St.Croix 70.3 Race Recap
It was noticeable in the Miami airport as our fellow passengers gathered at the gate for St. Croix, that the people that race St. Croix are racing to win. Every single person had a body fat percentage of under 8% and it was the fittest group I’ve ever seen in my life. These were not recreational age groupers. These people were here to collect their Kona slots. Whoa. I felt pretty out of place, but i kept in mind I am just here to have a good time and finish the race as best I can.
It was quite a busy few days with our surprise Friday wedding and pre-race day. The weather had become increasingly questionable and the downpours here are no joke. Going into this race I knew the weather was my #1 challenge as I don’t do too well in the heat and humidity. I hadn’t really considered that it could rain the whole bike course. Now, I love running in the rain and I don’t mind swimming in the rain, but riding in the rain is a whole other story and I’m not super comfortable at handling my bike in serious rain. Since the weather here can change in two seconds I decided to just play it by ear and adjust my race as necessary.
I went into this race pretty intimidated. I really felt like I didn’t have any right to be racing here with these people. The age groupers looked like pros. 99% of them. This race really is made up of the best of the best. And then there was me…. I felt a bit out of place, but figured what the hell, all I have to do is just keep going. It’s not like I was going for a win. I knew given the girls in my AG I would probably come in last and had to be okay, mentally with that. If this race had the normal array of age groupers, I probably would be more middle to back of the pack, but not here! I’m nowhere near winning anything in the 70.3 range, but I usually am a strong athlete and I knew that I had to swallow my pride because I was going to be coming in last here.
Race morning we woke up, ate something, and got ready. No big deal there. We had a two mile ride into town to the race. It was raining a bit, but not too bad. The bugs here love me and I am covered in a billion little bites so the cool water felt good on my skin. I have a bit of an allergic reaction going on which is more annoying than anything else. As we made our way onto the main road it started pouring. Pitch black, slick roads, pouring rain overwhelmed me. I pulled over and told Adam I didn’t think I could race today. He was really surprised since I’m not usually such a wuss. We got back on the road and I just tried to hold it together and not slip on the way in. By the time I got to transition it was still raining and I just had a bad feeling. I’ve never ridden in real rain (CA rain is waaaaay different than the torrential downpour of the Caribbean) and I knew it would be a technical course with lots of descents with turns. Adam and I talked about it for awhile and I gave him a firm no. My heart rate was at about 117 and I thought I was going to throw up. I am never really like that so I figured maybe I was just having a gut feeling that it was a bad idea to race.
Yet, I looked around and I forgot there was also a sprint race going on. I saw all kinds of people who didn’t look like the fancy pants racers and thought shit, if they can do it I can do it. I was going to text my family that I wasn’t racing and then thought, fine I’ll go for a swim. Well, when we hopped off the dock to swim to the island, none of them came with. Hah, joke was on me. But the swim was the best I felt all morning. Its a really short few hundred yards over so no big deal. Once on the island we had some water, I almost smacked into Lance and found some friends we’d met earlier. It was nice being isolated (no crowd) on the island. The pros were warming up right with everyone else. I’m not much of a celebrity fan type, but it was pretty neat to be in such talented company and have a unique experience like that!
My goal for the swim was to just stay calm the whole way since I was feeling so completely out of sorts. My age group was tiny, I think 30+ girls registered but only about 18 showed for the race. The whole vibe of the swim start was casual and friendly as opposed to frantic as it usually is. The race director just stood behind us and wished us luck and off we went! I stayed well in the back since these girls weren’t messing around and I was a little concerned about how I was feeling. I found another girl who I swam with, which made me happy and relaxed since I like swimming next to someone. I thought of Jillian and how I like to swim with her and my mood began to relax and improve. Unfortunately we were pretty slow even though I thought I was making good time. There is quite a current there which made it a bit tricky but nowhere near as gnarly as Alcatraz. We were lucky it was unusually calm since usually it’s crazy choppy. I figured at least I felt good and not out of my heart rate zone getting out of the water. My whole game for the race had changed to just finishing kind of before I started. I had no real idea what it would be like here before I came. One day I’d like to come back and actually try to race, but today just wasn’t going to be that day.
