Race Report – Florida Xtreme Triathlon
Orlando, Florida USA November 12
In Florida, it is always warm, so I was told, even when the autumn turns into winter. I was visiting Orlando Florida for a work conference and for me as a Swede it was really hot, like the hottest day of a Swedish summer, 28 degrees C and high humidity. It will be hard to run a triathlon in this heat, I thought. But things were about to change.
Crystal River, Florida USA November 14
Yesterday, the wind turned. The temperature dropped drastically. My phone says Crystal River 5 ° C, feels like 2 ° C, well heat is probably not going to be a major problem. The water in the Gulf is hopefully warmer. Time to make a visit to the toilet before start, just a cold steel seat to put the butt on. Lucky that I´m a Viking. If there is someone who will be able to cope with this cold condition, it should be me, the only non-American as well as the only one in the starting field used to harsh Nordic winter conditions. In addition to the low temperature the wind is stronger than it usually is in Florida, the Gulf of Mexico is not as flat as it usually is, the swim will be challenging today. I decide to change after swimming, long-sleeved and dry clothes feels like a must today. Cycling gloves? I didn´t even bring them, because you know Florida, it’s the sunshine state, always warm.
A cold start, is it supposed to be like this in Florida?
Florida Extreme Triathlon is a coast to coast competition in three stages. Start at the Gulf Coast, finish at the Atlantic Ocean. First day 3,2 km swimming, 165 km bike, 30 km running. Second day 3.2 km swimming, 123 km bike, 30 km running. Third day 3.2 km swimming, 110 km bike, 21 km running.
The race begins. Doug who is a capable 55-minute swimmer on the Ironman distance takes the lead. Harold follows, I try to follow but there is not enough power in my arms today. I get some cramp in the legs and I try to find a better rhythm. Fog and sun after the first buoy make it difficult to see the right direction and the waves fools me to swim to close to the beach. After the turn, a couple of swimmers come closer to me, lap-1 on 32 minutes, down into the water again, fighting on, I get passed by a couple of swimmers just before the finish, up from the water on 67 minutes. A fast change of clothes and then up on the bike. Finally, competition on land, water has never been my right element. The legs feel good, I start pushing. I aim for a heart rate around 130, slightly lower than I usually have on an Ironman race. My friend Greger who is an experienced decaman triathlete advised me to go at about 90% and I try to restrict myself to that level. But my legs feel fine, and I´m still a little chilly after the cold swim, so it is difficult to not go to hard. After about 30km I catch up with Harold, he is dressed as if it were a polar winter with a handkerchief over his mouth, winter gloves and everything. We talk a little and then I move on, the cycling feels good, now only Doug in front of me, but probably he is far ahead considering my not so good swimming. Turns right and enters a narrow bike trail. Easy tailwind, no traffic, just push on, lovely. After 30 km we turn left and up to the north, which does not feel so good. A long, seemingly endless road, without any curves or slopes. Just a stubborn wind blowing right in the face. The only thing your brain can amuse itself with is to think about how tired you are. Now it is important to have mental strength, just into the zone and think about something else. 123, 123, 123,
I was going to Florida for a job conference in Orlando. It ended on Thursday, and when I was going to book the flight, I started thinking about whether I might stay over the weekend and have some vacation in Florida. Checked the web if there was any a fun event or maybe a triathlon near Orlando. Found an interesting page "Florida Xtreme Triathlon".
On the way to transition-2, I meet Doug on the runway. He may have run about two miles. Maybe not an impossible gap, running is my strong discipline. I start running. As usual in triathlon my legs are a bit stiff at first but after a while it feels better. The pulse drops just under 130, the kilometer speed is just over 5 min/km. Feels pretty good. I find a good flow. After a lap I see that I am closer to Doug, can probably catch him if I keep running in this good pace. After the second lap I stumble on a curb. Hits the knees, the left arm and the left big toe, shit. I jump up and start running again. After about 20 km I can see Doug, he looks a little tired and I can pass him, the victory is mine. I run the last lap in good style and I arrive at the finish as the first runner of the day, time 9.23h.
Florida Extreme, a coast to coast race, it would be awesome. But it won't work. I can't rent a car, go to some little village on the Gulf coast, leave the car there and do a triathlon to the Atlantic coast, and how should I get to the airport in Orlando? and I can't get all my luggage from start to finish. Can hardly take my big suitcase on the bikes package holder, which I of course don´t have on my tri bike. Not to mention my bike bag, it definitely does not fit on my non-existing package holder. I sent an email to the organizers and described my problem. Eloise answered; we'll fix that. No problem. I live in Orlando; I can pick up your bike bag at your hotel and then we can keep it at my home until the race is finished. Then I drive you to the start, and the airport after the race. No problem to transport your stuff between stages, in this race we are all a big family, someone will help.
Can there be any alligators here? I asked. No, I don't think so, the local guy answered. I would be much more worried about the water snakes.
