North Carolina #33
September 19, 2010
Outer Banks Triathlon – Olympic
Hayes, my first born child, flew out to North Carolina with me to celebrate a couple of historic firsts and returned home with a surprise first. We visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk/Kill Devil Hills early Saturday morning. I’m forever grateful to Wilbur and Orville Wright for their contributions to aviation. As the first two people to successfully make and fly a motorized airplane, they changed how people travel across the country and around the world. Wilbur Wright was born in Henry County, Indiana, five miles from where I grew up in New Castle. I wanted to visit Kitty Hawk since I was a kid. At age 51, I visited the birthplace of motorized airplane flights.
The Outer Banks Triathlon races were held on Roanoke Island, 10 miles down the North Carolina coastline from Kitty Hawk. Roanoke Island is where Virginia Dare in 1587 became the first English kid born in the colonies of what would later become the United States.
Whenever near water, Hayes wanted to eat at a restaurant on the water. We enjoyed a pre-race carbo loading dinner on the outside patio of a Nags Head pizza joint overlooking the Atlantic Ocean coastline. We reflected on the day’s busy activities. We climbed to the starting point of where a couple of men’s visions turned into motorized aviation reality. And others built upon these successes to fly planes over the Atlantic Ocean, add jet power to planes, and send manned rockets to the moon and back. We then climbed the reality of past history that gave vision to sailors and ships but now obsoleted into darkness at night, only to be illuminated on a radar screen, GPS, or someone’s smart phone for much improved safety to people and the environment. Only our imaginations and the limited abilities of scientist and engineers serve as barriers to mankind’s future capabilities of life.
On Sunday we woke up at 5am. I dressed in race gear, ate the usual Clif Bar, and stretched. Hayes dressed, did her hair, and ate a light breakfast in the small area by the lobby. We walked outside and looked up to one of the darkest skies full of bright stars I ever saw life. No sun. No moon. No city lights. The Milky Way painted a wide, white swath of stars across the sky. With so many stars I could barely make out the well-known winter constellations that filled the late summer morning sky. Being there with Hayes under a beautiful star lit sky, on a sandy beach, breathing fresh ocean air with the smell of saltwater made for a wonderful and memorable trip. Our predawn experience combined with Saturday’s activities provided a successfully trip. And I hadn’t even raced yet.
We drove over to the race site on Roanoke Island 15 minutes from the hotel. Hayes chose not to volunteer this time before we left Chicago. She wanted to be a spectator at different areas of the race and provide emotional support to all the racers. She came prepared for a sunny morning with sunscreen, a visor, and sunglasses. She didn’t come prepared for temperatures in the low 60’s and windy conditions. She barrowed my warm up jacket that was two sizes too large for her. Still she was warm and could be easy spotted among the crowd of the 325 participants along with family, volunteers, and other spectators headed to the start.
I stood on cold sand in bare feet wearing a wetsuit. My teeth chattered and body shivered trying to get warm while waiting for the race to start. At 6:50am the mid-September sun had not cleared the trees yet to provide some radiating warmth to our bodies. Most of us were in full sleeve black wetsuits in front of the North Carolina Aquarium. Did spectators unfamiliar with the sport of triathloning think we were part of a penguin protest or part of the Aquarium’s latest exhibit as we stood around upright taking small steps like members of a penguin colony?
At the sound of the starting horn we took a few strides on the beach and dove into the beautiful, calm, warm, and salty tasting waters of Crotan Sound to swim an inverted isosceles triangle shaped course. The crystal clear water allowed us to see the sandy bottom 10-15 feet below us for the entire swim. Once I started swimming in the warm water the muscles loosened up and quickly found a smooth swim stroke rhythm. Almost from the start swam a meter from the shoulder of another triathlete. He would not let me pull even with him. We swam down the right side of the isosceles triangle for 600 meters then turned left and swam the 300 meter base of the triangle. With so much open water in front of us, chose not to draft directly behind him but to his right side. This allowed for a slight draft affect plus I could breathe on my preferred right side. With no wake and potential exposure to splashing, I didn’t need to worry about swallowing water. In a full wetsuit felt too warm at times but could feel cool pockets of the water as the current slowly moved between Roanoke Island and Manns Harbor. We turned left again heading straight towards our starting point 600 meters away at the beach. We swam in sync for 1475 meters as we matched stroke turnover and distance per stroke the entire time. With 25 meters to go the other swimmer kicked it in to get the fastest swim split of the day. Didn’t think it necessary to challenge him for the swim prime. The race felt bigger because a half-distance and sprint distance triathlon races occurred at the same time. Also, during our swim a helicopter flew overhead and followed us two leaders most of the way. Cool to receive the coverage experienced only at Ironman races where helicopters flew over the leaders.
