I finished up lap one in just under 17 minutes for about 1000 meters and got back in the water for lap two. A little past half-way up the front stretch, the day almost went off the rails. My left calf seized up like a car engine without oil. I quickly rolled over to my back and let out a loud expletive. I briefly looked for one of the paddle boarder
Well, that was an interesting day. The USA Triathlon Long Course National Championships/Miami Man Triathlon is in the books. I would like to say that everything went according to plan, but it didn’t. Results are one thing, but executing the plan can be a whole different story. I should have known when I went to bed the night before that things would not go quite as planned.
The not-so-restful sleep
It is a rare occasion when I don’t sleep well the night before a race. Normally, I have no problems getting into bed by 8:00 PM and zonking right out. That didn’t happen on Saturday. No, I sat there staring at the television, watching a movie that has put me to sleep many times over. Still, sleep did not come. The longer I remained awake, the faster the 3:00 AM wake-up would come. I needed to sleep! I clicked off the TV, and I could hear my heartbeat. Thump-thump. thump-thump. Roughly every second or so I could hear it beat. Seriously, I just wanted to drift off. I wasn’t thinking about the race. I wasn’t nervous. I just couldn’t sleep. I popped open my iPad and put on another one of my go-to sleep movies on Netflix, and I finally drifted off. That didn’t last. Shortly after midnight, I had to pee. Again at 2:00 AM. Grrrr…sometimes pre-race hydration doesn’t go as planned. Finally, the alarm sounded, and I drug myself out of bed to make coffee. I felt ok getting out of bed, but I definitely did not feel refreshed.
The pre-race ritual
After eating breakfast and hitting the bathroom, it was time to head to transition. Despite the small downpour during the night, the transition area was not a muddy mess. No, everything looked pretty good. A bit damp, but pretty good. I quickly got my area set up and went looking for one of my athletes. I helped her with her setup, making sure that her socks were rolled and the tires were pumped up. Then, I headed off to the port-a-potty for one last opportunity to clean out the pipes. That’s where things took a turn. The day prior, I had felt a little cramping in my left calf, but I thought that I had resolved that issue. Ten minutes in the sweatbox of a port-a-loo, and I looked like I had just done a ten-mile warm-up run. I was dripping with sweat.
Not good. Time to rehydrate a little.
I killed off the water I had with me as we made our way to the swim start and began to put on my swimskin. After a quick picture with the wife, I jumped in the water for a short warm-up swim and a last pre-race pee. Yes, I peed in the lake while wearing my race kit. Don’t judge me. Before long, the race officials called my wave to the starting pen, and I lined up with about 70 other competitors.
Aqua Mixed Martial Arts
Even before we started, the swim was not going to plan. Almost every year, Miami Man is a wetsuit-legal race. The keyword there is “almost”. In preparation for this race, I purchased a Roka Maverick Elite full length wetsuit. I hoped to get an extra push from having the wetsuit and knowing that it is one of the faster ones on the market. Yeah, I guess we’ll have to find out another time whether that is the case or not. No, for the first time in a number of years, the race was not wetsuit legal. On the bright side, I did have my swimskin, so I felt good about that. Not as good as the wetsuit, but it would have to do.
With about two minutes to go I was standing in the second row of swimmers, looking at some nervous faces and joking with a few. With one minute until the start, I pulled my goggles on, got in one last bit of arm stretching, and prepared myself for aqua combat.
Sure enough, the gun went off and a number of people went running for the water like they were on fire. I remembered from swim warm-up that the ground was a bit mucky, so I did not want to run the risk of a face plant early in the competition. Plus, I saw no need to elevate my heart rate prematurely, as I am positive that would come later in the day. Well, I was right on both accounts. One dude went down hard once he passed ankle-deep water. He face-planted and took in a bit of water and mud. I am sure that was not how he envisioned starting his day
Once I got into waist-deep water, I hit the gas a little to try to get on some fast feet. Also, I wanted to avoid some of the position battling as we got to the first turn buoy. Apparently, everyone else had the same idea, and I soon found myself in the heat of battle. Ok, it wasn’t really that bad. Actually, it was quite nice. We got to the buoy, and everyone proceeded around it in as orderly of a fashion as you could hope. The pushing and shoving was minimal.
