Monday, April 27, 2009
So, this weekend was the St. Anthony's Olympic Triathlon. I traveled to Clearwater on Friday to visit my folks. That night, my younger brother, Dave, who was also scheduled to do this event, met up with me at our favorite local pizza parlor/sports bar for some brews and pizza. Tri buddies, John, Tony & Keith drove up to Saint Petersburg Saturday morning.
Since I had to wait on brother Dave, who is perpetually late, before heading down to St. Pete for the Expo, we got to the race site about an hour after John & Co. We arrange to meet down by the water. There is a pretty good chop in Tampa Bay. We all exchange nervous talk about the swim as we watch other athletes doing practice swims on the course. The 1500 meter course looks huge. With the first 1/3 of the course running next to the Bayfront Pier, I am wondering if the tide will be pushing us into the pier the next day. Since swimming is not any of our strong suits, we agree that we will swim to survive on Sunday morning.
After doing our number pickup and bike drops, Dave & I peruse the expo. We meet up with another Ft. Lauderdale buddy, Jacques and his lovely wife Christine and his two kids. We now have our personal cheering section for the race finish. Dave tries on and buys a wet suit to get any advantage for the rough water we expect the next morning.
That night at diner with Dave and my parents, I note that I've never seen a bigger transition area. There are approximately 4,000 participants doing the event. That is a lot of bikes. Luckily, I've got an easy to find location along a fence near the swim/bike entrance. Dave too has a good spot. I insist that Dave get his gear together Saturday evening and spend the night at my folks house so I don't have any unwanted delays Sunday morning. He promises to be at my parent's house around 9:30 PM Saturday evening. That night, I watch the Miami Heat beat up on the Atlanta Hawks. The game ends around 10PM. No, Dave. I call him and tell him to be sure to get to the house that night. I head to bed.
That night, I don't sleep well. My subconscious is not comfortable with the water conditions. However, like the rest of my buddies, I decide that if the race officials decide it's safe, I'm in the water. When I awake at 3:45 AM, I find my brother Dave in an adjoining bedroom. He tells me he got in at 1:30 AM. I'm glad I didn't wait up. As we drive down to St. Pete, Dave explains that the proper strategy for the swim is to give it maximum effort on the outward leg since the tide will be against us.
As we park and start to head to the bay front, the winds are kicking up pretty good. I note that the stop signs are shaking. I comment that this could make the bike ride tricky. As we get to the bike transition area, we take a look into the dark surf. It looks about like the day before, but with just the slightest of whitecap tops. We go in, pump up our tires and set up our transition stations. Dave & I return to the SUV to drop off the pump. On our return we meet up with John & Tony who tell us that the race officials just announced that they were canceling the swim portion of the event for everyone other than the pro athletes. At first, I think our friends are playing on our fear of the conditions and messing with our heads. But, soon we notice that everyone is buzzing about this unexpected news. What does this mean? How are they going to handle the rest of the event? Do we care?
Apparently, the tide and waves were bad enough that the kayaks that patrol the swim area are unable to stay stable on the water. What choice do the race officials really have? Apparently, there was one death in the water at St. Anthony's in the last couple of years. If the conditions were bad enough that the guys looking out for our safety can barely take care of themselves, we lost our margin of safety. The news accounts of the pros at the St. Pete Times website make it sound like the swim was a struggle for the pros. Thus, I am grateful the officials made the call.
On the other hand, I've now lost my edge. I totally relax. The portion of the event keeping me on edge has been canceled. As 4,000 participants wonder around the swim exit area, we all ask each other how they will send off the age group waves. We are told that we can wear our bike helmets to the swim exit area and that we will be sent off individually in 2 second increments. So, we get our bike helmets and line up by the seawall. We watch the pro men and pro women waves take to the water. Boy, are they fast swimmers. Watching the pros come out of the water and sprint through transition is inspiring.
