Monday, April 7, 2014

South Beach Triathlon - Lummus Park - Miami Beach, Florida

South Beach Triathlon

Great race, thousands of racers and spectators, beautiful location.

International Distance:
2nd Age Group, 11th Overall

Happy Muchas: Pax and Myself

So here I am getting ready for my second road triathlon in just three weeks. This time however it is a full Olympic distance or what it had been called for the past few years when the event was still under the Nautica name, International distance. But how did I end up here on the paved road again?! Not sure really, things just came out of nowhere and since I just learned how to ride a tri bike just two weeks back and I had an opportunity to borrow it one more time (Thank you Rachel!!!) than it just felt right to sign up and do it. Honestly I entertained all different options, like doing a shorter classic distance or even racing with my mountain bike to get a great workout and don’t have the stress of riding those skinny tires again. But for some reasons all other options didn’t feel right. The short distance was not that shorter than the full blown race, the fat tire division was meant for the “new to the sport” athlete whom I didn’t feel I would exactly fit the profile of; even though I was new to road triathlon but not the sport of triathlon itself. And the thought of being an annoyance to everyone who can ride faster on their road bikes and just has to go by me to be able to continue the race wasn’t cool. I didn’t feel like I wanted to be an obstacle to others and also I didn’t feel like having a bunch of people passing me when I know I can go faster with a proper bike. I think I would go nuts having people zoom by me one after another. So there was one option left for me to do the full distance and on a tri-bike. I knew I was putting myself into a disadvantage since I had close to none of the road racing and road riding experience but otherwise it wouldn’t be such a great challenge, would it? So one way or the other I ended up in South Beach…

All set for the race! Thx Clif for VIP passes!

And Wow, South Beach is quite an amazing place. It is very colorful, busy and crazy; especially for the person that is used to listening to the sounds of leaves being blown in the wind… Yes, big change.

Traffic and getting to the site and trying to find a parking lot was an adventure on its own. Biking to the race site and race meetings on those little busy streets was also interesting.

And as with just the beginning of spring in Florida it was the first day it actually got really hot. To my surprise all the Expo and meeting tents were set up right on the beach with this beautiful ocean backdrop. It was so pretty but so brutal, we were simply melting away like s’mores on the stick…

It was great to meet up at the Clif and Specialized tents and say hi to everyone.

Specialized booth at Expo with gorgeous turquoise water as a backdrop and also as beautiful Shiv!

Later on after we showered we went out for a nice Italian dinner with a bunch of friends to a local restaurant nearby. My husband was on the quest for this perfect risotto and I can only hope he found it. Looks like everyone had something delicious on the plate that night and it would be nice to come back there one day to try other delights. It was funny since I was accompanied by my husband and road triathletes like Cynthia and James but it was me and Edie (who does little bit of everything) that was going to do the race. I got some nice advice and was full of hope that I was ready for the race.

Clif booth at Expo with super friendly ladies and everything you might need for your race!

The hotel we stayed in was quite nice, small, clean with nice updated kitchen, kind of like a little modern apartment. As I was warned however this is South Beach and people come here to have a great time which equals often no sleep! Good for them, unfortunate for me however. I found out the moment I put my head down on the pillow that getting some rest before the race start will be impossible. Someone kept running up and down for most of the night slamming the door on the hallway loud every 13 seconds. The frequency did die back at some point but the slamming continued until 1:30 am and this is when I was finally able to fall asleep. Now I wonder if it would have been better if we just simply stayed home one hour away from the race site. Oh well.

On the race morning we woke up very early, somewhere around 4:30 am after maybe three hours of sleep.

Light & Motion in action, ready to set up this transition!
Still dark, almost ready to start walking to the swim start...

We ate quickly a muffin and had a little milk. And usually I love to have my morning tea and am used to sipping it throughout our drive to the race site. But this time we were only a few blocks away from transition and were going to just take our bikes there. Therefore I just had to gulp my tea and hope that I packed everything right. It was of course dark out but the streets were not empty and we saw few bikers also heading to transition. It didn’t take long to get there and temperatures outside at that time were just perfect with just a little wind. But the closer we got to the beach the windier it was. I learned quickly that most likely we were going to have another wavy and challenging swim. The transition was huge, like monster huge but it was very organized; therefore getting around and finding my spot was not a problem. We were not allowed to bring our transition bags to the bike racks for security reasons and were provided only two see through plastic bags. I kept going in and out grabbing my things and making sure I have everything set. It was interesting when I had a question about the transition and the girls right next to me informed me that there is a particular order which way bikes are facing for every number assigned, which was very new to me since in Xterra usually there is a system “first come first serve” and our bikes face wherever they want. Seconds after they looked at each other giving nice small smirks that just said “such a noob”. Sweet, I decided not to comment or bother. ..

