I took on the Florida Xtreme Triathlon in 2019 (EDIT: I actually signed up to race it in 2018 but was so destroyed by performance at Georgia Death Race early that March that I didn't possess the mental or physical capacity to even attempt FXT. If you want to know more about how 2018 messed me up, READ HERE). It was marketed as a 300+ mile triathlon from coast to coast in Florida. My racing friend, Matt Dolitsky, had mentioned the race and I was all in. (Author's note: this is a long entry since the event spanned 3 days. If you aren't going to read it all, at least check out the video at the end to see the event in action)
Before 2017, I hadn't raced a triathlon since I was in high school (that was so long ago that Tuxedo Brothers doesn't even have archived results online, probably since it was the early days of the internet!). But like many things in my life, this adventure started with a few friends saying crazy things out loud which then snowballs into a crazy challenge. Fellow adventure racers Ande Wegner and Daren De Heras started talking after the SISU Iron about this thing called the Anvil in Virginia. It was a full size (aka Ironman distance of 2.4mile swim, 112mi bike, 26.2 mi run) triathlon that offered multipliers. The Double Anvil was 2x full distance, the Triple Anvil was 3x, and Quintuple Anvil was 4x a full triathlon (12mi swim, 560mi bike, and 131mi run)! Those numbers are crazy! And let's be clear, at the time of the conversation, I didn't even own a bike, nor had I ridden one outside of a spin class in decades! But I was all in with my buddies so I went to Performance Bike and bought a Fuji Gran Fondo road bike and went to work. I hadn't committed to doing the Anvil yet, but I wanted to get started so that I would have the ability to later on........
I signed up for an Tri Indy, an Olympic distance (1500meter swim, 40k bike, and 10k run), as well as the newly formed Naptown Half Iron (1.2mile swim, 56mi bike, and 13.1mi run) to complete in 2017. Both of those adventures were awesome and brutal in their own ways. During the training, especially the bike riding, leading up to those I had a self realization. I love to explore during my long rides. Training indoors on a trainer or outdoors on the same route bored me. It's no surprise since I am the same way with running. I run trails because I love to explore. Another realization I had was that I was going to have to get comfortable playing with traffic on my bike. One of the reasons I had stayed away from bike riding was that I had helped several clients recover post bike crashes. Falling three feet at high speeds with minimal protection onto a hard surface as the result from contact from a quarter ton+ speeding object was a recipe for disaster. I took risks but I wasn't crazy. But I would have to get comfortable and aware around distracted drivers if I was going to have a shot at my goals.
Now you will notice that the title of this entry is Florida Xtreme and not Double Anvil. After doing more research, I decided the Anvil was a poor fit for me. The Anvil uses loops for races. The idea of repeating the same 5 mil biking loop or the same 1 mi running loop was a test in sanity that I had no interest in. My newfound enjoyment of biking was best when I was exploring and seeing new areas. I let my racing buddies know that the Anvil wasn't for me and was just about to give up on ultra distance triathlons when Matt posted about being interested in FXT. I had never heard of it. After a little research, I was hooked!
FXT starts in the Gulf of Mexico and races across Florida until you finish on the Atlantic Coast 3 days later. The race consisted of 3 mini races of near Ironman length each day. A huge bonus was that it was broken up and allowed you to sleep each night in order to get ready for the next day. And I would get to explore an entire state with bike riding! This event was made for my curiosity so I signed up in November of 2017 to compete in November of 2018. I also signed up for my first Ironman (Lake Placid) for 2018. Well 2018 ended up being a disaster (Thanks Georgia Death Race) and I deferred my entries to 2019.
In 2019 I was excited about my training and was putting in a good block. I had ridden 100+ miles several times. Even though I failed Ironman Lake Placid (another story for another time) earlier that year, I was motivated for FXT. I convinced my dad to come crew for me as my birthday gift. A crew is vital in long events like this because they take care of all the details so that you can focus on racing. I'm not sure that he knew how much he was committing to, but he agreed to come. We loaded up my trusty Chevy Avalanche and drove down to Florida. The race was officially from November 15-17, 2019 so we arrived two days early to recover from travel and not be rushed.
We arrived to Crystal River with an extra day to explore. I decided to get an easy bike ride in at the starting point of our race, Fort Island Beach. When I arrived, I met fellow racer (and eventual event winner) Lesley Brainard electing for the same easy ride to check out the start line. We were confused by signage on the beach stating that it was closed and unsafe to swim. My endurance racing background screamed that it was a ploy and to give it no worry. We hopped on our bikes and rode an hour. What was planned as an easy ride was only easy for Lesley! She was fast and my male ego tried to keep up. I was thankful it started to rain so we headed back. The rest of the day was filled with rest, downloading GPX files to follow on the bike, and later a pre race briefing.
