Hurricane Man Race Report

Two years ago I stood on St. Pete Beach waiting for the start of Hurricane Man, a 2.4-mi point-to-point swim. Registration had literally been under water. It was raining buckets and the street was flooded. Volunteers struggled to keep paperwork dry. By the time swimmers were shuttled to the start at the Pinellas County beach access, the rain had stopped, but menacing dark clouds moved swiftly towards shore. There were rumors that the race would be cancelled—first time in the eighteen years the event had been running. Soon lightning started snapping horizontally within the clouds and with their scary drumroll an agonizing RD called the race off. I was shocked. I’d dutifully trained for what would’ve been my longest open water race to date. I thought my training had been for naught (such a noob thought!). The swimmers took off running down the beach toward breakfast and I joined in. Once we arrived at the Hurricane Restaurant, swimmers were treated to the best breakfast buffet ever offered by a race. Still true to this day. The sky tore open and we huddled the best we could under the wrap-around porch to eat the yummy calories we didn’t burn. I met a few swimmers from the Tampa area that soggy morning, among them John, a former age-group star and triathlete.

All breakfast, no swim in 2014.

It took me a while to learn to process what a cancelled race meant. At the time, I was trying to collect little successes in my life. I needed them badly. This race would have been one. But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I eventually learned that one mustn’t put all eggs in one basket, so I signed up for the Tropical Splash 5K in October 2014. That race was Hurricane Man déjà vu. Torrential rain and lightning delayed the race to the point that the 5K was cut to a 2.5K. I didn’t get to do my 5K until April 2015. It took me a whole year to get to my starting point. Life takes detours, but we all know about that.

The 2016 installment of Hurricane Man was the complete opposite of my 2014 experience. The day was nothing but glorious! The water temperature was 74F and the air temperature 70F. The wind blew gently. The sun shone. Swimmers smiled.

After registration, I met up with my friend John and we tried to catch up with two years of swimming and triathlon stories. One of the gracious volunteers shuttled us to the race start. The water was beautiful! As I drove into Tampa the afternoon before, whitecaps dotted the bay and the wind was blowing a gale, but the day of the race the ocean was flat and there was only a very gentle swell. John warmed up in the water. When he got out he reported it was chilly at first but then it was perfect. He was shivering a little and got back in. I ended up not getting in the water before the start. The Masters ladies were in the third wave and silly me didn’t want to stand on the shore wet.

The Masters men started after the age groupers. Off John went. I expected him to do well. Two minutes later the ladies started. I was calm, cool, and collected—as I usually am at the start of an open water race—and hung toward the middle of the pack in the back. I’m a slow swimmer, no point in getting flustered by faster people swimming over me. I find starts at swimming races much more civilized than at triathlons, which I’m retired from. Just an observation.

Masters ladies dive in.

The water was lovely. I expected a fantastic swim. I got into my rhythm quite quickly; realizing that this was a much shorter race than my last one, a 10K three weeks prior, I aimed to hit my 10K pace right after I felt warmed up. Since the beach is a gentle arch, I figured that a line from point A to point B would be the shortest route, as opposed to hugging the white boys located about 300 ft from the beach. I used the field of yellow caps before me as a guide, until I found a volunteer paddleboarder who was maintaining a course I really liked and who was easy to sight. I stuck with him until the mid-point at the Don Cesar hotel, checking every so often that he hadn’t changed his course toward Mexico. At that point he peeled off to talk to other paddlers. I picked up the pace and followed the line of stationary paddlers for the next quarter of the distance. I started passing some white caps (guys) and yellow caps (ladies). Since I’m not a fast swimmer, I always get a kick out of a guy who when he realizes I’m passing him, picks up the pace to eventually drop off. I found one such guy and had a chuckle. With the last quarter of the distance to go, I skirted the white buoys and honed in on the red turning one. The water was lovely, I wasn’t tired in the least bit, and was really enjoying myself, so I did not want to finish. Yet I maintained my pace and reluctantly swam to shore. I got on my feet with a smile.

A volunteer handed me a numbered card and another volunteer wrote the time. I immediately subtracted four minutes from it to account for the staggered start and was happy to find that I’d come under 1:20. Before the start, John had asked me what was my goal and I realized that I didn’t really have one. Since October, my training had been focused on Swim Miami, the first A race of the year. Hurricane Man was a B race, but I still felt deficient in not setting up a goal. While I swam I calculated my goal time and came up with 1:20. Turns out I swam faster at Swim Miami. Since I don’t wear a fancy GPS watch, I have no idea whether I swam longer than I thought in St. Pete or if the Swim Miami course was shorter than expected. The difference in pace was a minute.

I found John at the beach. He’d finished well before I did. We’d both enjoyed the swim immensely. We partook of the fabulous breakfast and stayed for the awards. We were curious as to the time for the winners of our respective age groups. The lady who won mine finished a good 20 minutes before me. She’s a fabulous swimmer. Yup, I’m slow, but happy. Later in the day, the results were posted and I was pleased to find out that I ended up in the middle of my age group. That was a nice surprise!

I said good-bye to John and to Pass-a-Grille Beach. St. Pete Masters puts on a fabulous race. I would love to come back next year with some of my teammates, if I can talk them into joining me. I had stayed the night at Fort De Soto Park campground and loved it! I’m seriously considering repeating this trip in November for the Swim Around Fort De Soto.

I always do Lessons Learned, so here we go:
What went well – Races with friends are always more fun! I was glad that John had signed up, too. Camping at Fort De Soto was very relaxed, definitely an experience to be repeated. I had fun, from beginning to end!
Room for improvement – Always have a time goal, even if the race is not an A race.

Next up: the Delray Mile and GCBS, my second A race of the year.