September 11, 2011
DiamondMan Half Iron Triathlon
Postrace dinner plans in Delaware included meeting up with a former Indiana University track teammate and his wife. The last time I saw Nick Place was at the 1982 NCAA Cross Country Championship Meet in Bloomington, Indiana. Nick was a quick runner. In the fall training season of 1979 we worked out with the cross country team but took great pride in belonging to a sub-group self-named the Death Squad, made up of middle distance runners specializing in the 400 to 800 meter races. Our name originated partially from running quicker and shorter intervals and looking close to death after a workout and partially from getting physically wasted when running the longer mileage the distance guys ran. In a flashback to the IU workouts, on the first Friday in September 1979, we ran side by side for a 5,000 meter intra-squad cross country meet. Nick started his surge. With no ability to respond, he dropped me with 150 meters to go. I looked over at him and told him in a low voice, “Fuck you Nick. Just fuck you.”
The week before this race I’m out on a training bike ride in Compton Hills, eight miles northwest of where I live, turned down a little used county road and male wild canaries (gold finches) sporting their summer colors flew out in front of me from the road side prairie grasses. The birds were perched on the stocks pecking away at seed pods for breakfast. Each one spaced five meters apart from one another. One by one the canaries flew across my path once I rode within 10 meters of them. The birds paced me along on the ride. It didn’t last long, 10-12 birds, but never did I experience pacing like that before. However, as unique as this experience was in training, Mother Nature sat in waiting on even more unusual experience in Delaware.
On Saturday morning Hayes and I checked out of our hotel room in Lancaster. We drove to Lums State Park in Bear, Delaware for the DiamondMan Half Iron Triathlon race check-in. A church in Bear displayed an American flag in its lawn for each person killed during the “9-11” attack ten years ago. Almost 3,000 flags fluttered in the wind. The entire lawn was a field of red, white, and blue. A sobering reminder of the worst single day of terrorists’ events in US history. Hayes and I both observed a moment of silence to honor the victims, the bravery of the first responders, and the resiliency of our country as a whole to recover and thrive.
Amateur sports can be a respectable development opportunity for people to experience setbacks then compete in their next events and achieve personal bests. In individual competitions the athletes are measured in each event. The personal esteem awards can be huge with extremes of great success on a continuum to great failures. It’s all a matter of perspective. A critical attribute of competitors must include a high level of resiliency. The first time I challenged a neighbor on gravel in the back alley in a 100 yard dash at age 10, I quit at the turn. He had kicked my butt in the first 60 yards by plenty and I wasn’t going to catch him. I never quit another track race. Eight years later graduated high school with a school record in the 880 yard run. Finished last in my first track race in college. During my senior year ran anchor on our school record setting 4x800 meter relay team. In my first US National track championship race at Madison Square Garden in February 1982 I was so whacked out seeing the best Americans in the sport and not feeling I belonged there. I went out of my way to prove it by forgetting how to count laps starting a finishing kick to the exchange zone one lap too early in the 4x880 yard relay and all but crawled in to hand-off the baton to a teammate. Coach Haydon of the UCTC convinced me to convince myself I did belong. Returning to New York City we qualified for finals at Nationals each of the next three years and stood on the podium twice.
As you recognized through stories in this book and experiences in your life, resiliency is beneficial in racing but resiliency is not solely about racing. It’s about life. I also flunked on my first accounting test ever as a sophomore in college, sat for the CPA exam multiple times, and then finally passed all four parts of the CMA Exam in a single sitting. Chris and I did figure out the marriage thing on our first try though. Resiliency is more importantly in relationships, professional careers, personal health, and any other setbacks thrown at you in life that your conquered, squashed, or stepped around. People continually prove out their ability to recover from setbacks and respond with a vengeance to do better than ever imaged as they moved forward. Much like that of the collective group that makes up America. We recover. We move on. People achieve extraordinary things every day.
For Hayes and me, our extraordinary achievement on Saturday was finding our way to Lums State Park without a map, GPS, or other visuals. We simply asked for directions, found it, and checked in for the race. Afterwards we drove to downtown Wilmington to check in our hotel.
The 1.2 mile swim took place in Lums Pond over a straight forward rectangular course. Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee contributed to the poor water conditions. We swam in brown opaque water with a lake bottom of sludge. My legs sunk into the premortal goo to kneecap level. At least water temperatures allowed for a wetsuit legal swim. I decided to float and tread water until race start. All the males in the long race started in a single wave followed by a smaller, single wave of female competitors.
The swim was well marked and uneventful. I rolled on to the shore like a beached whale not wanting to get stuck in the mud. Then ran the quarter mile of so distance from the lake parking lot along the exit road and out on to the main road towards the camping ground entry road. The long skinny transition area was located half-way between the entrance to the lake and the camping ground.
