The folks at 3Disciplines deserve thanks for putting on a well-organized, safe and interesting triathlon event in the Muncie, Indiana area. Communications in advance of the race were clear and helpful. Event registration was simple and quick, even with the temperature checks. Race instructions were informative rather than a self-aggrandizing announcer listening to himself talk. Everything came off really well.
It wasn’t the world’s largest event, but that was rather the point. It was quite simple to social distance the entire day. The venue of the park lent itself to a good overall vibe. While the lines for the indoor toilets got a bit hinchy, participants kept their masks on and kept their distance.
Into the water
The reservoir in Muncie is large enough to attract bald eagles and osprey. I saw both species of raptors soaring over the water as the athletes gathered to start the swim. I share that information to afford some perspective on the scope and scale of such an event.
The Half Ironman distance came first, then the Olympic. The Sprint followed later.
That’s a ton of organizing to accomplish, especially in the era of Covid-19. Despite the major hurdles overcome to put on the event, some apparently ungrateful jerk accosted one of the race organizers and said, “Well, you can tell this isn’t Ironman…”
What kind of idiot says things like that? In a year when the pandemic cancelled everything in sight, the Muncie crew collaborated with the Mayor and police and medical teams to set up the swim, protect the roads, and staff aid stations safely. Who cares how the Ironman people do it? It’s completely irrelevant.
I watched all this organization with admiration as we shuffled down the hill toward the water to hear race instructions and behin. It was a warm enough morning that we weren’t freezing and the reservoir water temperatures were 68 degrees at the start. Near perfect conditions.
There was a stiff breeze already blowing by the 9:30 start for the Olympic triathlon, the event I’d chosen to do. My wife was already out swimming the first leg of the Half. Our friends Kerry and Mike Behr were doing the Half and Olympic as well. She greeted me at the end of the line and we headed toward the first buoys with a bit of trepidation at the growing chop.
The law of the lake was to keep buoys to the left. I breathe to the right, so the trip toward the turnaround I faced the waves and took in a few accidental gulps of water. A year or so ago that would have freaked me out. these days I’ve learned to feel for the movement of the water and read the timing of the waves I swam fairly straight and hit the turnaround at 19:58.
That’s about what I expected. Despite the lack of swim practice this summer, I wasn’t tired. On the trip back I picked up the pace and returned in 16:00. The only thing difficult about the swim was keeping the mask on the whole time. I didn’t catch Covid, but there were a few dead minnows trapped in the elastic ties.
Crawling out of the water, I thought I hit the transition button yet learned upon getting on the bike that I’d actually missed. So my watch kept running as I trotted slowly uphill. Looking at the GPS track of my swim, I’ll take major credit for the relative direction and sighting. Damn, I’m pretty good! The trip out was tracking against the wind and waves. The way back was much more direct. Goddamn, I’m really good!
During transition a man at the rack behind me lay on the ground clutching his calf. He was clearly in pain, a situation made more uncomfortable by the fact that his wetsuit remained wrapped around his ankles. Asking the obvious, I called out: “Cramp?”
“Yes!” he replied. “I never get cramps.”
Most of us have been in a situation like that at one time or another. It’s easy \to get leg cramps during the swim. Sometimes they don’t show up until transition. After getting my own wetsuit removed by taking off the fat little timing chip band to roll the last bits around my ankles and feet, I stepped over to help the athlete curled up on the ground.
It took thirty seconds to finish getting his wetsuit off. His hands were gripped around his calf the entire time as I pulled firmly on the stubborn neoprene clinging to his calves. Finally the suit popped off his feet, but a grimace still covered his face. “Damn, this hurts…” he muttered.
Nothing I was doing in the race was important enough to ignore the needs of that guy curled up on the ground. I’d body-marked his arms and legs that morning. We’re all in this together in one way or another.
Walking my bike out of transition, I noticed that the watch still read Swim. “Dangit!” I thought to myself. Fortunately I’d peeked at the watch to know the real swim time, and that gave me confidence that I was on the way to a half-decent performance. Still, I needed to get out of transition mode. I hit the button and hit it again. Time to bike.
I have this problem with triathlon racing. A bad habit of sitting too far forward on the saddle in cycling. I don’t ride a true tri-bike yet. My Felt 4C road bike is outfitted with aero bars. But even when I raced my Specialized Venge road bike in Sprint events, that ugly cramping sensation happened during every race. It hampers me on the run quite a bit.
