Florida Ironman 70.3 2006 Race Report

This past Sunday, May 21st, was the third annual Florida Half-Ironman (now Ironman 70.3, so called for the 70.3 miles covered during the race: 1.2 mile swim – 56 mile bike – 13.1 mile run), and my first trip to the Sunshine State for the race (or any race). My pre-race week in the hot and humid Florida weather had been good, so now it was time to head to put on my dancing shoes and see what I could do.

The night before the race, I slept for about four hours, and then just couldn’t sleep anymore. I knew it would be a mistake to get up then, so I just lay there with my eyes closed, trying to rest until my alarm went off at 3:30. The early race start was really a blessing, since I didn’t sleep much anyway.

I had my pre-race treat of some very strong coffee. Race day is basically the only time I drink coffee, and it’s really nice to get that caffeine rush. I ate my normal breakfast, and then packed up the car and headed off in the dark. Racing at Disney is not the most logistically simple thing in the world, but fortunately, they were on top of it, and we had huge parking lots and lots of buses to take us over to the race.

I set up my transition area, and then headed off for a quick run. Because of the number of competitors (~2,200) and the darkness, no biking was allowed on race morning. After my short run, I did my stretchcord warm-up, and headed over to the lake to get my swim warm-up in. The water in the lake was very nice, and I had a good warm-up with some good, hard strokes.

After that, we had to stand on the beach warding off a large army of mosquitoes, while the race officials got the all-clear from the various marshalls out on the course.

Finally, they got the all-clear, and they put us in the ready position — one foot in the water, one foot on the beach. They had separate waves for the pro men and women, and with the relatively small men’s field, I knew I would need to work hard to stay on people’s feet. My plan for the swim was to swim hard and really challenge myself to stay in the draft pack the whole way. I made it about 1/3 of the way through the swim on good feet, but then the leaders just proved too strong. I swam what I thought was solo for the second third of the swim, but then coming back into shore, I realized I had been leading Paul Fritzsche from Danbury, CT. Paul is an excellent all-around triathlete, and as I started to slow, he quickly pushed ahead. I knew that I would save a lot of time if I could hang onto his feet, but he was just too strong. He put about 30 seconds of time into me in the last 600 yards, showing that I was really tiring. Swimming is still a bit of a weak point. As I hit the beach, though, I clocked my swim at 25:56, which was really great for me. That was a best-ever swim for me at the distance, and considering it was without a wetsuit, I was especially pleased. Secretly, I was also really pleased not to have been overtaken by any of the pro-women, who started three minutes back. There were a LOT of really strong swimmers in their ranks, so it was nice not to get caught, since in the past, I’ve more than given up that much margin. The results had me eight among the pro-men, and 18th overall on the swim (among all competitors), so it was actually a great day in the water. All that swimming over the winter was paying off. Of course, I knew none of this at the time as I headed to my bike, and I was sure that I was heading off to grab the last bike off the racks.

When I got to T1 and saw that there were still bikes on the mens’ racks, I was definitely relieved. I had a quick transition (another area I’ve been practicing), and headed out onto the bike. There was quite a bit of turning early on, and it took me a bit of time to get my shoes on, but once I did, I felt really strong heading out onto the main section of the course. I was a bit in no man’s land, with nobody visible ahead or behind me, but I committed to my race wattage, and kept tucked into my aero-position, trying to keep the power controlled while my legs were fresh. I wanted to negative split the bike, avoiding that fade I’d had during the swim. After about 5 miles or so, I started to see two riders up ahead, and I upped to pace. I knew that if I could catch them, I could at least have some to race “against” on the bike. As I caught them, I realized I had good legs, and I upped the pace further, seeing if they would hang on. As I started to pull away, I gained confidence in myself, and continued at my more aggressive pace. Heading out onto the back section of the course, which has the few hills on the course, I became very nervous. I was again alone, and I saw no markings on the road. I had entered a very heavy fog, and it was like riding through a cloud. I was sure I had missed a turn somewhere, and just as my heart began to sink, I saw a sign that read “bike race in progress,” and I jumped on the pedals for about a minute as my confidence came back.

