Monday, June 8, 2009

FINALLY, the St. Croix report...

This is so late, I know. But I wanted to write some other stuff about training, so I figured I'd post my St. Croix reveiw.
St. Croix is always mentioned in the small list of races that you have to do if you race triathlons. So when my buddy Brennan called and said that he and a friend were headed to St. Croix to do the 70.3, it didn’t take much convincing for me to book my ticket. The humorous part of this little adventure was that it was Brennan and Khalid’s first half ironman. Good thing Khalid never bothered to look at the course profile before signing up, as Brennan would have never jumped on board and I would have never been coaxed into going.
First thing about St. Croix is that it pretty much sucks to fly in to. American Airlines has really outdone themselves in being ridiculous with flight schedules, and equally ridiculous in ripping every dime you have out of your hands just to get your tri gear there. However, you forget about it as soon as you set foot on the island. The people are genuine, upbeat and not in a hurry for anything. And it is OBVIOUS that you are a tourist there, but that doesn’t stop anyone from greeting you on the street and telling you “Good luck Sunday” when you pass. We all went out to the swim start Thursday to get a swim in and check things out. To say the water was clear is a huge understatement. You could easily see 30 feet to the bottom. After the swim, I went to registration before realizing I forgot my I.D. In true island spirit, they said “No problem”, two people who agreed that I was who I said I was worked for them. After registration, we hit up a restaurant that looked good. However, when they told us it was a vegetarian and raw restaurant, we tried to leave. The waitress was heartbroken and pleaded with us to try it. I’ve had break-ups that were less uncomfortable than this little exchange. I don’t think she got it when I told her, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Race morning came early, 4a.m. We loaded up the transition bags, and rode over to the swim start. For a world-class 70.3, the venue is super chill. I was putting my bike on the rack and setting up my transition area, and took a glance around. There were some real age group studs here, and it was pretty clear that this was gonna be a fast day. Keeping with the spirit that everything in St. Croix is just “a little more difficult”, we had to swim across the channel to a little island where the race would officially start. It was a quasi-beach start where it was a drag race for 50 yards, then you take a hard left. When we took off, there was chaos, followed by a hard left, followed by more chaos. The good news is that I didn’t get hit in the head and I got out of the water in a good position. Now, here’s the first of many things I learned in St. Croix (besides that it’s a good place to hide if you have outstanding warrants). Make sure you pre-drive the course, even if it is “only” a half ironman. Good thing for me, THE Jeff Cuddeback gave us some tips and tricks on how to stay out of trouble. The thing that most stuck out in my mind was “Don’t even think about racing until after the Beast. That’s when it starts to get tough”. That was good advice, and definitely helped out. Of course, driving the course would’ve shown the countless sharp turns, pavement, how difficult the backside of the island was, and oh yeah, where the 10 unmarked HUGE speed bumps were on the course. Nothing gets your attention like getting both wheels off the ground at 25mph while you’re in your aero bars. It’s quite an experience…really. A word on the Beast. It is as bad as they say it is. Good thing that the locals have a heart and a sense of humor. They paint the road to show you the start of the climb, and are kind enough to paint each 1/10th of a mile (the climb is 7/10ths of a mile in total) as well as painting the percent grade next to the mile marker. Like I said, those locals are super friendly AND helpful. After you crest the Beast is where the fun begins. That is where the coastal winds start to really hit you, and the shade is nowhere to be found. If you made the mistake (I did) of wearing an aero helmet, the backside of the island is where your head starts to cook. As for me, I kinda felt I went WAY too easy on the bike, but it made me ride strong the last 15 miles of the bike. I was shocked to see how many strong guys were sitting on the base bar just soft-pedaling in those last 15 miles. Being able to ride strong past those guys, and the energy to dodge that rooster (seriously, a rooster on the road) told me I made the right call on riding easy. I came into transition in about 11th for my age group, and knew that the run was going to be brutally hot. Brutally hot isn’t my favorite weather, but being from the swamp of Louisiana, brutally hot is about all the weather that I know. Ice on this course was mandatory. I was stoked to have my K-Swiss K-Ona shoes on, since they are wicked light but also have holes in the bottom for all the water I was dumping on myself to escape. I ran without a watch, but would just run on effort and try to run faster the second loop. When we were running through the golf course, Bryan Rhodes passed me. He didn’t fly by me, which is what I’m accustomed to whenever a pro passes me. This told me I was at least running ok. That 2nd lap was a real gut check. While picturesque, this race is brutal and grueling. I saw some pretty fit dudes and girls walking, or just sitting under a tree blown up. It was quite the sight. In the 2nd time through the golf course, I caught 4 or 5 guys in my age group. I had a nice foot race going with this one guy and thought that I would start my surge like 2 minutes before the 2nd lap turnaround. Well just a head’s up to anyone wanting to do that race, the finish line is NOT just beyond the turnaround. It’s 3 blocks down, then a block to the right, and then 3 blocks back in. So my little surge turned into a ridiculously long time in the pain cave. When the damage was done, the clock read 4:51:00. Not my fastest half ironman time by a long shot, but it was a satisfying finish on a tough course against some truly BAMF triathletes from around the world. Of course, the fun of this race would be the awards ceremony and after-party. I won’t answer any questions directly, but there was a good time had by all, and I do in fact know that Cruzan rum is made in St. Croix and that there are quite a few different flavors of this storied rum. Here are some pictures of said events: