May 15, 2011
5150 New Orleans
New Orleans, LA
Determination served as my motivation on this leg of my journey to Louisiana. I planned to bring Caroline, my youngest daughter, with me but health wise she was unable to make the trip. She is my role model for determination. Caroline shows everyone around her the determination she lives in her life for a level of sustainable fulfillment.
I started a new job in late March in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul) area. There was lots of snow on the ground. All the rivers in the state were frozen over. Cold air reined. Strong winds blew constantly. By late April in the upper Midwest area of the US spring temperatures melted the snow and ice and sent lots of water down the Mississippi River Valley. The water flowed south to New Orleans, The Crescent City, and into the Gulf of Mexico. Along the same time in April, two major storm systems dumped record amounts of rainfall across whole Mississippi River drainage area.
I woke up at 3am Saturday in my own bed in my far western Chicago suburb home after spending the previous two weeks in a hotel room in the Twin Cities area for work. Stretched and did an easy 4 mile run along the Fox River with our 2 ½ year old mutt, Zoey. After a quick shower and change of clothes, headed to O’Hare Airport. At the airport went through security with two backpacks, my man bag and race bag. The scanners picked up my new bottle of Suit Juice Wetsuit Lubricant and confiscated it. When boarding the plane identified three passengers who were headed to the same destination race in New Orleans.
One of my many determinations was to find specific race locations without maps or GPS. I used only rough drawings of check-in locations, race starting points, or transition parking lots without getting too stressed of the unknowns in front of my next big race. Drove straight to the race check-in that required a 30 minute race overview of safety, rules, and the course. Another determination was not to get frustrated when I showed up after the start of a mandatory race meeting and had to wait for 45 minutes until the next one began at the New Orleans 5150 race site.
I entered the audition where the presentation was given. A group of three competitors forced their way into the auditorium half-way thru the talk. At the completion of the overview, including a Q&A session, each person in the audience received a pass to pick up their race numbers and swag bag. Each person, except the three guys who forced their way in at the midpoint received a pass. Assumed they sat in for the entire next session. I’m not sure where their determination levels to keep calm were at that point. At least they would be overly familiar with the race course since they sat through that portion of the race preview twice.
In early 2011 the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), the group of people who put on Ironman and Ironman 70.3 triathlon races started a new international 5150 ™ Triathlon Series. Racers would include professional and age group triathletes. This was a repackaged Olympic distance triathlon. Using the U.S. customary system for measuring length like the yard and mile, the scheduled race would be .93 mile swim, 24.9 mile bike, and ending with a 6.2 mile run. Before the 5150 series started and in many races the distances were set at 1.5 kilometer swim, 40 kilometer bike ride, and a 10 kilometer run. Converting these to meters results in the following math:
1.5 K x 1,000 meters = 1500 meters
40 K x 1,000 meters = 40,000 meters
10 K x 1,000 meters = 10,000 meters
Total these up to get a sum of 51,500 meters. Then introducing a real but an unfamiliar unit of distance called a decameter or 10 meters, the total distance is 5150 decameters or simply a 5150 Triathlon distance. If it was hard enough to compete in the race, we now had to calculate some strange unit of measure and perform more mental math. The New Orleans triathlon race was Race #3 in the new series.
While re-assembling the bike in the hotel room watched live on the TV the opening of the Morganza Spillway for the first time in 37 years. This diverted water from the Mississippi River into the rural, rich farmlands of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin. The water flooded this area instead of allowing New Orleans and Baton Rouge to go underwater.
The newscasters interviewed a few people who lived in the Atchafalaya Basin. As the river water rushed through the flood gates I wanted to experience but could only imagine the determination of the residents. Everyone said these periodic floods were part of their life to live through. They complained little. The residents would leave but would return and rebuild their lives when the water receded. Just like generations did before them and most likely would continue afterwards. Their roots ran long and deep.
In the big scheme of things, the races I signed up to compete were stressful events only because I willed them to be. It was not like I carried the entire weight of a whole city’s pride or “’sports team’ nation’ on my back like at a Super Bowl Game to win it all. Few people would know if I won or raced to a PR or flamed out in a DNF. But to put my own stress in perspective I learned more from my kids, the residents of the Atchafalaya Basin, and the citizens of New Orleans that the real importance of motivation and determination in life was something much different than my self-imposed stress of competing in another triathlon in another new state.
