Turtle Crawl Triathlon Race Report

Or, the ocean is evil, volume 1.

“Hey, let’s go to the beach!” That’s what I said to Jesse one gross, wet and cold morning in the midst of the Polar Vortex. “Ok.” That’s what Jesse said. It’s a given that it’s my job to seek out places to go, for some reason. But when one lives in western NC and wants to “go to the beach,” you know you have about 900 choices of beaches to which to go.

And we all know the best way to choose a vacation destination. That’s right. See where a race is happening and go there. And so that’s how I chose Jekyll Island and the Turtle Crawl International Triathlon on May 17.

I’ll skip all the stuff about prepping for the race, because nothing really interesting happened. Well, not unless you count the trip to the zoo in Columbia, SC on our way down, where we saw a timir, some tortoises displaying rather lewd behavior, and a flock of flamingos. So here’s a picture.

A timir at the zoo! Woo hoo!

We did arrive at Jekyll on Friday evening, and both of us were pleasantly surprised by the place. It’s small, quiet, and there wasn’t a Wings in sight. We also were careful to plan our trip just before Memorial Day, so A.) we’d avoid the hoards of families with kids and B.) we’d not have to work a full 5 day week for 3 weeks in a row. We stayed at a little apartment with a gigantic bathroom. Nice place, although the owner thought we were horrible people for wanting to turn the thermostat below 74. Then again, she was about 90 years old.

Packet Pickup & Race Set Up

I got up at 5:00 AM, I think. Getting ready, I had to choose between my old purple race suit, which is a little uncomfortably tight, or my new one, which is much more comfortable, but has a few critical flaws. For one thing, I’d gotten a recall notice from the vendor that the shorts were randomly splitting at the seams for some customers, but I couldn’t mail my defective shorts back in time. Also, if you recall, these new shorts have a staying-up problem. And I wasn’t sure if that would mean giving the fishes a full moon during the swim (or giving humanity a free show when I took my wetsuit off) because I had not yet swam in the shorts. So old suit it was.

Turtle Crawl Triathlon
The transition area at the Turtle Crawl Triathlon

We drove the 2 miles to the convention center to get my race packet. The t shirt was a tech fabric, men’s cut (boo, I’m a cotton fan), but it was a nice design. The line wasn’t nearly as long as I’d expected, and the volunteers were very nice.

Over to the transition area. This was in a parking lot – always preferable to grass, in my opinion, as you don’t have the dew, the grass clippings, or the fear of stepping on a yellow jacket nest (it’s a valid fear for me). But at the rack, it was turf war all the way.

Each rack, which was about 12 feet long, was designated for 16 bikes. And they didn’t all fit. I’m serious, I’ve never physically moved anyone’s bike and stuff over until this race, and I felt bad doing it, but not that bad. USAT will penalize you for putting your bike on the wrong rack. Even so, a couple of ladies at my rack decided to move their stuff to an empty rack. (I did happen to run into the race directors…or kayak into them, technically, and relayed that this was the biggest controllable snafu of the day. They already suspected as such, so next year expect roomier racks….hee hee).

After setting up, I jogged to the toilet about 1/2 mile along the beach into the run, and jogged back. This was my warmup, along with an other 1500 meter barefoot jog down the beach to the swim start.

The longest 1,500 meters of my life.

The race was set to start right at 7 am, and to my relief, the ocean looked calm. Looks can be deceiving. I stood around for awhile, and then asked some old guys who were chatting about their various weekly ocean swims if they had any tips for ocean swimming. They looked at  me like I was an idiot, saying…just swim. Whatevs.

Anyway, at 7 am, we were off (2 waves in this race). I swam out to the first buoy, getting used to the saltiness, and feeling quite confident about this swim. So far, the waves and current were about like that of a semi-choppy lake. We swam north, along the shoreline, extra convenient for a left-side breather like myself. I was really cooking (or so I thought).

Until we hit the halfway point. Then everything went to pot. I thought something was up when I stopped making progress toward the next upcoming buoy. I knew something was up when I started getting seasick. I never get seasick. I really knew something was up when I started moving backwards. It turns out, the winds and the currents shifted oh-so-conveniently mid-race, and for mediocre at best swimmers like myself, it sucked oh so badly. Even the good swimmers took about twice as long to finish the distance as they normally would have.

