Distance: Olympic

Total Time: 2:19:58

Division Place [F30-35]: 1st

Oh boy, how things have changed over the past couple of months! In March, I redirected my life journey yet again by leaving my life as a Nurse Practitioner to pursue a position with a sports nutrition company called BASE Performance. I’m now fully entrenched in an entrepreneurial, startup environment—a far cry from the highly structured, gargantuan, machine-like hospital systems from where I hailed. This turn-around entailed uprooting from Atlanta, moving to Boulder and adopting an unstructured, somewhat freewheeling, mildly chaotic but exciting lifestyle.

And let me say for the record that the move to Boulder does not represent any sort of aspirations of attaining my Professional Card in Triathlon, as many have assumed. On the contrary, I made a concerted decision that while I want to incorporate the sport into my life in a greater way, I do not want to make the sacrifices that “going pro” would entail. And honestly, I am super flattered that I’m even asked the question, but my aptitude for the sport feigns in comparison to the professionals that rightly compete in a league far above mine [which I am humbly learning as my interactions with them increase in Boulder]. I entered the sport to have fun, improve myself, and make like-minded friends. Performance was never an objective, nor do I want to make it a primary priority in the future. If entrenching myself in the sport happens to produce stronger performances, then great! But I never want to lose sight of the main reason I continue to love the sport—the fun and supportive community of likewise somewhat off-kilter individuals.

Anywho. I digress.

Adjusting to the my new job and life, I would find myself each Monday saying, “THIS is the week I’m going to start training FOR REAL!” And by Tuesday, something would invariably thwart my efforts at discipline—whether it be work-related travel, fighting the flu, over-indulging in St. Patrick’s Day festivities, and/or Apocalyptic April snowstorms. My Training Peaks Calendar glowed red with workout left uncompleted, as BASE Team Member Tommy Craig can testify.

However, adjusting to the altitude proved much more challenging than the erratic schedule. During the patchwork of workouts I did manage to complete, I found that altitude essentially eliminated Zones 3 and 4. I could hold a Zone 2 heart rate well [albeit at an average bike speed a good mile per hour slower and a run pace a frustratingly 1-2 whole minutes per mile slower than my sea level paces]; however, any semblance of exertion or incline left my heart rate dizzyingly and uncontrollably sky high.

I kept reminding myself that this season would be a transition that would enable me to continue the sport in a more profound manner in the long run. And that I no longer focused on making performance gains. But I can’t lie—it was very frustrating. Would I truly be “ok” if I got slower at the sport? Can I truly “just have fun” at a race? I’d like to think so.

On my race schedule is Chattanooga 70.3, Ironman Mont Tremblant [both “A” races] and the 70.3 World Championship [for “funsies”]. As Chattanooga 70.3 morphed from a nebulous event in the future to a rapidly approaching reality, I recalled the rocky start to my previous season at John Tanner 2015. Shoot! I better get a “shake out” triathlon under my belt.

As serendipity would have it, BASE Performance was asked to sponsor Kennedy Law Racing’s “Coffee Barge” event wherein a boat filled with coffee and chocolate milk idled 200 yards off shore to indulge swimmers with coffee and chocolate milk, which was affiliated with the St. Anthony’s Triathlon—a race that has lingered on my Triathlon Bucket List since my inception in the sport. It’s been around for over three decades and is heralded as the “season opener”, typically attracting an impressive Pro field, competitive amateurs as well as serving as a Triathlon spring break for those that prioritize [or simply incorporate] the nightlife over the race. I signed up, booked a flight and made it happen!

I had no particular goals in mind for this race other than to see if I remembered “how to triathlon” and avoid “Pulling a JT”—seriously. I “trained through” this race, skipping the taper in lieu of actually logging some of my long training workouts. As long as the swim was wetsuit legal, it would be good enough. And my bike would be fine. But with my run being so painfully slooooowwww in Boulder, as evidenced by my sufferfest at Denver’s Running of the Green a few weeks prior, running at all and particularly in Florida’s heat and humidity would be a big question mark.

