I think the more you overplan for something, the easier it actualy does get. Sound simple, but that was how this whole trip went. This was my final race of the year and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I felt real good and we both needed a vacation from the city. Despite a flight time change just a week ago, I had to cancel our van reservation while Gina managed to secure a local company here so we didn’t have to get up at 3am. Sure enough, we left the house at 4:50 am and were at our gate by 5:20. Amazing indeed. That left us plenty of time to relax, read the paper, and of course a little Starbucks. The flight went well and we landed in Tampa by 11am. We had almost 3 hrs before my sister Anjie would arrive since we were taking her with us in the private van I reserved. This gave us plenty of time to scan every inch of Clearwater International and of course, louge near a bigger Starbucks. My other sister -Lisa - would be arriving on a later flight and meeting us at the hotel.

A good 40 minute ride to the Sheraton Sand Key Resort gave us a good time to soak up some sun and see how calm and quiet of a place we were about to enter. It had its own park, access to the beach, outdoor heated pool, and 3 restaurants. Our resident bellhop was Bill who reminded me of a pure Italian guy from NJ that he was. Accent, body language, you name it. But he was also probably one of the best the hotel had. We pretty much asked him whatever we needed and Anjie even provided him with advice on how to make a better meat sauce. He even provided us with free glass of wine vouchers at the main dining place – Rudy’s.

From here Gina and I settled in, unpacked and quickly went to register at the expo which was in the lobby. Here I got to meet Madonna Buder who I haven’t met in 10 years. She’s what I consider a rock star in the sport at 75 years old and a great blessing to encounter before big race. I got “branded” with my race braclet ID and we were set. Lisa soon arrived and we all went out for a nice dinner to end a long travel day. Bed time never got later than 10:30 each night.

The bedswere sooooo comfortable. And with our shades closed, man, sleeping in was the move. Of course we were still up by 7am. The sun was warm all week but a bit windy Thursday. I rode down the Gulf Blvd watching the older folks strolling up/down while also checking out the area and amazing houses. Then it was a quick run toward the Pier 60 where all the action for race day was to occur. I met Gina there who had my wetsuit and I was going to go for a practice swim. Man the surf was rough. I couldn’t believe it. The Gulf of Mexico was warm, but I felt I should be riding a board rather than swimming. I got a bit concerned but later learned from the locals (and Mark Allen himself ) it was unusal only because of the windy day. Race day would be calm and placid. I hoped.

It was a long morning and both Gina and I needed our fix. problem was there was not a Starbucks around at all – seriously. Lisa even went on a semi withdrawal during the time we spent there. Dunkin D kept us running alright which was next to the hotel. Anjie and Lisa made it their vacation by doing their own thing. Anjie did her walks, Lisa worked out in the hotel gym and they took a few trips on the local trolley together, finished with a walk on the beach and some reading by the pool. My intention was for them to do exactly that since they have been a huge support for me this year.

We had some spicy Thai for dinner that night and made what would become a daily raid of the frozen yogurt/ice cream shop by our hotel. Lisa found her fix there too. But we all enjoyed the quiet time together as racers slowly appeared and the town started to buzz. I got to talk to a college friend of mine, Kevin Thornton, who moved down here with his family some 8 years ago and I haven’t spoken to since college. He doesn’t miss NY and I made sure he knew he was fine down here. Friday ment more of the same – quick training, beautiful weather 70-80+ with lesser winds, and chillin by the pool. Though Gina and I walked around alot, it was nice to stay outside. My mind slowly trickled down to race mode, but I had other matters to attend to.   

You see, I spent the past 3 months organizing and planning for this moment. When I knew after Lake Placid that this was my main event, I got to work. training yes, but more on making sure the stage was right for what I was about to do – sure to do. Once I knew my sisters were on board to travel with us, I had the help of Don Demay’s wife, who works at Tiffany’s, who in turn got me in touch with a personal shopper. From here I would make several trips to Tiffany’s (surprised I never had a guard ask me what I was doing there since I walked in ofter with shorts and workout clothes) trying to find the right ring. I snuck a few of Gina’s rings she wears often and tried them on. With only an idea of how they fit (up to my ower knuckle), Mutsumi was able to get it right on. I even had it engraved with a part of my Latin m.o: Cor Meum Dabo.

