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Race Report: HITS Naples 70.3

Well, that was different. I wouldn’t say that I was untrained for this half iron distance triathlon, being my 6th 70.3 race, but it could have better (don’t we always say that?). That being said, I did finally get under 7 hours race time.

HITS Naples puts on a decent race at a good location, but their youth is evident in several aspects. Race morning we showed up around 5:30am to Vanderbilt Beach Park and were able to get a spot in the base level of the parking garage across the street. One thing was quite obvious that morning – dense fog. How different can west coast be from east coast fog? We walk across the street with our bags to tend to our boxes. Now HITS does one thing different with its transition area locations (yeah, more than one) than most of the other races – boxes and stools for each spot rather than metal tubes set up as “A” frames. What is missing (& greatly needed) are aisle markers – not having them made it a little difficult to find the right one. After dumping our pre-made T2 run bags into large trash bins marked by race numbers, we tended to our T1 spots and got ready for the swim.

There is a bit of a walk to the ocean, but I’ve seen longer (Key West Tri 2010) and there was only a small rocky area that was avoidable (nicely pointed out by a volunteer). The beach is nice – no shells, debris or even jellies! Now remember the fog? Where as the day before we could see all of the red pyramid buoys yesterday, only 2-3 were visible in this fog. They were spaced out enough so that after passing one, the next was just visible enough to keep going, & there were volunteers out there to make sure we didn’t miss the 180° turns. There were a few flocks of pelicans that flew overhead – leading credence to the name Pelican Bay. Heading south for the counter-clockwise swim felt like there was a little bit of a current. When I made it to the second turn buoy and headed for the exit I noticed 3 things: I seemed to be going pretty straight, there were fewer swimmers at this turn & the fog had slightly thinned. Getting closer to the exit I started to notice some people walking – in the water. Turned out there was a shallow sandbar; there was still room to swim so I kept going past some walkers until I couldn’t. I popped out of the water, heard my wife just behind me (I was the only person wearing arm coolers), and we trotted to transition.

Once we found our spots (aisle markers, HITS!) the chairs helped in me cleaning some ocean junk off my feet & getting my bike shoes on. Helmet, shades, nutrition (bottle of morning-made Perpetium & a pack of Sport Beans) and TomTom watch. Heading out of transition I could feel & hear a rubbing brake – just before the mounting area I tweaked the front brake calipers and headed into the fog. Thankfully there wasn’t much wind to be an issue with effort but it might have lifted the fog earlier. As it was, we cycled east for at least 30 miles and as such the fog remained and limited visibility to about 1/4 mile. I did have no trouble seeing vultures/buzzards though! The bike course is really flat – only a few small, slight rises throughout the 56 miles. There was a good bike lane/shoulder for most of it, too, except for one stretch (miles 35-45?) with no bike lane, cars/trucks with a 55mph sign and big trailers going by. There were a couple water bottle exchanges, but not much else. I didn’t see portable bathrooms, Gatorade/Powerade bottles, or signs for the full distance athletes. I know they had to go farther before doing a 180°, but the only signs I saw were for 10 (twice), 20, 30 & 40. Coming back the fog was slightly dissipating and was pretty much gone by the time I turned into Ave Maria. Now, my normal bike computer went wonky a few weeks ago, so I wore my running watch for time: when I hopped on it was 7:45am and going over the brick paver entrance and speeding through the last mile or two, it was closing in on 11am. So a sub 3:15 bike over 56 miles was good.  And the only issue (more of an inconvenience) was I had to do some standing peddling to relieve pressure on “my seated” area. I am still on the same saddle I bought in Texas just before IMTX2011.

Next up, as in most triathlons, is the run. And in this case, it was 13.1 miles of “oi vay!” Now in previous years, the run was kept near Vanderbilt Beach – makes sense since T2 was the place as T1. But we got the pleasure of running around Ave Marie in two loops that didn’t really highlight the area. The bike ride into the area went past several communities, shopping centers, golf course and I think a horse stable. But the run course went around one lake, past a recreation center and a water park (only for residents of Ave Maria!) and then several miles of undeveloped lands. From miles 1.5 to 3.5 and back (and then again for lap 2) were completely unshaded. Even the other portions of the run course were only partially shaded by a few trees which didn’t provide much shade the later in the day that the race went on. I started out and did the first out-and-back loop fairly conservative/explorative, doing between 10 & 11 min/mile and only taking a short walk break once or twice. There were 3 aide stations along the course, which we hit going out and then back – water, ice, HEED, Hammer gels, chips, Coke, pretzels, sponges. The second loop – slightly different matter. Turn-around went past the turn for the finish and there were some spectators in the area of the finish; except for the aide stations, that was about it for non-racers on the course. The sun was out more for this loop and Mother Nature wasn’t playing – few clouds; at least the temperature was bearable. I knew the completely unshaded area would be bad, so for most of that stretch I did as a race-walk/speed walk around a 14-15 min/mile. Each aide station I hit that day I took at least one cup of water to not only sip but also pour some on my arm coolers, shoulders and head. I was a bit surprised when, for the 2nd loop, two of the stations had run out of cups, water, and/or ice. But I did hear that they had replacement on the way. I can only imagine what the full distance participants had to deal with. After getting back to the “shaded areas” I went back to a jog/short walk for the rest of the 2nd loop, and made it back to civilization and the finish area, even jogging the last mile. At least the finish was in view of the center of town with some sort of church.

HITS Naples Half Race Stats
Swim: approximately 45 minutes (with T1 included since there is no swim split)
Bike: 3:10 + 4 min T2
Run: 2:44
TOTAL: 6:43

What HITS did good:

  • nice beach location
  • transition with boxes and chairs for everyone
  • relatively flat bike and run
  • helpful and friendly volunteers

What HITS should address

  • security at transition (no one double-checked us leaving with our bikes)
  • lane numbers in T1
  • more/better timing mats
  • more than just water on the bike course (and maybe porta-potties?)
  • more covered areas at the finish
  • no USAT officials monitoring drafting on the bike course
  • pacers were on the run course (on foot and bike)
  • race photos – I didn’t see and photographers, even the finish

 

Race Report: Hutchinson Island Half Iron

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