Jan. 11, 2007

Victory in the Big Pine New Year's Day Triathlon!

A Motley Crew IndeedYes, I won the Big Pine Key New Year's Day Sprint Triathlon. 'Cause I was the only person who knew about it. It was my own secret, private race... Time for me to begin recounting my Florida trip.

Chris and I flew down to Ft. Lauderdale (via Boston) on December 30th, where we were met by some friends of my parents who were driving down to join us. It was an uneventful journey, except for an execrable meal at a Long John Silver fast food restaurant on the final drive down onto the Keys, but the total travel time was about 15 hours. While in the Boston terminal we ate "American" fries and watched the TV coverage of Gerald Ford's casket leaving California. There were ten of us bedded down in the beach house Saturday evening!

Sunday was New Year's Eve. We had a quiet morning but after lunch we all (all!) went on a reef cruise on a chartered pontoon boat. We snorkeled in a bay, examining sponges and upside-down jellyfish before heading out to the reef. Chris tried to join my brother-in-law Patrick and myself on the reef, but it was too rough and none of us could see anything in the stirred-up water. We returned to a sheltered island for another snorkeling session and then had grilled Mahi Mahi on the boat as we watched a gorgeous sunset. I'd forgotten how fast the sun sets in the tropics. We were all in bed well before midnight.

A Man and His Borrowed WeaponryMonday was New Year's Day, and all was quiet... I'd joined an internet challenge to do a New Year's Day triathlon though, so I had to think of a way to swim, cycle and run in the area. In the end I decided to do roughly a full Sprint distance. I figured I could swim at a public beach on Bahia Honda Key, cycle along the US 1 Highway that connected the two islands on a borrowed bike and then run along the road behind our beach house. Two problems; the beach was about 9K away and it would be tricky getting the bike there if I didn't ride, and the only bike available was a "cruiser" with big soft tires and a nice bouncy seat... Still, a promise is a promise.

Big Pine Key New Year's Day Sprint Triathlon
Swim: 500M, 09:00 (1:48/100 M)
T1: Indeterminate (twenty minutes?)
Bike: 23.7K, 48.21 (29.41 Kph) surprising given the crappy bike
T2: Indeterminate (ten minutes?)
Run: 5K, 22:51 (4:31 min/K)
Final Time: 1:20:12

I rode the 9K to the Bahia Honda beach while my sister drove the kids there for a swim as well and to watch my borrowed bike. It was a beautiful day and the road was flat, but there was a stiff breeze to ride into. When we reconnected I got set for my swim. The waves were too tempting though. I delayed my race start by half an hour so I could body surf with the kids. Then it was race time... I swam along the beach and then back for a distance I estimated was at least 500M. It had been a long time since I'd swum in salt water. I have a habit of allowing some water into my mouth as I swim, which I then spit back out. It was hard not to notice the salt! Also, were there sharks circling around me? Jellyfish? Eek. The waves were significant enough that I had to modify my stroke, but it was still fun.

My bike courseAfter a rather lazy un-timed "transition" I started my stopwatch and cycled out of the park and onto the Highway. I was worried about the blazing sun because although I had a full bottle of Gatoraid I had forgotten my sunblock. I needed to do a lap and a half of the causeway to get the approximate distance (I measured it later using Google Map through the Gmaps Pedometer site, which is a great tool for runners). The wind was a still a factor, but the worst of it was the ill-adjusted bike with soft tires and a heavily cushioned seat. The bike also had lousy gearing and I spent the whole time in the top two or three gears. Toward the end of what was, in spite of everything, a fun ride my wrists and man-bits began to go numb and my calves felt like they might start cramping. Still, it was great to feel the warm air and see the ocean all around me.

Long Beach DriveNow I was back at the beach house for my second lazy un-timed transition. Because of my late start it was now midday and the temperatures were well into the range of 35C. I had a big gulp of water and a small snack, refilled my water bottle with Gatoraid and headed out into the sun. Our access road, which winds through a mangrove swamp that contains both tiny Key Deer and alligators, easily encompassed the 5K I wanted to cover. I relied on my iPod's pedometer to tell me when I'd reached the turnaround point, and was surprised to hear Paula Radcliffe tell me that I'd set a new personal record for the 5K when I finished.

The sun was merciless though and I had started to fade toward the end of the run, so I was glad to be finished. A plunge into our beach house's pool helped revive me. Of course every great race has a great post-race recovery meal. My mother prepared a seafood extravaganza of grilled tuna steaks, scallop ceviche and a hearty veggie salad for all ten of us.

The hordes started dispersing after that though. Chris and I drove my brother-in-law 40 minutes down to the Key West airport for a sudden short business trip he needed to make and we took advantage of the journey to take in some of the sights there. My parents shifted over to a second rented house with their friends, so that night the house was pretty quiet with just my sister, her two girls and Chris and I in it. It was nice to relax under the stars of a warm tropical sky after the kids had gone to sleep and have a rare chance to talk to my sister.

I have to say Key West left me with mixed feelings. Although there are plenty of quirky old wooden homes to enjoy if you found your way off "the strip" the town seems focussed on selling crappy souvenirs to cruise ship passengers. I think I snapped when I saw a wall covered in joke bikini bottoms with expressions like it ain't gonna lick itself printed on them. Chris and I did manage to avoid the worst of the tourist trappings, mainly by getting lost. We stayed to watch the sunset from Fort Taylor and then drove back to Big Pine Key.

More tomorrow.

Listening to: Nowhere With You by Joel Plaskett Emergency from Make a Little Noise.

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