From here, it was all secrets. I had finally informed my sisters of the plan – they knew among themselves of course. The ring pickup and pass off was held a few days before we left. Lisa secured it in her travels the whole time. I didn’t want to chance a buzz at the flight gate metal detector. My security guys Loughnane and Jingles were 50-50 on it. Now how to get Gina during the race? Since it was going to be a media circus (live internet feed, thousands in crowds, and NBC), I was going to have one of the sisters meet me a mile from the finsh to hand me the ring, then a few feet from the finish, instead of zipping by like Gina says I always do, I would drop to the knee. Would it work??

Race day: up at 4am. Feel good. Weather GREAT! No worries, just get it done. I honestly was more worried about completing the plan than the race itself. A quick bus ride to the start and the organizers madeit seem just like Hawaii. Music, lights, and plenty of security making sure all 1800 of us were ok. As everyone gathered in their selected wave starts, I got to meet Madonna AGAIN! Yeah, I was confident now. Lisa and Gina were there as Anjie was busy getting stuck in the hotel elevator. but that was ok since she was the one tomake the primary handoff later. A quick hug and kiss from both and I lined up.

Swim was a beach start so it was a bit lame. I had to settle back since with a few hundred of us running to the ocean, I was not getting whacked now. So I took my time – while still getting whacked – and got into a good pace. What a difference a few days make. The water was warm and calm. Thought he sun glared at us on the way back, it managed to clear out and I had a decent 1.2 mile swim. One down now onto the bike.

Flat as a pancake (if you count a bridge as a hill) and a few windy sections took us 56 miles around the area. Nice indeed but since it was on major roads with one lane open to us only, many were drafting in packs some 20-30 deep. A speed free for all. Everyone was blazing by. Unfortunately, I had a beat up Felt with no race wheels. But still managed a comfy 21+mph while just sipping on a 20 oz. AminoVital. Once I saw a few people crashed down on the pavement, I made sure no one was near me. In fact there were quite a bit of crashes. I nearly clipped a drunken pedestrian who was immediately arrested by motorcycle cops. Now that’s enforcement. I did also manage to find a few Starbucks. One aerobar was loose and my butt started to ache but it subsided as I made my way home. A personal best time too.

Run: sweet. I motored, but checked out the scene for the first lap as I blazed in my Adidas Fusions linked to my Polar 800sd. They made us go over a bridge 2x which was challenging, but not a match for me on this day. I picked it up knowing what was ahead of me – literally. Thirteen miles was a breeze now. I got nervous when I didn’t see Anjie at the turnaround, but as I made my way to the finsh, there she was. Anjie gave me the box and a final cheer. I zoomed now. As I made the turn down the final stretch I had to slow to spot her. Off to the left of me was Gina and Lisa. Perfect. I slowed some more. Gina was taking a picture. It was then, with no one near me and all eyes on us, I took a knee and presented the box. “Get up, why are you stopping?” she said before everyone around her reminded her what was going on. Stunned, elated, shocked, I don’t know ask her, but she quikly cheered, cried, and of course said YES! As I hugged her tightly and sealed it with a kiss, a guy volunteered to lift her over the barrier. I ran to the finish and she was able to get through security and meet me there. Everyone was happy for us and made the announcement over the PA. Coach Dave called Gina and said he saw it live on the internet. Oh yes, and I finished in a personal best 4:37 placing 416th out of 1800. What a day. Check results at bib #215. 

I truly love this woman. With her IRONSHERPA shirt proudly on display that day, I made sure the WORLD knew exactly how much she has meant to me. I was happy my sisters were there to witness and help me make it happen. I felt like I won more than all on that day. As most of you know from these journals and those who have met her, she truly has been my rock the past few years and I am lucky to have been able to learn to love someone unconditionally while growing in the relationship we now have. Now was the time. The rest of the trip was pure celebration and as we settle back home for a good deserved “off-season”, we look forward to a cherished holiday season to spend with friends and family.       

Thanks again for all your support this year!!!


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