I found myself toeing the start line this weekend of FL 70.3, which I lovingly refer to as “The Steamy Mountains of Florida Alligator Triathlon this past weekend. It’s a thrilling yet tough tri season opener. This race was extra special because I’ve been growing as an athlete through the unfiltered lens that IS self coaching (#shiningtigersolo) since the winter.
My fear of alligators did not fade with experience or time and it returned full force as I was waiting in line behind one thousand (OK, 30) fellow triathletes. A kind guy from Annapolis tried to convince me that I would be unlikely alligator food. I know better though. They are apex predators unevolved since prehistoric times that feed at dawn and live in all lakes in Florida. I am really scared of them. Sharks will just tear off an arm and swim away but I think alligators are tactical hunters. When I found out there were no swim warm ups allowed, I was irrationally convinced it was due to alligators and I was not sure if I was going to make it. I am actually terrified of alligators. Last year I vowed to never do another lake swim in the south but then registered for FL 70.3 and IMTX assuming that my fear of alligators would be gone and that “future Kelly” could handle it. Oh, thanks again “past Kelly” for putting me in a ridiculous position. Luckily, my support crew family got me ready to start.
I was one of the early waves this year at 7:06 which made me very happy. I calmed down another athlete at the waters edge who was visibly nervous for her first half. Although I had just been crying about alligators, I knew I had to pull it together since I’m not a newbie and I used to be really intimdated by the distance. Helping her relax about the swim aided me in regaining my own composUse.
This is not a fast swim course. It’s in an M shape with a lot of confusing turns. The water was not wetsuit legal this year because the lake was boiling errr 80 something degrees. I did not go out fast enough to catch a draft group and until we hit the next ‘wave” of colored caps I was swimming alone but steady. Then it was a game of dodging the slower swimmers I was passing with out scaring anyone, myself included. I’m pretty sure I had alligators nipping at my toes a few times and I also think that famous movie star, Chris Pratt who was also participating in the event pulled on my leg during the swim, looking for my autograph. I totally “Grayson’ed” him with a classic breaststroke kick. OK, so my imagination was going wild in the swim and maybe that is not EXACTLY how it went down… but I was excited to exit the water faster than last year even with out the wetsuit and exit in my highest MDot swim age group ranking yet…8th. Hurray for breaking into the top ten out of the water.
Here is Chris Pratt from Guardians of the Galaxy doing something cooler than making movies.
T1… I had decided not to leave my shoes on the bike since I won’t be able to in TX. I had my inner coach persona advising against this in my mind, but sadly I did not listen to her. The ladies at my rack did not have their shoes on their bike since we were close to the bike out. Well, I almost forgot to put my shoes on my feet since I’m accustomed to just grabbing the bike and heading out. This oversight had me all messed up. Then, my sunglasses were all foggy and so I took time to shove them in my top. I was 40 seconds slower in T1 vs last year and I’m not happy about this as there was not a longer distance to travel. My self coach personality is really frustrated as I am normally faster and organized here. This was my biggest mistake of the day. I was 40 seconds slower with a better (end) bike rack position. However this reminder is exactly why a tune up race was a good idea.
Florida 70.3 is not flat and boring with two wheels, especially with my new Cervelo P5 from 3Sports! It is extremely interesting with just a few power zapping corners getting out of the little town and then some nice long stretches of mostly great pavement (just one short rough patch) and pretty much no traffic on some fast rollers. My heart rate was in zone 4 the first 5 miles but that always happens. I ignored that and kept at the low end of my zone 3 power zones. Eventually my HR settled down despite consistent wattage output. It always does fall into place as I race. I suspect it’s adrenaline from escaping the alligators in my mind and running through T1 causing an uptick in BPM. Most coaches would say to back off here and that you can’t recover but I know my body well and it always responds this way. The first half was faster than the 2nd half with winds to fight on the way back and more climbs like last year but we seemed to have more headwind/crosswinds to deal with this year and it was more of a a blow furnace feel. I just dialed into my power pacing and took in calories using Osmo active hydration for fluids as it works very well for me in the burning temperatures. My bento box has less room for gels but luckily my Coeur Sports kit has plenty of pockets in both the top and then shorts placed so you can access them easily without ever feeling anything is being carried so I was all set. I was spot on hitting the lower end of my my power targets and felt really good the entire time despite the heat dialing up to a HOT blow furnace. It’s hard to compare with the conditions seeming harder but I improved my numbers slightly (despite iron tired u rested legs) and my variability index was better for this race vs last year indicating better ride pacing. I saw a few draft packs pass me but I am learning if they pass me, to just let them go and try not to stress and increase my poor heart rate with the anger. Haha. I came off the bike to see mostly all empty racks and was thrilled. Ranked 7th on the bike time in AG although I’m not sure what my position was coming off the bike.
