(Greek Philosophy as a duel Meaning)
“Whatever the Gods cast upon you, it is your choice to accept their casting as a cure or a poison”
In 1994, 23 years ago, I completed my first long course Triathlon. This significant event in my life, consisting of 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run took place in Clermont, Florida. This past weekend, 23 years later, I elected to return to Clermont to complete what I anticipated would be my last long Course triathlon. I could not think of a better way or location to complete my last challenge. Though I was returning to a meaningful memory of my life, a few things would be different. I would be completing a full distance race, (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run) this go around, twice the distance. The increased distance really was not a concern, as the last 23 years I have completed over 150 races of all magnitudes to include 10 or so marathons, 3 Iron Distance races, 10 or so Half Iron distance races and countless open water swims and shorter events. To my surprise, though I should have anticipated, the effect of time on Clermont was transforming. When I toed the line so many years ago, there were few roads, a scattered motel here or there and a town that was primarily orange groves and gravel roads. The course back then was comparatively speaking, tame. Though there were a few rollers and one climb up Sugarloaf, the one loop bike course was primarily designed for us average athletes, really not very difficult.
It is this memory of a Clermont that motivated me to revisit this venue. After coming up with this ingenious plan, I reached out to my training partner Carl. One day later, we were both signed up for the “The great Floridian Triathlon.” We began our training 5 months ago, so preparation time was in order. Though, I was battling Planter Fasciitis, I spent my training time getting as strong as I could. Most weeks consisted of 4 hours of swimming, 3 hours lifting weights, 8-10 hours on the bike and just enough running to get me to the finish line. I was Bike and Swim Strong.
We arrived at the race venue late Weds night, ( Race is Saturday) as we are both organizational freaks and like to check our race bags and transitions no less than 12 times. Getting up early Thursday morning, we went for a quick swim and took a car tour of the 37 mile bike loop we would need to complete 3 times on Saturday! We also wanted to scout out the run course. It was dead flat.
The water was perfect. The temperature about 78 degrees, borderline wet suit legal, a little choppy but appeared clean and fresh. We did an easy swim for about 15 minutes to loosen. Both Carl and I are pretty comfortable in the water with or without a wetsuit. I would have preferred no wetsuit, but the gain would be about 12 seconds per 100 which is a significant time savings. The race day swim would be 3/ .8 mile loops, requiring a water exit after each loop to cross a safety/Timing mat.
Having a couple hours before Pre-athlete check in, we decided to drive the bike Course. This was not the Clermont I knew in 1994! This 37 mile loop times 3 was no joke. We estimated the total gain of about 2200 feet per loop. There was no flat. You were either ascending with a 6%-14% grade or descending. Though I kept it to myself as we were driving the course, I was beyond concerned. My plan was to ride this course with an Average Heart rate in the 115-125 range and a speed of about 17.5 mph. I immediately knew this was going to be a matter of survival. “Sorry Carl, this was not the Clermont I knew”. For all I could tell this was the North Georgia Mountains placed in the middle of flat Florida. “Oh Joy. I guess that is the poison part.”
After a quick Bike check, to find out I had a mechanical requiring new cable to be thread internally, we found the “Epic Bike Shop” on the course, who came to my aid and got my bike back in racing shape, while Carl and I enjoyed some Guatemala Espresso. At least one of us would make it through the course. We finished our pre- race rituals grabbed some dinner at the athlete reception, and quietly retreated to our personal corners in our hotel to cry in peace. Our race plans would need to change.
We spent Most of Friday morning organizing our gear and proceeded to check in all our transition bags and support bags. We went for a quick swim to loosen and because the water was just perfect. We dropped our bikes off at transition to spend the night in their allotted corals. We had an early dinner and were out by 8:30 pm
They called the swim wet suit legal at 77.8. I sigh of relief echoed through transition. Let’s face it most triathletes at the Iron Distance, survive the swim, crush the bike and shuffle the run!
There were about 150 of us entering the water at 7:30. Not wanting to get caught up in the hype, I positioned myself far to the right. I quickly found open water excluding flailing arms and legs and gradually angled my way to the most direct route the first turn buoy of the rectangle shaped course. I completed all 3 loops with perhaps the most efficient stroke I have felt in a while. My pace was consistent at 1:45 per hundred for the 2.4 miles. My lines were dead straight and completed the swim 21st out of the 150 or so which began. My Swim time was approximately 1:16:00. I had my wetsuit stripped off, picked up T1 Bag and took a casual walk to the transition tent. I asked the volunteer if I could change in the women’s tent but she declined with a chuckle.
