:30, so I woke up at 3:45 to eat, shower, pack the room, etc. Morning nutrition consisted of a banana and a bagel with peanut butter & jelly. Washed it all down with a bottle of First Endurance mixed with Pre-Race (talk about a heavy caffeine shot!). Total of about 750 calories. Followed up breakfast with a COLD shower…no, I wasn’t getting a jump start on an ice bath…the hotel hot water heater was broken! Grrr!
We got to the race site, got body marked, and did our whole transition set up. After that, we found a couple of parked golf carts, and used those as our lounge chairs until race start time. While we were chilling there, we did lots of people watching. I saw Trakkers pros Jacqui Gordon and Richie Cunningham walk by.
Finally, it was time to start. Martin was first to go. Jeff went 2 waves after Martin, and I went right after Jeff. The swim was really pretty good. I picked a back right starting location as I don’t particularly like the scrum associated with swim starts. Boy, was the water warm! The announcer said the water was 84 degrees. It might have been a little warmer than that! I breast stroked to the first buoy to warm up and then settled in with a nice easy freestyle. I didn’t have any trouble finding clean water, and really didn’t encounter too many folks blocking or swimming over me. I felt really good the whole way, and exited the water in :46:27. This was about a minute faster than my last swim here. I came out of the water :14 seconds sooner than Jeff (my only bragging opportunity relating to Jeff is that I had a faster swim than him). The run from the swim exit to transition seems like it is half a mile. It’s not really that far, but it’s much longer than most other races I’ve done. As a result, my transition time was really slow…7:40. After the swim, I was in 1263rd place and 219 in my AG.
The route one takes to exit transition and get to the mount line at this race is to take a very narrow path for about 100 yards until you get to a service road. The path is about the width of a sidewalk, and is bordered by fencing (to keep out the spectators, I guess). The only problem with this set-up is when you have someone in front of you that is either much slower than you want to go..or in my case, stops completely in front of you and blocks the path with his bike. Some guy was having problems with his bike, and just STOPPED! Needless to say, he ticked off about 10 other racers until he finally got out of the way.
As I mentioned before, the course at IMFL 70.3 is essentially flat. For non-Floridians, it’s pancake flat. Generally, it’s a fast course, except when it’s windy. Luckily, Saturday wasn’t too windy. There were sections of the course that had a little headwind, but nothing too drastic. For me, my pacing was right where I wanted it at first – about 20mph. The really discouraging thing for me about racing here (and for that matter, at any WTC race in Florida) is the fact that packs form on the bike and there are typically insufficient race officials to penalize the offenders. I was passed by several large packs in the first 25 miles of the ride. Most of them came from younger age groups (30-35 seemed to be the most prevalent). I only saw one official during the ride, and never saw anyone in a penalty tent. I thought triathlon was an individual sport?!
The bike was really going well. My nutrition plan was working nicely – I had set my Garmin to beep every 7 minutes to remind me to hydrate. I was alternating between water and First Endurance. I was taking a hit off my Liquid Shot every 45 minutes. I felt great!
Then, at mile 40, the wheels came off (re-insert foreboding music from Saturday dinner)! Right after mile 40, there’s a very small hill. Nothing too major, but big enough that most people, including me, will want to shift down to an easier gear. I shifted down, and my chain over shifted, jumped off my cassette, and got wedged in between my cassette and spokes. This stopped my rear wheel right in its tracks. As I skidded from 20mph to zero, I tried, to no avail, to unclip. Alas, I was unable to get undone and toppled over off the side of the road. I took a quick look at my chain, and thought, “no big deal, get it undone and let’s go.” Not so fast. When I said the chain was wedged, I mean it was WEDGED. Stuck. Hard. I pulled and pulled. Spun the wheel backwards to try to get unstuck. Tried taking the wheel off. I couldn’t get the chain undone. I’m not sure that the Incredible Hulk could have gotten it undone. Finally, after 20 minutes, I got it out and back on the cassette. I hopped on the bike and proceeded to ride up the rest of the hill.
Unfortunately, my chain did not agree with that concept. It kept skipping and hopping, so at the top of the hill, I stopped and started messing with it again. I was right near a police officer, and he called for tech support for me. Turns out that when my chain hopped off, it bent a link. I waited and waited for tech support to show up. 25 minutes later, the dude showed up, took a look at my chain and went and got his…you guessed it…chain tool. He broke my chain and took out the kinked link, gave me a little air, and sent me on my way. Perhaps a coincidence that I had just teased Jeff about him taking a multi-tool with him everywhere…perhaps bad karma…I’m not sure yet. In either case, had i had the tool myself, I could have saved some of the 45 minutes lost. To compound things, I noticed (of course after I had re-started riding) that my front wheel was now out of true and kept rubbing my brakes. I stopped again, opened up the quick release on my brakes as far as it would go – but my wheel was still so far out of true that if I spun it it still wouldn’t make one full revolution without stopping. CRAP! So, I finished the last 16 miles of the ride by running with my brakes engaged and with a headwind. I couldn’t hardly muster more than 15mph the rest of the way. Talk about a bummer – took a really good ride (probably a 2:45 ride) and turned it into a really pedestrian 3:33 ride. 15.7mph average. This sank me to 335th in my AG and 1904 overall.