Riding through the fog was a challenge, and I was nervous about hitting a pothole with the limited visibility. It was definitely a surreal experience, riding through the mist. One thing that was not so surreal was how much harder it was to ride through the fog than it had been out on the warm, dry air on the highway. Fortunately, I kepy my wattage steady and was yet again thankful for having an SRM to pace myself. I still had no idea what place I was until all of a sudden I saw two motorcycles and then the lead truck which has the race clock on top. I was crossing the race leader. I checked my watch to see how far down I was, and then, suddenly, I saw a group of four riders about a 90 seconds back. And then, just around I corner, I saw the bike turnaround. I realized that I was in 6th place and that I was gaining on everyone! I got a huge burst of adrenaline, and I re-upped the pace. In the back of my mind, I thought I could catch that group and maybe even the leader. In the front of my mind, I did have some negative thoughts about the fact that the guys in that group were used to winning these races, and who was I? But I kept the power up, following my race plan to keep my nose in the wind and to challenge the pace on the bike. As we exited the fog, I could feel the pick-up in speed, and I started to pick up the pace even more, as I could see the distance between myself and the group of four riders ahead closing. As I closed in on the group, I made a big surge and rolled past all four in quick succession. As I passed the lead rider, I had to fight an urge to say “wow, YOU’RE Tim DeBoom. You are my hero, my idol, my role model, and I’m passing you!” It was a bit like a dream, and I expected the whole group that I’d just passed to say something like “okay, enough joking around,” and then blow by me like a freight train. But it didn’t happen. At first, they stayed close, but I continued to press the pace, and they dropped back.

With a really big boost from passing those guys, I felt like I could catch the race leader. I was starting to get a bit tired, but the thought of leading the race kept me going. Back on the highway, I was really flying, and it was a rush to see the miles ticking by so fast. Even if I didn’t catch the leader, it felt amazing to be in 2nd place during the race. It gave me a huge boost mentally, as I really felt like I “belonged” in the race, something that I hadn’t ever felt in a really competitive triathlon, where I had never before been in contention for the win. Even if I got run down, I was still in the mix, and that was a great feeling. I closed out the bike in 2:07:55, which would end up being the fastest bike split of the day by over a minute! It was an amazing feeling when I found out that after the race. But at the time, I was only thinking about trying to hang on during the run.

Rolling into T2, I heard the announcer say “2nd off the bike is Jordan Rapp of Scarborough, NY,” and I thought “wow, that’s me! I’m second!” Then I thought “oh my god, I’m second and all those guys are chasing me…” My hands were shaking a bit as I put on my running shoes, and headed out onto the run course. My legs felt okay as I headed out, but it was definitely different than those short duathlons that have been my only races so far this season. With over two and a half hours of hard racing already done, it was more general fatigue than anything else. I knew my legs would hold up, but the question is, how fast would they be.

The run course was new for this year. It was a three-loop course (~4.4 miles per loop), with half of each loop being run along canal trails (watch out for the gators!). The dirt and grass made for tough running, and I slowed quite a bit as I hit these sections. Right around the three mile mark, I got passed by eventual race winner Andrew Johns and eventual second place Richie Cunningham, both of whom are among the fastest runners in the sport. They flew by me, and I knew I couldn’t stick with them. My goal was to stay steady, and even though I knew I didn’t yet have the overall race fitness to pull off my best run, I thought if I paced evenly, I would do okay. Tim DeBoom passed me around mile 4, also looking very strong. All the guys were really great as the passed me, saying things like “great bike!” or “killer ride.” It’s one of the nicest parts of this sport that even at the top, there is a real sense of community. I can’t imagine a MLB pitcher congratulating a batter on a really good home run…

The loop course had lots of turnarounds, so I had plenty of chances to check my lead. Luke McKenzie, who was part of that group of four that I had passed on the bike, was running really well, and was the last to pass me, putting me back into 6th place around mile 8. Going through the turnaround, I saw that I had a six minute lead over Paul Fritzsche in 7th place, and my goal was to hang onto that. He closed the gap to about four minutes after 11 miles, but that point, I knew I could hang on. I picked up the pace a little heading into the home stretch, and crossed the line in 6th place with a time 4:04:27, after a 1:26:25 half-marathon. It was not my best run, by any means, and I certainly had hoped to be faster. But it was a great way to kick off the triathlon season, and I was nothing but pleased with my first half-ironman performance of the year. I also got my first real press of the season on Quintana Roo’s website.

On the bike at Florida Ironman 70.3 © 2006 Ironman North America

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