I promised a race report, so that's what I'll give you. Last weekend was my first time participating in the Florida 70.3 that takes place at Disney World. Coincidentally, two years ago I was there on a family vacation at the same time the race was taking place though I didn't watch or participate. I did, however, ride my bike down toward where it started at about 4am as part of my ridiculously early workouts that week so as not to disrupt the family portion of the vacation, so I saw people headed down to set up. I really didn't have much interest in doing the race.
I arrived in Florida a little after 9am after yet another perfectly smooth, early arrival, $50 charge for the bike box flight on Southwest. If you're traveling with a bike, it's almost the only way to go. Apparently JetBlue is the same way but they don't fly from the airport that is less than ten minutes from my house. I ran into Cait at the car rental pick-up area, but she had a bike ride to do and we couldn't get into our house until 4:00, so we went our separate ways. I had no workouts to do, and at first settled into a Starbucks for some tea and a bit of e-mailing.
By 11:00 I thought to myself, am I really going to spend the next five hours here just killing time until I can get into the house? I was about five miles from Disney World. It was only Thursday. Hmmm.... why not? So off I drove to Disney's Hollywood Studios where I spent three hours walking on just about any ride I wanted to go on, including five trips on the Aerosmith rollercoaster and four times on the Tower of Terror. If you ever come to Disney World with me, you should know that I instantly return to being ten years old. I guess I don't act much older than that in real life, but it really becomes apparent when I am in Orlando.
Once I had had enough of the rides I headed back to our house and reconstructed my bike. Cait and I were the only ones there really that night as teammates Michele and Ron were arriving quite late that night and Jesse, Chrissie, Colin and Tim weren't due to arrive until the next day. I slept until after 7:00 which for me sometimes feels like noon. But it was needed. I headed out to do my bike and run and returned to find Cait swimming very short laps in the pool behind the house. We had spent some time on the internet the night before trying to find somewhere to do our last swim but everything seemed pretty far and like an awful lot of trouble just to keep the arms moving basically for twenty minutes to get ready for the race. I don't think you should spend twice as much time driving to and from a pool than you're going to spend swimming in it. I took my turn after that and while it was the longest twenty minutes of swimming ever and probably two hundred 4-stroke laps, it served its purpose. And more importantly, I was done with the pre-race workouts nice and early.
I resisted the urge to go back to Disney World as it was getting a bit too close to the race and one day at the park by myself was okay but I think the novelty of a second would've worn off quickly. Although you should know that there are serious advantages in line-cutting involved with being a lone rider. I think I was typically back on that rollercoaster about seven minutes after getting off thanks to the single rider line. The rest of the day was pretty quiet and uneventful and while Cait went to get everyone else at the airport I went out to dinner with Michele and Ron during a really great thunderstorm.
The following morning it was time to do nothing but eat. Unfortunately that eating would start at Denny's. Denny's and I do not get along very well. In a very uncharacteristic move, I didn't even finish my pancakes. I mean, well, have you had their pancakes? But at least the rest of the team was there and the conversation was good. I still had to register and drop off my bike which I decided to do all at once to as to save myself from having to make more than one trip.
I had incredibly good timing on a lot of things over the weekend. First, registration. Bike drop off was at 1:00 and I got in line I think around 12:30 and had no problem getting through. By the time I came out the other side the line was incredibly long. I felt bad for the poor girl who had to type everyone's name into the computer which was surely why the whole ordeal was taking so long. Why do they not have more than one line for things like that?
Anyway, I was in and out of bike drop-off nice and quick which was good since now they seem to prefer the first come, first served kind of bike racks rather than giving everyone a specific place. There is a range of numbers on each rack and I was close to the end. The problem with this is that the bikes are squeezed ridiculously close together. And my seat post is literally like 5' high and I can never rack by the saddle, which seems to annoy people, but nothing I can do about it!
After that I headed over to the Wildnerness Lodge to meet up with some friends from home, one who was racing, the other watching, and I got there just before it started pouring rain. Another stroke of good luck in timing, missing standing around in the rain to drop off the bike. Gotta love leaving the bike in the rain all night long. My favorite was the line in the race information that said that we were not allowed to cover our entire bikes "for the safety of the volunteers." Will someone please explain to me how it would be unsafe to a volunteer if we covered our bikes from the rain? Would it leave them unable to tell the difference between a covered bike and a concealed ninja?
