Sunday, July 25, 2010

My First Off-road Triathlon Race....

Some lessons in life are best learned the hot way. More on that later....

Over the years I have completed over 100 triathlons but have never competed in an off-road trail bike/run triathlon. These races are still the swim/bike/run format but use mountain bike trails for both the bike and run portions. The most familiar branded ones are put on by Xterra. There are three in Florida; Jacksonville, Miami and outside of Ft Myers. A buddy and I decided to sign-up for the XterraFirstCoast which was in Jacksonville. A half mile swim in the Atlantic, a 13 mile trail ride and 5k ish trail run. Sounds like a blast.
I am a fairly strong swimmer so the half mile swim would be no big deal. It's just the East Coast of Florida where they have numerous shark attacks. I have a mountain bike but am not a "mountain biker" so to speak. I have been riding the bike lately, only on the road, while escorting a friend who is training for her first triathlon (wonder who that is). I was of the mindset of how hard could it be to mountain bike in Florida. And I have also done a few trail runs. Well running not on pavement is the same as a trail run, right.

My buddy and I decided to drive my Civic to Jacksonville the day before the race. I warned him that the air was not as cold lately but he seemed to not mind. I was kind of used to it and really didn't drive the car much so getting the air fixed was no priority. We left early in the morning so the lack of ice cold air was not an issue.

We drove to the race site where our packets were available for pick-up. We also, well actually my buddy, decided we should ride the course at least once to get an idea of how it was going to be. The bike course was a 4.5 mile ish loop which we were to do three times on race day. I decided to use my clip in pedals for the practice ride. I use them all the time on my road and tri bikes and have recently been using them on my mountain bike. But remember, I have only been riding my mountain bike on the road.

The beginning of the loop was fairly easy. A single track with tight turns but nothing outrageous. The further in to the trails the harder it got. Some uphills, roots, sugar sand, roots, stumps, sugar sand, downhills, sugar sand, roots, sugar sand, sugar sand, oh wait my shoes are locked on my pedals. And down goes Frazier. I did not see that tree off to the side there. My leg introduced itself to Mr Pine. Okay. Remember your shoes are locked in. Just kick your heel out of the pedal. Just an idea.

I was doing fine until I slowed on an uphill and decided to remind myself that my shoes were locked on to my pedal. The front of my bike was actually stuck on a tree. My front wheel was off the ground and I was on my ass with a root of some sort getting to know me better.
Nice scrape on my leg and also just happened to be the side where my camera was in my pocket. Those Canons are sturdy and solid. My first lesson was that I would not be using my cycling shoes nor these pedals for the race. Once I finished the lap, I was glad to see my buddy had also crashed. His crash drew blood from his knee. I reminded him that sharks like the smell of blood.

We went to the restaurant where the pre-race dinner/party was being held. This was at the Caribbee Key in Neptune Beach. I suggest you go there if you are ever in the area. I had an excellent grilled medium rare Ahi tuna over pasta dish. I also won an Xterra mug during the giveaways.

One of the race sponsors was Red Stripe beer. There were these two ladies giving out free samples at the restaurant. Free samples of Red Stripe that is. I asked for a sample just to be nice. I thought I would get some poured in to a small glass. Nope. I was given a full bottle. I like these free samples. I knew I had a race in the morning but who could resist free beer from the Red Stripe girls. So I had another.

We left the restaurant and walked around a little trying to check out some of the local hang-outs. It was still early yet. I drank some water at a couple of places because we knew we could not get our "drink on" since we had the race the next morning. We decided to call it a night after I had a Magic Hat No. 9 at the bar above Caribbee Key.

Back to the hotel and in bed before 11. The race was about two miles from the hotel so we knew we could sleep in a little. We got all our gear together and decided what time to set the alarm clock. We told camp fire stories until we fell asleep with hopes of having a great race the following morning. Hogwash. I hope you realize we were in separate beds.

Up bright and early and headed over to the race site. The bike transition area was first come first serve racking. Most triathlons have numbered racks which correspond to your race number. We did not show up early enough to get a good spot. All of the spots on the pavement were taken so we ended up in the dirt. That's why it is important to bring a towel with you as part of your gear.

