Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Choices made (a race report of a different kind)

Here I am, straddling my Planet X Stealth in a church parking lot in Kingston TN, holding a fellow racers Cervelo P2, waiting for the first responders / police to arrive. There's a bit of blood, and a lot of road rash, none of which is mine. In the road, an older pickup truck with a trailer and lawnmower stopped with it's emergency flasher lights on. Other racers are trying to dodge this cluster***k and traffic is backed up beyond transition. It is here, less than a quarter mile from transition, that my race at the "Smokin' the Water" triathlon ends... so how did I get here?

Part 1: No rest for the wicked

I start the night before race day as usual... with restless sleep. I'm not sure what the problem has been... I'm not going to bed overly early (for me) and I am not really anxious about racing... I just can't get my mind to stop wandering. Eventually I turn on "The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia" (quite the family) and fall into a non-refreshing sleep that I've come to expect. 3:30a.m. rolls around and I begin the real prep... breakfast, shower, other essentials and getting everything loaded into the car. The bike course for this race is one of the flattest in the area, I'm expecting a really good race. It is however an open water swim... which, if you're a regular reader, you will remember didn't turn out so well for me in Panama City. One bad day does not spell a pattern, but still, in the back of my mind there was that little question "do you still have it?" Well, we're going to find out.

I make the longish drive to Kingston (about an hour) and get a good spot in transition. I see Josh and his dad and we kill some time waiting to get our caps / chips. Josh has been swimming better than I have this year so it's my (loose) plan to stay on his heels for this swim. I run into Joe back in transition who has been having a rough season after being injured last year... he says he's feeling good (unfortunately I think he ended up pulling out :/ which is a bummer, he's a stud when he's healthy) and I take off onto the bike course to scout (hadn't seen it prior) the area. A little before halfway there are some pretty nasty train tracks that have to be crossed... I expected a mat to be put down over them, but I'm told that one never was. Very lucky there weren't a lot of crashes there... I had a hard time even bunny hopping them. The family arrives and I deposit my keys and tell my mom that my only real goal is to feel good coming out of the swim. I get my swimskin on and hop in the shockingly cold water. (I guess I'm just a wuss when it comes to OWS temps) I play around a bit and another racer tells me the ramp at the exit is very sharp concrete before the mat, that he had cut his foot just getting in. Great... Oh well, too late to worry about it now. I find Josh and hang a bit behind him and we shiver waiting for the start.

Just don't think of it as an icy, cold embrace waiting to drag you into the murky depths... crap...

Man I'm cold... let's do this!

Part 2: Waterworld and First Blood

You can see me... I'm the one in the green cap thrashing around heading toward that floating thing!
At the start I always expect some serious contact. Somehow I avoid almost all of it today. I stay on Josh's feet for the first minute or so, then lose him in a group. The rest of the swim (it's a rectangle out and back) is uneventful for me. I feel fine the entire time, hop some feet when I find them, and break out on my own when I need to adjust pace/sighting. I'm back to the inlet faster than I had hoped for and start dragging the bottom with my hand. I stand up and try to take a step forward and "OUCH" cut the front of my big toe wide open on a jagged part of the ramp. I fall (unceremoniously) back to a "hands and knees" position and crawl my way onto the mat. Sweet. I'm not totally sure what my swim time was (no splits sadly) but as I made my way up the run to transition, I could see that I was out of the water likely in the second "group" of guys. Josh was about 5-10" ahead of me, which was about what I was figuring, so I think it was a good swim for me. And hey, made it fine, so I didn't just forget how to OWS like I had feared :)

Toe bleeding, slippery mat and some seriously sweet tan lines. Just a day in the life

Part 3: And now we've crested the hill of good things...

It's swimskin off, sunglasses on, helmet on, grab the bike and out the gate. Wait... my helmet isn't secured... doh, must have not got it snapped. No... it's hooked, but one side isn't secure... what?
My chin strap actually ripped! I quickly re-rack my bike and take off my helmet, trying to figure out what the best course of action is. I obviously can't go out with an unsecure helmet. Frustration is quickly building... finally I get a safety pin from my mom and pin the straps together. (Probably not a great idea looking back) Of course this is after I've wasted 2-3 minutes standing in transition looking like an idiot. I'm obviously bummed out that I've blown my shot at an Overall finish, but I think I still have a chance at being on the AG podium with the bike course being as flat as it is. I get out of transition and onto the main highway, ready to burn rubber.

