August 3, 2008
Alaska State Championship
My wife Chris is wonderful. She never ceases to amaze in what she tolerates from all the different things that comes her way from me, what she volunteers for, what life brought her unplanned, and all the other stuff I don’t know about. The Alaska trip occurred because of my goal to visit all 50 states by age 50. Achieved it with five months to spare. Daughters Caroline and Hayes came with us to ensure a family celebration for Chris’ birthday. We flew non-stop to Anchorage. We traveled light which meant no bike thanks to a generous offer from race director and owner of Chain Reactions Cycles, Bill Fleming. Bill graciously reserved one of their best demo bikes, a Seven Cycles Alaris with a 56cm top tube. As he wrote his e-mail, “I think that would work very well for you. It's a very nice bike.”
Anchorage experienced a cooler summer than normal. Anchorage’s climate was warmer than Chicago because of its proximity to the ocean. Usually. But by the time we arrived there had only been seven 65-degree days or warmer. Only two days above 70, compared to 21 days in 2007. Chicago temperatures felt like hell compared to the cool overcast dampness on race day in Alaska.
We stayed in downtown Anchorage less than an hour from the race site. We woke up to full daylight at 5am. Sunrise came early compared to the lower 48.
We almost didn’t go to the race.
Changing my race destination philosophy to a journey turned out to be almost seamless. I already knew how to travel to races as did my family. In business, this would be recognized as successfully passing the pilot test. We moved into the full implementation rollout with the Tri 50 States and World Continent Journey in production. We learned together what we needed and did not need to travel. We invested the time to thoroughly plan out the trips. We knew unexpected events would occur and accepted the best way to accommodate surprises was to be flexible and adjust to the current situations as needed.
We walked out of the hotel and around the corner to find the back window smashed on the white Malibu rental car. To save 20 bucks, I parked on the street and not with the hotel. What I saved in not parking at the hotel, paid more than ten-fold in repairs to the rental car company. Most likely an over-served bar customer or two, with too much time and not much else on their mind, inflected the damage. We could not see out the back window with the new created translucent mosaic pattern of safety glass. The car was drivable but not safe. Decision time, get the car repaired and miss the race and comeback again to Alaska next year or drive to the race?
We headed out of downtown Anchorage and turned onto Highway 1 towards Wasilla, a future 2008 vice president’s candidate hometown. With little foresight, we rolled down the side windows letting in wind that forced the rear window glass into the air leaving a glittering debris field on the highway and a gaping hole in the window. Finally, we could see behind in the rearview mirror. We arrived 45 minutes later to the race site at Lake Knik and quickly created a buzz due to the condition of our car. Everyone at the event was outgoing and friendly. They were also genuinely interested in learning what happened to the window and glad to know no one was hurt or endangered.
The Lake Knik’s water was cold, really cold. The water temperature would challenge a polar bear to keep warm. Well, it would challenge a sub 5% body fat triathlete from the Midwest with almost white skin, instead of white fur. I wore a long sleeve 3mm thick wetsuit with a thicker neoprene swim cap and the race swim cap over that to keep in body heat. Waited before entering the lake for the 1500 meter swim with only enough time to acclimate and ensure not getting a gasping reflex and head freeze when jumping into the cold water. A few of the competitors swam like being pursued by a polar bear. They were quick.
During the swim to bike transition pulled off the wetsuit and pulled on a long sleeve shirt. Put on a Gore-Tex lined jacket and leather full fingered gloves then carefully grabbed the barrowed bicycle and headed out on the Alaskan roads for a 40 kilometer bike ride. We rode amongst beautiful towering evergreens, along the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet, and almost at the 60th parallel; an amazing experience for a kid who grew-up in small factory town in Indiana surrounded by farm fields.
