by Evan Malone
Race Date: 08/20/2016
The 2016 GCTT event schedule incidentally aligns with one team event per month, April through October. The August event featured a return to the beautiful, Gulf front communities along Santa Rosa Beach (aka SoWal, or Highway 30A, or simply “30A”). The team was looking forward to some favorable race conditions compared to the recent visit to Nashville (scorching sun and heat) and hopefully a reprieve from the purple flag conditions which can be associated with summer month Sea Nettle (jellyfish) invasions along the Gulf coast.
As it would turn out, both the weather and the Gulf sea life would play nice: flat or knee-high surf, absent swarms of sea life, favorable current pushing along the shore, 85F Gulf waters, negligible winds, and peak air temperature near 85F by the end of the event. These near-ideal conditions in concert with the backdrop of the manicured Sandestin Resort would make for a fantastic event — the splits, positive all-around vibe, and finish times on the day reflected just that.
The swim course features a mainly point-to-point, West-to-East segment (0.3 mile) coursing parallel to shore. Combined with the outbound and inbound segments (0.1 mile each) which position the athletes basically directly above the “second sandbar” from shore, it makes for a tidy 0.5 mile course. The walk to the start corral was punctuated by many athletes taking the opportunity to enter the water for a warmup swim, test their goggles, and convince themselves that there wouldn’t be any problem with stings or nettles this year. One aspect of this event which the team (or at least this author) was looking forward to is the “wave start” format which this event utilizes. Basically sending groups of athletes organized by age into the Gulf in four-minute increments (30-34, 29-under, 35-39, 40-44, etc…). As it turns out, the 2016 GCTT race calendar only has two such events, the remainder of the events falling in the “time trial start” format. With the wave start format, the team relished the opportunity for some head-to-head racing. In the end, the swim proved to be an honest challenge given some chop to the surf, which played to the advantage of more experienced open water swimmers.
The T1 run is the typical Gulf front “up the beach, over the dune(s), into the closest parking lot” coursing which GCTT is familiar with in regard to other Gulf swims. Not to belabor the point, but it was understood that nearly all the participants this year took pleasure in declining the “vinegar spray” station which was positioned atop the dune walkover — no jellies! This particular T1 run was peppered with spectators and out-of-town visitors (remember, this is inside of a beautiful resort) cheering everyone along, a nice boost of confidence en route to the bike racks.
The bike course is a fast, mostly-flat (couple of very, very small dips at waterway crossings), and simple out-and-back ten mile stretch. Save for the first and last roughly three miles of the ride, the majority of the course follows along Highway 30A — scenic landscapes and beautiful beachfront communities. The aforementioned miles on Highway 98 include a coned-off lane for athletes with perhaps the only obstacle(s) being on-coming athlete traffic (athletes at mile 2 crossing with athletes at mile 18, for example). So the name of the game while on Highway 98 is “heads up, pass with extreme caution.” The miles along 30A amount to a closed course experience with very few vehicles accessing the road during the event — not much remaining but an orchestra consisting of the whirl of aero wheels, the click-clack of gear shifts, the sounds one might associate with a snot-rocket being loaded and/or discharged, and the rhythmic grunts of “on… your… left…, ON… YOUR… LEFT…”
T2 is a no-brainer. Ample rack space, wide in-out traffic lanes, and a paved lot make for a clean transition from bike to run. As with T1, the crowd support is still there and perhaps has grown through the morning. A few high fives and fist bumps on the way toward Baytowne Wharf!
An informal poll following the event found that the run course is what most athletes enjoyed this year. The four mile course is completely within the confines of the Resort. This translates to a two mile out-and-back layout which utilizes a wide, paved pathway surrounded by primped landscaping and covered with ample shade. Additionally, this 2016 event offered multiple water stops with a total of SEVEN chances for athletes to take advantage of these stations which were staffed by energetic volunteers and race staff. Of note, the full bottles of ice cold Dasani water were SPOT ON!
The Beach House (i.e. Elephant Walk, Finz, or “the restaurant next to the Hilton”) played host to the afterparty and awards. Overall, a unique and fun atmosphere with athletes, friends, and family members gathered in and around the pool which overlooks the beach (and the swim course from earlier that morning). Yet another fun part of this annual event which the team enjoys and looks forward to, with many athletes electing to spend the remainder of the day (or weekend) in the Resort.
Congratulations to all the athletes who participated on Saturday, GCTT hopes each of your race experiences was a positive one. GCTT is thankful for such a supportive multisport community which includes so very many integral players — race director, race staff, volunteers, medical personnel, law enforcement, event sponsors, venue hosts, and families/friends who support our multisport endeavors.
Finally, thanks to the GCTT sponsors which make this team possible! 2016 has been great thus far. Looking forward to the remaining events as well as the Gulf Coast Tri Initiative geared toward increased youth involvement in multisport!