May 15, 2010
Olympic Turtle Crawl
The 2010 season started with a turtle crawl on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Georgia. Chris loves turtles. I love triathlons. The kids love to travel. We went as a family to Jekyll Island, one of the Golden Isles of Georgia. I continued with workouts in the off season with planned phases. The initial recovery phase workouts were enjoyable. These were low key, low mileage, and low impact. Halfway through the recovery phase I questioned if energy was expended in the right place. Not only on swimming, biking, running, weights and flexibility activities but also at a macro level, was triathloning feeding a passion or was I wasting my time? Should I get a second job or spend more time supporting some higher cause?
Some people refer to triathloning like a second job. The sport is more like volunteering for a non-profit activity. You ‘donate’ all your free time to train and compete. You need to raise money to train, to eat, and to equip yourself. You pay your own way to travel to special races and events. Sponsorship is minimal or non-existent. You solicit others to donate their time as volunteers to provide support services at the races for your race charity benefit. You think a race’s success is based on your success in the event. Recognition of the triathletes’ achievements come with no dollars, with minimal external recognition, and mostly our own fulfillment. Yet we feel good about our participation and for some races, a portion of our entry fee does get donated to a real 501c3 organization for the betterment of some good cause. At Jekyll Island the sea turtles benefitted as did all the turtle loving humans.
Jekyll Island included an extensive area for turtle nesting, uncommon for a non-deserted island. We visited the Georgia Sea Turtle Center located right beside a well preserved historic district of the Island. Over 125 years earlier there was the Jekyll Island Club, which Munsey’s Magazine called “the richest, the most exclusive, most inaccessible club in the world. . . .” The collective members of the club represented 1/6 of the world’s wealth in 1900. Imagine this concentration of wealth today in an area no bigger than Grant Park in downtown Chicago. The Jekyll Island Club was richly exclusive which included people with the family names of Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, Goodyear, and Baker. Many of these families built “cottages” on the island. The “cottages” were in the Victorian architectural style. Most were massive in size and splendor. Think of it this way, the buildings were not the primary residence of any of these people. Each cottage two to three times as large as a common house today in any middle class American suburb. Each dwelling finished in finer details than most classical buildings. Each house was at one time furnished with better than the best furniture found in many mansions in the most exclusive upper class neighborhoods in the US today.
We thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful setting and appreciated the friendliness of the people who worked or lived on the island. Yet all the eloquence, the natural beauty of the island, and the friendliness of the community comes with a tainted past of one of the worst incidents in the slave history of our nation. A ship named The Wanderer disembarked 465 new slaves from Africa, 50 years after prohibition of imported inhumanity servitude became law in the United States.
We visited Jekyll Island as commoners. It would take more than a second job for us to afford to live in such an exclusive neighborhood. The people who put on the race, including volunteers, and the participants were the most down to earth people though we raced in such a toney setting.
We swam in the Atlantic Ocean with the water temperature at 68°F. It started ¾ of a mile south of the transition area. Competitors and spectators walked or ran down the wide, flat sandy beach to the start. I took with me a small backpack down towards the starting area stuffed with a wetsuit, goggles, and swim gap. After a brief run, some stretching, and a few sprints on the sand, changed into my swim gear. The warm-up clothes and shoes were stuffed into the backpack. Not wanting to leave an abandoned backpack in the small parking lot, I asked one of the spectators if she would take the bag and drop it off in the transition area. I errored in taking the backpack with me to the start and I overreached in asking a spectator (or anyone) for a special favor during a race.
