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Florida Challenge Triathlon: The Intimidator // 03.13.21 Clermont, Florida

Tiffany: It’s almost hard to believe a new season of triathlon is upon us, and we are really racing again. When Ironman 70.3 Oceanside was postponed earlier this year and rescheduled to October, we knew that race would not be in the cards for us in 2021. However, we already had some solid training behind us, not to mention the big run block to start the new year that had us itching to put to the test in a swim-bike-run event. So I consulted Google and did a search for 70.3 distance races in March. Pretty much our only option would be traveling to Florida (again) and racing in the heart of the state at a small, local race. Caitlin and I discussed it and decided it would be worth our time and travel to give it a go and use it as another race-cation. It took a little shifting of the training plan, as this race fell two weeks earlier than what Oceanside would have been. And there’s nothing more ominous than Coach Natasha saying in the lead up: “Ladies, we’re going to take training to a whole new level for the next four weeks!” – and of course our response is always: “Bring it on!”. Leading into race day, we also had to shift a week of training due to the Texas Snowmageddon, as we were homebound with snow and ice locking down central Texas and making running outside impossible, and with massive power outages, not to mention impassible roads, the YMCA was closed for a week, which meant no swimming. So we pushed all our chips to the middle of the table and doubled down on a seriously insane bike week which gave us a week to get familiar with Zwift and enjoy our newly renovated Pain Cave. Fast forward to race day, Clermont, Florida – the World Triathlon Destination. We were blown away by the location, and could tell why it would be a triathlete’s playground. I was lucky to score us an AirBnB less than half a mile from the finish line and maybe just over a mile to the start. This made race morning a breeze as all we had to do was ride our bikes to transition. Once there, we took our time to set everything up. And even though it had “only” been three months since our last race, I had to really think through my setup and shake the rust off. We also learned that the water temp was 68°F, which meant full sleeve wetsuit would be the swim weapon of choice. I made sure to take every minute I could to ensure the suit felt perfect in every way. There’s nothing worse than a tight shoulder or unpleasant feeling because you didn’t spend time making it right before the start. Another big fortune for us on race day was the proximity of transition to the swim start. We were only about 200 yards from the start, making it super easy to walk over, stretch and line up in the corral. For the first time ever, Caitlin and I were scheduled in the same swim wave. It was a small group of about 20 women, and I wasn’t sure how that would play out for me. I lined up at the very front to the right, as the first buoy was about 100 yards out and positioned about 1 o’clock from the start line. It was also a beach start – very shallow for the first 20 yards or so. Once the horn sounded, I was off – the first one in the water and hoping the time to dive in would come quickly. Once I felt I had enough depth, I made that dive and started my journey. There was another swimmer in the wave I had my eye on and I anticipated she was probably going to be the fastest in the water (she was). I was quietly hoping I would be able to catch her feet and hang on for a draft, but sadly, she blew by me, as did another half dozen swimmers in the first couple hundred yards. As is often the case, I was left to do the swim on my own. I was still 6th out of the water for women, and ver proud of that fete. For the most part, the swim was uneventful yet not the swim I was hoping for. I encountered a slightly leaky left goggle which was mainly annoying but not a hinderance. The lake was smooth as glass, and that was a huge bonus. Sighting going out and parallel to shore was uneventful, but coming back to shore the glare from the sun on the water and sun in my eyes made sighting a challenge. I had to mostly stop 2-3 times and breaststroke a bit to get my bearings. Still, I stayed on course and swam just about the exact distance according to my Garmin. The other slight issue I had in the swim was that I felt a little more cardiovascular strain than normal. It was probably a combination of the running start, cold water and effort I was swimming at. Interestingly, though, the heart rate read lower by just a little compared to Daytona. It wasn’t my fastest 70.3 swim, but considering this swim course seemed to be measured 100% accurately, still being in a respectable time and pace per 100, I’ll take it, but know that I still want to improve in the swim this season. When I came out of the water I couldn’t believe all the cheers and spectators. I felt like a rock star and immediately knew this was a special race. Had to be considering it’s been around for 38 years! With the cold and a little swim vertigo, I was a bit unsteady heading to T1. I even almost took a wrong turn before transition