I normally wouldn’t travel thousands of miles to do a 70.3 triathlon I’d never heard of. But, MiamiMan is the USAT Long Course National Championship and the only qualifier for Team USA Long Distance Triathlon 2017. And I really, really want to race on Team USA at the ITU Long Distance World Championship in Penticton, Canada next August. Note that the Team USA Aquathon qualifier is part of this event and that an International Distance triathlon also runs simultaneously.
Location: The event is held outside of Miami, near Kendall, an inland sprawling suburban area where you’ll probably stay. Malls, chain restaurants and horrendous traffic were quite unwelcome. But the sponsoring bike shop, Mack Cycle, was a highlight. Lots of bikes, tri gear, nutrition, helpful and informed people.
Race Venue: You drive 20-30 minutes from Kendall through some beautiful farmland, and arrive at Larry and Penny Thompson Park. It’s a large and pretty place, with lots of trees and lawns and a gorgeous lake. There is also a very nice campground there in case you’d like to use that as your race base. (Not a bad idea!) One issue is that there are absolutely no services in the area. So, if you have people coming to support you, they need to bring something to eat and drink! The Miami Zoo is right around here too–more on that later.
Packet Pick up: Packet pick up and bike racking is Saturday, the day before the race. All went very smoothly. You’re assigned a place for your bike, so there’s no huge rush to get there early in the day for strategic reasons. You check in and then assemble your schwag bag yourself. You must place the race number you just got on your bike before you rack it, so if you like to trim it down to fit, bring scissors. Volunteers offer to apply race tattoos for you and to mark your age on your calf. I prefer not to do that, (stealth mode!) but they said that it was required. (However, I noted about 50% of athletes didn’t have their age on their calf during the race.) The pre-racing briefing was a joke and a total waste of time. There was no information about the course, only one speaker talking about doing over 100 Ironman’s and the other providing novice coaching tips. Unbelievable!!
Race Morning: Driving there was pretty quick and parking was well organized. We were given specific routing and parking lot instructions at packet pick up to disperse traffic and facilitate parking. When we arrived, it was dark and rather cool, maybe in the high 50’s. Transition opened at 4:30 and closed at 6:20. There’s not a lot of room to place your gear. Much like a shorter-distance race, everything goes right by your bike. No transition bags, changing tents or the like. After getting that all set up, it’s time to wait until your wave start.
Swim: My wave, #7, started at 7:05. The water temperature was around 74 degrees–wetsuit legal is up to 78 degrees. I chose a sleeveless wetsuit fearing that I might overheat, but wanting any speed I could get. Most people did wear wetsuits, but some didn’t. It’s a beach start and my wave was a mix of men and women. I hung back a bit, conscious of some big guys who might knock me over. I ran in and started swimming. The swim was congested because it was two loops, with lots of people in the water at the same time. As usual, the turn buoys were the worst spot. The fresh and fairly clear water was nice. Approaching the beach exit at the end of the first lap was a slug fest with the sun right in your eyes. And trying to climb in and out of the water on rocks with no assistance sorta sucked. But, I threw myself back in for the second loop with feet that felt like they’d been all scratched up. I finally finished in around 48 minutes, one of the very slowest in my age group and moved quickly through transition (a rather long run on grass) to my bike.
Bike: I’ve been told before that a bike course is flat (rarely true), but this course was truly PANCAKE FLAT. There were several 90 degree turns on this out-and-back with a 15 mile loop in the middle, but they didn’t impact my ability to build some speed. More concerning were the open roads. I had to maneuver through cars a couple of times and hesitated at controlled intersections. There were also a lot of bikes on the road on a rather narrow, shoulderless road, and some were aggressive competitors who didn’t like being passed by a woman, especially with 62 emblazoned on her calf. Water stations were an issue. I had read there would be 3 on the course, but I could only access 2 without going off course (duh-pre-race briefing info??). I carried extra water with the goal of effectively hydrating (cramps are a major issue for me), knowing that temps would be in the low 80’s, and that the course mostly was in the open sun. Surprisingly, I didn’t see a porta potty on the course anywhere. I know that I drink less water when I have to go, so that wasn’t a good thing. I was averaging over 20 mph due to the flat roads and light winds, but did hit a headwind coming back. I finished in 2:45 at an average speed of 19.7. Yay! PR!! (NOTE: I checked my Garmin and it indeed recorded a 19.7 average pace, but a distance of only 54 miles–2 miles short of the 70.3 bike leg distance of 56 miles.)
Run: I ran out of T2 and looked for the typical row of porta potties somewhere along the path. Not a one! Still holding my good hydration from the bike, I ran on, expecting to see one at any time. Of course, I cramped at just one mile into the run, but handled it with HotShot and a quick hammy massage. Ahead was the first aid station. BUT STILL NO PORTA POTTY! I asked a volunteer and they pointed down a side road and said there was a bathroom that way. WHAT? Still holding it, I arrived into the Zoo. Looking more for a bathroom than animals, I asked a staff person driving around in their cart where there was a bathroom, and again got pointed towards a path in the zoo. “Is there a bathroom on the course?” “Yes, but it’s a little ways from here–how badly do you need to go, she asked?” Pretty ridiculous–you would think porta johns are an endangered species or something! Of course, finally at around 3 miles into the run, at an aid station, was a lone porta potty. Do you think there was a line waiting to use it? No choice but to wait.
I was looking forward to the run because the race was advertised as running through the Miami Zoo. Sounded like fun and with plenty of distractions. And the running through the zoo part was nice. (I did see an elephant, turtles and an African antelope on the second lap!) But, it was a very small portion of the race. Mostly, you’re on a rather ugly course, running on cracked up broken asphalt, gravel, dirt, parking lots, and grass in the blazing sun. Luckily, haha, you do the same loop twice. And even though the swim wasn’t in salt water, I had salt crusted on my body.
My run was slow, but it was faster than it might have been if I didn’t keep spotting a competing age grouper at each aid station. (She wasn’t in stealth mode either, haha.) She passed me early in the run and I soon passed her back. She kept catching me at aid stations after I repeatedly thought I’d dropped her. At the last aid station (there she is AGAIN!) I vowed to not stop again until I crossed the finish line. I beat her by only 30 seconds, with a slow 11 minute/mile pace and run time of 2:26. I thought I finished in 3rd place, but I was actually 4th.
Team USA: I needed to finish in the top 18 in my category to qualify for Team USA. I did that, finishing 4th, at 6:05:58, but would have qualified as long as I finished, with fewer than 18 competitors in my age group.
Would I recommend this race to you? Yes, if 1) you live in the area, or 2) you want to be on Team USA.