I arrived in Clearwater Tuesday evening, so I had all week to adjust to the time and weather changes.  I took care of all the clerical things like registering and building up my bike first thing Wednesday.  I got in a few good rides and two practice swims in the ocean during the week.  I had been battling a really sore tibuli interior muscle (little calf muscle) all week so I only ran once for a half hour all week.  I really had a nice relaxing week, and took plenty of time to visualize and think about how my race would go.  I was feeling very strong and confidant going into race day.

This race is set up like a mini Kona in the aspect that they had wetsuit strippers, someone to rack your bike, changing tent etc.  I thought it was very well run and organized.  There were thousands of volunteers (in fact I found out later that there is actually a waiting list to volunteer for this race) and they were fantastic.  

With all my transition bags and bike in place Friday evening, all I had to do Saturday morning was put my nutrition on my bike, and air up my tires.  One thing that could have been better, but is the same at all the races… more porta pots! 

Swim:

This was a multi wave beach start and my AG went off at 7:45.  I was a bit late getting into position so I lined up in about the third row back.  When the cannon went off it kind of opened up so I charged in the water and did a couple dolphin dives and I was off.  I was feeling very strong in the swim; I took off the first 200 meters or so almost as hard as I could without sighting.  When I looked around I was pleased to see I was up in a lead group of 3 or 4 guys.  I found a pretty good draft just off the right side of a guy and held it for about a minute and then all of a sudden there were feet everywhere.  We had hit the previous wave, the 55+ men.  I tried to power through, but decided to go wide to get around.  When I got around them there was the wave before them, the 45+ women.  So I realized at this point I was going to have to just power through people the rest of the swim.  At the turn, I found another white cap, and he was looking strong so I latched on to his hip and swam home with him.  I contemplated many times to kick it up a couple notches as I really felt good, but decided that I was on a good pace and to save the extra energy.  I had a good exit, and as soon as I passed through the fresh water shower a volunteer was there to strip my wetsuit.  I went to sit down, but I could not pull my hand out of my wet suit sleeve to catch my fall and I landed hard on my left butt cheek, and it hurt.  CHARLIE HORSE!!  When they stripped the suit, I jumped up and ran to my bags, grabbed the bike bag and headed to the tent, I looked down at my watch and it said 28 minutes, I was very happy with this as that would have made my swim under 27 minutes I thought. Actual swim time was 27:07.  I feel great about that swim time, first swim in the ocean, and I know I could have gone faster.  I am still not really sure what my half Ironman (HIM) swim pace is, although I think I am getting closer.

T1:

In the tent all I had to do was take my sunglasses and race belt out of the bag, so I did not even sit, I just handed my wetsuit, cap, goggles and bag to a volunteer and ran through, putting my glasses and belt on as I ran.  I quickly got to my bike slapped on my helmet and ran out of transition to the bike mount.    Total time 2:48.

Bike: 

I road a little ways out getting up to about 20 mph before slipping into my shoes.  This went very smoothly.  I tried to relax and just spin for a bit, but I was right in the midst of the front group of my age group.  Can you say draft fest!  Wow I heard it was bad, but man.  I really tried my best to keep legal, but there were times when you could not get 7 meters in between you, just impossible with this tight course.  Having said that, I feel good about an honest bike leg.  While it would have been very easy to sit on with those lead groups, I hung back and pushed as hard as I thought I could go while still saving my legs for a solid run.  When we turned back into the head wind, I increased my cadence a bit, and pushed through.  I kept my HR at 166 through out the ride giving it everything I could.  One thing about a flat bike course is you don’t have those downhills to rest, or relieve yourself of fluid.  I had to give myself short spurts of like 5 seconds to try and pee without losing too much speed.  This was much more of a challenge than I thought it would be.

Regarding the drafting, my coach gave me a good heads up about what to expect, and how to deal with it.  I just let it go and rode my own race.  I am not a bike racer, I am a triathlete, and that is how I raced this race.  I pushed my self the whole ride to the top of my ability and my time shows it.  I easily could have cheated and gone faster, and saved my legs for a stronger run, but I would not have felt as good about myself as I do right now!  As far as the race and drafting is concerned, it is what it is.  If the officials are not going to enforce the rules of triathlon thoroughly, there will always be those that cheat.  Another part of this is the course; there are just too many bikers on this tight, flat course to expect no drafting.  

Anyway, as I came down the causeway into the crowds of people I was feeling elated, I was having the race of my life and as far as I could see I was going to go under 4:15, in fact I thought there would be no way I could go slower than that.  As I approached the dismount area I slipped out of my shoes and hopped of my bike and pushed it toward a volunteer, just like I had been doing this for years!  I ran about three steps and realized this run might hurt.  Total bike time: 2:16.52

T2: 

Much like t1, quick and easy, grabbed my run bag went to the tent, plopped down on my sore butt, put on my socks and shoes and took off.  Total time 2:10.

Run:

Run start was a little rough and I new I needed to go 6:30’s to go 4:15, but I felt that I just needed to get my run legs under me.  I actually went out in a 6:45 which I thought was perfect.  The run was set so we had to cross the causeway that consisted of 12 percent grades on both sides,  4 times.  The second mile was up this hill and I  checked in at 7:13, then a 6:56 for mile three, my HR was kicking at the high 160’s and low 170’s and I still thought I was OK.  Mile 4 was a 7:03 and I knew at this point I needed to step up a bit. I picked my HR up to a 174 average and turned in a whopping 7:01, uh oh. I was approaching the half way point and I still had hope that I could pick it up, mile 6 was a 6:55 and my HR had dropped a couple beats.  OK man I told myself this is where you make up some ground, all you have to do is increase your cadence a bit, 7:02 and a 175 hr average.  I am ok this is my mile right here I kept telling myself pick it up, I tried, but this was back up the grade for mile 8 and a HR of 179 with a 7:15.  Ok I am not going to go 4:15, not the end of the world you will still go under 4:20 and that is awesome just keep pushing man.  7:14 for mile 9 this was demoralizing and I almost lost it. Luckily at an aid station they were playing some inspiring music, and to be honest I can’t remember what it was, but it lit a slight fire back under me and I really tried to step up and poor it on, 6:59 HR 180.  Holy crap this is the hardest run of my life, I am not going to make it I thought.  Tears were welling up as my legs were aching sooooo bad, I started thinking about my considerations of doing an Ironman next year and told myself, there is no way I could finish an Ironman, I can’t even run a decent half marathon off a 56 mile bike. This was bad; I was talking myself in a hole.  I turned in the slowest split of my run at 7:16, and I thought back to an article my coach wrote a couple weeks back about digging in or quitting, I told myself this was the most important part of the run, and I am lucky to even be here.  I need to finish this race strong.  My exact conversation with myself went like this: “ pull your shit together Aleck, you are still going to run a PR and you are running with the worlds best, in your first season, finish this race strong and proud!”  Mile 12 was a 7:02, and mile 13 was 6:52 with an average HR of 188.  The last 10th of a mile I don’t think I could even feel mile my legs, and I crossed the finish line with a 4:21.07(run time: 1:32)  Final results 29th in age group, 190th overall including pros.

I spent hours and hours after the race running it through my head, could have I gone faster (legally of course), could I have pushed harder at any point?  It was not until I got off the plane last night, and my body was beaten down more than it ever has been, I hurt literally everywhere in my body, that I realized that no, I could not have done anything different.  I left everything I could on that course.  I gave it 200 percent of what I had.  And for that I am proud.  And for that I cannot wait to get back at it, and improve on my run.  I love this sport. 

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