||St. Anthony's Triathlon
||Sunday, April 25, 2004
||St. Petersburg, FL
||Triathlon - International Distance
||Male 35 - 39
||49 / 2854
|Age Group Place:
||5 / 319
||A nearly perfect race - an event very much worth doing
(Congrats to all the RATS who've been racing recently...y'all have had some great performances as well as some interesting stories to read. They have been inspiring to me. I had hoped to catch up on all the new ones that have come in over the last couple weeks while I've been out of town before posting this message...but since I'm using this report to debrief my coach, I'm eager to get it out on the street. So, kick back, relax with a cool, Frosty mug of your preferred elixir, and add this tale to your reading list. Enjoy. D.F.)
St. Anthony's Triathlon / St. Petersburg FL
Sunny with occasional clouds – 76F – Wind SE 12 MPH
SWIM: 1.5km in Tampa Bay, counterclockwise around three sides of a square (Eastbound, Northbound, then Westbound), Water temperature 75F – wetsuit legal for age-groupers. Start is located 0.75 mile walk from the transition area around the marina. Twenty (20) waves spaced five minutes apart. Start on the beach.
TRANSITION AREA: Very large, approximately 130 yards long by 80 yards wide, with unidirectional flow (swim in/bike in at one end, bike out/run out at the other end).
BIKE: 40km (might be slightly longer) flat course through the streets of St. Petersburg. Considered a “technical” course with three out-and-back turnarounds and a total of 30 turns of at least 90 degrees. Trees/Buildings block winds in places.
RUN: 10km flat out-and-back through the swank “Northeast” neighborhood. Limited shade.
Costs: Entry Fee $110, One-way passage on Auto Train $217 (car $140, single pax $77), Lodging at official hotel 15 minute drive from race start $85/night.
Benefits (participation): Pre-race pasta dinner, commemorative (white) T-shirt, full-color race program, goodie bag with two water bottles and various munchies, custom finisher’s medal, complimentary post-race massage, awards party with live music, food and beer.
Benefits (awards): Limited edition, framed 8x11 color print commemorating the triathlon with a brass bar indicating placement. (Ten places deep in all divisions)
Swim: 21:50 (AG 9th)
Bike: 1:00:58 (AG 3rd)
Run: 41:25 (AG 11th)
Total: 2:07:32 (AG 5th / Overall tied 49th including pros)
Everything leading up to the race went very smooth. Taking the Auto Train down (Left DC on Thursday) allowed me to avoid having to break down my bike into a box or rent a large car in St. Pete. Plus, the Auto Train was uncrowded and relaxing, the meals were great (served with wine), and the lounge car has munchies, movies, music, and booze.
The Auto Train arrived in Florida on Friday morning. This allows plenty of time to drive to St. Pete (with excursions around Orlando/Clermont), check into hotel, and go to expo for early registration. I was also fortunate enough to attend a Tampa Bay Lightning playoff game that evening, which proved to be exciting.
The day before the race (Saturday) was an opportunity to meet up with a fellow EA-6B Prowler bubba, Marine Corps Major Jason “Dizzy” Schuette, who has done this race for a number of years. Dizzy is the Prowler community’s #1 triathlete, who races and excels at places like USAT Nats, worlds/worlds qualifiers, and Armed Forces champs, usually in the company of his wife and newborn #1 child. I had heard many great things about St. Anthony’s, including a recommendation from Dizzy. Final workouts, bike racking and lunch/dinner with the Dizzy family took up the full day.
St. Anthony’s is a huge event in size. Around 3,200 entrants, with over 2,800 finishers this year. The professional field was close to 80 fighting for a $50,000 purse (Craig Walton and Michelle Jones were the winners earning $7,500 each) even though this race is no longer an ITU World Cup or points race. (Pros raced under no-drafting, staggered positioning rules just like Ironman) Over 600 entrants were from Team in Training groups from throughout the East Coast. Moving the transition and finish area this year allowed the field to expand from 2,000 in past years. Still, the race sold out in five days after opening up registration on December 1st.
I'm training for Ironman Coeur d'Alene, but St. Anthony's is a big-time race with big-time competitive talent. Sure, it's a "B" race for me, but it elicits more than a "B" effort. St. Anthony's is the kind of race you look forward to for a while. It's the kind of race you shave down for.