I got on my bike without much ado. T1 was a mud pit. I was worried my cleats would be full of mud and not clip in, but i managed to smash them into the pedals. I saw Adam finishing the 8mi loop in the beginning of the ride and I could tell he was super excited to see me riding and he was hauling ass with some tough looking guys. It was the longest 56 miles I’ve ridden. It’s not so much that the ride is hard….it’s just relentless. You start climbing hills right off the bat. A little shorter and steeper than Santiago. It was like someone took the Santiago elevation profile and squished it into a shorter distance so steeper and more hills. I kept my pace low and just figured I’d have a good run. It’s always hard when I haven’t ridden course. Knowing it now, I’d know where I can let it out and where to hang back.
It was absolutely beautiful. The most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen. We rode along the coast, through rainforests, along countryside and farms, saw iguanas, peacocks, horses, goats, mongooses (mongeese?) and lots of squished frogs. We pretty much rode the entire island and along the way there were some historical landmarks and what looked like old ruins. I really enjoyed the view, sometimes you have to look around and be grateful for what you’re doing and why you do it and that you CAN do it. It was pissing down rain, so I let go of any frustration and just accepted the rain. Riding in the mud and puddles and getting filthy was fun. It rained so hard that we went through some puddles that were about a foot or more deep, it was nuts. They had plenty of people out marking where to slow and where to turn and cheering. The islanders and the crowd were just amazing. Aid stations were smooth and frequent and the volunteers were great at handing off water.
There’s no missing the beast. The islanders paint the ground marking the start, the grades and the distances in 1/10th mi increments. It’s a bitch because you make a sharp turn to get on it effectively losing whatever speed you had. It starts steep right away and naturally, the rain began again just as I got to it. It’s like the steep side of modjeska but it just goes on and on! I rode a good chunk of the beast until I tried to stand and my hands were slipping on my bars from the rain. I got off and tried to hustle up the really steep stuff on foot. Then I hopped back on and rode the rest of the way, passing a number of guys in the process. That part felt good. A bunch of islander ladies were hollering at me to pass all the men so I felt a little fire in my belly and did what I could. Granted, they were old dudes, but it felt good anyways!
The descent wasn’t as bad as everyone said. None of the descents were bad at all. It wasn’t like descending modjeska at all (the descent) and I was really really really glad I rode the course instead of wussing out. Nothing was too scary and there weren’t a ton of people around me making me nervous that they’d wipe me out. In fact a lot of the course I rode alone or leapfrogging with one or two other people. It was really nice to go my own pace and not feel like I was riding in a crowd. I hit mile 38 and thought shit I’m mentally at mile 50 and pretty much out of food. I was really, really hungry. Those first 20 miles burn more than you think they will. I took my salt the whole way and took the same amount of food we usually do on races, but whoa super hungry. I think I ran out of food at mile 40 and realized, that’s gonna screw me on the run. And it did. But I know keeping up on the salt and the water helped me as best it could I went through at least 5 or 6 bottles of water, I had to remind myself that even though it was raining, it was also hot and I was sweating not just covered in rain!
The rest of the bike course was not too windy as it usually is. It’s hilarious how many hills are on the backside. Just the second you get a flat road and a little speed bam! Hill! Nothing too bad but they suck your legs of energy. My road bike was NOT the right bike. My hips and back were suffering and I thought back to how good I felt at Oceanside getting off the bike and knew it wasn’t going to be like that. Everyone had tri bikes. It was a tri bike course despite what a lot of people said. Running off the tri bike is soo soooo soooo much better than road bike and I have a better body position and so much more power for my body on a tri bike. I rode into town saw Adam on his run and headed into a very muddy t2.