Day 0: Pre Race Briefing-
One thing I can attest to is that the event company, Sommer Sports, along with its staff are first class. They were prepared and made the logistic easy. We showed up and were given a 3 ring binder full of info for the racers and the crew. We went over a powerpoint as a group so that there wouldn't be additional confusion. They fed us and they held the briefing early enough that I could still get to bed early (I HATE when races do dinner briefs since I like to be in bed by 8p). During the briefing, we were hit with our first surprise. Our start line had been moved. The signs that Lesley and I had seen were true. The Fort Island Beach was unsafe to swim in due to an usual migration of seagulls that flocked to the beach and had defecated in mass causing an unsafe bacteria levels in the water. Swimming with such a bacteria this early in the race could mean days of nausea and illness. So they had to pull an audible and we would now start at Hunter Springs which was a huge positive since it was fed by a natural spring and was a lot warmer than the gulf. New GPX data would be available for the bike. Other than that the rest of the meeting concluded without a hitch. We were given out bibs, marking decals, and race swag. Dad and I retreated to the hotel room and went over our crew strategy. I had several different bags (love my GoRuck bags) full of different items. One bag had supplement, food, and med kit refills. Another had clothing changes and options to help with the shifting weather. The final bag had repair equipment for the bike. We were all set so we went to bed and dreamed about the 7:30a start time that would be quickly in front of us.
Day 1: Crystal River to Carney Island-
The transition area opened at 6am and everybody was early. We were all checking and double checking our gear, especially our bikes. A broken bike can quickly end a race. I was so worried that I not only had a large collection of bike repair gear, I had also brought a back up bike (thanks Mike V!). I wanted to make sure that the only thing that could stop me was me. We set up our transition areas, went over our final crew instructions, then headed to the start line. Right before the start, the camera crew pulled me aside and interviewed me which was really cool and great way to calm my nerves since I had to focus on why I was there and what I wanted to achieve. Before the gun started our race, we sang the national anthem and wished fellow racers best of luck.
The 2 mile swim at Hunter Springs was AMAZING!! Not only was it warm (I was able to wear my sleeveless wetsuit and save my shoulders) and crystal clear water, there were also several manatees all over the place. I had never seen these sea cows close up and now I was swimming with them. The best part was that they weren't shy and swam within feet of us. We ended up having to swim short loops due to location restrictions but it was worth it to swim in such amazing water. Official swim time 1:04:08 and 5th place (16 racers showed up for this leg). 10 more minutes in the transition stripping my wetsuit, lubing up my entire body in preparation for a 100+ mile bike ride, and lots of eating.
The bike ride was around 102 miles. After navigating the streets near the starting line, we were rewarded with a bike riding paved trail around mile 20. Fortunately for us, we would spend most of day 1's bike on a paved trail separate from traffic. I was still a novice at riding so this helped ease me into this event. I could focus on the ride (except for a random runner and dog walker). I caught up with my dad around mile 35. He was a little flustered because he had gotten lost (an unfortunate theme that was going to repeat itself). My dad is old school. Even though he has a smart phone, it is probably about 5 years old (maybe an iPhone 4) and doesn't get updates. Which means that he can't input GPX files, in fact he doesn't have a GPS on it. He was going to be going old school and use paper maps (a decision that would later earn him the nickname Rand McNally from fellow support crews). It wasn't a big deal for me, but I think it added a lot of stress to him. No crew wants to feel like they could jeopardize their racers finish by getting lost or not being available at the right time. Crew stations are a tough balance between arriving in the right time frame so that you don't sit around and get bored against arriving too late and missing your rider. Dad would get lost at the next station and miss me around mile 50. It wasn't an issue for me since the race itself went above and beyond and provided great aid station support with lots of food and butt creme. After that super SAG station, we hoped back on the real roads and spent the next 50ish miles navigating highways, country roads, and residential roads to the bike finish at Carney Island. Official bike time: 6:40:05 good for 11th place.