(Go to the following link for a picture of me at the swim start - http://rogersunderland.com/triathlon/tri_photos/st231.jpg)
I started in Wave 16 of 20. The pros started in the first two waves, then three waves of Clydesdales, a wave of women 15-24 and 45-49 together, two waves of older men, two waves of older women, two waves of men 40-44 divided by surname (A-K, then L-Z), separate waves of men 29 and under, women 30-34, and women 25-29, and then myself. Like the men 40-44, all of the thirtysomething males were split into two waves per age group separated by surnames. So, you had men 35-39 (waves 16 & 17, with Dizzy in #17), and 30-34 (waves 18 & 19), followed by single wave of relays. The transition area closed at 7:15, Wave #1 started at 7:30 and wave #16 started at 8:40. At least it was a comfortable morning.
The plan was to start the swim strong, and I wasn’t worried about finding clear water with the beach start. (See my report from Ironman Florida) With little difficulty, I found myself alongside one other silver-capped swimmer at the front of the wave. (Either I had a really good breakout or all of the good swimmers my age were in the following wave.) The winds were making the water wavy…no whitecaps, but enough of a one-to-two foot swell to make navigation difficult for the novice. Plus, the sun in the east was in the initial direction of travel.
The conditions, though, were no problem for myself or my neighbor, who remained alongside me for a good few minutes until we hit the blob of yellow-capped women well before the first turn. I angled outside and my neighbor angled inside, and that was the last moment I saw a silver swim cap for the rest of the event. The wind blowing from the forward right quarter, as well as the artificial current, helped slingshot me around the first turn.
On the way to the second turn, the buoys change color from orange to yellow. At first, I see nothing but a bunch of yellow dots in front of me. The challenge was to find the yellow dots with the pointy tops. A couple good looks put me in sight of the turn buoy from well out. I discovered on the previous day during the recon swim that the intermediate buoys were set a little bit inward of the turn buoys, so the shortest route and the best plan was to swim wide and outside. The waves and wind were coming from the aft right quarter, so going directly for the turn buoy allowed me to avoid all things yellow that were drifting left. I was alone in my happy place all the way to the second turn.
The swim for home was more of the same, although now there were yellow dots, white dots, pink dots, and even a navy blue dot scattered around me. The novices were still struggling with the navigation, even with the waves now pushing them in their direction. I again knew that following the buoys would not lead you to the finish but rather left of it. Instead, I had a tall building that served as the perfect landmark until the balloon arch came into view. Aside from a few stragglers, I had a clear path to the “fish ladder”. (The swim ends at a seawall where you have to climb up metal steps set into the water.)
My transition spot was both the best of times and the worst of times. The transition area was ovular, with a central pathway running the full length from entrance to exit. To accommodate 3,200 participants, the transition area bulges to the right, where there is an auxiliary pathway parallel to the main drag. My assigned spot was within one rack (about 10 spots) outside of the auxiliary pathway. The navigation plan was this…run down the central highway to the second trash can, turn right into a wider-than-normal space between racks, turn left onto the aux pathway, then straight until reaching the rack with the Florida State Seminoles flag. Turn right and you’re there. If you pass the lamppost, all palm trees, or John Cobb’s truck, you’ve gone too far.
Navigation turned out to be easy. My only problem was getting out of my wetsuit. I’ve got one of those two-piece, zipperless wetsuits that clings to my body very well. I clutched, grabbed, contorted myself to near exhaustion attempting to escape from bondage. Eventually, I was able to peel out of it without much frustration, but with some time burned. Fortunately, the rest of the drill is easy…helmet on, shades on, grab bike and go.
With over 3,000 participants, one can expect over 3,000 opinions and points of view about St. Anthony’s. Mine is but one of those three thousand. For those with a negative opinion about this race, their negative opinion is centered around what occurs on the bike leg.
I am not a superhuman athlete and I think that one of the reasons why I do well in triathlons is that I can handle a variety of conditions. A few waves, gusts, turns, and hills help provide a little separation from some in the field. So, I have no qualms about a bike course with 30 turns. In many places, but not all, there are double lanes of width so that 3,000 bicyclists can safely operate at varying speeds. In the places that are tighter, the course can still be navigated safely at good speeds as long as participants operate their bicycles properly and skillfully. Feelings and people can get hurt when any of the 3,000, even if only temporarily, lack for skill or conformance to standards. That will inevitably occur.
