St. Anthony’s is the signature triathlon for the St. Petersburg area, as it has been held for 32 years now, and after sitting it out last year because I was tapering for the Keys 50, I was determined to race it this year. Furthermore, because my only other attempt at this race was such a humbling experience, I wanted to give it another shot, this time with something approaching adequate training.
Before we start, let me tell you a little about St. Anthony’s Triathlon. One of the things I love about it is that it takes triathletes on a tour of St. Petersburg, which is one of my favorite cities ever. Everyone who lives here is like, “Oh, I love St. Pete!” but people who don’t live here are like, “Where?” Or if they have heard of St. Pete, they’re like, “Oh yeah, my grandparents retired there.” That said, I suspect the tide on that might be turning soon, if the unending flood of positive press for the area is any indication. But for reals, St. Pete rocks my face off, and you should all come visit soon.
The swim leg is held in Tampa Bay, which is admittedly not the most pleasant body of water for swimming (at least not compared to the Gulf of Mexico, which is on the other side of the peninsula) but gives you a unique view of the uber-70s inverted pyramid at the St. Pete Pier. The bike leg goes through downtown St. Petersburg, past USF St. Petersburg (which is my alma mater!) and down through some of the neighborhoods in the southern part of the city. The run leg goes north along Coffee Pot Bayou and into fancy-pants Snell Isle.
Another cool thing about St. A’s is that it’s really the only local race that attracts a decent pro field. Well, at least, it used to. St. A’s is part of a sad trend in the sport of triathlon, which is the slashing of pro prize purses, which makes it even harder for the triathletes I admire to make a living. (Seriously, I hope this trend changes soon because if it continues it will be catastrophic for the sport.) But even though the pro field has waned a bit, the race still draws a lot of competitive amateurs from around Florida and the Southeast. It’s a fun opportunity to see some really top-notch athletes rocking a beautiful race course.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I actually trained quite a bit leading up to this race. It wasn’t the best training cycle, as I really only had a month to train after I recovered from the Albany marathon, but fortunately because I’d cross-trained on the bike (per Run Faster, Run Less) I wasn’t totally digging myself out of a hole like I was after I ran Clearwater in 2014, which I trained for using Hansons and thus spent absolutely zero time cycling or swimming at all.
For a month I dialed back on my running and ramped up my swimming and cycling. Swimming and cycling have been really challenging for me in my short time as a multi-sport athlete, and so I’ve tried to compensate by working my ass off at these two disciplines. I know the tendency among triathletes is to spend most of their time doing the things they’re good at while kind of neglecting the things they don’t like as much, but I’ve tried to flip that script a bit. The result has been that I’ve really, really, really come around to swimming, and I’m find myself even liking cycling quite a bit. (And the clipless pedals? The ones that used to give me such anxiety that I’d have nightmares before a ride? No issues with them at all.)
The day before the race, we went downtown because we had to drop off our bikes in transition. Our racing team was sponsoring a coffee barge, so we stripped down to our swimsuits and walked down the metal steps into the water, then swam 250 yards out to the pontoon boat. Some super helpful people were all “watch out for the huge manatee!” which is NOT what I want to hear before going out for a swim. (I’m pretty sure a manatee once bumped my leg as I swam off Indian Rocks Beach, which cased me to Jesus lizard my ass out of there.)
I told them that if they heard shrieking coming from the water, it was probably going to be me meeting the manatee. Basically, this would be me.
Anyways, we swam out to the boat, both to get some espresso (courtesy of Kawha Coffee – thanks, dudes, it was delicious!) and to check out the water. It was slightly protected but you could still feel a pretty strong current coming out of the south, and if you didn’t grab the ropes the current would sweep you away before you even knew it. This was a teeny bit concerning as we were going to be swimming directly into that current the following morning.
Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately, depending on your perspective) the water was warm, which settled the “wetsuit or no wetsuit” question pretty quickly. There was a time I would have been horrified at the idea of making that swim sans wetsuit, but like I said, I’ve been putting in the work, and with work comes confidence, and I was confident that I could swim 1500 wetsuit-free meters in Tampa Bay, gnarly current and all.