I accelerated out of the turn to get back into my rhythm, and I found myself side-by-side with another guy from my wave. We stayed together for a few hundred meters until the next turn, and then he dropped away. By this time, we started passing slower swimmers from the previous two waves, and I lost track of where I was relative to the others in my age group. This would play a role in the rest of my day.
lifeguards, but there were none in my vicinity. It was probably better, as I may have actually grabbed on to the board, which would have severely hampered my time. Since I had no other option (other than drowning), I rolled back over and swam without using my left leg. By the time I hit the turn buoy (about 150 more meters), the cramp released and I returned to a very soft two-beat kick.
As I made the turn at the far turn buoy, I started to run into lapped traffic. Holy hell, I did not need that. I swam over the top of some poor person (not really sure what it was and didn’t care to stop), which slightly disrupted my stroke and angled for the next buoy. I found myself darting in and out of the slower swimmers still trying to figure out where I was in placings for my age group. The variety of swim cap colors all around me was absolutely no help.
Finally, I passed the last buoy and made a b-line for the swim exit. Climbing out of the water, I checked my watch. I had only lost about a minute to the cramp, and I was still out of the water in under 35 minutes for a 2000-meter swim.
Overall, the swim course was fairly straightforward. The buoys were pretty easy to see, and the lifeguards were present to help those in need. To be fair, I didn’t flag one down. Had I waved, I am sure I would have had one over to me within a minute. The only downside I can identify is that the aquatic life was pretty sparse. I didn’t get to see any reef fish like in IM Cozumel. That’s my only complaint. On the flip side, I was not at risk of being attacked by an alligator (Toughman Florida) or a shark (IM 70.3 Worlds in Mooloolaba), so it’s a fair trade.
Mental math ain’t so easy
Remember a little while ago where I stated that I couldn’t figure out where I was in relation to the rest of my field? Yeah, that never got better. I emerged from the water and heard my wife cheering for me. I felt good (other than the calf) and run up the hill into T1. With great futility, I attempted to determine how many people made it out of the water ahead of me. This was a stupid idea. Not only was I trying to recover from my swim, I was attempting to pull a number out of the heavens. See, I had no idea how many of the people were Aquabikers or how many were in the earlier two waves. I was not sure where on the racks my age group started and ended. So, that idea was doomed from the get go. Ninety seconds later, I was out of T1, running with my bike to the mount line, passing a couple of people as I jumped onto my rolling bike. Time to get to work.
Ride the Wild Wind
Heading out of the park on the bike course, I told myself two things: mind the calf, and pay attention to the power output. The wind was blowing pretty hard out of the east-northeast, so it would prove to be beneficial during the first 13 miles of the course on our way out to the 15-mile loops. It was awesome. I felt like I was on the London Classic Loop on Zwift. At about 215 Watts, I was cruising along at 24 MPH. While I couldn’t seem to count empty slots on the bike racks only moments before, I was sure able to quickly start figuring out my possible bike split if I could hold that average speed. Ha! Silly me!
Despite holding off on the power, I steadily closed on and passed people. Each time I got close, I took a look at the right calf for the age marker and the bike number on the frame. Nothing. All in earlier waves and not in my age group. Hmmm. “What the heck is going on here?” kept going through my head. Either the faster swimmers are all strong cyclists (not the norm), or I am near the very front of the race in the first part of the bike (actually the case but quickly dismissed as out of the question) were the only options I could surmise. At any point, I figured that I would just stick to my plan and see what happened.