until the amazing volunteers led me the right direction. I then went to my bike – which had prime placement on the first rack in transition. Again I took a little extra time for ear drops to prevent any sloshy water sensation on the bike and run. If there’s a better solution for this, I’d love to hear it! Overall, my T1 time was just over 3:00, but compared to Caitlin, I need to find a way to bring that down more. Wetsuit, cap, goggles off…ear drops in…bike shoes, helmet on…I headed out for 56 HILLY miles in Florida’s lake country. We drove the course the day before and I’m glad we did. Although it didn’t do too much to help do the bike course hills justice. We knew Sugarloaf Mountain was going to be a beast, but there were some climbs in the first 5-10 miles that were probably worse – quad burners for sure! The toughness of the course so early on allowed my mind to start playing games with me. If this is hard, how horrible is Sugarloaf going to be??? That had me going conservative on the power and holding back so I wasn’t toast for Sugarloaf. Although, in hindsight, I should have just gone for it and hit the power and effort as planned. Since COVID precautions were in place for the race, that also meant aid stations would be a bit different here. There were bike aid stations every 15 miles on the dot. But it was all self-serve (for the first two). That meant stopping, grabbing a bottle of water and tossing the empty. At the first aid station, I used my remaining first bottle of water to top off my torpedo bottle – a new investment we made for this race – which had my 3x concentrated custom Infinit mix in it. I don’t know how much time that actually cost me, but I consider it a good use of time to stay on top of the nutrition game. I relied solely on Infinit on the bike and it totaled 684 calories, 159g carbs and 1,388mg of sodium. This was in a 24oz. bottle and I estimate that I added 4oz. at the first aid station. For water alone, I estimate that I took 56oz. for the entire bike, equalling 84oz. of total fluids. Once I got through the first 15 or so miles, there was a little reprieve from the hills for the next 15. But I struggled getting my power where I wanted it to be and had to come to the realization that this would not be a PR bike or even a sub 3-hour bike. Otherwise, this part of the course and the entire course were really good. There were some bits where the traffic was a bit much or slightly sketchy, but it seemed like the drivers were aware and used to bike traffic on these mostly rural roads. As I started approaching the next set of hills in the final third of the course, I recall another triathlete coming up from behind me and saying we were back in the hill country. Yes. Yes we were. Which mean Sugarloaf beckoned. Shortly after that I heard the best voice of all, Caitlin coming up on me with her trademark “Hey, beautiful!”. I was so glad she caught up with me, and how appropriate was it that it was only a few miles from “The Climb”. We had a very short chit-chat and I told her to go get it. I watched her drop me and eventually make the turn toward Sugarloaf. I have to say, it was fun to see her beast that hill and give a fist pump and flex when she reached the top. That truly inspired me to dig deep myself and make that climb. And, you know what? Sugarloaf wasn’t that bad at all. Challenging, yes, but not impossible, and it didn’t seem as bad as the big climbs in Lubbock. At the top of the climb was the third and final bike aid station – with bottle service. That was a nice treat not having to stop. From there, a few rollers, a few shorter climbs, but mostly quiet making the way back to T2. I was glad to be done with the bike, but looking back, I really enjoyed the experience and know that when I do this race again in the future, I’ll be better prepared – mentally and physically – to handle the challenge. Into T2 I scoped out the racks and noticed not too many bikes made it back yet. I was a little surprised at that. I tried to get through transition quickly, but still couldn’t break the three-minute mark. I dropped my sunglasses and had to quickly retrieve them on the way out. I also realized I forgot my Base salt, so I was hoping I would be able to sufficiently live off the course aid stations for the final 13.1 miles. Heading out of T2 there was an aid station table with bottled water set out. Unfortunately, the bottles were a bit back on the table, so it was a reach for me to grab one, and I couldn’t get a clean grab and dropped the bottle. I decided to let it go and hoped the next aid station wasn’t too far. The bulk of the run course was flat. A few little rollers I barely noticed on race day, and a fair amount of shade mixed with some longer stretches of sun. This was also the first race for me to run in my new Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%. Having only put four track miles on them in training, I hoped they would hold up without issue over the long haul. The first mile took a little time to acclimate to the feel of them, but after that, I never really noticed them with the exception of the lightness and springy-ness. Soon the next aid station was upon me and it was time to execute the race nutrition