I’m Back: 2017 HITS Naples 70.3 Race Report

Lil Diesel
Lil’ diesel back in action :-). After the race, we went to Key West for a few days, where the sun finally came out, but it was still chilly. Harumph!

I’m back…

I’m back from the edges of overtraining. I’m still pushing my edges – just not tipping over them.

I’m back into the thrill of the chase, and working that line between getting enough oxygen and going as fast as I can.

And, with my first 70.3 in almost 2 years, I’m back to races that begin and end on the same day.

I’m back, baby. I. AM. BACK.

You know what?

I kinda missed the shenanigans. 

Okay, I definitely missed it.

A lot.

While I did a few shorter races in the Fall, I didn’t really consider myself “back” until I did HITS Naples 70.3 on January 7.

Now I feel like I’m back in the Ironman game.

I originally chose this race because I dreamt of escaping the bitter reality of the New Jersey winter, by racing under sunny skies, in 70-something temps, with the warm breeze of the Florida gulf coast.

What I got was 25 mph winds, rain, and 55ish degrees.

That’s close enough, I guess, considering we had about 6-8 inches of snow at home, and blustery 20-something temps.

HITS Naples begins at Vanderbilt Beach, where the swim completes a counter-clockwise loop in the Gulf. The day before the race, the water was calm, blue and inviting (see the picture below, on the left). The morning of the race, it was dark, angry and hostile (see the picture on the right). In fact, we stood on the beach, looking outward to the horizon, and we could see lightning in the distance.

Hmmmm. Surely we aren’t going to swim with lightning?

Um, wrong. Surely we are. I want bonus #Hardcore points. Just saying.

As I stood on the beach, waiting for the start, I redirected the thoughts of total swim suckfest. I also tried not to think about the possibility of that distant lightning getting closer. I wasn’t really in the mood for electrocution. (Luckily, the storm stayed way off shore.)

It’s quite a thing to go from days upon days of swimming in the warm, calm pool to thrusting yourself into the open water swells with a few hundred other people. When I say “quite a thing,” I mean a progression from “holy shit this is chaos,” to “okay, just do what you need to do to survive,” to “okay, I think I’m doing something that resembles swimming now” to “oh, thank goodness, last turn to the beach.”

The way out to the first buoy turn was rough, but it was manageable. The swells pushed from behind, but every once in a while, a rogue swell would come around, and deliver a mouthful of water. It occurred to me that once we turned to head back, it was going to be ugly.

And, it was.

It took me almost the whole swim quite a while to recruit my memory for swimming in rough ocean seas. Ocean? you say. But this was the Gulf, right? Okay, let’s agree on “ocean-ish”.

There were times I’d come around on the recovery, reach for the water, and got nothing but air because I was on top of a swell. Other moments, I timed the breath imprecisely and was greeted by steeples of white caps instead.

Ah, yes, the chaos of rough water.

Rather than continue slogging, I focused in. What do I need to do? 

This is an easy answer: RELAX. You really don’t get much by fighting current and wind (or gravity when on the road).

Hits Naples Race ReportI pulled back on the effort, and took the time to figure out the pattern of the swells. They were coming in sets of mostly 3 to 6, although not perfectly because there were plenty of little choppy white caps. Even so, I knew after 3-6 sets of higher swells, there would be a lull. While the sea rested before pummeling us with another round, I took advantage of that moment to sight, to breathe, to push the effort until the next rollers came through.

And, with those adjustments, I was finally in the “something resembling swimming” phase.

My foot stepped back on the beach in 38 minutes – which is far from my best swim, but given the conditions and my lack of swim prep for this race, I was happy it wasn’t 45 minutes (which I feared when I was out in the abyss).

John was right on the beach, “You got this, Maria!”

“Uh-huh,” so convincing.

Try again: Yes, yes, of course, I do. I remember triathlon.

Off to transition, which was about 400 meters or so from the water – give or take, considering my utter lack of geographical awareness. All I know is that I had to run for a few minutes to get to my bike.

At this point, I didn’t have any idea how many women were ahead of me, but I gleaned from the chatter of others that it wasn’t that many – maybe 5 or 6. But, it was too early in the race to get involved with all of that…just yet.

