Saturday, May 13, 2006
St. Croix Ironman 70.3 Report: The Swim (Part 2 of a Series)
The yellow concrete fort overlooking the Christiansted wharf was build by the Danish West India & Guinea Company in 1738 to protect its interest in the lucrative sugar trade with Europe. The large black cannons across the top of the fort were placed in defense against possible invasions by the Spanish, French, and pirates that rode the seas. Little did King Christian VI of Denmark know that someday his island would be invaded not by sword brandishing marauders but instead by Lycra wearing swimmers pedaling two wheeled machines.
The race plan in its simple form was to pace myself. To not feel like I was exhausted except for final few hundred yards to the run finish. My planned average heart rate for the entire triathlon was be 155 beats per minute. Except for the times I would be either climbing with the bike or running the hills I would stay within a zone of 140 to 160 beats per minute. I set my Polar s625x watch to sound an alarm if I exceed the top of the zone.
Several waves had already left the shore of the Cay and were churning salt water when my wave was ordered into the on-deck coral. “Purple caps, you’re next!” I spit into my goggles, rinsed them with fresh water, and strapped them to my head. Fifty middle-aged men stepped knee deep in the ocean and waited for the air horn to blast. My monitor’s alarm started go off when my feet touched the water. It read 161 beats per minute and I had yet to swim a stroke. Beep... beep. Beep... beep!
I high-stepped into the water until it covered my waist and then dove in. All I could see under the water was a mix of sand, bubbles, and feet. Swimming and jujitsu really don’t go together but I had no choice but mix it up too. A slight push here and a pull there and I was able to carve a swiming space all to myself but not for long. At the first left turn, 20 yards after the start, a water polo match broke out, then, without warning (like there ever is a warning), I was kicked in the mouth and pushed under from the middle of my back. I gulped in a mouthful of the sea and struggled to get my head above water. Cough! Cough! I started to breast stroke to get my bearings. My tongue felt numb and stomach heavy. Beep-beep! Beep-beep!
Right in front of me was someone swimming freestyle and I pulled in behind him to catch a draft. A few strokes into it I began to cruise. Beep-beep… beep… then silence. It felt like my draft partner and I were making good time but after a couple of minutes he broke his stroke and began to tread water. We both looked out to sea and it was clear we were off course. I corrected myself and swam towards the other purple caps ahead. Beep… beep!
Sea water doesn’t agree with me and I let out a huge burp. I decided to breast stoke for a while as the waves began to white cap and break above my head. Ten breast strokes at a slow pace and then twenty left hand strikes in the crawl stroke was my new plan. This worked pretty well and soon I was at the first yellow triangle buoy for the first turn to the right.
By this time I started to pass a couple of people in the wave that started ahead of mine. It was also at this time I was being passed by people in the wave that started after mine. A rainbow of colored caps bobbed in time with the waves as we made the second right turn and headed towards Fort Christiansted.
The waves were coming from behind us and other than the occasional wave cresting over me and screwing up my stroke I felt good. I continued alternating between breast and crawl strokes and catching a draft here are there. Burp… burp! My heart rate monitor had been mostly silent. Burp… burp! My stomach wasn’t enjoying the ride at all. Stroke, glide… stroke, glide… stroke, glide and burp. I was ready to get out of the water but had a quarter mile to go.
The eastern corner of Ft. Christiansted marks the final 400 yards and I made up my mind to stay in the crawl position for the rest of the leg. Sighting ahead wasn’t necessary at this point. Just stay parallel to the wall and the swimmers will all but run into the boat ramp exit.
As the ramp came closer I could hear the cheers of the spectators. One final left turn and 20 yards later were two volunteers pulling swimmers from the water. I saw my coach and TNT team manager sitting on the dock. The team manager was waving her Texas State flag. I gave them a thumbs-up and put my hands out towards the volunteers. In unison they hoisted me out of the harbor and slung me up the ramp to T1.
I felt good. Surprising fresh. Other than the queasy stomach and swollen tongue I felt fine and ready to bike. Beep… beep! My time was 44 minutes. That’s over 10 minutes faster than last year at what felt like half the effort. Things were going pretty good.
The first transition took less than two minutes to get through. My shoes were already clipped into the pedals and sunglasses were in my bento box so all I had to do was put on my helmet, take a swig of Gatorade, and grab my bike.
The race was being broadcast live over a local radio station and it could be heard over the loud speakers in transition. A voice was talking about loose gravel on the road near The Beast and the rain moving in from the east. The pros would be at The Beast soon as I mounted my bike.