I forged three pretty special bonds on Saturday competing in my final duathlon race of the year at the Great Floridian Triathlon via Clermont, Florida. Here I will share about what transpired in what I will call a brutally fantastic race and everything surrounding it.
This race is one of the longest running multi-sport races having it’s first event in 1991. The Clermont area is well known in the cycling and triathlon circles for its challenging hills and the grand daddy of them all, Sugarloaf Mountain, which is the fifth highest elevation point in the state of Florida and includes a 16% grade incline up 200 feet.
I was originally participating in the race as a final tune-up for the USA Duathlon Long Distance National Championships which were scheduled in mid-November before being canceled due to COVID-19. In late September USA Triathlon announced the cancellation of both the Sprint, Olympic, and Long course championships on consecutive weeks, taking the motivation out of all of us who were signed up.
I still wanted to participate in this race to see if I could enhance my overall performance in a long distance format as the national championship last year in Miami was a significant challenge for the body and mind. In preparation for the race I made a few pre-race nutrition changes and had a plan for my run paces and heart rate ranges. I reviewed the weather conditions and knew it would a challenging environment with temperatures reaching 88 degrees along with our typical Florida humidity…even in late October.
The event would host three different long race formats – Triathlon (Swim-Bike-Run), Aqua-Bike (Swim-Bike), and Duathlon (Run-Bike-Run). For the duathlon race the distances included a 3.1 mile run, 40 mile bike, and final 8.3 mile run.
Leading up to the event I knew it was going to be a challenging day as I knew two of the top age group duathletes in the country were racing. These guys are fellow Team USA teammates Jon Bass and Sean Keeney. Jon and I met at a few races previously and we connected online from time-to-time to see how we were doing. He now lives in Tennessee so our race intersections are a bit sparse.
Sean and I met at my first duathlon race in 2019 when I realized what a competitor he was. He lives in Pinellas County with me so you would think we would be in the same race circles more often but that was the last and only time we raced together. Schedules and life take us in many directions… But we have interacted with each other at events and know each other a bit as well.
I also would be traveling with Total Fitness and Team USA teammate, Dave Morrow, who was competing in the Aqua Bike event. Dave and I met Friday night for dinner. We had a long discussion about the race as we both did a considerable amount of preparation about the course dynamics. Dave is the most meticulous preparer I’ve ever seen. He was a commercial airline pilot and if all pilots prepare like this man we should all feel safe in the skies.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and turned in. The alarm always goes off quickly on race morning and out to the venue we went. The sunrise was spectacular as the first wave of participants began at 7:30 AM. There were a few different distance races going on and with that in play we didn’t start our races until 9:35 AM.
I went through my typical pre-race warm-up routine with a slight pull back on duration as I knew I needed to save every bit of energy for the long and hot effort. Dave and I spent most of the preparation time together going through final checks of our gear and plan. Prior to the race I met up and chatted with Jon, Sean and Sean’s wife, Jeanne. We wished each other good luck and before you knew it the gun went off.
Jon and I started with a quick pace off the line and I heard Sean shout, “you guys are crazy!” Oh how crazy things turned out… Jon’s running ability is fantastic and he set the pace as he pulled away from me a half mile into the 3.1 mile first run. My legs felt fantastic in this first leg as I ran faster than my targeted pace but under control of my body and heart rate.
Jon led after the first run by a good margin, I was second and Sean was fourth. Out on the bike we went… I felt good on the bike with a few things going through my head over time – somewhere in the late 20 mile mark of the 40 mile course my lower back began to numb up and my heart rate was consistently five beats higher than I targeted but less than when I blew up in Miami so I gambled with keeping the effort knowing the heart rate was a bit high. I was totally fine experimenting with this race so I went with it knowing I was still lower in heart rate than in Miami but still a bit high. Test the limits has always been my mindset and then dial back… Most of the time it works and sometimes it doesn’t… #learn #goforit
At mile 30 we completed the Sugarloaf climb. At some point you have to come off of your bike seat to pedal as you climb the epic hill. When I reached the top my lower back loosened up! #win That change in movement eased the stress on the vertebrae and I had some relief. After the climb we then had a descent that was so much fun! I went the fastest I’ve been on a bike topping out at a speed of 45.9 miles per hour. #rush
The final five miles of the bike continued to wear on the body as it simply is one difficult course. I did however go into transition thinking my body was in good condition to complete the final 8.3 mile run in discomfort but manageable. Oh to be positive…ha!
