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2021 Ironman Florida 70.3 Race Report

Created: Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Finally! I am racing again after the world shut down due to COVID. IM Florida 70.3 was in Haines City, Florida. 1.2 mile swim in Lake Eva, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. I completed it with a leg injury in 6 hours, 22 mins. My last race was IM Italy, in 2019. This was followed by several race deferrals, and cancellations. 2020 was spent enjoying the swimming, biking, and running lifestyle, not knowing when the next race would actually happen. Surprisingly, IMFL 70.3 was proceeding as scheduled, and that left all the participants rushing to get into race shape! Unfortunately, after driving to Haines City from Atlanta, I was too eager to go for a shakeout run and loosen up my legs. My calves were already tight from my training, and failed to follow my own advice.  I should have loosened up my legs first with some dynamic stretches. Instead, I went running and quickly pulled my right calf muscle!!! I couldn't even run slowly on it. Big Bummer. This was just a training race for me to help prepare for IM Tulsa 5 weeks later, so I was not too disappointed. Anyways, this report describes what it was like to return to racing with new safety guidelines, and the details of my race. 

Check In

The new check-in process is actually an improvement from the old way. An e-mail requested that I select a check-in time online 2 weeks before the race.  I selected a Friday afternoon time, 2 days before the Sunday race.  There was no line, and no one checked to see what my assigned time was. Everything was digital, and fewer forms were signed. After showing my Active QR registration code, the volunteers had all of my information. After a couple of signatures, I received my race package, and selected a bike check-in time. It doesn't make sense to me that I could not also select my bike check in time in advance. The race packet included an IM branded mask.  The men receveived a white dry-fit shirt. White?  Who works out in a white shirt? This will not stay clean long.  No other goodies.  The expo area was restricted to athletes only, so it was pretty empty. The store did not have much race specific gear, and there were not many other vendors. 

After check-in, I walked to the lake to check out the swim course.  I didn't see any alligators in there, but I know they are hiding. The course is a maze of swim buoys, shaped like the letter "M" with 6 turns.  Felt the water, it was warm. We were not allowed to swim in it. Dinner was with many Team Zoot teammates. Then it was time to get plenty of rest. Haines City is in the middle of nowhere.  There are no hotels, swimmable lakes, or restaurants nearby.  I stayed in Kississimme, which had heavy traffic going in and out every day. It took much longer than it should to get anywhere.

On Saturday, I did an easy shakeout swim and bike at Lake Minneola. I continued to rest my legs.  I then drove the race bike course, making notes of hills. Thank goodness I did.  So many were surprised that there is a steep climb immediately after coming out of T2 resulting in mechanical issues and falls. That afternoon, I organized my gear, nutrition, and got plenty of sleep. I was in bed by 7, and sleep by 8 pm.

Race Morning

Well rested, as much as anyone is before race day, I ate oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. I prepared my nutrition, which was Hammer Nutrition Heed. For fuel, I packed up Hammer Gels and bars.  I placed the gel I a flask inside of my bento bag for the bike, and gel packets set aside for my pockets for the run. Transition opened at 5 am, so I arrived at 4 am to get close parking. Only street parking was available, so late arrivals had a very long walk. 

The new COVID rules had us all wait by our bikes until the self-seeded estimated swim was time called.  Then just those that were called were lined up to for their swim corral by their estimated swim finish time, while remaining socially distance.  The announcer must have been calling the times too quickly, as it did get congested and no longer socially distant while trying to get lined up. Once the march down to the lake began, everyone was lined up in chutes, awaiting their turn. I lined up with the 45 minute swimmers. 

As the sun began to rise, the professionals started.  Since we lined up, most did not get a chance to see their start.  However, I did catch the pro's swim finish. While lined up in the swim chutes, the swimmers were sent out very quickly!  Literally, there was no time to adjust your swim cap and goggles after your swim chute was directed to head to the swim start.   Lesson learned, get everything set while waiting in the chute. We jogged from the chute to the swim start at the beach edge.  Swimmers started 4 at a time in 5 second intervals.  There was no waiting. Just jog up, and GO!!

Swim Start

The swim course is shaped like a squared off "M" with SIX turns.  I hear this was done to keep swimmers away from the edges... where the alligators lie. 8-| Thankfully, I studied the course beforehand, as several swimmers missed a turn and was re-directed. The staggered course reduced congestion, but there still was plenty of contact. My goal was to stay calm, focused, swim with good form, and not finish at the bottom of my super competitive age group.  As soon as I started, I saw a kayak in the middle of the swim lane.  Knowing that the kayakers line the swim course on both sides, I was wondering if I was heading in the correct direction.  As I approached the kayak, I saw a swimmer hanging on. I found out later, it was a friend of mine. The sight alarmed me, but I quickly calmed myself with singing songs, and kept on swimming.
The rest of the first leg of the "M" was uneventful.  Occasional contact, but everyone was courteous. After a year of no racing, everyone was rusty in the water.  When I made the first turn, the second turn buoy was hard to spot, so I just followed the swimmers.  After I made  the second turn, the swim logistics changed.  I started on the outside to avoid the chaos, but now I'm on the inside.  Inside means, lots contact.  At one point, I got pinched between 2 swimmers.  The one on my left actually came across my head with his forearm, and pushed me directly into the swimmer on my right.  All 3 of us stopped.  I heard apologies. But now my swim cap is out of whack, and my goggles were dislodged.  Ugh!!  I tried to give it a quick fix, then kept on swimming.
At the bottom of the "M", I had to stay really focused as I am now on the inside of the pack.  After I made the left turn, all I saw was a bunch of buoys, and other stuff.  It wasn't clear which direction to swim.  I stopped, treaded water, and identified the mid-point swim marker that I had to swim beneath, then it is another left turn buoy.  All these buoys near each other with all the swimmers splashing made it confusing.
On the third part of the "M", the water started getting turbulent. Lots of waves.  That's unexpected in a small lake. After the final 2 turns, the waves picked up even more!  I noticed the lake also got very shallow. While I was swimming towards the finish, I heard a buzzing sound. Open water swimmers know, buzzing is the sound of a nearby motor! Sure enough, I life guard boat shot across from the left side of the swim route to the right, creating even more big waves.  I swam strong towards the swim finish, feeling pleased with my performance. Unfortunately, my time was still super slow in my age group.  I exited the water 108th out of 119.
 