As I approached the beginning of the loops, I closed in on another rider and the first aid station. I sat up to give him space to get his bottles and for me to get mine before overtaking him. Prior to the aid station, he had looked back to see me closing the gap. For some reason, he didn’t really come out of his position or ease up enough for the volunteers. He completely gaffed the first bottle, knocking it out of the volunteer’s hand, and didn’t do any better on the second one. No, he bobbled the bottle and began losing his balance. His front wheel went left, then right, then left hard, and he went down in a heap. I slowed, got my bottle, and moved on. Sorry to see his race end like that, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
Rolling through the first lap, I felt a little lonely. I continued to pick off a couple people now and then, but nobody was in my age group. I was still trying to figure out where I was in the field but remained disciplined, holding my target wattage. Approaching the end of the first lap, I felt pretty strong and was ready to face the second lap.
Reap the Wild Wind
Lap two was a bit of a different story. Where as on the first lap I could feel the push from the tailwind and could still cut through the headwinds, everything changed a bit on the second lap. The winds picked up significantly, I started coming across lapped traffic, and local vehicle traffic started becoming an issue. The increase in the wind gave a much better push, but the amount of tailwind riding on the laps really was not much at all. It was a decent stretch, in terms of distance, but it was only one leg. The remainder was a mix of headwind and crossswind. That’s where the windspeed combined with lap traffic made a huge difference. On the first lap, I was more or less by myself, so I didn’t have to worry about position. I simply rode on the best surface and had plenty of space for the occasional swerving due to the wind gusts.
Not so much in the bigger crosswinds. As I began to pass slower riders, I started trying to time it so I wouldn’t be right next time them during a gust. On more than one occasion, I had to fight the push pretty hard to keep from swerving close to the other rider.
With traffic now picking up, it meant that the extra dimension of cars passing and oncoming traffic could also affect how the wind was hitting me and my ability to make passes safely. It got a little dodgy at times, but the biggest problem came as we made the final push into the long headwind stretch on the way home. Here, you could see the wind mentally an physically breaking people, and the cars frayed nerves. The cars were really not bad and were pretty respectful of the race from what I saw. However, small areas with congestion around stop signs started to freak out some of the less experienced riders. Already battered by the headwinds, the riders were not sure what to do, as they approached a line of cars four or five deep at the stop sign. A couple of times I made a last second surge to pass the rider prior to reaching the cars, telling the rider to follow me past the cars on the right. Other times, I coached the rider from behind, telling them to stay to the right but keep pedaling. It cost time, but everyone was playing it safe, so I did not mind.
The tale of two races
Towards the end of the second lap, a guy from a later wave caught up to me. He was really working the bike, and I did not know that he was not doing the full tri. He was much bigger than I, so I figured that I only needed to keep him in sight to have a chance to outrun him. We made the turn for the 13-mile stretch of mostly headwind back to transition. My new nemesis passed me as we turned into a cross-tailwind and took off. He never got more than 15 seconds up the road, but I could tell that he was drilling the pace. I continued to balance the desire to keep him from getting too far up the road with holding my prescribed power. As we turned into a brief stretch of headwind, though, something happened. The nemesis started coming back. This happened constantly over the next five miles. During a crosswind section, he got a little gap, and then I would pull him back into the headwind. Then we hit the long headwind section, two miles in length, and I saw it. Nemesis stopped pedaling for a second and tried to stretch his back. At that point I had him. I quickly overtook him and he fought hard to stay within five bike lengths to get what little legal draft he could off of me. As the headwind continued to blow, Nemesis was only spared by traffic-induced slowdowns. Every time that I had the rubber band stretched to the point of breaking, I would get slowed by vehicles or International Distance athletes, as we were now on the shared part of the course.
When I slowed to get around vehicles, I would inevitably hear the squealing of Nemesis’s brakes behind me, as he took advantage of every extra microsecond of speed available to him. For the last few miles, he just sat there. I was not willing to hammer the pace due to still having 13.1 miles left to run, but I could tell he was suffering. Finally, we entered the park and made the last turn heading towards the dismount line. Sure enough, Nemesis begins hammering and shot right by me. Jerk!