T2… I forgot to take my shoes off while on the bike so I had a clunky run and lost potential time here as well. I was ran by the sunblock folks and got nice and “Caspered” to avoid a burn. I put my race number belt on backwards but otherwise I did ok.
I did not want to demolish my legs in this race with some big IMTX training sessions still in my plan a few days afterwards. I know on a great day I could probably run 5% slower than my standalone half off the bike. My standalone time is 1:30. However, with the heat factored in as well as needing a brief recovery to get back into ironman prep, I was hoping for 8:00 pace. It took me a whole week to recover from the shamrock 90 minute half marathon and I do not have that luxury of a long recovery now with Texas coming up. I wanted to use HR to monitor this effort and keep my HR capped in the middle of zone 3 since I knew the heat would slow my pace regardless of how ready I was but my chest strap did not work when I dumped ice into my top from mile one throughout. This was disappointing as I did not get HR readings above 90bpm and obviously I wasn’t taking a stroll out there. I had to use RPE instead. RPE in a long race usually means I’m going to be too conservative but that was ok. I was also thrilled the glass I got splintered in my foot the previous week was healed up and not hurting my run gait.
It was even hotter this year than last year. I talked a lot during this run especially loops one and two and I constantly had a buddy near me, listening. None of the women were into talking except one nice cycling coach woman but she was breathing heavy after a half mile and I quickly dropped her. Yeah, the chattiness means I probably could have pushed harder here if I wasn’t so paranoid about overdoing it. Lessons. The race is 3 loops. Mile one of the loop includes a steep unpaved hill. The course then continues on with some light rollers. It’s in full sun with no shade but neighborhoods with spectators spraying runners with garden hoses and string volunteer support. That’s so fun.
The heat got really bad though. I felt like I was working hard and passing a lot of people but I didn’t do this third lap in an elegant manner or a chatty manner at all. I was an embarrassing awful mess out there from mile 10 to 13. After seeing my family I tried to do math in my heat tired head. It hurt to think. Then, the tears welled up behind my sunglasses because everything hurt and I was feeling some strong gratitude emotions. I talked out loud telling myself not to cry. I reclaimed emotional equilibrium by talking to myself. This was strange. I think those setting out on fresher legs and minds for their first lap realized I was all heat crazed but I had no idea until afterward how bizarre it must have seemed. I kept pushing even though I felt like my skin was burning from all direction even from the inside out. I remembered my buddy Matt K (who has also worked very hard to progress to the front of the field from mid/back) telling me something about being at the front of the pack and to “own it,” so I’m sure I was saying “own it” as well. I also knew that the giant heat alligators were going to catch me if I didn’t keep running. This made no sense but that was my thought process at the time. Hey my bike shop buddy, A. Welch admits to hallucinating turtle armies on his super long Race Across America qualifiers so maybe I’m getting closer to his toughness levels? I kept pushing as the sun burnt my skin and I announced, “you are a mountain goat” as I ran up all the hills. I was talking out loud and I did not care who heard. All kinds of my friends voices and quotes were popping in my mind in the last mile keeping me going. I thought about kings dominion this fall with my buddies and using our HR monitors on roller coasters and those track runs over the winter in the Frosty temps. I thought about my work team because they inspire me on and off the job. My mind had a flood of inspiring moments reeling to distract me from the exertion heat pain. My “dig deep” well was full of heart and positivity again. Most of these thoughts I kept in my own head. It was inner fuel. I felt so genuinely supported. I want to be the best version of me and I’m surrounded by genuine people who help me get there. Eventually, I reached the finish line and went off to find my amazing (best supporters ever) family and finally let myself cry a little from the pent up emotions of the race. I was so happy!
I had the 3rd fastest run split in my AG and I also passed enough women on the bike and run to score a breakthrough third place 70.3 podium finish and also wind up 19th overall female in the entire race. This was another self coached breakthrough performance. I feel the experience has truly been cathartic and Via self coaching have rediscovered and fallen in love with triathlon all over again. I’m in a really good spot and very excited for Texas.
I turned down the Worlds 70.3 slot as travel to Austria is not I our plans this year. When I went to the table to tell the young woman working I would not take the spot, she remembered me hugging her and getting all teary at roll down last year. I had vowed to myself that I would always inform them if I placed high and earned one but wasn’t going to claim it because I recall how agonizing it was last year being 4th and not knowing if I would get a roll down… If that Jennifer woman ahead of me was going to take it or not. The suspense. It was tough to pass it up but I’m happy with the decision.