It’s Saturday morning around 8:45 am. I stagger around making sure I’ve loaded all the necessary items into my duffel bag. Goggles, Swim cap, sunscreen… Check! It’s time to drive from beautiful Island Estates in Clearwater Beach area to St. Petersburg Pier and meet up with the Sarasota Storm Triathlon group and get our swim and St. Anthony’s Expo Groove on!
Winding and snaking my way through construction laden US-19 is not very good for reducing morning anxiety, although I am sure 9:30am on Saturday versus 4:30am on Sunday will offer a stark traffic difference. Soon thereafter, I arrive on 4th Ave N and find day parking a block away from the race. I end up buying a 2-day pass and all my concerns regarding parking are eased. I highly recommend this! Leaving my bike bolted to my truck bed and hoisting my trusty backpack (with the duct taped shoulder strap and salt air corroded zipper) over my shoulders, I was off to meet the SRQ CRU!
A quick jaunt leads me 1 block West, where I find the group outside the small city of triathlon tents and we exchange hearty hugs, warm smiles & friendly salutations. We set out on some Expo exploration, looking for amazing carbon fiber cutouts resembling cycles and all the latest advances in spandex, water bottles, nip guards (You know who could have used these!) and running technology. Eventually we stumble upon some friends, Steve and Agnese and their tent, “Triathlon Rocks” which it does, and so do they! They are repping their cool swag and I place a request for a nice blue tri-skull shirt.
By now, its pushing 11 am and the sun is getting close to South Florida expectations, with the slight smell of burning flesh in the air, there never seemed a more perfect time to lather on some SPF 30 and cooking oil.
We mosey on down to the St. Petersburg Pier enjoying conversation and previous St. Anthony’s experiences and I can confidently say this is one of the enjoyable things about being part of a group like the Sarasota Storm. People who have deep character and understand why you would “choose to voluntarily” swim 9/10 miles, bike 26 miles and run 6.2 miles back to back to back on a day off from work. In essence, DO WORK on a day off of work… They just get it and understand each other and that my friends is worth the price of admission.
Fast forward to the tiny beach on the edge of the pier and this is where we find ourselves at 11:15am. Everyone stripping down into more comfortable clothes for the swim party that is about to commence. Damn, the waves are choppy! And, I’m pretty sure, by the fact that I can no longer feel my fingers that this water is not 81 degrees. Alright, I made a promise to myself to ease up on the drama, so after having vowed that. The water is chilled but after a few strokes, it feels refreshing!
We swim out to the end of the pier through rolling sheets of forest green waves some filled with seaweed and others just mounds of delicious salinated water. The surge and yaw of the waves makes for a hint of nausea here and there, but mostly just struggling with sighting and maintaining a straight line. Its good practice as historically the swim at St. Anthony’s is prickly to say the least.
As a group we make it to the end of the pier, double back and return to shore no worse for the wear, and in fact, the day is young and its time for the Expo! I have a pocketful of cash and I have wanted to add a Camelbak Podium Chill and a new visor to the arsenal.
There are so many cool tents here, (interesting social network sidebar) and I meander over to ‘Tri Jungle’ tent and meet Magui (pronounced – Maggie) who tweeted with me just the previous week about this race and implored me to come say Hello, so I did! I find my podium chill water bottle and a sweet nike visor and I make it out without doing too much damage to the wad of sweaty cash in my pocket. I guess i’m saving up for my unconcieved childs college fund or the deep dish ZIPP’s.
I make my way back to the truck, retrieve my Ol’ girl Nikita ( My Black & Yellow Kestrel) and we make our way to Transition to get Nikita tucked in and ready for tomorrows adventure. I find my rack, which is located at the far southwestern corner of transition which I think is pretty cool, I can run around the madness the entire time, versus being jammed into the middle of it. Plus it allows me to tell people ** I am V.I.P. and they have a special section for riders like me. (I feel as if I am the only person laughing right now.)
** It’s the equivalent of stating, “I like being Mentally, Challenged.” versus “I like being Mentally Challenged!” It’s all about punctuation and emphasis! **
I wearliy glance up to the scorching orange sun and squinting through my polarized oakley’s realize that its pushing 3pm and I am parched and famished. I speak with a few of the ladies from the SRQ CRU and plan to meet up with them later, maybe sit by a pool or grab some dinner, but I can’t stand in the sun, on my feet anymore. Gotta rest up for the big day tomorrow.
