PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Location: St. Croix, Virgin Islands
Another Trip To the Islands
Very early in my professional racing career I was introduced to a phenomenon of triathlon that amazed and impressed me. The phenomenon: homestays. At that point I had been traveling all over the world, racing in fun places, meeting new people, but all the while staying in hotels. At my second race as a pro, the St. Croix Triathlon, my then girlfriend Amanda and I were introduced to the World’s Greatest Homestay Family: the Isherwoods. Since that day back in May of 2000, my now wife Amanda and I have returned each year to the Islands for one of our favorite triathlon experiences. A very big part of why we go back every year is to check in with our second family.
Back in March, as I was trying to figure out a way to justify going down to St. Croix for a race that fell so soon after completing an Ironman. I was struggling to find a rational reason when I received a phone call from the Isherwoods. They were wondering if we were planning on racing this year, and when we might be heading down. It seemed they had scheduled a trip of their own that overlapped with the triathlon weekend. However, they were willing to cut their vacation short, if we were able to be there. After I mentioned the challenge posed in racing a challenging half Ironman three weeks after a full, they came up with a plan: they would buy me a plane ticket, and I could decide to race last-minute, or I could just be there as a spectator with them. So not only were they willing to cut their vacation short, but they were willing to cover my trip to St. Croix? See what I mean about the World’s Greatest Homestay?
Each time I head to St. Croix I do so with high hopes of having a great race. The race course is very challenging, with extreme weather conditions: it’s just the type of race I like. However, I’ve never lived up to my expectations, due to one thing or another. This time around I felt that my chances might actually be better. I had convinced myself that if doing everything right didn’t yield the results I was after, perhaps doing everything wrong might. I reasoned that I might not be rested, I might not be fresh, but I would not have the high expectations either, so I was bound to be pleased.
I tried my best to goof off and relax in the days leading up to the race. Instead of carbo-loading and sodium-loading, I decided to NutterButter-load, and to Twix-load. Instead of sipping water and passing on dessert, I indulged in wine and an ice-cream-topped chocolate chip cookie. If I was going to do everything wrong, I was going to do it right!
Race day arrived and I was actually feeling pretty good about my chances. I had been tired since the weekend, but I figured I had rested enough, and would be ready to give it a good effort.
As we all made our way from the wharf over to the small island that serves as the swim start, I realized we were in for one rough swim. There was a strong on-shore breeze that created two- to three-foot waves. I have never been too fond of the rough-water swims, and I knew how important a good swim would be. Those that failed to maintain contact with the main group were destined to compete for the latter spots in the top ten, as opposed to a podium or top-five finish. The drafting or “working together” on this bike course was that bad.
Early on in the swim, I was in position to stick it out. I placed myself behind a bright colored cap, intent to stay the course. No more than 500 meters later, I found myself dropped, and with no feet to follow. I made my way through the swim, trying to cut my losses.
Once on the bike, I set out with the goal of losing no more than a minute or two to the lead group. I tried to find an early rhythm, but could not seem to do so. I kept my head down, and tried to make something happen. I love the bike course there, and I know every corner of it. I tried to maximize that familiarity, but was unable to gain any ground. Soon enough I was losing ground, and was even caught from behind. It was becoming clearer by the moment that I had very little to give out there on the bike.
With just over ten miles to go on the ride, I found myself getting caught by another cyclist. I did my best to use him as motivation to get moving, but even that effort was in vain. I could not find the drive I needed. Soon the bike segment would end, and I would find out the extent of my time deficit to the leaders.
Not a moment too soon, I arrived to an all-too-familiar sight down in St. Croix: a bike rack full of bikes and devoid of shoes. There were people behind me, but all I could see was that there seemed to be at least thirteen or fourteen ahead of me. And the time gap? Eleven minutes and thirty seconds! Wow, I’d have to run about 1:07 to win the thing; thank you very much.
There was a bright side to starting the run that far behind: I was in familiar territory. In years past I had been the victim of flat tires and broken spokes, so I was used to having slow bike splits. (This time, however, I could only blame myself!) Ah well, I set off to see if I could get into the top ten.
With two and a half miles to go, I was still outside the top ten. It turned out eleven and a half minutes is a LOT of time to make up. The double out-and-back (with small loop sections) allowed me to see that I was gaining on most of those ahead of me, but was there enough time? I found myself wishing we had one more loop to run. What was I thinking! Finally I saw the back of the eleventh place runner: I was getting somewhere! I moved past him, and focused up the road: there was another back: tenth place was in sight! Soon enough I found myself passing yet another runner; this one was kind enough to note that I was then in ninth place: I had done it, and with little room to spare. I rounded the last couple blocks, and finished the last mile secure in my place.
The St. Croix triathlon is one of those fantastic events where the whole town seems to come out to watch the finish. The streets are lined with screaming spectators, most of whom are eager to snag a high five or two. As I was indulging them, and myself, in a few fives, I searched for Tyler, Joanna, and Dick Isherwood: I needed to slap a familiar hand. Soon enough I spotted them and doled out some high fives. It was always nice to be greeted by family at the finish line!
Next up for me was the anticipated finish of Amanda. In addition to my curiosity as to how she would finish, there was some unfinished competition underway. Although my finish place was locked up, there was still a chance that Amanda’s finish would be high enough to move the two of us up in the competition within the competition: the married couples duel! Uniquely, there were three married couples racing in the pro division that day, and there were big incentives for having the combined lowest times: a five-night stay at the posh Buccaneer Hotel. Unfortunately, neither Amanda nor I were close enough to the Debooms’ finish times, and we were relegated to second place ahead of Jamie Cleveland and Andrea Fisher. All said and done, Amanda and I notched two ninth place finishes and one second: not a bad day!
As usual traveling to St. Croix was a great experience. In addition to having the opportunity to race one of the toughest Half Ironman courses in the world, we were fortunate enough to spend time at our home away from home, and with our adopted family and friends.