This was my second trip to the white sands of Panama City Beach for the Gulf Coast Triathlon. Amazing that this race has been around for 30+ years. Compare that to Ironman Florida, the third oldest in North America (behind Hawaii, Lake Placid, I think), first ran only in 1999.
This race was firmly on the schedule, since I registered for Ironman Florida 2013. The swim is in the same location, the bike shares half the course, and the run follows the same roads. I just have to double everything in November. No Problem Ö
This race and IM Florida have historically both been on Saturday. Somehow, easier to coordinate on that day locally versus the traditional Sunday Ironman starts. I took off Thursday afternoon and drove down in about 6 hours with a gas/supper break. Got checked into my gulf front room at the host hotel, Boardwalk Resorts. My room was on the second floor with 2 queen sized beds and a small kitchenette (microwave, fridge, 2 burner stove). It’s not 5 star…more like econo, Spring Break party proof, but it fit the bill(pun intended). The room is 30secs away from transition, expo, parking lot, and beach. Can’t beat that. I’ve booked a condo down at Shores of Panama for IM Florida, but even that is only a 3 min walk away.
I slept in Friday morning, or slept in for me, until 0800. I decided to take my morning run to Wal-Mart with my running pack and pick-up some food for the next couple of days. Coming back, the pack kept slapping in the head. Ended up walking the last 1/2 mile to prevent a concussion. I deposited the goods in the fridge and headed down to the Pavilion for the free pancake breakfast. Yum! Packet Pick-up opened at noon so I meandered around the expo looking for good deals until I could get in. I did find an Aquaman tri-top for $40. Pretty good material, fit, and finish at that price. The expo was small by Ironman standards but what you would expect for a <800 participant triathlon. I did score a free bottle of Vittoria Pit Stop and 2 CO2 cartidges after the race from a guy flying back to Kansas. So, we’ll call it a win.
Bike check-in to transition started at 3pm. I got my bike set-up and took it out for a quick shake-out before that opened up. Everything was mechanically in good shape. I scored an aisle spot (not that it would matter…more on that later).
I was literally the third person a rack a bike. So proud of my preparedness! Now, I stood around and wondered what to do all day. Actually, my plan was to do nothing and just hydrate all day. I hung out in my room just watching the ocean. The weather was partially cloudy and windy Friday. I passed on a practice swim. Mainly, I didn’t feel I needed it and didn’t want to rinse the salt/sand out of my wetsuit before the race.
I turned off my 0430 alarm at 0415 as my eyes popped open. Jumped in the shower after downing some oatmeal and savoring my allotted dose of Dt. Mtn Dew. I was purposely avoiding heavy caffeine use on race morning. My suspicion is that it dehydrated me and contributed to leg cramps during my recent Boston Marathon.
A quickly passed 90mins later, I was toeing the surf waiting for my wave start. I not so fondly remembered my last GCT race where I almost missed my wave start because my wetsuit wouldn’t zip-up. No problems this time except dropping one of my ear plugs, but a kind bystander had sand-eagle-eyes. Thanks to you, nameless person.
The swim course is a long rectangle (950yd out, 200yd across, and 950yd in). The current seemed to be moving left to right(or East to West) away from the buoys going out. Quite a few people were lined up inside the first buoy line. I was just to the outside of the first one. It took some dolphin dives to get up to some of the bigger breakers, then I just fought my way through. I was pushed a little to the right but overall sighted well going out. My biggest regret was not taking advantage of drafting. I swam alone until the last 500 yards coming in. Second regret is that I didn’t push the pace coming in with the current. My perceived effort was low so I easily could have gained some more time. The slowest section was swimming across the rectangle. This was the hardest to sight along also. Not sure if the current was stronger or I was just swimming in circles. Overall, I exited the water in a leisurely 36:42, running up to the timing mat around 37mins. Looking at the data, I was @2mins slower swimming out than in. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. I was hoping for around 34-35mins. Definitely left a little time on that bone.
The majority of IM Florida swim times show a faster first lap by 2-4 mins over the second lap. This is due, according to most veterans, to the bigger draft effect on first lap. Note to self: Start to left of ongoing buoys and find some feet to draft off. On the lighter side, I did see tons of box jellyfish on the swim in. Fortunately, no stings!
A short run up the beach and I entered transition. Wetsuit off, helmet on, and bike unracked. T1 time was a little over 2mins(3rd in age-group–attaboy!). I noticed that most of the bikes were gone from my area. That put me in 26th place out of 69 in my age-group. Usually swimming is one of my strengths, so I was a little disappointed. But I reminded myself that this was a C race and that I had little training before this race after running Boston.
I eased into my goal power on the bike and pushed it out to Hwy 79. My new helmet, a Bell Javelin with attached visor, worked very well. It’s very comfortable and the shape lays on my back more seamlessly especially when “turtling”. Hopefully that means an aerodynamic advantage.
We had a good tailwind going out and it wasn’t taking much power to keep it above 22mph. I didn’t push the pace much until the last 15 miles into the wind. Overall, it wasn’t a strong headwind but we got a couple of gusts. The course is pancake flat with a small incline over the West Bay Bridge. Actually, you’ll look forward to the bridge as it is one of few times you can sit up and pedal on this course. I made decent time on the 56mile course, cruising in just under 2:35. I slowed down a little coming back into the wind and on Pine Log Rd due to the bone jarring surface. The bike was uneventful. One good thing about being in a late swim wave is all the slower cyclists you can sling-shot around. It spread out alot more after mile 40. I came into T2 in 18th place in AG. So, we gained a few spots on the faster swimmers. Good Job Black Mamba!
I was trying to void on the bike for the last 10miles but it just wasn’t happening, so I jumped into the porta-john in transition. That slowed my T2 time but that was not a concern. “Ahhh”, I sighed as I sprinted, well… more like jogged out onto the run course.
It is an easy run course. Basically, just an out and back with a lollipop around mile 6. I felt good for the first 2 miles, then my legs seemed to lose their strength. My plan was to take a gel every 3 miles, but I took one around 2.5 miles. That did seem to give me a little boost but my pace started to fade a mile later. I was reluctant to take more and risk any GI issues this early in the run. Should have given it a chance. From miles 3-8, I walked most aid stations, drinking lots of water, occ gatorade, and getting handfuls of ice. It was only in mid 70s and cloudy but the humidity was getting to me. The handfuls of ice were awesome. I really felt like it kept me cooler even if just in my mind. I rebounded in the last 4 miles but still couldn’t push the pace below 8s. I finished in around 1:51 for the run. My pace was a good minute/mile off my potential. My average run heart-rate was at marathon-pace. Just didn’t have it on this day.
Note to future participants: Beware that the run course is 0.2-0.4 miles longer due to the renovation of S. Thomas Dr. and the relocation of the Finish Line west. Nevertheless, I was able to pass 5 more people on the run to finish in 13th place AG. My overall time was 5:08.
My fueling was a little low for that race but primarily my legs just didn’t have the muscular endurance. I had much lower volume on the bike than last year at this point. Got 5+ months to get my cycling legs back in gear for IM Florida. I still enjoy this course. One day, I’ll master this ocean open water swim. To bad I get little opportunity to practice at this venue.
Thanks for reading,