After some fun sightseeing around Martin Luther King Dr. in downtown St. Pete thanks to a wrong turn and a missed entrance ramp, I finally find myself at the Marriot on Roosevelt. I reconnect with my Diva’s and literally get to sit in a hotel room while they all shower and get ready for dinner. It was either completely awesome or excruciating. Or both. Or Neither. Anyway, it was fun and after taking a sandalwood shower and finding my inner Ke$ha, I was dressed like a Shmuck to go out with 6 ladies all dressed up. I guess no one was really noticing me anyway, so its all good. In hindsight, it would have been prudent to actually pack some going out clothes instead of 3 pairs of goggles. Lesson Learned.
We headed back to the St. Pete Baywalk area and after perusing the strip for a little bit, we decided on a cool Italian trattoria style diner called Cassis Americano Brasserie, which roughly translates to, “Wow, look at those amazing American Breasts”, or something else entirely. As you can imagine, the food was delicious, the conversation light and fun and the atmosphere just plain awesome! We all paid our bills and headed back out into the perfect spring night for a little more strolling and good times.
I have only made this last part so generic and superfluous to get to the next part! Jackie and Jane, of our evenings group happened upon a Clydesdale just waiting to cart his next patron around the bustling streets and so the ladies were petting him and letting him nibble from their palms and all went well… We meander to the next block and another horse is standing around just chilling in the cool evening breeze. As we walk up, all 7 of us notice the hooves are painted with pink glitter and so the ladies are saying things like, “ooooh, look at HIS pretty hooves” and “Awwww, what cute hooves HE has” I offer that the horse is most likely a girl, having no equestrian knowledge whatsoever and the horses caretaker immediately surrenders a, “Duke’s a Boy… A gelding in fact”.
So to add injury to insult not only have they removed his manhood, they have painted his Hoofs pink and make him cart people around... So Jane and Jackie hustle over and take to Duke, stroking his long face and letting him nibble lightly from their palms and while Jackie is doing this, Duke nibbles a little harder and actually lightly clamps down on her hand. Duke has bitten down on the fleshy area between the thumb and pointer finger and at first Jackie tries to ‘play it cool’ and easily pull her hand away, but as she does that, Duke bites down harder! Jackie squeals that “Duke is biting me” and the caretaker comes over and swats duke on the nose and he releases Jackie from his powerful jaws. Meanwhile all 6 of us are tearing up on the sidewalk laughing so hard! Mackie Jiller strikes again!
After exhausting ourselves walking the boulevard and satisfying our palates on delicious food, we decided to retire for the evening, the ladies back to the Marriott and I venture back to Clearwater Beach.
Sunday, May 1, Day of the St. Anthony’s Triathlon.
Its 1:15am and I am getting up again to pee. I’m either the reincarnation of Abe Vigoda’s bladder or I should find something else besides water to enjoy before bed.
Its 3am and you guessed it.
Its 4am and… oh hell, I just decide to stay up this time… Whole wheat bagel, peanut butter, multi-vitamin & banana await me as I stutter around my parents house in a manner similar to “The Living Dead”, walking in large slow circles accomplishing very little. About 4:30am, my mind finally comes out of its shell, a little, and helps me to gather my water bottles from the freezer which have been cooling all night and all my packed items, ready to go! After another trip or two to the loo, I hop in the trusty F-150 and make the drive back to St. Petersburg!
I Arrive at the VIP Parking and gather all the items i need for the race, going over each discipline in my mind again and making sure I have each item, for instance, Running, shoes, socks, visor and race bib. Once I feel confident its all packed, I hoist the backup upon my broad shoulders and begin the trek to transition. The overwhelming flow of people migrating towards transition is really cool and since St. Anthony’s is such a historically large participant race, the sea of people seems magnified compared to normal races. I find a seam and merge into the sea.
A song is actually playing in my mind as I walk down, and here’s a verse;
“Look at this big eyed fish swimming in the sea…
Oh how it dreams he wants to be a bird, swoopin’, divin’ through the breeze…
One day, caught a big old wave up on to the beach, now he’s dead you see…,
Beneath the sea is where a fish should be…”
~ Big Eyed Fish ~ DMB
Eventually I find my bike, #1184 which is an insignificant number, but its mine, and for today, it means the world to me. I spread the weapons in my arsenal out on my gatorade towel and begin the reverse checklist. Thank goodness, its all here…again. I impose a quick request from a neighbor and utilize his bike pump. (I flattened my tires the day before.) I really enjoy how nice everyone is around and in triathlons. In most cases, whatever you might need will be accommodated by neighboring racers or race guides and today is no exception. I gladly answer a couple questions for a confused soul about the new swim parameters and send them on their way.