Anyway, I got myself a really good turkey sandwich at the hotel and sat and chatted for a while before heading back to my own place for a nice, early night in which we were all in bed before the sun went down. As far as nights before races go, I slept pretty well. With the exception of the last hour in which I had several anxiety dreams about waking up at 6:30 and knowing there was no way I could make it in time for the start of the race. I got up just after 4:00 and was shoveling down the applesauce while Tim stood looking out the window and declared that we were not going to have a swim that morning. A few strikes of lightning later, I couldn't really argue. They left a bit earlier since the pro wave went off at 6:20 and I hit the road at about 4:30 with Michele and Ron leaving not long after me.
The entire drive involved watching the sky light up and me wondering about more than just the swim. I really thought I wouldn't mind if the swim was canceled. I pulled into the parking lot without incident and not surrounded by many cars but couldn't help but notice an incredible line of cars behind me in the rear-view mirror. As I parked, I noticed Jesse, Chrissie and Colin (who is an 8-month old baby, in case you were not aware) and we walked over and got right on the shuttle bus. In yet another stroke of good timing, as we settled in and looked out the window, suddenly there was a huge line of people waiting to get on the shuttle and already a line of cars backed up to get in and park. This line had transpired literally less than two minutes after we made our way through.
It was an odd morning. When I walked in there were people just standing under awnings and trying to stay out of the rain. It felt oddly chilly for Florida. Upon arrival I realized immediately that my hydration plan was sitting in the fridge back at the house. They always have plenty of water hanging around before races, but never the Powerbar drink. Thanks to my teammate Rob Gilfeather for helping me out! Normally I take my time in transition and don't leave it until much later. But this time I decided there was no reason to wait. It was a no wetsuit swim, so it's not like I'd have to stand around in my wetsuit all morning. I got everything ready, tucked my backpack off to the side and let it sit in the pouring rain and walked around barefoot with my goggles around my neck for a while. For some reason transition at that race closed at 6am even though the race didn't start until 6:20. They tend to say things like that, but not really mean it. This time, they definitely meant it. I was out of there by 5:30, but later on I saw them literally turning people away. That would've sucked.
Oh, I had also run into Michele and Ron coming into transition after just having arrived. They left five minutes after I did. I must've seen then forty-five minutes after I had arrived. Again, timing is everything and they said the parking lot was a mess. I used the real bathroom, somehow without a line, and came out to find a huge line waiting to go in after me. The race announcers kept insisting that the race would start on time and it just kept raining harder with plenty of lightning and thunder. I went and sat at some tables inside a building that normally is home to the infamous Hoop-Dee-Doo-Revue, a silly dinner show I remember attending with my family when I was seven. While chairs and shelter were a good thing, it was actually colder in there than it was outside which made it not the best place to hide out.
Heading back out into the rain to see what was going on, it appeared that the race might actually be starting soon and miraculously the sky was clearing up. I found Jesse, Chrissie and Colin and sat down to await my swim wave that was set to go off forty-six minutes after the start of the race. I wasn't nervous or excited or much else in between. Just kind of waiting to get things going. Jesse went to watch the start which I did not know had actually been delayed twenty minutes so I wound up taking in my pre-race gel way too early. But eventually it was time to make my way to the start.
The swim was in the lagoon behind the lodge. You know, those man-made ones behind certain Disney hotels that they don't let people swim in? That did not sound appealing to me. I spend most of my time in New Hampshire swimming in crystal clear lakes that I could probably drink from if I got thirsty out there, so I was more than a bit nervous that this water was going to seem a bit, um, disgusting. The sky was clear but the sun wasn't glaring at us so the course looked like it was going to be incredibly easy to sight which was nice. I had obtained a nice, legal Blue Seventy suit to wear over my brand new QT2 team uniform so I at least looked like I was ready to go.
We had to start on the beach with one foot in the water and one foot on dry land and I started to the left in the front. Watching other waves go off in front of us it seemed that it stayed quite shallow for quite a ways out, so I knew not to dive in and start swimming for much longer than I'd normally wait. Finally, we were off and into the water I went. I'll admit my approach was slow, but this had a lot more to do with the fact that (graphic detail) I really, really had to pee and without a wetsuit or an in-water start I was not afforded the opportunity to do so, and I had to move slow in order to relax enough to do what I needed to do. Sorry people behind me! I know you were doing it too anyway.
There was a bit of seaweed when we first got in and the water felt warm but not too hot, which was nice. Once I started swimming I was actually pleasantly surprised at the fact that the water actually didn't seem disgusting at all. I couldn't really see very far under water, but it didn't taste weird, either, which is a good sign. To be honest, for some reason I felt really comfortable during that swim. I tend to swim a lot better with a wetsuit but I actually felt a whole lot better swimming in just a skinsuit. Maybe it was because unlike in California I wasn't really, really cold.