The 18mile run at Carney Island was by far my favorite. We ran on 6 mile loop that was primarily soft trail. Everything in Florida is flat and this run would be no exception. Day 1 is the longest day which means that I would finish in the dark. I made a mistake not grabbing my headlamp at the start of lap 2. The daylight disappeared quickly. I had to stop on the trail and wait for a fellow runner to catch up in order to progress without a light. Fortunately the next racer was Jascia Redwine. I had raced a few OCRs with Jascia before and we had communicated before the race. Her crew was also helping keep my dad on track too. Guided by the light of her iPhone, we pressed on. I grabbed my headlamp for the final lap and checked in with my dad. He had already set up our sleeping accommodations in our cabin (which was more like a dorm) and wanted to have everything ready for my finish so that I could eat, work on recovery, and fall asleep. I finished my run around 4:19:40 (unfortunately I just realized that when I printed off the results, I cut off the run portions. And Sommer Sports is currently dealing with a ransomware attack so I can't pull things up online).
Overall stage time: 12:27:19 and 10th place on the day.
Bonus: Let's talk about crewing. My dad had been up all day along with me. He spent the day driving to crew stations. Getting lost a few times had put a lot of extra stress on him that he had to power through. After the swim, he was responsible for drying my wetsuit and swim gear. During the bike he had to navigate 100 miles to find me and to take care of himself (my dad is a diabetic so I was worried about him missing eating opportunities by being too focused on me). After the bike, he had to collect my bike and do a complete look over it including washing the chain, re lubing everything, and checking the tires for debris. During the run he was responsible for having gear changes ready (primarily shoe swaps and out gear changes) while also setting up our sleeping arrangements. He would prepare the food we brought, set up my ice pants and my compression machine, and would spend most of the night missing sleep in order to wash gear and get me ready for the next day. As a result, he would get way less sleep than I would. I would finish each day by falling asleep in my recovery pants with food on my chest. He was the real work horse behind the scenes.
Day 1 done. I was tired. I tried to reserve strength and not go out too fast. I focused on recovery and called it a night. Wake up would come way too early the next day.
Day 2: Carney Island to Camp Keystone-
The next morning I was sore but I wasn't wrecked. Dad got little sleep and I was worried about the next two days and how he would be able to handle it. The 2 mile swim was pretty straight forward. It was 2x 1 mile loops in a lake. That meant a little cooler water (I still went sleeveless) and murky water. It was what I expected when I signed up. Unfortunately nothing unique like manatees. Instead it was full of making sure you were swimming straight and trying not to get tangled in the vegetation. There was a rumor going around that a gator had been spotted by the drone across the lake. Far from us but the murky water added a lot of stress. I remember playing the game "is that a persons foot or a gator". All mental but still exhausting. Official swim time: 1:14:50 good for 9th place.
The bike leg portion of Day 2 was a nightmare! I was going to spend the next 75 miles battling rain, wind, and busy roads with lots of traffic. Florida has spent a focused effort on adding alternative biking trails or minimally bike lanes across the state. Most of the time these lanes are great and the drivers are use to bikes being around (completely the opposite in Indiana where drivers aren't use to lanes yet. Many accidents are caused because drivers forget to check these lanes for bikers and treat them as turn lanes or emergency lanes with devastating consequences. In Indiana you had better get use to riding the line between assertive and @$$hole because if you get it wrong then you will get mowed down). The downside to this is that we have several stretches of old highways that have little to no shoulder and no bike lane. Thus drivers aren't used to bicyclists taking the lane like a slow moving vehicle and I spent the day trying to claim space on a road out of fear of getting hit. Big sections of US-301 and FL-21 were nerve racking. I would later learn that the male leader would drop from the race out of fear of being hit due to the combination of slick roads and lower visibility from rain on these roads.
My dad came in big here! I would see him often in my truck during this stretch. Not only was the reassuring, but I added and changed layers often during this stretch. I was still a novice at biking so I didn't have any real experience biking in the rain, wind, and cold. I had to eventually put on my thickest layers and lobster claw gloves because I was cold and soaked. He also provided an emotional boost with a well timed hot cheeseburger. Every time we hit an aid station we would swap electronics so that I didn't run the risk of them dying. I relied on my Garmin Edge (Thanks David S!) to keep me on track. I relied heavily upon my Garmin Varia RTL510 that doubled as a taillight and a rear radar to alert me of traffic behind me (if you are going to ride the roads, I cannot stress enough how import this piece of tech is. My wife bought it for me after I retold her of a time that I was almost struck from behind from a distracted (at least I hope that is the reason) driver. It won't make you invincible, but it helps me a ton with my decision making out on the roads). I cannot stress enough how exhausting this section was. The rain took your physical energy. The traffic concerns took your mental energy. I took it slow and made sure not to make a big mistake.
