Monday, March 25, 2013

13 weeks till Ironman France - Hits Ocala Race Report

Hits Ocala 70.3 Race Review

Good news first. I set a new pr at this race 5:57 so almost one full hour off my time.

Next I'll give you the end summary so you can skip the details if you want. I would not do this race again and I don't recommend it.

Now the nitty gritty.

Packet Pick-up
Packet pick-up was Friday at the race site. The race site is really in the middle of nowhere but we found it. All of a sudden we turned into a parking lot full of cars and bikes. Voila!

Packet Pickup was very simple. In fact they just gave me my stuff with a glance at my USAT card. As a note - I could have been anybody.

This is actually after the race but you can see the stools and the little bucket space you get for your stuff. The stool is really nice actually.

This is our race stickers sheet. Impressive, eh? We also had race tattoos that were very nice and actually not sticky like the Rev3 ones.
This is the athlete meeting.
The expo was super small but had every thing you'd need except the bike shop wasn't there so there was no co2 to buy. Didn't matter to me but anybody who flew in was out of luck or had to drive into to the one bike store in town. Big oversight I thought. I sat through the athlete meeting with the race director. He was very nice and they took us turn by turn through the course - which took forever but it was fine.

I did a practice swim with Diane. She thought she saw an alligator which was terrifying for her but it wasn't an alligator so in the end it was fine. She screamed "what do we do" and I remember just standing there thinking - there is no way this is an alligator so I wasn't much help. In fact, had it been an actual alligator we would have been mauled based on my response or actually lack of response. But it wasn't so we were fine. We waited a bit and I made her go out and swim more so that she wasn't afraid. Turns out she had watched Animal Planet the night before. Silly girl. The water was cool but not bad at all in a wetsuit.

We racked our bikes and we were done. The big claim to fame for hits is their transition area. I will say it is a nice setup.

Then Italian dinner  at a bizarre local place and bed. I didn't sleep very well but that happens sometimes. No biggie.
this store was next to the restaurant. The restaurant salad bar had practically no vegetables on it ... odd I thought.

Race Morning
Race morning up early breakfast and ride to the race with Frank and Diane.

Set up transition. Minor stress attack because I thought I couldn't open the fuelselage but it all worked out. I did forget my flip flops. Drat. Oh well.

Then right as it was time to head to the beach it started to rain. I dashed back to cover my shoes and we then hid in the bathroom shelter with all the other athletes. And unbelieveably the rain stopped and we headed down to the beach.

We waded into the water for the start and it was dark. Very dark. We could not see the buoys at all. The race director had said we would start at 7 even if it was dark but the cloud cover was dense and it was clearly darker than expected. They called us back to the beach and delayed the start a few minutes till it was brighter. Then they sent us back out and we were off.

The lake is shallow and the first 50 yards everybody was walking. It was funny. Then we started swimming and about 20 strokes in I got the dreaded "swim anxiety attack". It was terrible. I bobbed around and tried swimming and couldn't shake it. I was planning to grab onto a jet ski when I found my friend Diane and told her I was feeling anxiety. I think I asked her to swim with me and she said okay and then magically the anxiety passed and I just swam. My swimming mantra for the first half was "I can swim, I can swim" it was silly but it worked. It rained  hard about half-way through the swim. It was wild but didn't actually affect the swim.

Again at the last buoy lots of people were walking. That was also bizarre to swim next to walkers.

Swim time 39 including the run up the beach.

T1 3:26
The wetsuit strippers yanked off my suit and I was into transition. First time I've had a wetsuit stripper. It was great especially since it takes me forever to get out of my wetsuit. It was raining lightly. I suited up and off I went not the bike.

The Bike 2:53
The bike was on rural roads. The course is clearly marked and with 600 racers there are lots of people are out there. But the roads are open to traffic and there is plenty of traffic. It was not always safe. Once I saw a car aggressively cut in front of a pack of cyclists. Several times I was uncomfortably passed by trucks and three times I can to slow down behind cars who were leapfrogging the cyclists. I also never saw a support vehicle or referee which doesn't mean they weren't there but I didn't see them. And there was at least one group blatantly as a team drafting that I passed. Yup I passed them. It was a good moment.

I was happy with my performance on the bike. I did have some issues with my hydration/calories. My straw got out of wack and I couldn't get fluid in or out. I did resolve that on the go. I need practice pulling my bottles out from behind me on the go. I can do it but I slow down a lot to make it happen.

I did try to take a bottle on the go at bottle swap and I failed miserably. Live and learn. I only took in 2 1/2 of my bottles. I also ate 2 gu's so I had plenty of calories.

But I was strong through the finish. This is the only time I've ever not been dying to get off the bike at the end of this distance, that felt good. Really good actually.

