I love racing long distance triathlon because of the lifestyle and the great race locations. I decided to race this one for several reasons. First, uh, it’s in Miami in November. Hard decision there . . .mid 80’s, sun, South Beach , etc. My wife, Anna, seemed to really be in support of this one too. Second, my agent, David Arluck, lives in Miami Beach so Anna and I had a nice place to stay with David and his wife, Jessica, and some quality time with them. Finally, (okay, this was the real reason) it was a qualifier for the 2008 U.S. National Team for the Long Course Triathlon Worlds in Holland, August, 2008. There was 1 slot (yes, just one!) in my age group offered at this race. The slot would roll down only 5 places, so I had to win my age group to be guaranteed the spot, or at a minimum finish in the top 5 to be eligible and hope anyone above me passed up the slot. With 85 guys competing in my age group, I was prepared to visit the “black cave of death” during the race to win. It’s hard to go to there unless you have something like that to race for.
I’ve never raced in south Florida and don’t know the best triathletes in the area, so I had no idea who was there or their ability. Times for the top 5 from 2006 seemed reasonable, although a bit faster (5 – 10 minutes) than some other Half Ironmans. I knew the bike and run courses would be dead flat and should be fast, but the wild cards to slow you down would be the wind (likely) and the heat (also likely).
Anna and I brought Janna on her second airline trip in her life, which happened to be her second that week. We had just flown in from Boston on Sunday and flew down to Miami on Friday. She did great. Funny how taking off and landing they won’t let you hold more than a pimento cheese sandwich in your lap, but want to hold your 19 pound, wiggling, gurgling, squirming 6 month old baby? . . . no problem, go ahead! At least she travels for free.
Miami Beach is a happnin’ place in November when the rest of the country is starting to feel like cold, dark winter. Lots of tan skin, surgical enhancement, jewelry and hair color. Anna and I had a great time people watching each night we had dinner in Miami Beach with David and Jessica. We had a fantastic place to stay at David and Jessica’s home in Miami Beach, beautiful place right on the intra-coastal waterway. They’d never had a 6 month old in the house, but Janna was a princess and I think we made them want one.
I’m sure that the US Airways baggage gorillas were frustrated that they were not able to smash my bike box, so it came sliding out of baggage claim upside down but unharmed. A safe bike is always the first challenge flying to a race. The race site was about 15 miles south of Miami, next to the Miami Metro Zoo. Registration Saturday was a breeze and I drove the bike course (by car) just before sundown. Yes, dead flat 56 miles, in the open citrus farmland almost to Homestead, FL, a 13 mile out section, then two 15 miles loops, then 13 miles back in. I figured the wind would be 5 to 10 mph from all different directions, in my face, side, then at my back at different points of the loop.
Race morning went well. No problems getting there around 6:00 a.m. for the 7:00 a.m. start. The swim was barely wetsuit legal in a crystal clear man-made lake in a county park. (Sorry, no alligators to wrestle.) My blood sugar was fine prior to the start. I’d been nursing a strained muscle or tendon on the front of my right thigh, almost where my hip flexor connects to my waist. My massage therapist had done a great job on me the week prior to the race and I felt good . . . right up until the horn blew and I ran and dove into the water. Ouch! Felt it right there. But no time to worry about that right now. I wanted to get to the first turn buoy about 150 meters out in front of the churning pack of 85 in my wave. I sprinted like I was in the 100 meter Olympic finals, and made it there in the first 3 swimmers, and then tried to settle into a rhythm (really just catch my breath before I passed out).
2 loop swim. I felt really comfortable and by the end of my first loop I caught a lot of swimmers in the wave starting 4 minutes ahead of me, and did not see many other purple swim caps from my wave. That’s one thing I like do in wave swim starts, glance at the color of the swim caps in front and that I’m passing. Gives me an idea of how I’m doing. After the 2nd loop I exited the water feeling like I’d swam pretty well so I was a little shocked that my time was a slooow 37 minutes, 12th fastest out of 85 in my age group. But no time to worry about that now. (I found out after the race that most swim times were about 3-4 minutes slow so the course must have been a bit long.)
The run to transition was ouch, ouch, ouch! About 500 meters on asphalt with little rocks and all sorts of debris. There were 3 races going on that morning (Half Ironman, Olympic distance, and a duathlon) so the bike transition area was huge with about 1600 bikes. I always seem to lose about 60 to 90 seconds in transition checking my blood sugar. Today was the same. The test strip must be completely dry when inserted into my super fast One Touch UltraMini Meter, so I have to quickly dry my fingers before pulling a strip out and inserting it. But this time it took me 3 strips until my hand was dry and I finally got one to work. UGH! I lost about 90 seconds with all that fiddling, inserting, drying my hand and re-inserting test strips! (BTW, when I finally got it, my blood sugar was 150 mg/dl. Exactly where I wanted it to start the bike.)