At least 325 competitors showed up Sunday morning for the race. We were greeted with strong, steady southerly winds at 25+ mph. The swim course on Lake Pontchartrain was not set, the turn markers were floating in random locations in the water. The wind pushed around the water. The lake was damn choppy with 2-3 foot waves with narrow toughs between the waves. The water pushed around the swim course markers. The buoys could not hold their positions to keep the swim course in place. An hour before the race started, the race director disappointingly called off the swim leg. He replaced it with a two-mile run to be followed by the originally planned 24.9 mile bike leg and 6.2 mile run.
If we swam, the race would have started off in total chaos. The race director made a good decision based on the morning’s terrible conditions. While disappointed, I understood. Some of the triathletes were grateful. Others competitors complained and felt cheated. However, we all came to compete. When factoring in the longer first run that replaced the swim leg, we competed in the first and only 5320 modified triathlon, not a 5150.
The race started on Stars and Stripes Boulevard for a quick two–mile run leg. The transition was set up at the New Orleans Lakefront Airport on the south end of Lake Pontchartrain. The prolog run served its purpose well as it stretched out the field of racers far enough to ensure Transition 1 (T1) did not get overwhelmed with triathletes who arrived at their bikes and equipment all at the same time.
The bike course consisted of 2 laps at almost 12 ½ miles in length. We turned right out of T1 and headed west along Stars and Stripes Boulevard then onto Lake Shore Drive that was closed to vehicular traffic. Its meandering course reminded me more of a horizontal ski shalom course than a straight out and back bike route. This was one of the windiest bike legs I competed in. With some nasty side winds out of the south at gusts up to 20-25 mph, we were pushed all over the curvy roadways. The course also intersected with 7 or 8 side streets, each one guarded by a New Orleans Police Officer to ensure no stray vehicles took out a rider. I felt comfortably safe. My less than aero position slowed me down more than normal but with the tight turns, it still felt fast to me.
With a quick T2 executed, set out on the run leg. The run was a two lap out and back course. We ran west for 1 ½ miles mostly out of the sun helped by shade trees and tall houses. At the far west end though we briefly got a glimpse of the still choppy Lake Pontchartrain. I could smell the brackish water and the air felt warmer when coming off the water than when the run course took us a block away from the lake on the University of New Orleans campus. We ran on the palm tree lined walkway as it cut through the school campus. After the laps we ran straight to the finish line beside the transition area. I hurt on the run. But my pain was short lived compared to people displaced by significant natural disasters that devastated this state over the past five years.
After the race met Ben Hall, a 19 year-old teenager who was excited about his race performance as the top amateur. Also talked with a guy who grew up in New Orleans. He witnessed his neighborhood practically get wiped out by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That stormed caused 80% of the entire city to be flooded by her winds, rain, and storm surge wiped out protecting levies. After Katrina he moved to San Diego then on to Florida but returned to New Orleans to help build back his neighborhood and city. He also talked about a paddle board business he started. For all the changes he went through in less than five years, he was an upbeat entrepreneur and triathlete.
I also met Joe Lotus. We finished within a minute of each other. Recognized his face from our plane ride out of Chicago the day before. Turned out he rode with a group of cyclists sponsored by a local bike shop I used for preventative maintenance and repair services. Small world. He said he was an overweight smoker just a few years ago. He turned out to be an elite age grouper triathlete that used a top notch coaching program based in the western suburbs of the Chicago area.
One of these guys determined in his own way to be a top amateur with intent to become a professional triathlete one day. Another determined to return to his home town to get its mojo back. And a third guy was determined to live a more healthy life than what he had slipped into after college.
After awards wrapped up, collected my equipment out of the transition area then headed to the hotel. Once there, dissembled my bike, packed it up in its bike case, and labeled it up for a trip to Tunica, Mississippi where I would be race in seven short days at Race #4 of the 5150 ™ Triathlon Series.
When I flew out of New Orleans to Chicago the next morning, saw more of the flooded Louisiana countryside. I would see the impact of record flooding at four more races before the season wrapped up. People seemed to be naturally determined to be fulfilled. For me, I gain energy by watching my daughters stay determined to enjoy a life of fulfillment. I remained determined to continue my triathlon journey but put in a much better perspective after experiencing the residents of Louisiana as they showed their determination to live during life threatening situations. To many people in New Orleans, their actions showed determination to rebuild their city after Hurricane Katrina. And the residents of the Atchafalaya Basin who were being chased out by flooding waters were already determined to return home and replace the receding waters with their new version of a sustainable fulfilled life.
Results: 32nd overall. 1st in age group.