Since Florida was a 3 day race I will be breaking my race report down in to 3 separate days which means that this report is probably going to have a little more detail, and be a little longer than my normal long reports. Enjoy!
Wednesday, Feb 19th
With all the training in the bank I headed down with my wife on an early flight to Orlando. I figured the early flight would allow us to check in and register for the race, get the bike inspections done, and do any necessary shopping for the week and leave us some time to relax before the real hectic schedule started on Thursday. Our day started at 3:30 am and we didn't get to really relax until after 6pm once we were unpacked and all pre race chores were taken care of. Upon arrival for check in at the hotel we had been notified that our shipment of Forte Gelato arrived just in time for dinner. I was able to hand out gelato to some of the other athletes in close proximity to my condo which was a good way to get to know some of them, and who doesn't love awesome great tasting gelato? We settled in for the night, had breakfast for dinner and gelato for dessert.
Thursday, Feb 20th
We started out Thursday morning with a pre race breakfast and a LONG meeting. At the breakfast we had a chance to mingle with the other athletes and their crews, and then after everyone was well fed we went over the courses in meticulous detail. Once the courses were explained we got together for the obligatory pre race pics!
After the meetings and pictures I went out for a quick bike ride to see how my new bike was going to handle outside. Yes I said NEW bike, I decided the week before the race that I was going to do the race on a brand new bike that I had never ridden outside and just bought AFTER my final long ride. I made the decision after watching videos of me on both bikes and how much more comfortable the fit and power came to me on the new bike. I went for a few laps up and down universal blvd and called it a day once I was comfortable with the handling and turning radius. With everything in working order and everyone debriefed we packed the car and settled in for an early night and of course finished the night off with some Forte gelato.
Friday, February 21st
We got to the swim venue with about an hour to before the swim start. The nerves and energy were high, and I was ready to get this race started. I had spent the last 7 weeks with a pretty strict training regiment and I was all tapered down and ready to go. The nice thing about the small field is that you can research your competition without it being too time consuming.
I knew coming in to the race my biggest competition was going to be Chuck Kemeny, a super strong ultra athlete and Inaki De La Parra, who had won Ultraman UK. I knew Chuck was a stud swimmer so I figured he would be out of the water first, but I thought I would be pretty close to Inaki coming out of the water because from what I could tell from my research we had pretty similar swimming abilities. With about 25 minutes to go until race start they gathered us and had us take some start line photos, as well as a group prayer and the national anthem. By the time all was said and done we had about 5-7 minutes to get ready get in the water and GO!
Swim 10k(6.2 Miles) Target 2:45, Actual 2:57
They sent the Kayakers out a few minutes ahead of us and I sent mine out with an extra pair of goggles a bottle of EFS and a EFS liquid gel flask which was about 600 calories, which I thought would be more than enough to sustain me for my target time of 2:45, but certainly enough if I went over for any reason. I started right next to Chuck so I could keep my eye on him, but he quickly took off into the sunset and I had no plans on chasing him and blowing up my race so early.
I quickly found my Kayaker, Bob, who I have known for years from the local running scene in CT. Since he lives not too far away in Sarasota he graciously offered to come up and Kayak for me which was very much appreciated, thanks Bob! The first few hundred yards were a mess with all the swimmers and kayaks jockeying for position and I had one kayak run in to me more than once. Frustrated, I sped up to get out of the way and I set my sights on the first buoy and just settled in to a rhythm making sure to take in nutrition every 25 minutes or so. At my first nutrition stop Bob told me that we were the 4th Kayak, I could see #3 but 1&2 were way ahead. I determined that my new sighting strategy would be to use kayak #3 to sight off of since they seemed to be keeping their swimmer in a pretty good straight line.
I felt really strong in the water, but 6.2 miles is a very long way to swim in a lake you have no idea about. As the swim went along every once in awhile I could have sworn I saw the beady eyes of a gator staring me down, but I just kept moving and targeting the red kayak. The water was as smooth as glass and once we hit the bridge, which was about 5k in, it was really cool to hear all the cheers coming from the land crews and whatever spectators had come out to watch. I once again got a little freaked out as the lake got very shallow, and there was plenty of "lake grass" within reach.
A strange thing happened as soon as we crossed that bridge though. All of the sudden it was like my stroke had no power and I was no longer gliding along. Bob who had been so good at being close enough to me that I could always see him, was seeming drifting away and the smooth as glass lake had started to get choppy. I kept using the red kayak to sight off of and kept my feeding intervals, but it started to get more difficult. This peacefully calm lake had suddenly turned in to a ocean-like body of water, with waves and a nasty current but without the extra buoyancy. The one highlight of this section was when the photography crew came by and took some shots of us swimming, but I couldn't help but think in my head that the last thing we needed at that point was extra waves from boats.
I remember thinking that once I hit the next buoy that the current should subside and that it would be nice to be able to ride it back to the bridge, but for some reason it felt like it was just as strong, if not stronger in that section. The battle against the current seemed like forever
As we hit the last buoy to turn back towards the bridge I noticed that Bob was still having a hard time controlling the kayak and now he was running in to me while I was swimming. He finally started to stay a little further away from me until we got to the bridge so that I could focus on swimming in as straight a line as possible to get me home. Throughout the swim I kept seeing the beady eyes watching me, and quite honestly I'm not sure if I was just hallucinating or if they were actually there, either way the lake grass under the bridge was a nice sight to see as I looked at my watch and saw that I was 5.5 miles in and very close to being doing with my first Ultraman swim.
