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Race report from Toughman Florida, by Noel Zamot

For those interested in the summary:  We came, we saw, we raced, we ate, we slept, we ate again, we came home.  Hot, long, difficult – but worth every second.  Very proud of my son! 

The Prep:

Flew with Cameron (my son) to Tampa, got the bikes built, slept, picked up numbers and drove to the course (1.5 hrs from TPA).  Much hotter than Boston but doable.  Stayed with my sister so we were able to test our setup and gear.  We felt like missiles on the bike, a good sign.  On the run, taking in very easy, we clock 9 minute miles.  Another good sign.  All systems go.  Race strategy is simple:  “Can you go any faster?”  If “Yes", your pace is good.  If “No”, slow down.  This will be a 5 plus hour event.  

The Day:

Four AM wakeup.  Breakfast of champions: eggs and bacon.  Protein and fat are much more important for a long race.  1.2 hour drive to the venue.  Pitch black when we get there – need headlamps just to find registration.  Race start delayed until 7:40am (sunrise). Somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind, I think “it’s going to be really hot by the time we finish. . .”  

At 7:40 am, the fog was so bad you could not see the first buoy 100 meters out.  Race delayed until 8.  Need to see the buoys for the 2 lap swim.  Water is the color of diluted Coca Cola due to the mangroves in the area.  There is an official “beware of alligators” sign by the entry into the water.  All the local Floridians laugh it off.  I don’t.  

We’ve been prepping for this for months, so when we finally got to the water’s edge. . . calm.  We are ready.  It will be an in-water start:   no mad dash for the water, and lets folks acclimate to the cold – a wise move.  As we tread water, I give Cameron a fist pump: so proud of him and his dedication.  We made it here together.  Countdown starts. . . 10, 9, 8, 7.. .  Know exactly where I was when we decided to do this. . .6, 5, 4. . Nowhere else I’d rather be. . . 3, 2, 1.  Air horn, churning limbs, start the timer, and we’re off.  

The Race:

Swim (1.2 miles, shortened to 0.8 miles): Water is cool, I can follow feet and bubbles, which is good, because you can barely see the buoys for the fog.  Water is clean but dark. Cannot see further than 3 feet down. Terrifying to think gators lurk down there.  No worries.  Passing folks at a steady clip.  Swim training paid off.  Hug all buoys during the turn, no “off course” distractions.  Start the second lap.  Feel I could do two more.  Going into the last turn, fog is bad enough over the water that all I can see is a bleached sun in a white sky, dark water, and a lifeguard kayak. Miss the buoy by 20 meters – no worries.  On final to the beach.  Clamber up, put on some shoes for the 200m run on cheesegrater asphalt to the transition area.  Lots of bikes still in transition.  A good sign.  All their riders are still swimming.  Cameron’s wetsuit is on the ground – he’s long gone.  I smile.  

Bike (56 miles):  “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”.  But that doesn’t apply to a stuck wetsuit.  Oh well.  Good ole FL "talcum powder sand" all over, sticking to anything wet, which is me.  Sunscreen, food, I’m off.  Put bike shoes before walking out of transition – don’t want wet sand in shoes for 56 miles.  On the road, take 5km to get into a groove, breathe, let the body shunt blood flow from arms to my legs.  Start drinking, check my power.  A mere 165 watts, and holding over 21mph.  Aerodynamics, baby.  Way better than expected.  First 28 mile lap goes by quickly.  I take electrolyte capsules just in case.  No cramps. Starting the second lap I refill a bottle (lose a bit of time), catch guys who passed me.  30 miles.  Feel awesome. Slight twinge – electrolyte.  Wind kicks up.  35 miles.  Yo-yoing the lead with 3 other riders. We will lose one by 50 miles.  We all suffer in the wind.  40 miles.  The clouds that block the sun feel indescribably good.  Remember to eat, even though I’m sick of anything sweet by now.  45 miles. All alone on the road.  My world becomes the white line, asphalt and my front wheel.  50 miles.  Pit stop, electrolytes, more gatorade.  55 miles, one last hill.  That didn’t hurt, but I cannot go any faster.  

Run (13.1 miles):  Essentially 4 back-to-back 5k’s with a little extra thrown in. 
Take my sweet time to transition from bike to run.  Very few bikes visible (another good sign, they’re still on the road).  Sunscreen, gatorade, hat, shoes, number belt and I’m off. First 5k will suck, second will be OK, 3rd 5K will be the worst, I’ll coast the last 5k and change.  It is getting HOT.  

First 5 k: Feel like I’m going slow, but still clocking 8:40 miles by the GPS watch.  WAY better than I thought.  I walk every aid station, putting ice under my hat and water all over me.  Joke with the aid station volunteers, passing a few people.  This is new to me, as I’m usually a lousy runner.  Man it is hot.  See Cameron coming the other way.  He is not looking good.  No one is.  

Second 5k.  I had no idea pavement could get this hot in March.  Not cramping, pace is steady. . . What is that feeling in my left foot? Can’t be a blister.   Oh, wait. . .

This is where all planning went down the drain. 

After many injuries I transitioned to minimalist running shoes years ago.  They’re awesome and have completely solved all my running injuries.  Those minimalist shoes are great for running form, but not for insulating your feet from what feels like 140+F pavement.  The pavement was so hot that the soles of my feet were burning.  As in, 1st, 2nd degree burn.  I could have never imagined that I’d have to plan for the temperature of the pavement with regards to my shoes.  

Third 5k.  Change my socks in transition, hoping to help matters.  I avoid eye contact with the soles of my feet.  Best to not know how bad it is.  The next 5k is an exercise in mental fortitude as I can only focus on, not block, the pain.   Surprisingly no one passed me.  Pace drops to 9:20/mile and I’m walking every aid station.  Cold water cools my feet but have you ever run in wet shoes? Miserable. The only way to deal with this pain is to focus on it and embrace it, because you can’t ignore it.  I see Cameron again.  He looks much better, strong.  I don’t.  

Fourth 5k.  In my life, I have done things more painful than this last 5k.  However, they all involved trauma, fractures or surgery. Running becomes amazingly painful. Walking is worse.  For a moment I consider whether I’m doing permanent damage, then suck it up. Young guy passes me.  I cannot respond. Greatest victory is running the last mile straight through.  Cross the finish line, find Cam, exchange exhausted high fives, devour the race sponsor’s BBQ.  We look life refugees clad in compression gear.  Folks trickle in.  They look bad.  I can barely walk. 


Cam finished first out of the "under 20" contestants (3 of them).  In initial results I took 3rd in my age group (I believe 8 started, so no big deal, but I’m taking it to the bank, and I got a cool pint glass which will get much use).  As we left the award ceremony 1.5 hours after finishing, people were still on course.  And it was only getting hotter.  The chocolate malt at DQ on the way back tasted glorious.  

See you next week!