Gulf Coast 70.3 Race report


I love coming to Panama City Beach. I love everything about it. The ocean, the people, the sunsets, and this race. I have been frequenting this race on and off since 2007 for this event and Ironman Florida. I hope I can keep coming until I am 100 years old.

This year my friend Hope came with me. We were set to come last year, but my son’s surgery was three days before. There was no way I would leave then. Ironically, that was the beginning of the most important men in my life going down. Only two got back up.

This was Hope’s first time at a triathlon and she was an awesome travel partner. She even carried #FlatDad around!

When we arrived on Thursday we headed straight to the ocean and it was pure heaven. Warm, wavy, emerald colored. I love to swim in the ocean and if it was going to be wavy on race day, it was to my advantage.

I am still dealing with an injury so my plan was the same as Texas 70.3. Swim-bike-BEER. It might seem crazy to do all this traveling to not finish these races. My entries were deferrals and this is how I am choosing to process the unbearable grief I have been experiencing since my Dad died. It just helps me.

The day before the race was a double red flag day in the gulf, which meant it was closed for swimming. In front of our hotel someone drowned (fortunately we weren’t there). Race morning we learned that the swim would be cancelled as the conditions had not improved.

If you are struggling on the run… you can walk. But if you struggle in the water… you drown. While these conditions are my favorite and I understand how to navigate rip tides, I couldn’t be upset. They made the right call. We need everyone who starts these races to finish.

So it now became a 56 mile bike race for me! Bike beer it would be! Game on!

They started the field 4 at a time, 5 seconds apart in numerical order. My bib was high so I started in the back 1/3 of the field. I got excited, that meant that I would see how many people I could pass. It took 75 minutes for everyone to start. I had no issues started and before I knew it I was hauling down Front Beach Blvd in more automobile traffic than I would have liked, but I felt no fear.

I remember counting 4 people that I passed, then I just forgot to keep counting. I just rode. Four years ago my powermeter’s battery died and I didn’t replace it. A year ago I took the electronic shifting off as the battery kept failing. For me riding my bike doesn’t need any of that. I won’t allow a ride to be dictated by a battery or the worry that can surround it. If I snap my cable then I snap my cable, I won’t ever be halted by a… battery.

I have a computer on the top tube where it’s out of sight so I can occasionally glance down, but I ride on feel. I wish I could tell you that I tap into some crazy self belief or self confidence or some magic number. I don’t. You know what my bike secret is?

I feel like I am Han Solo piloting the Millenium Falcon. Woosh…. woosh….. COME ON CHEWIE!!!! That’s all. That’s how I feel.

Like in Texas there was wind, but this time a cross wind. Again I considered it my grief. You can let it blow you around, or you can use it to help you fly. With my special pendant around my neck I said “All right Dad… let’s FLY.”

I loved the bike course. Even the crazy part where we rode over metal grates, down a hill, over a bridge, over mats and then I don’t even remember where we went after that. Everyone was looking out for one another, signaling dropped water bottles, potholes, etc. I don’t think of too much out there. I just freaking ride.

I rode a 2:31. That’s pretty typical of what I ride when I put in the preparation. As I have mentioned before I am just riding a lot. All fueled by grief. I don’t care what my FTP is, I don’t have any sort of plan, I am just riding. And this is the second bike split in as many months that makes me wish I could call my Dad and laugh about my lack of a plan that’s more effective than any plan ever.

It just feels so good to be riding and riding well. Slowly and surely I am working my way through this unimaginable time in my life. I have so many more miles to do

I hopped off the bike and found Hope with #FlatDad right after the run course started, and pulled off for my beer. I handed my chip in, and it didn’t feel terrible. I appreciate what I can do right now more than I can explain.

We have a few theories of what this injury is and a series of appointments and tests. We think it may be an entrapped artery but we just need to do through the process before we jump to conclusions.

Until we do get results…. I am aquabiking my way through these months. A year ago this injury would have devastated me. But look at what I have been through in the past 365 days. An injury isn’t a big deal. We will figure it out, I will heal, and the run will come back.

I have been told that it’s not so much the big things that hurt so badly. It’s the little things that hurt. The phone call I would have made. How Dad would have joked about sharks. How he would have marveled at my bike split.

There were a few points on that course where things were pretty unsafe, on Front Beach Blvd coming back to transition. Cars and pedestrians were all over the place. Normally that would have shaken me. But there is this new … feeling…. I don’t know what to call it. I felt calm and controlled, not reckless though. I called out to my competitors and we all made space for one another and tried to protect one another. I have never felt that before as I did there. It was awesome.

The next morning I took a very long walk on the beach. I had some of my Dad’s ashes with me, in case I felt like the ocean would be a good place to spread some. It didn’t feel right. He wasn’t a big ocean guy, but he felt that you should spread ashes where you want to remember someone you love. This wasn’t the place. So I walked on the beach and felt the ocean and kept him with me this time.

I am healing. I am allowing grief to work it’s way through me. Every day feels different. Some days I am paralyzed. Other days I can laugh. What they say is true though, it doesn’t get better, it just gets further away. We grow around it. We grow with it. And this is my way of working through it.

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