St. Anthony’s Triathlon

Posted by on April 28, 2009 in Training

What a great weekend!  With Fernando, his brother-in-law, and two of his friends, as well as familiar faces from the triathlon scene, we enjoyed a very fun day on the course.  Some notes:

– Fern and I arrived on Friday night, met up with his bro-in-law Marty and his buddy Brad, had a burger, then decided to check out the local social scene.  We stumbled upon this dive-ish bar with a crowd that might as well have been in Daytona during Spring Break, minus the enjoyable part of debauchery.  We had a couple of beers, but as usual, that extended to a few shots and a few more beers.  Eventually, we made it home, slept well (obviously), and began our Saturday with all the pre-race day activities.

– On Saturday, we decided to get a quick bite, then head down to the water for a pre-race swim.  The conditions were said to be glassy on Friday but they were a  little choppy Saturday.  No matter for us; we put on the wetsuits and headed out for just a quick swim of about 20 minutes or less.  Sure, the waves were a little challenging on the way away from shore, and only slightly easier on the way back despite the advantages of body-surfing… but we both found the experience worthwhile both in terms of practice with those conditions but also with sighting/navigation.

– We went through final registration and checked in our bikes, then walked through the expo area.  I bought a new race jersey to complete the new GG uniform for 2009:  black and white.  I’ve still got my affinity for all things blue, but I’m mixing it up this year with a little superstition that the color change will produce faster results.  Later, with what wound up to be a bad recommendation from our hotel desk, we descended upon what looked like an abandoned italian restaurant called Basta’s.  It was a few miles outside of the beach area and seemed a little sketchy… and the sign on the restaurant property advertising that it was for sale or lease wasn’t promising.  The food fortunately was decent and worked well for me; the others weren’t terribly enamored but it seemed to do the trick and if nothing else, we shared a good laugh.

– Race morning:  Not surprisingly, Fern and I were running late and though the transition area was set to close at 6:45 a.m., we didn’t leave the hotel till nearly 6:30.  We rushed to the transition area and noticed that none of the athletes walking out of transition had their wetsuits.  I then heard pieces of announcements over the loudspeakers that the swim was cancelled due to the choppy conditions.  Sure enough, we verified that and were very surprised given our experiences on Saturday.  The pros were still set to do the swim, but the rest of us were destined to do a bike-run race with a staged time-trial start.  That is, athletes were lined up in a single file and sent over the timing mat one by one about 2-3 seconds apart.  I’ve never begun a race this way before and while it was interesting, it made it hard to gauge the performance and time of other athletes in my age group… as well as Fern and our gang.

– When it was my turn to start, I let out a long exhale, got myself focused on exactly what I would do in transition, and stepped up.  The timer said go, and I burst out in a near sprint to my bike.  I had my sneakers on but since I have elastic laces (they are “stretchy”), they came off quickly and I put on my cycling shoes.  Normally, I would do the “flying mount” where I keep the shoes attached to the bike and put them on while I’m making forward progress, but given the short amount of time we had to set up our transition areas thanks to being late, I never arranged things the best way.  I then put on the helmet and tore off running with the bike to the “mount” line.  I got clicked in quickly, got into a good gear, rode through the cobble-stone (or brick equivalent) surface, and made the first 90 degree turn into the first straightaway of the bike course.  I immediately saw my first tri coach, Jose Lopez, cheering from the road and after calling his name, he screamed out, “Go GG!!”  That felt soooo good!  See, cheering has a huge effect on athletes!

– I put forth a serious effort when the wind was at my back and had speeds that averaged in the 26-27 range.  Into the wind, I was happy to maintain 20.  There were a few out-and-back sections and a few sharp turns, but they were manageable and the road surface was generally pretty good.  At about mile 15, I felt more fatigue than was expected… but after eating one of my gel packets, the energy level literally came right back.  That stuff is amazing!  At around mile 20, a group of 5 riders in top-of-the-line bikes and aero helmets went by me quickly but for some reason, I had it in me to counter-attack.  One by one, I reeled them all back in and took that lead to the end of the bike leg.  I wound up finishing the 24.8 miles at an average pace of 21.9 mph.  I wanted 22.0 but was still happy.  I successfully completed the “flying dismount” where you take your feet out of the shoes while the shoes are still attached to the pedals, and ran to my transition area as best I could, albeit with shaky tired legs.

– It took me about 15 seconds longer in the second transition than I had hoped because I couldn’t get the tongue in my right shoe to sit just right.  I could have persevered but since I had previously planned on doing this event without socks, getting the right fit was crucial to avoiding blisters.  Had I brought socks, I would have worn them given that the swim leg was cancelled.

– I got out onto the run and tried to immediately replicate what I’ve done in training; put out a strong effort in the first mile and try to sustain it within a 20-30 second margin in the second mile.  My first mile in so many of my races last season were horrible; this time, I got it to 7:24 at the one mile mark, and 7:44 at the second mile mark.  I was tired and the legs were absolutely fatigued, but I was buoyed by the potential of maintaining that kind of pace for 4.2 more miles.  It wasn’t meant to be.

