Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rocketman Triathlon Race Recap

by Meghann on May 9, 2013

Rocketman will forever go down in history as one of my favorite triathlons of all time.

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Not only was course above and beyond AMAZING (it’s probably the only course I’ll ever see multiple participants stop in the middle of the bike portion to take photos), but I felt GREAT during the entire race. Like, really, really great. I can’t tell you if I’ve ever felt that strong or happy during a triathlon. Even when the roads were bumpy and the wind was strong, I still felt like I could do this. There was never an inkling of self doubt or disappointment, just self love and motivation.

Also, I’ve never stayed so close to a race start before. So weird to have a race right in my hometown. My alarm was set for 4:45 and I was in race transition by 5:15. That was definitely a first.

Because Rocketman was made up of three different distances (Half Iron, International +, and Classic +) and had over 1600 participants (wowza!) the swim waves stretched over two hours (6:45 am – 8:45 am). Unfortunately, since I was doing the shorter distance, my swim wave was one of the last ones at 8:30am. This was only unfortunate because transition closed at 6:15am to make sure it was ready to go for the first half iron wave. So I had to have all my stuff set up by 6:15am even though my wave wasn’t for another two hours. Sigh.

I have to say that the transition set up was my only big complaint with Rocketman. It was just SO disorganized. The bike racks were a mess and there weren’t enough on them – they were all overloaded with way too many bikes. I felt squished and there was no rhyme or reason to which direction everyone was facing their bikes.

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I set my transition area the best I could and just walked away. There wasn’t much I could do about it.

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It was randomly chilly race morning, especially by the water. Poor Presley was shivering.

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The wind and chill in the air worried me for the bike. I crossed my fingers the clouds would move on (and take the wind with them) before it was my turn to gear up. The swim ended up being wetsuit legal by just two degrees. It was the same water temp as Miami and I was fine not wearing a wetsuit then, so I opted out of wearing one for this race, too. Ben was doing the longer distance and decided the wetsuit was worth it.

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While I had plenty of time to kill before my swim wave, Ben was lucky enough to be one of the first in the water in the 6:45 wave.

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I had – briefly – debated signing up for the half iron distance when I first registered for Rocketman, but I have to say I’m so happy that I didn’t. I’m just not trained for the distance at this moment and I didn’t have the desire to train for a half iron before diving right into training for my full Ironman. I was perfectly content watching all of the longer distance triathletes line up and take their extra long swims around the river while I watched and waited from my chair.

At about 10 minutes until the wave start we watched the group of bright green caps make their way from the main dock to the pier to enter the water. They entered one at a time from the ladders (the water was REALLY shallow, jumping or diving was strictly prohibited and just plain dangerous).

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The boys lined up at the red buoy for their resting (wading?) start. It felt like they were there for a while. I could feel the anxiety building on my shore as we waited for the start. There was no countdown or gun shot that we could hear, they just started swimming.

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(Photo Credit: The Downtown Gallery – Titusville, FL)

My sister-in-law had a stopwatch and pressed start as soon as we saw the green caps starting to move. I thought that was pretty smart. This way she had her own countdown of time for the race and had somewhat of an idea of when to expect Ben (though it did make everyone nervous when he didn’t return from the bike when he was supposed to).

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(Photo Credit: The Downtown Gallery – Titusville, FL)  

From what I heard, the swim course for the half iron and international distances were tough. In both instances the athletes entered the channel for a stretch and had to fight the current pushing them in the opposite direction. A friend of a friend was lifeguarding on a paddle board on the course and at one point one of the triathletes looked up at him and asked if he was even moving since he didn’t feel like he was going anywhere.

We waited patiently as we watched the mix of splashes and swim caps round the buoys and eventually start to make their way back to shore. When the stopwatch hit 30 minutes and the first male wasn’t even back yet, we started to get worried. The top guys usually finish in 26 minutes, either this was a long course or just really tough. We finally saw the first guy pop up just after 30 and a steady stream soon began to follow after that.

I grabbed my camera and waited for Ben’s sleeveless wetsuit to appear. Around 45 minutes we finally saw him.

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I don’t think he saw me. He was definitely in the zone.

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I followed him to transition and learned that swimming in the channel sucked. Noted.

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He took the wetsuit off, put on his bike helmet. and was off, ready to conquer 56 miles around the space center on bike.

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I still had an hour for my wave. Luckily the wait wasn’t that bad. I finished my breakfast (a scone with peanut butter) and watched the rest of the half iron/ international swimmers come in.