So the following day we got up at 4 a.m. and stumbled around getting ready, the entire time asking ourselves why we couldn’t have a different hobby, like organic gardening or oil painting, something that doesn’t force you to get up at ungodly hours on Sunday mornings. As always, though, the crankiness fades once we get to the race site and you see everyone getting body-marked and the music is playing loud and everything’s all exciting and fun again.
I set up my transition area and talked to my friend and teammate Corrie for a bit, then found Brian for a pre-race warm-up swim. We had nearly an hour before it was our turn, so we had a lot of time to kill. We said hi to Brian’s mom, who came to spectate, then chatted with some more of our teammates. Brian’s massive wave of men aged 50-54 went off, and then eight minutes later, my much, much smaller wave of women aged 35-39 went off. (Seriously, ladies, wtf? Please, please, please come out and play with us!)
The swim was an in-water start, which is always nice because it limits the opportunity for turned ankles while running through shallow water. (I once face-planted when I misjudged a dolphin dive. Fucking beach starts.) It took me a couple of minutes to get my bearings, but once I did, I was on my way. One of the things I’ve found since I started swimming more is that I feel less inclined to thrash around, and that instead I…well, I guess a way to describe it is pulling myself through the water. I don’t kick a ton, just a little flutter kick to keep the lower half of my body from dragging, and I use my arms and my back to handle the majority of my locomotion.
I think I lost the lead pack – including Corrie, who got out of the water in a blistering 27 minutes or something nuts like that – pretty quickly, which was disappointing but not unexpected, so I just focused on my own race. Pretty soon I realized I was catching women in orange swim caps like mine, then light blue swim caps from the wave ahead of me. A few minutes later, I passed some navy blue swim caps. Hey, you’re doing pretty good, I told myself. I was also a little surprised to realize I was having fun. (FYI, when I pass people, I don’t swim over them. I swim around them. It’s my Midwestern manners, y’all.)
At about the halfway point, the race course turns to the east and takes you directly away from shore, where the water gets a lot deeper and the swells are considerable. This was new territory for me, and I think it would have been understandable if I lost my shit here, but I was actually really into it! It was a marvelous feeling to know that I was swimming through some rough water with such confidence and strength, and that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that only three years ago, I was terrified of walking into water that went past my waist.
I made the turns around the buoys, feeling a bit like I was being tossed around in a washing machine and thinking about how weird and awesome and kinda demented I must be for enjoying it the way I was, then I started on the straightaway back to land. The current gave me a bit of a helping hand, and then I was out of the water, a little dizzy but still feeling pretty damn good.
Swim time: 36:24
T1: 2:11 (BTW after losing first in my AG in my first triathlon of the year because of freaking transitions, I’ve been working to tighten them up. Ugh, I still can’t believe that happened.)
I got on the bike and started riding. The first little bit was rough-going because it was a horrible brick road, then a mile later we turned west on First Avenue S, straight into some monster headwinds. I tucked into aero and tried not to be a baby about the wind – unlike the previous weekend, when I spent ten miles riding into crazy headwinds, which caused me at one point to scream that the wind could go fuck itself (and by the way, that doesn’t make it stop blowing, in case you were curious) – and focused on keeping my bike computer showing at least 18 mph.
The great thing about headwinds is that eventually they turn into tailwinds, so when I turned around I found myself easily cruising at 22+ mph. Of course, when this happens, the temptation is to be all “I am amazing! I am so fast! I am the best cyclist in the world! Lance Armstrong can suck it!” Those high spirits are quickly dashed when you go back into the headwinds, and you start wondering if your tires have gone flat or something.
