HITS is a fairly new triathlon series, with a unique concept. Their tag line is “A distance for everyone”, which really says it all. A HITS weekend consists of 70.3 (half-iron distance) and a 140.6(full-iron distance) on Saturday, and on Sunday, Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. It is a pretty cool concept, and they are really well-organized.
After having breakfast with the Team Foley after the Fight for Air Climb I headed out to Ocala with the hope of seeing at least Margie, Kari and Megan cross the finish line. I have to admit, while I have been training, it hasn’t been as focused as it should have. My “off-season” mentality didn’t quite transition into the race attitude just yet, but I thought I was at least in shape to do the Oly. In triathlon season, usually the first couple of months, is usually “Base” phase which just gets the wheels and legs rolling again, develop some strength and start gaining the endurance needed for race season. With that in mind, I figured an Olympic distance would be perfect to baseline where I am in my training. Imagine my surprise when I saw a lot of my friends out on Saturday competing in the 70.3. As I was watching competitors and friends cross the line there was a familiar itch developing in my heart. I didn’t quite notice what it was at the time.
The course for the 70.3 was pretty intense with loops that included a 1.2 mile swim in a 65 degree Lake Weir, 56 miles of rolling hills and wind of the bike, and an intense mixture of soft trails, and asphalt out-and-backs for the 13.1 mile run. I was too busy losing my lungs to catch any of the swim or bike, but I was happy to be around to see the finale of the run.
I had my first blog recognition, which was really nice. I was at the expo, grabbing a couple of Honey Stinger gels for my race the next day and I was chatting with the owner of Kickstart Endurance and she told me she followed IronGoof. I tried not to make a big deal out of it, but secretly I was really excited.
I missed Margie, but I was really happy to see Megan and Kari cross the finish. They both were finishing their first 70.3 along with some other members of the Tri Psych Club, so for them this was a huge accomplishment and deserved a celebration. That itch started to intensify at Chili’s that night as everyone’s conversation about their race surrounded me.
I really attempted to be nonchalant about this race. I kept telling myself, “Self, this is no big deal. You know you are not ready to race, this is a small race and this is going to tell you what you need to work on.” Unfortunately, waking up the next morning at 4:30a, and preparing my gear not only woke up my consciousness but the competition juices and anxiety levels as well. I showered, dressed, applied my TriTats, loaded the car and off I went.
As I mentioned before, the organization of this race was first-rate, from, staff organizing parking to the transition areas. Have I mentioned the transition area? In previous races I have barely glanced over the amenities of the transition areas, well except for the Rev3 Venice Beach. Let me put it this way, if the transition areas were cars, then every other race I have been in were Toyotas, the Rev3 was a Lexus, and the HITS series was a Bentley. Not only were there boxes that held gear and clamped a tire for easy removal of the bike, plenty of room for transition setup in-between the bikes, but each participant had their own personal stool with their number and last name on them. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it really is the little things that make an impression.
I headed down to the beach with my wet suit on halfway, goggles and swim cap in hand. The temperature outside was perfect with just a slight breeze and the sun was starting to slowly creep up over the horizon. I was incredibly grateful to see my friends down on the beach. Pete, Kari, Megan, Michael, Stan and a couple f others as it made me feel slightly less stressed. After the mandatory meeting, all of the males waded out a bit into the water for the start. My anxiety reared a little due to the fact, I was using my backup goggles because my regular goggles broke in transition and this was the coldest water I had ever swam in.