I wanted my heart rate to drop as quickly as possible so I took about 8 minutes to change and again walked to my bike. I headed out of T1 with a heart rate of 115. I looked for Carl’s Bike. I did not see it so assumed he had a great swim and was already on the bike course.
Ouch! I was not on the bike but for a few minutes and got smacked in the face with hospital hill. No one talked about this .3 mile climb at 10%. My Heart rate immediately hit 170, just a little beyond my plan of 115-125. After cresting the hill, I soft pedaled until my HR came back down to 115. This process repeated itself for the next 3 climbs. My Heart rate was 170, then 115. At mile 20 after the last climb and just before the monster known as Sugarloaf Mountain, I checked my average speed and determined that at 14mph I would be here on my bike for 8 hours. I dialed in my nutrition plan and stuck with it.
I made it up to the top of Sugarloaf using the lowest gear possible. I had to SSS my way up the road in fear of falling over. Fortunately, there were a whole bunch of drunk people cheering you on at the top. From the top mile 23 to the end of the first loop mile 37, there were a few hills but all in all a bit faster than the first 23. After arriving at the finish line, and also the end of loop 1, heading out for loop 2, I Saw Carl just behind me. I think he had a few choice words for me. I repeated the process for the second loop. Each hill my HR jumped, now to 175 and back down to 125 as I completed the second loop.
As I began the third loop, I had serious doubts, if I would get up the first climb Hospital Hill. I had a painful hot spot on my left foot from the pressure required to make climb after climb. Hospital hill took me to 182 on the HR meter. Once again I had to SSS up the hill. It was unlikely that I would finish the bike. I kept at it, and like it knew what to do, my Heart continued spike to 180 or so and immediately drop to 125 after each climb. Ok at mile 94, I had Sugarloaf in my sights for the third time. My legs were done, just done. My heart rate had responded really well to the challenge, but just could not make the last climb in its entirety. Half way up I got off the bike and walked the remainder. At the top I took a seat and just let the HR come down. I drank a whole bunch of coke. I knew at that point I would finish the bike and picked up the pace the last 14 miles.
I entered the roundabout after the last loop, as a volunteer took my bike as I walked to T2. While in Transition 2, I spoke to a couple Kona veterans. We were all laughing. They indicated that this bike was as difficult if not more so than Kona. “Sorry Carl.”
I once again took my time and had an internal argument. Was I going to start the run or just call it a day? Thinking back to April, I remembered not starting the run at IM Texas, My first and only DNF. I looked at my watch at it read about 10 hours. I had 7.5 hours to finish within the time limit. I calculated it out and determined if I walked the 26 miles at 15:00-16:00 I would make the cutoff. I headed out.
About a mile or 2 into the run, Carl caught up with me. We chatted for a few minutes about how ridiculously difficult the bike course was. I told him to go ahead and that I would walk for a while and if I recovered enough to run I would walk/run it in. My training buddy, though I think could have went ahead, elected to finish the next 24 miles with me. Each time my pace slowed he would edge ahead of me knowing I would pick up the pace. My planter fasciitis reared its ugly head but was tolerable. I walked on. I owe a lot to Carl for pulling me through the run course. “Thanks Bud” The official cut off time was 12:30 am or 17.5 hours. As we crossed the finish line it was 11:59. We finished in 16:59.
Jokingly, I asked one of the finish line volunteers, if they would grab me the results. I wanted to see just how ugly my race was. This is a joke right? My name clearly in 3rd place in the 60-64 age group. A little later we found out that approx. 50 people in the Ultra race did not finish. This was over 33% of the field. Some quit after the first loop of the bike, some after the second loop and others did not start the run or walked off the course. Now I understand why the race motto is “Are you Tough Enough”
As I finish this brief, I have determined that after USAT Nationals in August, I may have to “Re-Visit Pharmakon” Carl, You get to pick the course this time.
“ Life is like a wave, You Cannot Control How it Breaks, Only How You Ride It.” R.A.Y