I had to move some bikes to rack my bike since people had racked on top of my stuff, but I know most of the girls were gunning for time, so it was no big deal for me to take a little extra time. I put on running shoes, thought about finding porta potties, decided to just pee where I was instead. Classy, I know, but its lesss gross than going into a day full of used porta potties and I was already dirty and wet. Being a guy is much easier, I’m sure. I started the run and figured I’d just settle in. Unlike Oceanside I wasn’t running 9:00 out of the gate trying to slow down. I was at about 10:15 or something and thought huh…I don’t think i’ll be I hitting the gas, but you never know. The 2 mi run out of town has some shorter hills, just enough to remind you of the bike you just did. Aid stations were amazing and I used the ice, water, sponges and even treated myself to some coke to make up for my lack of sugar. The 2 mi on the Buccaneer property was the humid part. It had stopped raining and while there was cloud cover (thankfully) the sun is still burning right through it. I felt like I couldn’t get a good breath, so I kept breathing with my foot strikes trying to even it out, but it feels stifling and I was unable to get a good clear breath. It’s frustrating because I’ve run in the heat and the hills and this run was total bullshit. I had no more matches to burn even thought my heart rate wasn’t that high … I felt like hyperventilating when I tried to pick it up due to the humidity. I hadn’t expected that. The Buccanneer run is pretty hilly and it takes you back into a wooded trail that is full of gnats and mud…Everyone comes out of the wood covered in gnats. The 2mi back into town was the easier part.
The first four miles of the run was the hardest. I just felt tapped energy wise and I knew how flipping slow I was and how crappy my time was. But for the day I had, the weather we had and the course, I kept reminding myself that it didn’t matter if my time sucked. I know I’m better than what I did. I know I train way harder. But I was going to finish even if my pride was on the floor. A lot of people signed up for the race and didn’t show. A lot of people crashed. A lot of people wouldn’t even have signed up in the first place. And there were really few women on the course, so as a woman I knew I was alright just for being there. I was uninjured, within cutoff, and I was going to finish. I knew the heat and humidity would fuck me on this race, so I had to be ok with whatever came along. The second loop of the run I felt better. My time was slow, but I was feeling happier. I said hi to everyone, thanked all the volunteers, cheered on other athletes and just kept moving. People kept saying I looked great and my form was good. Nothing hurt, I just couldn’t go any faster. It was like being stuck in molasses. The last two miles were tough!
Adam was waiting for me at the end of the street and I joked that I took my time to get my money’s worth. Slightly uphill, you see the finish area but you have to go back into town and loop around. People were still out cheering like crazy and it felt pretty special. The end of the street near the finish had all kinds of hollering people and I was really taken aback. I got pretty emotional at this final stretch as there’s a lot of people in this world who tell you that you can’t do stuff in life. That you’re not good enough. Or thin enough. Or strong enough. There’s a lot of people who tell you why bother? Why work so hard? Why are you training when you’re not going to win? Why do something so hard? I’m kind of an odd bird since the things that I want out of life and the way I live my life and the tngs I believe in aren’t the norm. There is a price for me living my life as I see fit, and that’s usually in the form of loneliness. There are many times when I feel pretty alone because so many people think I’m crazy for doing what I do – whether it’s triathlon, or speaking my mind, or holding fast to my beliefs, I tend to not do or feel what the majority of people do and feel and that results in a bit of isolation. Yet for every single person who doesn’t get it, or laughs and rolls their eyes or who doesn’t know why I won’t go out drinking with them there are always two strangers taking their place cheering, yelling, and believing so strongly in me that my heart becomes full and I am able to believe enough that I can do this, I will do this and I do deserve to be here. I cannot thank those strangers enough. Every single one of the hundreds of people that lined the streets, the towns, the aid stations, the hills, I cannot thank you enough. My words will never suffice my gratitude. It’s not just that you’re cheering me on in the race, you’re cheering on that which is the best in me. You’re acknowledging the very essence of my core, my strength and my determination. For that, there is no thank you big enough.
I turned onto the final street and could see the finish line and Adam waiting for me. He medalled me and I was finally done. We ate and cleaned up our stuff and then headed back for a slow two mile ride to the hotel. We ordered room service and had nice massages at the spa. We tucked in for bed by 8:30 and called it a day!
I have mixed feelings about my race. I know I can race harder than that. But sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. I’m looking forward to recovering for the next month from the past two races and then hammering the shit out of SOMA half ironman in fall and getting ready for IMAZ!