Once out of the water we ran a short distance into the transition and grabbed our bikes. We heard the cheering spectators and I specifically heard Hayes, my number one fan, while coming out of the water a step behind the race leader.
Hayes developed one of the best personality judgement radars. She welcomes anyone around her without stereotyping for looks, location, or language. People who genuinely engaged in a conversation with her and respected her normal personal space quickly earned respect. In contrast, people who talked to her condescendingly, tried to take advantage of her mentally or physically, she broke off the interaction and moved on. Think of it this way, she quickly knew who to trust and who rightfully to be wary about.
Her decisions and actions are consistent and accurate. Because of her historic behavior I didn’t worry about her being on her own during the race. Shortly after I queued up for the race start Hayes made friends with Heather and her kids who were in attendance supporting a spouse and their dad who competed in the sprint race. Hayes hung out with her adopted race family for the next couple of hours. Hayes makes friends quicker than Mr. Rogers, even outside of her neighborhood, if they get by her radar.
The transition was at the Dare County Regional Airport parking lot. The bike leg was a relatively simple out and back course. We did a 3 mile open hook loop on Roanoke Island, crossed over a 2 ½+ mile long bridge on Highway 64, and continued on this road for another six miles plus until we arrived at a dead-end. We did an 1800 U-turn and returned back to Roanoke Island retracing the original outbound course to the transition area by the airport.
The course was wonderful in an understated fashion. There was lots of water, open spaces, trees, sun, and lots of fun. There was minimal traffic, rough roads, and danger. The bike course was a Goldilocks dream of enough beauty to appreciate when looking and not enough to be distracted with everything a triathlete concentrated on during a race to stay safe and go fast.
Our only climb occurred on the bridge which was negligible. The biggest challenges were the head winds that pushed us around even when in the aero position. We experienced wind gusts up to 25 mph out of the north, northeast on the return trip to the transition area. The only other item of note was lack of other nearby competitors. The lead swimmer, now biker dropped me quickly. I lost a few seconds to him in the first transition. I fell back further losing two minutes by the end of the 40 kilometer bike leg. Another racer passed me as we crossed back over the bridge. It felt I was only racer in a time trial event during most of the bike leg.
The run course was a flat three mile out and back course for a total of 10K. We ran around the north end of the fenced-in airport then into residential neighborhoods. The houses seemed to block whatever wind we felt on the bike ride. As the Olympic distance triathletes ran outbound, many of the Sprint race triathletes were already streaming back to the finish line. We started passing some of the slower Sprint triathletes as we entered into the last 1.5 miles of the race.
The race director provided a bike escort for the lead man and woman in each race. Racers gauged how far behind the race leader they were based on the cyclist’s position. My gap closed after mile two. And the gap closed continually through mile three. The leader reached the turn-around point and headed straight at us as he retraced his steps back to the finish line. I AARP’d him before we reached the four mile marker. Getting AARP’d is the act of when a 50+ year-old triathlete passes someone younger during a race. He was half my age.
After the pass I experienced a first bike escort as a race leader. Last week in South Dakota a police escorted me in his patrol car on the bike. The last quarter of a mile of the course was over a dirt path. The cyclist pulled off and I was left on my own to find the finish line. With Sprint Distance triathletes on the same course as the Olympic Distance triathletes, all of us had the same final destination point. Easy to know where to head without the bike guide. At the finish line, two volunteers quickly sneaked out from either side and unfurled a finishing banner to symbolize the win. The last time I remember breaking a finishing line string was in an 800 Meter track race 33 years earlier.
In the race was a member of Team X-T.R.E.M.E. Members ran or biked in gas masks in races around the region as a symbolic gesture to recognize and honor all current and veteran members of the US military for the sacrifices made to protect the country.
