Race Coverage

A Gator, a Guy Named Roger & Key Lime Pie...

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By Mary Deeg

Race Report – Aquabike  - May 1, 2021 - Sebring, Florida

My last race was exactly 9 months ago on August 1, 2020. A local Minnesota sprint triathlon at Big Lake, MN. Prior to that all my races in 2020 were cancelled due to COVID making the last year very challenging to maintain focus and training to reach goals. Our hopes and plans to race at local, national and international world competitions were diminished in 2020.

With vaccines increasing and COVID cases declining, the Sebring Multisport Festival held the promise to provide an opportunity to race with new health safety protocols along with qualifying for Team USA. My husband, Jeff, and I made the decision to sign up for our first ever Olympic distance Aquabike. At the August 1 triathlon 9 months ago, Jeff experienced an unfortunate injury of rupturing his...

Achilles tendon .25 mile from the finish line. He had a successful surgery and solid recovery yet not currently ready for any fast or longer running distances. This winter I’ve struggled with a nagging plantar fasciitis which rendered some downtime with running. The Aquabike sounded like a perfect race to test our fitness, try something new and compete at a national level in Florida.

The city of Sebring is located in central Florida with many freshwater lakes and plenty of warm sunshine. As race day approached, we monitored weather forecasts for Sebring. 15-20 mph winds were predicted for race day which became my number one fear…high winds make for tough swimming in white caps and a rough bike riding with my HED disc rear wheel and HED deep carbon front wheel. I began to worry.

Race site at Sebring, Florida.

maryt2.pngSwimming in freshwater Florida lakes has some other interesting challenges. Alligators! One of my friends who had lived in Florida told me she would never swim in any Florida freshwater lake solely because of gators. Another friend told me to watch the show Swamp People and learn how to wrestle gators if that became a need! Then Jeff did some googling and learned that Lake Jackson, the race swim site, the Florida DNR does catch the larger gators and relocate these critters to other habitat due to the large amount of water recreation on the lake. So…does that mean the smaller and high achieving gators are still in Lake Jackson? YIKES!!! I like to prepare for my race by visualizing each step of the race from setting up my gear in transition, swim start, transition 1, bike, and everything to crossing the finish line. Planning to fight off a gator has never been in my race strategy. Never! Worry #2 is now underway.

We arrive at Sebring Thursday early evening after our 10-hour commute from our winter home in Greenville, SC. We drive the flat bike course and check out the race venue. I walk out on the sandy beach and the water is crystal clear. I calmy scan the water surface for anything looking like a floating bumpy log…nope…all clear…whew! Friday morning, we bike the course and check out our gearing and wheel set up…all good. Still hoping the wind will not be a factor. It’s a typical beautiful hot humid day with temps in the 90’s. A swim after our 12-mile one loop of the bike course will sure feel good. Into the lake we go for an easy 15-minute swim to loosen things up and get the kinks out. This lake is SO clear! I am standing with water to my chin, and I look down seeing my feet on the sandy lake floor. The water feels like bathwater and the concern is no wetsuits will be allowed race morning. I begin to prepare my mind for a no wetsuit swim…I’m good with that…just means those gators will have a taste of fresh meat without a side of neoprene!

Beautiful beach and clean freshwater lake.

Checking weather for Saturday morning and winds are now predicted to be calm to 3 mph with overcast skies and a chance of fog in the morning. Nice, perfect – I like that! Our good friend Steve Gunther drives up from Bonita Springs, FL and will also be doing the Aquabike and meets us at packet pick-up. Steve had knee replacement surgery 6 months ago and likes this option of racing Aquabike too. We are set and ready, head to our hotel for a pre-race dinner and early to bed for a restful sleep.

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I have a good night sleep waking up only once but I’m up before my 4:30 AM alarm goes off. After showering, I go in search of my morning coffee in the hotel lobby. I make my oatmeal in the microwave oven in our hotel room adding fresh blueberries along with my homemade granola and eat a hard-boiled egg. Stomach is feeling good and begin sipping a water bottle with NUUN tablet. We are set and leave the hotel by 5:15AM as transition opens at 5:30AM.

