"Life is more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party."
- Jimmy Buffett
The inaugural Miami 70.3 will definitely be easier to digest mentally if I think of it as a scavenger hunt in which I participated - armed only with a bike, some high-caloric-density products, and this finely tuned wit - rather than a surprise party sprung on me by the race directors.
I suspect this is also true for the woman whose bike got lost in transition when the race organizers decided to reorganize the racks after the mandatory day-before-the-race bike check-in.
Like Feathers From A Cannon
The swim start was delayed for two very good reasons: 1) the buoys weren't in the water and 2) the sun wasn't up. The buoys went in and then so did we, but the ever important visibility issue was not really resolved to satisfaction until I was at least halfway from the second to the third buoy.
The men leave. The announcer counts down to the female start and we are busy interrogating one of the paddle board-riding lifeguards about where the first buoy is. "It's right over there. [he points] Can't you see it?" We are facing a huge bridge lit only with streetlights and the required nautical designations and with our heads bobbing exactly at water level, looking for a floating two-foot-tall orange pyramid, so..."NO!"
The gun fires and with a general direction to head, we took off like feathers from a cannon: not very fast, in every direction.
There was a lot of group-think going on. Whomever was fastest (I'm going to assume Leanda) took a guess and bunch of us quickly fell in behind. I felt great, strong and in control of my breathing and stroke. Even with feet to follow and other splashing arms to sight off of, I was nearly on top of the buoy before I actually saw it.
Right turn and now we are heading straight out into Key Biscayne and the scenery becomes dimly grey sky meeting black water and again I am looking for a floating two-foot-tall orange pyramid. I still had feet and still felt great when suddenly...[pfft]...gone. I suspect I took a few strokes at a slight angle, got off the group's line, and couldn't see well enough on my next sight to find them. The lifeguards realized we were like stampeding cattle and started to corral us with ever lessening margins for error, so I had that to go off of as I probably zig-zagged my way to the Florida Keys.
This scenario was repeated several times:
Me: "Where is it?"
Lifeguard: "Right over there. [pointing] Can't you see it?"
Me: "NO!" [goes back to swimming]
Otherwise, I was lost. I knew a buoy was somewhere ahead, marking the end of a very long side of a triangle, but I couldn't see it and there were no intermediate buoys. I passed two people and eventually found the second buoy. Right turn and how we are heading straight toward the Miami skyline, hulking buildings lit up with neon, and again I am looking for a two-foot-tall orange floating pyramid. This routine was getting old.
Same story, a little more light, and a significantly straighter swim line.
The last leg was up-stream, or at least up-wave, and through some seaweed flotillas.
When I was swimming, I felt great. When I was lost and suspected I wasn't making much useful progress, this swim felt longer than any IM swim. My time reflects more of the later.
There And Back Again
The Miami bike course is an out-and-back that looks like the treads of a staircase. Left turn, ride a mile, right turn, ride a mile, left turn, ride a mile, right turn....I heard something like 42 turns in 56 miles. I struggled to find a rhythm and because I was alone the entire time, to anticipate the actual direction to turn at each corner. Every turn I approached was a sea of orange cones, which only divulged their useful secrets when seen from above or among, once I had already bled off speed to avoid skittering away into the gutter. I would like thank all those police officers leaning against their cars and nonexistent volunteers for so thoughtfully indicating which direction I would be exiting an intersection before I had entered it.
Several pros and I are still wondering where the promised third aid station disappeared to and why the proffered water bottles at the two we did find were so inflexible as to be unsqueezable and thus effectively useless. It was no surprise that by the turn-around I was physically thirsty and on the trip back I dropped out of 70.3 gear and could barely keep my body in 140.6 gear. I just couldn't rev the engine.
One of the few things I remember about the last 10 miles was really really wanting a drink. Badly.
Interesting observation: the residents of the neighborhoods through which we rode had NO idea there was a race scheduled. I saw several yard sales completely blocked in on multiple sides by race course/racers/cones. The purveyors just sat in lawn chairs, surrounded by their belongings and grass, probably somewhat confounded.
The D(N)DNF Run
The hands-down smartest decision I made all day was grabbing a bottle off my bike as I left T2 and filling it at the first aid station. Many of the run course aid stations ran out of all liquids and descended into full-on chaos so with my reserve I could avoid the Lord of the Flies.
The first four miles felt like death. I tried to make myself vomit, unsuccessfully. I was facing eight (8)(!) bridge climbs at was amounting to a snail's pace and set the bar low: don't do not finish. Some discomforts had resolved by the third bridge climb and from there on out each bridge climb felt stronger and I kept getting (marginally) faster.
And eventually it was over. Oh and I saw Laurent Jalabert out there. He posted the fastest bike split of the day, including even the pros.
Like The Pain I Wanted, But Different
A swimming partner of mine asked me if 70.3s feel like half a race to me. I told her, no, they just hurt differently.
I guess you are going to have to take my word that I really wanted to feel that different pain. I wanted to go fast and feel the pain of going fast (instead of just long) and face it and embrace it. I wanted the feeling I get when the sun sets at the beginning of my track workout and I'm running, hard, in circles, in the dark, focusing intently on the staccato racket of my breathing and safety lights on the high school buildings in the distance. Concentration. Speed.
Instead it's the pain of a lost chance and unmet expectations. The logistical glitches didn't ruin my race - I did that pretty handily all by myself - but literally from the gun, they did set the tone for what was to come. Every races teaches us some lessons and the inaugural Miami 70.3 is no exception. For me, one of them was to let them work out a few of the kinks before I consider racing here again.
I wanted my scavenger hunt to be for more than the finish line.