1.5K swim in Tampa Bay, 40K bike ride through St. Petersburg, 10K run through St. Petersburg’s ritziest neighborhoods . . . sounds simple enough. Here’s the real story –
The Day Before:
You never know where you're going to run into your high school swim coach . . .
We woke up early in the morning to do a mini-tri: swim 10 min, bike 10 min, run 10 min. Not bad, but I nearly had a heart attack when I passed by my high school swim coach 8 1/2 minutes into the run. Turns out, he’s the coach for the Central Ohio chapter of Team In Training. After that, he showed up everywhere – he (along with the DC coaches) was like Where’s Waldo on the race course. I’m not sure how they were everywhere at once.
After the run, we got to listen to Dave Scott, Six Time IronMan World Champion, talk about how great he is and give us a few pointers on why we’ll never be as awesome as him. Later that evening, after some pasta, chicken, and really good cookies, Dave Scott, Six Time IronMan World Champion (yes, he really does include that every time he talks about himself) gave us a pep talk. Highlight of the speech – telling us we’re the “slowest group of talent” on the course. Apparently, that’s better than last year when he told a group most of them would not finish as part of his motivational wisdom. It seems that’s about as close as he can get to complementing someone other than himself. Fortunately, we have great coaches and mentors to remind us of what rock stars we are for doing a triathlon, training in the snowiest winter in decades, and raising over $1.8 million for cancer research while doing it. “Slow Talent” sort of became our rallying cry after that.
All ready to go!
4:45 AM, thousands of triathletes lug their transition bags down to the race, get body-market (race number on each arm and each shin and age on the calf), and begin the rituals of laying out their transition area. For most, this tradition includes laying everything out for 15 minutes and then spending the next 90 minutes checking and re-checking every inch of their bike and transition area to make sure nothing is out of place or forgotten. You never know when your socks, which were laid out neatly in your shoes 2 minutes ago, could suddenly wander off or your tubes, which were moments ago inflated to precisely 102 psi to account for increased heat and humidity, could suddenly deflate.
6:50 AM, the pro wave starts the swim and the race is officially under way. Let me tell you, these people are impressive. Most weigh about 90 pounds and finish the entire race in well under 2 hours – that’s 15 minutes for the swim, under an hour for the bike, and about 30 minutes for the run.
Clearly pumped to get the race underway
8:15 AM, while wondering when I should warm up, we’re told there’s a safety hazard with the current swim course and they’ll be delaying the rest of the waves while they shorten the course from 1500 meters to 1000 meters. Since most of us were already putting on our wetsuits, we decided to take the extra time to splash around in the water and do a little extra warm up while the boats moved the buoys around, making a triangle where there used to be a rectangle.
9:40 AM, our wave, which was supposed to leave at 9:00, is finally sent off. If you’re counting, yes, that means the pros were done 2 hours before I even started the race – and the race MC made sure we knew it. Thanks, dude! Perhaps that extra time to warm up was worth it. Along the way, despite veering far off course, I passed the two waves in front of me and finished the 1000 meters (or 1200, based on the way I was swimming) in 18 minutes. Phenomenal!!!
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there in terms of my pace. I got on the bike and rapidly learned what the coaches meant when they said the course was a bit windy. By “a bit windy”, they meant 15 miles of the 25 mile course would be directly into headwinds. There were points where I was struggling to keep my bike upright. Needless to say, I was barely able to average 15 mph, instead of my usual 17-18. Urgh!! And, of course, the coaches were everywhere taking pictures. Rule #1 of triathlon – smile for the camera, even if you feel like you’re going to die! On the up-side, I finally got comfortable with eating and drinking on the bike and, unlike last year when I took 2 sips the entire ride, I actually managed to keep myself hydrated.
When I wasn’t struggling through the headwinds and the windy course, I was enjoying all of the crazy antics of other triathletes and spectators. To start, the St. Petersburg police officers marking the course were amazing. Thanks for cheering even us back of the pack stragglers on. Then, there was the guy I was following around miles 11 and 12 who might need a new pair of tri-shorts. I’m not sure about you, but I prefer not seeing what’s underneath people’s shorts, thank you. Needless to say, that inspired me to speed up and stay in front of him for the rest of the race. Next, it was coach Jenny (one of the Team In Training super-star coaches) who must have biked more miles than I did because she was at almost every corner cheering us on. Thanks for the support!!! Last, but certainly not least, was the guy who put his 1970’s-era stationary bike (complete with moveable arms) under a canopy on his front lawn and rocked out to his boom box while cheering us on. At mile 19, that was certainly a welcome distraction!
Thanks, Coach Ted for waiting to take the photo until after I started pretending to run again.
Before I knew it, I was off the bike and into the run. Actually, running didn’t last long before my shins and ankles started acting up and (as a result of a poor choice in socks) the bottoms of my feet started blistering. It was more like a slow jog leading into a long walk followed by a short burst of running at the end. The only time I ran for the first 4 miles was when a coach (who, in true Where’s Waldo style, were everywhere) was taking a picture of me. Highlight of the run: the last 1/2 mile where I was running and high-fiving all of the Team In Training people who finished before me. Thanks everyone for sticking around and making me feel like a rock star. I almost forgot how bad my feet hurt at that point.
Finally, 3 hours and 43 minutes after diving into Tampa Bay, I crossed the finish line and got a very welcome hug and kiss from my husband, who took a whirlwind trip down to St. Petersburg to stand out in the hot Florida sun and cheer me on. It was definitely not the time I was looking for, but it confirmed that, even with a slow time, nothing feels better than crossing the finish line of a race most people think you’re crazy for entering.
And, in case you’re wondering what we did after the race, here’s a picture (courtesy of Coach Ted) from that night.
Dancin' in the rain