We queued up loosely in a time trial start formation. The race was so low key only a few people lined up to start their swim leg. Competitors held an arm out as if gesturing, “You first, please go ahead.” I took a quick look across the Atlantic Ocean as if I would see something. Nothing there but water and a coastal bank of clouds and a wonderful smell of salty air. What a difference since being a kid swimming in a gravel pit on an acre of land by an interstate to racing on the East Coast. I calibrated the Ocean’s gentle 1-2 foot swells into in to swim, stepped to the starting line and took off running into the surf and dove under the first set of waves. I took in a quick taste of saltwater though not unpleasant definitely different than swimming inside in a pool for the last nine months. We swam out 100 meters from the beach then turned left at the first buoy and followed the swim course north 1,300 meters as it paralleled the coastline. Then turned left at the final yellow buoy and swam 100 meters back to the beach. A blue and red inflatable balloon arch marked the exit point. Everyone ran under the arch and towards the transition area at Great Dunes Park beside the Jekyll Island Convention Center.
The parking lot was right beside the beach with a 100 meter run to the bikes. I slide out of the wetsuit, put on the helmet, grabbed the bike, pushed it over the mount line and was spinning my way around the Island. We turned left coming out of the parking onto Beachview Drive. Rode to the southern end of Jekyll Island then went clockwise up the west side of the Island on the same road but with a the new name of Riverview Drive. We rode through the Historic District with beautiful tall trees and the “mansion~cottages” located on the opposite side of the Island from transition area. We continued to the far northern end of the Island and looped around as the road turned back into Beachview Drive. The pavement was smooth, the Island flat, and the course fast. No traffic from motor vehicles or from other cyclist. No wind either. I was going fast and headed south to start Lap #2. Then I flatted.
Pulled over and popped off the wheel, removed the tire and tube, and quickly checked for a tack or glass in the tire. Nothing found. Triathletes race with more complexity than runners or cyclists do to the different swim gear, biking equipment, and running wear. Any issues during a race need to be addressed by the triathletes. We are solely responsible for solving our own problems during a race. No outside help is allowed.
I slotted in a replacement tube and attached a CO2 cartridge to fill it with air. Unfortunately, all the air went out of the cartridge but nothing into the inter-tube. User error. Disappointed with the flat tire but more embarrassed by not being able to fix it either properly or quickly. The incident turned into another challenge to overcome. Not panicking too much, went to plan “B”. I jumped back on the bike and rode 3-4 miles slowly back to the transition area, found a conventional air pump, filled the tire up to 115 psi, and started biking. The course became fast again but was now more crowded with other cyclists who passed me when in the pits.
The two-lap bike course was bit over 40 kilometers, the length of an official distance Olympic race. With the beauty of the Island, the friendliness of the residents and spectators, and its historic preservation, I didn’t mind the extra time out there.
The 10K (6.2 miles) run went north out of the transition area onto a paved walking path lined with palm trees. A simple and flat out and back course that paralleled the sandy beach. The sunshine broke through the clouds which brought some unwanted heat but the sunshine sure made the Ocean look beautiful. The path was filled with athletes running a 10K for triathlon and others running 5K road race. There was great support for the few hundred competitors and the racers appreciated all volunteers.
The one thing worse than getting a flat tire in the race was coming up empty afterwards. I walked the perimeter of the transition area and nowhere to be found was my pre-race backpack. The only thing of real value was a brand new pair of black Livestrong Nike running trainers complete with a gold color Swoosh. I lost the shoes before Lance lost his gold and sponsorships.
The race director put on a great event. From easy check-in the day before to race day support to a great post-race award ceremony complete with food and drinks. Afterwards, we toured the island. The Turtle Center, an amazing organization of people who cared for future generations of turtles. We walked among the cottages and played on the beach too.
The next morning we headed up to Savannah, two hours north and enjoyed a couple of days sightseeing including brunch on The River Street Cruise. We took a horse carriage ride, strolled all over the riverfront area, and visited a couple of museums. We even sat on the Forest Gump park bench. We enjoyed a wonderful extended weekend experiencing Georgian hospitality on Jekyll Island and in Savannah, from simple sea turtles to extravagant cottages and a travel destination for the kids and a triathlon for me.
Results: 13th overall. 1st in age group