The bike. Ah, my old nemesis. Here we are again, Rooby Roo. I am back, and you are still here.

Will we be friends today, old girl? I thought as I ran out of transition to the mount line.

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this bike course. The day before, we drove the route and the majority of the course was on a busy highway. Ugh.

Yes, there was a bike lane, but that mere 3-4 feet of space and a painted white line is all that separated me from the pace of traffic rushing to get to the seemingly endless array of strip malls in Florida–not to mention the 18 wheelers that came in a progression. I hoped that Saturday morning traffic wouldn’t be as menacing as it was the afternoon prior. (For the record: it wasn’t as busy as Friday, but still more traffic than I like!)

The bike course took us along the highway, and eventually to some more country-ish roads for the final 20 miles or so. (Transition 2 and the finish line was about 30 miles away from the finish line.)

Hits Naples Race Report
Tucking myself in as tightly as possible.

When I race, disciplined effort at the beginning is almost always the rule of the day for anything 70.3 or longer.

As I began the bike, I took note of how I felt. My HR was raging (likely due to the swim conditions added with residual impacts of a cold), and the effort felt a little strained. So, I decided to shoot just under my power target until I could feel my rhythm.

Eventually, I did. Over the course of the 56 miles, I steadily built my effort, and while cyclists passed me quite a bit in those opening 20 miles, I saw many of them again over the final 16 miles. Psychologically, that is always a good feeling–passing people in the final miles. It’s worth putting the ego in check when you start.

I came in to T2 at 2:39 – which officially makes this my fastest bike split by 5 minutes! But, to be fair, we had about 30 miles of tailwind, so that was a KEY factor. Judging by sustained watts, this was NOT my biggest power for 56 miles. Even so, the 2:39 is in the official results, so it’s not an alternative fact. 😉

Into T2, the rain was still falling, and that suits me just fine on the run–no worries about the heat. I was in and out of T2 in a flash–I had work to do.

Four or five women passed me on the bike, and I focused on slowly reeling them back in – like I always have to do. Despite my fastest time, I was still NOT with the front bikers–they apparently had best-ever bikes, too. Tailwind!

The run was a basic out and back, along a bike path. For competition purposes, I like the out and back because you can count how many people are in front of you.

By the time I got to the turnaround, I had run myself into 3rd place female overall. As I ran back, I saw another female competitor BLAZING the run. I quickly realized I needed to step up my game in whatever way I could and try to hold her off as much as possible.

I managed to hold her off for almost 3 miles. She ran past me at mile 9 as if I were walking. After the race, I saw that she ran a 1:27. Um, yeah, so, yup. Nice run!

In the final mile of the run, I saw John, and he said there was a woman just ahead of me. I dug in as much as I could, and I could see the figure getting closer, and closer. Just before the finish, I realized, Hey! That’s not a woman – it’s a man! But, John’s comment did the trick to help me finish strong.

I finished in 5:05:23, as the 4th place woman overall, 1st place AG, and 20th OA finisher (no, I didn’t catch the guy who was in front of me!). My personal best, set at Eagleman in 2013, was 5:05:15. That was the last year I raced IMLP, and I’m ready to return. I have a new set of big dreams, different from the last time, when my singular focus was to qualify for Kona.

So, yes, I feel like I’m making my way back.

In hindsight, I don’t think I realized at the end of the 2014 season just how much that 3-year journey to the big island took out of my body–and more so, my mind. While the last two years of racing have been incredibly fun for me, I did lose some of my fire. And, now, it’s back.

I can feel it starting to rage.

I’m heading back to where this Ironman journey began: Ironman Lake Placid. When I enter that magic sphere that is the Lake Placid Olympic Oval, I want to know that there is nothing else I could have done to go even one second faster.

Do I have other goals for that day? Yes. For now, they are super secret goals, so I’m not comfortable sharing them. They sound audacious enough when I utter them to myself. Best not to have you think I’ve gone truly crazy.

For now, just know that I am back, and I have not stopped believing. Not even once.


What do you think? Share your thoughts and experience!