Someone told me long ago, there's a calm before the storm. I know; its been comin' for some time. When its over, so they say, it'll rain a sunny day. I know; shinin' down like water. I want to know, have you ever seen the rain? I want to know, have you ever seen the rain? Comin down on a sunny day? Have You Ever Seen the Rain? Creedence Clearwater Revival
The Clermont Half Ironman, called "The Intimidator" by its organizers was a gut check on John and my training to date as we gear up for the full ironman in Arizona in late November. The event turned out to be both intimidating and a gut check on our training.
John had a golf outing with some friends in North Carolina on Friday, so had dropped off his bike and gear bag for me to drive up from Fort Lauderdale. I arranged to pick him up at the Orlando airport around noon on Saturday for the short drive north to Clermont. We checked into our hotel and headed over to the race site to get our numbers and meet up with friends Keith Seago and Jay Greely who were teaming up to do the event as a relay. Keith was scheduled to do the run, Jay was scheduled for the bike and a third buddy, Paul was scheduled for the swim. Unfortunately, Paul had to cancel, so Keith decided to also do the swim.
The days immediately preceding the event were some pretty hot days in Florida. Saturday was no different. I had planned to either ride a portion of the bike course or drive in Saturday afternoon having missed the bike ride 2 weeks prior due forces beyond my control (see my entry on "Life's Curve Balls"). It was so hot, however, that I quickly decided against any pre-race course preview. I wanted to get indoors and out of the heat to avoid any unnecessary dehydration. We spent the afternoon getting our gear ready for the next day and reviewing nutrition and hydration strategies. John, Jay, Keith and I had an early pasta dinner and turned in early.
With the event teed up as a check on our progress, neither John nor I got too worked up about the event. It was viewed more as a training event. In fact, John, knowing my tendency to go out too hard in a race, told me my mantra for the event was: "Pacing, not racing." Thus, race morning, we calmly went through our routines of setting up our gear and bike stations. On my way to drop off my bike, I came across a couple that had seen the car hit me 2 weeks earlier. "Hey, its the guy who got hit by the car," the guy says. "Yes, its me," I reply, "Glad just to be here."
As we await the swim start at the edge of Lake Minneola, John says, "I was calm until now. Now, I've got butterflies." "Me too," I say, "I always get them just before the start." Someone points out that the lake has alligators and they only allow swimming in the lake for the triathlons. An interesting fact. I don't know they figure all the activity of a large group of swimmers keeps the alligators away or they just don't give it consideration. Before we know it, the starters have counted down the first group and then our second group. We begin our 1.2 mile swim.
The lake water seems clean, but is murky as mud. If an alligator was in the vicinity, I wouldn't see it until it was too late. In any event, I try to get into a rhythm and avoid the usual bumping and path crossing that typifies a mass swim. Our friend Keith is swimming in the next group wearing green caps. My strategy is to get to the first of 2 turn buoys before any green capped swimmers overtake me. I make the turn and meet that target. However, by the second buoy turn, the faster of the green caps start overtaking me. I manage to get out of the water in 54 minutes, 4 minutes slower than I expected. I'm guessing that the additional time was due to course corrections or a slight current. Keith & John also take longer than expected, so I don't feel too bad about the extra time.
At transition, I take some extra time to put on socks with my riding shoes. I also put bike shorts on over my tri shorts figuring the extra padding will be nice for 56, but even better for the 112 on the full ironman. I want to test this new configuration. As I begin my ride, I find the extra shorts to be no problem. In fact they were so comfortable, I forgot to take the riding pants off for the run and completed the race wearing them over my tri shorts.
The bike course is hilly enough that I'm OK with missing the ride 2 weeks prior. If I had done it, I may not have come back. This is a challenging ride with a series of hills. As John said, the extra speed you make on the downhills doesn't quite even out with the extra work on the climbs. Overall, I'm liking the new tri bike and the areo position. However, about 20 miles in, a guy in a black Camaro passes me and pulls over to the side of the road just ahead of me. He is taking up the bike lane and part of the road. To make things worse, the guy swings open his drivers side door to take care of some business. I can't believe this. After having gotten hit by a 89 year old lady who is late for church, I'm about to plow into a guy dressed in black in a black Camaro. Its like God was trying to take me out 2 weeks ago and now the devil wants a shot too. I swing wide and wonder what else Clermont has in store for me.
The bike course includes a hill called Sugarloaf Mountain that has a reputation for being the hardest climb. After going up a series of hills, I wonder if I've already done Sugarloaf Mountain. Then, I make a turn and see it. No mistaking it. A very long uphill climb. I give it what I can, but I don't do much hill climbing. As I get about 3/4ths of the way up the climb, I realize I'm in the lowest (easiest) gears and I've run out of gears. I'm out of the saddle and slowing. I realize I risk coming to a complete stop and falling, so I swallow my pride and dismount. Fortunately, this humiliation only lasts about 20 yards before I remount and finish the climb.
The rest of the ride is fairly uneventful except that at one point on the course, they still have the markings from the ride 2 weeks earlier. As you look down there are three directions. On the left, the is an indication to turn left the has a label stating "1st lap", in the middle a slightly brighter arrow pointing straight ahead, and on the right, a right arrow with the label "2nd lap." I see a rider up the road straight ahead and decide to follow the slightly brighter arrow pointing straight ahead. Coming up behind me, buddy John is not so fortunate. He gets confused and takes a wrong turn. The road does take him back to the course after adding an additional 5 and 1/2 miles to his ride, doing 61.5 miles compared to my 56 mile ride.