PRE RACE

I took a three-hour red eye flight from Colorado Wednesday night—a flight not nearly long enough to disembark the plane an upright position. I had haphazardly packed a good 15 minutes prior to leaving the house. After a little nap in my cute airbnb bungalow in the charming town of St. Petersburg, I headed to the local coffee shop for a strong brew and a rapid-fire work session. I spied the hallmark computer-sized triathlon watch adorning the wrist of a gentleman sitting at the table next to me—my soon-to-be BFF, John. I inquired where one would venture on a long bike ride correctly presuming he would know, and he graciously invited me to join his buddies on a ride Friday morning.

So Friday morning the guys chauffeured me along the complicated, somewhat technical bike course, which I never would have successfully navigated myself. I believe there are 30-some-odd turns including two “U-ies”. As part of the Pewag Racing Team based out of Austria, these guys turned out to be quite the badasses and provided me with a fun and challenging ride at precisely the intensity level I sought [a training workout for me and a mere “shakeout” for them].

After completing the course in about an hour, we parted ways. Two hours remained for me to ride, so I spontaneously followed some road markings “C4L”, hoping that the 4 stood for “forty” and that the C didn’t stand for “century”. Fortunately, this route was by far the most well-marked route I’ve every encountered along quite a lovely ride. While my new buds lamented the sub-par cycling conditions in St. Pete’s, I quietly disagreed! There’s bike lanes everywhere! Quite a cycling-friendly city in my opinion—well, certainly compared to Atlanta! Although once cannot get much worse than that place…

Luckily, too, the route lead me back to town 🙂

Friday night, Chris and Kim Janke invited me to join Chris’ family for drinks and dinner at the Hollander hotel, where we indulged in cold beverages and food by at their lovely pool side bar until a pop-up rainstorm moved us inside. It was so great to catch up with Atlanta friends! I spent that night filling 600 BASE Salt sample tubes and knocking out a few time-sensitive work things until a ripe 12:30 am. My new life.

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RACE EVE

I awoke bright and early to meet Keara of the Kennedy Triathlon Team for the Coffee Barge! 7am wasn’t a particularly popular time for participants, so I spent a while meeting Keara and caffeinating myself before I made myself go for a swim—my first dip in the open water for the season. 3K later, I emerged from the water feeling more confident about this discipline. I then hung out, talked about BASE Performance and caught up with surprise friends including Kelvin of Team Podium and the famous “Slayer” of TriCoachGeorgia, whose greatness I came to know at their Choo Training Camp a few weeks prior.

I worked there until about 1 when I checked my bike in and hung out at the expo, meeting the likes of Susan Haag, a BASE Performance teammate who is on a quest to complete 100 full Ironmans! And Hector, the USAT Southeast director and Normatec boot god [with the physique of a Greek god].

In transition, I met a few gents and chatted with them for a good while. Their wave started as annoyingly late as my own, and they let me onto a secret hangout to bide the two hours comfortably that we’d have to wait to race on race morning. Oh and my bike hadn’t been tuned [or washed…] since Augusta nor had I bothered to install race wheels, I couldn’t find my aerobottle/bike computer mount, and I was pretty sure my power meter didn’t have a battery in it, anyway. You might say I wasn’t particularly “race ready” for this one…

I managed to lock myself out of my airbnb and realized I had forgotten to pack a tri top to wear, so I spent the afternoon straightening out these minor details. Oh, and I treated myself to a pre-race mani/pedi, a tradition I adopted at Augusta 70.3, as it proved to be blissfully successful at that race.

Kristi Hewitt, a friend from Atlanta who had relocated to Tampa, graciously invited me over to join her boyfriend Zach, sister Jaime and friend Kelly for a fantastic pre-race meal. We ate and drank and had a fantastic time. I did not worry that the meal transpired perhaps later than it “should” or that I indulged in a couple glasses of wine and ice cream before the race [Timmy—did you hear that?!]. It’s a relief just doing the sport because I love it. Without pressure.

I hit the hay kind of late and seemingly seconds later my alarm woke me up.

RACE DAY!!!

I carefully packed up my belongings, trying hard to fight thought my mind’s morning fog to separate the items I’d need that day from those that could be packed away. I sipped on one cup of coffee and chugged half of another before heading to transition. I saw Jaime racked up two spots next to me and greeted Kristi as I hurriedly set up.

