October 11, 2009
Toyota US Open Triathlon
Went to Dallas because I earned a free race entry for the US Toyota Open Lifetime Fitness Olympic distance triathlon. Cashed in points for free airplane flights, hotel room, and a rental car. For being a free weekend, I paid high emotional and physical prices for this race. Plenty of reasons not to compete in mid-October existed though didn’t recognize the red flags ahead of time. Missed reading the wear and tear on my body due to flying on airplanes six out of the previous seven days. Too much time spent flying and not enough time sleeping. Mistakenly stayed in a hotel going through a major renovation project with its lobby draped in more plastic wrap and tarps than a furniture warehouse. The weather was wet, cold, and windy for the entire weekend. And driving consumed numerous hours from airport to hotel to race registration to transition #1 (T1) to hotel. Race sign-up was downtown at the American Airlines Center. Then drove an hour to drop off the bike at T1, the swim-to-bike transition, located in The Harbor at Lake Ray Hubbard. Followed by another hour drive back to the hotel. I was exhausted and warn out before the race started.
The hotel was beside where the new AT&T Dallas Cowboys Football Stadium was being built. Early Sunday morning, drove downtown back to transition #2 (T2), the bike-to-run transition area. Drove by where the Texas Rangers play home baseball games along Interstate 30 in Arlington. Race parking was at the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas where the Dallas Mavericks play their home basketball games. If the race was held during the Mavs season I may have reached out to owner, Mark Cuban. Mark was my Resident Assistant (RA) at Indiana University on the first floor of Martin Hall my sophomore year.
The irony of seeing Dallas’ three key icons of the top three professional sports in the US before race start was not lost on me. The three minor sport disciplines, rolled into one for a triathlon, would be witnessed on race morning by fewer people than required to staff the concession stands at any of the profession games on their lowest attended game day of a season.
The Fieldhouse parking lot was split between parking for vehicles and T2. In the cool pre-dawn darkness with rain threatening skies, set up my run shoes, bib number, and hat at my assigned spot. Located the Bike-In and Run-Out entry/exist points to create a mental map needed when coming back through during the race. I boarded a toasty warm coach bus and headed to Lake Ray Hubbard for the swim start and T1. The riders’ anxiety levels increased as the bus’s progress slowed due to heavy race traffic as we entered the park. The seeming long bus ride of 30 minutes was hot, humid, and slow going. We quickly exited the bus into a brisk morning as daybreak slowly unveiled itself with grey skies, 52°F degree temps and now mist. Quickly got cold, wet, and stiff.
Word spread the race start would be delayed as all buses were slowed in traffic and would arrive later than planned to get the competitors to the park. I bundled up and tried to find cover from the rain and cold air. Wore a winter hat, running tights, gloves, t-shirt, running sport top, and two jacket tops. Hung out in the bathroom near the beach due to shivering outside of shelter. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Not less than two hours a day should be devoted to exercise, and the weather should be little regarded,” according to Thomas Jefferson, The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham. The author added “in fact, he believed the rainier and the colder the better.” Obviously, President Jefferson never waited for a triathlon in Dallas on a grey, damp, and cold October weekend.
I earned free entry into this race for my performances at the Lifetime Fitness Olympic Triathlon in Minneapolis in early July and the Accenture Chicago Olympic Triathlon held in late August. By the end of my triathlon season in 2009, I did three of their four races in the series. At age 50, somehow ended up in the Amateur Elite heat at the Series finale. Personnel who perform at or near the top of their peer groups in the corporate world are referred to as ‘HIPOTS’ instead of elite. HIPOTS is an acronym for ‘High Potentials”. My competition included elite “peers” who ranged in age from early 20’s through 50’s. At age 50 I was neither a HIPOT nor an elite triathlete. The older elites were set-up to be whipped by the younger fleet of feet triathletes from the start. Elite Divisions are great for regional triathlon races as these allow for heats of similar performance caliber athletes across age groups to compete directly with each other in race. However, at a “National Series Championship”, the individual age groups should be deep enough for racers not to get embarrassed by getting crushed as a grand master by someone 25 years younger.
The Elite Division competitors started in its own wave in Ray Hubbard Lake. Being grouped in with the Elite wave at the start of the race was going to make for a lonely race early on. If I ever regretted doing a state race, this was the one. To this day, not sure why officials slotted me in this wave. No doubt chose the wrong wave when checking in the day before the race. Or maybe the race director put all the age group “free” qualifiers in the “Elite” heat for a few sick laughs. Ugh! Came out of the brown colored lake water in what seemed like at least one time zone behind the led pack. Lots of space between us.