I like this course and feel that it is perfect for how I race. I am blowing by fellow cyclists as if they were standing still. Their bib numbers are getting smaller all the time. (Starting with #1 worn by the first professional to #3200ish by the last starter in wave 19) With many of the roads double-wide, I only had to make about a dozen “Passing” or “On Your Left” yells. Those who continued to block my path were the small minority. Aside from the turns, the roads are smooth and speedy. I had thoughts before the race of possibly cycling at or under an hour on this course, and pretty much held that pace throughout the ride.
Decision-time came with about 10 minutes to go until T2, with downtown St. Pete coming back into sight…throttle back and save up for the run, or keep the pace? If the temperature was hot, the strategy would have been to throttle back. It was certainly warm in the direct sun, but not too hot to keep the speed up. I hop off my bike having passed countless people and being passed by none. For what I can tell, I’m at the head of the wave.
Aaaaaa…Trash Can! Zig! Zag! Go Noles! Bike rack, helmet off, running flats on, grab belt, grab hat. GO. Much faster than T1.
The moment of truth…how do the legs feel? Early on, they felt O.K. Running on the warm pavement with the sun at my back didn’t feel groovy, but I didn’t feel that I was struggling. I’m not unleashing a burst of speed, but I’m still passing bunches of other racers. I finally get my first objective data point at the first mile marker where my watch says 6:35. (For me, that’s good) Until now, I didn’t feel like I was doing a sub-seven pace, but I’ll take it. Mile #2 feels a little better, and it turns out to be another 6:35. By now, I’m in cruise mode knifing through the slower traffic in front.
About 2.5 miles into the run, I finally get passed by a couple of fleet-footed people. I can’t tell what their bib numbers were, but given their speed compared to everyone else around me, it’s unlikely that they were from any wave that started before me. I’ve been in this situation in the past where the big lead on the swim and bike is evaporated in the first half of the run, and the remainder of the race becomes a demoralizing death march. However, I’m still feeling fine physically and, aside from these two cheetahs, the field is struggling to shuffle their feet. I make the U-Turn and start looking for speedy runners with high numbers, especially Dizzy. In the mass of people, it’s hard to pick out any folks with fast feet.
I down my only Clif Shot at the next aid station and continue to cruise. A few minutes later, I begin to make out the scarlet and gold suit of Dizzy. I didn’t come to St. Anthony’s with a time goal, but the closest thing to it that I did have in my mind was to cross the finish line in front of Dizzy, using as much of the five-minute head start that I had if necessary. At the crossing, my best guess is that I not only have maintained the five-minute stagger, I also have a net lead…though I’m not sure that it’s big enough against a fleet-footed Marine. I pass mile 4 and start thinking that I’ll be somewhere between 2:06 and 2:08. Shortly after, I get passed by one runner, and then a second. The first was clearly a twentysomething guy from three waves in front trying to make up time. The second, just like the earlier cheetahs, appeared to be a thirtysomething. Still, I didn’t think that the world was coming apart. I’m thinking that I’m probably no better than fourth in the age group, but I also think that a 2:08 is still got to be good enough to make the top ten on this day…especially since I’m in front of Dizzy who went 2:01 here last year (on the old course).
Soon enough, I passed the Mile 5 sign still in cruise mode. I’m fueled and hydrated enough to make the finish, so I don’t worry not getting a top-off at the final aid station. The road to the finish is still packed with bodies. I’m pretty confident by now. Except for the wetsuit strip, this has been a perfect race. My best swim navigation, my best bike handling and speed, my steadiest run…all on the same day. I don’t bother to look back for potential pursuers…for one, there are just too many bodies…for another, the stronger runners usually would have passed me by now. All that remains is to set the autopilot, avoid collisions, and enjoy the moment.
My big thanks to Dizzy and family for their friendship and generous hospitality. Dizzy did well by most standards, except probably his. He lived to be able to tell about it, but talking about it wasn't his intention. In any event, I think he wants a rematch at the Armed Forces Championship. Now, I've got another reason to help convince the Navy that they should pick me up for their team going to the AFC.
Nothing but positives came out of this trip to Florida. I definitely want to do this race again, and I had that feeling even before my "perfect" race. The operation of the event is first class in all respects. It was nice, however, to finish in the top ten of my age group in a deep field...something that I need to do in Coeur d'Alene if I want to meet my goal there.