South Carolina #34
October 2, 2010
Halfmax Long Course National Age-Group Championships
Halfmax Long Course National Age-Group Championship was my 11th and final triathlon of the season. This equaled the highest number of races in a year which I did ten years earlier in 2000. This was also a season of directional races. I stayed right on the beach of the East Coast after racing in states with names of West, South, North, and now South Carolina. I flew into Charlestown late in the evening on September 30th and drove two hours north to Myrtle Beach. On Friday morning I did a pre-race day 30 minute run on the coastline in North Myrtle Beach. The Atlantic Ocean was calm and inviting. Unfortunately, we were scheduled do to swim leg in the Intracoastal Waterway less than a mile inland from the beach. The Waterway was initially promoted for creation back in 1808 by U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, under President Jefferson. The Intracoastal Waterway took more than 125 years to come fully into existence.
At least 1,500 triathletes showed up to compete in the one of three races held at Myrtle Beach: USAT Long Course Triathlon National Championship, USAT Club National Championship and Myrtle Beach Sprint Triathlon. I competed in the main race, the Long Course Triathlon set at 1.2 miles for the swim leg, 56 miles for the bike leg, and 13.1 miles of running. The triathlon club race was a classic Olympic distance triathlon. The Sprint Tri was a relatively short 500 yard swim, followed by the standard 13 mile bike distance, and 3.1 miles of running. The race pulled in competitors from all over the US. Not surprising lots came from South Carolina, North Carolina, but also California and Missouri had large contingencies based on the unscientific observation of race kits.
Most age-groupers qualify for National Championships in triathlons, are way above average or even superior athletes in two of the three legs. At the top level of competitive races, the age-group winners were usually above average in two of the disciplines and superior in the third discipline. Some combinations include strong swimmers and strong bikers but the run leg was their weakness: possibly due to mental weakness, physical cramps, lingering injuries, or simply do not possess any run leg speed. Likewise, duathletes who excel on the bike and run but not so much in the water. I hold my own in the swim, lose ground on the bike, and then regain most of the lost time on the run. Some triathletes are more like the “Lake Woebegone Model”: above average in all three disciplines but not superior in any specific one.
The most worrisome topic for most triathletes was to whether the race would be wetsuit legal or not as water temperature was reported to be 79°F. On Friday afternoon at the mandatory pre-race meeting we were informed the race would be wetsuit legal and a big sigh of relief came up from the majority of the triathletes. Water temps dropped to 70°F over the past few days primary because of heavy rains and cooler evening temps. Almost every triathlete slept better the night before the race knowing their wetsuit security blanket would be in full reach at race time. Little did we know as we slept shit was brewing in the water.
After the race meeting I headed back to the rental car. Nearby stood a frustrated Sprint race triathlete who tried unsuccessfully to fix his flat tire on his race bike. He had all the tools except the actual know how. I offered up help which he gladly accepted. He asked to be taught in how to change out the intertube, not fix it for him. It took five minutes to fix the flat tire and for him to know how to fix his next flat tire when the need arose. I felt good about helping and he felt good by learning more about his bike. I headed back to town for dinner and a good night sleep. The next morning competitors woke up to clear skies, steady winds, and optimistic of what their race results would be.
The start and transition settings were located at the marina of the Grande Dunes, one of the prettiest locations of all the race venues I did on the journey. This was a beautiful, park like setting located between south and north Myrtle Beach and just inland from the Atlantic Ocean. The location was peaceful when not overrun by a bunch of Type-A triathletes with multi-thousand dollar bicycles hell bent on making them go supersonic in a few hours. Ironically, literally the shittiest setting too, if you ventured into the water. Turned out the race was a no wetsuit, no swim race. The local health department measured too much e-coli and fecal matter in the Intracoastal Waterway to allow for a safe swim.
Imagine how most triathletes were excited to learn Friday at the mandatory pre-race meeting they would be allowed to wear a wetsuit for the race. Image how most triathletes were so disappointed to find out less than 30 minutes before race start the swim leg was dropped. Imagine all the time and effort athletes trained in the pool for this top-tier National Championship event. Imagine the disappointment of the racers who excelled at swimming. Imagine the relief of true duathletes who competed in triathlons too. Imagine what could have happened if we did the race in this contaminated body of water. No thanks. I was disappointed but grateful to be healthy. Disappointed? Yes. Was it the right decision to cancel the swim? Yes. Was it the safe decision? Yes. The triathletes were at worst inconvenienced but cancelling the swim leg was the correct decision.
