The Miami International Triathlon

Posted by on March 19, 2010 in Training

Well, the first triathlon of the season is now behind me.  It was a fun day, but it tested me in a lot of ways as would be expected for a March triathlon.  What made this event fun was that it was part of a travel weekend with good friends.  Therein, the post-race festivities were part and parcel of making this weekend memorable.

Fernando and I arrived on separate flights on Friday.  He landed long before me with hopes of getting sun, but Miami was going through the last parts of rainy weather.  In my case, I landed a few minutes earlier than scheduled only to sit on the tarmac for 2+ hours thanks to a lack of gates available to receive us.  Seriously?  This is an international airport of significant size!  Not to be outdone by some initial obstacles, I remained calm knowing that great times were ahead.

Fast forwarding to Saturday, Fernando and I decided to ride our re-assembled bikes to the triathlon expo, which was said to be about 5 miles away.  Marty, Fern’s brother-in-law, had a rented car, so he drove to meet us there.  The bike ride over included a portion over the Rickenbacker Causeway which is a bridge over a waterway that is maybe half a mile or so long.  The bridge isn’t terribly steep but it is virtually the only climb in the area.  Once at the expo, we finished the registration process, then perused the various booths and presentations.  I had to get some last minute adjustments on my bike, so the bike mechanic on site was a lifesaver for me.  With several new pieces of equipment on my triathlon bike, and with them not yet tested in a race, I was nervous about how things would turn out, but the mechanic was patient and supportive.  Ultimately, he did a great job and gave me some needed confidence that I’d have no equipment issues to fret over.

Marty, Fern, and I met up with Marty’s old college roommate some time later.  Jeff Oxman (“Ox”) is an interesting guy.  He’s lightning fast in this sport as he boasts a 20th place overall amateur finish last year, but he’s humble and sarcastic about it.  He’s just entered his 50s but he’s strong as… well… an Ox!  What makes him so interesting to me is his contrast to Marty.  While Marty is a smiling, laughing, loving soul, Ox presents a tougher exterior complete with an irascible and no-nonsense reaction to most things.  There’s a certain charm to that though, and it works well into our little boys club of triathletes.  I actually like him quite a bit.  This year was our second of doing a destination race in Florida:  last year, we did the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in Tampa along with Marty and Ox’s other buddy Brad.  We missed Brad this year and behind his back, we gave him a ton of ribbing for flaking out this year.  By virtue of this post, he now knows he needs to step up for whatever race we choose next year!

The rest of the afternoon featured eating, relaxing, and more eating.  We eventually met up with my friend Christine and her sister Wendy, both from NYC (Seattle originally) and with six of us there, we had plenty of pre-race chatter.

That night, Fern and I settled down in our hotel room fairly early, but while he fell asleep in no time, I was up til 12:30 or so playing backgammon and scrabble on-line.  Normally, I can fall asleep in under 30 seconds, and while I wasn’t up because of nerves, I was just unsettled.  I wasn’t terribly concerned though; I rested well all week and knew I’d be okay on Sunday.  Since we got up at 4:30 a.m., and since we lost an hour of sleep thanks to daylight savings time, I wound up only getting 3 hours of sleep… but as predicted, I still woke up feeling ready.

The gang teased me a lot this weekend because of some new things I intended to employ at this race.  I bought an aerodynamic helmet, the kind that makes me look like an alien, I bought a rear solid disc wheel, and I joined a triathlon team that features a race uniform (aka “kit”).  I was looking forward to representing my new team at this race and had my kit laid out Sunday morning, but when I put on the shorts, I noticed that the drawstring had recessed into one of the holes and I couldn’t get it out.  Fern also tried to no avail, so I went with plan B and wore my usual all blue shorts and top.  Even doing that elicited teasing for having bailed on the team kit regardless of my explanation!  Here’s a picture of the bike:

We got the race with plenty of time to spare, and I set things up at my transition area quickly.  Here’s a pic of my transition area at 6:30 a.m.:

As you can see, I had plenty of space available, but I didn’t need a lot.  Readers of this site will know how I brag about my speed within transition, and it’s because less is more.  So, in this pic, you can see my helmet to the left, the sneakers to the right, and my swim cap and nutrition gels in the foreground which would eventually be situated differently.

Transition closed at 6:45.  Fern and I headed to the swim start to see the professional field take off.  The race organizers delayed the start by 10 minutes to allow it to get lighter.  The pro men eventually went off at 7:10 with the pro women following just a few minutes behind them.  With both Fern and I having later start times, we were able to see all of the pros finish.  It was impressive; the first guy, a Brazilian, did the swim in 17:55 or something.  The eventual 2nd place finisher, Chris Lieto (who also finished 2nd at that Hawaii Ironman and who is known universally as triathlon’s strongest biker), was a good two and a half minutes behind the Brazilian.

