Janie beat me to the punch (and I don't want to take away from her stellar, entertaining race report)...but here goes another one!
First and foremost, I was grateful for the opportunity to compete in the 70.3 World Championship race, and I was honored to represent DC Tri while doing so.
I arrived on Thursday morning with the best sherpas in tow (mother, father and brother). This was such a treat for me because my brother has never had the opportunity to see me race before. After all of the typical prep work (reassembling bike, checking in, touring the expo), I headed off for a ride along the Gulf Coast. A young guy, just off a 30 hour plane ride from Johannesburg, South Africa, joined me. This ride was so enjoyable because there were bike lanes everywhere. And I had to chuckle every time the South African told me that the ‘robot’ (traffic light) had just turned red and we needed to slow.
Clearwater Beach was hopping with triathletes. But like Kona (I assume), Clearwater Beach was filled with a large international presence. English was not the dominate language on the streets. Triathletes and their families flew from some 50+ countries to compete in this race. It finally hit me that I was competing with the best of the best!
Later that evening, I attended the Athete’s Dinner and mandatory race briefing with my new found friends from Mid-Atlantic Triathlon Club. I met these two gentlemen on the plane ride down from BWI. The local Boy Scout troops paraded in the flags from all of the countries represented at the race. The WTC presented a completely irrelevant race briefing (played a video geared for Ironman distant races) and it left everyone very confused and disappointed. It was especially disheartening because many of the athletes did not even speak English (or it was a second language). However one thing that they appeared to communicate very well (and was different from previous years) was the robust emphasis on “NO DRAFTING” and its associated penalties. This race is well-known to be an unfair race because of the heavy drafting practices. I was warned about this by several DC Tri teammates that have competed in the race in previous years (i.e. Patrick Serfass, Lindsay Jerdoneck, Sean Ward, etc). But everyone kept saying ‘you won’t believe it until you see it.’ And they were right!
Friday ended up being a play day. I met Janie Hayes, fellow DC Tri Elite Team Member, and her family at the beach. Janie, who was also competing in this race, and I decided to do a practice swim. Unfortunately the winds had picked up and the swim was aggressively choppy. We cut our swim short (We both LOVE to swim! ?) and decided that the water was bound to be less choppy in the early morning. Like the Ironman races, we had to check in our bike and run/bike bags in on Friday afternoon. When we went to drop off the bikes and bags, we each had a personal escort to/from and throughout the transition area. The transition area was just swarming with energy and excitement in anticipation for the next day. After a small meal of sweet potatoes and hummus (personally, I don’t prescribe to the gorging and carb loading), I headed to bed nice and early.
As usual, 4:30 am came very early. I headed to the transition area to set up my bike. While setting up my bike, the women in my age group were chatting and talking about their qualification races and their corresponding times. I learned that the fastest girl in our age group clocked a 4:21 HIM. The girls around me had all finished sub 5 hours so I was starting to feel a bit intimidated with my personal best of 5:19 at Timberman. Granted Timberman is quite hilly and more difficult than the races that these ladies had raced in. Nonetheless, this was the time when I knew I had to keep my mind focused and positive. Janie put it best, ‘we qualified and we deserve to be here.’ Enough said! I can’t stress how important the mental game is for this sport and, in particular, this race.
Swim: As many of you know, swimming is not my strength. I enjoy swimming but it doesn’t like me. I am slow and despite Master’s swims, swimming lessons, etc, I just don’t seem to get any faster. I just wanted to survive the swim and then I knew I would be fine (I am sure many people can concur with this feeling). Just as we had somewhat anticipated, the swim was very choppy. It was an ocean swim and the waves were making their presence known. I ended up getting out of the water at 39 minutes and in 61st place in my age group.
Bike: I started off on the one loop bike course and found it very difficult to maneuver through the course. We had one lane of the road for the entire field of 1,743 athletes throughout most of the course. I would try to stay out of the packs but they would come up on you and engulf you. It actually got to the point where it was more dangerous to try avoiding them. When I could break free, I would do so. But because of the course set up and number of competing athletes, it was down right impossible not to get caught up in the draft.
Overall, this was a fun but dangerous ride. One wrong move and a pack of 40+ people would be going down. I saw at least 4 people on backboards with their necks immobilized. I personally witnessed three accidents and unfortunately, ended up in one myself. As I was crossing the bridge to head back in to Clearwater (mile 55), a guy tried to pass myself and another female. With his quick jerking, he grabbed her back tire and my front tire. Unfortunately, he also put his pedal into her back and she was on the ground screaming. I was laying on the ground, bleeding and a bit stunned. But I got up, wiped myself off and once they had gotten emergency help for the other female, I hoped back on my bike and finished the last mile in to Clearwater Beach. Thankfully my brother is tall so I could see him over the crowd. It was so awesome to see my family as I was coming in off of the bike. Because of the course, my time was much faster than my normal technical, hilly, preferred races. My bike time was 2:19 and I was now in 12th place in my age group.
Run: Coming out of transition, I saw my family again. I love to see familiar faces out on/along the course (one of the many benefits of a large club like DC Tri). The run was fairly flat (except a large bridge that you did twice) but I was finding myself pretty tired. This might have been due to my month long taper (this race was late in the season and I was definitely finding it hard to continue to train for it). So I found a female from the Netherlands that was running a good, consistent pace. I tucked in behind her at mile 2 and kept two steps behind her until mile 13. She took off at the end for a final push but I just didn’t have anything else to give. I ended up running a 1:42 to end me up in 14th place in my age group.
After the race, I met up with Janie and her husband and fellow DC Tri teammate, Jimmy for a celebration drink. Yes, I had a beer! I started training in January and had decided that while I was training, I was not going to drink. This was a smart move for me as I do not miss the dehydration and poor sleeping that alcohol causes me. Nonetheless, I was very happy to enjoy this drink with my family and friends. It was well deserved after a long, fun, successful season.
I want to thank each and everyone of you who helped me get here. I did all of my training and racing with DC Tri members and it has elevated my performance this year tenfold. I hope everyone takes advantage of the benefits that a club like this has to offer. Not only are you my teammates, you are my friends. Here’s to the off-season and hopefully many more races.
Thank you for reading.
That is some crazy speed ... Way to represent
Great race report, AJ!! I didn't realize that you also suffered some carnage on the bike course. Nice job regrouping for a strong run. I don't know what's more unfathomable to me - racing a 4:48 half-ironman or not drinking for 10 months. Either way, they're both things that I'll never be capable of! Congrats on a fantastic PR! You are truly a world-class athlete and definitely earned your way to the World Championships!
This report may have come after Janie's, but the lack of bodily fluid issues was greatly appreciated :). Great race.
Big congratulations! Great RR. What a solid finish! Time to celebrate and have fun in Kenya! xo
AWESOME RACE, AJ! You really cranked it down there in Fla. I would to have you come down some time to one of my HS track practices and help inspire some of my runners. Also, you should consider jumping in Lane 1 (or 6) with my CUA group to pick up your swim time.
AJ, you are an inspiration. It is an honor, pleasure, and great motivator to get to race with you. Here's to better swim fitness for both of us and much more racing fun in the future!
Congrats on a great race!!! Way to keep your head in the game both before the race (although I'm sure everyone else was intimidated by you!) and after the bike accident. I'm glad you and no one else was hurt. As usual your sportsmanship was an example for everyone - waiting until help came despite an important race on the line. Congratulations again - can't wait to celebrate in person at some point.