Gulf Coast Triathlon 2012 (70.3)

After the race

This runs a little long, but since it was my first 70.3 and a lot of you are curious about how it went, I got a little wordy. So apologies.  Plus, it’s my blog.  I can write a book if I so desire!  LOL

This was a great race, well-organized with lots of support and encouragement. I plan to do this race a lot in the coming years!

The Swim

The swim was crazy. The day before the race I met Dustin, a new Vegan tri friend of mine, at the swim course for a short OWS in our wetsuits.  The water was placid, like a lake.  Neither of us had raced this far in open water before, so we were excited about the prospects of the swim with such smooth water. Alas, at the race meeting that night, the race director warned of approaching weather for the weekend.  This meant that the Gulf of Mexico wouldn’t be so smooth on race day. And it wasn’t.  The Red Flags were out on the beach warning beachgoers of rip tides, and we triathletes were greeted with 2- to 4-foot swells for the swim.

My warm up swim the day before and right before the race did wonders for my nerves. I have the hardest time right when I get in the water with remembering to breathe while swimming.  So much going on in my mind: “Don’t look like a total newbie!” “Stay alive!” “Act like you know what you’re doing!”  So it was nice to get that stuff MOSTLY out of my mind before my wave, which was slated for next to last.  This was good and bad.  I was happy to have time to study the earlier swim groups, how they attacked the breaking waves, how they navigated the currents, how they stayed alive.  But I was nervous with my wave started at 7:05.  The swim course closed at 8:20. I was concerned that if I really struggled in the swim, I might miss the cutoff.

The gun fired for my wave and we were in the water. The waves were big and angry! Getting through the breakers was tough but manageable.  I stayed near the back of my wave and toward the outside.  I didn’t want to get caught up the mass of bodies and lose my goggles or get kicked or pushed under.  (One dude from an earlier wave came out of the water with a bloody head.) So I took it slow and steady and tried to find my rhythm.  I breathed with every stroke so I could catch my breath and sight.  Once I was about 400-500 yards into the swim, I knew I would finish this course. I’m serious, swimming this far has always worried me. Of course, I’ve done it in the pool, but the pool is the pool.  The Gulf is another thing entirely.

We swam 950 yards out, took a left for 200 yards, then another 950 yards back home. Funny, the last segment of the swim was hardest of all.  I just assumed the current would help a little, but the waves were really rolling in and I had ingested a lot of salt water and was feeling a little nauseous.  One big fairly wet burp/vomit and I felt so much better.  After I made the turn, I thought to myself: “There’s no way you can stop now.  Jeez, you’re alive and you have a wetsuit.  The worse thing that can happen is you stop stroking and end up in Mexico.”

I finished the swim in 47 minutes.  Happy and proud to have done it.  I know I need work, but I wonder how things might have been with calmer waters…  On to T1!

The Bike

Spent a few minutes stripping the wetsuit and washing saltwater off, then gearing up for the bike.  My goal for the bike was to stay in Zone 2 and not overdo it. I had been warned by veteran triathletes and my tri training books that too much on the bike will kill the run.  So, I stayed in Zone 2 and relaxed and enjoyed the view.  And I was bored.  How do you Ironmen do 112 miles on a bike with no music or books?  How do you stay sane!?  And my taint.  Hoo Boy!  My butt was hurting after mile 20, earlier than ever in training!  I shifted position a bit, stayed in Aero for most of the ride, and dealt, but really hate my taint for its rebelliousness.

Aero position, late in the ride (Courtesy: Endurance Cycling and Nutrition

I did my best to pee on my bike. I had to go so bad, and was so ready to let loose, but for me to relax I had to stop pedaling, but the flat course and the wind slowed me down so much that before the pee came, I had to start pedaling again.  I was losing time playing this crazy game, so after mile 40 I stopped at a port-a-potty and went.  Gonna have to practice bike peeing.

I need to get stronger on the bike.  I was passed by a lot of people hammering away.  I knew I would see them later at the end of the bike course or dying on their runs.  But I need to gain more power in zone 2.  That’s the mission for the rest of the summer! (I’ll entertain any suggestions, but know I cannot afford a power meter. So don’t say “get a power meter.”) On the first half of the course I averaged 18-20 MPH in some not-so-bad wind.  But as we returned, the wind was unbearable.  Gusts into the 30s MPH, sustained in high teens to mid-20s.  Oy!  My pace slowed to 12-16 MPH.  I watched my HR and stayed disciplined.  I didn’t want to have to walk or run too slow when I hit the run segment.

The Run

I pulled into T2 feeling pretty good. Some fatigue from the race but no overwhelming feeling of “OMG, I cannot go on.” During my training, I had made a point to run longer on a few of my brick workouts.  My training plan called for 15-20 minute runs off the bike on weekend bike workouts of 3-4 hours on the bike, but I extended many of those runs to a full hour.  On some runs I’d go very hard the first 15 minutes (6:35 ish pace) and then back off to an easy and steady pace for the remainder of the hour.  On other bricks I would just run easy off the bike.  Just building endurance.

