Tennessee #15 You May Be a Triathlete
May 3, 2008
Memphis in May
Life went on without a race in 2007, the first calendar year without a race since 1994 when we moved to Washington State. I skipped a planned race in Kentucky to be with family during yet another move into another house, our eighth since marriage in 1987.
On December 1st I acknowledged my problem. I hit middle age or middle age hit me. The middle age calendar engulfed me at some uneventful and unidentifiable point in the 21st Century. Middle age didn’t happen overnight. The new phase wasn’t a knockout punch. More like a standing 8-count but it didn’t move to a neutral corner so the count started at some non-discreet point in time. Middle age gained an advantage on me while not looking for the change. Life as lived in the past was running out. Early signed included me talking about the Tri 50 States and World Continent Journey but did little to begin the trek.
Chris said, “It’s time to sign-up and race or you’ll be a bitter, miserable middle age man regretting a missed opportunity.” Telling others about my planned journey was not the same as getting out there and competing in the races. Think of it this way, my lack of action put me in an undesirable position of violating one of the top reasons why change management projects are not successful. Or in my case, a journey of milestone races not completed. Instead of getting angry or getting even with her, I heeded her advice. She was as wise as a coach as a spouse.
The Memphis in May triathlon was a must do event. The Tri 50 States and World Continent Journey started for real.
In an ironic sense, when reaching middle age -- and yes I was in middle age no matter whose definition is applied, it started at 35, 40, or 45 but definitely there at age 49, and worse, racing at age 50 – without a planned journey of life you cannot get lost. If your destination is unknown, being lost cannot be a condition. Wondering through middle age without a plan gives the freedom of never getting lost, yet nothing is defined to know if you arrived either. To define my middle age journey, I scoped out a roadmap complete with milestones to monitor progression and digression, successes and wrong turns, and determine if lost or just misguided.
I looked at options such as combining races with work travels, races with vacations, or races when visiting family. In the end, went big. See the whole US and the world with combinations of race and all other along the journey. Felt any one of the three other possibilities was too limiting.
Reaching individual milestones along the journey were more than simple checkmarks of been there, done that. No, these included dipping into local culture, visiting with spectators at the races, seeing the area beyond the race courses, learning new tactics from triathletes, and be challenged during the races by its competitors. What I wanted to get out of the races reached from heritage to history, and experiences to performances and food to fans. Being in Memphis the local culture would include Graceland, barbecue, and a potential Elvis spotting.
Arrived back home Friday morning from California after my usual week long business trip. In the evening packed up the new bike and clothes and got whatever sleep was available until an early morning run and the trip to the airport. Flew out Saturday morning leaving Chicago O’Hare Airport on a 7am flight. Once in Memphis, collected my bike case at the luggage carrousel, picked up the rental car and drove 30 minutes north to Millington. Evidently in May, Memphis re-located to the suburb town of Millington, at least for triathlon racing. Arriving too early to check into a hotel I visited a local library and read. I slept some too. I just keep on telling myself about how exciting and luxurious traveling was in life. My body argued otherwise. The worst aspect of traveling and racing alone was the inability to share the fun experiences with a companion. Still, I simply wanted to race after an 18 month span of workouts without competing. Memphis was great with a beautiful warm spring day.
By late morning went to race check in set up at the race site in Edmund Orgill Park on the north side of Millington, just north of Memphis. Race check-in went hassle free: signed the obligatory waiver of liability, showed a current USA Triathlon membership, received race number, timing chip and swag bag. The race offered a top notch Expo. Various vendors offered up triathlon related products including equipment, nutrition, and other race opportunities. Picked up a couple of needed race items there including gels and suntan lotion.
Triathletes and families rented most of the hotel rooms in the area. Hotel check-in was a hassle due to not getting a clean room until 5pm. Unpacked and assembled the bike and took in its coolness factor. A black beauty Kestrel Airfoil PRO carbon fiber frame equipped with a new wheel set too. The Mavic Ksyrium ES wheels were light, strong, fast, with bladed spokes, and a complimenting sight to the Kestrel. I was not yet worthy of the ride but it did look fast and would be when equipped with an appropriate engine.
