Here’s the thing to keep in mind when reading one of my (or any other self-absorbed, solipsistic, yet ferociously attractive blogging narcissist’s) race reviews, and that is this: what you’re reading is an overly elaborate judgement piece based on prior experience/exposure… or in the case of triathlons, PURE FREAKIN’ ANXIETY.
No kidding, though. I mean it. The 2016 Labor Day Triathlon, held in Coconut Creek, Florida on September 4th, 2016, was “only” a sprint tri, and it wasn’t even my first time at this particular grammar speedway. My other (and only) experience with a triathlon occurred 17 months prior at the 2015 Egg Hunt Triathlon. Go check out my review if you like, but the Cliff’s Notes version is basically this: I had a great time, especially as a first-time triathlon noob, because (1) I trained quite a bit for it, and (2) I went with about a dozen buddies, most of us as first-timers, and we had this beautifully awesome neuroses-on-parade support team going on there.
Which was good, because we were TERRIFIED!
Oh don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty “seasoned” when it comes to races and events in general, but triathlons are something else entirely. Prepping for one type of race is one thing, but three different types of events, back-to-back? Welcome to the Logistical Hell. Without a guiding mind to make the connective tissue that links your swim goggles, bike gloves, suntan lotion, sunglasses, race socks, tire tubes, bib belt, supplements, electrolytes, towels, helmet, so on and such as… sometimes you end up repeating Mentat mantras on constant loop to maintain steady neurological footing.
Hey, any port in a storm, right? But first let’s talk a moment about…
Training for a Sprint Triathlon
Having done that spint tri before — and having LOVED the experience — made doing another one a done deal. And it not only made my second go-around much less intimidating, it also made preparation that much easier for both race day planning and event training. Training itself was pretty much a foregone conclusion; I have been running regularly for over five years and in constant full-marathon training for two and a half years. Ever since the last tri, I had been swimming two-to-three times a week, doing both drills and longer distance swims.
As far as biking? I still have my trusty Cosima, a Trek 7.2 hybrid bike, which is anything BUT a racing bicycle, but it’s certainly more than good enough for a sprint triathlon. I hadn’t rode much over the past year but I picked it back up again last May and got in some road time on it. I felt like a stronger cyclist than before, but I had no illusions about being competitive at the tri. Especially on a hybrid bike.
But at least there was some measure of bike confident. Heck if I was worried about anything, it was probably either brain-eating amoebas or alligators, both of which have been known to hang out in and around fresh-water sources, like, oh for example, LAKES IN FLORIDA WHAT YOU MIGHT SWIM IN FOR A TRIATHLON.
I was humbly willing to take that risk. For you. My gentle Hokeyblog readers. Paypal links to follow…
OK in all seriousness, I really wasn’t worried about either possibility (even though I overheard a few first-timers offer concerns about such a situation). The water is always tested for anything life-threatening before the event occurs, and believe you me no alligator is interested in hanging around a large, loud cadre of splashing, thrashing objects in any body of water. And if they are, just swim faster than the knob next to you. All good.
Finally, I’ll offer up a measure of frankness; I’m about 10 pounds heavier than I was last year. On the plus side, a lot of it came from lean muscle mass I had put on in my training this year, but some of it also came from delicious Panera scones. Nothing like having a little balance, after all. At 226 pounds I qualified for the Clydesdale category which, if you’re not familiar, means the “Big Burly Dudes” category. My goal was to weigh myself out of the category by race day, and while I dropped some I was still a Clydesdale by race day. So I was in. The funny thing is, I’m not built for burly. I’m more the taller, leaner type. In other words, I don’t LOOK my weight. At 6′ 2″ and 226 pounds, the guy pictured below, according to the Body Mass Index, is just a shade below “obese”.
This is why you shouldn’t pay any attention to the Body Mass Index. The Body Mass Index is not only grossly inaccurate; it also sucks nuts.
