Conquering The Beast

We planned for St Croix for the better part of 5 months. We had the maps, constant dialogue with the travel agent, the Lonely Planet guide book, and figured we were well prepared for this trip. For the race itself, it was a half-ironman distance triathlon with a good professional field and international flavor set in the Virgin Island of St Croix. It draws alot of people looking for a slot to the World Full Ironman Champs in Kona, but this year, offered slots for the World Half-Ironman Champs in Florida.

Our day began at 3:30am last week. I wasn’t feeling that rested with several nights of twitching legs, in/out sleep, and a bit of anxiousness to get going. Need to just stretch and relax. It would also be a full week where we wouldn’t see temps below 70. The flight was smooth (Gina did well on the Turboprop) as we arrived in St Croix at 4:30pm to a “cooling off” shower on our ride to the hotel. It stopped by the time we unpacked and changed so that we could swim in the ocean. Beautiful: warm weather (70-80 year-round), pool-like water, and a hotel room on the beach. It was quiet too since it is off-season for tourism and most of the triathletes would not arrive until Friday. We ate at the hotel restaurant Big Al’s and it became our choice destination since it was very reasonable and the food was good -plus the nearest market was 8 miles in town. The funniest thing was our tv carried all of the NYC news stations so we were well informed of what was going on back home. I put the bike together and we both called it a night.

We checked out the “city” of Christenstad after our morning routines. I think this is more of a town. The bad part is we were misinformed of the taxi shuttles from the hotel to town. A 15 minute ride is $20 – each way. Everyone was disappointed by this fleecing and had to deal with it. We knew we had to adjust our itinerary so we located all the shops, walked the dock, found a library and church, and sampled the local bakery while picking up our food supplies at the only supermarket. By doing all this, we also got a sample of the heat and humidity and were looking froward to the usual afternoon dips in the pool. We witnessed 2 bike cops make pullovers 5 minutes apart (one was talking on a cellphone!).

We made quick friends of Jack and Tina, who were from Jersey and competing in the first half-ironman. Both were filled with questions, excitement, and loose enough to really enjoy their company. Gina and I pretty much were doing most of our day activities with them surrounding the race. Since they were also at our hotel, we even had dinner with them most nights. They were both a breath of fresh air and made me realize why this sport is fun.

Friday was the organized swim in the harbor where most of the athletes gathered. Since Christiansted is a working harbor, we could only swim here from 11am-12 under protection of the local police. It was interesting to jump off the dock (can-opener) and swim part of the course. I got a feel of the currents and seeing the bouys. The water was warm and clear too. We got back and just tried to be on vacation: relax, read, talk more with Jack, Tina, and her boyfriend Marvin who arrived by then.

The people here are very laid back and reserved. It is the offseason so only people involved with the race were around. It is a city that seems like it is falling apart and you wondered why. My cellphone only worked in town (Gina’s was constantly on roam) and the internet connection at the hotel was very shoddy along with being hardy available. Luckily the library had the best available connection.

Customer service was hit and miss all around.

Saturday our plans were a bit amiss. We got ripped off on the taxi situation and after the mandatory meeting, headed back to the hotel to soak in the pool and try to rest. Originally we were going to stick around town for 4 hours? before Mass, but there was just nothing to do in town by now. That’s how small it is. We were pretty bumed to be limited to what we could do because of this. We also had to be up by 3:30 since the hotel was offering shuttle service into town for race morning starting at 4:30.

Sunday: It was tough to have any type of breakfast at 3:30am. Just not use to it. I did sip on some Amino Vital and eat a cereal bar, but the movement from the hotel, cramming into a van with 6 other people, getting dropped off by the dock by 5am and preparing to be in the water by 6am – just as the sun is coming up – was all a whirlwind. Luckily Gina was able to be with me in the transition area and up to the point I had to jump in the water (normally she isn’t allowed to). It was a bit breezy and overcast so though the weather was warm, you still were a bit cool. We were suppose to swim 200 yard to the Hotel on the Cay, which was an island off the dock that had just the hotel on it. That was cool. Waiting for a half hour before the actual start was not so cool. I chatted with Tina, Manny, and Jack giving a few pep talks and the usual well wishes. No nerves now.

