August 14, 2010
Tri Arkansas International Distance Triathlon
Laddo Valley DeGray Lake Resort State Park
Caroline traveled to Arkansas for our first father daughter triathlon bonding race trip. We flew out of Chicago’s O’Hare airport late afternoon on Friday into Little Rock and stayed there for a couple of nights. Reached out to the race director a few weeks before to arrange for Caroline to volunteer at the Tri Arkansas Triathlon held in DeGray Lake Resort State Park. He was genuinely helpful. With her special needs status he suggested for her to serve in the food tent for post-race feedings. On Thursday confirmed Caroline’s volunteer status with the RD. Confirmed with hotel personnel my bike arrived. Checked us in for the flight. All good. Then on Friday we arrived at the airport.
On Columbus Day the year before Caroline experienced a mild seizure at the house after we spent the day commuting on the train to downtown Chicago, sightseeing at Navy Pier, riding water taxis, circling on the Ferris Wheel, and enjoying a beautiful early fall day. Since that time we worked with doctors trying various medications to prevent future seizures and minimize the effects of her AHC. Most days were uneventful. Some days were a challenge. At the airport Caroline barely kept on her feet during our wait in the security line. She smiled. She wanted to go. She struggled to remain upright. Typical Caroline, she stubbornly wanted to move forward and go on the trip. She addressed her challenges, embarrassments, disappointments, and everything else life threw at her to comeback stronger with more determination to overcome all of them. Her ability to test her will tested my patience. The way she approached life required me to develop a different approach to parenting her. At times the relationship was difficult to clearly understand who was managing who. No different really than managing and leading different personalities at work or racing against different tactics in triathlons. Flexibility with and defined end game went a long way in all arenas.
The women behind us in line commented about much fun Caroline will have on the trip. She smiled and kept on her feet. Caroline was determined to go on the trip. Once through the x-ray machines I flagged down a guy with a wheel chair and we headed for dinner at McDonalds and then wheeled and walked to the gate to board our plane. Caroline rallied on the flight. From her window seat she watched Chicago get smaller and the prairie get bigger.
We landed in Little Rock on time. We stopped in route to the hotel to pick up some Saturday breakfast items for her, brown sugar cinnamon frosted Pop-Tarts, and Gatorade for me. After checking in at the hotel I assembled the bike, laid out race wear, and stocked the fridge with drinks. Saturday morning started with a 4:15am string of beeps from my watch’s alarm. I munched on a Clif Bar and started my morning hydration. Caroline moved steadily from pajamas to spectator wear. We got in the car for a one hour drive to the race area.
Do you ever wonder what we triathletes are thinking about before and during a race? Guys are quiet because inside their heads they are thinking and talking so much to themselves: relax, focus, eat, can’t eat, ride, go faster, much faster, look at that butt, are those real, wow I wish my bike was as fast as that one. How can someone go that fast? Just because nothing is coming out doesn’t mean nothing inside going on. For the Tri Arkansas International Distance Triathlon at DeGray’s Lake in Arkadelphia, the mind started with a single question.
Where in the hell is this place? Quickly followed up by, “did I leave enough time to get checked-in, bike racked, and warmed up?” We were on the road headed south and I’m mentally following what sounded like easy instructions from the hotel employee last night.
Turn left out of the parking lot, right at the first light. Ease into the on-ramp and onto the Interstate for 45 minutes. Oh good, a car with a tri bike, follow them. How much further? I think I drank too much too soon. Where’s the turn-off? Is there a rest stop ahead so I can use the restroom or can I hold it until arrival?
The hotel employee said not to speed, like she did, or for sure the state patrol will pull you over and share a speeding ticket with you. Finally, the turn-off and our parking lot for race day.
The mind is racing with questions. Where do I rack my bike? Which way do we come in from swimming? Where’s the exit for the bike? This spot will work. Now, what identification marks are around to know where I parked my bike? Here, big tree, third in on the fifth rack. Remember to look for my black Kestrel. Is the chain on the right set of cogs? Check. Is there a flat section coming out of the transition to get my shoes on? Check. Get the shoes in the pedals. Secure the helmet on the bars. Next, place in the sun glasses. Brown tints or yellow lenses? I see lots of stars above. Sunshine today for sure, keep in the brown lens. Put a sleeve of Shot Blocks in the helmet. Remember these and stuff in shorts since I’m not wearing a top. Towel goes on top next, place over the glasses to wipe the face down without flinging the glasses when I come rushing through T1. Drink more now, it’s going to be hot. Racing flats go here. Where’s my hat? There it is. Race belt goes next, ensure my numbered is secured. Fold up just so and place in hat. My hat goes between the racing flats. Where’s my tube of Vaseline???? I know I put them in this pocket of my backpack after the last race. Damn. Wait, maybe the other pocket. Whew, another bullet dodged. Goggles and swim cap come with me. No wetsuit today. Water temperature is what my Phoenix pool would tap out at in early August.
More questions: Where’s Caroline? There she is perched on the curb next to the parking lot. “Hi ‘C’, you doing okay?” She nods in confirmation. “Will you watch the bag for me during the race?” She nods in confirmation. She generally speaks less all the time than her dad does on race morning before the start. The silence can be deafening yet it is always displaced with my loud thinking of pre-race preparation questions.
