When most people think of a destination race, they think of a big iron-distance event or a marathon. I wanted something more "destination" than "race", more family fun-centered, and low-key. We found that and more at the Portofino Sunset Tri held at the Portofino Island Resort at Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island. The race series, now in its third year, was founded by and is run by Multisport Performance Institute, a triathlon coaching/services group.
The kids and I packed the new minivan, said goodbye to the hubs who could not come :(, and made the trek from Virginia to Florida for a five day vacation at the resort. I spent the early mornings training (with the local tri group, some solo, and some coached sessions...more in the next blog post) and the days playing with the kids. (And not blogging)
This super-sprint race, one of nine in the series, features a 300 yard swim in the warm and calm Santa Rosa Sound, a 7.5 mile bike ride on the island's only main road, and a 1.5 mile run on a nearly flat asphalt running path. This was my third race in six days, having done the sprint and Olympic in Virginia the prior weekend, and my first time at this super sprint distance. This race confirmed what I have always said, there are no easy triathlons, you just go harder and faster the shorter they are!
We stayed at Portofino Island Resort and so transition was literally within 100 yards of our tower. With a 6:30 pm start time, I ventured down at 5:30 to set up my area, take the bike out for a spin, and take the legs for a run. The Infinity Bicyles folks (race sponsors) kindly lubed up my bike chain and checked over the bike after its long roof-mounted journey. I opted not to take any water on the bike, knowing it would be so short and intense that I'd never take the time to drink.
transition area photo by Alex Bell
I was one of the early arrivals!
This USAT sanctioned race, capped at 60 entries, is very well organized but also extra welcoming due to its small size. I met several first-timers including a family who also made this a destination race!
Race Director John Murray (also USAT Level 2 Coach and President of Multisport Performance Institute) gave the pre-race talk with a big focus on safety with the open-to-traffic bike course. The wit-infused instructions made it very easy to pay attention. (I think he could deliver the airplane safety talk to a rapt audience!!)
Afterward we made our way to the beach of the Santa Rosa Sound to prepare for the swim start. It was a simple counterclockwise rectangular out-over-in course around the dock. As we waited, we warmed up a little and exchanged the usual pre-race banter and encouragement. There's no fooling my pre-race butterflies - they showed up right on time just as the men set off.
The women started a minute behind the men's wave. This short swim distance (300y) allowed me to swim much more aggressively than I normally do. I realized this is why changing up distances can be a good thing! I came out of the water with another female and realized we were the front-runners! Wow did that feel good. Game ON! It was hard to push on the run to T1 after that all-out swim effort, but I was able to establish a lead and head out on the bike first among the women.
I got to work on the bike trying to keep pressure on the pedals and reel in whoever was ahead of me. That is how I motivate to get the most I can out of myself -- which is really the ultimate goal of any race. The road surface is very smooth, free from potholes, and offers a wide bike lane where needed. I thanked the flag volunteers at the turnarounds for helping us through. It was nice to just open the throttle and not worry about navigation on this straight ride as I enjoyed racing my road bike again (left the tribike at home). I wasn't aware of the winds as I rode, but I was about 4 mph faster headed west than headed east. Overall Garmin had my average moving speed at 21.1 mph.
As I finished the bike leg, I turned into the Portofino Island Resort and back to T2 to quite a bit of cheering. The race had attracted a nice group of spectators! They provided a motivating sendoff on the run as I found my way to the sidewalks to exit the property and head out on the run path. There was a place on the course with about 3' of elevation change and I found myself laughing at that Florida "hill"!
A mile and a half run is such a no-brainer, right? But it can sure hurt and it wasn't long before I was thinking, ugh, where is that darn turnaround? I passed a few people and at the turnaround saw another female racer, Erin, not too far behind and although I wanted to let up I knew I couldn't. About a mile and a quarter in I passed a guy and as I went by, I heard him say, "Oh, man!" and after the race he went on to say he was expecting it was a "dude" coming up behind him so he was even less thrilled to discover it was a "dudette." I would have liked to have known my run pace, but I am about 0 for 5 on successfully using the "Auto Multisport" feature of my Garmin watch.
It was great to hit the cobblestone sidewalk of Portofino and know I was almost to the finish line. After I crossed over, I was handed an ice-cold towel by Jeff Boulton who finished just ahead of me. I finished fifth overall, first female, in 37:51 (results here). The winning male, Alex Hernandez (pictured at the top with me) finished in 31:30 at just 15 years of age!! Oh, and I almost forgot to mention this is a t-shirt and award-free event which I think is great. We are all there racing for the fulfillment of the experience!
After I grabbed a water, I found a spot to cheer on the rest of the competitors as Coach John announced the name of each approaching athlete. I enjoyed the post-race vibe under the setting sun and the chance to chat with other athletes. One of the newly minted triathletes remarked that she had underestimated this race and I think perhaps in some ways I had too. But I now believe this distance race is invaluable for learning to put out a higher level of effort, for putting the pressure on quick transitions, and for gaining more race experience without the wear and tear of longer races. Having it at a resort has the added benefit of exposing more people to the fun of the sport too.
The day after the race, a little boy at the resort asked "hey were you in that race yesterday?" Yeah, yeah I was. Maybe the seed has been planted and he will one day do a triathlon too. Maybe he'll start with the Portofino Sunset Tri.
We hope to return next year and do it again! We had a BLAST!!!