I’ll spare you the yelling, cursing, and crying into my goggles that may or may not have occurred out there, but let’s just say I knew my race was over before I got out of the water. And that really sucked. My final swim time: a grand, whopping 1 hour and 3 minutes. Some perspective: a “normal” olympic distance swim in a lake for me is about 26-27 minutes. A normal, flat olympic distance BIKE course takes me about 1 hour and 3 minutes.

Willing myself to complete the race…

I finally got out of the water after the worst swim ever, and heard someone saying they were DQ’d. What. The. F&$K. For about 3 seconds, I thought I was disqualified because I’d overrun the swim cutoff or something. This was appalling – I’ve never even considered it a possibility to not make a cutoff during a triathlon, though after what I’d done I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Turns out, they’d bailed the swim a few hundred yards back and DQ’d themselves. Phew. But not entirely phew. This meant I was faced with a 29 mile bike and a 10K run, with little to no chance of doing decently at the rest of the race.

Moment of truth from the old motivation machine: do I continue to race as though I was in contention, or do I sail through the rest of the event and not waste the effort….it’s a crappy position to be in. In my tearful run into transition, I chose the former. At worst, I figured, I’d get a great race-paced training day in. At best, I faintly hoped, everyone else had a super crappy swim too and I had a shot. Jesse, my better half, quickly extinguished that hope by saying, “you’re not going to win or anything today, but a lot of people have dropped out.” Meh.

So on the bike I got.

Coming up from the back of the back.

The bike course at Turtle Crawl is a 2-loop, flat ride around the island. It’s really a very nice bike course; you get to ride past the historic area, by a water slide park, and through some residential area. Jekyll is not terribly developed, either, so it felt rural. The roads were very smooth, and there was only 1 turn on the course, where you had to round a roundabout. I was particularly amused by the fact that they spraypainted around a very slight rough patch measuring about 2 feet across, like that was a hazard to watch out for. I am used to training on the craptastic pavement of western NC, where it’s par for the course to have gravel, glass, and a longitudinally running crevass just waiting to suck your wheel into it.

So, as you know, I’m one of the last people to get out of the water. Well, there was also a sprint race going on, and even though it began 1/2 hour after our oly, I got on the bike behind every last one of them too. So, I felt like a bit of a chump or poser riding amongst beach cruisers in my fancy aero helmet, tri bike, and race wheels.

DSCN1591 (2)
Me looking all super chumpy in my gear.

Anyhoo, I was trying to sort out this attitude thing, after the swim. At this point, I didn’t know exactly how long the swim had taken me, and it felt like an hour and twenty at least. My new plan – try to do the 29 mile bike faster than I did the swim. This would be a challenge, but it was all I had to keep me going. So, I rode as hard as I could.

I can’t remember if there was a bottle handoff on this course, but I didn’t really need it. The temperature was in the mid 70s, and my one bottle and a gel was plenty. There was a challenging headwind on the northbound section of the ride, which was mostly exposed to the oceanside, and this was enough to slow everyone down a bit. The southbound section, which ran along the sound, was calm, but not as much of a tailwind.

All in all, I figured I pulled out an okay bike split, and later I found I did. Fastest of the ladies, and 6th among the dudes. The only problem was, I really, really, REALLY had to pee.

Running….down my legs.

The run course was an out-and-back, flat 10K, entirely on a paved greenway. The first and last 1.5 miles were unshaded, windy as all get out, and crowded with sprint athletes (which was nice, because there were more spectators there to cheer everyone on). The middle 3 miles were shaded. Pretty basic.

So I get off the bike, ready to run, but with tired legs and an exceptionally full bladder. As you may know from my past race reports and such, I’m not a talented mid-ride pee-er. So that left me having to try and race a 10K while I really had to pee. And it turns out, that peeing whilst running really hard ain’t as easy as it sounds. I was so uncomfortable, I decided to just let it go. But I couldn’t! I would have had to stop dead in my tracks, I think, to complete my pee session, so here’s what happened instead: I took a full 47 minutes and 2 seconds to pee. Just a little at a time. Yuck. It was hard to concentrate, too! I just had to keep shifting focus from keeping my pace up to peeing.