Ocala, Florida USA 15 November
Stage 2. A little warmer, still a bit windy. Swim start, a little more difficult than yesterday, my body is still tired. I haven't recovered from yesterday. Finds a couple of good feet (Mikes). I draft him closely, leaving not more than 5 cm water between us. But on the second lap after the first buoy he turns 270 degrees instead of 180 degrees, something must be wrong. I scream at the kayak paddler and she chases after him. I keep going the right way myself and at the last buoy Mike catch up with me again, and again I feel safe and follow his feet to the finish. Up on the bike, but today it isn´t that lovely feeling I had yesterday. I just feel tired, and I understand that now it's just the matter of surviving to the finish line. 120 km is quite long when you feel worn out from the first kilometer. But I use the old elephant trick, i.e. do the same way as when you get the task of eating a whole elephant, you take one bite at a time. After about half the race, I catch up with Harold. Shortly after I have overthrown him, I miss a right turn and continue straight ahead, a crew member stops me, and I must ride back for a kilometer. It feels very unnecessary, I really didn´t need that extra kilometer today. After a while I catch up with Harold again. Chat a little and then away again. Close to transition-2 I meet Doug running and I understand that I´m almost 30 minutes behind him. Will be hard to catch up today. Starting to run, and it really hurts in the left big toe, struggles on because that type of pain usually gets better after a while, and it does. After a couple of kilometers, it just feels like a regular blue toe, not nice, but bearable. The run is still decent, not fast, I struggle at about 5:30 min/km speed. I arrive at the finish about half an hour after Doug, not as good as yesterday but it feels amazing to have completed this stage. Now I´m pretty sure I will survive this adventure and cross the finish line at the Atlantic coast. The last day is a little shorter. But today it feels like every cell in my body is tired, not like the muscles screams in agony and starts to cramp, no more like they want a long sleep. Today my performance was far from my muscular potential. It is something else that stops me, a fatigue that makes me unable to push more. The pulse simply doesn't want to exceed 120. It'll be nice to sleep tonight. Yesterday the legs were more worn out and I did not sleep very well, but today I turn off the light at nine o´clock and sleep like a baby all night.
If someone thinks that I made a strong effort this weekend, it is nothing compared to two other participants in Florida Xtreme. Kelly and Karen run the race together. It's just that Karen is paralyzed from the neck and down. Kelly pulls her on a boat during the swimming, a cart on the bike and a jogging car on the run. The wind, the cold water and the currents of the first day makes the swimming almost impossible for Kelly. The boat is drifting away and although she is a very good swimmer, she needs to swim breaststroke to prevent the boat from sliding away in the wrong direction. After two hours of fighting, she is completely ice cold and desperately needs to get warm before she can force her body to continue. When I sit in a warm car after the finish, having rested and enjoyed a dinner on the way to the hotel for sleep, we meet Kelly who is almost finished with the cycling. Then she has 30 km of running left in a cool dark forest. That night she gets to sleep two hours before it is time to go up again for the swim start.
Kelly and Kerry finish the first day (night).
Key Stone Heights, Florida USA 16 November
The last day. The same long swim but only just over 100 km of bike and a half marathon. Sounds easy compared to the two previous days. The water is shiny and only a light breeze. I got massage yesterday and my legs feels ok. When I jump into the water, there is something else that doesn't feel OK. My left breast muscle that I stretched when I fell on the first day really hurts, there´s a sharp pain every time I take a stroke with my left arm. I try to swim with using my left arm as little as possible, not easy. Mike and Jill who I swam evenly with the first two days disappears ahead of me. Kelly and Kerry pass me, what a great swimmer she must be. Swim and pulls a boat faster than what I can swim without a boat. I find a couple of new feet to position me behind (John). The pain in my chest continues and if it wasn´t the last day and John's feet were there to aim at, I probably wouldn´t have made it. Finally, the swim is over. Now it's just up on the bike again and push on. It feels a bit better in the legs today than yesterday. The pulse ends at 125 and after a short while I pass Jill and pick up the hunt for Harold. But I never reach him today. He is strong, probably he was a little smarter than me and saved some of his energy the first day. After almost 100 km, I arrive at the Atlantic coast, the track turns south, and the tailwind feels lovely. Less than a mile left and then I never have to ride a bike any more. Out on the run, but what is it with my body today. The toes hurt, the chest hurts, and the legs feel like two wood sticks. In addition, the sun shines and Florida is hot again. Start thinking about how long it takes to walk 21 km. How much time will I lose to Harold if I go all the way? 10 minutes per km that is walking pace. How much will it be at 21 km? Many minutes, three hours maybe, how much did I have on Harold yesterday, do not remember, perhaps best to run. Start to run and it slowly goes better. Jog on, and the kilometers roll on one after another. I fool myself with the smart trick to count miles instead of kilometers, because it's less miles left, and that feels better. Only three left. Not far. When there is not even one left, the course turns out onto the beach for a last mile on the beach. Loose sand that you just dig around in without getting anywhere, a nasty move by the organizers. Despite their pleasant treatment and smiles, they might finally turn out to be be sadists. But a little sand can't stop my happy mood at this moment. I've managed it. Crossed the whole of Florida, 300 miles of swimming, cycling and running. Hurray!
Finally, at the Atlantic coast.
Triathlon makes your body looks good, not your toes though. Strangely it is the left toe that hurts most.
If you have run a couple of Ironman and are looking for a new challenge, I can warmly recommend this competition. More easy going and friendlier atmosphere than on the Ironman circus. Here, the participants and the race crew help, talk and cheer on each other instead of drafting and peeking over the shoulder for referees. As Eloise said in her first mail to me. In this competition we´re all one big family. After struggling together for three days that really became true. My body was more than happy that this crazy three-day competition was over, but my mind was a little bit sad to leave this new family which had helped me through the adventure of crossing Florida by swim, bike and run.