A Relay Challenge in Daytona

I ended the year with a truly rewarding race competing in the Sprint Triathlon Relay with Dylan Nolan at Challenge Daytona. Here I will share my weekend experience culminating with the race on the Daytona International Speedway track.

The original thought of competing in this race and as a relay team came a few months ago in a conversation with Lauren Nolan. We were discussing her son, Dylan, and my racing seasons wrapping up at the same time. Dylan was competing in high school cross country and I was finishing my duathlon year. We also reflected how our planned relay in April at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon was canceled due to the pandemic. I knew Challenge Daytona was in December and the buzz about the race was rapidly growing as the amount and quality of professionals from around the world committing to participate was outstanding. Racing on the Daytona 500 track also sounded like a great experience and I only heard great things from previous competitors. So we committed to race with Dylan pulling double duty competing in both the swim and run while I would handle the bike.

Dylan was coming off outstanding cross country and swim seasons. He finished 11th (1st sophomore) in the cross country state championships and qualified for two state championship events in the swim. My thoughts were pretty simple – I gotta up my game even more to match the quality Dylan was going to put on display in Daytona. I had very good training efforts leading up to the race so I felt we were going to be pretty dangerous. In the grand scheme of things, this was going to be a fun race for us, but we wanted to lay it all on the line and crush it.

We arrived at the speedway Saturday afternoon and met Dan Radde who was also racing Sunday to pick up our race packets and check out the venue. We spent a lot of time scoping the extremely long transition area and swim set up. It was a bit confusing determining some of the logistics we would be faced with as it was set up for the middle distance race on Saturday. But we did get an idea of the course and soaked up the amazing back drop of the Daytona 500 Grandstand that seats over 101,000 fans. It was stunning…

We checked into our hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean that Dan arranged. I immediately propped my balcony door open so I could hear the waves. We took the opportunity for some down time and a bit of preparation for Sunday prior to dinner. Before we knew it we were on our way to the Wild Rabbit Bistro. We were meeting Christine and Tim Valdes who competed in the middle distance triathlon Saturday morning. Lauren did a great job finding the restaurant option as the menu had something for everyone.

Dinner was filled with Christine and Tim’s experiences from the morning race providing us intel on what to expect, especially the swim as the water and air temperatures were quite cold and going to be colder Sunday morning. They provided great detail of how incredibly challenging the swim was as they both had thoughts of pure survival early in the plunge but continued on. Everyone we talked to about the swim shared the same theme – that it was the worst or one of the worst swim experiences in their racing lives. Discussion continued over dinner on a variety of topics. It was a really nice night out with great people.

We ventured back to the hotel to continue final preparations and go to bed. Before I called it a night I checked the athlete tracker online to see if the race registration team had fixed an issue they had with our assigned number and it was incorrect. Knowing we would have to fix it early on we planned on leaving the hotel at 4:30 AM so wake-up was 3:15 AM. We arrived at the speedway and ventured over to registration and they told us the issue was fixed. It wasn’t…

Dan and Dylan went to swim start and I was stationed in transition next to the bike. The relay exchanges of our timing chip occurred at the bike location. I ran around inside transition keeping warm and priming the legs for the jump on the bike. Just before 7:00 AM they played the national anthem, shot off fireworks, and sounded the horn for the swim start. I wasn’t aware when Dylan was starting as it was a staggered start due to the pandemic and it was a line-up by first come-first serve. So I continued to stay warm and as I saw the swimmers complete half the swim I put my helmet on and was ready to spot him running through transition.

We were very clear with our roles in the exchange of the velcro ankle strap which had the timing chip and practiced ripping it off prior to the race so that went off seamlessly. I ran out with the bike, passed the mount line, and off I went. The first quarter mile was technical with turns getting out of the infield onto the track so there was a lot of chatter with the cyclists to ensure we were aware of ourselves going into the turns. Once I got on the track it was hammer time. I quickly fell into a good hard rhythm. My venture was 3.5 laps around the track before exiting for the final 3.5 miles of 12.4.

Dylan did such an outstanding job with his swim time I didn’t have any traffic on the track in lap one. As I finished lap one more racers were entering the track and traffic picked up going around the turns with the high angle embankment of the track. There was one moment in lap two where I had to whip up a bit on the embankment to pass and I was cautious to not drive down on the pedal to actually hit the road so I paused for a second before zipping back down on the apron. As lap three began there were more and more racers entering the track resulting in a lot of maneuvering through the competition. It was fun in a way like a running back in football trying to find an open hole to run through. In another way it tested patience to not put myself in a dangerous position squeezing through or around cyclists attempting to pass. There was a lot of chatter on positioning. It was nothing I had ever experienced and it was simply because we were going around a track, doing it counter clockwise and cyclists were all over the place. In a typical race all cyclists stay on the right side of the road and we pass on the left making it simple. This was chaos with cyclists all over the track with a thin apron on the turns.