Swim Start gathering... Sun is coming up slowly...

After that it was time to just wait. The whole early morning setup was forced by the rule that all the bikes had to be in the transition by 6 am even though Pro start was at 6:45 AM and my Age Group was planned to go off at 7:28 AM. That is a lot of waiting if you ask me but somehow I managed time wisely and very soon we found ourselves walking to the swim start. It was a long one mile walk in the dark while listening to the angry waves as a background and having flashy hotel lights by our sides.

Melissa and Myself, Xterra warriors and friends of many years. I think we are ready to go...

The sun started rising out of the water the moment we walked to the beach to watch the Pro start. There was a very strong field of much decorated racers.  It was a pleasure to watch them going off and fighting the waves.  And yes, the whole swim is going to be against the current, pretty!

After watching the Pros swim away I rushed to get in to my beautiful Axena wetsuit and get out to the water for a warm up.

What I liked was the way the start times and waves were organized.

The volunteers did carry white boards with race class written on them so we were organized by cap colors and had a person with a sign next to each class. Some classes had mass starts and some like mine a Time Trail start which was new for me but I really enjoyed it.  So no crowd next to me but instead we were staged side by side two ladies per start in our class and were sent out every five seconds. I grabbed my spot, got assigned a girl next to me and didn’t have much time to think about it or observe other starts and I was off. The waves were challenging and the water was shallow for a long time, therefore some jumping, dolphining, swimming, running and whatever else was required at the time had been implemented until of course I got to the deeper water and then what was left was to simply swim.  I felt well from the start, went around the first big buoy and was swimming away in hopes to see the next smaller buoy. It was an interesting experience since I was not alone in the water since there were swimmers everywhere, but at the same time it was not overcrowded and no one had to fight to just be able to swim straight. I enjoyed this swim format a lot. Soon I got into my groove and noticed that I was gaining on the swimmers ahead. Apparently I was doing pretty well; I was now approaching swimmers in all different cap colors from the groups that started ahead of me.

Thankfully I never saw anyone from my group which assured me that most likely the ladies where mostly behind me. The swim was long, very long however and I forgot already how amazingly long swim of one mile against the current can feel like. While at approach of the half way buoy I felt like it was just the right time to get out but we still had so far to go…

Water was deeper and less wavy in the first half a mile but the second half was quite a roller coaster. It became shallow and the waves were quite strong, I just felt like I was swimming in an elevator and was every two seconds 6 feet up than 10 feet up, 6 feet up and 10 feet up. I observed the hypnotizing dance of the yellow sand below us.  It became more crowded now and avoiding traffic in the water was the key. On one instance I did catch up to some guy that kept on swimming in zigzags and on his second turn he went in front of me cutting me totally off and the swimmer on the left of me. The guy on the left while shocked by being blocked simply decided to put his hand on me to rest and stopped us all from swimming. I pulled my face out of the water and said “Seriously!” and he apologized and we went about our swimming. Amazing that in all this wavy chaos and commotion we found a way to say something to each other…

Lots happened during those 34 minutes in the water but what is most important I was approaching now the final buoy and shortly will be heading to the shore. But just before that I got so excited to confirm that it was time finally to turn that I stuck out my head with mouth wide open and got delicious gulp of salty water and I was only hoping it would not give me a tummy ache later on in the race.

The waves now were pulling me back and pushing forward and it was easier to just follow the rhythm of the ocean rather than fight it.

I reached soft sand and rushed to the giant transition area with thousands of bikes waiting for the racers. The path that was leading to my bike was a little different than I was planning to take since traffic had been directed by the volunteers and everyone had to figure things out on the go. I almost overran my spot but thankfully grasped myself quickly and started gearing up for the ride.

Quick glimpse around and all the bikes that had been racked next to mine from my division were still there, that was a good sign. In a short while I was ready to go I think, it was not a time to question myself for sure. I was ready to take this “tiny pony” for a ride and tackle this very new to me terrain. I exited the transition after the long run with the bike and got to the mounting line. Right from the start there was good amount of people getting on their bikes. But all of it didn’t matter, nothing mattered anymore, not how many people there were around me, not how long of a ride I had ahead, not how many bridges there were that I never rode before or even that I’m totally not in my element ...