At about the 45 mile point on in, I'm kind of tired of the hills and am thinking that I want to be done with the ride and on the run. Its only my second long ride in the tri bike position and I haven't quit worked up the neck and quad muscles to be comfortable on too long of a ride. As I come towards the end of the bike ride, I note that storm clouds are gathering overhead.
Run Through Hell (If Hell was full of rain and thunder)
After racking my bike and changing over to running shoes, I head out of the transition area. I see buddy Keith coming in the other direction. Since the run course is 2 loops of an out and back course covering just under 3.3 miles, I don't know if he is finishing or half way through his run. As I approach the first water stop about a mile in, the rain is falling so hard, I have to remove my sunglasses as they are more a slighting hazard than a help. A few steps later, I feel the cold flow of the cup of water Keith pours over my neck and back. "You'll thank me for that later," he says as he goes by. I realize that Keith has to run his second lap, so I feel pretty good about my progress.
I make my way out to the turn around point and start back. At about the 5 mile mark, I come across John as he crosses the 2 mile marker. He thinks that the course is a one loop out and back and that I'm at mile 11. As we pass each other I say, "Pacing it, not racing it." He thinks I'm running super strong and am rubbing the mantra in his face. In reality, I am just trying to run a nice even pace to finish up this first lap.
As I start on my second lap, my quads that got extra work on the tri bike, now let me know that they are not happy with me. They start twitching on me that lets me know that soon they will be cramping up on me. I start throwing in walk breaks to forestall a total lock up. To add to the excitement, the rain starts coming down in buckets. Its coming down so hard that the run path is covered in flowing water trying to drain off these rolling hills. My quads don't care and don't seem to be helped by the cooler temperatures of the rain. I am now soaked and semi hobbled. I think back on my hydration and nutrition throughout the bike and run and can find no flaws. I think about my pacing on the bike and run. The bike was clearly more work than I am used to doing, but I did try to keep it in a safe mode. No, I think, perhaps my 50 year old body is just not up to exercising for over 6 hours at a shot. Maybe these long triathlons are just beyond what my body can handle. Whatever the issue, I am determined to finish this event if I have to walk it in.
I begin to fear that buddy John will catch me before the finish. I assure myself that this will mean a long ride home in which he lectures me on proper pacing and nutrition. Not a conversation I look forward to hearing. So, I carry on with a run/shuffle and walking when I start to cramp. I make it to the 9.9 mile turn around without John catching up with me. However, as I head back for the final leg of the 13.1 mile run, we cross paths for the last time. John now realizes that he is closing in on me. I have 3 miles to try and hold him off. The rain takes no note. After clearing and heating up the course to a muggy slog, a new storm comes racing across the sky. This time there is lightning accompanied by very close and and very loud, hand of an angry Old Testament God, thunder. Its at this point that I tell the guy running near me that this area of Florida is the lightning capital of the world. People get struck and killed by lightning in these parts. Another very loud crack of thunder comes down from above. I'm beginning to doubt that the Lord wants me to do triathlons in the Clermont area.
The rain again lets up, but its of little matter. The run course is now a river of water soaking our shoes to the point of slowing us runners even more. To add to the fun, the water stops at each mile have run out of water. Its Gatoraide or Coke. Ok, if that's what your stomach wants at this point, but mine wants water. As I come to the 12 mile mark, my right hamstring muscle decides that it too will cramp. I am stopped dead in my tracks. I look behind me as I try to message the camps out of my legs. No sign of John. I start to walk and am able to get a slow jog going again. As I come to the finish, I think to myself that if my buddy John catches and passes me now, there is no justice. I manage to cross the finish line in 7:02. Not a time I am proud of, but one I will accept with several lessons of additional training needed before November 22nd.
As I talk to some other competitors just past the finish line, buddy John comes in about 54 seconds behind me. We congratulate each other and get some water. John starts telling me about his extra miles on the bike. I decide that its his problem. I officially crossed the finish line first and will not have to be lectured to by him. On a very tough day, its the only victory I've got. On the other hand, Keith and Jay took 1st place in the relay division. Jay joked to John that they had a special award for those participants that rode 61 miles.
Clearly, if John hadn't added the extra miles, he would have finished about 20 minutes or so before me. However, he too was having the same questions on the course about his ability to double what we did in this half ironman in about 2 months. He starts to use hedging phrases about doing the ironman, but I tell him that you can never think about an endurance event immediately after a tough course like the one we just completed. "Its like asking a woman if she wants to have more children just after she delivers a baby. Its a bad time to think about such things."
As we sit in a picnic shed eating our burgers and hot dogs, the winds kick up really good and the rain starts coming down horizontally. The course finish area starts to break apart and get blown down. The two of us and several other finishers and family supporters also take shelter. As we watch the finish area slowly deteriorate, we note other competitors coming up to the finish line. We all start cheering and clapping for these competitors that are truly getting the worst of it. The least we can do is give them an ovation. With each new finisher, the clapping and cheering gets louder and longer. These triathletes deserve our appreciation and we are happy to oblige.
After the rains die down for the last time, we collect our thoroughly soaked gear bags and walk our bikes back to our vehicle. Along the way, we talk with a triathlete from Miami who has done the Arizona Ironman. He tells us that compared to the course we did today, Arizona will seem easy. We take some solace from his kind words, but realize we have our work cut out for us.
We return to the finish area to be the last people to get messages. We figured we earned this reward. By the time we get back to our hotel, we are hours past the late checkout time and decide to spend a second night in Clermont. We had planned to clean our gear back at the hotel, but its all such a wet mess, we decide to just leave it where it is and put our luggage around it where we can. We shower, relax a little, then go out for celebratory dinner at Chili's with margaritas to lubricate the festivities. We make small talk with the wait staff and discuss the hard work ahead. Its time to step up the training.