Once I saw my fellow red caps start to line up, I knew it was time to start getting my own butt in gear.

Swim caps are so hot right not.

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umm.. no.

It had been a cold and misty morning, then all of a sudden (right before my wave start) the clouds cleared and the sun came out. We had beautiful, picture perfect blue skies the rest of the day. It actually ended up being a beautiful day to race.

I always love lining up with my fellow age groupers before a triathlon start. Everyone’s usually so friendly and full of the same nerves you are. There were a lot of newbie triathletes in my group and I told them not to be nervous for the swim, just remember the really cool bike ride you have after that!

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Oh, I almost forgot! I randomly ran into my old high school boyfriend at Publix the night before the race. Considering I’ve only seen him two or three times since we graduated high school 10 years ago, it was really, really random. To make it even more random, I told him I was in town for Rocketman and he goes “oh, yeah. I’m doing that, too.” Oh, really? Then, not only does he end up being on the same bike rack as me, but he’s also in the wave right in front of me. What the heck? Of course I took this as a sign that my sole goal for this race should be to beat whatever his time is, because what else are exes for than to spur your competitive drive, right? Right. So that was my goal. Beat the ex. Considering he was wearing board shorts and didn’t have goggles for the swim, I took it as a good sign that this was possible. Hey, a win is a win.

I entered the water just in time to wish the ex good luck with his swim (with a goal to catch up and pass him. obviously.) then prep for my own send off.

The two women at the end of the dock with the stop watch were amazing. They asked who the newbies were, then tried to calm their nerves by saying this swim was nothing. I mean, compared to the other distances, it really was. When I was on the shore with my dad watching the first “classic” wave go off, I pointed to the rocket buoy they set up right next to the dock and told him that’s where I was swimming to and back. He didn’t believe me. The other buoys were so far out there, there’s no way this close one would be it for my race. Sure enough the first wave went and they rounded the rocket buoy before quickly making their way to the start. My dad just started laughing. Yep, I picked the short race and I was pretty happy with that decision in the water.

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The water temp was chilly, but not bad. It was better when we started moving, but standing still waiting for the start was a pain. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long. The five minutes between wave starts flew by and before I knew it we were counting down to our wave start.

5-4-3-2-1- GO!

I started my stop watch, then fought like hell to be the first to the buoy. I wasn’t first, not even close, but it was fun trying to be. For once I didn’t stay to the side and just let everyone pass me, I was actually in the middle of things proving that I could hold my own. They say the swim is how you set yourself up for the rest of the race. If you have a good swim, you’ll have a good race. If you don’t, well

I had a good swim. A really good swim. I felt strong, confident, and happy just to be out there. The water was good, life was good, everything was good.

The race company had built a dock off the gazebo for the race. Once I made my turn around the rocket buoy, I saw two bright orange buoys ahead of me and the dock with ladders in the middle. I picked up the speed in my feet and just gunned it.

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(Photo Credit: The Downtown Gallery – Titusville, FL)

Unfortunately the set up for getting out of the water wasn’t the greatest. There were two ladders connected to the dock and more than two people needing to get out. I was patiently waiting my turn to get out, when a girl cuts in front of me and grabs the ladder to get out. How rude.

I knew my family was right at the exit, so the first thing I did out of the water was look for them. I saw my mom, but missed my dad. Looks like he missed me too.

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Photo fail!

1/4 mile Swim: 9:00 AG Place: 8/24

I booked it to transition to prep for the bike. The run to transition was all on paved surface, which was nice since I didn’t have to worry about my feet getting dirty. I ran into The Ex in transition and used that as motivation to get my butt moving. I turned my Garmin on, slipped on my running shoes, put a Luna bar in my pocket, and grabbed my helmet. I kept the transition fast and efficient.

T1: 3:28 AG Place: 3/24

Time to ride!

Obviously this was the part I was most looking forward to! I couldn’t wait to get out to the Space Center and see this incredible course everyone had been raving about for months!

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Because of the unique set-up of the course, the bike route was a bit longer than your typical sprint triathlon. The race director wanted to ensure everyone had a chance to see the Vehicle Assembly Building (V.A.B.) and launch pads on the bike, so he created a 33 mile loop for the “Classic +” and “International +” distances. The Half Iron was the typical 56 mile route and, according to my brother, they were able to see a few “extras” on the course that we missed out on.

I hopped on my bike at Space View park and headed straight to the one monster hill on the course: Max Brewer Bridge.