Word about the race changes went from athlete to athlete as over 1,500 triathletes were scattered about the area in various stages getting ready to race. Some did hear the announcement directly from the race director (RD) as he talked in an emotionally disappointed tone to the group that gathered near him at the transition area. Here was the situation: swim portion cancelled. Race start delayed for everyone. The starting wave process eliminated and changed to a time trial start with one athlete sent off every three seconds.
I had returned from a mile run warm-up when someone informed me of the race changes. There was more athlete chatter than normal compared to other races. Informal communication ensured everyone knew the swim leg was cancelled. My race friend, Steve Wade, ran by to confirm I heard the swim was cancelled. He confirmed with his wife, Becky, who flew in from the Seattle area with Steve to volunteer at the Championship race.
I put my swim race gear along with my sweats back in the rental car. I met up with Steve again and we headed to the starting line. Actually, more of a holding pen located in front of the originally planned exist chute of the swim venue. We queued up in our bare feet, no shoes allowed per the RD, on a cement walkway 250 meters from the Transition (T1) area. Each competitor left the start line at a 3 second interval. It took 75 minutes to get all racers sent out on the race course.
The start queue was determined by a simple FIFO process, first in line, first out to the race course. Steve and I waited in line for the overall race to start for a half hour. Steve stepped out of the starting queue for a bio-break. Upon return he could not penetrate the wall of competitors and he had to wait 20 minutes longer for his race to start. Many people decided not step out of line for their bio breaks. I made sure to not step in the puddles in my bare feet as the queue slowly worked its way to the new starting line on dry ground instead of in the Intercostal Waterway.
I stepped over the starting line running at a full sprint in bare feet to my bike. The 56 mile bike course was flat and unsheltered. The wind was both our enemy and friend. It slammed into our faces, pushed us along, and tried to shove me off-course as it blew continually at 15-25 mph except when it gust to 35 mph. There was no lull period from the wind. Temps were in the mid-60s. Full sun. Great race weather for competing, volunteering, and spectating in the first week of October.
Being on the bike after a long wait time between warm-up and race start felt awkward. Without the swim leg my body was forced to get warmed up, or used to race level breathing and heart rate on the bike. My body was not trained well for that process in a race without a swim start.
We biked for two miles on the US-17 Bypass and turned right onto Robert Grissom Parkway for a mile and then rolled into a long arching right hand turn onto Carolina’s Bays Parkway (State Highway 31). We raced on a course closed to motor vehicular traffic except race officials on motor cycles to monitor safety and enforce non-drafting rules. Instead of fighting crazy motorist we fought the wind that tried to push us off our riding line when coming in crossways. My biggest fear was the possibility of a violent swerve due to a quick wind block of the side wind. Either I would jerk quickly left into the passer or when I passed someone, he would jolt towards as I shielded him from the side wind and take me out of the race with a crash. My second biggest fear was I would swerve violently and quickly into another rider taking myself out of the race. The potential outcome was dependent on whether it was upwind or leeward. Either outcome would be devastating. Fortunately, neither outcome occurred but hundreds of racers were blown all over the course. Bikes with disc and deep dish wheels received more attention from me than usual as I tried to stay wider apart by at least the height of the bike frame and where possible, the height of frame and rider out of fear of being sideswiped and knocked to the road.
Once on Carolina’s Bays Parkway we rode north 12 miles and then did a 180 degree turn and headed back to exit on to Robert Grissom Parkway with a quick reentry to Carolina’s Bays Parkway to cover the same out and back 12 miles of wind whipped riding. On our second exit we retraced the same path over the Robert Grissom Parkway turned right onto the US-17 Bypass and returned to the transition area at the Marina. Along the way the wind stood me up. It pushed me around and shoved me from behind all depending on which direction I rode.
Steve told me later: “Just kept my head down and spun thru the bike eating and drinking as if it were an IRONMAN”.
