St. Croix Triathlon
By Michael Lovato
ISSUE #23, Summer 2004 – Early May is a lovely time to visit the Caribbean. It’s especially nice if you’re escaping a northern climate, in search of balmy weather, coastal breezes, and a laid-back, charming attitude. On May 2nd, over eight-hundred triathletes descended upon the United States Virgin Island of St. Croix to do just that.
Amongst the many, I made my way to the former Dutch colony, intent on seeing an end to the streak of bad-luck races I had experienced in years past. Having struggled to finish the bike ride one spoke shy of a full wheel in 2002, and overcoming a pesky flat tire while racing in 2003, I felt confident this was my year to turn the tables on my STX jinx.
In one of the Ironman Qualifier Guides, I read that the temperatures in the low eighties were tempered by coastal breezes. It almost sounded pleasant. Whoever wrote that description has clearly never been to St. Croix, or if he has, he’s never RACED in St. Croix. A more appropriate description follows: temperatures are in the mid- to upper-eighties with HIGH humidity. The standard HOWLING winds will help cool you a bit, provided it is in your face. You will otherwise suffer oppressive tropical conditions similar to those found in Hawaii.
Another description of the race warns of the dreaded Beast: a six-hundred-foot climb over three-fourths of a mile, with an average grade of fourteen percent. Make no mistake about it: this climb is TOUGH. This climb is so tough that you will be glad you brought an easier gear, and you will be glad you used it. However, the primary reason you will be glad you used it will become evident to you once you arrive on the second half of the bike course: a WINDY, hilly, long stretch of roads that take you across the island’s South Shore and back around to transition.
Having completed the descriptive, information-rich section of this race report, I will promptly transition to the gory detail section.
Just prior to the start, one of my competitors turned to me and tried to pump me full of confidence by uttering the following words: “You slow guys just stay back, and let us fight for position. You just stay out of the way.” Assuming he meant only the worst, I determined to exit that very swim within seconds of His Humbleness. We were pell-mell from the get-go, and my plan seemed to be slipping away, as I found myself on the feet of a swimmer who had just been dropped. I was not to be gotten, however, so I launched myself past him, and to the nearest set of fluttering feet. About twenty-eight minutes later, I found that those feet belonged to the pre-race strategist himself. Ah, some early redemption.
In a desperate attempt to flush the stinging salt water out of my burning right eye (my goggles had leaked significantly during the swim), I grabbed the first cup of water to come my way in transition. Unfortunately for me, the water did nothing to cleanse my lens, but rather it burned me worse, as if it were Gatorade. Next time I’ll clarify before I accept a volunteer’s offering.
Completing the remainder of my ill-fated transition (I had lost my timing chip as well), I jumped on my bike and pedaled after the leaders.
Not too long after making my way through the Hot Corner, a tight section that weaves through old town Christiansted, I managed to move myself into sixth place, a position I maintained for the remainder of the bike portion. Content to be moving up in the field, I tackled the Beast with vigor and enthusiasm. My plan was to turn on the afterburners after descending the backside of the Beast, and to gradually bring myself into closer contact with the frontrunners. However, in spite of my efforts to build my pace, I found that I was slowing; in fact, I was losing time.
Never quite certain what caused me to lose steam, I shrugged it off, and prepared for a strong run. Generally speaking, the locals of St. Croix come out in full force to cheer for the scantily clad psychos, as we parade up, down, and about their island. This year was no exception, as downtown was full of screaming supporters. Electrified, I began my run.
Unfortunately, my “electricity” was waning, and I again found myself losing steam, and therefore more time to the leaders. I pulled a few tricks out of my hat, in hopes of returning my body to its normal form, but to no avail. It seemed I was steadily shutting down. Nevertheless, I plugged along, aware that more false moves at this stage could cost me some of the hard-fought places I had gained on the bike. It wasn’t long before I saw one of those very places slip right by me, in form of a legendary warrior of days gone by: Christian Bustos. As I muttered a feeble “bien hecho” to my stalker, I concluded that his days gone by seemed to be back.
I attempted to cut my losses, as I attempted to go with Bustos. Once again I found a brief burst of energy; one that disappeared as quickly as it had come. I was fading away, and I was fading quickly. After a few brief glances over my shoulder, I determined that I could safely cruise the finishing stretch, handing out as many high-fives as I could muster. Admittedly, I was disappointed to have struggled as I had, but I was nevertheless excited to be met by the throngs of hollering spectators.
Holding on for seventh place, I managed to notch my highest finish in the Islands, and in doing so I had also escaped the dreaded bad-luck mechanicals that have plagued me in the past. And looking forward to next year, I know that I can always expect a warm (hot and humid) welcome to the breezy (windy), laid-back islands, mon.