There was very little contact and Jesse had told me that if nothing else I was to get on someone's feet and let them lead the way through the masses of the seventeen swim waves that had gone before us. I finally did manage to find someone's feet and did just that. But by the time we hit the turn buoy all the way out, I wasn't sure if she was going fast enough, so I branched out on my own. The only problem now was that I couldn't find a single other gold cap of someone in my age group. There were people everywhere from the waves in front of us, but none from mine and therefore no more feet worth following. Oh, well. It wasn't very difficult to dodge people as I felt like I was swimming right on the buoy line while everyone else was wide to the right. I had no clue how I was doing as I didn't wear a watch in the swim, but I actually enjoyed most of that swim and felt good, which is quite unusual for me.
I came out of the water and saw 1:21 on the clock, which I thought meant that I had swum thirty-five minutes, which for me is a really good swim without a wetsuit. I was quite happy with that. I found out later that the timing mat was not until we entered transition after quite a run from the water, which I was not happy about! I felt like I was going to throw up for some reason as I ran up from the water, literally until I found my bike. That task was difficult because we came into transition from the back and I was completely disoriented and kind of amazed I was able to find my bike at all since I expected to come in from the water from the other end. I saw a whole lot of bikes still on the rack near mine, which I took as a good start. But I got into the bike gear and headed for the extremely crowded corridor that took racers and their bikes out to the course.
The sun was out and already the dreary morning was long forgotten. The course was quite crowded and I felt somewhat obligated to get away from as many people as I could early in the race. It was very flat and with a little wind so mostly I was able to keep up a good pace. Amazingly, I didn't see a whole lot of drafting going on. Some for sure, but not as much as I would've expected given the flat course and so many participants.
There's not a whole lot to say about the bike. There were a lot of 180-degree turns and out and backs and no way to tell how far in front or behind you those people were who were coming back the other way. Sometimes they were a mile ahead, sometimes it could've been ten. I really had no idea where I was going, I just followed everyone else. My biggest worry was drinking enough. I'd been given a target of six bottles on the bike. Yeah, that's a lot of fluid, but I sweat a whole lot. I missed a bottle at the first aid station and was only able to grab one. I've said this before but it needs to be said again: please, do NOT let young children do bottle hand-ups on the bike! It's just not a good idea! They can be great at picking up stuff we toss or handing out drinks on the run but I just think it's dangerous to let a nine-year old stand there and try and give a bottle of water to a biker coming by at 22mph. I personally slow down more than that, but many others don't.
The course was pretty well closed to traffic and I felt very safe. I don't know why, but I had this preconceived notion that this race couldn't possibly be well organized just because it was held at Disney. I suppose I might've felt differently if I hadn't gotten on the shuttle bus when I did, but it all went very smoothly and I would do it again, definitely.
After facing what felt like a perpetual headwind in spite of a lot of turns towards the end, I finally made it back to transition. Oh, but first I took my feet out of my bike shoes way too early. Oh, well. I got down my six bottles... well, maybe five-and-a-half, and changed the shoes and headed out on the run course. Ah, the run. Why do I even bother anymore? I should probably seek out aqua bikes, but I seem to love beating my head up against the wall.
To be honest, we got lucky as far as weather is concerned. It didn't feel nearly as humid as the days before. And instead of being 95 degrees like the days before, it was only about 85. Believe me, that does make a big difference. So for me it meant that I could do some approximation of running between aid stations instead of just walking most of it. My legs were telling me I might've ridden just a bit too hard. I can't really help it at this point. When you know your run isn't going to bail you out either way, it's hard to justify holding back on the bike. I had heard that the run was on a lot of grass with not a lot of shade, but this year they changed it a bit so it wasn't as bad. Although one thing I did notice was that the aid stations seemed really far apart. There was one right out of transition and then not another one for at least a mile and a half. In that kind of race in that kind of heat, to me, that's just way too far. By the time I got to it I had to walk and drink a whole lot of... everything. Also, this is the first half ironman I think I've ever done where there weren't sponges available at the aid stations. Really? In Florida? I've done races when it was 55 degrees that still offered sponges. Nobody took them, but still. At least I was still able to dump ice into my jersey.
The rest of the race was me getting from aid station to aid station, which always seemed too far away. I walked a lot at each aid station to drink as much as possible and always arrived at the next one with a dry throat. But I guess the good news is that after every little walk/drink break I was able to get back to some approximation of a running motion, no matter how slow it was. I seem to have found myself in this sort of position a lot lately, and last season it was generally upsetting and demoralizing. I don't know if I'm used to it or if it's some sort of attitude shifting but in this case it was more of just a feeling of ok, this is just all I can do today and I just have to keep going and I'll get through it, but it's just all I've got right now. I wasn't upset. I didn't feel physically terrible. By the third lap I was definitely getting tired of it, but I had no doubt I'd make it through.
I noticed that the crowds of racers had thinned significantly as I made my way through the convoluted course. I continued to drink and drink and dump water over my head and ice in my jersey. I had seen Cait and Tim doing a cooldown run much earlier and asked Cait how her race went, "Pretty well" she said. She won. Most everyone else on the team had run by me at one time or another and just looked incredibly good. Lots of good races on the day.
Finally, somehow, I made it to the end of yet another half ironman. It was nice to do a different race, I just wish I could've been in a better position to do well. But I found my teammates soon after and pretty quickly gathered my stuff to head back to the house and shower and lie down for a bit. Michele and Ron had stayed for the rolldown just in case, and apparently this scene has turned into something very similar to the Kona rolldown with screams of joy and sometimes even tears. In 2006 when I was at the very first qualifying race for Clearwater in California they literally couldn't give away all of the slots. They might have twenty slots left for, say, men 35-39 and it would be asked who was there who finished the race and wanted a slot and people would raise their hands and they were counted. "Okay, you're all in!" Definitely not the case anymore.
Jesse and Chrissie had to bring Cait and Tim to the airport since they were flying out that night and I wound up sitting at the house for quite a while wondering if anyone was ever coming back. Finally Michele and Ron made it back, McDonalds in hand, and a while later Jesse and Chrissie returned. We had talked about maybe going to Disney that night, but it was probably 6:00 by the time everyone came back and I had really lost all hope of that happening until Ron came and said they were going and I could come if I wanted to. I knew the park didn't close until 11 that night and for about 30 seconds I thought maybe I shouldn't bother, but then once again I thought, well, why not? Jesse's mother was visiting and he had some work to do and Colin had probably had way more excitement than a baby could be expected to endure in one day, so unfortunately they stayed behind, but me and Michele and Ron headed over to Disney for an evening of fun.
I don't think we got there until just before 8:00 but we did pretty much everything I could possibly want to do there in only three hours thanks to no lines. This included sitting down and having something to eat. Pirates of the Caribbean, skipping Splash Mountain in favor of not being wet for the rest of the evening, which was a sacrifice I was willing to make and the only ride I would've gone on had there been more time or at least some sun, Thunder Mountain twice while there were fireworks going on, the Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World which I hadn't been on in twenty years because that's how long it took to get the song out of my head, and then a couple of trips on Space Mountain. We even did a bit of shopping on the way out and somehow my legs felt fine the entire time. I don't know if that was the reason I wasn't upset about yet another bad half ironman, but a trip to Disney World post-race is definitely great to lift the spirits.
We got home after midnight and I had to get up at 4:30 in order to make a 7:30 flight. This was actually sleeping in compared to the day before. But once again the flight was simple and we landed early. The only bad news was that when I arrived and walked outside it was 50 degrees and raining. The sun only just came out yesterday for the first time since I've been back. And it's gone again today. It's warmer at least, but still. I even rode the trainer this week. The only good news was that it made it a great time to bring my bike in to get all fixed up. New cables, headset, bottom bracket, spacers... lots of stuff just a corroded mess.
But of course yesterday when I set out for my long ride there was a persistent drizzle that just made me and my bike a mess for the first couple of hours. I also managed to hit an incredibly awful pothole that I'm amazed didn't destroy my wheels or give me a flat but propelled all of my bottles off my bike, and my sponge, and loosened my handlebars. An allen wrench will be accompanying me on all further rides. I'm actually surprised that I wasn't propelled off my bike, either. I was 27 miles from home and my resourcefulness found me at a forest ranger station where a nice old man helped me tighten the bolts and head on my way. Of course I spent the rest of the ride with that phantom feeling of the handlebars continually slipping downward. But all remained intact the rest of the ride, just with a layer of sand and road debris even though the sun did eventually come out. It was good to see it.
So now there are five weeks left to go until my Ironman. Normally by now I'd be feeling good, fast and ready. I don't feel any of those things, but I do keep going every day somehow. It's like I said in my last post, staying motivated gets tougher when the results aren't reflecting the time you're putting in. Maybe sometime soon it will be time to say forget it, but I don't know what else I'd do if I wasn't training every day or traveling around to these cool places to race. I just have to earn my right to be able to do that.