I saw an ad for this race in a freebie magazine back in spring and thought, “Wow, what a great excuse to go to Key West in December!!” And it was.
Having never been to Key West before, I imagined that it would have non-stop gorgeous beaches and warm water-wrong on both counts!! Basically, Key West is a rock surrounded by shallow rocky water with lots of sea grass. This presented a challenge for the swim venue. Fortunately (??) there is a 20-foot wide drainage canal just off shore that is deep enough for swimming, provided you don’t stray too far to either side. It was a point-to-point swim starting from a floating dock and following the sea wall on the right and a string of kayakers and bright buoys to the left- perfect for those who can’t swim straight. The swim waves were small-20 or so people to a wave. The water was a tad cool (72 degrees) but not frigid and not having to site made the swim seem effortless (and judging from my split, my swim was really effortless…). The swim ended at a 10-foot wide “beach” where there were wetsuit strippers-unusual for an Olympic distance race.
There was a ¼ mile run through deep sand and a brick parking lot to the bike racks (in the unlit dark parking garage – sure was glad my bike was on the rack nearest the entrance). This gave me enough time to peel the sea grass off my goggles and swim cap.
The course started off on a major road, against traffic (yes it was coned off but still a bit unnerving with cars coming at you at 50+ mph), then onto a side road, then onto a 4-lane highway complete with a continuous raised rumble strip marking the shoulder. I hit that puppy at 19+ mph and thought my filings were going to fall out. After about 2 miles the course did two loops of a Naval Air Station station. This part of the course was flat but very very windy and featured 22 turns (including 2 U-turns). Oh, and the Olympic and Sprint course crossed each other in the middle which got a little dicey, especially since half the entrants were first-timers. Next we exited the Air Base, went up a cloverleaf on-ramp to the 4-lane highway and traced our path back to transition. This part was the most crowded since the Sprint and Olympic racers merged here, had the most uphills, and the most newbies who were riding all over the place!!
We got to ride our bikes almost to the parking garage/bike racks which made for fast transitions.
Running is always my worst event and this race was no different except that this time it wasn’t solely my total lack of running ability that held me back. Instead, there was the added factor of a 100% concrete course. The course was an out-and-back that started by crossing over a major road (with police presence), then going onto the cement sidewalk next to another sea wall. There was zero shade. It was really pretty but not pretty enough to override the fact that my knees were killing me. Around mile 5, a very fit looking woman on a mountain bike cheered me on and told me I was doing great - turned out to be Leanda Cave (Thanks Leanda, I’ve really been working on my walk and I’ve gotten so much faster…). The course ended with crossing over the major road again (I can now say that I stopped traffic!!), then looped a bit on a bike path and back to the hotel/finish.
For an inaugural event, this was a good race. It was well organized, the volunteers were enthusiastic, friendly and well-informed, the venue is beautiful, and the swag (t-shirt, finishers medal) was good. Also, Leanda Cave handed out the awards (conch shell tiles-I got 2nd in the old lady category). There are a few things that can be improved like emphasizing at the athlete meeting what “keeping to the right” means (it was a USAT-sanctioned race but there were no course marshals), having timing mats at the end of each bike loop (some people missed the turn into the second loop) and the run turn-around, and have the run on something other than concrete.