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(Photo Credit: The Downtown Gallery – Titusville, FL)

I’d run up the bridge a few times in the past and knew it was going to be a beast of a climb on the bike. We had to go up once in the beginning, then again on the way back. The beginning wasn’t bad. My legs were fresh and I was still full of adrenaline and energy – just excited to be out there!

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(Photo Credit: The Downtown Gallery – Titusville, FL)

From the bridge, it was a straight shot out on “the beach road.” The locals call it “the beach road” because, well, it takes you straight to the beach. I’ve driven that stretch of road hundred of times, but this was my first time getting the up-close-and-personal view from the bike. It’s a gorgeous drive and an even better ride on the bike. The road cuts through a wildlife refuge, which is nothing but miles and miles of protected Florida wetlands and beaches. The views were breath taking.

I started off feeling really good on the bike. I moved into aero position and stayed there for most of the ride. Usually cycling is my weakest sport, but for some reason I felt really strong out there. It was like everything sort of clicked on the course with gears, form, and pushing it. I was averaging 18-19 mph (which is FAST for me) and didn’t question it.

During Miami 70.3 last October I didn’t pass one single person on the bike – not one! During Rocketman I was constantly passing people and it. felt. GREAT! I wasn’t used to passing people, I must have had the goofiest, stupid grin every time I passed someone. Of course, all the passing could be due to the higher-than-normal amount of triathlon newbies out there. A lot of folks were on mountain bikes riding with running shoes. I passed one guy who had sandals on! That was definitely a first.

A few miles in, the International racers started flying by in the opposite direction on their way back to transition. It was when I saw how much they were struggling going the opposite direction that I realized why I felt so good heading out – I had a tailwind. The athletes heading back were fighting a bad headwind and looked miserable. Gulp. I knew I would have to deal with that eventually, but opted to just ride out the great tailwind and enjoy it while I could.

Instead of heading all the way to the beach, we made the right to the Kennedy Space Center employee gate and officially entered KSC property. This was the also the one and only bottle drop on the course (a mere 5 miles into the race). I had a toss away bottle full of Gu Brew that I opted to keep instead of taking the Gatorade being offered.

From there you could start to see the V.A.B. – we were getting close! I was still enjoying the tailwind at this point and stuck with my crazy-faster-than-normal pace. The miles flew by and I was riding on cloud 9.

When I finally made it to the V.A.B., I was in awe. I’d seen the building hundreds of times in photos, on tv, and from across the river, but this was the first time I had ever been this close. The building was so big and just plain impressive. So many cyclists began slowing down and some even stopped to take photos! I’ve NEVER seen anyone stop during the cycling portion of a triathlon before to take a picture, it was definitely a first. I really don’t blame them though, I was kicking myself for not having a camera myself.

I didn’t take my eyes off the building as I passed and just tried to soak it all in.

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(Was waiting on official photos. I hope they got a good one. :()

From the V.A.B we headed to the first launch pad, which is the last launch pad that is still fully constructed. The road had been recently paved in this area and was really smooth to ride on – I liked it.

This had to be the friendliest race I’d ever been a part of. More than a few people rode by exclaiming “How freaking cool is this?!” Then, when the course got tough, we all sort of banded together in pain… but I’ll get to that.

Riding by the launch pad was just as cool as the V.A.B. Again, cyclists stopped to take photos with the pad in the back ground.

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(Stolen from the Rocketman Facebook page. I wish I had my camera!)

We made a loop around the first pad then circled back to see the second. This pad had already been disassembled and was simply just a slap of concrete with two towers sticking out. It was kind of sad to see the piece of history already discarded.

The wind changed after the second pad and I finally lost the great tailwind I had been enjoying, now I was riding in a full force headwind and it definitely sucked. However, I think I was still riding on cloud 9 from the sights because it didn’t really get to me like the headwind in Miami did. I still had a smile on my fas as I circled back behind the V.A.B and started my journey back to transition.

The stretch of road from the V.A.B to the guard station was kind of rough. The mix of wind and the bumpy, uneven road wasn’t a great combination. My arms were going numb in aero position because of the constant vibration thanks to the bumps. My pace also dropped. I went from 18-19 mph to 14-15. Yep. That’s more my speed.

Despite the conditions, I still felt pretty strong on the bike and was proud of my performance. I definitely needed this.

I hate to be one of those people who states that the course is long because my Garmin says so (#1 pet peeve!), but when I hit mile 33 – and could only barely make out Max Brewer Bridge in the distance – I started loudly bitching the course was long. Dang it. Where was transition?! I wasn’t the only one – everyone’s GPS was off by 2+ miles. If my Garmin was off by .5 miles – no biggie – but 2? That’s worth mentioning.

