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Race Report: Clearwater, or the Race I'll Never Do Again
CREATED: 12/10/09 by kebeebe REPLIES:
kebeebe    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 38
Race Report: Clearwater
POSTED: 12/10/09 7:03 PM

This report is long over due because those races with problematic or unhappy outcomes are the hardest to explain. You almost go through the five phases of grief or mourning as consumption, digestion, and um, excretion take place. And I'm not even unhappy with my race, just the race. But I digress, I will not ruin the surprises waiting within.

Now, nearly four weeks later, I am safely ensconced in my off-season, putting my body back together. What I have not put back together is my bike. It sits in a closed bike box in the middle of my living room. I'll probably have to throw my bike bottles away from the mold. In the meantime I ride my trainer reading a book and work on finding my swim stroke again. It may never have made it out of the Gulf of Mexico.

Happy Holidays and Off-Season to everyone!

(Right side, second from the bottom)

The Double – In November 2007, Andy Potts won the 70.3 world championships. He was obliged to return and defend that title in 2008, despite racing his first Ironman in Kona five weeks earlier. November 2008 found him hunkered in the shade, dousing himself with water (see above). Needless to say, his defense was not successful.

The image stuck with me after I first saw it last fall, but at the time his distress was beyond the bleeding edge of my comprehension. No longer. I just made sure of no photographic evidence.

The Swim That Ida Made – When Hurricane Ida made landfall in Alabama, Clearwater’s out-and-back ocean swim washed ashore as debris in the local surf that drew double red flags (no swimming). The only physical damage in Florida was the logistical wreck of a last minute switch to a bay/marina swim. Although the time-trial start format was not new to me, never before have I been told “your swim finishes at the pirate ship.”

With no mass start and thus no swimming packs, I was on my own and didn’t emerge to the time on the clock I was hoping a draft might help me see. What I did see was someone’s foot smack my eye, and what I could see after the race was a nice little cut and bruise. My Mom signed on as a Sherpa, not a cut-man!

After some blinding sighting into the ball of fire on the horizon, I found the pirate ship (uh, guys, I think the politically correct term is buccaneer) and got the heck out of the ring…I mean, water.

Swim: 31:21

Who Moved My Cheese - Disclaimer: Some people reading this either have raced, or did race, Clearwater. Please do not read this as some holier-than-thou diatribe; it is not meant as such as I am well aware of the conditions on race day and what it takes to do well there. I laid out several goals based on the reality of the fatigue already in my body and on my mind. Not playing with the packs was one of them. This decision made it unrealistic to race competitively at Clearwater, but I think Clearwater is an unrealistic competitive race so I lay the blame squarely at the feet of the WTC.

The Draftwater…I mean, Clearwater course is not nearly as flat as you are led to believe. The course is also far more boring than you are led to believe.

Kona: lava and ocean :: Clearwater: strip malls and concrete seams

The course is a big lollypop from Clearwater Beach to the mainland, taking riders on a confusing tour of random turns, railroad track crossings, and local on-ramps and highways. Do I get a block of cheese if I make it back to transition?

With a lack of visual stimulus (are we on a highway heading north? or south?) and only mild (but numerous) slopes, the course is made for putting your head down and hammering. Except for the thundering freight trains of human bodies and molded carbon. The packs at Clearwater are notorious, insidious, and as advertised. Here’s an example from Ironman Florida 2009:

The physics and logistics of flat courses practically encourage riders to group together, gaining the physical advantage of higher speed at lower effort and the mental advantage of keeping up with the Joneses. Think of a sports car – and its gas mileage – driving behind an 18-wheeler. Due to spacing rules, this tendency is also illegal – but almost impossible to police. In a pack of 50 people, assuming a course marshal even comes by, who gets the penalty? How does the marshal identify 49 people in the seconds before the pack scatters? So the packs hurtled on, the penalty tents remained unoccupied, and the post-race caveats began as soon as T2.

From my perspective and race plan, the packs were annoying. Think of that sports car getting buffeted as the 18-wheeler goes by…and then having to turn off cruise control when it gets surrounded and cut off by the larger vehicle. For many the flow of Clearwater is riding with the packs; for me the packs made it impossible to have a flow at Clearwater.

And even if you choose not interact with the packs, they will interact with you. Case in point: in Germany there is a man named Holger who locked (literal) horns with me going over 25 mph. It was 4 abreast in one car lane as a pack passed and his right horn caught on my left horn. The resulting string of thoughts was not pretty or comforting, but the size and speed of the pack did exactly what needed to happen: he had no room to move left and instead was pulled forward and away. I was left behind, thankful I have peloton-worthy bike handling skills and the sense to get out of my aero bars when the train whistle blew.

I made it back. I’m still waiting for my cheese.

Bike: 2:26:18

The Bridges Over the River Clearwater – Imagine you check into a hotel on Clearwater Island and know you have to get in a 13.1 mile run. Dressed and standing at the edge of the driveway, you head left, toward the main land, on the only road. Several miles and a serious bridge climb later you quickly get off the causeway and take a side road to a bike path, which eventually leads you through a maze of turns to a dead end at the water next to a chemical product testing lab. Time to turn around and find a different turn-filled way back to the bridge. After up and over the climb and back to the hotel, you notice you’ve run half of what you need to. Well, you know this route that has two serious climbs, lots of turns, and goes past a chemical product testing lab….so dressed and standing at the edge of the driveway, you head left…

Madness! Madness!

With two marathons in the ten weeks prior, the run happened, the climbs were neither pretty nor fast, and people tell me it was hot, but nothing is hot after Kona.

Run: 1:46:51

If You Can Fill The Unforgiving Minute With Sixty Seconds’ Worth of Distance Run Yours Is The Earth and Everything That’s In It And – Which Is More – You’ll Be A Man, My Son! (R. Kipling) – The impossible season that almost wasn’t is over – and by the numbers only a minute has passed. I qualified for Clearwater in June; I would have had nearly 5 months to step up and take my swing. But Louisville and Kona did actually happen (or so my back and hips tell me) and aside from $$, sweat, and pounds of Epsom salts, they cost me one minute – the difference between my qualifying and Clearwater times. In some respects I am unrecognizable, in others I am held together by band-aids and that is more than enough evidence I filled my minute with an immeasurable amount of distance run…not to mention two and a half marathons…

Total: 4:50:11

*Sucks At Cheating
…Which is comforting because if I had taken my five months to step up and swing, I feel it would have been five months wasted. I may have pulled The Double, but I am unsatisfied, not by my result, but by being confined by a choice that should have no place in triathlon, especially when the race is against the best in the world, not groups of the best in the world. The importance of the physical preparation for Clearwater is nearly overshadowed by that of the mental preparation – for being rail-roaded into an impossible choice: sin to win, or have an expensive supported training day.

All Clearwater results have an asterisk next to them because the whole race has an asterisk next to it. Mine reads “*99% Kelzie.” Or maybe “*sucks at cheating.” Someone should wrap me up and put me in the meat aisle because as soon as I made my decision I was chopped liver.

In the days after the race, I questioned my decision and wondered “what if.” But those thoughts are gone as is my desire to return to Clearwater more rested and see how I fast I could really go. Only the same choice and same fate await.

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