I pulled my feet out of my shoes, placing them on top, and kept pedaling. I figured that I would just have to bury Nemesis on the run. I saw him dismount his bike and start running with it to T2, and I knew that I would have him there. As I approached the dismount line, I swung my leg over the bike, hopped off, and ran with it to T2. Boom! Flying dismount complete, and I was hot on Nemesis’s heels. Then it happened. He entered T2 not more than two steps in front of me, and he collapsed with a big smile. Aw, come on! He was not doing the triathlon, only the aquabike (swim-bike only). Now I was really glad that I didn’t try to push the pace to lose him, but I was mentally prepared for an epic battle on the run. Grrrr.
From the frying pan into the fire
I dispatched with T2 quickly and headed out on the run. It was hot on the bike, but I had been able to keep my body fairly cool between the wind and dumping water on me. However, I didn’t quite get my aerobottle filled up at the last aid station on the bike. Thus, I rolled the last two miles with no water left. I wasn’t worried, as I figured that I would get some ice to throw down my kit at the first aid station. If nothing else, I would have a fair amount of cold water to drink and pour on my head…..or not. I burned through the first mile in 6:30, feeling good but knowing that I needed cold fluids. Aid station 1 had lukewarm water. No ice. Nothing cold. I got what I could and kept going. Surely, aid station two would have it. Nope. More of the same. At this point, I made the choice to throttle way back. I did not want to blow up and be forced to walk. I just needed to push forward.
I was still trying to figure out where I was in the field. As I made my way through T2, I really did not see too many bikes, but it was tough to tell because of the three different races going on at the same time. I started ticking off the first few miles of the run and hit the out and back section of the first loop. Looking around, I saw mostly yellow bib numbers (duathletes) and some green ones (international distance) but very few blue ones (my race). Despite the body telling me that it was near critical overheat levels, I kept pushing. Finally, a TeamODZ teammate who was a little ahead told me on the out and back section that there was a cooler with ice at aid station number four. Oh, thank God. I found the cooler and proceeded to load up on ice. I put it in my hat. I put it down my shorts. I put it in the front and the back of my kit. It felt AWESOME! Eventually, I found a couple more ice stations on the first lap, and I started to feel a little better.
I finished off lap one in good shape, only having been passed by my TeamODZ teammate. I kept chugging along, picking off lapped traffic and duathletes, and now I started to see people from my race. I had no idea whether they were on their first lap or not, so I just set about passing them and getting on with my run. Finally I made it out of the zoo, and I knew that I had less than two miles to go. I rolled through the last aid station and grabbed a cup of warm water to wash off the salt, snot, and gel from my face and waited to hear the finish line noise. Finally, I could hear it. Less than one kilometer to go. I made the final turn, and I could see the crowds. One final turn, and I was in the finishing chute. Nobody was around, so I didn’t have to worry about someone from a shorter race trying to outrun me in the last ten meters. 4:46 and change. Not my goal time, but I wasn’t unhappy with it.
Whew, that was a hot day with brutal winds. My wife found me, as I sat in a sweaty heap in the recovery area, snacking on some pizza and drinking a coke. I was sitting with one of my athletes who had just completed the aquabike, and my wife went to go get our results. When she showed me the printout, I quickly understood why I never could quite figure out where I was in the field. That’s because I finished second in my age group and had been near the very front all day. I was stoked! The day just kept getting better. Samantha, my aquabiker, finished second and got a slot to the International Triathlon Union World Championships, too. Then, Ilinke finished and got a slot. Then Seth. Then Deirdre. Five for five! Woo hoo! Even better, a number of other friends from Key West got in, as well. I am super proud of the hard work that they all put in despite having had big challenges to training, having all been affected by Hurricane Maria to some degree.
Looking back at the race, I am very happy with the results. I have a few things to work on, regarding pre-race execution of my nutrition. While I am not 100 percent certain that was the case, I am fairly sure that the lack of sufficient hydration during the three days prior to the race played a huge role in the cramp on race day, especially when combined with the ten minutes of sweatbox time on race morning.
Now it is time for a short off-season, and then training for Worlds begins in earnest. That’s it for me for now. It’s now time to eat some ice cream and have a beer. Coming soon, you will be able to follow the Worlds prep on Zwift at www.zwiftblog.com, as I will do almost all of the running and bike training indoors. Have a good break. Until then, Ride On!