The whole beach counted off, “Three, Two, One…” and the horn blew. We all ran or dolphin dived toward the first buoy. The water was kind of shallow so I did have some time to start to get used to the water. I remembered my strategy and my stroke count and I started swimming. I started losing ground within the first 200m, which was normal for me. My new stroke technique is still relatively new, so I figured I wasn’t going to be fast immediately. When I reached the first buoy, I started feeling short of breath, even though I thought I was relatively relaxed. My chest started to feel compressed like I was being stepped on, and my arms were not moving as freely as I wanted them to. I moved to breast stoke to see if I could relax a bit, but it was to know avail, the compression would just not loosen. I have never had an issue with my wet suit. Except for getting out of it, I kinda like it. I feel more buoyant, warmer and protected from other things that may cause issues in open water. Now I just felt like it was python, strangling me. I kept going, but it was a combination of freestyle, side stroke, and breast stoke. When I reached the second buoy, my mind went into overdrive trying to get me to quit. The ideas popping in my head were asinine. I kept hearing, “You aren’t trained for this”, “You don’t belong here.”, “Just get out of the water. It is only a baseline remember?”. The thing was, I had another loop to do. I swam toward third buoy, and the water became very shallow, so we really didn’t have any choice but to run through it and start dolphin diving again. I forced myself to have the one thought that has gotten me through tough training, cold, wet and rainy workouts, and exhausting races; “The mind will quit one-hundred times before the body does.” I told myself, “Self, that is first and only time that is going to happen today.” I ran around the third buoy and headed out for my second loop.
The second loop felt a little better, but I was so happy to get out of that wet suit. I am still not quite certain why I felt that way. It wasn’t the size of the wet suit because when I bought it I was 25 pounds heavier. Either way I ran out of the water unzipping and getting out of it on my way to transition. One of the strippers told me to lay down and she yanked it off of me. I grabbed my helmet while I put on my shoes and crossed the mat in less than 3 minutes.
The bike course was actually pretty nice. Rolling hills, with well conditioned roads and plenty help by the Sheriff’s department. I wanted to make up sometime, so in my head I thought to just keep passing people. I only got passed twice during the first ten miles of the twenty-five mile course and I was happy with that. I played cat & mouse with a couple of them, and ended up passing them in during the last half of the course. Unfortunately, there was a storm on the horizon and the wind picked up quite a bit on on the second half, not to mention the hills were more abundant and steeper(at least for Florida). My speed, that I was holding quite consistent at 21 mph started to drop to 18, then 17 and at that point, I refused to go under 18 mph. I came into transition, averaging 19.1 and I was proud of that.
I racked my bike and sat on my stool to put on my socks and shoes. I got hung up a little bit, but was still out of there in less than 3 minutes, and it was off to the run. Pete yelled at me as I headed into the trees, “This is the fun part”. At first I agreed with him.
I decided to wear my Hoka One One Biondi Speed 2 running shoes with the large sole, because I wanted to test how they felt on a triathlon after being on the bike. Big mistake. At first the ground wasn’t very soft, and I was ok running about an 8:15 mile, but as I got further into the woods, the trail got softer and softer. With that big sole, not only was my foot pushing down on the sole, but then into the soft ground causing three times as much resistance as the a regular running shoe. I didn’t figure this out at first, but after one-and-a-half miles, I felt like I needed to stop, and that was not usual, not matter what kind of shape I was in. I walked at the aid station for about 200 yards and then I continued running but at a much slower pace. I had to do two loops of the run course as well, and I could feel the resistance ease off when I hit the asphalt again. All of the sudden I was lighter and faster, but I had to do a second loop into the woods again. I decided my strategy would be to walk a hundred yards at the aid station and 100 yards at the turn-around, but other than that I would let my legs do what could. It worked out well as my splits were faster on the second loop.
I ran out of the woods with Pete snapping shots and hearing cheers from Megan, Kari and a couple of others. As, I crossed the finish line it became clear to me, that I am not in the shape I was in for my last 70.3, but I would enjoy this moment as a victory. It was not a PR, but it this race let me know what I need to do over the next months in order to take on the rest of my race schedule.
After calming down a bit and chatting with Pete and a few other friends, Summer Bailey found me. She had competed in the 70.3 the day before. Summer lives in Georgia, so we really only see each other at races and occasionally chat on Facebook so it was really incredible to actually chat and catch up with her in person. She is an amazing woman and with a huge heart and ferocious determination. We both agreed that neither one of us had trained enough for our races, but it was good to have a race under our belt for the year. Chatting with her was encouraging, and I know we will be seeing each other again during the season. To be able to see and chat with her and some others that I do not get to train with allowed me to remember one of the greatest thing about triathlon and racing in general. It’s the friends and connections we make. Other than having a good race and crossing the finish line, it is the best part about it.
Besides crossing the finish line what are the best experiences you have competing?