First off, every race is a learning experience. No matter how many you do, no matter how long you have been racing, every race is going to be different. Even if you do the same race & venue, you physically are different, the weather could be different, dozens of factors go into a race. But when you do a race for a first time, you add more uncertainty. We had the course maps, heard from other people who had done the race previously, had even drove most of the run and bike course the day before. So we knew that the course was unshaded. But wow, when the forecast calls for cloudy skies all day and you get none of that all day, it can be rough.
Swim was a double mass start: one for the long peeps and then a later one for the short peeps (half iron or short course). We actually had to wait for the sun to rise, sometime after 7am so that the lifeguards could get the buoys placed. The ocean was not completely flat, but the waves did not go out far. We had to swim in a kind of T pattern: straight out, left turn, 180° to head south a long while until we hit the other turnaround buoy and then the other left turn buoy to take us back to the beach. But wait, I forgot the fun before and at the start: Now while the waves were only close to shore, they were pretty intense. Just standing in knee deep, my ankles were getting pounded by the shells picked up from the waves going both in & out. I should have taken that into account when the race finally started, as before I got to that first turn buoy I went to take a breath and was figuratively punched in the face by one of those strong waves. It took a good minute to recover (and several more to clear my lungs) and get my bearings, even a fellow member of Boca Raton Tri (Stefano) stopped next me and asked if I was okay. Once I got over that it was just a matter of getting to the next buoy. That proved uhhh, let’s say fun, as the current (going south) was enough to keep pushing my direction towards the shore. I think I must have done at least 1.5 miles instead of the posted 1.1 miles. And it turns out I kept some the ocean with me the rest of the day.
The bike, oh the bike. Started out okay, heading north for about 12 miles along good ol’ A1A – almost 100% flat, except for the few bridges that went over some canals. There was water bottle station at about mile 10 – remember that. The forecast was for calm to less than 5mph out of the NE for most of the morning, but it turned out to be more of a straight crosswind – it felt like a headwind going both north and then south, but a breeze going west. Unfortunately after going through the roundabout (mile 24) and turning west it lead straight to the NE Causeway bridge. And oh what a bridge it was! I think one of Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships could have fit under it, but that might be an overstatement (doubt it). Up and over the bridge and right at the bottom of the west side we had to do a right side 180° to go under the bridge and then go right back up the bridge on the other side. It was under the bridge at about mile 26 that the other water bottle station was located (thankfully), so I did a quick stop to fill my water bottle. So if you are following the math, you probably figured out that I was only halfway through the 56 mile bike when I got back to the roundabout. That meant another trip up and down A1A and the crosswinds (a bit stronger this time), and another trip with the bridge. It was almost like an unshaded Sugarloaf Mountain. The first bottle station I mentioned earlier (remember that?), was empty: no bottles, just a pair of guys in volunteer shirts sitting. Luckily the water station under the bridge still had bottles, albeit no longer chilled. I forget at what point I realized that I do not like biking. But thankfully the bike was over.
Run – wait, let’s not call it that. Let’s call it “survive 13+ miles in an almost completely unshaded foot course.” Because that was basically what it this last leg of the triathlon was. As I started out I wondered if it was smart idea: a little nausea, the high heat & humidity, and knowing that there was barely any shade. I made it to the aid station at mile 1 and then the aid station at mile 2. There I downed a bunch of ice water, a cup of coke and dumped several ice water all over. That helped and I felt the effects within 5 minutes. Go a few miles, left turn down a side street a bit, come back to the main street but keep going, go under the A1A bridge (& finally find a bathroom), turn around, go up & over the A1A bridge, do a quick in & out of park only to go back over the bridge, do a 180° back under the bridge to thankfully start heading back to transition, only to do the out-and-back from earlier, and then finally go straight to transition. Confused? Yeah, so was I. There were mile markers, but I guess they could only afford a small handful – one for the bike course (a misplaced 20 mile sign at mile 18.5) and four for the run: miles 1, 5, 8 (on the wrong side of the road facing the wrong direction), and 12. Thankfully there were some animals that littered the courses: saw a raccoon scampering around some shrubs the first loop of the bike, lots of birds all around, some dolphins at the run bridge, and enough crabs (both dead & alive) to stock a seafood restaurant for a week. Also thankful that around mile 7 I held up a bit and stuck with another fellow Boca Tri member, Kyle and we kept ourselves sane for the rest of the race. Always easier to keep moving with someone.
So what did I learn? Never do a half or full iron distance race between March & October in the state of Florida, or southeast US – the heat (plus humidity) can be a killer. What’s next? The relay at GFT with my wife and we are sooooo glad we downgraded from the individual ultra distances. Will I do another solo half iron or longer? Probably not