There’s enough bad and scary news right now. Here are two pieces of good news: one, a welcome return. Another, a silver lining in the face of tragedy.
Wildflower Triathlon, one of California’s most popular three-sport events, will be back in action in 2018. This year, race organizer Tri-California had to cancel the event because Lake San Antonio, the site of the swim, had basically dried up to a puddle. Over the past five years, the drought caused it to drop to seven percent capacity.
As the water receded, attendance levels also dropped. A race that usually attracts up to 7,000 people had dropped to 2,500 in 2015. The combination forced Tri-California to put the race on hiatus.
And then it rained. And rained and rained and rained. Up in the Sierras, is snowed. And snowed and snowed. Mountains of snow. California got so much rain and snow that most of the state is out of drought, and Lake San Antonio is up to 57 percent capacity. The race is on!
With so many races, especially in California, to compete with Wildflower, what does this mean for the sport? “I think Wildflower means there are still independent races and independent race directors,” Tri-California president and Wildflower founder Terry Davis told Slowtwitch.com. “The sport is not all corporate, not all Ironman. There is still life in the sport.”
The silver lining
On August 26, 2016, Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Karen McKeachie, a USA Triathlon Hall of Fame inductee and internationally recognized athlete, went out for a ride and never came back. She didn’t come back because Terry Lee Lacroix drove his Chevy Avalanche into the opposite lane to pass another vehicle and hit McKeachie head-on, barely missing her two riding partners.
Out of this tragedy, the community is working to accelerate construction of Washtenaw County’s Border-to-Border (B2) Trail. After McKeachie’s death, her family honored her legacy through a $1.1 million gift to the Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative (HWPI), a local nonprofit group dedicated to supporting the B2B expansion.
To accelerate construction, the McKeachie Family and HWPI have announced the Karen’s Trail Campaign, a public effort to raise at least another $1 million for trail construction. HWPI needs to raise $15 million in private funding to complete the B2B trail by 2021.
The Washtenaw County portion of the trail covers 35 miles along the Huron River. The larger vision includes a 55-mile trail that, when combined with the adjoining Lakelands State Trail, will be 70 miles long and will include a unique 44-mile loop trail that connects the towns of Dexter, Chelsea, Stockbridge, and Pinckney as well as two state recreational areas.
For the second year, Cary, North Carolina hosted the USAT Long Course National Championship on April 29. This was my first visit to Cary, located just outside of Raleigh, and my first long course national duathlon. That I won my age group had as much to do with luck as skill. Had I competed in this event last year, I would have finished eighth! But it’s not last year. It’s 2017, and I earned my first age group win in a national championship du. Woo Hoo!
The trip didn’t start well. I arrived ridiculously late—it was 1:30 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning by the time I arrived to my hotel, and around 2:30 a.m. when I flopped into bed. I slept fitfully for about five hours. As someone who deals with occasional insomnia, I value sleep! I don’t function well when I’m deprived of it. But I pressed on…
The first order of business (after coffee) on Friday morning was a short, easy run; ideally on the course, if I could figure it out. I happened to show up just as a guy on a fancy aero bike rode into the parking lot. “Do you know the run course?” I asked. He kinda did, but his friend Bert knew it better. They were planning to run it also as soon as Bert finished his ride. I asked to tag along and they politely agreed.
Little did I know I was running with the overall male winner, Albert “Bert” Harrison, and the masters men’s winner, Tom Woods. What luck! When I wasn’t falling behind, I learned they were from Idaho and Nebraska, respectively, and none of us had any recent experience with heat and humidity.
Post run, I headed to race sponsor Inside Out Sports in hopes they could fix my bike, which I thought got damaged en route. A cable came unplugged, which I learned was an easy fix. The mechanic went above and beyond: he fixed the cable, checked the derailleur hanger, assessed the shifting, and adjusted an aero bar that got knocked off kilter. The Magic Bullet was ready to go!
Race morning gave us more warm, sticky weather. It was 73 degrees and humid when I arrived at 5:40 a.m. I finished my two-mile warm up drenched. I put some ice in my sports bra (yowza!) and waited.
The race started in three waves: under-40 men, 40-plus men, and all women. The run course started on a bike path, wound around and through the Team USA Baseball Complex, through a parking lot, back on a bike path, out-and-back on Green Level Church Road, and back on the bike path to the start. The long course did this 2.5-mile sorta-out-and-back twice.
The course was relatively flat, with some gentle rises/false flats and one tiny hill of about, oh, five meters. Typically for this type of course, for this distance, I should have been able to click off 6:50 to seven-minute miles no problem. On race day, it was a problem. The heat? I finished the first run averaging about 7:20s.
I curse when I’m riding. Sometimes. Under my breath when cars do stupid things. My first four-letter word came at the bike mount, which was on a little hill. I was about to take off when suddenly a swarm of people came around from behind, tried to mount their bikes, and proceeded to weave and fall all over the ground. One woman fell right in front of me. That’s when swear word Number One came out. People, please! If you’re going to race your bike, learn how to ride your bike! And that includes learning how to clip in on a hill!
The bike course was relatively flat and fast, with about 1,100 feet of elevation gain over 31-ish miles. Athletes from flatter regions called it hilly. For someone used to the East Bay hills and Mt. Diablo, it was about as flat as you could get!
After the short course duathletes turned off around mile seven, the rest of us had lots of room to spread out. There were long stretches where I had no one behind me, and only one person visible in front of me—a spec of blue jersey far ahead. We rode by Jordan Lake, which is much bigger than I imagined, and along lots of quiet shaded roads. At one point I saw a turtle on the road. Bad sign? A symbol of my speed, for sure. When you ignore bike intervals for eight months and then do them only sporadically before your first big race, you don’t get the best results.
The second run repeated the first-run course, but this time, we had miles of fatigue in our legs and more heat—about 80 degrees. I saw lots of people walking. My pace, which was slower than the first run but still persistent, felt like a slog. I dumped water on my head and sipped what I could at the water stops. That little bitty hill became a beast! I told myself when I got around the final turn, I would pick it up to the finish. Okay, when I got to the first/last water stop I’d pick it up. Oh, well, just finish like you mean it. That I did.
A few days before the race, I saw there were very few women in my age group. I thought maybe, if I had a good day, I’d have a shot at the podium. I didn’t expect to finish first. Now I have a pretty medal, a cool national champion jersey, and had a $20 gift certificate to Inside Out Sports (spent that later in the afternoon).
All in all, I give Cary and FS Series a big thumbs up. The volunteers and staff were all super-friendly and supportive. The event had a local race feel (because it was), but with a big USA Triathlon arch and finish line chute to make it official.
There were a few glitches, such as one water stop running out of water, but glitches happen in just about every race. We had an abundance of finish line food—sandwiches, fruit, bagels, gummy bears, and Mountain Dew (Yep, I had one. Probably my first Mountain Dew in about 15 years!)—and lots of nice people. I met athletes from Nebraska, Idaho, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and, of course North Carolina.
I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of them in Bend, Oregon in June for the standard course nationals and in Penticton, BC, in August for the ITU World Championships. In the meantime, quality time on the bike!