While it sounds like a simple problem to solve, it’s a subtle issue of bike position versus power. Add in windy conditions or bad roads, and the eagerness to keep up the pedal pressure gets away from me. Two weeks ago in Madison during the Half Ironman I paid particular attention to the propensity and kept shifting my weight backwards. For sure, the fit probably isn’t perfect on a road bike for tri-biking. But we make do during our transitions through the sport.
The biking was no horrible, but not that great. All I wanted to do was get through without cramping my ass so tight I could not run.
Novice to expert
Essentially I’m still a novice in this sport myself. This summer I did my first-ever Olympic distance triathlons and my first-ever Half Ironman. That first Olympic in Springfield was a slow and painful effort after the bike. My hamstrings cramped in the ninety degree heat and the 10K took forever. This race in Muncie was a much-improved 3:06, a time that placed me third in the 60+ Age Group behind a speedster named Christopher Niquette who raced a 2:31 Olympic to finish 8th overall behind the winner Brad Radowski in 2:15. In many ways the sport of triathlon is an ageless endeavor.
I finished third in my age group, 53 seconds behind the guy in second. Perhaps if I hadn’t stopped to help the guy with cramps I’d have finished second. But what would that have mattered? Isn’t it better knowing that the universe is an incrementally better place because you helped get a wetsuit off so a guy with cramp could get back to business? I think so. How about you?
A community on the go
We all start somewhere in this sport, usually by taking up one of the three disciplines, then adding others as we go along. After my race, I chatted with a middle-aged woman that had introduced her long-term fiance (they are going on nine years of engagement–– it works for them, she told me…) to running. He moved quickly from doing 5Ks to running 26.2 marathons, then added on the cycling and swimming. Now he’s a multiple-time Ironman.
That made me think about my own incremental entry into the sport. First I did duathlons because swimming was not yet in my repertoire. Going back to 2003, I took swim lessons expecting to start doing triathlons, then tore my ACL playing indoor soccer. It would be ten years before I’d get back to the idea of doing multisport events.
After a year of duathlons, I managed a couple Sprint triathlons. In those early days, swimming the 400-600 meter open water distance was a real test of courage. We all have our own share of starting blocks and stumbling blocks. Increasingly, I talk to people who no longer like to cycle on public roads for fear of being killed. This year, people struggled to find places to swim given the Coronavirus restrictions on health clubs and public beaches. Even training on running paths had a cringe factor as people struggled to understand the risks of airborne disease particles. This has been a strange year. But even in this odd atmosphere, we still need to find ways to improve.
Somehow over the past year I’ve improved my swim times immensely, can always manage on the bike, but it’s the running that I still (and always will) truly enjoy. That, and doing these events with the woman that I love. We’ve shared a ton in the eight years we’ve been together. Time flies when you’re having fun.
The run course
The last six months I’ve been running negative splits on most of my runs. That delivers a sense of freedom, which means that I had a sense of confidence trotting out onto the run segment.
I was pleased to find out that the run course involved a ton of trail running. The surface was a mixed path of compacted dirt and rough gravel. After an opening 8:30 mile with a bit of a side stitch from trying hydrating well into the bike, I smoothed into a solid stride and started to roll. I was free and feeling good. Honestly I was in Runner Heaven, like I was back in high school and college cross country. So I started passing people.
The course wound through the woods and emerged on the road to a distance turnaround at 3.5 miles. At that moment I was like “Whoa, how’s this going to work?”
Was the course straighter on the way back? It wasn’t. My Garmin showed a total distance of 6.5 mile for the finish of the run course. Some folks were disappointed by that, but I didn’t care. I was honestly cooked at the 6.2 mile point but hung in there till the end. It was a blast. I’ll break 3:00 next year for sure. This course was tough, especially with the windy conditions. The hills were challenging too, but they made the whole race interesting rather than some merciless slog through some God-forsaken industrial complex or burnt out public park.
Not everyone was a fan, including my wife. She was sore as heck coming off the run course, but still won her age group for the Half-Ironman. Her swim was solid and so was her bike. The gravel trail was not her favorite part of the race.
For me, the really tough part was wearing a mask during the swim. (Okay, I’m kidding about that part.) Thanks to 3Disciplines we all got a chance to play outside. For that, I was grateful as heck.