Race Report: The HITS Ocala 70.3

An early season triathlon is a new experience. Normally, well 2 seasons worth, my year begins with St. Anthony’s, extends through the summer with the Crystal River series, or a few other sprints, and ends with a 70.3. This year the decision was to start the year off with a bang, a 70.3, and end it with another 70.3. A bold decision and one I am not sure of even after it being over with. On one hand it can kick start a season in the right way, but on the other hand it can sabotage you right from the start. As most know, there is definitely a lull in motivation after the end of a season. In my head I was hoping that an early 70.3 would fight this lull and force me to train. It did in some regards.

As far as the race itself went, it was a good experience. The HITS people are just starting out, so there are some growing pains as they sort through issues, but all in all the experience was good. The staff treat you very well, and the Race Director, Mark Hunter, goes out of his way to make each athlete, from Open level to 140.6 level, feel as if they are important, even remembering each persons name as they head to the finish. This is something Ironman does not do, and it does make a difference. I will get into particulars along the way in this post.
Check In Day
Since it is a smaller race, along with an early season race, the check in process was fast and not crowded. The staff was well prepared for the number of people, and all packets were handy and ready to go. The only thing negative I heard was that some shirts were not the correct sizes, but they were allowing exchanges the next day so I think everyone was satisfied.
The one thing I will mention was the transition area. We are used to lines of bars to hang your bike and sitting on the grown to change if need be. Not in HITS. Each row had your name and number in front of a bin, where you could put all of your gear without fear of it being trampled or moved, but the best part was a bench that allowed you to sit for shoe swapping and preparation. This little feature was outstanding, and makes this race stand out.
Pre Race Dinner

Because of the NSNG lifestyle, and even before that, eating “out” the night before a race has never been a practice of mine. I prefer to control what I eat, and not have to worry about running around, driving, waiting, etc. when I should be home preparing mentally for the next morning. Luckily this weekend was a great experience, because Jennifer has recently relocated her practice to the Ocala area and, thanks to her and her mother’s hospitality, we were able to prepare and host a pre-race dinner for some of the friends we were racing with this weekend; Megan, Sherrie, Teresa, and Brian. It was a relaxing evening of talk and food, highlighted by nice rib eye steaks and large chicken breasts grilled outside. Even after the eating and chatter there was plenty of time to prepare our gear, and to be honest, I think the company of friends helped ease the normal pre-race jitters. They are a good and loyal group. Hopefully next time KC and Summer can join us!
The Swim
The swim has always been my problem zone from day 1. It is not that I cannot swim. Actually I am a pretty strong swimmer. The problem arises from the pre-race jitters and my mental state going into the water. I expected all of that entering this race, especially with the water temps in the high 50’s, which is the coldest I have ever swam in.

Entering the water with some time to spare is always the ticket for me, so I was prepared to get my transition area set, get my wetsuit on, and get my butt into that cold water for as long as I could before the race started.

Of course, the Tri Gods had other plans …

Right as I was ready to walk down the sky opened up and it started down pouring. Not a light rain … oh no … this was torrential … and it continued until 6:50, ten minutes before the race was set to start.

As soon as it let up we went down and got in the water with everyone else (great minds think alike). The called everyone back to the beach (are they cancelling the swim???) but it was just to announce that they were delaying the start 10 minutes due to the inability to see the buoys (kind of important). Once we got back in, I looked over at Jennifer, shivering all over my body, and said “I’m not sure I can do this”. She looked back at me, in that Jenny way, and said “Yes you can … you’ve done this before. Breathe.”

When the horn sounded something happened. I put my face in the water and off I went. No panic. No breathing issue. Nothing. It was my first ever swim where I was able to go from the gun (other than the Crystal River races) and move through the water with relative comfort. It was amazing. When I hit the bottom with my hands and stood up to walk out, I glanced at my watch. It was my fastest swim. Even faster than Augusta when I had a 1.5mph current pushing me.

I guess I had improved … good start to the race!

The Bike
Thanks to the downpour ALL of my gear was soaked. I worked on the bike jersey, but when I picked up my socks they were soaked, so I made the decision to ride without them. I have ridden without socks many times so I wasn’t worried about having issues, and I was right … none.

The bike was pretty straight forward. The only issue was that they had changed the course at the last minute due to construction, so the pre race planning and riding was really for naught, since most of it was unfamiliar now. I only passed one person the whole time, but no bike issues, which was a comfort. It was my first race on Buzz (Litespeed CR1) and the first half of the race I was cruising pretty well at 16-17 mph.