My wave started at 6:39. Beach start. Run wide and hit a line was the plan. Get loose and work my way through the hard current out. Big waves too by the bouys. There were underwater divers at each bouy checking things out – that’s how clear the water was. Taking the current back, I increased my turnover. With the sun sheltered, there was no glare. I made up the stagger on the younger age groups but that doesn’t stop the chaos going into T1. No wetsuits to deal with, but I certainly need a better skinsuit. 36 minutes on the clock for 1.2 miles.

The ride was very hilly. My lack of outdoor hill rides certainly showed here. Wasn’t too comfortable either. That was fine: just work through it, push the hills. The wind picked up. That’s ok, work with it. Then some rain, and a very shabby road that made you worried to take a hand off the bars. Mmmm. Ok, do I chance a hard wipe out on these roads or make sure I have enough to get over the Beast. Yes, the monster hill was to approach at 20 miles. You entered this forest section and before you know it, you have to climb a 14% grade. Damn! But that wasn’t all – it keeps going 7/10 of a mile and climbs up to 25%!!! many walked. I took the advice of another and “snaked” up it in my last gear. Once at the top, it wasn’t too bad after all, but certainly an experience. The worse part was the 10 mini Beasts that made up the rest of the course. My conservative nature reflected the 3:18 ride time, but I was fresh, no flats, and no road rash.

The rain came on/off but it was humid. I ran out of the gate right from the start determined to make up ground as usual. The course took you along a golf course and a section that overlooked the ocean which was nice. But I wan’t into the scenery by now, I was too busy playing PacMan. I saw Tina and Jack as I made my second loop and was happy to see they made it off. I charged to the finish with a 1:24 half-marathon run. By now, I was a bit nauseated. I hugged Gina and she made sure I was alright. Wow! What a challenging course. I knew my time wasn’t good enough for Kona, but how about Florida?

Gina and I cheered on the rest of the crew for the next 2 hours making sure they finished. A few Diet Pepsi’s and an Amino Vita bar was all I could muster to settle my nausea. We shared our stories as we were all elated to getting the job done. On the way back to the hotel it poured like crazy!! I could only imagine how it would have been if this came a few hours earlier. The roads quickly flooded and it was aweful. But we were all too exhausted to worry about that now – a shower at the hotel was what we wanted.

The post race dinner was at the hotel so we didn’t have to go anywhere. We had our own table and got our food as the masses came from the other hotels. With the rain, everyone was crammed into the lobby and there were alot of poeple who probably didn’t get to the food. More stories, experiences, and laughter filled the room. Typical postrace stuff. Once the Kona spots were settled, the Half-Iron slots were distributed and I got one!!! I now get to say I qualified for both a full and half-ironman world championships! With the race in November, it gives me plenty of time to work on things and train for it. Gina is relieved it is in the U.S.

The next 2 days we were literally on vacation. We had plenty of sleep, we took an all day tour of Buck Island (amazing coral reefs and snorkeling along with a chance to swim in some of the blluest waters you’ll ever see), and finished the days with good drinks/dinner at Big Al’s. Gina and I took the time to talk, see the stars, feel the warm breeze as we sat by the pool deck, got sunburned, and realized how lucky we both are. We met some great people here, including a family from Texas who said we could stay with them if we did a race there!

We both have cherished the experiences here.

Now it is easy in the training the rest of the week as we both catch up to NYC life again.

(The worst part now is I’m still waiting for my bike which didn’t make it out of San Juan)

I want to thank Amino Vital for their support as I begin their sponsorship program and Kevin Loughnane for the car parking access at JFK while we were away.

In my next few races I will also be working with Team Polar Heart Monitors on their athlete program as I was nominated to lead the NYC division of triathles for 2006-7. I certainly will need their cycle monitors to better track my training and efforts to improve my bike times.

Final Stats: 83rd Overall out of 550+

11th out of 49 in the 30-34 age group

1st overall run split in age group

11th overall run time (including pros)

Slot to Half-Ironman World Champs, Nov 11th in Clearwater Florida

Next up: Ironman Lake Placid: July 24th

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