It was right here that I made my first rookie mistake. I was about 2:15 in to the swim and I should have taken in more calories, but I neglected to and kept trucking on as I thought I had maybe 15 minutes of swimming left. My brain must have been water logged as I started to fade and I couldn't figure out why I was suddenly losing momentum. I fell from the 4th position back to 6th, and that last stretch of swimming seems like it lasted forever. My stroke was labored and my shoulders were majorly fatigued, but I was almost done. I just swam what was clocked as 6.5 miles on my Garmin, so of course I was going to be tired, but I could smell the finish and I wanted my first Ultraman swim to be under 3 hours, so I pushed until I finally hit the ground. I came out in about 2:57 and headed out towards my bike, glad to be away from the lake that had been staring at me for the last 3 hours unharmed by marine life
Erica had everything laid out just like I told her which was a big help considering bikes were not allowed in to transition until we were well in the water. My nutrition that I asked for was waiting for me and she took care of my bike while another athletes crew member, Nat, who is another CT local who was down there, helped me strip off my HUUB wet suit. I think my transition was under 3 minutes and I was off and riding, which is faster than some of my times at much shorter races!
Bike 93 Miles
Erica told me that the top guy had just gone through mile 10 when I was getting on my bike, and my thoughts were, holy crap how fast did he swim? And then my mind immediately switched to predator mode. It was time to go to work! I knew I had faded to 6th, but what I didn't realize is that I passed the 5th place athlete, Brian, in transition. As I headed out on the course I caught up to the 4th Place athlete, and 1st place women Julie, who was caught at the first light.
As I attacked the first 10 miles of the course I was hunting for the 3rd place athlete and I finally tracked him down at the first out and back heading the other way. I got caught at the light before the turn around, and almost got caught on the way back as well but timed it and I sprinted past the light just making it through as it was turning yellow. One of the unique things about Ultraman is that you are required to stop at all traffic lights and stop signs, which can either help you if you are being chased, and lights are in your favor, or hurt you if you are chasing, and you are getting stuck. Unfortunately for me for most of the day I kept getting stuck at lights.
Throughout the first half of the bike I kept getting splits from the course officials that I was 3 minutes back from the next athlete but every time I got a split I ended up getting stuck at another light which started getting quite frustrating. I could see his crew so I knew he was still close but I had yet to see him since the out and back section. Once I finally got out of the busy "city" section and out on the course where there were minimal lights I started to make my gains and I started to feel really strong. About halfway through the bike I could finally see the back of the athlete who I was chasing all day, Adam, and locked in. As I passed him I shouted some words of encouragement and asked him where the guy in second place was, to which he replied "I have no idea".
I was hoping his crew was keeping tabs on how close he was to the next guy but that didnt seem to be the case. Erica had been an absolute rock star meeting up with me at the scheduled points and had become a pro at hand offs. I continued to make sure I was fueling myself every 15 minutes and kept my planned nutrition on track. I had more than enough nutrition on me so next time Erica asked what I needed I told her to go find 2nd place. We were on a long straight stretch of highway with a pretty nasty headwind and she saw me battling to stay in a straight line so she didn't like the idea too much.
The next time I saw her I asked if she found him, or saw his crew, but she said she didn't and they were too far ahead. From that point on I just continued to push on trying to close the gap as much as possible. That being said it was a pretty lonely day on the bike, besides seeing Julie and Adam for a few seconds here and there I had not seen any other cyclists. There were some stretches that were so lonely I wasn't even sure I was still on course, but there had been nowhere to turn off so I knew I had to be on track.
The course itself was pretty rolling with some flat areas. While flat can be fast, it also means peddling all day with no breaks, and when there is wind there is no hills to break it up. Unfortunately for us we had a strong headwind for most of the ride and since it was one way to Cocoa beach we never really got a tail wind which made for some pretty challenging conditions.
At one point we made a left hand turn on to a remote country road which seemed to last forever. The pavement was nice and smooth, but the wind was still gusting and it felt like this road would just never end! When I finally came to the end of the never ending road I was told I had a little more than 2 miles to go. I made the final turn and I just hammered my way all the way to the finish making sure I got every second possible I could. After it was all said and done I crossed the line in 3rd place roughly 37 minutes out of first, 33 minutes out of 2nd. and 13 minutes ahead of 4th.
Once across the line I got my daily medical stats taken, as well as my massage, and started to fuel for day 2. I ended the day spent, and super proud of Erica and the crew for guiding me through the day without any major issues. As hard as it was to eat, I knew I had to force my food down and after downing my recovery drink, applying my enduropacks amino acid patch, and putting on my compression socks I was good as new. We headed back for the long 90 mile drive back to our home base in Orlando, since we opted no to stay in Cocoa Beach, where day 2 would eventually start.
Stay tuned for Part 2 which you can find here