Feeling as if all is right with the world, I wish my new friends a great race and depart the transition area and head to where the Sarasota Storm & Etricoach tent should be located. I don’t even make it down the path before running into Tanya Marvin and Tony Welch! A little TnT! Tony and Tanya are both much faster then me, but they work hard for their respective gains and deserve the accolades. Competing with them on race day is the equivalent of playing golf with a much better golfer and the perception that your game improves in part to their superior level. It really invigorates me to see them so soon and their confidence fills my cup to the brim as well! We head down the rest of the path and find the rest of our team and I love how they are so excited at 6:15am! They are excited to be there, excited for us and excited to cheer and drink, which sounds fun!
Tony, Tanya & myself head over to the new swim starting area. (Side Note – St. Anthony’s historically has issues with the swim and by issues, I mean the water is either really choppy and a tough swim or there are a large amount of first timers (which is a good thing and an ominous thing as well) and mild conditions become medium to dangerous conditions due to inexperience). Alas, the water looks rough, but it really appears to be all surface wind chop and after John LeTourneau takes a dip, he reports back that the water is awesome! We find a large group of Sarasota Storm members congregating and join up with them. Although the water looks decent, the wind is blowing hard and there is a chill in the air which makes my sleeveless t-shirt seem like a definite wardrobe malfunction.
Mark Kowalksi meshes in with us and he & I split off to watch the pro athletes get set at the start. It is always, for me, an exhilarating moment to watch the pros get ready, the gun go off and the grace and fury these pros exhibit in attacking the sea, bay, gulf, lake, etc. Today is no different and defending champion Cameron Dye is a favorite, but so is Matty Reed and other stout competitors. On the ladies side, Sarah Haskins is a champ along with Liz Blatchford and Alicia Kaye. The pros cut through the water like a Donzi speedboat and they are out of the water in less time then it takes me to draw a bath. It’s imposing and motivating all at once.
Slowly, one by one, members of our group peel off and join there waves. Tanya is the first to go, then John L. and Thane is next. Finally, its my time as I see my navy blue cap color beginning to pop up near the back of the chute. All the training you have put in kicks in now. These are the moments you have to be strong of mind and control your breathing and heart rate as rushes of adrenaline and panic are only going to get you out of your zone. I love these moments as the many races have acclimated my rituals into habits and I perform my stretches, breathing and focusing drills and soon thereafter, the MC calls the Clydesdales ages 39 and under to the shoreline. “You have about 3 minutes”… “1 minute, Guys!”… “10, 9, 8… 3,2,1…GO”
Sloshing through the cool wet sands into the murky aqua green waters of the bay, my feet sucking into the terrain with each step, I keep a nice even pace and when I feel the water level reach my chest, Dolphin dive and begin the battle of triathlon swimming.
Click here for an array of pictures from Lara Cerri of Tampybay.com (I love 11,12 & 13).
Seventy Clydesdales swimming in a group is similar to killer whales fighting for position. One whack of a fin or arm can leave a substantial mark, whereas I imagine the pro ladies are akin to a group of tuna, slashing, dancing and sharply cutting up the bays waters!
All the tranquil pool and rough open water training has prepared me for this swim and in reality, its not that bad other then feeling like the main character in Frogger, dodging sideways swimmers and water logged folks falling behind from the waves ahead. The swim consists of mostly gliding and concentrated slicing with the occasional body invading my personal space or the need for a burst to blow by a straggler or even the faster folks from the wave behind us just powering through. In those cases, I have to remind myself that I’m racing my own time and not the random person I’m passing or passing me.
Finally, I make my last right turn at a yellow bouy and turn 60 degrees back towards the shore. This is where the control portion of the swim training takes over, because for me, I always feel the presence of the crowd and want to speed up or exhaust the calm pace I have maintained so far. But before I know it, my peripheral view shows people standing up and I realize that we are nearing the swim exit. (Now you may have heard about St. Anthony’s history with its swims. In 2009, the swim was cancelled due to rough water, in 2010, the swim course was cut in half for the final 2/3 of swimmers as the conditions worsened throughout the mornings waves & this year was no different, although I can’t stress enough that the swim was not bad. At All. Not even a little bit. They should have kept it the original course. Time for me to move on.)