Lady Luck must have also taken the day off. A side of the road pee stop led to my tires picking up debris which led into 2 flat tires. I struggled to replace my tubes due to my cold wet hands. Fellow racer Bryce Ann stopped with me and called the bike repair guy (another great item provided by the race director). A couple months before the race, I had given up my cell phone as a way to simplify my life. I was so thankful that Bryce Ann had a phone. I was within 10 miles of the finish and no longer saw my dad driving by. He had gone ahead to the transition to help prep my run gear. I lost about 20-30 mins waiting there with a flat. I urged Bryce to go on with her race and I waited for bike support. He came, fixed me up, and sent me on my way.
And about 3 miles later, I was off the bike again with another flat :( When we changed my flat, we didn't notice a tiny needle (which I would later learn in the area were very common and why locals didn't run barefooted on the beach) in my actual tire and it punctured the new tubes. Now I was out of tubes and reliant on the bike guy coming back another 20-30mins later. Within 10 miles of the finish I had lost an hour on the bike.
I was very thankful to get off the roads and into the run transition to warm up with new clothes. Official bike time: 6:54:43 and 11th place in the bike. (I would have been 9th without the flats).
True to the spirit of the day, the run coarse on Day 2 was my least favorite. It was still wet and mild, but a lot more manageable with the slower pace of the run. The run was a boring 18 miles (3 loops of 6 miles) along sidewalks and roadways. Safe and boring stuff. It got dark and I got bored. I walked a lot. I borrowed a phone and facetimed my wife. Day 2 wasn't fun, it was a boring grind. It didn't have any highlights or thrills, it was just an obstacle in my way. I didn't take joy in the sufferfest, instead I was numb and hiding from any thoughts. The one big highlight of that run was that super volunteer, Mike Cooper, gave us a slice of humanity at night. He was secretly arranging glow sticks on the pavement with positive messages and with racer names. I figured this out and looked forward to reading my name. It kept me going just to see that.
Official Day 2 time: 12:27:19 and 10th place (1 hr from flats would have put me at 8th)
Back at the finish line, dad said that he had more navigation issues and hadn't been to the room to set up. I was already numb physically and emotionally so all I heard was that I would get less sleep. We got into the room, I rolled my muscles, did a few rounds of compression recovery, put on my ice pants, and started eating. Dad started cleaning and repairing the bike, double checking for any errant needles in the tires. He was up really late washing gear. I was busted. Normally I can take cold really well. I've done lots of ice baths, cold showers, and events that dunk you in cold water. That night (and later the next night) my body couldn't stand the cold. I was in my cryo pants shivering. Eating. And shivering. I fell asleep with food in my hand. Day 2 was rough.
Day 3: Camp Keystone to Marine Land (Palm Coast Finish)-
I woke up early to get a jump on the final day. I slammed down more food since I had fallen asleep the night before with food literally in my hand. I also needed a long stretch session (thanks ROMWOD) to help get everything moving again. I did a couple rounds of compression with my Air Relax pants and quietly got ready while dad slept. At over 65 years old, the lack of sleep was talking a toll on him. He didn't complain but I could tell he was putting in a massive physical effort as well. Once I was ready, woke him up and we collected things to start the day.
At the swim start it was very apparent it was going to be cold. People were huddling in the tents refusing to lose their sweatshirts. Another lake swim meant it was going to be very cold. I elected to go with my thickest wetsuit (ironically the first few times I used it was in the desert for World's Toughest Mudder) and gave up shoulder mobility for extra warmth. Before the swim start, the camera crew pulled me aside again. I reflected on my experience; the joys and surprises of day 1, the dark times of day 2, and I thought about my boys and what I wanted to show them was possible in this world. My oldest son, Dominic, was born with a hole in heart. And at 4 years old, he had to undergo open heart surgery to repair it. He is fine today and we celebrate his scars. But I always try and remember the pain and discomfort that I endure in events is nothing to what he had to go through. I was ready for the final day and felt surprisingly strong going into it.
For the start of the swim we had to all be in the water at the starting horn. The water was VERY COLD. Once I centered myself I didn't mind, but the locals from Florida were shaking and were shook. It would be two laps around to finish our final two mile swim. I have found that I often thrive when more people around me struggle. I had my best WTM when there was a hijab (dust storm) and heard on the course that less than 100 people were still on the course fighting the elements. I had my best swim when others were dropping before the second lap. I later learned that Bryce Ann dropped in the swim which broke my heart. I finished with a respectable 1:12:42 good enough for 4th place. Coming out of the water I felt good enough to waive off the warming tent and emergency blankets to warm up. I changed gear and got on my bike.