After 3.5 laps around the track I exited and things opened up again. There were some technical turns but the final mile was a straight shot of pure speed before reentering the track through a tunnel under the speedway back into the transition area. I dismounted the bike into a full blown sprint. The run with the bike was around a quarter mile as we were the last rack in transition. I have never run with my bike at that speed before. I had nothing to save my legs for racing in a relay. I got to our rack and did a mini split in a way as I was racking my bike while kicking my left leg out so Dylan could rip the strap off my ankle. I quickly shared that nobody passed me on the bike so we should be in a good position and then he shot out like a rocket.

When I looked at him exit and then run parallel to the transition area he looked like he was in a sprint to end the race, not start it. I knew he was going to crush the final run as he was channeled for this race. He also had a very technical exit zig zagging through the infield before getting on the track where he would run one lap to the finish line. Just over 16 minutes later he came through the finish with the biggest grin on his face. We shared a hug knowing we gave absolutely everything we had. To do what he did in those swim conditions and then run a 16:16 5k was astonishing! We continued to monitor the race results tracker as with a staggered start you can never be sure about placement until it’s posted. After checking in with the race results official it was confirmed we had won and by over nine minutes with a finishing time of 1:01:37.

At that moment we officially celebrated and continued to reflect on the race. Dan finished and joined our story telling feast along with Lauren, Christine, Tim, and Dylan’s grandmother, Pat. The stories and experiences were endless. Every race presents its own challenges, nuances, rewards and memorable moments.

It was special to experience this with Lauren. What a phenomenal woman she is. She was full of positive energy the entire weekend and our biggest cheerleader. She scoped out countless logistical details making it simple for us to focus on our preparations and race. Thank you Lauren! We felt every part of your positive energy! In one week she will be competing in her first triathlon…I cannot wait to be her biggest cheerleader!

Thank you Dylan for being such a great training and racing partner. You certainly elevate my performance and you bring such high energy with a great attitude. Sky is the limit for Dylan and I look forward to watching him thrive in the years to come. I also hope to sneak in more relays with him…what a fun and rewarding experience!

Thank you Dan for being such a great friend and inspiring triathlete. Your perseverance in that swim and what you did after on the bike and run were outstanding…three – one mile segments at 31 miles per hour on the bike…wow!!! Now on to your next epic challenge…I can’t wait!

Thank you Christine and Tim for being such giving people. Your genuineness in everything you do is touching. The boys learned so much about preparing for what was going to be the most difficult swim of their lives (so far…ha!). Loved hanging out with you and congratulations on your amazing achievements…who would think to compete in a half Ironman distance race here coming right off a full Ironman distance race?!?!? You guys are amazing!

Thank you Mike Rymsza, Rogrigo Januario, and Gail Hurn for the Saturday morning final race prep warm-up and well wishes. I felt your positive vibes in your send off for me. Gail is up next week as well competing in her first triathlon with Lauren. Rodrigo will be competing in his first marathon in January running with training partner Mike who is also racing. What a support team we have!!!

Thank you to everyone for the well wishes prior and post race congratulations. It means so much!

I say this often but this is what it’s all about. I surround myself with positive people doing the things I love to do. I love to train, compete, coach, and have great relationships. I want to create as many experiences I can to live life to its fullest and it’s happening – now! I am crazy lucky to have my circle of friends, family and teammates.

– Add Health to Your Life

Saturday warm-up with team before heading to Daytona – they sent me away with great vibes!!! Gail – Mike – Rodrigo
We made it Saturday to check out the grounds. The boys (Alan – Dylan – Dan) getting ready to race.
Thank you so much Lauren for making this a special weekend!
Relay team excited to be at the track!
It was a super cold early morning at the track for warm ups…
In transition waiting for Dylan to complete the swim…
Racking the bike while kicking my left leg out for Dylan to rip off the ankle strap…precision transition! Yoga classes helped here!
Right after the race. I was so happy to see Dylan. What an effort he put in!!! We were all smiles at this point.
We got to share a proud moment with mom/Lauren!
This man (Dan) did 31 miles per hour in three different one mile segments on his Canyon beauty!!! #power #speed #greatfriend
We may not know how to handle mini helmets but we can swim, bike and run… A fun moment on stage and nobody was injured including the helmets…
We got our act together to pose proudly on the podium.
Super cool awards…

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