florida 70.3

May 19, 2011

this day started early.  i met my coach and a couple of other absolute endurance athletes in the hotel lobby at 4am.  it was pitch black but it was dry.  severe thunderstorms were in the forecast and by the time we'd made it over to the disney world parking lots, the rain was coming down heavy.  forks of lightning lit the sky, and just as we were boarding the shuttle bus to the start/finish area, a lightning strike and a massive crack of thunder directly overhead took out half the lights in the parking lot.  the lightning must have hit a transformer close by and everyone was wondering whether or not the race was going to be called off.  remaining optimistic, we boarded the shuttle buses and made our way to race site.

with no official word of the race being called off, i set up my transition area.  i only had about 15 frantic minutes to get things all set up because athletes had to clear transition area at 6am sharp; the race was scheduled to start at 6.20.  feeling flustered because of the hasty transition set-up, i found a quiet, dry spot to sit and relax and focus on my game plan for the day.  i had one last chat with my coach and he reminded me to execute properly, have fun and enjoy the race.  the rain finally stopped and the sun was breaking, and it looked like the weather was going to clear.  the start was delayed by 20 minutes, but other than that the day was to proceed as scheduled.  my age group wave was one of the last of the morning and i used that time to watch the pro men and women start their swim and watched them come into t1.  as my start approached i geared up and made my way to the beach.

my age group was one of the largest and had to be split into three waves because the swim start was so narrow.  i went off in the first wave and stuck to the outside of the pack.  the start wasn't as frantic as i'd expected and the crowd thinned out quickly.  after a few minutes i started moving from the outside to the buoy line.  it wasn't long before i'd caught the slower swimmers from the waves ahead.  there were a few hiccups here and there like having to climb over other athletes and a few feet in the face, but other than that the swim went well.  i had some pretty serious issues with my line and veered off course (waaaay off course!) several times.  as it was my first triathlon (and open water swim, for that matter) i'd expected some mistakes to happen here but was hoping to finish the swim in under 35 minutes.  back at the beach, 2 kilometres later, i got up out of the water and looked at my time.  33.39.  nice.

it was a long run up to my bike and i had to get my elbows out to make my way past others along the narrow pathway.  my transition was awful.  it took what felt like an eternity to get through it.  in my frantic set up earlier in the mornung i'd overlooked many things (like loosening my shoes so my feet could easily slip in and un-buckling my helmet strap) and all these little things added time.  once ready to go i grabbed my bike and made my way through more narrow and crowded pathways over to the mount line.  also slowing down the start of my ride, a minute or two after i was in the saddle i realized my speedometer wasn't working.  yet another oversight from the morning.  sweet.  i stopped, unmounted and (annoyingly) spent some time realigning the sensor and the magnet.  i got it working and off i went.

with an awful swim-to-bike transition behind me, i was finally able to get comfortable in my aero bars and start spinning, and once i got going i felt great.  this was a fast course and the length of it was lined with a single file row or riders to the right, and i spent almost the entire ride passing near centre.  my "on your left!" yell count was as high as my cadence.  i rode strong but conservatively.  every time i felt like my legs were being taxed i pulled back in an effort to save them for the run.  even still, on this course i was having no trouble keeping my speed at or above 40km/h.  i took advantage of every downhill section and gave my legs a break, whereas i would normally use these sections for some extra speed.  as the kms wore on, only a couple of riders passed me.  a train of three riders that were in my age group i'd passed earlier caught me in some headwinds, but i made short work of them and easily passed them once more and never saw any of them again.  my goal was to have negative splits and i was right on track for the first 60k.  for kilometres 60-80 i picked it up a bit more, and by the time i reached the last 10k i decided it was time to pull back a bit.  i'd had an amazing ride and was averaging almost 39km/h, but because this was my first race at this distance i couldn't be sure what my legs would be like on the run.  i felt amazing but still decided to play it safe.  one rider passed me here and as i watched my average speed steadily drop, i swallowed my ego and stuck to the plan.  i hit the 90k mark with transition nowhere in sight, and by the time the ride was over my tripmeter was at over 92k.  an unexpected couple of extra kilometres.

i came into t2 in the same fashion as t1, asking the slower athletes ahead of me to make room through the narrow chutes.  i racked my bike and noticed there were only a couple of bikes in my age group section. i must have passed several athletes that started in my same wave because there was no way i was third or fourth out of the water.  more reassurance i'd had a good ride.  after another lengthy transition, i had my running shoes on and made my way to the run exit.  my half marathon had just begun.

the heat hit me right away.  the wind kept me cool on the bike but here the sun was out in full force and it was hot hot hot.  it was a crowded, three-loop course that had some very slow off road sections.  i settled into a pace i could maintain and continued to make my way past the previous age group waves.  at every aid station i grabbed one or two cups of water and poured a glass of ice down my back to help keep me cool.  feeling just as strong here as on the bike i carried on, my pace drifting only with the terrain; faster on the roadways and paths, slower in the fields.  it was almost impossible to tell who was in my age group because the swim and sweat had rubbed off everyone's body markings.  just as on the bike, my goal for the run was to have negative splits and as i approached the 14k mark i picked things up a bit.  this was when the fatigue of the day was apparent, and although i wasn't able to bring my speed up dramatically, i did what i could to move just a bit faster.

by now the running portion was starting to feel long and i was counting down the kilometres in my head.  i finally made it to the finish chute, came across the line feeling strong, and finished with a time of 4.34.32, good enough for 6th in my age group.  all smiles, i made my way to my family for hugs and kisses.  i felt incredible and was thrilled with my time.  i'd gotten everything out of this race i was hoping for... a great swim, a solid bike and run, a well executed race and nutrition plan, and a strong finish.  with many valuable lessons learned and my fitness gauged, i'm already looking forward to my next 70.3 at the end of june.  goals for the the next few seasons are being set and some of them include a podium finish in syracuse in the fall and a spot at the 2012 world championships.  i'm officially a triathlete once again.