I exit the swim and begin my adjustment to jogging. (Quick reference to above note – Since the swim was changed, the new transition area is 1/2 mile away instead of a stones throw, and jogging a 1/2 mile is no big deal, but barefoot on a concrete sidewalk lined with patrons is not ideal.) T1 time for me 7 minutes + . I jog the full extent of the transition area and find my sweet Nikita raring to go on the rack. I make all the quick changes, shoes, helmet, glasses and lose the goggles and swim cap and grab my girl and we make our way to transition exit. A gallop like sound eminates from this area as numerous people put their shoes on, me included, before exiting transition and still others go barefoot and have there shoes clipped onto the bike already, simply putting there feet into the shoes once they are moving on the bike. Normally this probably works well, but with the infamous cobblestone/brick street outside of transition, it just seems safer to run and mount the bike with shoes on. Maybe next time. Or maybe next time I’ll be cheering and drinking PK’s.
I thoroughly enjoy the first mile of the bike course at St. Anthony's. It has you exit transition with a sizable crowd around and you get your gait over the brick road. They funnel the riders into a left turn where the bike race basically starts and you pass the Expo area and park and people are relaxing, enjoying the morning sunshine, a band plays in the distance, fans cheer & the smells of the bay and morning dew still fill the air. Its a great moment and I always make sure to soak that in, because the next 25 miles are just a bit less beautiful. Some are even kind of nasty. The course is 1/3 parks and nature, 1/3 hood and 1/3 intersections, sharp turns and orange cones, but most importantly the course is manned by police and they handle traffic flow very well.
At this years race, I partially witnessed a harrowing moment and subsequently felt helpless in ability to do anything. As I was returning, approximately mile 16-17, I heard a thumping sound on my left and quickly glanced over my shoulder to see a rider strike an orange cone and with feet clipped in, vault over the handlebars and meet the road with their face and literally slide on the asphalt. The shear shock of seeing this was surreal and the 2 second moment seemed to take place like a movie scene, in my eyes over 2 minutes, but myself and the 3 riders “not drafting” right behind me all started shouting, ‘MEDICAL!’ to the officer at the corner immediately in front of us. The worst part of that moment is relaying it to my friends after the race and them informing me that Hannah, a friend of ours and Storm team member was involved in an eerily similar crash, and in fact it turned out that it had been her. My heart sank in my chest. The best part of this of story, is that Hannah is a strong chick and she is recovering nicely and will be back kicking ass and taking names very soon. I know I will think of her the next time I think I feel some minor pain and want to whine about it.
We had a couple of riders take various levels of spills and just wanted to take a moment to wish them speedy recoveries. Hannah and Jonathan.
Well, back to the curvy bike course. Cutting a swath through slower riders and getting overtaken by the occasional hoofer is a natural part of this course and its important to abide by the rules of the road, such as not drafting, allowing a pass, after passing returning to the right side of the road, etc, etc… Just in case you forget, the kind folks at St. Anthony’s send out roving motorcycle patrols with referees on them to make sure you are complying, and if you are not, they will not hesitate to smack you upside your head with a time penalty or DQ. By DQ, I mean disqualification and not a Blizzard from Dairy Queen. I find myself really focusing on trying to maintain a flatfooted bottom of the cadence rotation and keeping a smooth rhythm…. you know, the rhythm method!
Before I know it, I’m headed into mile 22 and its time to crank it up a notch and get some blood rushing to the legs and feet and make sure I’m ready to go running! Before I can sing another verse of ‘Gravedigger’ from Dave Matthews, I am back at the Pier stretch of the bike course, funneled into making a right turn and back on the brick road to transition. I dismount, and begin my awkward gallop on bricks, through sand and into grass to find my cubby hole on the bike rack. It is chaos in here, as riders are stumbling over each other and one elder statesman bites it and faceplants into the soft sand while the other guy prodding him along just pushes past him… You stay classy Anchorman! I offer a brief hand to the guy and he defers saying he just needs a minute, but that he’s ok. I press on.
I locate my special girl Nikita and immediately go into Zen like focus. Leave the helmet, grab the visor, take a moment to enjoy the cooling sensation of handfuls of Chammy Butter all up in my crotch. Mmmmm… Thats the stuff. Seriously though, like a pit crew adding 4 new tires and gassing up the ride, its running shoes in place of specialized cycling shoes and a Gu and some water down the gullet and into the tank. Damn, I am feeling really good!
