Dickson Endurance Triathlon: A Tale of 2 Races & 1 Flat Tire
I wish I had some water-proof mascara. LA
Because they are super-smart badasses, LA and MB recently traipsed, solo, with no “bike knowledgeable” support (read husbands or boyfriends or training spouses) to the Montgomery Bell State Park in Dickson, Tennessee, which is right outside of Nashville, for the unique distance Dickson Endurance Triathlon.
Run in conjunction with the standard distance Iron Nugget Sprint Triathlon by Endurance Sports Management, the DE is longer than an Olympic, but shorter than a half-iron distance with a 1 mile swim in Acorn Lake, a 38 mile bike, and a 9.3 mile run. This sounded like a terrific bridge to get LA out longer than an Olympic (which she’d done before) and get MB on track for her half-iron at the end of the month and early on the road to IM Louisville.
Keep in mind that this was also their last “taper” workout before the Horse Capital Marathon the next weekend. Yes. Marathon. The next weekend. Hey, it sounded good in January.
OK, well, we can’t actually start with the drive, because the adventures started in the driveway. We had borrowed a roof rack for MB’s mini cooper from her super supportive, and gear head, training spouse, who graciously put it on the car and showed her how to load the bikes a couple days before. Piece of cake.
We started with MB’s little yellow Felt bike (“Girly Power”). In the roasting hot sun, we struggled with the fork mount for what was at least 30 minutes. And at least 30 unanswered phone calls to training spouse, husband, and LA’s boyfriend. We get LA’s new-to-her red Felt bike (yet to be named) right up there on the other side. It appears someone has jerry-rigged the adjuster on that side to make it easier. Huh. Doesn’t much help with the other side. We are contemplating just drinking beer and ditching the trip. Finally, we reach training spouse and he tells us the “tricks” to mount the bike on the driver’s side. Viola! We are ON! And OFF!
Until about 10 miles later when we look up through the moon roof and see LA’s bike dancing all over the place. Stop 1. Side of the highway. Tightening the fork mount. Solid. For sure. Now.
Until about 10 miles later when as part of the now-compulsive looking up process we see MB’s bike dancing all over the place. Stop 2. Side of the highway. Tightening the fork mount. Solid. For sure. Now.
Meanwhile, training spouse is starting to get freaked out every time we call . . .
But the rest of the drive is uneventful and quick. Thank goodness.
Packet Pick-Up and Driving the Course.
After checking into the state park lodge, which is conveniently located right next to the swim start via a little bridge access-way, we head over to pick up our packets and do the suggested bike course drive since we were unfamiliar with the area. Meanwhile, we run into a couple of folks who have done the race before and kindly field all our random questions about wetsuits, bikes, gravel, and the course. But mostly about the bike course. We should have gotten a clue from the hill from the swim to the transaction area . . . you can’t even see the bottom from the top . . .
So, the bike course is described as, and I quote from the race website:
“The bike is a flat to rolling bike course that is perfect for athletes of all abilities.”
OK, it is so totally not. First, the nice guys had already told us it was hilly. It was technical. That there were really only 4-5 miles of each loop where you could “race” (Race?? Interesting terminology, we usually just want to survive the bike portion, but I digress). That there was one bad hill you had to ride 3 times. That you couldn’t really enjoy the downhills because they were curvy and you had to brake or risk taking the curve too fast, or worse, hitting a car. With that introduction, we were really ready to check this course out and see what in the hell we’d gotten ourselves into.
Yep. Those dudes were right. In LA’s words,
“This is just going to suck, let’s drink beer.”
Off to the State Park lodge dining room, where it was a bit of challenge to feed two vegetarians pre-race meals and where we consumed more beer than is normally recommended before an endurance event.
All expectations were out the window. Finish times were adjusted. Late, late, super late, checkouts were charmed and begged for from the front desk. Then the flat triathlete pictures (which are sort of hard by the way, there’s a lot of stuff and bikes are hard to make “flat”) to make Deborah happy for Instagram and bedtime.
OK, well again, we have to start before race day. At 2:30 in the morning, MB is awakened by the horrible clattering cycle on and off of the room air conditioner and manages to turn it off. The next morning, LA traipses out into the hall to search for ice and comes back in wondering why the room was so hot . . .
Air conditioner back on. We suit up (LA laments not having any waterproof mascara and we discover we both chose the same PRO Compression PC runner socks for the race), load up, and take the bikes through the elevators, down the stairs, across the bridge, and up the boat-ramp sized and slanted hill to the transition area.
We are out of breath just from walking our bikes up a hill. Seriously. This is going to be an interesting day.
So, MB hasn’t worn her deSoto wetsuit in like, oh six years, and decides she should practice in it since the water is cold enough to make the swim wetsuit legal. Apparently, she was smaller when she got said wetsuit because it’s a serious second-skin-elasta-girl type fit (or maybe time removed that memory?) requiring an assist from LA to get the top on.
LA had previously decided to brave the 68 degree water in just her tri suit. She’s from Florida you know. Apparently the water is cold there?
As the racers start gathering for the swim, we start to realize something else. NO ONE IS DOING THE ENDURANCE DISTANCE. Of the 200+ racers there, at least 150 were all doing the Sprint. And they start the Sprint first. Great. That left 50 or so in the long distance. Of that, well over 30 were guys. Yes. That left a very, very small group of 12-15 women in white swim caps nervously looking at each other, realizing that we start last, and further realizing that it is likely one of us will also finish last. Great. Fun.
