Friday, October 28, 2011

Great Floridian Ultra Distance Triathlon

All photos by John Ridgley

Getting into my first “Ironman” or ultra distance triathlon, 140.6 miles of swim, bike, run came about how most of adventures do, hanging around the wrong people! :)

To clarify something, The Great Floridian Ultra Distance Tri is certified by the USA Triathlon Association, but not put on by the company that owns the name “Ironman.” Hence the term, ultra-distance tri for the 140.6. The GFT states that if you complete their 140.6 you are “Stronger than Iron” in good humor.

Ok, back to this friend thing….As most of you know I work for Home Depot and ever so often they hire some “crazy” person like me. Back a few years ago, I had heard different conversations about “Iron Mike” some crazy dude name Mike Delang that does this crazy stuff all the time. Biking for 100 miles on Saturday, then running 20 miles on Sunday is normal for him. At the time my focus was on ultrarunning. That too, was brought on by a friend, Victor Zamudio. Most of you know by now I have completed two 100 milers, Pinhoti and Cascade Crest.


I had started reading how I could improve my running with riding a bike. Mike was nice enough to start teaching me about cycling. The next thing I know, the idea is thrown out there that we would assist each other in training plans. Mike to help me to prepare for my first half and full “Ironman” distances, and I would help him in training for the Pinhoti 100.

Be forewarned, if you want to train for the 140.6 distance, it is like taking on a part-time job!! Between the three sports you can easily spend anywhere between 10-25+ hours a week. It took more time training for GFT than either of the past 2 hundred milers that I have run!

So, onto GFT! I picked this event for a couple reasons. It was close enough to drive to from ATL. Since it is not put on by the “Ironman” people, the entry fee is half the price. Plus, I have some friends that had done GFT and talked about it being a great event, and that turned out to be so true. GFT is held in Clermont FL, the hilly-ous place in FL, in my opinion. It is a wonderful smaller community outside of Orlando.

Rhonda, Grace, and I were able to get down to our hotel late Thursday night. We get up mid Friday morning and head over to the event venue – start/finish line area. I get checked in and go to one of the race briefing. We end up just hanging out and checking out the area and me trying to relax. Later Friday evening my in-laws, Paul and Pat Nancoo show up to support me the next day.

I end up waking up at 4:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep. The alarm goes off at 5 and everyone starts doing their morning thing to get ready to go. A couple days before a cold front had come into the area and it was in the low 50’s. That was a big shock to me also that central FL can cool down that much.

We get down to the event about an hour before and just try to stay warm and relax. Mike Delang and John Ridgley, another friend from ATL, show up early that morning and help setup a “base camp” near the start/finish line for everyone that is supporting me.

We get the word that the water is cool enough to be wet suit legal which I was very happy for. I have learned through my training that you really can’t drown in a wet suit, so with the swim being my weakness, it was a comfort to have it on.

They gather everyone on the sand beach of Lake Minneola. One of the participants sings the National Anthem and then everyone counts down and we are off! In the rush of the moment I didn’t realize I put myself in the middle of nearly 200 people. I did not want to do that! I had the idea of starting more towards the back, but too late now. I have these bodies around me, getting hit/kicked and I am hitting/kicking others also. I would say that this is my least favorite part of tri’s. I get out about 300-400 yards and realize that I didn’t check one thing off my list of cleaning my goggles so they would not fog. So now I am in a human washing machine and cannot SEE ANYTHING! Panic starts to kick in. I had to roll over on my back and try to spit in my goggles to get them clean. Actually I have to do this twice. By this time most of the others have gone on by me.

Honestly, I wanted to give up at this point. It was miserable, but I couldn’t quit. The thought of swimming back to shore looking into the face of my family and friends was completely unacceptable. So, what do you do? Put your head down and keep making forward progress. I started to focus on the next buoy. “Just get that buoy dude!” I said out loud to myself. Then go to the next one, and the next.

The swim at GFT is 2 loops of a 1.2 mile triangle shaped course in the lake. As I am coming up to the shore for my first loop I had gotten back in to my swim and felt good. I didn’t know how much the “Panic” moment had costs me in time, but I started to play the game with myself that I wanted to swim the 2nd loop faster than the first. The 2nd loop goes off without an issue and I finish the swim in 1:17. I know that the wet suit helped me with that, but I was still shocked at how fast that was for me. Thanks Coach Larry Blomberg! (My swim coach)

I head up to the transition area (T1) and get ready for 112 miles on the bike. I had decided to change into my normal cycling shorts with the full padding in the seat area. I was concerned how much pain I would have after the bike, on the run. I think this was a good decision for me for this time; I had no issues later after riding that far.

(My whole support crew is in this picture. Rhonda, Mike, Grace, Mocha(our pup), Paul, and Pat. John is taking the picture.)