My main bike tactic focused on keeping a high, steady cadence of 90-100 rpm’s. I shifted up with the tailwinds and shifted down with the headwinds. With absolutely no elevation change over the 56 miles, significant changes in cadence or gears were required in Myrtle Beach only because of the wind.
The 13.1 mile run course for the Halfmax Championship was flat. It covered two loops. In some areas it felt like a wide garden maze with volunteers giving directions on which way to go. Passed the same two people on the same lap at least twice. That should not have happened though it did due to them running too short by taking either a wrong turn or a short cut through a break in the woods. Or maybe I ran too far or ran on a second inner loop when I turned in when I should have edged out. Or maybe went short while the others went long. Something was amiss. The only people who experienced negative consequences were the world record setting athletes that day.
A few racers got disqualified for turning in splits exceeding world record performances for the run distances of 13.1 miles, 10K or 5K, depending on the race. An unknown number of racers recorded quicker splits through the benefit of running shorter differences but not going too fast to gain the attention of race officials. The run course included too much confusion on turns and too many hidden nature blocks to know the whereabouts of the competition at any point. Still the race was held at a great location.
We found out later the RD monitored the Intracoastal Waterway quality for three days prior to the race. More than a few racers kind of thought it was shitty to wait until 30 minutes before race start to make the decision to cancel the swim leg. The competitors could have planned their morning with less chaos and most of the disappointment of dropping the swim would have been dissipated the night before.
The post-race meal offered some good food. Many finishers grabbed a seat on the ground in the holding pen of the race start area. Having remembered what took place there I moved to drier and less contaminated ground.
Looking at the results we learned Steve qualified for Long Course Worlds scheduled for 2011 in Las Vegas. He finished 7th in his age group. And easily beat me on the bike leg by close to a minute. I finished one place outside a podium spot. Steve, Becky, me and a couple of other people met for beers and dinner later in the afternoon. On Sunday morning ran on the beach enjoying the salty air and beautiful Atlantic Ocean breeze and sounds of crashing wave. The wind blew crazy strong. Drove back down to Charleston and took a boat to Fort Sumter where the Civil War started in 1861. Then drove around the old area of the beautiful city with colorful, old buildings and arrived at the airport to head home to Chicago.
Reflected on the plane ride how much the people around the sports I participated in affected me in over 45 years of competition. When I started running, I looked forward to learning so much from running. When I started racing in triathlons, I looked forward to learning so much from triathloning. When I started this journey, I looked forward to learning so much about the US and the world from my travels. What I realized over the years was I learned so much more from people than I did from traveling, triathloning, or running.
I learned moral values and good manners from my parents. I learned the value of sportsmanship from my peer group when playing informal sports. I also learned more sportsmanship from generous volunteer coaches during my participation as a youth in formal organized sports. I learned how to step up in competition from my high school coaches. In college and on clubs, our coaches taught us how to hone our athletic skills to excel physically, mentality, and emotionally through speed, strength, visualization, and determination. Along the whole way, these people incrementally taught us discipline to balance our schooling and professional careers with social growth while pursuing our athletic goals with results to achieve our best capabilities in the destiny of our fate.
My parents, Coach Walker, Coach Veach, Coach Chambers, Coach Pryor, Coach Bell, Coach Gartland, Coach Haydon, Coach Johnson, and my teammates opened up my mind in how to morph talents from sports to my personal life to professional business career and individual passions. Oh yes, and all of this helped me in being a better spouse and parent. They taught me to look for the similarities across all aspects of life and to excel in my chosen disciplines. I’ll acknowledge in my teens, 20’s and 30’s, what all these people taught me weren’t put in so many clear words above. But with the wisdom of awareness in my 50’s, I understood. I finally recognized all this development was subconscious occurring during my first six decades of life. And still continues.
Along the journey, I also learned about different races from other triathletes. They also shared training tips, race tactics, and recovery plans. And they shared more things outside of racing like unique places to travel for sightseeing, food, and culture here in the States and in foreign countries. Without these people, there would not have been enough time to learn so much on my own. With 11 races in 11 new states, I completed a busy season. The trip back from South Carolina turned out to be more about directional awareness in life than a simple name on a map.
Results: 57th overall. 4th in age group