That back-and-forth was a solid 75 percent of my ride. The other 25 percent of my ride was spent feeling like crosswinds were going to knock me off my bike, which was fun (not really). Mostly I enjoyed the bike leg of things, although sadly I started experiencing some acid reflux-y type feelings about halfway through. Fortunately, unlike the last triathlon I did, I didn’t throw up a little in my mouth, but still, that feeling was totally gross and I have to admit, worrying about spewing can really put a cramp in your racing steez. (Seriously, forget “I peeing on my bike” – where’s the t-shirt for puking on your bike?)
My one real issue during the bike ride happened whenever I’d hit a turn and I’d find myself behind someone who was clearly not comfortable taking the turns. I didn’t want to whip around them and scare the shit out of them, but I also hate losing my momentum like that, especially since I’m a lot more comfortable with sharp turns than I used to be and I’d like to put those skills to use in a race! Oh, the dilemmas of the amateur athlete.
I finished the bike leg feeling pretty strong, and even though I knew I didn’t hit my goal pace, I couldn’t be too mad. Those winds were brutal, and ultimately I was happy to post my best time ever riding 40K outside.
Bike time: 1:19:40
T2: 2:13 (Work, work, working on those transitions…)
THE RUN. UGH. How do I even start with this? My ability to run off the bike has gotten so much better but I would have not known it from this race. The first two miles were fine, and then I felt the first wobble of my wheels threatening to come off. I had an energy gel tucked in my pocket, so I sucked it down and hoped for the best.
I wanted to enjoy the run because the people who live along the run course do their best to make it enjoyable. The water stops had ice! People were playing music! Kids had hoses to spray us off! They were squirting us with Super Soakers! One water stop had fresh-cut fruit, and they were also offering beer! They were throwing a big neighborhood party!
And yet I was so hot and tired, I couldn’t enjoy it. I just kept dumping water on my head and down my kit (and by the way, cold water down the shorts is amazing, which is something I picked up watching Sebastian Kienle at Kona last year), and eventually my shoes and socks started doing that revolting squelch, squelch thing. My race number holder fell off my waist, and so I had to stop to futz with that for a second. Then I realized I had to pee. Then I noticed my nipples felt like they were on fire. Then that acid-reflux-y feeling came back. Then…and then…and then…
Finally, when I was almost through the fifth mile, I was like, fuck this shit, and I stopped to walk. I did some deep breathing and gave myself permission to flip out quietly for about 30 seconds. In exchange for that silent freak-out, I told myself I had to finish up the race by running. Just get it out of my system, and then GO.
So, that’s what I did. It’s something I learned during the Keys 50, where things will get shitty but if you accept it and keep going, they’ll change soon. I accepted that I was feeling shitty, I let myself feel shitty, and then I moved on. Resilience for the win, yo.
That last mile never felt like it was going to end, but somehow it did. I don’t remember much about the finish line, but I saw the video. I had no kick, no energy to celebrate. It was evident that I’d given everything I had to give that morning.
Run time: 53:05
Total time: 2:53:32
I’d had this idea that maybe that day would have been the day that I finally went sub-2:45 in the Olympic distance, but the weather had other ideas. I was a little bummed out by that, and also by my inability to keep it together on the run. Two days later, I’m thinking I might not have handled my nutrition well. Plus I was PMSing, and as much as I hate to admit it has an effect on me, it does. It’s not huge, but I do fatigue a little more easily than I do during the rest of my cycle.
But! I was – and still am – very proud of myself for the way I handled the swim and the bike. Those have been weak spots for me, and it was really wonderful to feel all of that hard work pay off in such tangible ways. I particularly am still a little stunned by the fact that I had so much fun swimming in stinky old Tampa Bay.
I had a couple of moments where I got down on myself for not being as fast as some of my friends, but the truth is that I’m still fairly new to all of this. I mean, I’ve been doing triathlon for about three years but I only really started to take it seriously in the last year or so. It takes time, consistency and practice to become good at any skill, even when you have a bit of natural talent at those skills. I’m doing pretty good for someone who is relatively new to all of this, and if I keep working hard and staying healthy and most importantly, having fun while doing it, then I know it’s just a matter of time before I get faster and stronger. That’s a pretty exciting thing, if you ask me.