The plan for the run was to take the first 3 miles easy. Get used to being on my feet again, then after mile 3 and a gel, I would slowly increase my pace until the last three or so miles and see what I had left. The same wind that plagued us on the bike was there for the run, so I decided to run at an easy pace (9:00 ish per mile) until the turnaround and gain some wind at my back.

I was surprised to see how many people were walking at this point; some even started walking right out of transition. Some went too hard on the bike, others seemed to plan to walk from the beginning. It was fun to pass some of those who had cruised past me on the bike segment.  I knew my plan was working. I even passed a couple of people wearing “Fueled by beef” kits.  Took some pride in that!

I increased pace to just below 9:00 per mile and felt really good from, miles 7-11.  But by mile 12 the sun was out and my fatigue  grew.  And my dang shoes were soaked and heavy from the water I was using to cool my head.  (Note to self: investigate Tri shoes for warm weather Tris!)

It wasn’t terribly warm at this race.  This tri has a reputation for being a hot one.  But with clouds blocking a lot of sunlight, it took a while for heat to take a toll.  But late in the run as the noon hour came and passed, the warmth built.  Each aid station gave out frozen sponges.  I took a sponge at every station and alternated squeezing it over my head or stuffing it down the front of my shorts.  Both felt wonderful.  (I once read that water or a frozen sponge in the groin area during a hot weather race can cool body temps.  I believe it now! Talk about invigorating!  woof!)

As I reached mile 12, I maintained pace, no kick available now, and told myself to relax, I was doing something remarkable–finishing my first 70.3–and to smile and finish strong. I quickened my pace in the last half mile, and had a pretty strong-looking triathlete who had already finished call out: “Nice cadence. keep it up!” And I gave a small kid a high-five. I heard the announcer call out my name. I smiled. I finished strong.

Rolling into the finish!
Rolling into the finish!

Final Thoughts

I cannot believe I did this race. Or that I swam 1.2 miles in the Gulf, regardless of conditions.

I want to do another 70.3! I want to do more Tris.  I love the idea of doing three sports in one day.  I love rolling into transition and gearing up for a different approach and activity and strategy.

I want to do an Ironman.


Official Time: 6:29:13

Swim: 47:13

T1: 7:31

Bike: 3:28:07

T2: 5:08

Run: 2:01:11


Overall: 474/772

AG (45-49): 49 out of 74

Swim: 61/74

Bike 67/74

Run: 24/74

Next up: Buster Britton Memorial Triathlon (Sprint)


  1. I knew you’d love tris! I remember when I first called into the podcast talking about the tri’s I’ve done and you were pretty skeptical on trying tri’s! For me, it’s more addictive and interesting than running alone. But running alone is it’s own unique challenge. The swim has always been my strongest suit. Biking has always been my roughest too, but variety in training and practice always helps!

  2. Congrats on your first 1/2 Ironman finish! Nice race report as well, sounds like a cool race. 70.3 is my favorite distance, long enough that you get your money’s worth but you’re not out there all day!

  3. Wow, Gordon, this sounds like a lot of pain and fun. Dead right about the importance of not overdoing it on the bike. The last duathlon I did was run,bike, run. I was third one in from the bike but I had overdone it. Got passed on the second run and fell back to eighth. And the runs were only five ks! I felt like I had cinder blocks for feet.

  4. Congratulations on your first 70.3, what an amazing feat! This is a great race report with lots of insight into the mental challenges of a tri. Inspiring!

  5. Congrats! Looks like you really excelled in your running! And because I’ve never even attempted anything in tri-land, I learned a lot from this post. Peeing on the bike — didn’t know that was an option. Wish I could pull that off in a marathon. That could save some time!

  6. So, is that a sponge in your pocket or are you just glad to see me? (Heheheheh!)
    Loved your report! Been there so many times with all the concerns. Like that you make notes to yourself and are constantly evaluating. I think girls may have an easier time peeing on the bike than guys, but I have perfected peeing during all three disciplines. Gives me something to do and allows me to make sure I’m hydrated well. 🙂
    Great job!

  7. Nice report! Sounded like a rough swim for sure. I am doing my very first 70.3 on June 30th in Tupper Lake, New York. Can’t wait. Thanks for the read.

  8. I stumbled onto your old blog when I was looking for some info on the WDW marathon, I can’t believe you’re the same guy! I’m not sure that people who don’t run or tri can understand not only the effort you had to put in to transform your body, but also the effort you put in to cut your PRs so drastically. Not to mention, I knew someone who is an experienced athlete that also did the Gulf Coast 70.3, and said it was the worst swim conditions he had ever been in. Bravo, my friend, from a runner in Montgomery!

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