Looks like big chase group behind me, no worries I already went by them... :-)
I didn’t care or think twice that people had aero wheels, aero helmets, that they did it many more times that I did. I didn’t even think twice that I’m in some kind of disadvantage with no road experience and that I was rocking my mountain biking shoes, pedals, helmet and a borrowed bike…

I was ready to go and quite excited to see what will happen. The moment I reached the pedals the gas was on and there was no stopping me. I lost the fear of bumps, turns and didn’t worry how the bridge ride or passing will go. All I felt was a fire in my quads and hamstrings and kept on pushing and thinking how relaxed I was. When I looked down at the bike computer I saw 24.5 miles per hour while on the first causeway. The beautiful water view homes with giant yachts were filling out the scenery. There was a nice long stretch and my speed to my surprise stayed consistent and I felt pretty good.

Now I'm having fun, love being on the bike even if it's not mine.

On the first bridge (and there was 4 total that I will have to ride over twice in both directions) I had to figure out quickly my gearing and how I was going to approach it. It was not a problem at all and all my worries for past few days now looked so unnecessary. I picked the right gear and spun up as quick as I could passing quite a few riders, geared up while on top and was ready for my first fast decent. I was stressing about this part a lot wondering if I will go slower than others since I will have no confidence in my road bike handling and will lose valuable time. But to my surprise I found myself to be one of not that many who actually worked those cranks even on the downhill’s and was getting some serious speed. And I was not afraid; I was in the zone and was making even more passes. 

I crossed the Mc Arthur Causeway with two bridges, made a sharp turn to NE 2nd AVE, than to Julia Tutle Causeway with an additional two bridges. I felt pretty strong climbing and on the flats, now however the speed decreased a little and we had some gusty winds, which culminated on the final bridge. This is the only spot where I would not pedal back since gusts were pretty strong. Shortly after we ended up on the Alton Road and were about to circle around and head back to Julia Causeway, Federal and Mc Arthur Causeway in the opposite direction… But before I reached the turn I was keeping my eyes peeled not only to the course but also on the lookout for my husband. I knew he would bike over this direction and be somewhere around. I went by pretty much the hotel we stayed in and had so many riders around but just a few seconds later after the turn he was there and was cheering me on. Biking back was not so bad but often on the straight always we had wind against us. This was definitely more tiring. Also some sections of the road as mentioned during the race meeting were quite bumpy but nothing really that would scare off a mountain biker!

Somewhere half way through the bike course... Tiny Pony " borrowed Sedusa QR" is rocking the road.

Finally on the Julia Causeway I had first lady that I recall from the bike course that actually passed me, she was dressed in red and had a nice aero helmet. She seemed to be biking quite strong but not that long later I was able to pass her. We went back and forth twice this way and after all I was able to stay in front. But somewhere also there half way through the bike course I had this one guy dressed in black tri kit with some blue accents. He looked as a strong rider and passed me on one of the bridges but shortly I was able to catch up, than he passed me back as somehow refusing to be passed by a girl and we went like this for pretty much reminding of the race. At some point we have each other a look and smiled as almost like a pat on the back for good efforts. In the final miles he passed me once again with some other rider but at some point he just wondered in a big group and it did cost me some energy but I was able to pass him and the whole group that he was in. That was a lot of riders at one pass!

One of many bridges. Now it got super crowded since all classes were mixing now...

The two final bridge climbs started getting to me, it was not exhausting or an unbearable feeling I just felt I was definitely climbing slower than previous ascends. Thankfully we were almost done. On the last bridge I was super happy to see my husband once again, totally on the other side of South Beach. Oh he had to put some miles to keep up with me… I sent him a big smile and a kiss and jetted away.

There were lots of people on this bridge and it was difficult to pass, but after the decent I was able to go around most of the riders and this is when another construction section was waiting for us. Well I totally didn’t remember about it and in a sudden the road become super rugged and to add to it while on the final stretch to the transition there were completely invisible at our speeds, small and sharp speed bumps.  I was quickly awakened when first bump shot me up with my bike to the air and I was first time in my life gliding on a road bike! The remainder of the jumps I treated as a mountain biking ride and just stood up and let the bike take care of the rest and in just a few seconds I reached the dismount line.