T1

This was a super long transition! 0.46 mi. And it was on rough asphalt. Why was there no rug?  Everyone was tearing up their feet, and many were walking gingerly. I hustled past all the walkers, and easily found my bike. Most all the other bikes were already gone! I took off my wetsuit, grabbed my bike gear and bike, and continued hustling out onto the course.
 

Bike

It was a very good thing that I checked out the bike course beforehand! The start of the course is on a very steep uphill right out of transition. Lots of cyclists were struggling, and even falling over, after getting stuck in the wrong gear trying to climb out.  I left my bike in a very easy gear, and began the bike course with no problem.  This is my strongest leg, and I was looking forward to enjoying it.  Knowing that my pulled calf muscle was going to hamper my run, I really focused on enjoying the course versus racing.  I talked to lots competitors. I also received a lot of compliments on my bike, a Quintana Too PRsix. There were lots Team Zoot athletes out there, I greeted them all. 
I broke the bike course into 3 segments.  After the first climb, it's flat and fast until mile 23. I was averaging 24 mph though that section. The next section was a series of steep hills.  Strong climbers would pass me, as I regained my position on the downhills and flats. Many of the cyclists the passed me I saw later, as they worked themselves too hard and couldn't maintain it. 
The third segment was flat again after mile 41.  I used this segment to take advantage of my speed and aerodynamics.  Wind was a big factor for many, as it really picked up.  I was able to slice through it, and passed many cyclists that were catching all the wind. The course finished with a steep climb. I thought about doing a flying dismount, but nixed that idea after dealing with the climb, and knowing how rough the transition area is on my feet. 
After being amongst the slowest swimmer in my AG, I had the 45th fastest bike split in my AG. 
 

T2

 
Another long transition, it was a challenge running in bike cleats while controlling the bike.  Most of the bikes were still on the course, so I was pleased to see that I made up a lot time. Racked my bike, grab my run gear and shoes, and off I went.  I put on my run gear while I was running to save time.
 

Run

As I mentioned earlier, I pulled my right calf muscle 3 days before the race. It still hurt, so I knew I wouldn't be able to run.  I called an audible, and planned to adjust my pace based on how my body feels.  My legs well warmed up after the bike, so they felt surprisingly well!  I planned to continue a nice jog for the entire run.  This was a 2 loop course, that intertwined in the neighborhoods and a U-turn.  Near the beginning, there was a steep climb.  I walked this section, as the slope put a lot of strain on my calf.  The rest of the course I had a nice jog, usually about an 11 minute pace.  It got as fast an 8:30 pace on the downhills. It slowed on every uphill though.  There was run carnage everywhere.  It was clear many went too hard on the bike, and couldn't run afterwards.  I was disappointed, because I was passing them while jogging. Just imagine what I could do if I was able to RUN?!?! Since I wasn't racing, and using this as a training race, I continued to have lots of conversations with teammates and other athletes. Everyone was friendly, and it helped make for an enjoyable race day.  My calf continued to be in pain throughout the run, but the distractions made it bearable. 
Spectators were blocked from the start and finish lines. There were lots of folks cheering along the course, but the finish line was eery.   No more cheering.  There was plenty of music, and the announcer called out everyone's name. I gave a strong hand pump at the finish line in celebration. 
 
I completed Ironman Florida 70.3!! 1.2 mile swim with SIX turns in a lake. Hilly 56 mile bike course, because it’s central FL. 13.1 mile hilly run that zig-zagged through multiple neighborhoods, twice. On top of all that, I recently strained my right calf, badly. This prevented me from running my expected pace, and I jogged instead. The pain is extreme, I’ve been keeping it on ice, which does help.
This was a no spectator event in Haines City, so I don’t have any photos yet. There were a ton of
Team Zoot
teammates there racing, volunteering and cheering, so I’ll get some photos from them.
I will post a detailed race report. The quick summary is, the swim was very tough. Because of all turns, if you start on the outside (safer) you’ll end up on the inside (get swam over). The water was rough, which I suspect had to be from the life boats creating wakes. I saw plenty of people struggling, a few not finishing. I made it through though. My goal was just to survive and not be the slowest in my age group. I was 108/116, so I was definitely near the bottom. Water temperature was 78°, so I didn’t swim with a wetsuit, but I did wear a skin suit. The bike was a fast course. The hills were on the latter half. I thought I would average 18 due to the hills, but I crushed the course and averaged 20 mph. The run was hot, hilly, and royally sucked. I was in great pain the entire run. I spent the time conversing with others and enjoying the moment. The steep hills were too painful to run, so I walked those segments. Everything else I jogged. Fitness-wise I felt great. I can only imagine how fast I would be when healthy.
I went from 108th place out of the water, to 48th place off the bike, and finished in 52nd place overall in my age group. I’ll take that!
Covid rules were in place throughout. It was different. Kinda weird not hearing cheers at the start and finish lines. This is not a race I recommend. I don’t have many positives from the course, but I really enjoyed the race and racing with many of my Team Zoot teammates.
Now it’s time to heal up and get ready to race Ironman Tulsa, 140.6 miles, in 5 weeks.
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