Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Uninspired Triathlete in Florida

A little over five years ago, I wrote a blog post called The Uninspired Triathlete in Michigan. At the time I wrote that post, I actually liked Michigan, although I had already given up on swimming and was disgusted with road biking there. Looking back, of course it was predictable that Michigan would smother what little desire I had for triathlon training. The six-month-long winters! The terrible potholed roads with no bike lanes! The cold swimming pools! (Indoor or outdoor, summer or winter, they were 100% too cold for the uninspired triathlete.) Even a luxury gym, which Lifetime Fitness definitely was with its complimentary towels, soap, locks and blow driers and its eucalyptus steam rooms and its Zero Runners and its sexy spin class instructors, was not good enough to keep me happy as an athlete there. So I moved to Florida, and now everything is better and I want to be a triathlete again!

Let's start with running. Of course, Florida in June is hot as hell, although not as hot as it will be in July and August. That is difficult to imagine while running into the blazing sun at 3:30 pm, pouring sweat and feeling like my whole body is going to spontaneously combust, but I know it's true. I don't have to run at 3:30 pm, of course. I could run after it gets dark or in the early, early morning like most sane people do. But the truth is that I like running in the sun. I like it even though I am currently terribly bad at it. I used to run after work in Tucson when it was well over 100. The hottest run I ever did in Tucson was 12 miles across town from the V.A. to Tim's house when the temperature was 113. That was a miserable run, complete with a stop every mile or so to go inside some air conditioned store and get a drink, but I loved that run too. Nothing makes me feel more Amazonian than running in extreme heat, while everyone else hides from it in their air-conditioned cars. I am slower than I've been in years, but that's because I need to keep my heart from exploding, which it often feels like it's going to do.

Besides the heat, the other thing I love about running in Florida is beauty. Beauty is all around me here. I don't live on the beach, but there are world-famous beaches less than half an hour from my house, and the not-world-famous but still really cute Bradenton Riverwalk just fifteen minutes from my house. And even when I run around my house, there are palm trees, giant old oak trees hung with Spanish moss, exotic birds, sunsets that rival Tucson's, a sky full of giant, boiling clouds, and always the chance of seeing an alligator in a roadside ditch. Much of the landscape around here looks like Jurassic Park. I always expect to see a brontosaurus standing in the swamps, calmly eating ferns, or a pterodactyl soaring overhead. I missed beauty so much while I was in Michigan! The landscape and scenery were so Midwestern-bland. I never thought I would think anything was as beautiful as Tucson, and to tell the truth Florida is not QUITE as beautiful as Tucson due to the absence of mountains, but it is close enough.

I will admit that the part of Florida I live in is not the best for biking. My side of Palmetto (the interstate side as opposed to the beach side) is mostly rural, with very narrow roads and absolutely no shoulder. If I'm lucky, there are a few inches of grass I can hop onto when I'm running on the road and need to dodge an oncoming car; if I'm not lucky, there's just a ditch and I have to balance on the edge of the ditch and hope I don't fall in on top of the alligator that is probably there. This is not a great set-up for biking. Our development is off a narrow two-lane road that is also the only road in a 15-mile stretch of I-75 with an on-ramp and an off-ramp, so there is a steady flow of traffic from 75 to the coastal highway 41. I have found all the back roads anywhere near our road, Moccasin Wallow, and ride them as much as I can, but still, if I ride from home, I always have to ride on Moccasin Wallow at least some of the way. I have gotten serious about visibility. I have two front bike lights and three in the back, plus a reflective vest. They are generally effective; people see me. The good news is they never have to wait very long to pass, because there isn't THAT much traffic. The bad news is that they are sometimes assholes about it, like the trucker who barreled up behind me blaring his horn when there was obviously NOWHERE FOR ME TO GO BUT INTO THE DITCH and when he only had about 1/8 of a mile till he got to the on-ramp. Or the trucker this afternoon who was making a left turn in front of me while I had a green light and he had a blinking yellow arrow. He looked right at me riding towards the intersection and casually turned right in front of me, like he was saying, "Yeah, I know you have the green light and I don't, but what are you going to do about it?" The answer is obviously that I was going to slow down and stop, which is what I did. I don't really care if they're jerks as long as I know that they see me.

Although my area isn't great for biking, the Tampa/St. Pete area is really great for biking. There are bike paths all over the area. I rode 50 miles on one of them, the Pinellas Trail, last weekend. It was great. I didn't like driving my road bike somewhere to ride it in Michigan, because there were basically only two safe places, Kensington and Stony Creek, and neither one of those were exciting at all. But Tampa is a cool city, and I look forward to exploring its bike paths at leisure. Oh yeah, and I can do it year-round, too! Except for the very little bit of cold that comes along every once in a while.

I even like swimming here. I have been to three different pools -- two outdoor, one indoor -- and liked all three of them because they were warm! 82 degrees, 83 degrees, and one 86 lovely degrees. THIS is how pools should feel, not 72 spine-chilling degrees, Michigan! No wonder I never warmed up even on long swims! No wonder I always felt like I couldn't breathe! Getting into the pool in Michigan was like jumping into a sea of a million tiny knives stabbing at me. Getting into the pool in Florida is like slipping into a warm bath. "But it's supposed to be cool for competitive swimming!" people insist. Maybe so, but then how come I took 17 seconds off my 100-yard time, I ask? And it has happened every time, not just once. (Amazingly, 17 seconds off 100 yards on all three of my swims. It's like when I got marathon finish times of 4:14 three times in a row last year. I couldn't do that if I tried.)

I will admit that it gets warm in the pool. My hair under my swim cap feels like it is about to burst into flames when I take the cap off, my skin sizzles even when I put sun screen on, my throat dries out so much that I want to drink the pool water just to cool off, and I feel like I'm going blind despite dark-tinted goggles. But even with all of that, I like the feeling of being slowly boiled in warm water. It suits me.

And it's a good thing it does, because I am going to do Ironman Florida. Yes I am. I decided. I have decided before, but I have never registered before, and I registered. It is so ridiculously expensive that if I don't do it, I will have to live with the knowledge that I threw away a huge sum of money. I just figured now is the time to get that item off my bucket list, for the following reasons:

1) Ironman Florida is first-timer friendly.
2) I can drive there, so no worries about shipping my bike. I can even drive up there to practice.
3) I have no vacation time at my new job, so I know I will be here on the weekends to train.
4) I'm returning Sonora and won't have another puppy for a while.
5) Florida makes me want to train in all three disciplines, the opposite of Michigan.

I am still in shock at what I paid to register, and I will also have to pay for a wetsuit and some kind of swim lessons, since I still don't think I swim fast enough to assume I can make the swim cutoff, but those are small hurdles, and totally able to be overcome. I will be excited to add Ironman to my list of lifetime accomplishments. And hopefully I will savor it more than I did my 50 states finish, which was sort of cool but which mostly just left me asking, "What's next?"