I'm very happy for two reasons, 1st I see my husband, 2nd this is the last bridge and we are done. Well at least with that portion of the race...

Quick run to the bike rack and I was grabbing my run gear. My new Salmon Pro shoes, race belt, Salmon flask and Clif gel and I was off. Once again from what I could tell I didn’t see many bikes yet rucked up, that was good. The run started more conservative to me as in a last sprint tri and I felt pretty fine, not stellar but not terrible. Running on the sidewalk is not much fun for me but so many people where in the same boat right now that I was. Actually the run path of South Beach was quite pretty, wavy and had these amazing views of the ocean and whole Lummus Park which was full of not only racers, but also locals and visitors.

My new Salmon Sense Pro make this difficult moment much more enjoyable...

I never raced before in such a crowd and had to actually dodge people on the run course. We were running north to the turnaround point at some 1.5 miles, I was happy to reach this point but I knew at the same time that this was just the beginning. In a few very short moments I started seeing more ladies one after one running to the turn point, they were not that far back and maybe what felt like 20-30 seconds and looked quite strong. I thought “oh here we go” and wondered if now I will start getting passed.

But time went by and I was about to reach a transition at mile 3 and head this time all the way south and there was still no ladies in sight. But boardwalk was done now and we ended up on a wide and sandy path. This is where the guy that I went back and forth some dozen times on the bike did catch up with me. He met me on my right shoulder and said “are you going to pass me out of the corner again?”. I said “I don’t think so, not this time” and he said “I bet you will!”. lol But he was obviously a faster runner and took off with not much problem.

I'm here with my pace maker! It helped us both to get to the finish with a strong pace.

After that we were spilled on some quarter of the mile on beach with its soft sand and this is where I saw friends James and Cynthia standing on the side and cheering me on, James yelled “Go Beata”, while Cynthia yelled even louder “Come On Beata, this is your element, FIGHT!” Wow those were some powerful words and just a split second later I put a different gear on and my speed increased. I felt like I actually did have an advantage on this sand and was gaining a ground on lots of runners. Shortly after that we reached the South Pointe Park and I was running next to water on one side and restaurants on the other. I even had to duck a waiter twice who was crossing to serve people on the water side. It was another out and back and now I was pretty tired, wind was with me but also one lady that did catch up with me and seemed faster. I made my best to stay with her and we ran together to turn around point and were on the way back. This is where I saw my friend Melissa for first time in the race just a little in front of me. I stayed with the girl and at some point when battling the headwind and heat I went by her and I stayed there for a good while. But this maneuver was costly and she was able to pass me back and now I was just trying to just hold on. The sun was beaming on me very strongly now and I knew the finish was near but everything was so much more difficult right now. The little uphill in the cobblestone boardwalk was painful and now we reached the soft beach once again, but this time I felt just as fast here and was still passing a good amount or racers. I also saw glimpse of Melissa in front of me about to cross the finish line, I sprinted to the finish and I was done!

Finally! After crossing the Finish Line!

My name had been announced while I was crossing the finish. Yay! I did my first Olympic distance road triathlon and felt pretty good with how it went. After finding my husband in the crowd we headed to get some food in our bodies and refreshments and this is where I bumped into an amazing athlete Sara Haskins who won today’s race. I definitely got a little tear in my eye when I found out that I placed 2nd in my age group out of 35 ladies and 11th overall from 176 that competed in the International distance.

Myself and Sarah Haskins, today's winner.
I was trying to do my best on course during the whole race but apparently was not convinced that I was capable of pulling off a second place. It was really encouraging to learn that I can do well even on the road.

Also after all the two girls that were smirking behind my back ended up being one hour slower than me. Who would think? That could be a lesson for them to never underestimate your competition and secondly have a respect for everyone that participates as this is what we do in Off Road Triathlons.

And it was great to see quite a few of my local mountain bikers also taking part in this big event maybe in a little different way since Andy,  Mickey and her husband Tom chose to ride their mountain bikes in the fat tire division. Well until Tom realized that he got a flat and his spare tube had a sliced wall and he could not find anyone among almost three thousand races with extra mtb tube. Therefore he resorted to quite an innovative idea and took a credit card instead of bike from his transition and ran over to rent a Deco Bike. Yes he raced the whole race on a cruiser bike with basket still attached to it. Quite a way to compete you would think but it shows that the will to accomplish a goal is what matters the most…

Thank you to everyone who believed in me and supports me…

I couldn’t have done without you!

Until next time!

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