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No shoes, no problem for champ

Craig Walton, in bare feet at times, won the St. Anthony's Triathlon.

Published April 26, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Dripping wet after a strong swim, Craig Walton jumped on his bike and began pedaling down Bayshore Drive with an eight-second lead until ... what?!

Walton had no biking shoes. He didn't clip them onto his pedals before the race like he had in hundreds of other triathlons. He left the darn things at home.

Ten, 20 meters into the ride his thoughts collided.

Could he bike in bare feet through 24.8 miles? No way. The metal pedals stabbed his feet.

But even if he went back and grabbed his running shoes, could he strain a muscle on the ride? Should he quit? Again, no way. He had come from his home in Australia to race the St. Anthony's Triathlon, one of the most prestigious in the world. One that also paid $7,500 to the winner - which would eventually be him, but not before he made a quick decision.

So 100 meters down he jumped off his bike and laid it on the side of the road.

He ran back to the transition area and frantically tied on his running shoes. Without the biking shoes all he could do was press down like a college kid on his one-speed trying to get to class on time. There would be none of the usual pulling up on the clips.

But it would have to do.

He would use the mash-down-only-biking method, which meant pressing on pedals the size of potato chips. Unclipped.

Meantime 12, 13, 14, 15 competitors passed him before he started pedaling again.

Mad, frustrated, adrenaline raging, he not only bulled past everyone but finished the bike almost two minutes ahead of them.

"I was sliding all over the pedals and my muscles were stretching out another inch-and-a-half (to the pedals) than they normally would (wearing bike shoes)," Walton said. "I was thinking, "You stupid idiot, what did you do? You stupid, stupid idiot.' I'm surprised I didn't tear a hamstring."

Four miles into the run Walton still held his lead but it was down to less than a minute, and his hamstrings were cramping "from that crazy bike ride." For a while he jogged backward to stretch out his hamstrings, a method that ultimately worked well enough to get him to the finish line in first place in 1:50.47 - 51 seconds ahead of the runnersup.

When he finished the .93 swim, 24.8-mile bike and 6.2 run his legs were a little more wobbly than usual. His grin, however, might have been a little bigger than normal as he jogged down the finish shoot waving and slapping high-fives to the thousands cheering.

"I've never done that before (raced without bike shoes) and I can guarantee I'll never do it again," said the 28-year-old Walton, who is among the world's best and is the defending champion of the Los Angeles and Chicago triathlons. "I know I'll have a few extra blisters to remind me of this for a while."

On the women's side, there was less drama as Australia's Michellie Jones won her seventh St. Anthony's in 2:04.41 at the age of 34. San Diego's Jessi Stensland was second in 2:05.45.

"I felt strong all the way, but not fast," Jones said. "I did a half-ironman three weeks ago and I think that helped my strength but not my speed. ...

"The new course (tweaked to accommodate the increase to 3,000 athletes from last year's 2,000) was great. I missed the part of the course with the quick turns. It's fun to go around tight corners at high speeds, but this course was a lot safer and that's a good thing for everybody."

As for Walton, Jones was "amazed," as were Australia's Miles Stewart and Richie Cunningham, who tied for second.

"What Craig did today was no less than amazing," said Stewart, 32. "Truly, riding like he did without (biking shoes), it is utterly amazing."

[Last modified April 26, 2004, 01:10:13]

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