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?
The crazy thing about not running “Best Damn Race”, was I felt like I needed another race to replace it. It wasn’t very long after I got home on Saturday, that I had typed in the URL for the Rock n’ Roll series and registered for the Rock N’ Roll St. Petersburg Half-Marathon. I have no idea what the driving need was. I have plenty of races on the calendar, so what was another half-marathon? I decided to chalk it up to the hype of BDR and the fact I wanted to race. Is that a distinctive trait in all endurance athletes? I have no idea. I humbly request that you take a few seconds, put yourself in my shoes and let me know if you think you would’ve done the same thing.
Ben, Pete and I at the expo
I always get excited to go to the expos. It isn’t the free stuff, or the vendors, it is the aura, the environment and the excitement of the race. This expo was no different. I wasn’t excited about any of the vendors or the new technologies, I was just excited to be there and take it all in.
Road ID did something new this year. They were engraving on-site. This was the first event I attended where this was an option. What a great idea, and it was so easy. Several kiosks were set up with their software running on it and all that had to be done, was pick the product (wrist band, dog tag, ankle band, etc), type the content of the engraving, slide your card to pay for it and they engraved it for you
Jessica Crate and I
right there. That was my exciting highlight of the expo, besides seeing my friend Kat(Sneakers & Fingerpaints) volunteering with Brooks and Jessica Crate hanging out with Powerbar.
After hanging out with Pete and the gang and seeing a lot of friends at the expo, it was time to head home and chill out for the night. Afterall, not only was I at the expo but I also did a little training ride on the bridges of Clearwater.
The next morning brought on the same excitement as always. I didn’t wake up with the overall feeling of competing, I was more content with the positive anxiety rolling through my body at the idea of running. Period. I love races like this, especially since when I walk around either the start or finish I always seem to find someone I know.
Cheryl & I at the Start
Driving to the event was not an issue. My plan was to just find a place near Tropicana field, on the street or a cheep garage between the start and finish line, but at the last second I decided I really didn’t want to deal with it, so I ended up parking at the Trop for fifteen bucks. This is one of the things I am not crazy about with the Rock n’ Roll race series. Everything is an extra charge. $15 dollars to park at the expo, $15 to park at the race, $5 for a shuttle from the finish line back to the start, $1 per runner you want to track, $5 for the runner to allow others to track and not to mention the $110 race fee. I do enjoy the local races just for the fact they are usually all-inclusive. Best Damn Race was the cure for all of this. One price which even at full price was cheaper ($70), and it included parking, all the good food you can eat, and all the beer you could drink, but I digress.
My first perception was that this race was already increasingly superior to last year, at least for me, because mother nature was giving us a beautiful 57 degrees that morning vs my last experience with the race which was a very cold 33 degrees. This for me was absolutely perfect. The temperature would rise but by the time I finished it still would not have hit 70. A small breeze filled the air with a clean scent, but I could not consider it wind. Even though it was still a little chilly I decided to tough out the wait for the start in just my race attire instead of bringing anything extra for gear check. As I turned the corner around Tropicana Field the start-line events came into my line of sight. There, looking down on the parking lot, were three huge banks of port o’ lets, a few tents for info, volunteers, water and food, and of course the corrals. My heart rate increased a little as the anxiety started to ramp up.
The Mini-Marathon was starting first, which was a 5k, and then the main event, the Half-Marathon, would start about 25 minutes later. Making my way into the arena, recognizable faces started coming into
Stephanie & I at the start
view. This running community, no matter how much publicity it gets, is still relatively small, so racing seems to promote seeing the same faces at most of the events. Even though I didn’t know a lot of the athletes by name they were recognizable, but of course it is not uncommon for someone to come up behind you and give you a big hug, or tap you on the shoulder to say hi. I ran into Margie and her friend she was running with, as well as Cheryl, Stephanie, Mike, Wibke, and a bunch of others which calmed me down tremendously. I decided that I would race this for fun and just let my legs decide what they were going to do. What I decided and what happened were two totally separate ideas.
Around 7:25 the corrals were filled and as I was bib number 1062 I was to start in corral number 1. The crowd noise was diminished to a slight whisper as this 13-year-old girl gave us a beautiful rendition of our national anthem, the gun went off and we were on our way.