We saw Marty just before his wave left and then got ourselves into the right group (as categorized by age group and swim cap color).  With most US races governed by the USA Triathlon organization, folks are grouped by their age as of December 31st of a calendar year.  So, with me turning 39 this year, I remain in the 35-39 age group while Fernando, who turned 39 at the end of December 2009, moved up to the 40-44 age group… and as such, we had different start times.  I went off at 7:48 and Fern left at 7:52.

This was the first race with my new wetsuit and right away, I knew that I hadn’t sealed the area around my neck that well.  I felt scratching and rubbing that I knew would be problematic if not attended to.  The beginning of any swim leg is always somewhat chaotic, so fumbling around with a wetsuit is not the best course of action at that point.  I just dealt with the discomfort for about 8 minutes until I found some open water to bob in for a few moments while I fixed the problem.  Thereafter, I found myself terribly inconsistent in maintaining good form.  My coaches at Terrier Tri have been working on deconstructing my stroke given some major problems with body rotation and upper body position, so I tried my best to follow the advice I had been given and to incorporate the new technical elements into my swimming, but it resulted in lots of short rests.  Eventually, when I emerged from the water, I saw that I had a rather disappointing (= slow) time.  I’ve never been known as a lightning fast open water swimmer, but this was ridiculous.  I immediately knew that my overall goal of two and a half hours was in dire jeopardy.

Since I pride myself on my transition time, I quickly got over the swim disappointment and sprinted to my bike passing tons of folks.  I got the wetsuit off quickly, got the helmet on and locked, and grabbed the bike.  Once I exited transition and got to the “mount” line, I hopped on and shifted into a harder gear as I stood out of the saddle.  With a bit of technical turns and with a few people swerving here and there, it was a little unnerving, but once on the open road, I settled down, got my shoes on and secured, and took a swig of water before preparing for the first of four climbs over the causeway bridge.  Heading towards it featured a decent headwind, but with fresh legs, I was able to climb with ease and power.  I was surprised at how close the turn-around was after the descent of the bridge, but I got around it and immediately began back up the ascent with good focus… and a nice tailwind!

Generally, the bike course was flat.  Most people think that a flat course translates to being easy.  Yes, it can be considered easy but the way I look at it, anyone can ride a flat course; the trick is to ride a flat course with consistent speed.  I set out to do just that and all of my telemetry (heart rate, average speed, cadence, etc.) indicated that I was performing at the right effort level.  After another turn-around, we headed back into the headwind.  The course featured a little side out-and-back section to mix things up and again, it featured head/tail winds.  Eventually, we all headed back onto the main course and approached the transition area.  It was a two-loop course, and while it was tempting to just do one loop, wisdom got the better of me as I passed it and headed back to the bridge.  This time though, the climb was much harder.  I wondered if I had pushed too hard on the first loop and simply had tired legs.  It might have been partly true, but as it turns out, nearly everyone I spoke to agreed that the winds picked up as the day progressed.  It was clearly evident as I had to get out of the saddle and really put forth a serious effort.

As all things yin/yang, I got up the uphill after the turn-around easily thanks to a naturally stronger tailwind and decided that on the descent, I’d really go for some speed.  My spedometer indicated that I hit 43.4 mph and it was obvious.  I was able to coast for a good while which gave me the opportunity to get in some nutrition via gels and water, and once the speed dropped to 25 mph, I picked up the effort level again.

The rest of the bike leg was somewhat uneventful save for seeing Fernando a couple of times and gauging how far ahead I was.  My first sighting roughly revealed a six and a half minute lead; the second one suggested that it had climbed to eight minutes flat, but I wasn’t exactly sure.

Going into the second transition, I executed everything well but once I dismounted and entered the bike area, I realized that I had run into the wrong aisle.  It took a good 20-30 seconds of recovery to find my area and I was plenty pissed at myself for that.  I am so disappointed and surprised; that will NEVER happen again!  I should have memorized things the day before, but I didn’t… and I paid the price.  Oh well.  I did manage to get my sneakers on quickly and got out in a reasonable amount of time.

