Monday, November 12, 2007

Clearwater: The 70.3 World Championship

The last race of the season for the Chance family was the 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, Florida. We brought the kids this time and made a little mini vacation out of it. Clearwater has beautiful sugary like beaches which the kids thoroughly enjoyed. We stayed at the Hilton which was very close to the race site and made it very easy. Other Tulsa area triathletes who qualified for the race and made the trip were Toby Smith, Steve Groden, and Sean Stevens. Sean brought his wife Whitney and her family. We hung out with the Tulsa crew at the beach and pool and had a few meals out. Sean and Whitney had a room adjoining ours which was nice.

The folks at WTC put on a very well organized race. Everything was top notch right down to the finest detail. I didn’t feel like doing this race but did it anyway just to experience it. Dana, on the other hand, was ready to rock it.

We arrived on Wednesday to enjoy the sun and the sand. Unfortunately, a cool front arrived with us and the weather was cold and very windy. The kids complained about the fine sand blowing into their eyes. We had to wear sweat shirts. The water was rough with some pretty stiff current. We tried to make the best of it and enjoyed the venue despite the unseasonable inclement weather.

I came to watch Dana race here last year and there appeared to be a lot more foreigners here competing this year than last. I also noticed that last year they couldn’t give the slots away and this year folks were grabbing them up at the 70.3 races I attended. I feel this race is going to be more competitive as the years pass.

We checked in at a large expo center with ample parking and a large triathlon expo there. It was actually a better set up than Hawaii. The check in procedure was similar. It was very personal and well organized.

Bike and bag check in the day prior to the event was the same as Kona but didn’t have the photographers and all the hype that Kona has. You still got your own personal volunteer that walked you through the transition area and answered all your questions though. The transition area was carpeted and very well marked.

Race morning had the helicopters with the hype and the excitement. Each wave was put into its own separate corral with a volunteer holding a sign indicating the wave. As one wave went off we were moved eventually to the next corral. Again, very well organized and well done. With the helicopters flying overhead and the announcer’s voice calling up the waves, even I was starting to get pretty hyped.

All hype aside, I chose this race to be “C” training race and just came here to have a good time and enjoy the day and preview the course. I might key on this race in the sometime in the future, but today I wanted to experiment and do a few things that I normally wouldn’t do. One was to blast the swim from the start and drop anyone who tried to hang on. I wanted to see how it would effect me on down the line. I usually keep pretty conservative and try to hold something back.

The start is a running one from the beach. You have to be pretty quick off the gun to get to the water first. I found a spot in the front row and dug my rear foot into the sand for a track like start. The starter counted down the minutes and seconds. I looked at my heart rate and it was 90. I was ready. The cannon sounded and I sprung out into the lead. Someone shoved me forward and I lost my balance and cart wheeled my arms and stumbled forward to keep myself upright just barely missing a face plant and becoming trampled by 200 other athletes in my age group.

Miraculously, I was able to stay upright and hit the water first and dolphined out as far as I could then sprinted away. I looked back under my arm and I had already gapped the next guy and put my head down and nailed it. I never felt a foot tap or drafter. They let me go. Alright!!! I was wearing my new Xterra Vector pro wetsuit. I usually hate full wetsuits because I feel restricted in the shoulders, but with the Xterra, I forgot I was even wearing a full suit. I noticed most of the others were wearing the Blue Seventy. I think I had an advantage. I didn’t have clean water for long before I started running into the 45 + age group women.

This slowed me down a bit as I had to navigate thru the red capped mine field. I couldn’t see a thing after I made the turn and headed back to shore. The sun was coming up and my prescription smoke goggles didn’t help at all with the sun’s glare that was blinding me when I tried to sight. I just looked to my right and saw the buoys and to my left and saw kayaks and just maintained the midline. Before long the pier came into view and then I was at the beach. I ran out as fast as I could. The wetsuit strippers did a great job and I was through the transition pretty fast.

I made it to my bike and was off in the lead. I hadn’t been on my bike since Kona. I was pretty busy with work and moving and never got around to unpacking it. So it just stayed in the box until I got here to Clearwater. I knew it would be just a matter of time before someone would catch me. It wasn’t long before number 719 came flying by as I started to crest the bridge off the island. A few other folks in my age group came by now and then but I was riding pretty much on my own until mile 40. At that point I was gobbled up by the packs and just rode along. There was one lane blocked off and there was no avoiding the draft. I was stuck.

At about 50 miles into the ride a marshal rode up to me and flashed me and the Italian guy beside me the red card for drafting. I couldn’t argue, I was indeed drafting. I talked to a race official about this same scenario on my plane ride home from Canada this summer. Big pack, unavoidable, what do you do? He said “sometimes we just pick a sacrificial lamb“. I guess we were both lambs. He didn’t show it to anyone else in the pack just us. If he did the penalty tents would have been overwhelmed.

Anyway, I was kind of glad that I got the card. At that point in the race, I was in the top 10 in the age group and I was thinking seriously about making a run for it when I got in just to see where it would take me. Instead I just took it easy. The race was over for me, I wouldn’t have to put myself into any discomfort. I wanted to recover fast from this race. I was completely shelled after the Kona run, and there was no need to do it again here.

I saw a lot of carnage on the road. One guy in a bloody heap at the side of the road and another was run over by a drafting marshal. I think it was the same guy that showed me the card. I heard police and ambulance sirens.

I read in the paper the next day that 9 people were taken to the hospital for “non-life treating injuries”. This course is pretty dangerous. There just needs to be some hills to break up the packs. 56 miles of flat terrain is pretty unfair to the superb cyclist.

When I got to T2, I went straight to the penalty tent and started my 4 min stopwatch. This was the first time this had happened to me so it was an experience. I should have brought a water bottle, because there were no refreshments for us. I laughed and joked with all the other unfortunate sacrificial lambs. Four minutes is a long time when you are waiting in T2 while the race passes you by.

The run was pretty fun. I usually don’t use Gatorade and Power Gels on the course, this time I tried it just to see if I had any ill effects. It went well with no stomach issues. I did the run at training run pace and cheered on other folks I knew and those that were around me. It was nice and low key with no pain. I pushed the last mile to a 6 minute pace and helped a guy from Switzerland finish strong.

I waited at the finish for all of the TAT members and congratulated them. Everybody broke 5 hrs! Toby Smith went 4:29, Dana went 4:47 and was 17th in her age group, and got a PR for the distance. Sean Stevens went 4:40 and got his PR by 27 minutes! Steve Groden went 4:36. It was a PR for him too. I was really proud of the whole Tulsa crew, they all did great.

The only option I see to make this race safer and more draft free is to close down the roads entirely and give the whole road (two lanes)to the athletes. One lane with all these cyclists is bound to get congested and clogged up. There was nowhere to go, and it’s dangerous to juke around in a pack of triathletes. It would be also ideal to take this World Championship to harder and more challenging course for all three disciplines. The non wetsuit swim, hilly and windy bike, and challenging run of St Croix 70.3 would be a great course, but the difficulty getting there, diminished number of hotels, and nasty rough roads rule it out.


David C said...

Hi Rob,
It sounds like someone has had a very long Tri reason.

Now it's time to put your feet up and have a break from racing and training.

I hope you, Dana and the kids have a very Merry Christmas.

Dave C

Rob Chance said...

Thanks Dave,
It's nice to be done. You have a happy holiday season too :)