My wave is #15 out of 30. Buddy Keith & I are in the same wave, but the last wave of our friends. As the waves get called up, we cheer our friends on like we are spectators. Eventually, wave 15 gets called up and Keith & I line up along the seawall. Since Keith is much faster than I am at each event, I have him get in line ahead of me. When Keith gets to the start official, I think I hear them exchange words. What did they say to each other? Do I have to say something to this guy? He looks me in the eye and counts "One, Two, Go!" Oh, shit! My race has started.
Off I run through transition. As I pull my bike off its rack and start running towards the bike out exit, I realize I forgot to hit the start on my watch. I could try to reach over to start my watch, but I would most likely drop my bike. I decide against starting the watch. I get to the mounting line and get on the bike.
The winds blow, but the course has many turns, so its about a neutral effect. I look down to my bike computer after a bit and notice that its not registering. I think about reaching down to the wheel to try to correct the sensor, but decide against it. I hit the computer button to run see if that helps. Sure enough, the speed starts to register. So, I now know my speed, but the mileage is slightly off.
The wave just before my wave was the Clydesdales. Thus, I'm getting passed by the strong bikers, but passing a bunch of big and tall bikers. I'm hitting 20s to as high as 24 mph with the wind and down to 16 to 17 into the wind. I feel I'm holding my own, except when a faster biker goes by and says something like "way to go." While this encouragement should make me feel good, it actually makes me feel bad. For a biker to go by me offering encouragement must mean I look really slow to him. If not, the guy would shut up and try his best to blow by me. In any event, I come into transition averaging 18.9 mph.
Coming out of transition and into the run, I finally start my watch. I start repassing all the strong bikers that passed me in the bike. This makes me feel great. Vengeance is mine. I start off with a couple of 7:30 miles before slowing down to low 8s. It's gotten warm, so I douse myself with water at each water stop. Near 2 miles, I high five buddy Jacques. He looks strong. Around 2 1/2 miles, I come across brother Dave. He waves me on. Shortly after, I see John. He is too far ahead for me to gun for him, so I just concentrate on reeling in those directly in front of me. Near mile 4, I pass 4 guys in their 30s running as characters out of "Joe Dirt." Thank God! I hate getting beat by stunt runners. With one mile to go, a guy goes by at a good clip. The dude was in great shape. I use him to pick up the pace and pass a few more people to move up through my age group before the finish. Before I know it, I turn for the finish. My run time was just over 50 minutes for the 10K.
My run time was 5 minutes faster than my run 5 weeks earlier at the MIT Olympic tri. However, without the swim, I don't know if I would have run this fast. My overall time was 2:12, but I don't know what to make of it. I'm just into the upper 50th percentile for my age group, so I'll take that as a passing grade. My buddies greet me as I come out of the finish area. They all completed in the low 2 hour plus range, except for Keith who is in a whole different category from the rest of us. The dude is fast at whatever event he competes in. Everyone heads to the refreshment tent while I wait for brother Dave to come in. We walk over to the beer tent and get our reward. The refreshment tent had good food and we hung around with our buddies a while. All in all, a good event, but I have no way to measure this effort without the swim. Oh well, there is no controlling nature. It was still a fun time. The bike and run courses were very nice. I can see why this race is so popular.
Well, better safe than sorry. The race organizers did the right thing in canceling the swim. It did throw me off my game though. We will all have to come back next year to see what the full event feels like.
Next week, buddies John & Tony do the MS 150 bike ride in the Keys. John came through St. Anthony's in good fashion (2:17). Thus, if he does OK in next week's ride, we will officially cease any mention of his recovery. Hopefully, he will post an interesting report after next weekend's ride. Me, I'm chilling for the week before returning back mainly to running in gearing up for the Seattle Marathon on June 27th.
Other friends' finish times: Keith - 1:49, Jerry - 2:08, Tony (the Tiger) - 2:09, Jacques - 2:16, and brother Dave, 2:30.