– Yes, it felt hot and I had my tri jersey zipped down all the way… and I took as many water cups as I could at each aid station so that I’d be able to pour water on my head to cool off… but the sun and the pavement made things a little tough.  I aimed for the shade wherever possible and enjoyed being sprayed by a hose that some neighbors brought out for athletes.  At the third mile, my pace slowed to 7:54.  I decided to walk for 20 seconds to re-group and put out a new effort.  It wound up being 26 seconds but I felt pretty good right away.  My fourth mile wound up being 8:14 which would have been sub-8 had I not walked a bit… and ultimately, this may have served to be my ultimate demise.

– Just before the mile 4 mark, I saw Fernando running in the opposite direction (I had already turned around) and he yelled out, “I’m coming to get you G!”  I responded, “Bring it baby.”  That exchange electrified us both.  He told me that he picked up his pace and tried hard to catch me.  I had the fear of God and picked up my pace as well as I could too!  Mile 5 was back to 7:51 which seemed right (but still just too slow by my standards) and mile 6 was down to 7:42.  Every time I heard footsteps behind me, I had this wave of paranoia that it would be Fern catching me.  Then, I had a sigh of relief when it wasn’t Fern.  But, the paranoia/relief cycle was absolute torture.  Who likes being the prey of the predator?  It fueled me to run harder and harder, and crossed the finish line with little left in my tank.  I quickly looked at the clock above and waited for Fern.  Sure enough, 30 seconds later, he crossed the finish line.  I couldn’t tell right away if I had beaten him since he started after me and I didn’t know how much after me he had.  Turns out that he started 50 seconds after me, so his net victory over me was a whopping 20 seconds.  Look, I’m always happy for the success of my friends and while I’m glad that neither one of us beat the other by a huge margin, it doesn’t make the tiny margins any easier.  How can I not ask myself why I didn’t do this faster, or that faster, or maybe not walked for so long at mile 3, etc.

– The end result is that I finished in the top 19.34% out of something like 4,000 people.  It’s just a statistic but if anyone knows me within the context of this sport, I’m all about crunching numbers.

– We were both ecstatic over our respective efforts and got post-race photos, shared hugs, and recounted our experiences.  Soon after, we took advantage of free 20 minutes massages, then chowed down on a very nice array within the food tent.  We got a few beers as well, then met up with the rest of the gang before heading back to the hotel to shower up.  Then, the real fun started!

– Before leaving the race area, I did run into Jose Lopez again as well as good friends Kerry and Kevin Simmons.  Both are absolutely tremendous triathletes and I found out that they’ve created their own triathlon team called First Wave Tri.  I’d like to join, but with their base on Long Island, and with my schedule, it may not work.  We’ll see though.  In any event, it was good to be so relaxed and to see great people in a beautiful environment.

– That afternoon, we began our long afternoon of post-race celebrations.  We believe that we hit most of the bar areas of town, as evidenced by the trail of empty beer bottles, and eventually wound up at an oyster bar where we must have consumed 60 or more of them!  Add to that the beers, shots, whiskey, etc., and it was a mind-numbing party.  Fern executed what we call “The Great Escape” and my efforts to track him down in this strange city left me lost as well, but I eventually found him sprawled on his bed on our hotel.  He may have beaten me in the race, but I beat him in party endurance and according to my measurement scale, I win!!

– We decided as a group that next year, we’ll do the Miami International Triathlon which we believe is in late March 2010.  Next up this year however is the Columbia Triathlon in Maryland on May 17th.  There is a lot at stake here for a variety of reasons.  1)  Brad beat Fern on the bike leg and neither Marty nor I can stop teasing Fern about it. 2) I’ve stated that I’ll beat Brad by 3:36 on the bike in Columbia.  Why I chose that time is a mystery, but clearly estimated on being able to extend my winning time margin on the flat St. Anthony’s course to the hilly one in Columbia. 3) “Ox” (Marty’s friend) held back in the run on Sunday because of a hampered hamstring; he’ll likely be healthy in Columbia and he is clearly the fastest among us in all aspects… but he’ll have to prove it  4) They likely won’t cancel the swim this time, which changes the game for all of us since the variety in our swim abilities is likely rather large.

Before Columbia, I’m running in a 10 mile race in Philadelphia on Sunday morning, then doing the Spring Couples Relay the following Saturday.  Don’t know what to expect in the 10 miler, but my goal is to average 7:45.  My “secret” goal is 7:30 which would equate to a finish time of 1:15:00, but the stars will have to be in alignment!

In the end, this St. Anthony’s Triathlon event was a great time with great people in a fun venue.  St. Petersburg doesn’t offer a ton of activity, but we made the best of it.  I remain grateful, as always, that I have the tremendous gift of living in a free society in this great nation, that I have the ability to afford participating in these events, and that I have the incredible gift of good health.  These three elements are never forgotten by me and I make sure to call attention to them after every race.

Postscript:  Check out the following link for pics from the race:

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