June 24, 2012
Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon Olympic Distance
The people in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, lived up to and exceeded their name in both the city and putting on the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon Olympic Triathlon Race. Competitors, volunteers, and spectators spread the love too. On Saturday morning the sun rose with high humidity after a late night storm dumped a ½ inch of rain on the city. I went for the usual 30 minute easy pre-race day run with an unusual course. Ran to the Liberty Bell in the Independence National Historical Park then to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the Rocky Statue. Two of the top 10 items in the U.S., if not the world, to visit to get motivated to compete in a sporting event.
The symbolic Liberty Bell figuratively rings out freedom for all of the United States though no one living today has ever heard its sound. The Liberty Bell started life as an immigrant and resided since 1751 in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall.
After a shower and breakfast I drove out to Fairmount Park and checked-in for the next day’s Olympic distance triathlon race. Afterwards I grabbed some sandwiches and drove more than half an hour outside of the city up to Valley Forge for a picnic and afternoon tour. The trip was an easy and scenic drive to the National Historic Park from Philadelphia. There is no entry fee. Lots to do there: hike, drive, or take a shuttle to experience the park and learn more about its history.
The park was kid and bike friendly though not always be at the same time. As I walked towards the Visitor Center from a parking lot, a young kid threw his bike down on its side then kicked it due to his failure to keep his balance when he tried to ride beside his walking dad. You could relate to what the kid felt like when kicking his bike. That’s what some people feel like doing every time they experienced a flat tire in a race or workout.
On the sunny Sunday morning I drove to the Fairmont Park and parked in a lot near Memorial Hall. I put the wheels on my bike, grabbed my race gear and walked down the hill on Black Road to the transition area set up between Schuylkill River and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The Fairmount Park served as race central for this challenging course in a beautiful city setting. A portion of Fairmont Park was once the estate of Robert Morris (no relationship) who signed the Decoration of Independence. We cycled by Lemon Hill on Kelly Drive where his residence once stood in the late 1700’s. Fairmont previously hosted lots of other events. One of significance included the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the USA.
With the race gear strategically placed beside the bike, I boarded a school bus for the short ride to the swim start where I met the future of America. I sat beside a first time triathlete and young graduate student at Yale. He talked passionately about his studies in genetics. With so much being discovered about the human gene we both agreed what he read and learned yesterday became out of date today. There is too much new knowledge discovered so quickly no single person can keep up with all the new information. The innovations happened quicker than knowledge can be understood, published, and adopted elsewhere in the world. Even though he swam a fast 20 minute 1500 Meter swim, he has more potential in his profession to help all of mankind.
The Philadelphia Tri offered one of the more unique pre-race set-ups. Competitors were bused from the transition area to the swim start a mile upstream on the Schuylkill River. No warm-up gear would be shipped back so whatever you took, you either threw it away at the start or swam with it. I missed the message before traveling so I showed in Philadelphia with nothing I wanted to throw away. I boarded the bus in my race jammers, swim cap, and goggles. No hat. No shirt. No footwear. No wetsuit. I looked silly during warm up running around in a small grassy field by a road in a pair of jammers swimsuit trying to avoid fallen down tree limbs from Friday night’s wind and thunderstorms. I broke enough of a sweat to get itchy from stretching in the grass. The race coordinators had the timing of the buses to the start line well timed. There was a limited space for competitors to hangout and most found time to get off the buses, then into the water to race. I went from off the bus, to warm-up to in the water with little wait time.
The water quality was good and offered clear visibility which was not expected after Friday’s storm. The pre-race buzz on Friday was the swim may be cancelled due to high contamination from the rain run-off into the Schuylkill. After South Carolina I became conditioned to expect the worst until seeing racers in the water. The first heat of competitors were in the water, that decision guaranteed a full triathlon race was on in Philadelphia. I came out of the water in third place in the 50-54 year old age group wave but already humbled by an All-American who put 4 minutes on me in the Schuylkill.
The bike course consisted of two laps of 12 miles each in and around the Park. The course layout offered the most varied and challenging courses of any race I competed in. The race director added technical climbs and turns. Competitors needed to navigate skillfully around others. No span of road too long nor too short. Ups and downs and a 360 degree loop around by one of the old houses above the river. The course included fast flat sections too. In places we rode some rough patches of pavement primarily at an undesirable location such as a bottom of a hill or while entering some tight turn with other cyclists.
Coming out of the transition area we rode parallel to the Schuylkill River for four miles then crossed over the Falls Bridge to the east side. Once across we again hugged the shore line for six miles to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where we crossed back over the river and headed north to the transition area. We were halfway done. Just one more lap to go before entering the T2 to start the run.
The bike course looked almost obscene when looking at it on a map but offered some of the most challenging climbs and turns of any course in a city setting in the U.S. And with all the competitors in the race, superior bike handling skills and tricked out race bikes were required amongst the quickest of the riders. Do not think of these as requirements though, one guy in 50-54 age group rode a Classic 10 speed steel framed bike complete with rust but he returned to the transition race after two laps and crossed the finish line on the run leg.
After racking their bikes, competitors started running north on a narrow “figure 8” course. Generally flat and followed the shoreline of Schuylkill River. The first three miles of the run course was on a nice shaded path courtesy of some tall deciduous trees. The bottom half of the loop offered three miles of full on sun that heated up the triathletes. The humidity seemed to get us to produce more sweat than usual too. Still, the top competitors redlined their efforts.
The finisher’s medal were a way cool mini replica of the Liberty Bell. A 100 to 1 scale to the real bell complete with a clacker. I met last year’s 50-54 AG winner in the transition area when collecting my bike and other race gear. We discussed the Bell and he mentioned the AG awards the previous year were a big bell. He also shared he competed in this race every year since it started in 2005.
The post-race food spread complimented the quality of the race venue and competitors. No one seemed at a loss to say great things about the race set-up, logistics of getting in and about, the transition area, the food, competitors, or their performances. The race competitors consisted of top US Pro’s, age groupers, and the future of America leaders in techno-biology.
This race should be on every triathletes’ destination list because of the variety of the course, the cross section capabilities of competitors and the festive atmosphere of the entire event. The Philadelphia Triathlon was ranked by Outside Magazine as one of the top-five triathlons races in the U. S. I was glad last year’s race in Lancaster was cancelled giving me the incentive to compete instead in Philadelphia for my Pennsylvania race location.
The race atmosphere felt four dimensional with the four F’s of: Fun, Family, Food, and Festival. Everyone involved in the race including volunteers, sponsors, organizers, officials, supporters, spectators, and competitors experienced a race more full of fun than almost any other race. Many participants came with family to celebrate a day in the life of healthy and spirited competition. Great food was available from the finish area, the park vendors, and from those who brought in their favorite picnic lunches. And this festive, beautiful city park was filled with genuine laughter, personal successes, a sense of fulfillment, and a peaceful escape from its big city setting.
As the finishers walked up the hill to the parking area we sounded like the cows coming in for dinner. The ringing also served as a symbolic gesture we earned freedom from workouts for at least a couple of days based on everyone’s finishing achievement.
Results: 90th overall. 3rd in age group.