In October 2012, we traveled to Clermont, Florida to compete in the Great Floridian Triathlon. This was the 22nd year of the event, billed as being “Tougher than Iron”. Our overall verdict is this is a hilly beast, don’t be surprised, but the race is well organized, well staffed, and a great race overall. I highly recommend giving it a try.
I originally registered with a friend based on his previous experience with the race. My first contact with the organizers came as a phone call early in January of 2012. Nothing bad, just a quick call to see if I had ever raced an IM before, if I had any questions or concerns, or if there was anything they could do to help with preparing for the race. I was a little shocked, certainly an unexpected call and a nice personal touch.
We arrived in Clermont for the race a few days early and scoped the run course, parts of the bike, and did a few swims in the lake to loosen up. After picking up our packets on Thursday, we headed to the Pasta Dinner on Thursday night. My friend and I were pleased that the dinner was included in the cost of our entry. We had a great evening chatting with other racers and getting a feel for other people’s experiences in previous events.
Quite a lucky turn of events on the morning of the race, as a cool wind dropped the water temps so they allowed wetsuits. The swim was a two lap deal, well marked and pretty easy to sight. The mass start of the ultra distance racers meant a bit of struggling in the first hundred feet or so, but I dropped back and stayed out of the melee. The water was in good shape, a little chop, but nothing serious and certainly better than many open water swims I’ve done. Upon finishing the first lap, you had to exit the water, high a timing mat, and then back in. The upside was you could grab some water while you’re there.
It’s probably best that I didn’t ride too much of the bike course. Coming out of the transition, you are met, almost immediately, with a nice little hill that climbs into the neighborhood around Lake Minneola. Much of the course is inside neighborhoods and on smaller roads, so there was limited traffic for most of the day. The first lap is different from the next two and includes the climb up Sugarloaf Mountain. Not for the feint of heart, this hill, but they have timing mats at the bottom and top and give an award for the fastest ascent. I didn’t win that one… While much of the race is on lightly traveled roads, most are in full sun, so make sure you’re keeping an eye on your hydration. You’ll also be surprised if you think Florida is flat, as it’s simply not. Sugarloaf was the only major hill, but if you’re used to riding on mostly flat land, the small hills can take their toll on you. There are only a few stretches where you can avoid a lot of shifting, so take advantage of those to aero out and make up some time. I’d also suggest getting used to shifting a lot and be comfortable getting out of the saddle as much as possible. Comfort in shifting makes a huge difference in your overall time. Since this is a three lap course, there are only three different aid stations, plus your special needs area, which you can enter twice. Every aid station was well stocked and staffed by great volunteers.
The run was the most frustrating, and yet, easiest part of the entire race. The whole course is on sidewalks and paths around the lake. There are 5 aid stations about a mile apart and full of great snacks and better volunteers. The course is very flat, except a decent little rise towards the distant turn around point. Much of the course is in the sun, but by the time I got there, the day was getting late and the sun wasn’t as big of an issue. The three lap layout provided some positives, such as gaining a familiar feel for each part of the course, but I was a bit frustrated by seeing the same scenery every lap.
Spend some time climbing hills and sign up for this race. It’s well designed, well staffed, and fun. The race organizers go out of their way to make you feel welcome and they are very aware of the challenges and concerns of first time IM distance racers. The only complaint I had was about the availability of sunscreen: racers were told there would be plenty on the course and that simply wasn’t the case. Don’t make my mistake: take your own sunscreen and reapply frequently. And make sure you take advantage of the free massage offered to all finishers. I paid for an additional 20 minutes and noticed a significant difference the next day.