The final multi-sport race of the year, the Top Gun Triathlon, occurred yesterday in Fort DeSoto, Florida and lived up to its name. There were 200 Top Gun racers and another couple hundred Top Gun staff, volunteers and spectators making it a beautiful atmosphere for a race. Here I will share my wonderful experience as a coach and friend to so many of these Top Gunners.
I coach for team Total Fitness and we had several racers participating in the triathlon and duathlon events. For two of the participants, Lauren Nolan and Gail Hurn, this was their first triathlon so there was extra built up energy for the race. It was exciting to see the effort and dedication these ladies put into their preparation. Their desire to learn from difficult circumstances along the way was outstanding. They also had many things going right and it was the consistency they put in with all the training and simulations that led them to Sunday morning being prepared to have a great race day.
They also had a wealth of teammates and friends supporting them along the way. The unselfishness in this community is inspirational. Every teammate has helped these two and each other in some way and this was on display leading up to and on race day. Many of their teammates were also competing in the race as well so it set up for a glorious day.
The excitement of race day is special. So many things are going through your head. As I drove to Fort DeSoto I was considering several logistical things as on this day I was coach, not athlete, and had a list of items I needed to scope out about the race logistics. When I arrived I began gathering information about the transition area, helped Gail and Lauren with their set-up and shared information with team about the transition area including entrances and exits.
Just after 7:00 AM we gathered for a warm-up run. It was great to get the heart pumping and the muscles loose. After the warm-up, the swimmers put on their wet suits and the duathletes (run-bike-run) continued with their pre-race preparations. We had four teammates participating in triathlon and four in the duathlon.
With a seasoned group racing in the duathlon I started the race with the triathletes. We ventured to the start where our team completed a brief warm-up swim. The water temperature was 63 degrees but thankfully the air temperature was just above that so it felt much better than a week prior at Challenge Daytona when the air temperature was 52 degrees at race start. Regardless, the water was cold so it was important for Lauren and Gail to get the feel of that again before race start. They both practiced cold weather swims including the days leading up to race so they knew the discomfort they would face. It was relieving to see the two of them stand in the water waste deep chatting after completing their warm-ups. Teammates supporting each other… When they walked out of the water they seemed ready to tackle it.
Dave “Captain” Morrow and Glen Renaud were also ready to go. These two gentlemen have raced many times before and knew the drill. Dave was the first one in the parking lot, beating me somehow (ha!), and was a super teammate all morning offering his wealth of racing experience with our team. The start to the swim was self-seeding so there was a very long line walking up to the start flags and timing chip mat where two racers began the swim every five seconds.
The horn went off and the races started for both the triathlon and duathlon. Now the fun also began for me running to different locations on the course to support the team. I followed the swim to start and then moved to transition. Lauren came out of the water looking great along with a quick time. She was already peeling her wetsuit off as she was running out of the water, a signal her head was functioning well and thinking ahead. She had a good run into transition, and was quickly out on the bike. Dave, Glen, and three of our duathletes were already out on the bike course. The duathletes who I missed after they had blistering first runs were Dylan Nolan, Tyler Galley, and Karoline Muehlfellner. I did get to cheer Lauren, Gail and Don Whalen (duathlete) as they made their way through the transition to the bike.
Then it was a sprint to the road where we could see the bikers twice as they had to make an out and back loop and then some. The variance in facial expressions was quite different. There were total focus looks, discomfort expressions and huge smiles. Our two first timers looked strong and in control. It was a beautiful thing to witness…
In the duathlon – Dylan, Tyler, and Karoline were leading the race and Don was not far behind. In the triathlon, Dave was near the top racers and Glen looked in control as well. Lauren and Gail were continuing to charge ahead… Then it was time to race back to transition to see some of our racers come in and go out for the final run, a 5k finish. This was an out and back run on the asphalt trail to and from the North Beach.
This is when magic played out for our team and the vast field of racers. These are the moments when you learn so much about yourself. What do I have left in the tank? Why am I doing this? Can I push a little harder? Why do I want to push a little harder? I have discomfort here…how do I manage it?
I had the opportunity to run by a lot of racers sharing encouragement. The smiles in return were priceless. There was genuine appreciation for simply being out there completing the race. What a community and I am so happy to be a part of it and this sport.
Back to the race… what transpired was more magic and the result of hard work and perseverance. For our first timers:
- Lauren – overcame a 2:13 deficit going into the 5k run and won her age group by 2 seconds!!! She also set a personal record in the 5k by one minute and she set the previous personal record in a straight 5k, not after swimming a quarter mile and sprinting 10 miles on a bike. It has been so rewarding to be a part of her journey in this sport.
- Gail – also had a podium finish, coming in third in her age group! Gail has been running for several years and decided at age 67, to complete her first triathlon. Gail has always been one of the biggest cheerleaders for her teammates so it was great to turn the tables and have so many people there cheering for Gail!
- Lauren and Gail – these ladies thrived in their first triathlon and what I have witnessed is this – it was no surprise as they knew their “why,” were consistent in their training, and demonstrated the ability to learn and fail along the way to get to this day. They practiced in terrible conditions and were prepared to face adversity on race day. No hacks here…they put in the work and it paid off.
Our two additional great triathlete competitors on this day:
- Dave – this World Champion at age 67 placed 11th overall and won his age group. At age 67 Dave ran a 21:50 5k and that was in a triathlon! Dave was all over the place prior and post race helping our teammates set-up, answer questions and take video footage to send to Coach Celia Dubey as she was in the Bahamas. I have not seen a competitor do the analysis and race preparation like Dave and he shares everything with his teammates…
- Glen – I’ve just been working with Glen recently and learning quickly how much he wants to learn and make improvements. Glen had an excellent swim and bike splits placing him 3rd place in his age group (with Dave) and within the top 1/3 of the entire field.
We had great stories in the duathlon race as well:
- Dylan – after winning the Challenge Daytona Mens Relay last Sunday, Dylan went out and had the fastest first run, bike, and final run splits of the entire field and won the overall race! He ran a 17:27 5k to finish a most spectacular race.
- Tyler – a most impressive performance as he had the second fastest run splits and third overall bike time finishing 2nd overall and over four minutes ahead of the third place finisher.
- Dylan/Tyler – both in high school and the greatest kids with positive attitudes and support each other!
- Karoline – this Team USA teammate won the overall female race by three minutes and closed out a most stellar racing year…currently ranked #1 in the country! Her consistency in training is fantastic and she pushes the limits…
- Don – this week Don didn’t know if was going to be able to race as a nagging calf injury crept into his Achilles Tendon. On race morning he said he would give it a go and would see if he could finish. He not only finished the race but he placed 9th overall male. The look on Don’s face post race with the sense of accomplishment was fantastic. He gritted out the discomfort and it paid dividends in how he felt closing out the year.
What it’s all about
There were so many people emotionally invested in this day for our athletes. I don’t want to leave anyone out as there were countless family, friends and teammates who were there to provide support and cheer! They were out there at 7:00 AM on a Sunday morning… This community pays it forward in an amazing way.
It makes such a difference when you are out there laying it on the line to have your circle cheering you on. Our athletes felt our love and support on this day. I remember my first triathlon and know how memorable this day will be for Lauren and Gail. They deserve every bit of endless joy and sense of accomplishment for doing what they did to get to the start line and then execute a beautiful race.
As a coach and friend to them, all our teammates and triathlon community I know I am a fortunate person to be a part of it and their lives.
– Add Health to Your Life