The bike course was a super flat and fast 56 miles with only two significant climbs up and over the Reedy Point Bridge. The Reedy Point Bridge carries Delaware Route 9 across the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, and crosses over it at a height of 135 feet. A long way down when looking down from a bike. It is over two kilometers long, just over a football field shorter than the length of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Weather was a non-factor for this race with mild temps, misty rains, minimal winds, and overcast skies. This was a surprising low key race with the faster triathletes going out of their way to give pointers to other racers if interested. A competitor, in his twenties, passed me on the bike within a mile of the first climb. He briefly slowed down to offer up some tips on the bike about the bridge, “Expect a fair amount of cross winds at the apex of the bridge”. The course also provided one of the most unique bike rides ever experienced.
I rode by a farm pasture when two horses took off in a full gallop and matched my bike speed. We rode side by side with a four foot barbed wire fence and narrow path of foot high grass between us. Looked back 20 meters and there saw another cyclist being paced by another two horses. The smoothness of their stride combined with the power of their legs were my envy of their capabilities. They dared to tease us with their speed for a quarter mile. The triathlete behind me pulled up and said he rode out there on this part of the course for workouts and never had that happened. Never experienced it either when riding by ranches in Arizona, horse properties in Washington, farmland in Illinois or anywhere elsewhere. What an experience. I didn’t mind being paced in an illegal formation to share a brief ride with a micro herd of horses in the Delaware countryside. Giddyup!
The run course started with a one mile recovery loop through Lums Pond State Park’s camping area. This was great to get our running legs going after being on the bike for a fair chunk of the morning. From there, we ran out of the park onto the crushed limestone tow path of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. Most of the course was flat with three minor climbs that seemed much steeper and longer when tired. This was no peek-a-view run course. We could see what laid ahead for miles, more canal path. We went from a beautiful countryside of Delaware on the bike to the boring canal path of well-spaced competitors on the run. We were treated to broad views off to our left side across the Canal water on the way out. At the halfway point of the run course, we executed a 180 degree turn with a re-run of the same view on the right side when returning to the finish line as we fully retraced our steps back to Lums Pond.
There was a long history to the Canal. The idea of building the canal was discussed in the mid 1700’s as a manmade water passageway would reduce the travel distance between Philadelphia and Baltimore by 300 miles. The Canal cuts through the States of Delaware and Maryland connecting the Delaware River with the Chesapeake River. Digging and lock construction started in 1804 but stalled by 1806. Finally the canal became a functioning waterway in 1829. The Canal changed over time getting wider and deeper and dropping to sea level with no locks. About 40% of what goes through the Baltimore docks goes through the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. On race day, the Canal cut zero distance off our 13.1 mile run and it only seemed like it took us years to run the distance.
The first 10 miles of the run went as expected. Picked off a couple of weaker runners who did well on the bike. But I was getting tired, dehydrated, and I stopped sweating. I paced off a competitor who stayed 25 meters in front of me for much of the run. With two miles to the finish line, thought he would break mentally and not recover if I could catch him and drop him on one of the short climbs.
I was wrong. Picked up the pace, passed him, and pulled away. The effort exhausted me.
In less than a half mile, the persistent 20+ something year-old competitor mounted a counterattack. He surged by me. With no ability to respond, he dropped me. I looked over at him and thought to myself: “Fuck you buddy. Just fuck you!”
The final run mile served as parade loop around the campground with more spectators along this portion of the course than at the finish line. Unfortunately, I struggled shuffling instead of striding in front of spectators who gasped at the torture we put ourselves through on the run. My body hurt from head to toe.
Hayes came along to the race with me with the intent to volunteer. Though she met Becky and her pre-teen son at the swim start and hung with them all morning to support Becky’s husband and me. Turned out fine. Hayes never got a commitment from race officials to volunteer in a specific location with specific responsibilities. She took that as a lead to go along the course and help competitors by giving them cheers of encouragement. She moved along the race course outside of the transition. And she gave extra cheers and Becky’s husband who did great.
Diamond Man was a great race. The race director also offered a sprint distance race on the same day. The course was safe, fast, and filled with friendly competition. Volunteers were plentiful and no one went wanting of nutrition. Every racer received a free professionally take race picture. I looked near emancipated in mine. Since the race was more than 800 meters I looked like one of the Death Squad members again. But that was my problem.
We stopped for lunch at a Subway shop on the way to the hotel. By now I had the shakes and dry heaves. There was a young woman outside the store panhandling for spare change. She looked like she had the shakes and had not eaten for days. Though her symptoms were from a different source than racing that morning. This scene spooked Hayes. She talked about it for days after the race.
Hayes and I flew out of Philly early Monday morning into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Chris met Hayes near the baggage claim exit. The encounter worked like this: called Chris once on the ground. Escorted Hayes to the security exit where we saw Chris. Hugged Hayes goodbye then she continued to walk towards her mother through the exit. Chris and I smiled, waved, and briefly talked on cell phones. We did a virtual kiss. Then I back tracked to my gate for a flight on to MSP without the need to go through passenger security screening. This exchange of our oldest daughter was as close as I ever wanted to mimic a divorced couple going through an alternating co-custody hand-off.
Results: 8th overall. 1st in age group.