Anyway, let’s go ahead and jump right into:
Packet Pickup and Pre-Rare Clinic
Packet pickup was at Alex’s Bike Pro Shop in Coral Springs, and I mention the Coral Springs store only because I started to drive over to their Davie location, and it was only because of the timely intervention of my MUCH-smarter-than-me-and-boy-don’t-she-know-it wife Boots that I didn’t end up in the wrong location. Yeesh. Anyway, we drove over to Alex’s and registration was a snap. I handed over my ID, they gave me my registration bag, which included swim cap (orange for my division), bike decal with my race number, helmet sticker, running bib, and of course the usual group of marketing postcards and crispy gluten-free extravaganzas of snacks that always go right in the garbage.
Of course none of that stopped me from posing with this mannequin, for no reason but sheer ennui:
Meeting up with us there was my pal Jackie, a veteran of the Florida race scene (but especially Run Disney), who was participating in her very first triathlon. She is also known to cast you nasty glares if you’re acting particularly dopey, commonly known as “The Lewk”. You don’t want to receive “The Lewk”. Ever. Trust me on this one.
I had advised Jackie to attend the Pre-Race Clinic to get some really great tri advice. I had done that before my first and the information was absolutely invaluable; from race tips, swim advice, transition area setup, DQ pitfalls, and more, the pre-race clinic I attended before my first tri helped assuage almost all of my concerns. So by the time the clinic started, we had already jockeyed into position to listen to the litany of sage-like advice from a noted triathlon expert:
Hey look! There’s our awesome buddy Coach Audrey from Friends In Training, my local run club! I didn’t know she was participating in the tri, but it’s always good to see friends on race day.
Anyway, I’m disheartened to report that the clinic was pretty bad. The speaker (whose name I don’t recall) was very friendly and knowledgeable, but the presentation of the material was unfocused and scattered all over the place. He spent entirely too much time talking about nutrition and energy management, whereas the talk should have been structured in a way that prepared the participants (especially the nervous first-timers) by taking them through everything from setting up the night before through finish the race, in chronological order. What to do when you arrive. Where to go first. How to get your transition zone set-up properly. How to rack your bikes. Where to go for timing chips and markings. When to wear your helmet. What to do if you tire out during the swim. And so on…
Some of this information was talked about, but it was randomly scattered in between long, unnecessary discussions about when you burn Creatine versus when you burn fat and how glycogen works. All of that is important stuff, but is really outside the scope of a pre-race clinic.
To be fair, we didn’t stay for the entire talk, so perhaps things got a lot more focused afterward. I would still recommend that first-timers hit that pre-race clinic. At the very least, you can always ask about any issues that need clarification or further elucidation. All good in the hood. Besides, we had to go grab dinner next door by hitting the only sub place that really matters in the South:
‘Nuff said on that one. Although I’m pretty sure Jackie wasn’t in the mood:
THAT is “The Lewk”…
Afterward we went home, where I got to work prepping everything for the next morning. My race attire was to consist of tri-shorts for the entirety of the race, a tri-shirt for the swim and biking, my ShenaniGator singlet for the run (Jackie had her ShenaniGator shirt as well, so we’d match like a true pair of dorks), socks, run shoes, swim goggles, bike gloves, sunglasses, and flip-flops for after the race. I also had my towels (one for drying, one for laying out my items in my transition area), electrolyte pills, packet of Gu gel, Honey Stinger, bike bottle filled with Gatorade, race belt, and a change of clothes. Boots and I also had a 12-pack of Magic Hat cooling in the fridge to be brought with us the next morning. Priorities people. I also attached all the bib stickers and decals to my bike and helmet, and clipped my running bib to my race belt.
Anyway let’s zip right over to:
The triathlon was scheduled to begin promptly at 7:00AM, with the Transition Area closing at 6:45, which meant I wanted to get there by 5:45. So that meant getting up at 4:00AM, just to be safe… which is precisely what I did. Thankfully I was asleep by 8:30 the night before and had a full night’s rest, so at least there was that. My breakfast was little more than a Clif bar and a Gatorade, after which I got dressed and did what felt like a dozen last-minute checks to make sure I had *everything*.