There was a team meeting held about ten minutes prior to the race start. The participants and the spectators gathered around the race director for some last minute instructions. The director announced twice that the water conditions were excellent for a great swim. Just swim past the breakers to the buoys and swim north along the beach and back in. I could just tell in his voice there was something else he wanted to add. There were some whispers about someone getting bit on the foot by a shark "in these same waters" the day before that required 400 stitches. No that was not announced. The race director instead asked if anyone was allergic to jellyfish stings. Now how would you know if you were or not. Is that like wondering if it would hurt if you put a knife in to a power outlet. Did he have a jellyfish in a jar and was going to make us touch it first to see what happens. He said jellyfish had been spotted on the swim course but not to worry if your allergic because they have a bottle of ammonia to pour on you if you need it. I figured it would pay off that I was in the second wave and by then the jellyfish would be tired having dealt with the first wave of swimmers. Meeting over so head to the beach.

Same as always. Swim outside the buoys and swim back in. Wait. There's waves here on the East Coast. Those are some pretty big waves. I could drown before the first buoy. Not good but hey if it were easy everyone would do it. So jellyfish, waves, murky water, sharks ( I know they are there. I saw the movie.) and wavy jellyfish. Take your time getting out to past the breakers and all will be fine. And it was. I had a great swim. No jellyfish. The only thing that bumped me was another swimmer. I hope.

In transition and on the bike I go. Needless to say having a fast swim did not help me at all. I was passed by many on the first lap. I will be the first to admit that looks are deceiving when it comes to trail riding. There were people passing me that would not have passed me on a road bike. I give them credit. Trail riding is harder than it seems. I have basic skills and they showed. I barely knew where to fall. The bad thing is that by the time I was on my third lap I thought I was going to get better. Nope. I just got tired. Making more mistakes on the trails as far as taking the wrong line. Hitting all the roots, holes, limbs and did I mention getting stuck in the sugar sand. I will say that me changing pedals did have its benefits. I did not crash as bad as I did the day before. Half way through the third lap I was exhausted. I remember stopping at the tip of a hill so some other riders could pass and me and another guy were going to draw straws just to see who continues on. I also noticed most of the skilled riders were wearing the camel backs for their hydration. I own two of them. Both were in my garage. A lot of good they did me this day. I tried to drink as often as I thought about it. I did not think about it enough.

Bike now done and time to run. I wore my running shoes while on the bike so I would have a faster transition. Again. What did that matter today. Off to the trails for a 5k. I started out running and then realized I was out of gas. Figured the best thing to do was walk a little and then run a little. I could do this. This trail run seems a lot different than the ones we do in Brandon. There are trees I have to climb over. Trees I have to go under. Where did this ditch come from. Is this a dried creek. No one said I had to climb during this race. So the walk run plan turned more in to a walk walk run walk trot walk plan. More of a damn nature walk. I was definitely empty. I sucked down a GU with no help. There were two water stops on the course but all I could feel was the water sloshing in my gut. Did I mention it also felt like it was 110 degrees. I know, suck it up there Walt but if I did what would the story be like. My finishing goal went from 2:45 to 3:00. I crossed the finish line at 3:00:19. Not proud of that time but I did finish. Yippee. Oh well.

I will say I felt like crap. My buddy saw me at the finish and said I looked bad. I was white as a ghost. I got some water, Gatorade, ice and a cold rag to put on my head. I sat down for a while to try and recover but I was just not bouncing back quick enough.

About an hour later I walked my bike back to my car. I was still not feeling good and decided to sit down on the pavement. No shade around. I then decided I should lay down. I put my backpack under my feet and figured someone would see me at some point and think I was just sleeping. My buddy showed up and again said I did not look good. Gee thanks. Will you tell the rescue guys that are on the mountain bikes the same thing you been telling me. I soon told that I need to get some fluids in me quick and the only way to do that would be with an IV. You know I just love needles.

I tried to just let it pass but both the rescue guys said that ain't happening. I said I did not want to go to the hospital so they called one of the fire rescue trucks. The air in that thing was like 60 degrees. It is amazing what some good oxygen and a bag of fluids will do to you. Within the hour I was back to about 90%. One of the rescue guys said you need to get in your car and turn the air on high, get some food and take it easy the next day or two.

I suppose I learned that Red Stripe does not always mean Beer. I should have drank more water the day before the race knowing how hot it was. I should have drank more during the race. I should have also gotten that damn Civic's a/c fixed before the race because it was a warm 4 hour ride home.


  1. Well sign me up for this race next year! Not. Glad you made it out alive.

  2. Tough race, but great recap. Hope you're fairly recovered by this point.

  3. You make it sound so exciting and glamorous! Plus crap! Glad you're ok and for reals... start being smart about your hydration and nutrition mister!!! You've got a Half Nuts team to lead in November!

  4. So it took you getting an IV stuck in your arm before posting another blog?!