My legs felt really good, my breath flowed easy and my form fell into place. I was listening to my iPod, but the volume was low enough for it to be drowned out by the local bands that were playing on the course every couple of miles. As I passed the first mile, I looked down at my Garmin which read 7:28 which was around 10 seconds behind the race clock, which made sense, but the pace was a little fast. I decided to keep on going and let my legs decide. My Garmin alerted me of my 7:30 pace at the end of the 2nd mile which turned out to be about a tenth of a mile
before I reached the race clock. This is not uncommon with races. The GPS signal grabs satellite data every three seconds and within a city, sometimes it does not make a connection for a few passes depending on buildings, and a variety of signals that can interfere with the accuracy. I where a foot pod to record my cadence as well as fill the gaps when the satellite is not available, but the algorithm that fills the gaps will not do so until I have recorded the history at the end of the event.
When I crossed mile three at a time very close to my 5k PR time, I knew that I was at a pace that was way too fast for my fitness level at this time, but I was feeling really good, so against my better judgement I continued. My pace stuck at a range in-between 7:26-7:40 until mile 8 and that is when it caught up with me. Even though I was sticking to my nutrition, I started to feel the ache in my legs, and the tightness in my chest. I got a hold of my breathing checked my posture, leaned in a little more and kept going, but unfortunately, my pace for the next 3 miles steadily increased. I was pretty consistent with the people around me up to this point. I played cat & mouse with a few of the runners, and I was passing people here and there and feeling pretty good about it, but for the last few miles, I would start to get passed. Between, nine and ten, I saw Ben
Seeing a familiar face. Thanks Ben Mena
Mena on the side taking photos. A familiar face usually helps, so I turned toward him and mucked for the shot, pretending I felt a lot better than I actually did. My legs started getting heavier as we headed toward a small bridge, and I noticed Jessica Crate heading the opposite way toward the finish line, along with a lot of other familiar faces in that elite athlete group. Just on the other side of the bridge my watch alerted me to mile 11 and a lap time of 8:31. Out loud I yelled at myself, “Are you f***ing kidding me?” which gained me a few smirks and a couple of double takes from the others around me. I assessed my form, and my efficiency and noticed I was pretty much jacked up, so I slowed my breathing, lifted my arms to put me back in the right posture, tucked my hips and leaned from my ankles. I glided through the next mile at was alerted that I covered it in 8 minutes flat. “Better”, I thought to myself, but I was weakening and I knew it. I only had 1.1 miles left and while no matter what the finish line would be crossed, but it would be the longest mile of the race.
In a period that felt like two minutes went by when I saw Jessica running the opposite way, which could only be her cool down run, when I yelled and waved and before I knew it, she was in front of me. Yelling at me to stay with her. Her commands kept calling my ego to release anything I had left. “Bring your
Elite Athlete Jessica Crate
arms up, relax and let’s do this!”, is what I heard from her as I started leaning more and lifting my legs. “400 meters Brad kick it into gear, c’mon let’s go!” is what sparked my kick. I could see the finish line, it was right there all I had to do was take everything I had and just push to get there. Jessica’s last words to me were “50 meters left, GO!!!!” and I took off with everything I had left. Honestly, it hurt, but the pain subsided the nanosecond I crossed the timing mat. The race clock said 1:45 on the nose when I crossed and I was disappointed in my time, but not in my effort.
My chest was tight, my back started to twinge a little as I retrieved my medal, took photos and started gathering after race treats. Water, Gatorade, chocolate milk, bananas, strawberries, granola bars were basically shoved into my hands and I hadn’t even left the finish corral. I didn’t know what to do with it all, but I thought the race should really hand a plastic bag to the finishers so it could be collected without effort. After all, we all just ran 13.1 miles, the blood isn’t exactly flowing to our brains.
Sexiest woman on the course Karen D.
I found a nice secluded spot to drop all my goodies, and start my post-run routine of lunges, stretches and squats before I started socializing. I caught Jessica at the VIP tent and thanked her for bringing me in and then proceeded to hang with Tara Lee, Cheryl, Karen, Teresa, Holly, Mike, Brian, Stephanie and who knows how many others at the beer tent while we listened to Sean Kingston play live on the stage of North Shore Park.
I didn’t pay for shuttle ticket out of principal, and I kinda decided prior to the race I would just run back, which was probably going to be more of walk by the way I felt. I said my goodbyes to friends at the beer tent and headed back to the VIP area to say goodbye to Jessica, when she told me that she parked at the Trop as well, so we could just run together. “You know, I don’t run as fast as your slowest jog.”, I told her, but she just blew that statement off and we ran back. When I say we ran, I am not kidding. This girl runs like the wind and even though we were keeping a good pace for me, I know she had to keep looking back and slowing down. I will say, when I reached the car, I felt
In the beer garden
pretty good. Looser and more agile. This was a feeling I was going to have to remember. All in all, 16 miles for the day wasn’t to shabby.
Have you ever run again after a hard race? How did you feel?