Carnival of Pain

I was originally going to call this article something like Carnival of Pain: The Fort Lauderdale Super Sprint or Schmorgasborg of Agony: Please Let Me Stop, but realized that such a title might scare off some of the soon-to-be first-time racers and would be bad for ESMís business!

Instead, I give you a modern epic masterpiece, A Lovely Day at the Beach and the Fort Lauderdale Coca Cola Classic Super-Sprint Triathlon:

It was a lovely day at the beach in Fort Lauderdale. (All good stories have a catchy intro like this!) The sun was shining brightly like a 45-watt incandescent bulb. The ocean was calm and flat, like a good strawberry pancake from Dennyís. There was no wind on the bike, like, it was the eye of the Hurricane, or something.

So Ö maybe Iím embellishing a bit. My writing may not be in the same league as Hemingwayís (Ok, it isnít), and the weather wasnít exactly that cooperative. The Sun, however, did peek out a few times in between the showers and squalls. The surf wasnít exactly calm. It was, ah, well, really pretty darn rough. And the wind, when it wasnít busy blowing from the east at twenty knots, was blowing from the southeast at thirty.

Not exactly ideal conditions for a first-timer. But hey, ESM canít do anything about Mother Nature, and she did have an attitude on Saturday.

Now that Iíve set the stage, letís talk about the action.

Some of you have done the Super-Sprint in previous years, or you may have done your first one last weekend. Itís a great race, but for anybody who is shooting for a personal best or a place in his or her division, itís a macabre test of oneís pain tolerance. The shortened format of the run (1.6 instead of the normal 3 miles) encourages athletes to open up and push it well into the red zone from the get-go. Chances are the race will be over before you blow up, so thereís not much strategy involved.

ďStart Ė Go all out Ė Finish,Ē pretty much sums it up.

In the elite division, itís no different. Iíve done this race twice before, finishing 5th in 2000 and 4th in 2001. Both times I finished and thought to myself, ď*@$&!, that really, really hurt!Ē

This year I was thinking the same thing Ė except I was smiling and holding the winnerís tape.

But letís go back a bit. After a good luck kiss from my fiancťe Brianne (who went on to finish 4th in the womenís elite division, which included the 11th placed woman at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Triathlon), TJ and the crowd counted the elite wave down. On ďGO,Ē we leapt into the water and fought our way through the first sets of rough breakers. I made it to the turn buoy at the front of the pack, but got tangled in the buoy rope and lost a couple seconds. After freeing myself, I found my rhythm and was soon back in front. The swim was quickly over, and I was dashing down the stairs towards the transition.

I decided before this race not to look back. Itís a bad habit Iíve developed, looking to see whatís going on back there. I didnít want to know how close anyone was and planned to push myself as hard as I could from A to Z. I didnít put shoes on for the long transition run, and barefooted my way to my bike.

After buckling my helmet and unracking my Cervelo, I saw athletes coming into the transition area around me. They were close. I sprinted to the mounting line, hopped on, pedaled a few strokes, pulled on my shoes, and started cranking. I pushed the first mile through the park very hard, then pushed harder into the nasty head-crosswind once on A1A. The roads were slick with rainwater, so I was careful around the few turns.

At the first bike turnaround, I saw I had a decent gap on my competition and backed off very slightly for perhaps a minute to recover some of my wind. It worked, and very soon I was again riding hard past the crowded beach where swimmers from later waves were just heading into the tunnel. A brutish cross-tailwind helped me keep the tempo up while headed North.

At the far turnaround, I saw my three main Coca Cola rivals all riding hard and judging the distance I had on them. I saw again that the gap looked pretty good, but with the way these guys can run, it meant nothing.

After yelling, ďHeads UpĒ to an unwary spectator in the street who didnít see me coming (despite the motorcycle police escort), I took the last turn into the park, pulled my feet out of my shoes, and got ready to run as fast as I could.

After several frustrating races where Iíve been run down in the closing minutes despite running pretty well, the tide finally turned my way. I felt strong, relaxed, and stayed ahead. With a few hundred yards to go, I realized I would win my first triathlon of the season and got a bit excited.

Note to self: Donít get excited while running full speed down an off-road trail with uneven footing. Keep your eyes on the ground ahead of you. Stay focused, you knucklehead!

Almost immediately, I stumbled on a slight rise in the trail and re-sprained a recently sprained ankle. The pain was mildly excruciating, but coupled as it was with lactic acid build-up throughout my body, my brain did not have any extra room for additional pain messages and shut them all out. The finish was just seconds ahead, and for the first time in 2003, I crossed the line in first place.

I am a happy guy.

With a temporary limp. ;-)

But seriously, it was a good race and I hope everyone out there enjoyed it as much as I did. Iíll see you in the Keys in a few weeks.

To all the first-timers who participated: Itís usually easier than that!

Marty Gaal - July 2003

my first 2003 victory

check out the 2001 race report.