As stated earlier, this part of FL is NOT FLAT!!! I really felt like I was somehow magically transported back to GA because nothing was flat. The bike course is 3 loops, first one is about 40 miles and has you climb Sugarloaf Mountain. This climb was NO JOKE! The other 2 loops are the same and even though you don’t have to go up Sugarloaf, you still have some stout climbs.

For me, mistake #2 happens here. I did not calculate correctly how many GU’s I needed to pack on my bike and I run out of food halfway through the 2nd loop. The event had given everyone a “Bike Special Needs” bags, but I didn’t think that I needed anything, so I didn’t put anything out there. Mike rode his motorcycle down to support me and another friend of ours, Terrie. John rode with Mike to be able to take pictures of us at various parts of the bike course. They happen to catch up to me a few miles out from me finishing the 2nd loop. Mike calls Rhonda and lets her know I need food. When I come through the start/finish area, Rhonda hands me a cheese sandwich and a pack of peanut butter crackers. That held me for the last loop.

I finish up that last loop and very glad to get off the bike. I know that I didn’t eat as much as I should and know that I will make that up on the run. The run course is not flat, but is on a green way/asphalt trail that motor vehicles are not allowed to travel on. Besides the occasional street crossing, it is a very safe, solid course. The lay out of the run course is also done 3 times. When you leave T2 you head out on a section that is just short of 2 miles, 1 mile out then 1 mile back to the start/finish area. Then you pass the S/F area and head out for almost 3.5 miles and turn around and come back.

After the first 2 mile section, I was able to grab some food and tried to eat quite a lot knowing that I was low on fuel and did not want to be dragging through the last part of the run. I take this loop easier due to all the food I was trying to eat. Also, the aid stations on the run are more like aid stations in ultra runs. GFT had a great selection of food at the aid stations the volunteers seem to be a lot of young teens that more than helpful getting whatever asked for. A lot of the times they would have someone standing about 100 yards away from the aid station and ask you what you wanted and then they would yell up to someone else or sprint up to the aid station to have it ready for you. Fantastic volunteers!!!

So, I am starting the 2nd time of the run section and Mike comes up, like a true coach, and tells me how great I am doing. Then he drops this on me, “You know if you can keep this pace up you have the chance of sub 14 hours.” That’s another bad thing about who your friends are; they know how to push you at events like this!! So, that becomes the focus. Can I keep this pace to be able to get under 14 hours? One thing that I have a big challenge with is math on these events. So, I decide to keep doing the best I can and see what time it is when I get to the last loop.

Also during the 2nd loop all of a sudden I hear “Phil!” It was Jennifer Vogel. She is finishing her last few miles and is heading to the finish line to take first place female. She stops to give me a quick hug and encouragement and heads on for the win.

Another experience that was really cool was on the last time I ran the 2 mile section; Grace rode her bike with me. Mike had told her how to ride behind me and to watch for other runners. This made this section go by in a snap and I was heading out for the last section of the run.

(When Grace wasn’t holding Mocha or playing on the playground, she rode her bike and helped out her old man.)

I get out to the turn around see the sign for mile 23. Just over a 5K to go and I am done! This felt so good and I try to run as best I can, but still have to walk from time to time. I know that Mike is going to be waiting on me after mile 25. I finally see him with less than a mile to go. I have been running at a pretty good pace for the past mile or so and really can’t talk too much. Just as a game he starts running just a bit faster. He knows that will push me harder to stay with him. Honestly, I was playing my own game of seeing if I could possible run off and leave him!! :) My family and friends are there to cheer me in and I cross the finish line 13:43. My first 140.6 distance triathlon and fast enough for 1st place in the Clydesdale 40 – 69 age group (Clydesdale are men 200+ lbs)

This is a great event! I can’t speak highly enough about it. Great first 140.6 distance race, as long as you train on hills for the bike! The RD and all the volunteers where incredibly helpful and the layout of the course makes it perfect to take your family/friends for support.

I have so many people to thank I am concerned I might forget someone, but here goes:

Get Fit crew: You guys are rockstars!

Curtis Henry: The absolute best bike mechanic in ATL. Thanks for all the questions about bikes.

Terrie Tillman: So proud of you doing this race. Thank you for the push of getting my swimming better.

John Ridgley: Thanks for all the direction in this crazy sport and a bigger “thank you” for coming down race weekend for support.

Coach Larry Blomberg: Thanks for getting me through that much swimming without water wings.

Coach Mike Delang: I hope this year is just the beginning of the craziness that we get into. You kept your end of the bargain and got me through this. Now we have a Pinhoti buckle to chase after for you brother!

Paul and Pat Nancoo: Thank you for your help race weekend. I know you took time off from work to be there for us.

Grace: Thank you for riding your bike with me. I truly hope that you pick up on the idea that you can do things that others think are impossible. Love you more than you know!!

Rhonda: I could not have done this without you at all! I know that you have supported me, and sometimes it wasn’t fun. You got me a great tri bike. I KNOW that I have been able to accomplish this due to you. I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH!!

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