plan: 1/2 gel and water. I carried out that strategy of the 1/2 gel and water at Mile 2, 4, 6 and 10. For Mile 3, 5, 7 and 9 I consumed Gatorade and water. I took Coke and water at 8 and 11. All in all about 280 calories on the run with 73g carbs and 478mg of sodium. It’s hard to gauge how much liquid I consumed, but a rough estimate is 10oz Gatorade, 4oz Coke and 48oz water during the run. Big tip of the cap to the race director as every single aid station was positioned perfectly, well stocked and well manned! As I continued on the run, I think I found “the zone”. My heart rate was in check, my pace was holding relatively steady. It slowed a bit in the later miles (8-11), but not a big fall off. I never once slowed more than a 9:40/mi pace – so that was a huge win in my book! And I was also able to close out the last 2 miles with negative splits. I probably had more to give in the run, I just need to learn to take it to the next level of uncomfortable and push through it. Along the way, I was fortunate to cross paths with Caitlin who was what seemed to be a little over a mile ahead of me. We shouted out motivating words to each other and that always means so much. She looked great and I enjoy seeing her racing strong. I was also glad I didn’t catch her in this race! While I didn’t know where we would rank on this day, I knew all I could do was finish strong and keep the momentum going in the run. I can’t emphasize enough just how strong I felt on the run course and how eye-opening it was to see how many (fit) people were walking. It seems like it was a tougher day/tougher course than I anticipated, and to be holding up well in the latter stages made me feel good. I kept telling myself to not back off just because it was getting a little harder. And I didn’t. I stayed strong and did my best to keep giving my best. For the most part, the run went by quickly for me – but that last half mile felt like an eternity! I could see the finish in the distance and faintly hear the race announcer, and I wanted badly to be in that finish chute and celebrating with Caitlin. Once I passed the last aid station, I put it all out there and red-lined as best I could to make my way. I got to enjoy the finish chute by myself. It was invigorating, just as every finish line is. I was incredibly proud of myself for what I accomplished on the day, how I handled the bike course despite the challenges, and for putting together my best 70.3 run to date. To top it off, I learned that I won my age group! While it was a quiet goal going in, realistically I thought my best chance to podium would be 2nd or 3rd. To win is a whole other feeling. The icing on the cake is that Caitlin won her age group, too – making it the first time we have both won a race at the same event, and our first-ever 70.3 podiums. I am grateful for the ability to have that type of overall performance on race day, to share it with Caitlin and for the opportunity to do a sport that brings me so much joy. I had a blast in Clermont and hope to add this race to the list for next year. Caitlin: Race morning began like every other race morning. An early morning wake up call. But as I look back now, there were a few instances that played to our advantage: 1) our AirBnB was only two blocks from the finish line and less than a mile from the start/transition. This meant we could ride our bikes to the start and not have to deal with logistics of racking the bikes on the car, driving, parking, and unracking. We were able to use this extra time by giving ourselves not as early of a wake up call, 2) For the first time our bike rack in transition was positioned at the very front, right as you enter. This was helpful so as when coming in from the swim and bike I could spot immediately where my transition was set up, 3) Both Tif and I were in the same swim wave which happened to be the first wave. We positioned ourselves at the very front so that when the horn went off we would be first in the water. The first wave start meant we would complete the race earlier in the day and that meant less time in the heat. The water temp was a chilly 68.2°F so as we stood on the water’s edge I was grateful to have a full sleeve wetsuit. The horn blew and I ran into the water, high stepping for about 15 yards before diving in. Almost immediately I could feel that my heart rate elevated and I knew that I would have to slow it down and try to calm myself. I was a bit taken back by this reaction as I have done other running beach starts and never had this type of reaction… at least that I can recall. My heart rate steadied and I kept with the slower pace. Counting down the buoys as I passed them and kept a running tally in my head. Five buoys down. Turn. Five buoys back. This was not the swim I was hoping for. Not only did I get off to a rough start, but my sighting was off and I was not able to keep a straight line. According to my Garmin, I swam an extra 200 yards due to all the re-corrections I had to do. The swim exit was close and I kept swimming until my fingers tips hit bottom and I stood up and ran through the swim finish and into transition. Taking my swim cap and goggles off and wetsuit down to my waist as I made my way. My transition was fast! In just over two minutes I had my wetsuit off, shoes and helmet on and I was running my bike toward the mount line. Right out of the gate was a slight hill (which I think is always a cruel joke), but it was no match for what awaited. At mile five we were greeted with an intense hill that made the quads burn! I made it up but it was not easy. This hill so early in the course, which no one spoke of, played mind games with me for the next 40 miles. At mile 45 came the climb that everyone talked up and said would be challenging. Sugarloaf Mountain. I had questioned myself for 40 miles ‘How was I going to make it up this thing when I barely made it up the climb no one spoke of!?’ But you know what, Sugarloaf Mountain came and it went. Yeah it was tough. But I climbed up it like a champ! I had wasted all that energy in a negative headspace that I wish I could get back. But I was pumped after the climb and I was reenergized for the remaining 11 miles. Shortly after the climb came a long descent. I was able to use this time to my advantage and for the first time since Ironman Texas 2015, I was able to do on the bike what I would often times have to do in transition. At about mile 51 came the decent to the first big hill we climbed. I hit my fastest time ever on the bike. 41.2 MPH! White knuckling and praying no wind gusted. One number I wish was higher on the bike were my watts. My NP was about 20 watts under what I had hoped I would put out. But I have since given this some thought and realized with the course having so many turns, climbs and not recalibrating our power meter prior to start, that my goal NP was just a pipe dream. The watts I can put out on an intense trainer session and during a race with these elements are two totally different numbers. Thank you to my coach for that realization. In past races I had always neglected nutrition. But since Challenge Daytona I have engrained in my mind how important that aspect of the race is. I went through my entire bottle of highly concentrated Infinit, a couple licks of Base salt, took a gel just a couple miles out from T2, and by the time I hit each aid station I had gone through over half of my water before grabbing a new one. I got to the dismount line, got off and ran my bike back to my rack. And again the fastest transition time for the female division! What helped me here was that I didn’t have to make any pit stop into the port-o-john as I had already taken care of that business on the bike. Right outside the run start was the first aid station. I grabbed a gel and two waters. I dumped one water on me and drank from the other. The gel I held onto until about mile two. At each even numbered aid station I took half a gel. At every odd numbered aid station I would take in some Gatorade Endurance and towards the back half of the run I had a couple sips of Coke a couple times. The one thing for sure though that I would grab at every aid station was water. And I would grab two every time. Some stations had the typical small Dixie cups of water and sometimes they had ice. When I was lucky enough to get ice I would put that down my sports bra to help keep my body cool. But some aid stations had small 8oz bottles. I would pour one bottle on me and run with the other. Taking sips periodically. The run was feeling the best it ever had! I know that the proper fueling on the bike is what I have to thank for that. I was keeping at a high 8 minute pace to low 9 minute pace with each passing mile. But mile 5-6 that pace began to slow. I had a GI issue creep up on me. As much as I didn’t want to have to stop, I knew the only way to save my pace and my race was to stop off at the port-o-john. I took the time and it felt like eternity in there. But as soon as I was back on course I felt 100X better and I was able to get my pace back down. The run was a two loop, out and back course which I liked because it meant Tif and I would cross paths a few times. Each time we crossed each other we would holler out some motivation to each other which really helps drive you on. That last time we crossed was when I really needed it most, at about mile 11. The run was finally starting to eat at me and for the first time I was starting to feel a little pain. My left quad. But I powered through. I was able to maintain a 9 minute pace for the last three miles. The ‘Mile 13’ sign came and I kept grinding. Hitting the finisher chute I through my hands up in efforts to get the crowd going. I crossed the line and it was an incredible feeling. This was a challenging course and I kept with it. I earned that finisher medal. I hung around at the finish line area as I knew Tif was less then 10 minutes back. My eyes strained back at mile 13 where the course curved and runners came into sight. There she was. I was so excited to see her. I called out to her and kept yelling at her until she crossed the finish line. I could tell she gave it everything she had also and I was so proud of her. Even more proud of her when she was told she placed 1st in her age group. And then I was told the same! So proud of each of us. We put in hard work and this is one of the best rewards.

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