I have to go!!!
I have to go!!!

About 1.5 miles in, the first place female passed me on her way back. So…..I was only about 21 minutes behind the leader….great. Oh well. I was also coming off a knee injury (think swelling so bad I had to get it drained) so I was racing hard, but cautiously. This was a real positive, because while my bladder hurt, my knee didn’t.

This far after the event, I don’t remember much else about the run except that during the last mile, I got wheezy, as I often do when racing. I started counting steps, which I also often do during racing. Finally, I crossed the finish line. I felt really, really, really bad for the poor volunteer who refused to let me bend down and remove my pee-soaked timing chip. I didn’t tell her it was pee-soaked, though, figuring some things are best left unknown.

Post-race festivities.

I am a brat.

When I saw my 45-minutes-slower-than-I’d-hoped-for finishing time, I broke my own rule and decided to ditch the awards ceremony, even though I thought I probably placed in my age group AND I had nowhere else to be. I usually would encourage any and all triathletes to stay for the awards at a race, no matter how dinky the prize may be. It’s just good sportsmanship. So I definitely lost some cool points here.

Instead, I found the nearest beach shower, rinsed the salt, sweat, sand, and urine off me as best as possible, and waited for Jesse to bring the car around (yes, I made him drive me 1 mile back to the rental house). It turns out, I placed 5th overall female, first in age group, and I have no idea what kind of great prize I may have gotten. I am a brat.

Would I do this race again? Hell, yeah.

The thing is, no one can control the ocean. It’s part of what you sign up for. The year before, everything was hunky-dory and there were some lickety swim splits. This year, someone must’ve pissed off Ursula the Sea Witch at about 7:15 in the morning. Whatchoo gonna do?

Overall, this was a well-run event in a beautiful, beautiful venue. Jekyll Island in May is the perfect beach setting for a couple, a couple of friends, or a quieter, nature-loving family. There’s only 1 or 2 mediocre restaurants, a water slide park that has just opened for the season, and a great 4H center where you can (and we did) take a 3 hour kayak tour through the horseshoe crab laden marshes. There’s also the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a great rehab center for this endangered species. The museum there is fantastic – it’s small but well designed and we learned a whole lot. For instance, even leaving a sandcastle in the sand can hinder a sea turtle’s progress to the ocean and jeopardize his or her survival.

The race is a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to race fast. The longer bike course is a perk, in my opinion. As I mentioned earlier, I ran into the race directors from Peak Racing Team, on the kayak tour we took, as a matter of fact. We talked about the race, and I hope I gave some helpful feedback – they’d had complaints about the safety of the swim, but really they had boo-koos of kayakers and safety personnel out on the water, and I never felt my safety was in jeopardy. That said, if you aren’t comfortable with the risks of ocean swimming, don’t do an ocean race. The bike rack thing, they’ll take care of that.

As for the rest of the weekend at Jekyll, it was awesome. A few tips if you decide to go:

  • Book your hotel or rental well in advance (we did in February). It’s reasonably cheap if you get while the gettin’s good.
  • Get groceries in Brunswick, GA before you get on the island. There’s one convenience store there and a Dairy Queen. You have been warned.
  • Prepare to pay to get on the island. In 2014, it was $7 per day, per vehicle, or something like $25 for a week.
  • Wear bodyglide on the back of your neck, up into the hairline. A salty wetsuit is extra chafey.
  • Water was about 72 degrees in May. I imagine this was an “average” – some years it may be colder or warmer.
  • Expect a 15 minute walk from transition to the start. Plan accordingly. Pee one last time before you head over.

2 thoughts on “Turtle Crawl Triathlon Race Report

  1. Thank you so much for your race review! I am deciding which Olympic distance to tackle for the first time next year and after reading about the details, I think I’ll be doing this one. Fingers crossed for better ocean conditions!

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