I’m not kidding folks; the hardest thing about triathlons is the goshdarn logistics. There’s a ton of small things you need that are easy to forget. Remember that time I did the 2015 Swim Miami event and left my goggles at home? Things like that…
Anyway Boots snapped this pic of me pretending to be all cool and not nervous at ALL:
By 4:45 we walked to my car, mounted my bike to the rack — upside down at first, because I’m a dingbat. This is why I leave earlier rather than later. Chronic Dingbat’ism. Anyway, off we drove to Tradewinds Park in Coconut Creek, and I could be the most unnecessarily nervous person driving with a bike racked to their car. I kept having visions of Cosima flying off the trunk and landing somewhere in the Everglades off of the Sawgrass Expressway. Once again: Dingbat’ism.
I’m pleased to report we made it to Tradewinds Park quickly, safely, and with bicycle intact. Millheiser: 17, Everglades: 4. Parking was a snap — there was little traffic and quick throughput, and we were settled in no time at all, arriving just after 5:30 AM. I unracked Cosima and walked over to the Transition Zone with my gear, and quickly got my transition area set up.
Once Cosima was racked and my gear laid out on my towel, the next step was to get my markings and timing chip. The markings consist of having your race number written on both arms with a black marker, as well as your age written on your calf. The latter is especially useful when you want to lord it over all the young whippersnappers you pass during the run portion of the race, what with their hula hoops and pet rocks and “Where’s The Beef” t-shirts…
Please stop me before I misappropriate another dated reference.
I’m tattooed on both upper arms near the shoulder, so my race numbers always look a little shmootzy up there. No regrets. I tried to get a good pic here, but stupid floodlights ruin everything:
Afterward I had to take care of the usual PRP-issues. The park men’s room was open, which was nice, except that there was only a single stall in there, which wasn’t nice, and some yutz decided to plant himself in there for what seemed like hours, which was pure schmuckitude. No matter, though. What needed to get done, was done. Huzzah!
Here are some more pics of the pre-race atmosphere:
I met up with Jackie in the Transition Zone and she, Boots, and I chatted away until around 6:30, when we rose for the National Anthem. I always stand and cover my heart for this, but like a dope I didn’t realize there was an actual flag on the flagpole so I was facing the wrong way for about 80% of it. No wonder people were looking at me strangely. I mean, stranger than normal, anyhow. You can’t take me anywhere…
Just after all this mishegas, the race announcer instructed us to begin the long walk over to the Swim Start area. The Elite triathletes were to begin immediately at 7:00AM. Jackie’s group (in the blue caps) went afterward, whereas my group (in orange) went last.
I have to say, it was a calm, serene-looking morning:
Then we tried doing that Michael Phelps arm-swing thingy… to no avail.
Here’s Jackie and the Blue Caps right before their start:
And finally I made it into the drink:
I watched the earlier groups disappear into the lake as they began the swim portions of their tri. I starting feeling the usual pangs of anxious excitement, but that’s par for the course with any race. I just wanted to get out there and moving. Finally at 7:15 AM, our time had come. The announcer told us to get into the water, gave us a countdown, and with the inevitable bellowing of an air-horn, my second triathlon had finally begun!
The 2016 Labor Day Triathlon!
I always tear up at a good H1 moment… anyway, let’s follow that up with another one. This was the first triathlon in which I was able to use my Garmin 920XT watch in Triathlon mode. Righteous! So knowing that piece of useless nothingness, allow me to go into a brief discussion of:
Here’s a look at the 400m swim course:
The swim portion felt like it was over soon after it started, which would almost sound like I just glided over the lake like some ethereal creature from Disney’s Fantasia, leaving twirling mists of gentle Technicolor ephemera in my wake, set to the dulcet concordance of Sergei Prokofiev. Nothing doing. It was a frantic, crowded mass of feet and elbows for 3/4ths of the swim. I felt like I couldn’t get a decent stroke going without smashing into someone in front of me, while some yutz behind me consistently grabbed my ankle, to the point where I *may* have *accidentally* kicked this person in the head. Maybe.