Sometime between the race start and swim finish the mist turned to a full on rain. I left one of my warm up jackets at T1 to use for the bike leg in hopes of staying warm on the bike. The bike course on the streets into Dallas were flat to rollers so not too difficult. But the standing puddles and wet pavement from the rain made turning on the bike treacherous. Potholes lurked hidden under the standing water so we got bumped around and intimidated by possible snake bite flats. However, the worse conditions were a result of the “rooster tails” coming up from a passing competitor where his back bike wheel spun away from contacting the wet pavement and sprayed upwards a seemingly continuous stream of water into my face until exiting the passing zone.
Beyond the pass was an on-going noise that sounded like Velcro separating: “Rrrriiiippppp”. I started hating the sound as much as disc wheels rumbling by me in other races. The Velcro ripping sound came from bike tires reluctantly giving up any water tension created from rain soaked roads. With each ripping of a triathlete passing me, my morale took another hit on how inferior my biking capabilities were against others. My offset was not to drop my morale so low as not to recover and build it back while trying to pass runner after runner on the next leg.
The rain stopped before entering the bike-to-run transition. T2 looked much different when coming back thru some three hours later. The place was now in daylight and loaded with bikes and wet running shoes scattered below race number assigned racking locations. Pushed my bike into the transition area in a different direction from where I exited in the darkness to grab the bus to race start and was confused where to rack my bike. Somehow the actual rows and sectors of rack locations no longer aligned with my mental map. Paused for a moment and rethought where I was now to where I should be in the transition area. Once re-set, started pushing my bike to the correct rendezvous spot.
The 10 kilometer run was a two–loop course. Many more spectators with lots of cheering from the crowds along the route here than either at the lake for the swim or along the streets during the bike section. The ease of visitors finding parking in the expansive parking lots encircling the arena encouraged more attendance than most other race venues. The rain had stopped falling too which brought out many people who stayed in the cars to keep dry.
Lots of standing water covered the run course so runners either splashed through them or did some unexpected weaving around them. Either way, the run leg offered a few more challenges than usually found on flat courses. The run leg also favored competitors who ran with a good sense of pace as no mile markers were placed on the course. The lead professional triathletes, who started before the age-groupers, were finishing up when I was circling around the American Airlines Center to go out to the start of my second lap. The professional field was filled with top headliners who specialized in the Olympic distance thanks to the large financial prize purses for both men and women and to the prestige of the event. The finish line was marked with a beautiful large arch of colored balloons filled with helium. Energizing music filled the air as did the announcing of the caffeine induced Master of Ceremonies. I enjoyed a great view of the finish line festivities as my run legs were still working out the bike leg stiffness.
Feeling bummed out from today’s race performance, took some time to reflect on a sport that I had some much passion about. In the last ten weeks, raced eight times. Maybe part of my tiredness was due to a heavy race schedule combined with traveling to them and traveling for work. Wondered whether a pending Ironman 70.3, four weeks out made sense to train for in the quickly cooling Midwest weather and my body slowly wearing down. Then started thinking about the pros who compete for a living. How they travel all over the US and world.
Deep down the pros were not much different than the age group triathletes. We enter races and participate wearing seal skin like wetsuits for our body flaws to be seen in front of a few thousand good triathletes and spectators. Next, we strip down to our skin-tight kits/uniforms for the bike and run. What we’re really doing is letting someone else look into our lives, our passion at this point of our life. We allow, maybe encourage, others to judge us in real time for our performance of speed, form, and looks. We leave behind a trail of our performance to the public who could read about our finishing times, our race splits, or see us in pictures on the web. We show off our sweaty wet bodies, messy hair, tattoos and our scars. We are flushed with heat, soaked in sweat, covered in road dirt, and speckled with a rainbow of sport drink colors. As we approach the race’s end, we gasp for air with are torsos heaving and our arms pumping. Some finishers start crying with successful completion. Others may cry with disappointment. We recover to smile while hugging our spouses, our kids, our competitors or our sigos. No one is taking our life in their hands but we sure are putting ourselves all out in the open for all present to see us in the raw emotions of celebrating life.
After this reflection and enjoying watching everyone finish beginning with the pros at the end of my first run lap until well over a couple of hours later. Once the race ended, I warmed down, grabbed my equipment, and headed back to the hotel for a quick shower. Then packed up the bike and headed to the airport for a 7th day of flying in 9 days. I arrived home just in time to re-pack and head back to O’Hare early the next morning for another day of flying. Glad this was a free weekend or I would have been exhausted and broke.
Results: 98th overall. 36th in Elite Age Group.