I then ventured to the secret hangout with my transition buds and we chatted jovially while watching the pros swim in the distance with the sun rising over the horizon. A full hour later, I became nervous and left my friends to head toward the swim start, which proved to be farther than I thought. Regardless, I spent another 15 minutes struggling into my wetsuit and another 30 minutes thereafter waiting to toe the line—over two hours after the pros started [and about one hour after they finished…].

I could feel it getting hotter by the second.

After a century, it was my wave’s turn to wade into the water. For the record, the fact that “aging up” into the 30-35 category would be more challenging, I reconciled it by the fact that I would no longer start last. No such luck. Still back-of-the-bus.

Anywho. I saw Jaime and Lacey, wished them well [wondering if I’d be able to beat them..] and got in the water, christening it as triathletes do. 3-2-1-GO!

SWIM

26:30

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I let some girls go and then started to paddle. It surprised me that less than half of them wore wetsuits and I believe I was the only one to wear sleeves. As Coach would say, “What?! You don’t want to go faster?!” Well, in my case, a wetsuit makes me much less of a liability in the water. Drowning is a whole lot of paper work, and no one like that 😀

The pack stayed together longer than most swims I’ve experienced. And we all seemed to stay in a horizontal line without a leader shooting forward for us to draft. I noticed Jaime at my side, and I believe I unintentionally smacked her quite a few times, despite my best efforts to avoid smacking her of all people [I didn’t care about smacking strangers :)]. I was surprised to see her continually through the swim, considering she is a much better swimmer than I. Either she was having a rough day [doubtful] or I was having a good one!

The course took a left a right and another right to circumvent a pier before turning again back to shore about 200 feet down from the start. The water heading out was blissfully smooth. As I approached the first turn, however, I could feel the current working against me. I took stronger strokes, felt my heart rate sore and sighted a bit more frequently. That dang bout didn’t move any closer. I felt like I was standing still. Rather than get worried, I tried to stay calm, knowing that I’d get a lift from the same current in the opposite direction later. It also reminded me that I’d have similar conditions at the beginning of Chattanooga 70.3, so this was a good dress rehearsal. As my first official salt-water swim, I appreciated the buoyancy of the salt coupled with my wetsuit!

I made it a point to relax and focus on churning my arms equally—feedback I had received at one of the few Master’s classes I’ve made it to in Boulder. I noted to myself that I must be improving if I can concentrate on anything above and beyond pure survival as in previous races.

After the second turn, the water became a bit choppy, and I thought of Maria Thrash’s advice early in my “Swimtervention”. Without even knowing my personal swim issues, she predicted that I had been fighting the water, swimming beneath the chop, rather than strongly owning the water in a good position.

As expected, crowds formed at the turn buoys, and I did my best to navigate them efficiently. The first couple turns were decent. However, a few athletes bobbed around the final turn buoy forcing me to stop and tread for a few moments to navigate around them.

Into the home stretch! I could feel the current pushing me toward the shore, which was nice. I remembered to kick my legs strongly at the end. I saw volunteers lining the stairs out of the water and I wondered if they retained any strength to help my sad soul at the end o fate line of triathletes. Luckily, they gave me a hefty lift and I was out!

T1

1:35

I jogged the grassy knoll, pulling off my wetsuit, cap and goggles. I ran to my pretty awesome transition spot at the end of the rack, where I saw Jaime once again. Helmet on, shades on, shoes on and I was off! I ran with my bike, successfully maneuvering around “bucket sitters” and other more leisurely triathlon types that peppered my line of fire.

BIKE

1:04:22

I had been warned by John and my other new buds about the dangerously uneven brick cobblestones leaving transition. I reminded myself that gaining a few seconds up front wouldn’t be worth potentially crashing and running my day [and perhaps entire season]. So I took it easy until the first turn onto 4th street.

It’s amazing how things change on Race Day! Whereas I perceived the course as being relatively slow when I rode it Friday, it felt FAST racing it.

The course wasn’t as crowded as I expected. I took advantage of a “slingshot” pass when I could and cut the tangents on turns when I felt like I could do so safely. I made sure to stay in aero during the straight aways and hammered as much as I could, allowing myself to slow at the turns for “rest”.