Once I began the run, I immediately thought of the advice imparted by my coach Robert.  His suggestion was for me to start with a pace of 8:20 and slowly build each mile until I got it down to a 7:30 pace that I could sustain right to the finish.  I felt pretty good and despite some rough running surfaces initially, I decided to just go with my feelings.  Turns out that it was a good decision.  My first mile split was 7:45.  When I passed the mile marker, I looked down to see the time and was amazed.  But, part of me was concerned; was I going too hard?  Would this come back and bite me?  Well, the mile 2 marker revealed another 7:45 split.  Holy cow!  And, I didn’t feel like I was totally extended effort-wise.  I was in control of the run, not vice-versa.  I was dictating the pace, not the external elements like pitch of the course, intensity of other runners, etc.  My third mile split was 7:37 and I couldn’t believe how comfortable I felt.  The second half of the run was harder to track because they didn’t have markers for miles 4, 5, or 6, but I did my best to gauge things my own way… and I continued to feel good.

I saw Fernando and Marty several times.  Marty started in a wave that was 20 minutes ahead of me, so it was partly my goal to catch up to him, and every time I saw him, I saw that I was making up lots of time… but it was all for naught.  I wound up finishing 19 minutes faster; he managed to hold me off.  Fern is a fantastic runner and I’ve always been impressed by and supportive of his strength there, but Sunday wasn’t good to him.  Lots of factors are to blame for it, and I genuinely feel bad for him.  It was evident as we ran; every time I saw him, my calculations of our time difference kept getting larger.  I can understand that happening on the bike, but on the run?  Unheard of.  The last time I saw him, I had a 10 minute lead and it was growing.

As I headed towards the finish of the run, I felt tired but still in full control of my pace.  As I entered the finishing chute with several other runners, I put on the patented GG sprint and managed to get across the finish line alone.  That’s always my goal but not for an obvious reason.  There are usually race photographers on site and I like having unfettered race photos.  My God, is this vanity that advanced?  Might be time for some therapy.

In the finish corral, I waited for Fern hoping that he’d do okay.  He wound up coming in 12 minutes and 9 seconds after me.  He smiled as he crossed and he looked good.  For that, I was relieved.  We hugged, had our photo taken together, and headed over to get water.  It was the largest margin of victory in our years of racing together, though only my 4th win out of 13 where we’ve raced together.  I wasn’t racing against him though; I never do.  I race against me and my expectations.  If I wind up being faster than him, it’s great for trash-talking but I don’t put a lot of energy into that kind of comparison.  Sure, 12:09 provides plenty of ammunition for the near future, but the reality is that we’ll be racing in the same events many more times in the future.  The fact that we can do this together and have fun, and not get hurt, is all that matters.  Fern has since come to grips with his performance at this race and he has vowed to re-dedicate his training in the next few months in advance of our next race together, a half-Ironman event in mid-June in Maryland.  I’m happy to hear this; I want him to feel strong and race well… and I can still beat him, even better!

There was a little pain in this event though.  Marty and Ox challenged us to a Senior/Junior bet where we bet over who would be faster:  our combined time versus their combined time… PLUS 15 minutes.  I was diametrically opposed to the size of that handicap, but Fern agreed and so it was set.  Turns out that Ox beat his predicted time by ninety seconds (incredibly hard to do and super impressive based on how well he did last year) and Marty beat his by five minutes.  In contrast, I was six and a half minutes slower than my prediction, and Fern was nearly nineteen minutes slower, so they beat us straight up regardless of handicap.  The trash talking thereafter was loud and in our face, but we owned up to our loss and bought the first round as promised.  Marty really enjoyed the victory.  I mean he REALLY enjoyed it.  Dammit.

We had an amazing day after the race.  We drank and ate a lot, took a short ride on Marty’s sister’s boat, and really enjoyed our company with good friends.  I neglected to mention that Ox’s friend, R.J., was with us too along with his neighbors Debbie and Rayne.  The three of them did the race as a relay team, and we remembered them from last year where they did the same at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon.  The group of us really had a great time relaxing and partying.  Here’s a pic of Fern and me on Marty’s sister’s boat:

So there it is; first triathlon of the season is in the books.  It marks number 68 in my “career” with number 69 scheduled for tomorrow.  I’m doing a ski-bike-run triathlon at Belleayre Mountain which is a couple of hours north of NYC.  I’m not terribly ready for it, but I’ll go hard.  This post is incredibly long, so I’ll stop here and provide more commentary on the race in the next post.  FYI, the day after, I’m running the NYC Half Marathon.  Yes, these poor legs will need some TLC, so I’ve already scheduled my massage for Monday.  Check out Elisa’s link for massage therapy on this website.  She’s fantastic… and really cute!

That’s it for now.  Wish me luck with this ridiculous weekend!  Here’s a parting shot.  I didn’t carve this, but I still liked it.

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