Is my saddle at the right height? Are the handle bars tilted at my comfortable angle? Did I get enough sleep last night? Did I eat too much? I wished dinner was pasta instead of the Chinese buffet. And the questions pound away inside my head.
It is t-minus forty-five minutes to race time. I lay down beside Caroline to relax and visualize the race. Stroke right, stroke left, stroke right breath and repeat. Rotate core to get stronger pulls. Run to bike. Drop goggles and dress for bike. Pedal smoothly. Spin. Relax but push. Dismount. Move quickly through transition and get running. Pass anyone in front of me. Finish strong and relaxed. Breath deep.
Thirty plus minutes out from race start and time to warm up. I stretch with Caroline. I run a short lap around the transition area and think to myself, it’s not that hot as I’m not even sweating. I stretch some more. Next I run five minutes and come back soaked in sweat. It’s going to be hot, damn hot, and damn humid too.
I found a prime viewing spot for Caroline during the race. It’s shaded by beautiful and tall evergreens on the shore nestled between the reservoir and the transition area. From here she can enjoy full views of the swim course and the combined T1 and T2 areas.
Off to the boat ramp for the race start. More thinking: Do I have time to pee? Did I get enough Gatorade in me? Are my tires pumped up enough? Too much? Do I have everything I need at the bike? Where are my goggles and cap? Okay, right there in my hand.
Wow, this water is warm. Can I swim without a wetsuit competitively? Do I know anyone here in the bullpen start? I hope no broken glass or sharp rocks to step on. Yuk, mud. At least it’s not weedy. How long until race start? Everyone else is putting on their goggles. Is it time for me? Stop asking questions!
I find a place to start near the front with a straight line to the buoy sitting way the heck out there. Don’t worry, their all 1500 meters long, just different buoy configurations. The race director shared last minute instructions. The starter told us, “one minute”. Then we heard, “Thirty seconds”. “Fifteen”. Start watch. It’s one less thing to deal with when the horn sounds.
“Honk!!!!!!” We’re off. Stroke right, left, right, left, stroke and breathe. Find the pattern. Now switch to stroke right, stroke left, stroke right breathe and repeat. Count on each right strokes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Lift head and look down range for buoy. Relax. Reach, glide, and grab water. Repeat: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Lift head and look down range for buoy. Relax. Reach, glide, and grab water. Repeat: 1, 2, and continue.
Buoy approach. Look for clear path. Hard right. Sight early. Relax. Reach, glide, and grab water. Repeat: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Lift head and look down range for buoy. Those three guys are flying and pulling away. Lots of space behind me. Relax. Reach, glide, and grab water. Repeat: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Lift head and look down range for buoy. Buoy approach. Look for clear path. Hard right. Sight early. Relax. Reach, glide, and grab water.
Ramp ahead. I visualize where my bike is waiting, wiping my face dry, grabbing my sun glasses, stuffing nutrients in back, placing helmet on my head, buckling, grabbing bike and running out of the transition area. First though, I check back into finishing the swim. Reach, glide, and grab water. Repeat: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Lift head. Stroke on in to the landing. Stroke until my hand touches the bottom during a pull. Touched!
Pop up. Grab cap and goggles. Check watch. Run for the bike. Stay relax. Look for Caroline. There she is under the trees. “Hi Caroline!”
I can catch these two guys in the transition. There’s my bike. Wipe face dry. Grab my sun glasses. Stuff the gels. Helmet on head. Buckle. Grab bike and run out of the transition area.
Step on the shoes and start spinning. Clear. Slip on the left shoe. Com’n on get in there. Finally. Spin. Now the right foot. Stay in a straight line. Stay right. Tighten flap. Now spin some more. Tighten the left shoe flap. Fix the tongue. Pedal. Tighten right. Relax. Spin. Check cadence. Feels good. Here comes the first climb of many.
The sweat beads up on my bare chest and stomach like a light rain shower on a recently waxed car. Wow, look at the sweat dripping off my chest. Drink. Don’t forget to drink.
Okay, this guy is going to pass me. Stay steady. Let him pass. I’m fifty-one and he’s … nineteen. There’s no way to hang with him says make burning lungs to my mind very loudly. Keep him in sight as long as you can.
Incline is flattening. Push up the gearing and keep the cadence steady. Great, more climbing ahead.
Okay, this guy is going to pass me too. Stay steady. Let him pass. I’m fifty-one and he’s thirty-eight. Maybe I can hang with him.
After dropping away from the pass zone, my mind submits to my lungs and agrees not to hang with him. Keep him in sight as long as you can.
Let’s stand and stretch my legs. Push up a gear. Settle back in the seat for this next climb. Drop down a gear. Wow, my legs get showered with the sweat dripping from the torso. Drink.
As I popped out of the trees and seeing far stretches of water with beautiful rolling mountains and trees…. Wow! Look at those views! That’s a big and beautiful blue reservoir. Look at all of the green trees. And that bright but deep blue sky above it all. No clouds, hot sun. The vastness of this place is amazing. Nothing like the great outdoors! And found here in Arkansas.
