Santa Rosa Island Triathlon - Pensacola Beach, FL - 7:00 AM
Ruby red cycling shoes and the Wicked Wind of the North
“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
SRITRI was my very first triathlon back in 2008 so it is always a commemorative event on the calendar – kind of like a multisport birthday but with aero party hats. There is always a great turnout so there are plenty of friends. There is good food waiting with Carrabba’s redolence mingling with the salty beach air. And when Mother Nature cooperates it’s usually a good time of year for Pensacola Beach with Caribbean-clear water and the first signs of reprieve from the usual Gulf Coast heat & humidity. Plus, how many opportunities are there to race with top-tier talent like Brian Fleischmann at home?
One would think after last year’s event being cancelled due to dangerous forecasts, this year would be idyllic conditions. And from the safety of a parked vehicle, that appeared to be true. With clear skies and cozy temps (60’s), the Gulf was pancake flat with winds out of the North. Try to open the car door though and it became immediately evident that this was no gulf breeze. Depending on the direction the car was facing, the door either seemed to weigh 100-lbs or it nearly snapped off its hinges as soon as the handle was pulled. There were several reported sightings of Dorothy and Toto whirling around. I personally think it was just Evan (Malone) though who chose to wear his spectator dress in lieu of racing due to some race on some obscure Hawaiian island the following weekend (seriously though, congrats to Evan on the pinnacle achievement of getting to race in multisport Mecca - Kona). Ironman proximity didn’t stop Chad (Hon) though who was 6-days out from his enviable, 9-something hour IM Chattanooga showing (and he still managed an 8th overall and the AG-win at SRITRI!!). There was also an alleged MC Hammer sighting but that turned out to just be Logan (Roberts) who must have picked-up some of the 1990’s celeb’s iconic flappy britches on EBay for post-race warmth.
From the shore, the Gulf looked like a really big lake – not a wave to be seen. To the first buoy was reminiscent of a snorkeling excursion on the Northern coast of Panama my wife and I once took – calm, clear, cerulean water. First breath after the turn buoy was a surprise gulp of salty water. Second breath was another surprising, slightly-larger gulp of salty water. Third breath was a starting-to-panic, destination-hypoxia, giant gulp of salty water. Being a really quick learner, I decided breathing to the left was preferable than continuing to breath towards shore and drowning. Turns out the North wind that was so amiably flattening the Gulf was like that wispy seraph that emerged from the opened Ark of the Covenant in that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark – at first, she seemed all beautiful and alluring as she floated around but then she transformed into a skull-faced poltergeist and literally melted that guy’s face off. Indy was smart enough not to look at her from the beginning, but I am no Indiana Jones and she blew a lot of water in my face. And from what I gathered post-race, there were only a handful of racers unaffected by the North wind deception – one with a pro-card and the other a local, 16-year old phenom who’s been bruising local egos since he was 12 (both posted sub-10:00 times for the 600 yard swim and subsequent run up the beach).
Possibly the most astounding detail of the day is that there were no reported major crashes or injuries. After a record number of people had to be pulled from the water due to the blustery winds, it would certainly have been plausible that there would be more than a few unfortunate mishaps. It was definitely squirrely with such strong gusts billowing in from the side (reports were sustained 20+ mph).
After all the sand had settled, Gulf Coast Tri Team had nabbed 7 of the top-10 spots and topped out the Overall, Master’s, Grand Master’s and Senior Grand Master’s divisions in the AG race. The Bonnie & Clyde award went to Johnny and Lisa Harrison, the husband and wife duo that pulled off the heist for his and hers Master’s honors. An anonymous team member who we’ll call Randy Walton narrowly edged out Chuck Babin for most beer tickets collected.
All in all, it was a spectacular Saturday morning. The wind was just an added element of challenge, and, if we’re honest, the challenge is what makes triathlon so appealing to so many people at different places in life - fast and not-so-fast, young and not-so-young, big and little, novice and veteran, able-bodied (whatever that means) and challenged athletes alike. Gratitude is the only appropriate response to the opportunity to participate in such an event in such an incredible setting.