A couple of Canadians rented the room next door. Since their door was open went by and invited them to dinner. They looked at each other with a continued serious look and nodded with acceptance then went back to watching TV. The date was already broken before the commitment made. With no one answering their door at the agreed to time, left and ate dinner on my own. Ended up exchanging more words with the waitress during my carbo loading dinner than would have with the hotel neighbors.
This was my first triathlon in the South and was confirmed in no subtle way the next morning at 5:15am at the race site when a pick-up truck of competitors came over the rolling hills with their truck speakers at a full “10” blasting out “Rocky Top”. Hee Haw! I halfway expected to hear Buck Owens and Roy Clark sing the “Star Spangled Banner” before the race started. Everyone fully expected before the last competitor crossed the finish line there would be at least one Elvis spotting. Only Roy and Buck, who were no shows, let me down.
The swim leg was held in Casper Lake. The race began in a time trial start fashion with 1,200 entrants sent off at three second intervals. The 50-54 age group had an estimated start time near the end of almost an hour long string of swimmers.
My warm-up started 30 minutes after the first racers were in the water. During the wait I envisioned how the race would occur and watched other age groupers enter the water. A competitor already warming up asked, “Are you racing?” He was concerned I backed out since not in a wetsuit yet.
Before our age-group wave started the post-race refreshments were almost ready to be served. Most notable was the smell of barbecue cooking. The sweet and smoky smell of cooked meat was enough to ensure at least a quick finish and brief warm down to get a post-race meal.
Hundreds of triathletes churned up the muddy lake bottom limiting visibility for the swim. Coffee from Starbucks was clearer than the lake water at this point. Starting near the end of the race line, the 50-54 age groupers swam through more cloudy water than clear. The race directors compensated with a line rope of small floats for the first couple of hundred meters which allowed for easy sighting and a straight line swim. The overall swim course was laid out in somewhat of a rectangle shape on the swim instead of the more common out and back or triangle.
Exiting the water was easy once touching the concrete boat ramp with a hand. Popped up and starting running up the ramp and peeling off the wetsuit. I was excited to ride my new bike for only the second time in the 18 months since first buying it.
The transition went quick. The 40 kilometer fast bike course offered a terrain of minimal rolling hills and flat sections through almost treeless farm country north of Memphis not yet taken over by new subdivisions. On the return route we rode into the town of Millington before winding back to Edmund Orgill Park to dismount our bikes and run through the transition to rack them. Only the wind and our own conditioning caused bike speeds to suffer. All turns and intersections on the course were well guarded by police and volunteers. The new bike provided a great ride but I needed more time in the saddle and more strength in my legs to boost speeds to a more desirable level output.
The run course proved more challenging with short and steep climbs and descents except across the lake’s earth dam. My running stride was compensating for the ever changing elevation. We ran out on a grass path along these stretches. This reminded me of the majority of cross country courses I competed on in central Indiana in the mid 1970’s. The run course continued to county roads that led us out of the Park then along residential roads. The sun continued to heat up the day and the humidity combined with our exertion caused us to push up our own heat index. We kept hydrated with fluids stocked at the aid stations set up at each mile marker.
The smell of genuine barbecue wafted into the air near the finish line. The food tasted as good as it smelled. Offsetting the smoky flavor was crisp smelling and tasting beer. I stayed for awards hoping to catch up with Chris McClure but he left already before collecting his award. Both of my Canadian hotel neighbors were at awards with one picking up a fourth place finish. Three months later met up with McClure at the Chicago Triathlon while walking back to our hotels on Michigan Avenue. Asked if his forever girlfriend was with him. He corrected me and said wife and yes, Erica raced too. She won multiple races back in Arizona.
Memphis in May was a great celebration of participation in triathloning. Lots of competitors. Lots of volunteers. Plenty of fluids and calories on the race course. Safe. Cool t-shirt celebrating the country of Turkey. Lots of food and plenty of free beer afterwards. Drove by Graceland on the way back to the airport but didn’t stop. Knew Elvis wasn’t home. He really did compete in the race. His race kit was a styling jump suit. Elvis the triathlete sported full sideburns and white framed shades. His rock ‘n roll countrified voice filled the air at the finish line. Not sure what his finish place was, wherever he wanted it to be. Middle age has its privileges, bitter or sweet, dead or alive, legend or not.
Results: 82nd Overall. 3rd in age group