I kept pushing past the 33 mile beep and finally – FINALLY – reached the ascent for Max Brewer Bridge. Heading back up the bridge the second time was my least favorite part of the entire triathlon. I had just fought wind and bumps for the last 10 miles – my legs were done. I threw my bike in to a low gear and fought to get up. It helped knowing my friends Eric and Rachel were cheering triathletes on at the top – there’s no way I was going to let them see me get off the bike and walk!

First I heard Eric and Rachel’s cowbell and screams, then I saw their crazy smiling faces. I made it! I was at the top!

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I may have had some choice words about the wind and bridge when i saw them. 😉

From there, the rest was cake. A fast ride back down the bridge, then just a couple of turns into transition.

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Done and done.

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“33” mile (Garmin said 35.59) bike: 2:10:57 A/G : 4/28

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My dad followed me to transition and stood right outside the fence as I changed shoes. I told him the wind sucked, but the rest of the course was amazing. He asked me if I had seen Ben out on the course (I hadn’t), apparently he hadn’t made it back yet. He had 23+ mile more to ride than I did – I wasn’t surprised.

T2: 2:23:24 A/G: 7/28

My mom ran over as I exited transition and handed me an orange slice. It was a nice surprise.

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I had no plans for the run – just to, well, run. I settled into an 8:30 pace and felt good. The course was a basic out and back along the river road. The road was shaded and a few of the residents were in their lawns cheering on the runners. I thought the course for the Classic + was great, but I heard the longer distances weren’t as lucky. We turned around right where the shaded part ended, while the other distances went on for another mile and a half in the sun – my brother was not a fan of that.

I soaked up the shade and tried to encourage my fellow triathletes who had started to walk, “Come on! We’re almost done!” Unfortunately, I didn’t take in enough Gu Brew on the bike and my legs started to cramp a bit on the run. I need to get better at drinking on the bike. There were two aid stations on the run and I took in double water and Gatorade at both stops, that helped.

I saw my brother and gave him a high-five before rounding the last corner and seeing the final stretch to the finish line – I was almost done! The crowd started to pick up and my energy picked up with them. My family was on the left – I smiled and waved. Transition was on my right and I looked for anyone I knew. The final cones seemed to go on forever, I was hoping to see the finish line at the end of them, but instead I was directed to go left and make a final loop around Space View park before crossing the finish line.

The finish was pretty cool. The final loop causes you to run past all of the shuttle monuments and statues which fit so perfectly with the space theme of the race. Then, after that final shuttle statue, the finish line was mine. I took my time and soaked it all in. I was done.

3.1 mile Run: 26: 27 A/G Place: 5/24

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Finish: 2:52:30 A/G Place: 4/24

I grabbed my medal and found my dad in the crowd. I had passed a food truck selling italian ice on my way to the finish and told him we needed to make a beeline to the truck. I got a small mango/wild berry combo and it was awesome.

We walked back to where the rest of the family was and started the waiting game for Ben. He had two loops of the 6+ mile course to complete. My mom and I went for a walk, then I called my sister to fill her in on the race. While I was on the phone with my sister I saw The Ex come out of transition and make his way to the run. So I achieved one goal – i beat him! But really who cares? This was his first triathlon and he was out there just for the hell of it. I put Kelly on hold and cheered my little heart out for him!

It wasn’t long before Ben made his first appearance.

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He grabbed a couple of orange slices and headed back out for lap two.

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The run is his least favorite part of any triathlon and I could tell he was particularly hurting on the hot course.

I decided to check the official race results after Ben left for his second lap. I was STOKED when I saw I placed 4th in my age group! And couldn’t believe it when I saw I was only TEN seconds away from being 3rd and taking home an award! TEN seconds!! If I would have known that, I would have pushed it a little harder in transition or at the finish. Sigh.

On the way back to my family, I saw The Ex finish the race strong with a smile. That made me happy for him.

My dad ended up running out to meet Ben on the course and ran the last half mile with him.

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Gotta love my dad. 🙂

Ben pushed through and finished the final lap like a rockstar.

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He is now a three-time Half Iron distance finisher and is more than ready to take on that full Ironman in November!

When all was said and done, I thought Rocketman was a great race and I’m so glad it’s a race that took place in my hometown.

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If Rocketman returns for 2014, you can bet I’ll be there racing again. It was definitely an experience worth repeating!

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