Oh and I pee'd on the bike for the first time :-) gross but I feel accomplished.

T2 - 2:28
Uneventful. I remembered my watch and grabbed sunscreen on the way out of transition. Success all around.

These are my shoes after the race. You can't tell but they are covered in sand and dirt. I felt like I did an xterra event :-)
The run.
The half was a 2 loop course. The first 3-4 miles were a loop through the forest on a trail. The surface was packed sand/dirt. It wasn't horrible but it also wasn't great. There was some shade which was nice. Then there was a 2 mile stretch where we were on the road with cars and also cyclists it was a mess. It was very sunny and hot on this section.

There was also sort of rampant cheating on the run. Because there weren't timing mats at the halfway point of the trail portion or the turn around on the road -it was apparent that some people cut the course. You could tell because you would pass somebody and then a few minutes later after the turn around you would pass them again ... how did they get ahead of you ... hmmm. That's no fun. For the record I did not cheat.

Usually I carry my own water on the run but my fuel belt makes me crazy. So this time I decided to live off the course. Wrong race to try this. They were out of ice immediately and at 2 stops they ran out if water. There were only 2 volunteers at each stop so you had to go up and almost serve yourself. It was disappointing and if I had been gunning for time it would have been an issue. Wait I'm always gunning for time so it was disappointing. Also keep in mind that I'm in the middle of overall finishers of the half and there are athletes racing the full and they were already running out of supplies.

I was very lucky that I was running with a guy named Kevin. He was outgoing. Chatty and had a lot to say. He also ran a consistent 10 minute mile. So he distracted me and kept me on pace. I was hoping to run in the 9s but I just didn't have the speed. Also in the second loop I was definitely overheating. Kevin did the math with about 4 miles to go and said we needed to speed up to make six hours. I really wanted to hit six hours so I tried but he pulled away. I just kept pushing as hard as I could and when i got to the last water stop and they had no ice or water I was lucky because my coach frank was around the corner with a bottle of water for me. then i just told myself it was mind over matter and I only walked once uphill for 10 seconds.

The finish line was small and not very rockstar like. But all finish lines are a great feeling. I thought I was probably 6:05 or so and then Frank told me I was 5:57 ... I was thrilled. I may have cried a bit.

The post race buffet was mediocre. Potato chips, grapes and bagels. But the potato chips hit the spot. We hung out and waited. For Diane to finish. My kids were happy because there was a playground and they could play in the lake.

When Diane finished we had  more potato chips packed up and left. While we were packing up 2 full participants. Came in to transition. Seriously that has to be lonely to come into transition while we were packing up and start a marathon.

I was happy to finish this one.

In conclusion, this is a low- frills event. The medal for all distances is the same. That sort of stinks and the shirt just says the date which is pretty lame-o. But honestly I don't consider road closures to be a frill. It seemed there was no effort to inform locals that there was a race happening on these roads. The locals at the hotel and restaurants didn't know about the race and I think that showed in the automotive traffic on the roads.

So while I don't want to be too negative about Hits. So let's start with the positives. The swim was good - it's a good location. Both the bike and run were well marked and I think pretty close to exactly on target for distance.
every distance got the same exact medal. I'm sure they got a discount by ordering all the same medals but it's a bummer.

But, I want to say that I expected more. All three of my 70.3 distance races are off-brand if you will. I think I have reasonable expectations for small races. So let's compare:

Motivation Man in West Palm Beach had less than 200 racers for the half but they were able to close part of the road for the entire distance of the race. They did have other issues.

Rev3 had I think just under 400 racers and the roads were open to traffic but there were cones and volunteers and signs and I never felt at risk. They also have an awesome finish line, superb volunteer support and fantastic swag.

Hits said they had 500 people for the half although I only see 300 in the results so that might explain some things. The company which also does horse shows is supposed to be rooted in this Ocala community and in my opinion they just didn't do what it took to make this bike route secure. Also, they might not know as much about triathletes as they think they do. Given the chance there are those among us who will cheat and if you put an unattended out and back on the run there needs to be a timing mat to prevent course cutting. They ran out of water (I presume only briefly but when I was there at 2 of 3 stops no water or ice).  They also didn't have anywhere near the volunteers that they needed to pull this off and those 2 things alone are unacceptable to me as a racer. 

I'm happy with my performance but wouldn't choose this race again.


  1. Congrats on a great race and great time!

  2. wow. glad to read the report and scratch that off my list of potential races! so,so proud you peed on the bike. hopefully i can be like you when i grow up!

  3. Hi! I'm circling around to read all the HITS reviews. I'm doing it next month. I'm also doing IM Chatt!!!

    1. Good luck in Hits! And I'll see you in Chatty.