In this race, The Girlfriend learns that she has options, I make a wrong turn that almost costs me everything, a relentless attack of beasties almost defeats me, the trade winds block my path and I have an encounter with a slow clapper.
I have some good friends who live on the island of St. Croix. They moved out a year ago, to settle permanently. And as I was slowly recovering from my summer accident
at Vineman, in a fit of inspired weakness, I decided to sign up for St. Croix. An opportunity to see them and to do a race in an exotic locale.
When I told my coach, Adam Hodges, his response was unexpected:
Sounds good. That’s an epic race. Not that Hawaii isn’t, but St. Croix has more of a history plus that infamous climb named “the Beast.” Should be a fun destination race!
My response was:
Followed quickly by:
What do you mean by epic?
All of a sudden this didn’t seem to be a good idea.
And doing research on-line was terrifying. There are some race reports from 2013 that make this race sound like a blood bath. People on stretchers, people on the side of the road, blood and guts spilled everywhere.
What had I decided to do?
Like every race, there is a bunch of pre-race activities, where you sign into the race, and listen to some organizer explain the event in detail.
Because we are triathletes,
we showed up to an outdoor talk.
Normals when they see this:
stay inside. They do not get into a car, drive so they can sit in the pouring rain to hear about a race they have to do the next day.
And that’s when I met the girlfriend. She was on a bike, miserable in the pouring rain. And we started to talk about Ironman and races. And she asked what races I did, and I told her about Hawaii, and Vineman. And then she said that this was her first race and racing was the only way she could ever see her husband or boyfriend – not sure which. Walking in the torrential rain, drenched and miserable her body language was one of despair. And then she asked about my wife, and I said:
My wife doesn’t race. In fact, the only reason I get to do these races is by going to cool places where she gets to just hang out on the beach.
And you could see the light bulb go off, the heavens part and she realized that maybe there is another way.
Leaving registration, I saw her crazy boyfriend asking her in the pouring rain if she wanted to practice swapping a tire now…
The wrong turn
The weirdest thing about the St. Croix race is that you have a short swim before you have the swim. You swim to Protestant Cay Island and from there do the 1.2-mile swim to the fort where the bike transition is.
The swim, is impressive. The water is warm and clear. The only problem with the race is that the organizers were not prepared for 180 swimmers.
Usually, this race gets over 1000 people. Today, for many unexplained reasons, the race had 180.
There was a moment where I thought, hmm… if this goes sideways for enough people, I could see Kona. Then I spoke to the enough people. And then I stopped thinking about Kona. There was a guy who went so fast in Chile that he arrived at the run before the run was set up.
With a 1000 people, for those of us who are not in the lead pack, the easiest way to site is to follow the swimmers around you. When there are only 180 people, there are moments when you can’t see anyone ahead of you or to the side or behind.
And that’s when having many buoys helps. Or visual landmarks. Or you know, not being that triathlete.
And yes, I became that triathlete. I swam off course. The good news is that someone got in front of me, and re-directed me to the right buoy. The bad new is that I added 300 meters to 2000 meter swim. My wrong turn took my projected time from about ~40ish minutes to 47 minutes.
Those extra seven minutes lost would loom large over the rest of the race as each cut-off was very close.
A trope in every great horror movie is the local dude who sees folks about to do something and warns them of the dangers. Like Crazy Ralph in Friday the 13th who goes around saying
Doomed. You’re all doomed!
The day I registered, there was a local who saw us cyclists and said:
Beware the beast. The beast! The beast!
This beast is the single most talked about feature of this race. There are youtube videos, blogs, and reports that all speak of the beast. And yes the beast is a beast.
The climb is steep with a grade of 14% that reaches 21% with optional sections of 26%. And it’s 20 miles in and after a swim. And you have to conserve enough energy to finish the remaining 30 miles. And it rightfully is the single most scary bit of climbing in this race.
And I conquered the beast. While others walked up this monster, I pedaled my way up. The pace was faster than walking. The actual speed is protected under the patriot act for national security reasons.
Unfortunately, the beasties crushed me. What are the beasties?
In most bike rides you have a crushing hill and then a series of rollers. In St. Croix you have a crushing hill, and then a series of rollers that have grades that routinely go over 8%. Each of these steep climbs hurts. And they are so short that can not get into a rhythm. And each hill hurts.
And two hills before the end there were the two hills that almost ended the ride. The only thing that made it possible for me to finish was my wife and kid and our friends who cheered me on.
As I was going up Cramp Hill, I suddenly stopped. My legs were hurting so much that I couldn’t move them anymore. I had to roll to a complete stop.