Regardless, I couldn’t get my pace groove on until the last 100 meters. At that point, I could extend to my full 6’2″ swimming length and really move. The lake itself was very cool (if hardly refreshing), but it was still a murky Florida lake. All you can do in that situation is just focus and swim your best. There were two left turns, which meant maintaining your sighting and keeping the buoys to your left. The Swim Exit area could have been a little more clearly discernible, but I was able to get where I needed to go. Finally my hands felt the upwardly sloping shore, which meant it was time to stand and jog out of the water.
You wouldn’t believe how many people tried to stand up prematurely, thinking they were in the shallows. Up their torsos went, and down they sank. It was almost comical to watch.
Boots was waiting for me with cheers as I made my way out of the water. I remembered to strip off my swim cap and goggles during the jog to the Transition Zone. If you run with them on, you look plenty dorky. PLENTY! Like this pic, which occurred just BEFORE I remembered to strip off my swim cap and goggles:
Anyway my swim felt fine, but for some reason I thought I would have done better, given that my overall swimming fitness level has increased a lot since last year, and my 400m swim time was only 10 seconds faster than it was in my last tri. Oh well. Nonetheless, I placed second out of five in my Category, and Overall I was 60 out of 190. Not bad!
Time – 09:30 min
Distance – 400 meters
Pace – 38:00 min/mile
Cat Place – 2/5
OA Place – 60/190
Now let’s talk a little bit about…
Listen: I’m not a sleek, efficient transition zone guy. I don’t have everything set up so that I spend the minimal amount of time switching from one sport to another, in and out in a matter of seconds. I’m not quite that competitive. Not yet, anyhow. Nonetheless, I tried to waste as little time as possible without trying to stress out or rush through anything.
I jogged to my area, sat down, quickly dried my feet, and slid on my socks and shoes. I then popped an electrolyte pill and took a drink of Gatorade from my bottle. I then donned my helmet, sunglasses, and bike gloves. The helmet went first: you want that helmet on at all times handling your bike, or you could risk a DQ. That’s what they tell you, anyhow, but who am I to buck convention? I took Cosima off the rack and jogged her over to the Bike Mount/Dismount area. I was ready to hit the next phase of the race with a bundle of enthusiasm bubbling up throughout my nervous system.
Overall my transition wasn’t particularly fast or competitive, but I still made it about 30 seconds faster than my last tri, so that’s a plus. Still, I was 4 out of 5 in my Category, and 135 out of 190 Overall.
Transition 1 Stats
Time – 3:12 min
Cat Place – 4/5
OA Place – 135/190
Let’s do this! And by “do this” I mean have a little chat about…
Let’s take a brief look at the bike course:
The 10-mile course traversed entirely inside the confines Tradewinds Park, which was fairly nice and quite relaxing. Tradewinds is a lovely property, save for that little stretch that takes you parallel to the Florida Turnpike, just across the highway from a ginormously disgusting landfill that thankfully didn’t smell like a bucket of indelicate moose dookies left out in the sun. I wouldn’t have been psychologically ready for that.
Anyway, I felt stronger on the bike this time around. Coming off of the swim, it really felt cool and comfortable by the time I got out on the bike course. The sun hadn’t risen that high in the sky; it was still a few minutes before 7:30 AM when I started, so the shadows were long, the temperatures down, and the humidity thankfully very low (for South Florida in the summertime, anyhow). The course wasn’t particularly crowded, my legs felt strong, and I had plenty of energy in the tank.
The limiting factor, of course, is my lack of a real race bike. So I just cruised along at a reasonable pace, obeying the rules of the race by staying on the right side until I was ready to pass, announcing that action with a loud (but polite) “ON YOUR LEFT” to ensure fellow bicyclists were aware of my presence.
