Gulf Coast Triathlon Race Report: The Long Walk

It had to happen at some point…the race that didn’t go as planned. Everyone has a bad day now and then and I sure had one at Gulf Coast Triathlon–in fact it might have been more like a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”–which was the title of this post for a long time. But distance has helped me to appreciate that race a whole lot more.

Watching the weather leading up to the race, the weather said it would rain on Saturday. It was more of a when it would rain not if it would rain. The wind was whipping around on Friday making for some rough water conditions, so I tried to mentally prepare myself for whatever might happen. At the pre-race meeting the race director said lightening would be the threshold for plans to change, so as I tried to sleep I listened for the storm to arrive.

20130512-192815.jpgWhen transition opened on Saturday morning, the wind and the sea had calmed and the rain was forecasted to hold off until after noon–the beginnings of a great day to race! The race plan was patience. Swim the swim, bike the bike then hold back on the run until mile 9 and then leave it all out on the course.

At 6:25 a.m. my wave went in the water–I was in the second wave. I was towards the front of the wave going in the water and settled into a pace that kept me in the middle of the pack. I was looking for some feet to swim on but ended up finding someone to swim next to practically the entire way out to sea. It helps to calm my anxiety about creatures in open water swimming when I know there is someone else close by. I just settled into a comfortable pace and knew there was nothing to do but swim. On my way back in, I started thinking about what I needed to do in transition–wetsuit, helmet, socks, shoes… (thanks for the advice, PF). I really had no clue what kind of a pace I was keeping, I just knew I was comfortable. When I finally got to shore, crossed the mat, then looked at my watch and saw something around 43 minutes, I was very happy and excited about the next leg of the race.

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these shoes were not made for walking

No strippers, so it was straight to my spot to check off the list in my head. I had accidently put my socks with my running shoes in the plastic bag (to try and keep them dry)—oops, but easily fixed. Everything checked off the list, then I was off on the bike. I had taken my bike in for a tune up this week so I was pretty confident that we would have a smooth ride. The road along the beach is kind of rough, but around 7 miles the course turns north onto a great road for the next 10+ miles. I was keeping some great speed and having a fun time, until just after the first turnaround–almost to mile 25. It was then that I heard a hissing sound coming from my bike and immediately realized it was my front tire. I hopped off my bike, took off the front wheel and went to work. Before replacing the tube I checked the tire to see if I could find the offending sharp object, but to no avail. So in went the new tube, aired up with some CO2 and I was off again. At this point I was still pretty excited–was still having a great day and enjoying it all. Even the rain that started around mile 35 didn’t keep me down. I caught myself being thankful for the windy training rides on River Road when we headed back south into a slight wind and others started to complain about the headwind–I could tell I had slowed a bit, but it was not what we around here know as wind. Made the turn back to the beach road and was chatting with a guy who was passing me as we passed the last aid station around mile 50. He was all excited about his dry socks waiting for him. I told him I would see him later and he took off towards transition. Shortly after that exchange I felt something wrong with my bike again, so I hopped off to find it was the front tire…again. This time I was a bit more bothered. Luckily, I carried two tubes with me so I quickly changed out the tube again seeing if I could find the puncture on the tire and again not finding anything. Looking back I wish I would have been more careful and deliberate, but I was still hoping to save my race. Unfortunately, I had not put the tube in right and the tube popped when I aired it up with the CO2 cartridge. So I started to walk it in.

The road was so wet and there was so much debris, so I made the decision to keep my bike shoes on and I am so glad I did as I saw so much glass and other sharp objects as I was walking along. I bit further down the way, a good Samaritan on a bike stopped and gave me her spare tube. She was not part of the race, but was a triathlete herself. (Yes, technically it was outside assistance, but seeing as how no race volunteer nor police officer offered any help, I was going to take what was offered to me.) I rode that tube for only a half mile before it flatted, so I got back off the bike and continued walking. By this time, I was pretty much over everything–the bad mood had set in. I began writing my race report in my head. I was psyched to have shaved minutes of my swim from last year and then bummed about the PR I set for the number of flats during a race. About a half mile out from the finish line there is a turn by the Waffle House–it was here that I was asked for the first time if I had wanted a ride in. I had been waiting for a while for this question, and had I been asked 5 miles back, I would have answered yes. But with a half mile left to walk, I was going to finish it out. In that last half mile I had to make the final decision of whether or not to go out on the run course. I knew if I decided to call it a day that I would be disappointed in not finishing, but did I have enough time to get it done?

Let’s just say calling what I did on the run course “running” would be quite liberal. It was a mix of slogging and walking–it was ugly and it hurt. I realize now that I took in no nutrition during the portion of the bike course that I walked–that was well over an hour not to mention a lot of extra mental energy expended in frustration. I began revising my blog entry in my head–it was now titled “Sometimes you learn the hard way when you should have stopped” or something like that. That’s all I will say about the run course with the exception that the run course volunteers at Gulf Coast are awesome! Everyone of them helped to make a tough couple hours a bit more enjoyable! Big thanks to you!

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Immediately following the race I was pretty disappointed. I had been ready to race. I had a great three hour brick a couple weeks out and then a sold negative split run the week before. And I really wanted to run the run course. So it took a while for me to let go of that disappointment. Through the support of friends (thank you all!!!) and taking some time to process, I began to see the race in a more positive light. I actually ended up swimming 1.2 miles, biking about 51 and run/walking about 18. No it’s not the race I wanted nor the race I trained for, but I will take it.

So we move on towards the goal–Ironman Florida is 154 days away!