And for a moment, I thought about quitting. And I remembered the Girlfriend, who told me that this might be the last St. Croix 70.3 and that I might never get a chance to do this again. And then I remembered my friends who were waiting to cheer me on.
And my son who had made this poster:
And so there was no way I was l letting them and myself down. And here I am rolling towards the last beastie of the day. I think if you look hard, you can see a smile.
Or maybe it’s a prayer: Why God? Why do we have to do this last climb?
The trade winds
If the beasties weren’t enough to make me hate my life, there were also the trade winds. These winds blow east to west. Unfortunately, I was going west to east.
Endless miles of road and beasties and headwind. Headwinds that you know are not going to stop. I mean, global warming may cause them to stop eventually, and that will not happen on this day.
What made this ride particularly cool, in spite of the trade winds and the beasties was that there was nobody there. For miles, I was the only cyclist. The roads were closed. And the ride was supported. And along the way, some folks stayed until the very end to cheer me on. The race leg of this 70.3 was the perfect solo bike ride.
And I would have been able to enjoy my ride along this quiet road with spectacular views if it wasn’t for the Garmin Fenix 3. My Garmin decided to die on the bike leg. In a very particular and peculiar way. The Garmin got stuck in a mode where it would beep when my heart rate went over 135 bpm or below 125. Because of the beasties and the descent and the trade winds, this meant that I had an accompaniment of
Beep, beep… Beep. beep! Beep!
For four hours.
And the slow clapper
With the Garmin Fenix 3 dead, the beasties, the cramps, the head wind and the wrong turn, coming into T2, I was uncertain if I was going to make the cut-off and lo and behold I made it. By a lot. At least 240 seconds. That’s a lot. A lot. A lot. A lot. I mean that’s an eternity. The split between the race winner and #2 can be less than 240 seconds, so that’s a huge time difference.
Getting off the bike, I got through the transition in record time and started the run. As I started the run, I reminded myself that there is no stress. I had 1 hour and 40 minutes to complete 6 miles. And I began to walk.
Well, it turns out that I had 1h and 30 minutes. See the cut off was 6.5 hours. Not 6 hours and 50 minutes.
And that’s when Natasha started to drink again. See we have this theory that if Natasha is drinking, good things happen. If Natasha stops drinking bad things happen. Last year at Vineman, she started to drink after I broke my collar bone and within 5 minutes Kwun Han and Jason Chan and Kurt Watanabe showed up and saved me. This year she started to drink, and I suddenly decided that rather than walk, I should at least try to run.
I made the cut-off with at least 180 seconds to spare. A staggering amount of time.
Later, when I discovered my error, I understood why everyone was cheering me so hard. I was thinking, how nice; little did I realize how close I was to failure.
On the second loop, secure in the knowledge that I had two hours, I decided to pick up the pace a little bit.
And then the rain began. In St. Croix, the rain is not some minor event. In St. Croix when it rains, you’re running through ankle deep puddles.
Unlike other races, in St. Croix the support staff doesn’t just pack it in when the rain comes. I had musicians still playing, and young teenagers race up to me to give me water and coke and bananas in a torrential downpour. God Bless you folks. Your support is why more than 180 people must show up to this great race!
After mile 9, at one of those fueling stations, in the Buccaneer Resort, I got a slow clap.
A fellow triathlete looked me in the eye and then started to slow clap. I was in shock, a slow clap? Was I in a teen movie? And yet here I was in a race, and some guy was slow clapping. And when I asked why, he said
Because you are still here running in this rain.
The slow clap was the second biggest accomplishment of my triathlete career. A slow clap. I got a slow clap. How many people get a slow clap in pouring rain? Seriously? How many?
And with that the final push into St. Croix began.
The coolest part of the finish is that you run through the city. I mean it’s so cool to have the finish line 40 feet away from you and have the volunteers tell you that you have one more mile to go. And through the streets of Christiansted, I ran. And when I started to walk, another fellow triathlete urged me to push on and in the pain and the misery and the rain I started to run again, and I felt good.
Crossing the finish line wasn’t quite the huge rush that Hawaii was. And yet, this race was epic.
Thank you, Garmin
During the run, all 2h50minutes my Garmin beeped. Beeped. And Beeped. I almost threw it in a ditch. And I thought if Garmin doesn’s do right by me I am going to go all social media on them.
Like the last time I lost a Garmin in a race, the folks at Garmin came through offering to replace my busted Garmin for free.
Go, team, Garmin.
And thank you support staff
When I got home after the race, my friends and kid cheered my arrival
I could not have done this without your support.
This. Is. An. Epic. Race.