Actually, with the bike course looming ahead of us like a giant buffalo, we considered just staying in the muddy lake all day. But, as these things go, we finally get to start after the sprinters are already coming in from their one swim loop and start off on our two laps of the half mile swim route. The lake is murky and has some super cold spots, but the swim was well policed by high school kids in kayaks who make great friends with LA as she navigates the course. MB is all business about the swim, being so aggressive with her buoy-to-buoy tangents that she has to do an in and out of catch a buoy she did not see on the middle of one side of the route.
Then the trek up that gosh-awful hill to the transition area.
With all the nervousness from the night before, we each set out separately for our biking adventures. At this point, we start having very different races. MB is following her coach’s directions — staying in the small chain ring, keeping her cadence up — and concentrating, very hard, on the road and not wrecking. She gets into a good position and after the first loop of the 2.5 loop course, starts to settle in at a pretty decent pace considering the hills. Then, between mile 21 and 22 the fact that triathlon is the one sport where equipment can ruin an entire race comes roaring in. The bike suddenly is skittish, hard to steer, slowing down.
Looking at the front tire, then the back. What? Seriously? Is the back tire FLAT? Yep, that would be flat. Yep, you are going to have to stop. NO way to pretend that sucker away.
Keep in mind that before this race the prospect of a flat was one of MB’s biggest fears. She has 650 tires on her little bike, and they are a bear to change. She’d had several lessons with her husband, training spouse, and Tom at Swim Bike Run, but never accomplished a change on her own. The hand strength just wasn’t there.
But, you know, you get off the bike, and you deal. Bikers start swishing by as you flip the bike over (dumping half your water and Gatorade out before you realize you forgot the water bottle was on the bike); take off the wheel; fish the tools out (yes, it would have been smarter to do that before flipping the bike over); talk to the super nice guy you’d been trading places with and tell him not to ruin his race and go on, you’ll figure it out; get the tire over the rim; pull out the offending tube; tell everyone going by you are OK; start getting covered in grass, dirt, and bike grease; unfold the new tube; struggle to inflate it a bit; nest it in the tire; and then start the hard part — getting that damn tire back over the rim. Those tires are not flexible, the rims are small, and that last 4-5 inches takes a combination of techniques from using hands and tire lever, to hands, to two tire levers, and then suddenly, the dang thing just pops on, like nothing doing. Bam. Done. Then you pull out and use one of the CO2 cartridges for the first time, repeating the mantra in your head that your husband said over and over — it is not hard to use, you can do it, just put the nozzle on, turn it to the right all the way, then to the left to inflate. NOT TOO MUCH. And you stare fascinated as something to do with science makes the inflater nozzle freeze, but miraculously, the tire is inflated. Now, covered in grease, dirt, and grass, you put the tire back on. Eat a GU, because why the hell not? Get back on, and GO. Frankly, doing that has made MB feel like wonder woman. That was harder than the hills. That was self sufficiency. That was conquering a fear and getting by it. Now, you just laugh when you hit those hills because you are grateful you even get to ride them!
Meanwhile, LA is trucking around the course, talking to the locals, trying to get used to her new bike, noticing the Prius police cars, the food drive bags on the mailboxes, and the catfish sign at the diner — things MB didn’t even notice!
When MB hits the final 4 miles within the park, she then discovers a nasty secret, the worst hill on the course is at mile 37. Some folks are having to walk it. Again, mad giggles at the ridiculousness of it all! But up and over, and FINALLY, something she knows how to do. Not fast. But knows how to do and what she can handle — running.
“The run is a challenging out and back course”
Why yes, yes it is. Remember that worst hill on the bike? Well, it’s on the run course too, also at the end. And none of the course is flat. At about mile 3 of the run, MB sights LA coming in from the bike course and starts madly shouting and gesturing to LA about the upcoming hill. “Big hill coming up. BIG.” The race director comments about LA’s super awesome rainbow sparkle skirt. We catch each other again about 1.5 miles in to the run for LA and 1.5 from the finish for MB. We talk about the hill, the tire, and oh, I guess we need to finish this thing . . .
Which we did. Both of us. Tired, wet (MB never has understood why you never dry off in a triathlon), and giddy from the craziness of it all. Time to rush in showers the front desk and cleaning staff so kindly let us take, load up the bikes (yes, securely this time), and head home.
LA is awesome. She did this race with very little training, a completely new bike, and a great attitude. Everyone knew her on the course and loved her and her Sparkle Athletic rainbow skirt!
The volunteers were awesome. From the swim course to the bike course to the water stops on the run, the volunteers were fantastic — giving LA “miracle pills” and only being slightly confused by MB’s requests for mixed drinks and cocktails (“ok, just one cup of Gatorade and one cup of water”).
Check out the course. I mean really check out the course. Before you register. Don’t go by the description, study an elevation map, if there is one. (MB thinks this one was hidden!)
Learn how to change a tire. You can do it. It will be hard. It will slow you down, but you can do it.
Unexpected things happen in races. Sometimes, they will prevent you from finishing. But losing time, or even not finishing, is not the end of the world.
A suggestion to the race director: It’s great to have this longer distance, and we know sprints are what let you have those distances because sprints are more popular. But, change up those start times. The longer race needed to start at daylight, at least an hour before the sprint. Racing with only 50 people is lonely, and even with a good time, you return to a transition area being taken down, all the plates taken by the sprinters, and no one at the finish. It’s disheartening.
And, of course, don’t forget the waterproof mascara! You gotta look good at that finish line!
What race have you done that was unexpected?
What fears or challenges have you conquered lately that made you feel powerful?