The Big One That Didn’t Get Away!
by Jeff P.
This was the big one for me – the Spirit of Racine Half Iron in Racine, WI. The adventure began on Friday with traveling up to Racine to register for not only my race but for Maxine, my spouse, who was competing in the women’s sprint on Saturday. We decided to go down to the beach of Lake Michigan to get in a short swim to get our feet wet. What an eye opener! We both had on our sleeve-less wet suits, but discovered what Lake Michigan swimming is all about. While the surface was relatively calm, the water temperature was a frigid 58 degrees! As soon as I would start to swim and put my face in the water, my breath was just sucked right out of my lungs – Oh my God! How can the swim possibly take place? Even triathletes don’t swim in waters this extreme – or do they? I could only hope and pray that some miraculous change in water temperature would take place over the next 36 hours. One thing I was grateful about – I did remember to bring my long sleeved wet suit.
The next day, Maxine had her Sprint race and found the conditions to be less than ideal – very cold water swim and rain throughout the bike ride and swim. All her stuff was completely soaked in transition. However, she gutted it out and finished her race and was generally pleased to have one of those stories to tell people of surviving extreme race conditions that we all have. Just like the rest of our stories, I am sure it will grow into one of gale force hurricanes during the swim, treacherous icy roads on the bike and Saharan sun and heat on the run – all in the same race! I was very proud of her, but I also feared the worse for the next day regarding my swim. Had it in my mind that I was going to have to walk the whole swim because of the cold temperatures. During transition set up that evening, I endured the constant reminders by the race emcee of the cold water temperatures. The emcee must of thought humor was the answer as he made comments like, “For those of you interested in the water conditions, the temperature is perfect…if you are a penguin or whale!” Thanks! On top of that, the winds had changed and was now blowing from the east causing good sized waves to crash onto the shore! Oh my God! Not only is the temperature going to be cold but I am also a left sided breather and the waves will be slamming into my face. Didn’t a lot of people die this way freezing to death in the waters after the Titanic sank? Oh well. At least they will have nice things to say about me at my memorial – maybe not having common sense, but he was a real nice guy…
The morning had arrived. Up and at it by 4:30am. I checked the weather – partly cloudy skies, 68 degrees, and mild winds from the west less than 5mph. Road in with Coach Greg and his wife who was dropping us off at the entrance. We had a little rain over night but my bike was sufficiently covered in plastic to protect the wheels, handlebars, seat and the chain. I finished the rest of my transition set and wandered around watching other set up there gear. It is always amazing to see people of all different shapes, sizes, and ages getting ready. There is no one prototypical look of triathletes. I think that is one of the reasons I started doing triathlons – it is an equal opportunity sport for any one willing to start. Finishing the race is another thing! Greg and I got our wet suits on and started heading to the beach under the constant barrage of reminders by the emcee of the now 55 degree water temperature and more penguin jokes. The beach was covered in fog which caused a delay of about an hour until the individual water buoys that guided us through the swim could be seen. This gave us the chance to get use to the water in preparation for the race. We waded into the water and made our way to the buoys which were brought in a little closer to shore due to the cold waters. The long sleeved wet suit was a blessing – I am so glad I brought it just in case. Surprisingly, the water wasn’t so bad! It actually felt warmer than it did on Friday when Maxine and I did our practice swim. I can do this! My nerves instantly calmed down. I was ready for this race. I spent the rest of the waiting time milling about and talking to fellow ET athletes and Coach Joe and Suzy who came up to offer their support – a big thanks to you both!
At long last, the race had started with the pros and elites leading the way. My wave was the second age group to take off. We all crashed into the water with arms flailing and feet kicking. There was about 150-200 of us going at it to establish position in the water and get into a steady stroke rhythm. The swim went well. I ran into a few people who were walking from the previous race and I was cruising well down the shore from buoy to buoy. Eventually, the cylindrical, yellow buoy appeared signifying the final turn to shore was in sight. As I rounded the buoy, someone was yelling at me. Looking up, I saw a race official who said I missed a buoy and I needed to go back. Arrrrgghh. Looking back, I could see the buoy I missed and took off swimming. Back out and back into shore. I gave up some time, but I still got the swim done in 29 minutes which is not too bad. Swim to bike transition was smooth – did a flying start with my shoes in the pedals. Forgot to have my shoe straps open which made for a little hiccup at the start of the ride. It was off to the countryside around Racine. The skies were partly cloudy with an occasional misting of rain. The course was pretty straightforward. It was a mixture of newly paved roads and typical bumpy, patched-up country roads. One of those country roads cause one of my water bottle to pop out of its cage. Fortunately, the race offered aide stations every 10-12 miles with new water bottles. Towards the end of the ride, I found my pace dropping a little as I started feeling a little cramping in my legs, but at long last, the transition appeared. I took a little time to get my feet dried off and into my socks and shoes as I wanted to be as comfortable as I could for the long run ahead. The last thing I wanted was sand on my feet or sock stitching under the balls of my feet. I saw my family for the first time as I exited the transition for the run. That was a big lift to my spirits – I needed that for the run was brutal. It wasn’t the course itself that made the run tough. It was the temperature – the midday sun was out heating up the humid air. I had two 6.5 mile loops to do. The beginning was a little challenging as I was still dealing with the cramping issues of the bike ride. Run pace was bouncing around 6:10 to 6:45 throughout the first loop, but the sun was really heating me up and I was sucking all the water I could at the mile aide stations. The race did offer its cruel moment as I approached the start of second loop. At that junction was a fork in the road – one way lead to the second loop while the other way led to the finish of the race. How badly I wanted to take that second way! But something compelled me to go left into the second loop. One more loop. Six and half miles to go. The sun was hotter and more people were walking. I kept telling myself that if I just make it to this next destination I would walk as well. When I got to that destination, I would convince my delirious mind that I can get to the next turn or next water station. It became a matter of breaking up the bigger challenge into smaller steps. My pace definitely dropped off to 8 minute miles, but I was determined not to stop running and before long, the fork in the road came again. This time I elatedly chose the road to the finish – I survived! I saw the ET gang and my family cheering me on – it was overwhelming. I had to put my arms in the air as I crossed the finish line. It was over!
It was a great sense of personal accomplishment to have done this race. I could have never imagined doing such a thing a few years ago. I owe a lot to Coach Joe and the ET gang for their support throughout all the lonely days of training and cheering me on through the race. I also am blessed to have a loving and supportive family who appreciated what I had to do to compete in this race. I can never thank them enough.
So now, I have another one of those great stories I can relive over the years. If any of you are interested in hearing about it again, give me a call some time. I would be happy to tell you about the time I swam in gale force hurricane weather, biked on icy roads and ran in the Saharan sun and heat – all in one race!
Enjoy photos from Racine 2008 at ET-Photo