Iowa #4 –

Learning the Hard Way with Equipment Upgrades

August 27, 1988

Big Creek Triathlon

Polk City


The 1988 race season ended with the Big Creek Triathlon two weeks after we relocated to Des Moines after moving up from Kansas City due to an office consolidation decision by my employer. For racing I added a new pair of Nike bike shoes and new Shimano clipless pedals with Look compatible cleats to the bike equipment arsenal to enhance the bike speed. The shoes became one with the pedals and the feet became one with the bike. Unfortunately my skillset continued to lag the potential speed benefits of enhanced equipment. Learned the hard way about the new pedals at a red traffic light during a training ride. Not deft enough to twist out of the engaged, combination pedal and bike shoe, I found myself falling as the bike tipped sideways. My left hip smacked the unforgiving asphalt of Grand Avenue. Pain rattled and tattered my inner skeleton. The “thud” sound hurt enough, then the actual nerve system took over to amplify the pain. Not sure which felt more uncomfortable, a hip pointer inflicted by the asphalt road or the old style steel caged pedals clamping down on top of the feet. After a root cause analysis of the new hip pain and partial removal of the upper layers of my skin, learned to flick a foot outward to disengage from the pedal, quick and hard, before stopping the bike.


The race brought bigger concerns than new technology of clipless pedals. We swam in Big Creek Reservoir, a water shed dammed up in the heart of the great American grain belt. Modern farming through chemicals created pond algae, sort of like biological quick sand to a swimmer. It grew wild from consuming mass quantities of farm land fertilizer run off. The more a swimmer struggled in it, the more algae engulfed a swimmer. Worse, the stuff felt yucky. The gauntlet of algae plumes slowed us down. Racers came out of the water after the mile swim and trudged across a mucky bottom looking more like a swamp monster than a triathlete.  


Out on the bike course a racer passed and complimented me on the capabilities of the bike. I thanked him but added the engine was not worthy of the mount. Owning fast or state of the art equipment wasn’t everything. Being in shape and a desire to compete was essential. The Big Creek officials kept to Imperial distances of 1 mile swim, 25 mile bike and 6-mile run.


Race directors grappled with setting standard distances for races. The kilometer measurement became the standard with the International Triathlon distance, 1.5K – 40K – 10K or translated to a 1500 meter swim, 40 kilometer bike ride, and 10 kilometer run. The equivalent Imperial distances are: 0.93 mile swim, 24.9 mile bike and 6.2 mile run. This distance combination mix also became known as the Olympic Distance to encourage the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include the sport in the Olympic Games. For non-triathletes the distances don’t matter. To non-triathletes, all triathletes are Ironman just as to all non-runners, all runners are marathoners. The reality of reasonability or different race distances doesn’t exist to non-sports minded people. Triathletes and Ironman are synonymous as are runners and marathoners. Explaining differences didn’t help because it doesn’t matter. Triathletes should appreciate anyone who takes an interest in our self-absorbing sport to ask about our participation.


I continued triathlon and running road racing as these activities provided more opportunities to hone my competitive spirit than work did. The sports created a more transparent forum to experience combinations of setbacks and accomplishments than the more subjective work setting. Keeping these skills sharp contributed to better outcomes in future competitive work opportunities in racing competition. 


The season ended with three times as many races than 1986. The strangest thing of the season came within a week with the feeling it’s over. No need to swim, bike, and run for pleasure or competition. I enjoyed the season routine, the exercise, the eating abilities, and competition; didn’t want the training and racing to be over. The famous American and Olympic Marathon Champion, Frank Shorter, once claimed he raced to justify all the training. The toughest week of the year was not early training or late season tapering but the first days after the last race. My running continued throughout the year with a six month break from biking and swimming for recovery. The time dividend delivered a brief wallop of antsy-ness, grumpiness, over-eating, and a void of competition. Best to steer clear. Within a week, the body adjusted physically and mentally and the voids became filled with more items of purpose such as re-engaging with Chris, focusing on social outings, and staying up late. All said, a fair trade-off to the race season.


Results: 59th overall. 10th in age group.

Doug Morris

Coach of Exceptional Outcomes

Palm Trees Ahead, LLC

Tel: 1.630.457.7889

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