What do 96 degrees, 500 people, zero shade, a spring-fed lake, a military installation, and a death march have in common? Each of those items is but a small part in the annual Hammerhead Olympic Triathlon (H.O.T) and sprint race held at Camp Blanding, near Jacksonville.
This race has a tradition of being unbearably hot and humid – and yesterday’s race was no exception. That said, the race is a fantastic northeast Florida tradition that generally offers up a great race.
My wife and I, along with dozen or so folks from the Julington Creek Tri Club, raced the HOT (and sprint) yesterday.
Race morning, as is the case with most race mornings, started early. The alarm sounded at 4:15. After a quick loading of the vehicle and breakfast consisting of a cup of coffee, a PB&J, a banana and a slice of bacon pizza (remember that later), Mrs TM and I headed over to meet our friends M & L for the 40 minute drive over to Camp Blanding. Camp Blanding is a Florida National Guard base that actually has a very long history – during the 1940’s it served the US Army as an active duty training center to prep soldiers to deploy overseas, a German POW camp, and much more.
Upon arriving at transition, we all checked in & picked up our race packets. Swag included the “typical” stuff you get at a race – some coupons, a BioFreeze packet, a water bottle, and a technical t-shirt. We got marked and did our transition set-ups.
At this point, I must share with you that the race yesterday was Mrs TM’s very first triathlon! Heading over to the race site, she wasn’t nervous – and frankly wasn’t too excited either, but upon arriving at the race site, her anxiousness picked up a fair amount. I helped her set up her transition area, and she got to experience some transition area rudeness from another athlete – who “kindly” told Mrs. TM to not move her bike because that was “her” space.
After transition closed, we spent a few minutes catching up with folks we knew and headed down to the lake for the start.
The swim for H.O.T is held in Kingsley Lake – which is a nice, clear, spring-fed lake. Clear and fresh water are not typically the norm in north Florida – as most bodies of water are stained deep brown from tannins from the cypress trees that typically line waterways and lakes. Kingsley Lake is clear, clean and wonderfully cool (something like 83 degrees yesterday).
As this race is held on a military installation, there’s always a “silent wave” to support our troops. I think this is a very cool feature, and the crowd greeted this warmly this year. Chalk it up to the ongoing wars and the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Promptly at 7:34 the oldies (those of us in the 40+ age groups) headed off for our 1500m swim. The swim is basically a rectangle: head out, turn left, go for a while, turn left again and head back to shore. I started to the right of the group. I found clear water almost immediately, and had very few issues with getting hit or kicked. I found a good pair of feet to follow for my warm up (I like to take the first 200 meters or so very relaxed so I can ease into the day, especially when there’s no in-water warm up).
Just before the first buoy, I looked up to sight and take a breath, and just happened to catch a wave at the wrong time. I inhaled a fair amount of water, which caused me to immediately go into a coughing fit. I coughed so hard that I lost my breakfast. Ughhhh. I never, ever get sick in a race, and here I was less than 500 meters in, and I tossed my breakfast all over Kingsley Lake. And let me tell you – throwing up in the water is not the easiest thing to do….there’s no toilet to hang onto for dear life! After this unfortunate incident, I brushed away the bacon bits, cleared my head, and started swimming again.
In no time, I got back into a good rhythm. For the first time in a race, I breathed bilaterally. I generally sighted well, and I found clean water most of the way. After I turned the last buoy, and was headed back into shore, I did have a sighting problem….we were heading right back into the sun, and the landmark I picked to sight off of just happened to be the flag at the starting line….not at the swim exit! I got about halfway back to shore before I realized why I had so much clear water, and readjusted. I exited the water in just over 32 minutes – not super fast, but faster than my swim at Rev3 Knoxville (same distance and in a wetsuit). I was not unhappy with the effort.
T1 was glacially slow at 3:06. I’ve got to spend more time practicing transitions!
Believe it or not, the bike course at Camp Blanding is deceptively hilly. Yes, I know that “hilly” is an adjective the vast majority of folks would not use to describe Florida – and in general I wouldn’t either…but for around here, there were hills. And wind.
For the Olympic race, the bike is a two-lap affair and is for all intents and purposes an out & back. The out part was fairly quick (tailwind plus predominantly downhill), whereas the back was more challenging due to the headwind and predominant up the slight hill grade. What really made the bike interesting was the road conditions. In a word, the roads sucked. Lots of potholes. Lots of sand. Lots of basic crap on the road. There were areas where the pavement was super rough right at the bottom of a hill. There were areas where the road converged – and you had athletes going both directions with very little space.
It was starting to get warm; during the time I was on the bike I drained a full bottle of First Endurance and a full bottle of water. I also took two hits off my Liquid Shot. Perhaps I had some residual blah from my lake episode or perhaps I took in too much liquid, but I had a real uncomfortable stomach for about half the bike ride.
I finished the 40k bike in 1:21:30 (roughly 18mph). Sort of a pedestrian effort. This was slower than my recent training rides – I rode 38 miles last weekend and averaged almost 20mph – but faster than my ride in Knoxville (slightly).
T2 was again on the slow side at 1:46.
And now, the real fun begins. As I mentioned, it was about 96 degrees yesterday. The run course for the H.O.T. is basically just a road that has no shade. None. Whatsoever.
As I left transition, my stomach was still giving me some issues, and I had no energy in my legs at all. I walked a good bit of the first mile as I tried to get my legs under me. Slowly, I began to feel like myself, and able to run. Despite this race being an Olympic, the run felt like a death march. In fact, my friend M told me that he thought the run was very similar to the African Grassland run at Ironman Florida 70.3. Hot, sunny, humid. Relentless.
Thank God for ice water at aid stations. They were my saving grace.
With about a mile and a half to go, a guy catches up to me and then runs a few paces with me. He looks at me and says, “Just so you know, you’re pacing me in to the finish.” Uh. OK. I don’t mind being your rabbit (of course, that term is a gross expansion of what I really was). Juan (the dude) and I made our way into the finish and crossed the line at exactly the same time.
It was my slowest 10k in about 100 years. 1:12. A full 20 minutes slower than my last 10k.
Overall, I finished in 3:11.13. Not a good time, at all. Especially not a good time considering that up until I started running, I was ahead of my PR pace. Overall, I was sort of disappointed with my overall results. When I break the race down, though – there are glimmers of positiveness. For example, I’m happy with my swim. I’m generally happy with my bike. Lots of areas to work on though…transitions and my swim.
Mrs. TM’s Race:
As I noted earlier, Mrs TM raced her very first triathlon yesterday. Her event was a sprint race. Overall, she did really well! She finished in 1:37:21. Her swim went well, she was really happy with her bike, and she rocked the run (faster than her training runs)! I was so, so proud of her!