How Things Change
The final run course started from transition going north on a trail for two miles before completing a u-turn, passing the transition and going another two plus miles the other direction before completing a final u-turn for a two mile run to the Finish Line. This would give us two times to see where each other were in relation to the u-turns.
At this point Jon was still in the lead but I didn’t know by how far and I knew Sean would be right behind me as his bike strength is incredible. And that is the way it ended up as Sean moved into the third position after his strong bike leg.
As I was still heading up to the first u-turn I finally came up on Jon who was on his way back and he looked strong. I estimated I was three to four minutes behind him which was a huge separation. I felt really good in mile one and ok in mile two. After I completed the u-turn and got to mile three I saw Sean charging and he looked strong as well. I estimated I had a four or five minute lead on him. Mile three felt ok but I was now feeling a decent amount of discomfort. In the fourth mile things began to change in a bad way. The legs began feeling much heavier and the head was wavering a bit.
At the four mile marker which was back at transition on the trail there was a table where I slowed to grab a cup of ice and water and the change in run stride resulted in a full blown Charley Horse in my right hamstring. I was now stopped trying to release it. I blew at least 30 seconds there and finally got going again.
That mile everything changed. I was in and out of cramping, my pace slowed to a point where now a four or five minute lead on Sean could vanish in a heart beat as I didn’t know if my body would be able to go again at a pace needed to stay ahead. Somewhere after the start of mile five I threw up and the pace again was a mess. I was stopping and starting and thinking my lead was in major jeopardy. I wasn’t even thinking of Jon. Even if I was keeping the pace I targeted Jon wasn’t going to be catchable but you never know what happens in these races so you fight for everything every step and give yourself a chance.
I continued stopping and starting. We were exposed to the sun and heat in a grand way. At each of the final aid stations I was grabbing ice cups and pouring them down the inside back of my top. It rested nicely on my lower back while running. From mile five to six I was in complete misery. My head was gone and I don’t even know if I could feel my legs. Only because I was starting and stopping I continued to look back to see if I could see Sean.
As I was still going out to the final u-turn I finally saw Jon running back and he looked good still. Was this Superman? When I got to mile six and didn’t see Sean behind me yet I thought to myself – if Sean got close enough at this point I could muster together one final effort to the finish. At least that was what was in my head and the most positive thought that went in it in quite some time.
I continued to motor if that’s what you can call it, completed my final u-turn and finally saw Sean. He looked good too! What the heck was wrong with me if these two looked good?!?!?
I struggled to mile seven starting and stopping still and in full survival mode. I looked back and didn’t see Sean again. Jon was probably already in his car heading back to Tennessee I was thinking… I continued the pursuit to the finish line and finally it was there. Once I crossed I went to a point far enough ahead and fell to two knees. I was in so much pain while also being so relieved it was over. Within a couple seconds I had someone pouring cold water over my head and neck…like a couple bottles.
And who was this? It was Jon Bass! The winner of the race waiting there for me and Sean and taking care of me when I was hurting like hell. I finally got up and moved to the side. After a few minutes Sean came through. He was stronger than I as he didn’t go to his knees but he was hurting too. I had water ready for him as well and poured it on his head and neck.
The three of us staggered to the side of a pavilion where we sat overlooking the finish. I think I had 10 bottles of water in five minutes…
A Commiserating Bond
This is where the beauty of what we do comes out. We simply hung out sharing our emotions, epic struggles and gratification. As I noted earlier each time I saw them on the trail they looked good and I was wondering what the heck… They thought the same thing. Jon said I looked “really good” when I was dying! I thought the same of them and they were dying.