The downward spiral begins. Me confused as to why my helmet isn't secured...

Part 4: The Dangerous Race

Right outside of transition you are dumped on a main artery of the highways in Kingston. I understand that last year at this race one lane was closed to traffic. That was not the case this year. I immediately notice... this road is BUSY. I know it'll clear out once we're out of town but on a two lane highway, it's a bit nerve wracking. I get in my shoes and start making the first climb out of the city when I'm passed by a pickup truck hauling a lawnmower and trailer. I feel the wind hit me as he blows by me and I think to myself "that was close."

About 2 car lengths in front of me are two other riders. The guy in front is going slower than the guy behind him, and so the fellow behind him moves to pass. I can see the danger from behind but can't get a yell out before the truck that just passed me moves to pass them. The truck itself makes it, but the trailer (being wider) smashes into the rider making a pass. He's thrown into the other rider and I'm forced to lock down my brakes and swerve into a church parking lot. (Thank you emergency braking practice) The truck stops (in the middle of the road) and I start trying to see if everyone is "ok." The guy that took the hit is pretty road rashed up and has a couple of bleeding spots (hit his chainring I think) but is obviously more angry (oh adrenaline) than anything it seems. The other guy seems fine but is bummed his race is over. He thinks his chain is broken.  After I see that nobody is in immediate danger I ask the driver to move his truck out of the road (as other racers are still coming, now in a steady stream... and traffic is backing up) to which he tells me he isn't moving until the police arrive. Ok... thanks. We get rider #2 up and I see that his chain is just off the chainring. I pull it back on he decides to go on and finish his race. I decide to wait with the other rider since I'm not totally comfortable leaving two upset parties in close proximity and since I'm a bit worried he is hurt but just has a ton of adrenaline running. The driver has called 911 and so we get a police car and first responder (fire dept) pretty quick. Finally the truck moves out of the road and traffic starts moving again. The police get a statement from driver / rider and I offer to give what I saw if they need it. They seemingly do not. At this point there are people well more qualified for this than me, so I figure I should go back to transition and let the RD / spectators know that everyone is going to be ok. I spend the rest of the race spectating and cheering on the others hanging out with one of my buddies from the LBS who was watching his wife compete.  Josh finished 3rd overall, and in a testament to his character, he had seen and asked my mom if I was alright while he was still on the run. Hell, I usually can't form sentences when I'm running :)

In the end, other than some scrapes and bruises, everyone turned out to be fine. I don't believe (although I'm not 100% sure) the driver even received a citation... despite passing over a double yellow line around a blind turn. (Seems like in TN we don't really believe in sharing the road.) I turned my chip in with a(nother) DNF for the year. I could have continued on after the police arrived, but I think that would have been fairly silly overall. Putting a really fast biker behind the latter half of he pack of racers is not a terribly good (safe) idea in my opinion (especially considering passing people didn't turn out too well earlier)... and I can (and did) run when I get home.

So, currently I'm 50/50 in finishing triathlons this year. It's a bit of a bitter taste since this course was pretty generously favoring to me, but I still believe I made the right choices. Stopping and helping (even if the best help I offered was really just holding a bike and putting a chain back on the rings) was the right thing to do. And hey... I had a good swim and regained my confidence for open water (just not salt water...) so the race was a success in that regard.  Hopefully Race Day Events will look into fixing some of the safety issues before we return to Kingston later in the year for the Storm the Fort Olympic. (a longer version of the course)

Also, this seemed like an ironic race report after last weeks post... so let me say it again...


As always, thanks so much for taking the time to check out the blog.

- Christopher Morelock

1 comment:

  1. You did the right thing. People first, always! That traffic situation sounds horrific! In your situation I would have taken the DNF as well, I'm past the point of "just finishing" for sprints and olympics and it seems you are too. At least you got some decent OWS practice in. If you want some salt water OWS experience and can afford the trip, we have a 3-race series in Jacksonville I am doing this year, a 2 hour drive for me. Only a 440 yard swim and too warm for wetsuits.