My favorite part of the course was cruising alongside the barns and pens, being greeted by various horses, cows, and bulls. You could smell them coming a mile away, of course, but they were still quite the welcome sight (both times around).
My least favorite part? One particularly obnoxious woman who decided SHE wanted to cruise in the passing lane. Slowly. So I passed this unctuous worm on the right, much to her dismay. “RIGHT IS WRONG!!!” she called out. “NO PARKING ON THE DANCE FLOOR!!” I replied in my head, but not in real life, because that would have been super-cool and I only thought of it after the fact. I just ignore the thing and left her in my dust, where she apparently belonged.
I also gave shout-outs to Jackie and Audrey, both of whom I saw out there plugging away on their bikes, as fast as lightning and twice as dangerous!
Anyway, I enjoyed the bike course a lot. It was a quick 10 miles done in two five-mile loops, and thankfully the turns weren’t too sharp or sudden. I was in really strong spirits by the time I was finished. This probably had more than a little to do with seeing Boots on the course with her camera. Always a good pick-me-up:
So no, I wasn’t fast, but I finished and felt pretty energized by the time those ten miles were up. I made it to the Dismount Zone, got off my bike, and jogged back over to the Transition Zone. I was 4th out of 5th for my Category, 135 out of 190 Overall.
Time – 33:27 min
Distance – 10 miles
Speed – 17.9 mph
Cat Place – 4/5
OA Place – 135/190
Let’s segue right into a little tune, Daisy-Do, one we’re just itching to call:
There isn’t too much to report here. Once I had my bike racked again, I removed my helmet and changed out of my tri-shirt, replacing it with my ShenaniGator singlet. In case anyone’s wondering what a ShenaniGator is, it refers to the Florida contingent of the always goofy and awesome Team Shenanigans Running Team. If you haven’t already, go check out their Podcast. Grab a frosty one while you do so.
Anyway, peeling off my tri-shirt took MUCH longer than it should have. That thing is skin-tight and, with the lake water and sweat that had permeated deep into its fabric, took more effort than I thought was required to remove the thing from my torso. Yikes. I then stripped off my running gloves, tore open my Gu gel packet, quickly ingested its contents with a long swig of Gatorade, and ran over to the Run entrance. We had, at long last, entered Endgame!
Transition 2 Stats
Time – 2:09 min
Cat Place – 4/5
OA Place – 162/190
Yikes, that overall T2 place… well never mind that, because NOW the fun was gonna get goin’ with a Sweet Slice of Heaven you know all-too-well as:
Finally, a look at the run course:
The course consisted of two 1.5-mile laps on the running paths inside the park. There wasn’t much in terms of inclines or broken pathways; this course was fast and flat. As a bonus, I finally got to meet my buddy (and fellow ShenaniGator) Kim from Black Dog Runs Disney. We’ve been blogger and Facebook friends for a few years now, but even though we live 20 minutes apart we never got to meet face-to-face until this day. She was cheering right at the start of the Run, and of course I had to flash her my patented double-thumbs up pose, because (a) I know she would have been disappointed if I hadn’t, and (b) I don’t know anything else to do with my hands while running. I’m odd that way.
It was also brutally, BRUTALLY hot by now. I began the run at 8:03 AM, which might as well have been high noon. While there were a few shaded moments on the course (including a quarter-mile stretch near the end of the lap, which was almost entirely enclosed by a canopy of trees and branches, resulting in near-complete perfect shade), the majority of the run took place under the unforgiving heat of the South Florida Summer Sun.
First off, I forgot how pronounced the “Springy Leg Syndrome” was. For those of you who are unfamiliar, coming off the bike and into the run, your legs feel like two tightly-wound Slinkies. They don’t feel weak, really, but they definitely feel odd and strangely bouncier than normal. It disappears after a few minutes but it’s definitely a bizarre sensation. The best thing to do when it occurs is ease into it; don’t try to tear up the run at first. Give those legs time to readjust before you get to where you want your pace to be.
