August 12, 2017
Race Day was here, and the alarm clock went off way too early.
I got my coffee and applied my temporary tattoos. These theses are surprisingly complicated a 2:30 am without sufficient caffeine on board. I managed to screw them up…all four of them. You would think that I would have figured it out by number 4. Nope. I got my racing chip on and triple checked all of my gear. Once I was set, I headed to the race venue.
This triathlon is huge. There are 2403 triathletes registered for today’s event (1990 finishers) and 3587 registrants over the event weekend. Wandering thru transition was a spectacle on its own.
I got there an hour before transition opened, and was the first car in the parking lot (again). I have a habit of doing that. Access to the the parking area was poor. The size of the lot was insufficient (2500 participants, 1000 parking spaces…you do the math). The shuttles were a problem last year. I knew I would rather be sitting around in my car (and playing Angry Birds) then stressing in a traffic jam. I’m glad I did. There was a traffic jam. The parking lot was filled to capacity. People who couldn’t get in the lot were rerouted to a distant lot and had to take additional shuttles. Race start was pushed back by 30 minutes.
During the chaos, I got my gear set up and just took wandered about taking pics with my phone. The weather was glorious. It was a cool morning without any humidity or wind and the sky was clear. Water temperature was 80.6F (no wetsuits permitted). I could talk about the scene, but the pics tell the tale better then I ever could…
The lake was small, shallow, warm and calm. There was a temporary dock installed and we started in waves based on age group. When it was our turn, we walked out to the end of the dock and could jump off the left side for a practice swim while the wave ahead of us were sitting on the right side of the dock. Once they were off, we were called back to the dock to sit on the right until 2 minutes before our wave start. We would then slide back into the water and hold onto the dock until the horn started.
The water was warm and fairly still. The waves were spread out enough that there was minimal congestion (or contact) on the course. Getting to the end of the dock was another matter. This was a temporary floating structure and it bounced around a lot from the waves and having a couple of hundred people on it!
Finally, the horn sounded. I had seen enough from watching the other waves starts (and from watching the practice swim) that I knew that I would be one of the slowest swimmers. There was no point fighting it. I just hung on to the dock for an extra 3 seconds and the rugby scrum was already well ahead of me. I just found my rhythm and didn’t worry about what everyone else was doing. I actually found the swim rather relaxing. One marker buoy after another ticked by. Interestingly, I caught up with someone from the previous wave just before the swim exit (older lady doing the breast stroke). I passed her just as someone from the wave behind us passed me by (and he definitely wasn’t doing the breast stroke!)
They had a ramp and volunteers in place to help us out of the water and into T1.
Swim Split – 41:21 (2:32/100 yd)
I was as disorganized as ever. I was halfway to T1 exit when I realized that I didn’t take off my swim skin. Yeah, it was bad…
T1 Split – 5:30
The bike course was completely closed to traffic. Impressive feat since one of the roads was the main access road to Omaha Airport. The course was mostly flat and not the most scenic…of course I had two wheeled missiles disguised as $10,000 tri-bikes flying by my left ear every few seconds, so I really had no time to do any sightseeing. The course had a few small hills…and one monster. Let’s talk about that shall we? Here’s the course elevation map.
It’s an out and back course so we would hit it twice.The front side of the hill is MUCH steeper then the back side, so I got to climb it on the way out. Maybe I should say that I TRIED to climb it. In six years, I have never been forced off of my bike to walk a hill. I’ve come close, but it never happened…until now. I was about a third of the way up when I saw the writing on the wall. I unclipped while I still could. I kept pushing thru another third of that hill (which hill twisted and turned so much that I could never see the top…it just kept going!)
I finally bailed and started walking. The riders on that hill of all ages were in amazing shape since I didn’t see anyone else bail out (RESPECT!!!) As I got to the top of the hill, volunteers were yelling at passing riders “You got this! You’ve concurred this hill!” As I walked up they looked at me and I told them “I didn’t get this, the hill got me!” and they started to laugh. I remounted and got close to 40 mph on the way down. As I kept going, I could feel how badly that hill shredded my legs. They were jello. I had nothing left in them at all. Fortunately, it was flat until the turnaround…which is when I got slammed by the headwind. It would be a much tougher return then I had expected.
The minutes ticked by and I was back at “The Hill”. It is longer but not as steep on this side with a brief flat in the middle. It was still a struggle but I got to the top in granny gear. Then I got to fly down the other side.
Or, more accurately, I rode the brakes all the way down the narrow steep winding strip of pavement as stronger cyclists flew past me within a few inches of collision.
It. Was. Terrifying.
I honestly didn’t think that I would get to the bottom in one piece. Even riding the brakes, I could not get below 15 mph. My bike skills are ok, but I was not up to this challenge. When I got to the bottom, I could not feel my fingers since I had gripped the brakes so hard. After that, just kept battling the small hills and strong headwinds back to T2.
Bike Split – 1:34:36 (15.8 mph)
Not as embarrassing as T1, but still a mess…
T2 Split – 5:52
The run course was also closed to traffic. It was a 2 loop out and back with 2 aid stations that we would hit a total of 8 times in 6 miles. By this point, it was getting hot. The sun was high in the sky and there was no shade to be found. Despite liberal use of sunscreen pre-race, in T1 and T2, I still managed a pretty good sunburn. Ice water and ice towels were in plentiful supply. The legs were wobbly for the first mile, but still worked. The pace was slow but steady. Volunteers and spectators were great and helped keep me going. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty but I eventually got to the finish line.
By this point, the traffic on the course had thinned out a lot. I looked around me and I was pretty much all by myself for the run down the red carpet to the finish. The feeling wasn’t quite as overwhelming as the Ironman finishers chute, but it was close. After all, I had been looking forward to this moment for almost a year.
Run Split – 1:14:38 (12:01 min/mile)
Finish Time – 3:41:55
I got a bottle of water and my medal and headed off the get some food. The meal was pretty good (chicken salad on ciabatta bun with coleslaw and fruit salad.
After that I decided to face the music and check my results. I knew that I would be at the back of the pack at a local triathlon. Here, only a catastrophe for one of my age-group companions would keep me from last place. It didn’t happen. DLF (Dead Last Finish) in my age group (but not overall). It was expected and I was more then ok with that. I had qualified and gave it my best at one of the most competitive amateur triathlons in the world. Being here was a thrill and the memories will last a lifetime. You can see it on the smile on my face as I crossed the finish line. I still got here. I still finished. I still got the experience. More than I could have dreamed possible 6 years ago, when I was obese and sedentary. It has been a long road, and I’ll take this as a victory.
I headed back to transition and grabbed my gear. The bike could be left there overnight for tomorrow’s sprint triathlon. But I had to haul off the rest of the junk and get ready for tomorrow’s race.