The race director did an outstanding job with safe protocols. A survey was sent out to athletes 5 days prior to race day with results indicating over 75% of participants were fully vaccinated. Other measures were exercised with athletes doing their own body marking, transition area was made much larger and racks having only 5 bikes each with odd number on one side and evens on the other. Swim start was also changed from a normal wave start to a beach time trial with athletes lining up 6 feet apart. The Olympic Triathletes waves started first, then the Olympic Aquabike waves next and Aquathon at the end. I was in wave 12 of 16…that’s about three quarters into this pack of swimming humans…the gators were likely too scared to be hanging around this beach!

Conditions are near perfect with hardly a whisper of wind including overcast skies making the orange and yellow buoys on the swim course very easy to sight from the beach. I recognize many top athletes as “the best of the best” national athletes are doing this race and our competitive older age groups are the largest of the field. My wave of us “older gals” line up. I’m off running into the water and once the water is up past my knees and do some dolphin dives before starting my freestyle stroke. I find feet and bubbles to draft. I hang on to the first turn buoy and make the left turn. Oh wow, where are the buoys? I’m seeing orange swim caps bobbing up ahead that look like buoys. Wait a minute, the morning fog has rolled in and nobody can find that next yellow turn buoy. I just follow feet, arms and colored swim caps. I’m feeling grateful for calm waters and no direct eastern sunshine. The occasional jet ski trolls around the groups of swimmers leaving a wake rolling over me but all is good. I figure those folks are on are gator duty. There it is…the yellow turn buoy! I make a point to always touch the turn buoys like a high five when making my turns – I figure that gives me good energy. I make my turn and head back to the beach on the final stretch. My swim has really been off lately and few opportunities for open water swimming with wetsuits. Later I learn I am 3rd in my age group on the swim. Running up the beach and into transition I easily find my bike and strip off my wetsuit. My Velcro ankle chip gets ripped off in my flurry and I quickly get it reset around my left ankle before I put on my sunglasses and clip my helmet and run out with my bike.

The swim course – 1 mile.

The bike course was two loops around Lake Jackson, and where I hope to really make good time. I catch myself going out too hard at mile two and tell myself to not cook the legs too soon and settle into consistent power. Super happy about no wind this morning as my wheels feel very solid & steady. I get the feeling that I’m flying along with relatively consistent effort. I look at my speed and discover 23.5 mph feels like smooth magic! My legs are working and that rear disc wheel is doing what it should - giving me free speed! Loop one is done and now it’s time to get it done over these next 12 miles to my finish line. I pass quite a few athletes and I like to give encouragement as I pass them on the bike. Up ahead I see an older athlete with his race belt & number on his back. As I make my approach to pass, I notice along the bottom of the race number has his name Roger. I shout out, “Nice job, Roger! Let’s do this!” He says, “Thanks, you too.” I’m ticking off the miles to transition with 4 miles remaining and I decide it’s time to drain my tank and push the power. Feeling grateful there’s NO reason to save my legs for a run. I see transition ahead and I make one last pass of a female athlete. I am fully cooked! I dismount my bike, get quickly across that timing mat of Transition 2. I’m done - this is MY FINISH LINE and head to my spot to rack my bike. Steve and Jeff are standing nearby in transition and Steve snaps a photo of me. Whew – that was great race! gatorfl.png

FINISHED! Entering T2 I’m toast and out of breath!

The three of us walk to the finish line to drop off our chips and get our finisher medals. Post-race food of pancakes and bananas really hits the spot. We collect our results and learn I’ve finished 4th out of 11 in my age group along with each of us qualifying for Team USA in the Aquabike. We go back into the lake for nice cool swim. Later I look up the complete results finding I missed the 3rd place podium by 21 seconds…oh, darn! I am just thrilled to be competing at races once again with some of the best national athletes in multi-sport and will remain hopeful Worlds will take place this August in Edmonton, Canada.

Post-race swim - Happy athletes!

We head to our hotel to clean up for lunch at a local Mexican restaurant on the shores of Lake Jackson. The three of us download our race stories to each other comparing our experiences and race highlights – I love being with my tribe. After lunch we head out to our vehicles saying our “good-byes” to Steve as he’s heading back to Bonita Springs. All of sudden an older gentleman asks if either of us have a camera because there’s an alligator about 50 yards just offshore. Oh no! Will I finally get to see a gator on this Florida adventure?! I snap a photo with my phone and am super glad this gator was on the opposite side of the lake from the race venue. One last thing we need to do is find some Key Lime pie to celebrate that race season has successfully kicked off and we are heading to Worlds.

 

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