Here’s whereI came into my wheelhouse. I’ve never stopped running since I started running in January 2011, plus I do weekly speed training at the track. And I’ve been punishing myself in this sweltering nasty filthy South Florida heat all summer long. Not too sound TOO pleased with myself, but I passed a *LOT* of runners while I pounded away at those three hot, steamy, seemingly endless miles. I was glad to see some measure of payoff for all my summer training.
That is NOT to say, of course, that this was one of my better runs, or that I was even going particularly fast at all. Even with the training, the heat dramatically slowed me down. I planned on running the entire thing straight through, but ended up taking a 30 second walk break just around Mile 2. There was plenty of water on the course, and I usually grabbed two of them at a time; one to drink, and one to dump over my head to cool myself down. I ended up about 80 seconds per mile slower than my usual 5K pace, but in those conditions that was to be expected.
I did enjoy the course, though. That aforementioned shaded part near the end of the lap was a virtual oasis, a welcome respite from the sun’s oppressive presence overhead. The volunteers at the water stations were great, on-the-spot with water and encouragement. And since we were closer to the Start/Finish area, there were plenty of cheering spectators all about the course. It was a good and most needed pick-me-up, because the last mile felt pretty rough.
Nothing could stop that wave of elation, though, as l I made that last turn after the second lap, turning into the chute that led to the Finish Line!
It was done! I had completed my second triathlon, and not a moment too soon. That beer wasn’t gonna drink itself… Anyway, the run portion went pretty well, given the circumstances. Not my fastest pace, but good enough for a sprint tri. I was first in my Category out of five, and Overall I was 83 out of 190.
Time – 29:11 min
Distance – 3 miles
Pace – 9:43 min/mile
Cat Place – 1/5
OA Place – 83/190
I was quickly knighted with my brand new race bling, and almost instantly this rugged young volunteer appeared in a puff of smoke, whisked the timing chip off of my ankle, and disappeared almost just as quickly. Those guys are fast.
I snapped a selfie, because ego:
Then I went over to the video monitor bank to see my overall stats:
Wait… are you seeing what I’m seeing??
Time – 1:17:29
Cat Place – 2/5
OA Place – 109/190
For the first time ever, I was going to hit the podium. That’s right, I placed 2nd in my Category. Of the five Big Burly Dudes, I was number two! Keep your doo-doo jokes to yourself, I was pretty, pretty, pretty pleased with myself.
I met up with Boots and Kim by the Finish Line and shared the good news, and we waited there to cheer Jackie in. And, per usual, she flew over the Finish Line in pure Jackie style: mostly airborne.
Jackie finished 2nd in her Category as well (Athena) so this meant we were both gonna hit the podium. Time to celebrate with oranges:
While waiting for our time at the podium, we met up again with Audrey and friend, and they joined us and waited to cheer on our moment.
Finally our moment had come. Jackie joined the Athenas (<40):
and I joined up with my fellow Clydesdales (and Athenas 40+):
This was followed by a nice cold 12-pack of Magic Hat beers, shared between Boots, Kim, Jackie, and myself. We celebrated our victories and at-long-last-face-to-face meetings and such as, but mostly we just enjoyed the cold taste of craft beer with good friends, because that’s a reward in and of itself. By the time we were finished, they were well into dismantling the entire race area. It was time to go. No matter. We came and conquered!
So overall the 2016 Labor Day Triathlon was a really positive experience. Multirace put on a fun event, well-organized and smartly run. Now that I’ve got two sprints under my belt, it’s time to start thinking about upgrading to an International/Olympic distance… and probably looking into a race bike as well. Mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money… *sigh* In any event, I highly recommend this sprint triathlon to first-timers, weekend warriors, experienced mega-elites, and everyone in between. The Labor Day tri was fun, low-key, but highly energetic. Plus they put my ass on a podium, which means they know what they’re doing, right? Anyway, thanks for reading, gentle readers. Here’s the video — Shalamar, baby!