FLEMING ISLAND - Fleming Island resident Larry Sage, owner of the Sage Group, a commercial real estate operation in Fleming Island, had spent the last four or five years watching his very athletic twin daughters, Courtney and Kendall, earn high school athletic awards in track, basketball and swimming before embarking on his own athletic adventure to earn a spot at the dinner table.
"My two daughters are doing real well in their own sports," said Sage. "Courtney in track was second in the 100 hurdles while Kendall was a top scorer for the basketball team and also a state track meet athlete. I felt a need."
The street cred came with a finish at the Gulf Coast Ironman 70.3 half Ironman triathlon held May 11 in Panama City Beach. The 70.3 format triathlon includes a 1.2 mile swim in the Gulf of Mexico, a 56.1 mile bike trek on the suffocatingly hot and humid roads in and around Panama City Beach and an oven-like 13.1 mile half marathon run with a searing sun at the athlete's back.
Sage completed the sojourn in seven hours, 40 minutes, 23 seconds to finished as 56th male of 65 finishers in the 55-59 age group and 1,230th overall of the 2,000 starters and 1,300 finishers. Overall male winner T.J. Tollakson finished in 3:54:19. Tops in the 55-59 age group was Rafe Armstrong, 56, of Mississippi, in 4:59:28; 97th overall.
"The wind out on the bike was behind us, but when we turned around, it was brutal hard on the way back with the hot wind in my face," said Sage. "I train at the Baldwin Trail, but replicating those weather conditions was impossible."
The Texas-born Sage, 55, a 15 year resident in Clay County and a college soccer player in the United Kingdom in Swanse-Wales until 1987, had dabbled in local 5K and 10K road running races since his 1987 days on the soccer pitch with a 26.2 marathon in Texas in 1983 before starting his career phase of life plus a now-25 year marriage with wife Barbara, a record-holding track hurdler from her home state in New Hampshire.
"The Dallas White Rock Marathon was my biggest challenge to that point, " said Sage. "I got some half marathons in there with the marathon the best achievement."
Sage has been dabbling in sprint triathlons (.25 mile swim, 15 mile bike, 3.1 mile run) locally for the past five years with an Olympic distance race (0.9 mile swim in St. Johns River, 25 mile bike and 6.2 mile run) in downtown Jacksonville last year as his launch for a longer event in his future.
"Barbara had done the sprint triathlons over in Jacksonville Beach and she gave me the bug," said Sage. "At that point, the goal was to survive. I don't really know if I ever beat her times. I came out of that alive and that was enough."
After taking on the Jacksonville Olympic distance race in summer 2018, Sage pushed his thoughts to the half Ironman.
"The river current was a pain in that one," said Sage. "I had done six sprint races prior to that one and swimming was not my strength and the current went in all directions."
Sage, who swims frequently at the Eagle Harbor pools and rides his Cervelo triathlon bike in the area, says the pool-to-open water swim was the most daunting challenge of triathlon.
"The mile was daunting," said Sage. "A mile swim will whip you if you are not ready for it."
After finishing the Olympic distance race, signing up for Panama City was a stealthy move.
"Six months before the race, I started thinking about it, but didn't tell anyone in case I wanted to back out of it," said Sage. "More peer pressure, but I kept saying maybe. Once I made the $300 commit for the entry fee, I had to go. Barbara knew."
After the swim, Sage finished on the bike, then wobbled on to the run.
"I figured riding the bike and the running were strong on my end," said Sage, who noted the Panama City lifeguards were flying the beach's Red Flags for unsafe swim conditions the morning of the race. "The red flags didn't seem to deter the race officials because they put 3,000 swimmers in the water. It was like a washing machine, but I survived. I was shaky off the bike to the run, but one thing I did was eat and hydrate a lot along the way."
For the triathlons, Sage noted that the mental tenacity part of competing was the biggest factor.
"I had to learn to deal mentally with swimming, bike, and running uncomfortable," said Sage. "The physical part of the race is something doable. The mental part was new to me in the longer races."
Despite the horrendous conditions, Sage commented that the training commitment was a big part of not backing out.
"When you realize how much time, energy and money you invest in getting to the race, it's hard to just quit once you get there," said Sage. "The wind was tough and the weather was hot and I was calculating at the end of the run how much walking and running I could do to make the 8.5 hour finishing cutoff time. That's where I was the last four miles; calculating if I was going to crawl to get in before the 8.5 hours. It was tough to do the math when you feel like dying."
Post half Ironman, Sage has declared retirement.
"The kids think it's pretty cool," said Sage. "We'll see what happens later. After soccer, I never thought I would do a triathlon."