Onto the bike course. I settled in quickly and felt great. I carried 2 Clif Bars and 2 gel packs, and planned to drink 4 to 5 bottles of fluid on the bike. The first 13 miles heading out were pretty fast and easy, averaging 23.1 mph. I figured it must be a slight tailwind. After 13 miles I hit the aid station at the start of the 15 mile loop, slowed to toss my bottle and take on two more, and lost the 2 guys who I’d been pacing off up ahead. They did not get bottles at the aid station and I suspected they would pay for that later.
I was surprised (and pleased) that there was not much drafting going on. I spent a lot of time passing about 100 guys who had started in the 2 swim waves 4 and 8 minutes ahead of me. I like to pass swiftly and decisively, prevents anyone from grabbing my wheel and delivers a bit of blow to the morale. The morale bone is connected directly to the legs and the chest. (BTW, about mile 30 I blew by those 2 who had not taken water bottles at the first aid station. Looked like they were suffering now.) Dead flat was the course. Lots of open fields and farmland for the wind to blow. At times the wind was glorious at my back, then painful in my face. After 43 miles, I was back on the 13 mile leg to transition, dead into the wind now, but still feeling strong.
I was real happy with my nutrition on the bike. I drank 5 bottles - 3 sport drink and 2 water. I also ate 2 Clif Bars and 1 gel. As long as my blood sugar had not ballooned (I knew it was not low), I would be in good shape starting the run. My stomach was fine, which is a good sign of no dehydration or high blood sugar.
Finished the bike in 2:25, averaging 23.2 mph. I had the 7th fastest bike time out of 85 in my age group and the 33rd fastest out of 710 overall. It’s always nice to see very few bikes in transition when I finish the bike, especially when there were about 100 people who started 4 and 8 minutes ahead of me. My age group wave was all racked together and I was pleased to see only a few bikes on those racks. I was also glad to see one super fast guy I know (Sean Hendryx) in transition about to head out on the run. Sean is a great triathlete from Clermont, FL and has won our age group, finished top 5 overall in a lot of races and qualified for and raced IM Hawaii several times. I checked my blood sugar fast (it was good, around 120 I think), threw on my shoes and took off.
The run course was . . . weird. Narrow asphalt paths in the county park (see photo), then rough dirt trails to the back entrance to the Miami Metro Zoo, then running through the zoo amongst elephants and families pushing strollers and eating snow cones, then out of the zoo for more dirt and grass paths (see more photos) back to the finish line. We did this course twice. It was just late morning but starting to get really hot, 85 to 90 degrees. At each aid station I tried to gulp down fluids and dowse myself with water.
I was hoping to run the same run split I had last month at the South Carolina Half Ironman, 1:40, about a 7:40 pace. My first couple of miles were about 7:30 but it was hard to tell since there were few mile markers and I’m not sure how accurate they were with all of the twisting and turning on this route. The run course was also full of people finishing up the (shorter) Olympic distance triathlon that had started 1 hour after the Half Ironman race. I was passing a lot of people on the run, but it was difficult to tell who was in the Half Iron and who was in the Olympic race.
I felt good on the 1st loop, and knew it would get harder on the second lap. It sure was strange (and a bit difficult) to run though the zoo suffering and hammering, while families casually sipped refreshments and kids stared at me with as much fascination as they did the elephants and zebras. I felt like I was close to the top 5 in my age group, but I really had no idea. No choice there but just to keep running as hard as I could.
I was running so hard that when I completed the second lap I almost missed the turn for the finish chute. Ha! I was definitely in the “black cave” at that point! Ran a 1:43, 7:54 pace, 5th fastest in my age group. I ran 3 minutes slower than the SC Half Ironman last month. Must have been the heat.
I finished in 4:53:20, 29th overall out of 710 and 3rd out of 85 in my age group. I wanted 1st, but that was as fast as I could go that day. USA Triathlon will contact me soon and let me know if I got the slot on the 2008 Team USA of the World Championship. I’ll let you know!
That does it for me racing this year. A season of racing with mixed results, and speaking engagements around 2 wonderful big events in my life – getting married and the birth of my daughter Janna. It all started with the Boston Marathon back in April. Thanks to all of my wonderful sponsors. LifeScan One Touch blood sugar meters, Omnipod insulin pumps, Nutrisoda beverages, Hincapie Sportswear, Clif Bar, and Rudy Project sunglasses and helmets. I also want to thank the Joslin Diabetes Center for a wonderful 1st year of working together.
There are lots of exciting things to come in 2008. Lots of races, speaking engagements, events and much more! Stay tuned!