Saturday we visit the expo for the athlete briefing and take a preview of the run course on our bikes, discovering the first 8 miles, or so, will be pretty rough. Very little shade. At the briefing we are told they will have iced towels and plenty of ice to help cope with the heat. Thank you! After getting the bikes checked in and racked, and dropping transition bags, which were checked three more times to be safe, we hit the water to relax a bit. Anything to prepare for that 3am wake-up.
Race Day! I usually can't sleep the night before, but had no issue this time. Waking up, feeling great, we had breakfast and hit the road. The atmosphere, like last year was a little chaotic, with athletes and families scurrying all over looking for the morning clothes bag drop-off, taking photos, warming up and getting in line for the swim start. With the water still in the very low 70’s, there is no worry about not being able to wear wet suits. Swim start is conducted as a rolling start with everyone corralling themselves into time based groups. 1:00hr-1:10, 1:10-1:20, etc. I knew I would probably be in the 1:20-1:30 group, but wanted to push a little, so I hung toward the front of this group. From the time the pros enter the water, a clock starts, allowing 2hr:20min for everyone to complete the swim.
The small starting cannon is lit off to start the pro men. Five minutes later, again for the pro women. Mike Reilly walking through the age group athletes, amping everyone up, shaking hands and wishing us a good race. Ten minutes after the women we begin to enter the water by ones and twos; for the next 30 minutes, a continuous flow of around 1600 racers.
The water is gorgeous. Barely a ripple, aside from all of the flailing swimmers. The first ¾ mile was really smooth. Then my group catches all of the people that either thought they were much faster, or just wanted more time in the water. From here on, there were a lot of bodies knocking into each other, hands and elbows to the head; all accidental, but obnoxious. I know I'm swallowing a lot of water. Past the halfway point and the water is still beautiful. We round the final turn and head back to shore. The emcee is announcing names as we exit the water and I have to take a few seconds on the ramp to get my legs back under me while unzipping the wetsuit. The wetsuit peelers did a great job of getting everyone out of their suits and moving to T1. Grabbing my bag, throwing on my helmet and stopping to get a liberal dose of sunscreen, I start to feel sick knowing it's all the water I had swallowed.
The bike course rolls us through a loop of the parking lot and out onto the main road for about a mile before hitting the first U-turn. Continuing past the reservoir on 119 up to the next U-turn and back to a right turn down N. 63rd St and jogging over to Rt. 36. There aren't really any big climbs on this course. Long, grinding, gradual climbs are seemingly everywhere, but only total ~3800ft over the 112 miles. Neva Rd is the first and has you riding directly toward the flatirons. A beautiful sight and for me an uplifting distraction. Coming off onto Rt 36 is possibly one of the worst hills on the course, but again, not awful. Once on 36 we have to ride alongside traffic. A large portion of the side of the road is coned off for the race with traffic running along beside and is working well. There were two small stretches of construction that had the race lane slim down, barely large enough for two riders, bar to bar. There were apparently instances of people passing three wide in these areas and unfortunately caused at least one wreck.
Off of 36, we turned down Nelson Rd, eventually making our way back to 36 until turning down Hygiene Rd for U-turn #3. This was one hell of a fast descent. Since I was feeling gut punched still, I took full advantage of rolling 30mph for over a mile with little to no pedaling. With the mountains dead ahead, the climb back up to 36 was, again, not awful but challenging. Especially with the heat. Looking back at the data, my bike computer recorded a 109° high at some point in the ride.
Rounding the corner onto 75th St. would bring us back to 119 where we would head back toward the reservoir and the initial turn off. At this intersection there were no less than 5 volunteers yelling directions to the athletes, standing next to signs and tape on the road pointing which way to go. “This way to mile 56/start lap 2”, “this way to mile 70”. There were a lot of DQ’s even with all of this. Was it perfect? No. It's our responsibility to know the course, though. Don't get mad and yell at the volunteers!
Lap 2: Repeat.
Feeling better and able to drink and finally eat, but behind on both, I was able to pace a little better, until mile 91. Just after the final U-turn I had to stop for the 3rd time, this time thankfully in the shade. Pouring a bottle of water down my back, drinking another, eating more food and chatting with others who had stopped was a great way to ignore the heat for a few minutes. Replacing all of the bottles on my bike, I set off for the final 20 miles.
As we rolled back into the reservoir we were greeted by bike catchers, a huge crowd and my friend’s wife, all with words of encouragement. The guy that came in with me shouts “Anyone want to buy a bike?” Laughs...it's the little things.
After spending 15 minutes in transition still trying to settle my stomach, a group of us set off for the run. Volunteers are handing out iced towels which we all wrap around our necks or tuck in our hats. 11 minute miles are all I want! The first 4 miles were really rough and exposed but a brief reprieve in the shade for a hundred yards felt amazing. The next 4 miles were seemingly very exposed as well and at roughly 3pm, there is no sign of it cooling down. Even still, the atmosphere around the course is fantastic. We're all miserable in the heat but push each other to keep going. The volunteers are taking fantastic care of everyone. Three other athletes from Cleveland are in the race and we pass by with greetings, encouragement and high fives. Diana Woolfe is on the run course in her turnout gear to raise awareness for PTSD, with Natalie, also from Cleveland Tri Club as her support. Mad props to them for going the full distance! You guys are awesome!
Starting to walk and feeling terrible again at mile 11, I started to think about turning in my bib and calling it a day...but I'm basically half way through the run. Take it mile by mile. The spectators are all amazing, volunteers running all over taking care of people, checking on them and getting food or water. In the end, after wanting to quit a few more times and walking about 8 miles, coming down the finish chute is an unbeatable feeling. This race is over. What started as wanting to improve on last year turned into a stubborn desire to stumble across the line. Finding friends, getting food and sitting against a tree feels fantastic and I can’t wait to fall asleep. With a total time of 14:44:04, I can’t say I’m thrilled with my finishing time, but under the circumstances I am happy to have been able to cross the line.
To the volunteers who worked for days and months to coordinate and run this race, make sure everyone was safe and we all knew where we were going: I cannot thank you enough! We are all incredibly grateful that you are willing to give so much of your time for this event. To the spectators, thank you all for coming out to cheer on family and friends, or just to have an excuse to sit outside drinking! The signs and the spirit you all bring to the course is awesome! Thank you also, to the directors and volunteer chairs for all of your work to make this thing happen in the first place. And the athletes. Stepping up to that start line is no easy task. Congratulations to everyone that showed up and gave it everything they had. This was a brutal race and whether or not you made it to the finish, be proud of what you accomplished!