One thing about this bike leg was that I was experiencing a majorly sore saddle butt. I put on an extra pair of biking shorts as well as a gel cover for my seat. I had never ridden this far nor this frequent and it was painful. The course had several sections that had bike dedicated trails along major highways. It was so nice to ride without the worry of the elements and the traffic of day 2. We also rode a few bridges since we were progressing to islands and inlets. Those that have ridden with me know that I prefer something to break up the monotony. I enjoy hills because what goes up gets to come down, and FAST!!! I surveyed the bridges and booked it up a drawbridge in order to put some separation on a few fellow riders. Dad did great on following along and surprised me at a few gas stations with support.
I honestly don't remember much about this section because it was enjoyable. I rode a lot with Adam Barringer, former Mayor of Smyrna, Florida and with another guy that was only racing the final leg as a way to get ready to do all 3 days next year. I enjoyed going fast where I could, the bridges, seeing my dad navigating well, and coming up on the final small town where I would be able to get off the bike for a LONG time! Total time was 4:08:20 good enough for 9th place.
The last run course was AMAZING as well. It wasn't loops (except for a small one), went through a jungle like area that was really neat, and finished on the beach next to Hammock Beach Resort. This made me smile a lot. I was very slow and pretty much power walked the whole portion. My body was battered but my soul was rejoicing. I saw my Dad a few times and could tell that he was excited to see me finish. Before the first day, I was bummed to hear that we would be swimming in a lake on the final day instead of flipping the order of the events to finish in the ocean. I quickly saw how this wasn't possible of the winds and tide made the ocean angry and rip with waves. During the final stroll down the beach I picked up my pace to a quick trot to finish. It caught my dad off guard. I was set on finishing before the night arrived so I booked it in. Dad was trying to catch some photos but my speed (haha it really wasn't fast) caught him a little unprepared as I strolled through the finish line. After I crossed the line, I went back, taking my dad. Without him I wouldn't have made it. That is one of my favorite finish photos. But from the looks of it, you would have sworn my dad had raced too since he was also exhausted taking care of me. I had finished the day in 10:04:29 and in 10th place.
I had finished all 3 days with an accumulative time of 36:15:08 and 5th place on the overall standings. Lesley dominated everyone by winning each individual day (which is huge because we completed against a handful of single stage racers each day that could afford to go hard without having to worry about the pain the next day) and the overall title with a total time of 24:27:56. BAD@$$!!! In 2nd and 3rd were Indiana guys as well. Glen Moehling had achieved his 100th triathlon race during the event and Michael Myers, I would learn, was also an Anvil Finisher.
Immediately after the race I took advantage of the free massage, picked up my swag (unfortunately Dad and I would be heading out early the next day and would miss the Champions Brunch celebration. One of the few regrets I have is missing that celebration and fellowship), and headed to the hotel room. I splurged for a nice room which in hindsight was a waste. Dad fell asleep almost immediately. He had gotten me across the finish line and needed to rest. I took a shower (also a disaster that ended with a leaky door seal, a slip and fall, and a busted ipad- but that is a story for another time). After completing an accident report and making sure I wasn't hurt bad enough to require a trip to the ER, I passed out in bed feeling accomplished. I couldn't wait to get back with my boys and share the story. We woke up early and I tried to do the brunt of the packing so that dad could rest. We loaded up and drove off to home.
I will cherish this time with my dad as one of the biggest accomplishments of this race. I had a great childhood, but we weren't a touchy feely family. I was busy with my family and I didn't get to have a lot of time with my dad anymore. This was an opportunity for me to show him my world and why I do what I do professionally. It was also a chance for me to lean into him for support and need all his help. While he may not admit it, but I think we are both looking forward to another opportunity like this. Maybe the TransAmTri945 :)
A special thanks to all my training partners that endured long rides on the weekends, my family for weathering the fiscal and time costs associated with this, and my clients that not only inspired me to push to my goal line but also put up with reschedules and disruption as the event neared. And thank you for reading this all the way to the end. I write these for me and for my family to look back but I appreciate you investing your time in taking this journey back with me.
I will see you all on a new fitness adventure soon!
PS- If you think you want to take on your first or next triathlon, let's find a time to chat. It could be something as short as a super sprint or as long as FXT. I would love to pass any wisdom, training/gear tips, and to help hold you accountable to cross your finish line. Shoot me an EMAIL HERE so that we can find time to dream about your adventure :)