With the early morning race start and the long half distance race there was over a four hour break before the awards ceremony. I collected equipment, race bag, and Hayes then headed back to the motel. We enjoyed a short beach combing walk. With the surf too tall and too strong to go swimming in the ocean we opted for the calmer waters of the hotel swimming pool. Hayes easily beat me in our freestyle and butterfly races across the pool.
We checked out of the motel and returned to the race site to cheer on the half-distance tri racers who were now finishing. We toured the Aquarium. We both agreed the turtle exhibit was our favorite. We headed outside to cheer the few remaining race finishers.
As we waited for the award ceremonies to start Hayes and I talked to other racers. Turned out one of these triathletes was Heather’s husband. His group suggested my triathlon in Maryland should be the Eagleman Ironman 70.3. It’s big, over a 1,000 racers. Many high caliber competitors, both professionals and amateurs compete each year. The race conditions were usually hot, humid, and windy. And the race is held in early June, a challenge in itself to get in shape for a long race early in the year without impacting National Championships usually held in late summer. Most of them said it was tough, a “one and done” race for them. This was exactly the type of race to compete in on the journey and mentally penciled it in for next year.
Hayes became part of Heather’s family for the morning. Her husband earned a podium spot in the Sprint Tri. She cheered him on with her newly adopted family. She also asked Heather and her kids to cheer when I finished. She introduced me to Heather like they had been friends for years and Heather adopted Hayes as family for the race. Not out of need to provide motherly protection but because she liked Hayes’ positive, outgoing personality as companionship for the morning. Heather and her family showed up with similar traits on Hayes’ personality judgement radar.
Heather was generous with her time and compliments of Hayes. They took a group picture and some pictures of the racers. Heather wanted to send them to Hayes via e-mail but Hayes’ e-mail address wasn’t set up yet. Instead, Heather gave me her e-mail address and I would send Hayes’ contact info back to her. I put the paper in a pocket with car keys and as the day progressed I added a hotel receipt, restaurant receipt, car rental receipt, money, and more pieces of paper in my pockets.
The awards ceremony started. First with the Sprint results, then the Olympic, and wrapped up with the Half Distance winners. Two or three times the race director interrupted the awards and requested us to encourage on the final finishers as they ran by the ceremony. At the end we said goodbye to Heather and her kids then headed north to Norfolk International Airport. But before arrival we needed to make a couple of stops.
At the rest stop on north end of the toll road the bike was disassembled: bike pedals, seat, handle bars, and derailleur wrapped in bubble wrap along with the frame and wheels wedged between foam rubber in Trico bike case out. I carefully added bike shoes, helmet, pump, and wetsuit for fill then covered up the clam shell sides of the entire case and strapped it closed. I also took all the paper out of my pocket, sorted out the currency which went back into my pocket, then absentmindedly threw everything else in the trash after doing some manual shredding.
From the rest stop we drove into Virginia and briefly stopped at the hotel we stayed at Friday night to schedule a pick-up for the bike case and to be shipped south to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for the next race journey milestone in two weeks.
On the plane, Hayes reminded me to send her contact information to Heather for the pictures and to say thanks. Not a problem. Reached into the pockets and pulled out nothing but a few dollar bills. Big problem. Fully embarrassed. I broke my commitment to Heather in the rest stop parking lot at the North Carolina/Virginia state line. Heather, I hope you and your family reads this chapter and accepts my apologies for not thanking you back in September 2010. Hayes appreciated your friendship and welcoming her into your family on Roanoke Island at the Outer Banks Triathlon. Please forgive me for my shortcomings.
In less than 50 hours we flew from the southwest side of the Great Lakes region to the East coast of the Outer Banks and back. We visited two different beautiful destination spots in our wonderful National Park System. We waded in one of the world’s great oceans. We saw more stars in the sky in one look than Hayes’ whole lifetime. We spent time on an island of a lost colony of British settlers from over 400 years earlier. We learned about local sea life at the North Carolina Aquarium. I raced another 32 miles in a triathlon in a new state. Hayes met one of the friendliest families ever to share their morning with her. And Hayes and I strengthened our bond of father and daughter.
Life, flight, and hype. The first English person born in the new colonies was in 1587 on the island where we raced. The first motor powered flight took place 10 miles up the coast line by two brothers who once were bike builders, mechanics, and retailers. And at age 51, my first back-to-back triathlon race win was achieved at the Outer Banks Triathlon. Think of it this way: Dare, air, and rare.
Results: 1st overall