St. Anthony’s Triathlon

Guest blogger Craig Hersch gives us a first hand perspective at what it is like to participate in the 30th annual St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Florida. Enjoy the lunacy as he recounts the day.

“Lunatic” is an informal term referring to people who are considered mentally ill, dangerous, foolish or unpredictable; conditions once called lunacy. The term may be considered insulting in serious contexts, though is sometimes used in friendly jest. The word derives from lunaticus meaning “of the moon” or “moonstruck”.

St. Anthony's tri before swim start with Craig Hersch, Manuel Hernandez, Mike Hill and JJ, the team mascot.
St. Anthony’s tri before swim start with Craig Hersch, Manuel Hernandez, Mike Hill and JJ, the team mascot.

How else would you describe 3,800 souls who awoke at 4:30am this past Sunday to race in the 30th edition of St. Anthony’s Olympic distance triathlon, including yours truly? For those unfamiliar, an Olympic distance triathlon consists of a 1500 meter swim, 40km bike and 10k run.

We set up our transition areas in the moonlight bathing St. Petersburg’s Vinoy Park, while loudspeakers jammed everything from Green Day to the Stones to Flo-Rida. This year we weren’t allowed normal transition bags to bring in our gear (fear of another Boston style bombing) so we had to pack our bike shoes, running shoes, Gus, wetsuits and everything else into clear plastic bags. Ugh!

Strong early morning winds caused more than a few nervous looks as Tampa Bay roiled. The professionals hit the water shortly before 7:00am, after which the race director decided to delay the “age group” (that’s what you call amateur triathletes since we compete based upon five year gender and age groupings) swim starts. We watched the patrol boats pull in the swim buoy markers shortening the course from its original 1500 meters down to 800 meters.

The stunted swim course wasn’t all that preferable since the exit involved slogging through waist deep salt water for a couple hundred yards at the end followed by a ½ mile barefoot run on concrete back to transition.

One of the frustrations of a big race like St. Anthony’s is waiting for your swim start when your age group draw isn’t good. Fellow Fort Myers Nutbag Manuel Hernandez, a fellow 45-49 age grouper and I finally started our race at 8:40am – the 21st of the 28 wave starts. As usual, the former Puerto Rican National Water Polo champion took off, leaving me in his bubbles. And I’m no slouch, a former (30+ years ago now!) high school swimmer.
course map

When your age group has a late swim start race conditions tend to get tougher. Winds tend to pick up, making the swim and bike especially more difficult. Even so, I love the bike route through St. Pete, taking us by the Trop where the Rays play, then down MLK Street around Country Club Way, down to Pinellas Point Drive at the southern end of the Pinellas County peninsula before streaking back downtown.

I thought I was doing well on the bike, averaging well over 20mph and passing several groups of competitors when Fort Myers triathlete phenom Larry Black blew by me, he in his ever-present Zoot unitard and thundering Zipp rear disc wheel.

Then came the 10k run. Another disadvantage to a late age-group start is that the heat builds. And Sunday was a scorcher. The fabulous run route through tony Snell Island makes up for it though, as the neighborhood comes out in full force. Kids offered to cool racers down with garden hose spray, while the adults offered us water and even beer and wine aside from the official aid stations.

Finally I found myself in the finishers’ shute, with the announcer calling out my name to the crowd. You feel like you’ve really accomplished something, despite your time being some 60 minutes off that of the professionals! Hey, even former Pittsburgh Steeler, Georgia Bulldog and Dancing with the Stars celebrity Hines Ward took a go at it, and I wasn’t too far behind THAT professional athlete’s time!

Compared to the finishing times of my buddies that were there, Mike Hill, Mike Reese, Manuel Hernandez, Johnny McDrama and several others I didn’t fare too well this year. A general lack of training time due to a hectic professional and family schedule did me in. And that chest cold I developed mid-week wasn’t a help either.

Excuses, excuses!!!!

But I’m sure that next year I’ll be setting up by the moonlight again, calling myself a lunatic and hoping for another fun and exciting race!

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