I finally hit transition! I had a speedier transition this year than my prior race at Disney. Hit the port-a-potty, donned the Fasttwich 4’s, hit a gel, grabbed my Trakkers visor, and I was off. 4:34. Slow by comparison, but I was OK with it.
The run course at this race consists of three loops, about half of which are on paved roads or sidewalks; the other half are on what I’ll refer to here as the “African Grasslands”. At this point, it’s probably appropriate that I comment on the weather. Sunday was a typical May day in Florida. Hot. Sunny. Humid. The air temp was close to 95 degrees. I don’t know what the humidity level was, but suffice it to say that the air was thick enough to make you think you were in the middle of a jungle. I’m sure the heat index was north of 100 degrees. On the African Grasslands part of the course, there is no shade. Trees lining the course block the wind. It’s brutal out there.
Given the fact that I wasn’t starting my run until 11:30 or so (thanks, Mr. Shimano for my lovely chain), I scrapped my run plan pretty quickly. My original plan was to run the first lap at about a 10 minute pace, and then aim to negative split if possible. If not, I was going to step down to walking aid stations and maintain my pace. Knowing how hot I was already when I started, I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete that plan, so I made an on-the-fly adjustment. During IMFL last November, I employed a run-walk method. I ran for 2 minutes and walked for 2 minutes for the entire marathon. Sunday, I did something similar; I ran for 3 minutes and walked for 3 minutes. While this took my pace to a much slower pace than I had wanted, it also prevented me from crashing and burning. There were a LOT of racers that were hit hard on the run. I saw two racers literally passed out – an ambulance came and took one guy away. There were TONS of folks walking. In fact, I think there were more folks walking this year than when I did the race two years ago. My overall time on the run: according to WTC it was 3:01. My Garmin had me a little faster, but whatever. 13.52/mile. Overall time for the race 7:34.26. I finished 308 out of 348 in my AG and 1775 out of 1947 finishers. Certainly not my best race ever, but I take solace in knowing that I could have been at least 45 minutes faster without the mechanical problem on the bike.
This race has some exceptional volunteers. Aid station # 3 on the run is probably the best. This year, they were set up in a “knights of the round table” theme, and most of the workers were dressed up. They did a really great job of trying to keep folks cool and hydrated. On my third lap, I had 3 kids pour gallons of ice water on me – it was amazing! My only issue with the aid stations is that they consistently run out of supplies. For example, the aid stations were really out of most everything when I was on my third lap. They were running low on Gatorade, and lots of what they had was warm. The really concerning aspect of this is that there were still tons of racers on the course behind me. On a hot day like this past Sunday, the combination of high temperature, high humidity and potentially a lack of supplies at an aid station could spell disaster for some athlete.
I ran into Martin on my third lap. He was walking – in fact he said he was overheated, and had essentially walked 80% of the run course. He knows his body well, and knew pretty much at the start of the run that if he pushed it, he would suffer from heat illness. Nevertheless, Martin had a great overall day. He swam in about 49 minutes, had a 3 hour bike, and his overall time was about 4 minutes faster than me. Recall, I said this was his FIRST EVER triathlon! At this point, he’s hooked and is looking for future races!
I saw Jeff as I was heading into the chute – he had a fantastic race: 5:50. I think this was a 20 minute PR for him at this distance. He averaged over 20 mph on the bike and had a really strong run. Jeff typically sandbags; he talks about how under trained he is and then he goes out and rocks a race (for example his first IM was 12:51 – in Louisville…which KILLED me). He’s one of the strongest athletes I know.
Post Race & other observations:
After finishing, we grabbed a couple of pieces of pizza, some water, and a coke (seriously – the food post race here SUCKS). We packed up our gear and started the ride back to the parking lot. And…guess what?!? Half-way back to the parking lot, my chain did the same thing that it did out on the bike course! This time, I couldn’t get it unstuck. Jeff broke out his multipurpose tool and tried to break the chain, without success. So, even though we talked about the tool, and I probably invoked bad karma (re-insert foreboding sound), I’m not sure that having the tool would have actually helped much!
Some other random thoughts:
• The physically challenged athletes really inspire me. I saw two at this race – one guy on the bike was pedaling a hand bike…and he was FLYING. He was probably going 20mph! The other guy I saw was essentially missing 1.5 arms. I passed him several times on the run, and we chatted each time I saw him. Although I can’t remember his name, he’s a stud athlete. He mentioned to me that he’s doing 8 IM races and 10 half IM races this year. I don’t care if you’re a PC athlete or not – anyone that can do that number of races in one year is one hell of an athlete!
• From the “too amazing to be true” department: While Jeff, Martin and I were enjoying our pizza post race, we saw a couple of folks smoking. I mean – come on – it’s an endurance race. Why smoke at it? Here’s the amazing thing…one of the ladies smoking was a racer! How did we know? By her blue racer wrist band.
• I saw Jacqui Gordon several times throughout the weekend, and she was extremely nice. She even hung around post race and was cheering on lots of other racers. By the way, she finished 5th.
• We didn’t get finisher’s shirts this year. I know it’s probably petty, but I missed that. Maybe it’s vain to want a shirt that says finisher…I don’t know. In any case, we didn’t get them and it bothered me.
Thanks so much for reading! If you read this far, you get extra cool points and a lifetime supply of Solid Gold from K-tel Music. OK, not really. You do get extra cool points, though, so THANKS!