And so the race went. Lots of climbing in the trees with a fair amount of shade, then gaps yielding beautiful views normally reserved for national parks in the Allegany’s or lower Rockies. Mentally I move into a steady groove. The views energized me to remember a live Bruce Springsteen song where he yells, “Bring it on!” somewhere in the middle of Rosalita as released on his three CD set titled, “Live: 75-85”. At every base of each climb my mental mind yelled; “Bring it on!” as if challenging the race course to conquer my legs with burn and pain.
In running road races generally competitors can run with ear buds listening to tunes. In triathlons your iPod is your iBrain. A race video given out at the post race party for Ironman Utah a cameraman asked a cyclist what she was singing in head. She responded.
The reality of this race visits my mind again as I get closer to the halfway turnaround of the bike leg. That is the leader on the return stretch… Some more climbing… There’s the teenager who passed me at the two mile mark and see how far ahead he is now. Ouch. What place am I in? Where’s the long big climb the others talked about at the start of the race? Here comes second place. I should be close to the turnaround. I hope I’m close to the turnaround. Another guy. He passed me too after the transition. Okay, I see the orange cone for the turn. Now, who’s behind me? Is this guy going to catch me near the end of the bike? And on down the road I go rolling towards T2 some ten miles away and closing. Our race continues. We bike covering mile after mile. No one in front of me on the road. No one behind me seemed to catching me too quickly. Hey this guy in front of me is coming back to me. I’m catching this guy.
The last downhill ahead. I visualize turning left into T2. Jump off the bike just in front of the dismount line. Push out the front of the bike and steer with my right hand on my bike seat. I locate my rack space. Unbuckle helmet. Place on bars. Wipe feet. Lubricate. Shoes on. Grab hat, race belt, and rotate to exit. Before doing this though, I refocus on the task at hand. Spin quickly to build up relaxed speed. Loosen the left bike shoe. Pull open its tongue. Pull out my left foot and place on shoe. Spin up again. Stay relaxed. Repeat on right side.
Ready, dismount. Quickly move to space.
Here’s rack number five. My bike goes back into the third space. There’s my red hat. Wipe face, lube toes, slip my on shoes, grab my number, grab my hat, spin body, and stride. Check watch.
Where’s Caroline? There she is, still under the trees. “Hi Caroline!” Relax. Reach for a drink and request loudly… “Gatorade!” It’s clear so it must be water. I splash the drink in my own face to get cool. Great…, it’s Heed. I’m now sticky, sweet and salty. I’d make a great treat if I was a popcorn ball. I’ll yell for water at the next aid station.
There’s third place plodding up the hill to the park’s exit. Ease into the run but go after him. Stride. Breathe relaxed and breathe deep. Keep the hands relaxed. Stride. Pass him. Acknowledge him with encouragement if he says anything. “Hang in there. Stay steady”. Breathe relaxed and breathe deep. Keep the hands relaxed. Stride.
Where’s my turn? Where’s second place? How far have a gone? Is anyone gaining on me? Stride. Breathe relaxed and breathe deep. Keep the hands relaxed. Stride.
I hear Caroline, “Go daddy!” And so it went all the way to the finish.
Afterwards, Caroline and I sat near the finish line. Together we watched other finishers coming in and take in all the activities of the race. One of which was a grand fifty-plus foot arc of water being pump in from the lake for a post-race shower. This water felt refreshing, clean, and cool. While swimming in it less than two hours earlier, I would have described it as clean and hot. I moved through the “shower” area again and then hooked up with Caroline in the picnic area where the race director and crew were serving up freshly grilled hamburgers combined with more variety of food than a family reunion. I highly recommend the Tri Arkansas International Distance Triathlon for its setting, challenge, top-notch volunteers, and great post-race food party.
After the race and before we headed back to the hotel we drove to the beautiful and diverse Hot Springs National Park. We started at the Visitor Center, the restored Fordyce Bathhouse located near the middle of Bathhouse Row on Central Avenue. Stained glass skylight fixtures covered the ceilings here. All the bath houses were decorated with opulent furnishings where hot springs and minerals flowed into bathtubs for customers’ treatments.
For dinner we drove back to Little Rock and joined Danette and her two daughters. Danette was a member of the American’s Women Club with Chris while living in Bangkok. Danette was “home” on leave in Little Rock from Bangkok while her daughters were back in the states working and schooling. Both of her daughters were excited about their activities working in national government affairs in the Washington DC. The future of America is going to be alright in the hands of new adults like these people. Dinner was relaxing and reviving for me after the morning of racing and afternoon of being a tourist with Caroline. We said our goodbyes and headed to the hotel for an evening of sleep. The next morning I went on a recovery run while Caroline slept in. We both went for a swim then ate a real breakfast at the hotel, not Pop Tarts. We packed and then flew back to Chicago. Caroline was her normal self on Sunday. She experiences some good days and not so good days. For me though, every time I travel with Caroline is a great day. This was a great weekend trip.
Results: 3rd overall. 1st in age group