After the turn though, around mile 30, the wind decided to pay a visit and this is where I lost my pace. I went from going down hills at 22 mph to peddling downhill at 14-15. You can guess what going uphill was like. I saw Sherrie, who had come out of the water about 3 minutes ahead of me, and she was a good 5-6 miles ahead now. At the turn around I saw Megan (taking a potty break) and at mile 32 she caught and passed me. I did my best to stay with her, thinking we could leap frog for awhile, but she was way too strong for me this day. THIS day! ;-). Actually was very proud to see her do so well in her second attempt. She had a bad race last season in Miami and this was her re-attempt at the distance and she smoked it. This was a girl last season who could barely keep up with Jennifer and me, and now she was leaving me in the dust. Great competitor she is!

The Hobble (otherwise known as The Run)
The run is my new “Achilles heel” (pun intended). Thanks to trying out zero drop shoes a few weeks ago I had strained my PT in my right foot. I had not run in two weeks in hopes that it would heal itself by the race, and actually running out of T2 it felt OK. The mere fact that I could RUN out of T2 was an improvement. My socks were still wet, but luckily my shoes were pretty dry, so I put them on anyway and hoped for the best.

I did not get my wish.

The first 3.5 miles of the double loop course is in the forest and it got me almost immediately. The heel started hurting by mile 1, so I decided to walk the trail and run once I got back to the pavement. My race had been a personal best to this point, so disappointment set in quickly once I realized that the race was not going to be good by the end. The trail hurt me more than I expected and I ended up walking 95% of the run, and walking is an exaggeration. I was in pain the majority of the time, and was seriously thinking about pulling out when I was coming into the second loop. Of course, as fate would have it, this is when Jenny caught up to me, and as usual, she kept me going. Jenny, along with Teresa and Kate grabbing me as I came out of the forest was a huge help and kept me occupied on something other than the pain I was feeling. I became determined to finish, even knowing the time was going to be awful, and I pushed to the end, even managing to run once I got to the last turn and was met by my great teammates, friends, and the awesome race director Mark Hunter, who some how manages to remember every racers name.

Cheering Squad for Sprint and Aqua Bike
The exceptional thing about this weekend was not only having a “support” crew during the race taking pictures and cheering us on (Teresa and Brian Kurfiss and Kate Tombillo) but because the short courses were the next day we could then go out and provide cheering and support for them on their Sprint race (Teresa and Brian) and Aquabike (Kate). We’ve never had the chance to do this since we are usually racing. I found it very enjoyable, even though my feet were killing me (the wet socks managed to cause a blister on the BOTTOM of the balls of my feet … not fun to walk on) we were running around catching them as they came out of the water, onto the bike, onto the run, and finishing. It was great to see Teresa and Brian do so well in this race. I think they have the bug now. You’re welcome!

Fueling NSNG Style
This post cannot be complete with a mention of the racing with the NSNG (no sugar no grain) eating lifestyle. I will admit I was a bit hesitant, that same old tune goes through your head about using carbs, getting water … sugar … salt … GELS!!! It is a hard thing to break out of, but I was determined to give this a shot.

I cannot eat on race morning. My gut is too nervous to get food in, but I made an effort to down a Bulletproof Coffee (coffee, butter, coconut oil, heavy cream). This sat well with my system. I had NO stomach issues at all, and didn’t feel hunger the whole race. I did prepare a flask of honey and water (1:3 ratio) and carried that for the ride and run in case I felt the “bonk” coming. I ended up using that flask, but mostly on the bike, and not when I felt a NEED for it. I trickled a small amount at each aide station, along with water, in an effort to keep the bonk from ever happening.

Did it?

With all of the issues I had physically, I NEVER felt that my energy was depleted during the whole race. That was the frustrating part of it. I felt strong, like I could go forever, but my body gave out. I refuse to believe that it’s my age (I am almost 50 now). I know it is my weight. 245 pounds over 70.3 miles causes pain. Just no way around that, so I am working my tail off to get down to 200 by Augusta in September. Thanks to Vinnie Tortorich’s p’cast (www.vinnietortorich.com) with Anna Vocino (glutenfreeanna.blogspot.com), Chi Running (www.chirunning.com) and the advice they give on how to manage endurance racing, I believe this is possible.

Remember, it doesn’t matter how you finish, only that you DID finish, and even more, that you STARTED. Life is too short to go through it Fat and Unhealthy. As Vinnie says, we all need to put life into living, and do it with enthusiasm.

St. Anthony’s Triathlon in 5 weeks!

Let’s Do It!!!!!

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