A nice pace out of transition leads us out and to the right, while bikers are still breaking off to the left and just beginning there 26 mile trek. I don’t envy them and I’m sure they feel the same way about me. We wind our way down the same concrete path we already traversed earlier that day, this time we get to wear shoes! Yay for us! Just like the bike course, the early part of the run course is my favorite as a nice straight away starts with lots of people… (OMG!! Nicole Carson is screaming at me with a huge smile on her face, GO SEAN GO! PUSH IT!) (Now my straight laced face is ear to ear grin… Thanks Carson!)… and thins out, then breaks left into a second straight away with more people cheering positive stuff and motivational words of encouragement.
A ridiculously fun group is out here motivating everyone through laughter and shenanigans… The Shake n’ Bake crew. Just enjoy the picture and let your imagination do the rest, as no words can logically explain the sheer awesomeness these characters bring to the table.
After this stretch, you head over a small bridge and then its slogging time as the course snakes throughout a residential area and the sun is doing everything in its power to reach out and beat you down. No matter how fast you run, how well you stay in the shade or how much SPF you invested in, mother nature’s powerful UV’s seek you out and you can see the steam rising off some people heads, like a vehicle stalled out with an overheated radiator. Others partake in walking or hitting the water stations like there Tiki Bars, but my mantra for this Run, is ‘RUN THE RUN’. Last year, I was all over the place, going out reasonably quick only to realize about 1.5 miles in that I wasn’t going to make it very far and started adding in some walking, which quickly became the majority and by the end of the 6 miles, it was tough to even get started running let alone anything more then walking. This year would be different. No options. I made it to Mile 4 before I gave myself a 15 second breather and then back to running. Each additional mile I gave myself an additional 15-20 second breather, just mainly to grab a water, get doused by a friendly neighbor hosing people down and to gather my breathing to a smooth easy pace.
Relating back to the good people of triathlons, one of my favorite parts of this years race, happened just as I was 3 seconds into my 20 second breather on Mile 6. An Under 39, Clydesdale I had played leapfrog with on the Bike for the last 8 miles of the bike course, came up behind me on the run, shouting, “NO, NO, NOPE! Not gonna let you walk, let’s go, Run with me!” I thanked him and said, “You timing is perfect!”, and we continued our run down the final stretch of road before the turn down the finishing chute.
Up ahead, I see Carson and she sees me, and starts yelling Inspiring Words at me, “LET’S GO SEAN”, “FINISH STRONG” and then the entire group of Sarasota Storm are there yelling and screaming and I swear that is easily the best part of the race for me. Last year the sprint for the final Chute run/finish was the best part, but to have a triathlon family cheering right near the finish line takes the cake and gives me all the adrenaline I could ever need. I inform my clydesdale friend, that I plan on kicking in with the turbo boosters at the bend and as I hit that turn for the last 1/4 mile I go 80-90-100 and burn every last ounce of Oxygen in my lungs, literally seeing those little spots as I cross the finish line, reach out for cool towels to throw on my neck and head, a medal, and a bottle of ice cold water!
Ahhhh, its over just like that.
2:39:04 which destroys last years time of 3:10:22. I am thrilled with this years results and deep down, I know I could have pushed a bit harder on the bike and run, but hindsight is always 20/20.
Anyhow, moments later I spot my little sister Danielle just past the finishing area and I am overwhelmed that she has traveled here to cheer me on and visit with the Sarasota Storm members she met when she did her inaugural race at the Y-Tri put on by the SRQ Storm.
I grab a couple bottles of water and gatorade and begin the short walk to join my cohorts at the tent and cheer for the other people still out on the course battling the stifling heat that just keeps beating down. It’s funny how good the sun and heat feel now that I’ve completed the race and only friends and libations await, no more miles.
Spending some time with everyone else in and around the tent helps me to remove my perspective outside and focus on the faces and emotions of the athletes finishing the race. Even if they look weary, exhausted, overwhelmed or focused, effervescent and joyous, the level of enthusiasm coming from our tent and the members who are now lining the race course gives each runner, jogger and walker (note – we aren’t letting the walkers, walk) the boost they need or the momentum to continue to the nearing finish line!
I have borrowed some pictures that are utilized throughout this recap, and I wanted to thank the Storm members for these photos by mentioning them in the photo captions. Also, if you are named in this recap and don’t want to be, please let me know and I will begrudgingly alter the names to protect the innocent.
Finally, to recap, the St. Anthony’s Triathlon is one of my favorites for the reasons of; Mass, Overload, Seas of people and a great venue with great supporters and police and race protection. The counter arguments I have heard and can sympathize with include, lots of people, cancelled or altered swims and kind of pricey. I’ll leave the judgements up to you.