Coming into T2 removed the jacket and slipped on the back-up racing flats, trail shoes with rubberized studs. The run course was a 10 kilometer (6.2 miles) out and back route. It started up a continuous, though slight incline, on a grassy to dirt path beside the roadway and stayed that way for five kilometers. Much of the run up on the path was in water and mud thanks to an overnight rain. How to run in these conditions was a fine line between running sturdy footed in shifting mud to not turn an ankle and busting my ass to gain on others who expanded their leads over me during the bike. Definitely the right decision to wear trail shoes. I ran smart. Knew my limits, took a risk, and ran like hell all the way up to the turnaround. Also adopted a shorter stride with higher knees than normal and looked for a clear path to the side of the other runners when passing; all in mud and much in a water trough. At the end was a 180 degree turn. We came down on the opposite side of the same road, this time on the pavement. After the turn and moving onto the pavement I focused on striding out and continually catching as catch could on the other competitors. Calculating my stride to the others to determine if possible and at what point on the road I would pass the next person in front.
Nearing the finish line running stride for stride with next person forward would not get me to the point of passing him. I increased my stride and pumped my arms quicker to close the gap. Each step brought me five feet closer to the finish line and a half foot closer to him. We’re in the final 400 meters with a steeper decline and a left hand turn towards the finish. Timing wise, if we remained constant I would pass him just in front of the finish line. One of my dad’s best coaching advice during my freshman year in college when frustrated by lack of speed and performance was, “You just need to run faster.” Sometimes I never knew when being coached. But his words were appropriate in Knik. I kept the pace up and passed one final person just before the finish line. At age 49, racing at 50, ran the fastest split of all competitors.
This triathlon was Alaska’s state qualifier race for the Best of the US championship just as the Bismarck triathlon was for North Dakota. The quantity of quick competitors in Alaska was surprisingly huge. Not so much because of the limited size of population to create a talent pool. We knew competitors would be physically and mentally strong, but many of the triathletes were experienced in racing in the lower 48. Their clothing of jackets, sweatshirts, and race tops provided testimony to the variety of places where they raced. The travel stories they shared after the race mentioned places from the northwest down to California, throughout the Midwest, and into the warm water destinations along the Gulf Coast and up into New England.
And as the Alaskans visited the lower 48, we wanted to visit more of Alaska. We were headed to Seward to continue our vacation but needed to get the rental car replaced. We also needed to get showered, packed, drop off a bike, and checked-out and left the race before the awards ceremony but after a brief warm down. We drove back up through Wasilla and headed south on Highway 1 towards Anchorage when a state trooper pulled us over. Chris was driving. He asked for her driver’s license. He asked about the window and followed up asking for my driver’s license. He seemed to enjoy the story and didn’t act the least bit surprised with content. Satisfied our pictures on the drivers’ licenses matched our appearances, he bid us farewell; just another day working the beat in Alaska. The whole thing took five minutes. If this happened back in Chicago, a tow truck, ticket, possibly mug shots, and lot more time would have been involved.
Afterwards sent Bill an e-mail thanking him for the use of the Seven Cycles Alaris bike that rode like a dream. Also apologized for not staying for the awards sharing with him the broken window story. He heard about the incident but now knew it was my rental car. He organized and executed a great race and competitors we talked with at the race agreed. This race is recommended for anyone wanting to compete in a triathlon in Alaska. Just park your car with the hotel.
The people in Alaska were friendly. We celebrated Chris’ birthday. My wonderful wife who didn’t think twice about going first to a triathlon with a broken car window in 50 degree weather in the place almost as far away as you can travel from Chicago without requiring a passport. The same wife, the trailing spouse, who followed me to Kansas City, Des Moines, Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix, Bangkok, and back for a third time to the Chicago area. The same wife who traveled with me to races in places across five continents. The same wife who cheered at races from coast-to-coast and from a temperate rain forest to the tropics and deserts in the US. She is a wonderful person, mother, wife, and friend. Happy Birthday honey, it’s been an interesting ride and we’re only a third of the way into the journey!
Results: 16th Overall. 1st in age group