We were all in survival mode. What I described for me was similar to what Jon expressed. He had some thoughts it was slipping away and looking back to see if I was making a charge and I was doing the same with Sean. We each fought like hell to finish the race like we did. As much as my body was failing me in those final four plus miles it was the mental fight I am pretty darn happy about.
The commiserating with these two men and fierce competitors was something I will never forget. I definitely got to know these two more after the race and Jeanne was such a trooper there the entire day supporting Sean and taking pictures of us all. What a great couple they are.
As we were sharing our experiences I came to find out Dave Morrow was in the medical tent after his Aqua Bike race. The day took its toll on Dave as well. He finished fourth in the race and he also had fantastic competition. After I said my good byes to Sean, Jeanne and Jon, Dave and I put towels down and rested up against his car for over an hour just recapping the day and giving our bodies a chance to rest.
I learned a lot more about Dave in the two days as well and I’m so happy we got to spend this 1:1 time together to deepen our friendship. What a competitor this guy is and we have the same sense of odd humor.
Around 4:00 PM I left the race site and stopped at a Tropical Smoothie for some food. I still hadn’t eaten post race so I was ready but I had drank so much I didn’t really feel hungry. As I got to the counter I almost threw up again. I was so nauseous… Thankfully for those there I didn’t and stumbled out to my car.
I then started a long ride to south Florida as I was headed to Key West. After two hours in the car I stopped to go to the restroom and as I got out I Charley Horsed four times in the same right hamstring. I only laughed this time I think in part knowing I didn’t have to start running again…
I am so thankful for racing my ass off with these two incredible athletes and men. They made me better on this day and I’m so fortunate to have been able to spend the time with them after the race to get to know them better. Team USA Duathlon is in good shape with these guys… And thank you Jon Bass for not being in my age group!
I am thankful for the time I got to spend with Dave Morrow. Hanging out talking shop with this “attention to detail” man you can only get better.
I am thankful for Jeanne Keeney being out there supporting Sean and us along with taking photos and ensuring we were walking in the right direction as I don’t think we could think logically post race.
Thank you Team Total Fitness for the video and/or text shout outs race morning prior to start….those get the mind in a great place – Celia, Rodrigo, Don, Karoline, Lauren, Elia, Dan, Morgan…and if I missed someone I’m sorry…blame it on the race day head issues…
Thank you to all the shout outs after the race to everyone…what a circle I have…thank you, thank you, thank you!
I capture all my learnings from this race and the season and move on…what a year!
As much as I love all of this I am happy my duathlon season is over. I am going to take a couple weeks to rest the body and mind and do what I feel like doing when I feel like doing it…because I want to.
During this time I will be finalizing my off season training plan which I’m really excited about…more to come…gotta get stronger and faster! Dr. Mike – we have a lot of work to do!!!
I will then begin more run specific training and target a few run races in the winter months to enhance my run performance once duathlon season begins in 2021.
I will do a few fun excursions including one I’m on right now in Key West…
I will also do one more multi-sport race by year-end and I’m only doing it as it will be a blast! I will be a teammate with Dylan Nolan at Challenge Daytona in December as we will compete in the Sprint Distance Triathlon Relay. Dylan will be completing the swim and run portion while I will be on the bike. We won the 2019 St. Anthony’s Triathlon Relay and could not defend our title (COVID cancel) so we will be coming out in full force in Daytona… I cannot wait to race with Dylan again…an incredible young man who is SUPER FAST!
I will of course continue coaching the fantastic people of Team Total Fitness helping them reach their goals whatever they are… Love my team…
What a combination of experiences that make this so rewarding. If things weren’t difficult it wouldn’t make this so rewarding. Stretch yourself and share experiences with each other…what a powerful thing for the body and mind…
– Add Health to Your Life