The regular triathlon pre-race process (body marking, transition set-up, …) could not have been easier. I can’t stress enough the coolness of this race in regards to the laid back feel/attitude. There was no waiting in line, even for the porta-potties. The only issue I had was that my bike wouldn’t shift into my 25 on the back. On this course, this is a big issue. It’s my own fault since I switched my cassette onto my race wheel just before I left and put my bike together the evening before the race. I joined right in with the laid back island lifestyle, and I have no regrets. In fact, we were lying on the beach Saturday afternoon when Lisa said, “don’t you think you should go get your bike unpacked?”. Well, Sam from Cannondale, and Mandy’s boyfriend, who was also here racing, saved me. He took time out of his race morning prep and adjusted my derailleur so I was set for the challenge ahead. On top of things, I had a slow leak in my front wheel and with no time to change it, was hoping for the best.
As I laid out my transition area, listening to “Dog Days Are Over” by Lungs on my ipod, I ran into Mitch Gold and Mike Montgomery, two very fast guys who I knew were some of my main competition, along with a couple of foreigners for this race. I also ran into Chris Peeters. Chris is a doctor from Colorado, and an incredible triathlete. He and I have raced hard against each other in the past, the last time being in 2004 at the Disney 70.3 were I had a lead on him off the bike and he ran by me like I was a street sign, posting a run split around 1:18 and only 2 min behind pro winner Simon Lessing. It was great seeing Chris – I have been fortunate to make some solid friends through competition in this sport across the country like Mitch, Chris, Bruce Gennari – all guys in my age group who share a common thread which is a passion for this sport and for enjoying the competitiveness between us. Chris, began telling me how he was diagnosed with MS in 2007 and hasn’t raced since then. I was blown away. I could tell he was anxious about racing again, finding out where he stood – similar to I who hadn’t raced since 2009, yet my time off was self-appointed and minor – a bit of perspective. Chris just turned 45, and for his debut race back into the sport, finished 3rd in his age group and qualified for both Hawaii and Vegas. How’s that for a return to the sport, and with MS to boot!
I jumped into the warm, salty water and swam easily over to the small island 200 yards off shore where the race begins. I chatted with a few strangers while we awaited our wave start. It was all very low key. Keep in mind that although I have mentioned often how low key this race is, this represents the feel. But the competition here is second to none regarding 70.3 races. The challenge of this course, the early season qualifier, brings out major competition. Most here are here for a purpose. Gus went off in the wave directly ahead of mine, a two minute head start and a nice carrot. Gus was primed and ready to have a great race and his fiancé Jen seems to decompress some of the pressure and stress that I’ve seen overwhelm Gus in the past. I could tell he was ready for a special day. After his wave left, they called my wave down to the start and it was on. I’m typically nervous up to this point and then sure enough, the nerves dissipate, and I make my way to the front and center of the group and prepare for just the immediate start of this race, or the run and dolphin into the water and first 100 meters around the buoys and assuming position.
I got a nice jump and was actually in the lead for the first 100 meters, but I know my lack of swimming doesn’t allow me to maintain this position and let a few guys move in front, hoping to get on some fast feet. Those feet happened to be Mitch’s. The swim was choppy, and felt long. In fact, I wage the swim was maybe 300 meters long, based on the swim times by many, including the pros, and by the fact that I wanted out 2/3rds of the way through. Maybe that was more due from swimming only seven swim sessions in preparation? Regardless, I exited the swim in fourth place in my age group, right behind Mike, Mitch, and a bit further behind a Spanish guy. I fumbled with my cycling shoes. I often stress to my athletes the importance of practicing transitions so why don’t I? Note to self, Mavic cycling shoes are not quick for a tri transition. While re-threading my Velcro straps through there loops, I watched Mitch and Mike disappear up the road. I remained calm though and finally mounted my Cannondale and headed off onto this bitch of a course. I began passing younger guys from earlier waves immediately, and by mile 5, I had reigned in Mitch and Mike. My bike plan was to ride at 80% effort. I know this seems low, but I knew my bike fitness was there and as I mentioned in my previous blog post, since I couldn’t acclimate, I wanted to be fit enough to ride at 80% effort and still be in the hunt so that I could get off and maybe run in the heat. I stuck to this plan and it seemed to be working given that I kept reeling in younger athletes from earlier waves. I caught the Spanish guy just before the beast and was now leading the age group. I tried to ride up the Beast as easily as possible, but I forgot just how hard this climb is. If someone tells you in the future that it’s not so bad, they are full of shit. Some spectator perched on the side of the beast yelled to me “Relax, there’s a lot of racing left!” I wanted to respond “I’m going as easy as I fucking can!” but I was too busy just trying to breathe. Mitch is a great technical rider and would come around occasionally on the technical sections, but I’d soon move back ahead, setting the pace. It remained like this for the rest of the ride. A few other guys jumped on board along the way, but I pulled 90% of the time up front. The thing is, the pace felt a bit too controlled! Even comfortable. There are many times in a man’s life where you must throw caution to the wind, release the reigns, and go for it. This wasn’t one of them. I was nervous about the heat taking its toll and remained relaxed and patient. The course certainly lives up to the hype. The hills and beat up roads keep coming, and the wind wasn’t being that nice either. During an Ironman, I will let my mind drift in and out of the race, thinking about random things that divert from the monotony of racing an Ironman, only to occasionally bring myself present and self-analyze and address the race. During this race though, I was very present as we were in a tight race. One thing that pissed me off just a bit was that after pulling the majority of the ride, with less than a mile remaining before dismounting, Mike came around. The bottom line though, the three of us had been racing neck and neck since the very start of the race, and we still had a little run ahead of us! Most importantly, in my two previous races here (and I use the word “race” very loosely since a better description would be ‘event”), I was mainly surviving. I was finally racing here. And it felt great, especially considering I hadn’t raced since Hawaii 09’ which, after this amount of time off, makes you wonder if you still have it.