It became strikingly apparent that those that knew the course well could cut some serious time. Could I have known prior to entering them specifically which turns I could have taken more aggressively, I probably could have gained some time.

I saw my average pace on my bike computer hover above 23 mph! Seriously?! That’s awesome. Let’s keep it that way!

Eventually I felt like I should take in some solid nutrition. For a 70.3 I know that I need solids. For olympic distance, however, I tote along a bar and see how I feel. I looked down to find that my electrical tape must have given way at the cobblestones. Oh well. I’ll run on CAFFEINE!!! 

Side note: for this race I experimented with caffeine. I ended up downing a good 3-4 cups prior to the race even starting given the long wait time. I added caffeine to both of my bottles. AND I put a bottle with an extra boost in transition. We’d see what would happen!

Also: I made sure to have FUN on the ride. I cheered people on, made comments and, as per usual, made many jokes that I intended to put in this post, but forgot by the end of the run. My sense of humor was ON FIRE on the bike!

While I debated attempting a flying dismount on the bricks, I ultimately decided to give it a go! I took my shoes off, placed my feet on top and successfully maneuvered my leg over the bike. And I never broke stride. I think this contributed to my speedy T-Time.

T2

1:49

I didn’t bother to put elastic speed laces on my new running flats. And I think this is my new preference [I can hear my Coach yelling at me]. Ha, I stopped, put my shoes on, and tied them. Grabbed my race belt/visor as well as a handful of BASE Salt Tubes—as Tony had suggested, if I have a bad run, I can always pretend I intended all along to go slow and/or walk and hand out Salt…

RUN

45:45

I opted to wear a crop top in hopes it would keep me cool. During training, I will save a top like this to help overcome the mental barrier of especially dreadful brick workouts. I also rocked my Atlanta Tri Club shorts, not caring at the mis-matched kit. I do what I want!

I set out conservatively considering the relatively short distance of the run. The first mile felt hard. At the first aide station, I grabbed ice and put it down the top and bottoms and felt an instant jolt of energy! That’ll wake you up… Just when I started to feel myself petering out, the next aid station would appear and ICE would energize me! I proceeded this way for the first three miles, which seemed to crawl by slower than they should.

I saw a few of my new-found friends heading back in toward the finish and we exchanged cheers, which was a fun surprise! I certainly didn’t expect that!

I reached the turn-around and gained confidence. Only 3.1 to go!! Just get to ICE! At mile 5, I saw Lacey headed out on the first 3 and she cheered me on! I was honestly surprised to be so far ahead of her, and I knew I must have been having a good day!

Whelp the next aid station came and I yelled to a volunteer for ice. No dice! No ice?! I splashed myself with water hot from the sun, which provided minimal reprieve from the heat. Ugh. I slogged onward.

The next aid station came and went without ice. As did all of the remaining aid stations in the race. I made it back to a foot bridge that felt like a speed bump on the way out, but somehow grew to a legitimate hill on the way in. I enjoyed a super short downhill and used the momentum to get to get to the home stretch, where I heard a few people cheer for me. Again, a surprise!

I ran through the finish with perhaps a bit more available to give to this race, but not much. I was happy with my performance; not a shabby start to the season!

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POST RACE

I found Jaime and Kristie and Zach and passed the time until awards sipping on a couple recovery beers. I also chatted with Tim Newberg who has lofty aspirations in the Olympic and Sprint distance races. He’s gonna crush it this season with a little bit of new direction from Coach Chris Rotelli!

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Once can consume high amounts of caffeine on race day without noticeable immediate negative consequences. Hopefully, however, I will not require such high levels to function moving forward.
  • Tying shoes >>> yanks, elastic laces, speed laces or whatever other commercialized solution.
  • Ice is only second to Coca Cola in the category of magical elixirs of Triathlon.

OVERALL

This race is AWESOME! Well organized. Very fun atmosphere. The course would be excellent for teams. The town of St. Petersburg and Tampa far exceeded my expectations. Aside from the ice shortage, I’d list this as one of my top 3 favorite races ever. I’ll be back again and again! Now, bring on the rest of the triathlon season!!