Well, it had to happen sometime, I suppose. My triathlon record is now 6/7.
USA Triathlon Competitive Rules, Article V
5.3 Knowledge of Course. The sole responsibility of knowing and following the prescribed cycling course rests with each participant. No adjustments in times or results shall be made for participants who fail to follow the proper course for any reason whatsoever.
The error came at mile nine. It didn’t seem right to be on route 44, but instead of turning around, I just turned left and hoped I was in the right place. I was so far behind other cyclists, that I had lost sight of anyone else a couple miles back anyway. There were a few behind me, but not many.
I had studied the map enough to know that I should be going uphill at mile 10, but not enough to know for sure that Route 44 was definitely off. So, I went through White Hall, and just over a tiny hill, I realized I was off, but I saw flashing lights ahead, meaning support vehicles. For half a second I thought I was in the right place. Then I saw cyclists crossing the road. Uh oh. They were coming from the left, on a road I had apparently missed. The big hill, the major point in the challenge.
It looked like I was trying to skip the hard part. I had no idea how far back I missed a turn, so going back to retrace didn’t even occur to me. Instead, I turned left, and went reverse on the course, passing tons of people coming the other way. Many of them looked at me confused. GOT LOST. or WRONG TURN. I’d say.
I realized my race was probably going to be over at this point, and I could have just turned around and followed everyone back to the lake to DQ myself. The amount of miles missed, coupled with my slow pace, made getting on track right and finishing properly, nearly impossible. But there was a wrinkle. I had to get up that hill. Not because today was a do or die battle. I had doubts about getting up the hill without walking as it was. No, I had to get to the top of that hill because my parents were up there waiting to cheer me on, and if I didn’t show up soon, they’d be pretty worried. I decided that if I went up the other side, so be it, I’d meet up with them, and I’d be done.
And that’s basically what happened. As the climb started, I made it a decent distance, but the time came to walk. And walk. And walk some more. The last people I remember seeing in front of me came by downhill, then a few that had been behind me, and I thought there couldn’t possibly be anyone left on the course. I slowed down as I got to the top, even walking the hill in bike shoes was a challenge at this point.
As I got to the very top, I saw the aid station and a couple leftover musicians in a car, and no sign of Mom or Dad. I pushed over the crest, and there was another intersection ahead. There they were, with a couple course volunteers looking down the steep offroad hill I was supposed to be coming up. I swept in behind them, all “surprise!” and explained what happened to two confused race watchers that were there for an hour and a half.
The sweeper van was just coming up over the hill, following the last biker. There was not time for me to do the course right, with the sweeper coming by. I was definitely done.
We put the bike in the vehicle, and Dad drove down the road I was SUPPOSED to come up. Well I can say, there is no way I would have made it up there without walking. Most people don’t. Even many experienced roadie guys walk the end if for no other reason than the skinny tires do poorly in the mud. And it was definitely muddy.
The wind was really picking up at this point. A huge tree branch was over the road, cracked into pieces. I think it had just happened, because there was nowhere for bikes to go around or over it. I couldn’t imagine if it had hit someone riding by. We got out and cleared the road, and continued back to the Preserve.
By the time we got to the lake, the wind was even worse. As Dad pulled up to drop me off, I saw that the giant inflatable finish arch was already down, not for time, but weather. I was greeted by my friend Jen Hipps who was there to cheer on some others, and went right to the timing official to turn in my chip and DQ myself for the course violation.
About this time, the race officials were really concerned about the high winds. They pulled the last two kayaks off the lake that had just gone out, and said anyone else coming in from the bike course wouldn’t be allowed out on the water. They’d just do the run. I don’t know how they adjusted that in the results, but it was extremely windy. I heard that a couple of people capsized. There seemed to be plenty of boat support, so I think everyone was ok, but it was sketchy.
I realized that even if I had gotten the course right, I’d probably be one of those coming in after the no-more-boats decision. It’s clear that 2011 wasn’t going to be my year for the Chilli Challenge.
But I never got frustrated or upset, I had a good laugh about it. I was just happy to be part of a really cool event, no matter how actually cool and cold, and windy, and wet. I’m more focused on Clearwater right now, and though I struggled with a 19 mile course, I have no doubt that 25 of dead flat Clearwater is going to be a breeze. (Though the difficulty of wind on that course could make me regret that choice of words.)
I’ll definitely be back next year. How do you NOT do a race where there’s a bagpiper playing pre-race?
And I met some awesome people, as I always do at triathlons. This one may be close to home, but it’s beyond “local” race. Allentown and Philadelphia area people were there, as well as some out of state license plates. I even talked to a team of people who had members from as far away as San Diego. They came together to raise money for diabetes causes. Over $4000 was raised. They go by the Diabeasties. I took their group picture for them, and got one of my own.
By the time I was packing up to go, the wind was insane. I was worried that my bike or kayak would blow off the car. I made it home, and was able to dedicate the rest of the day to getting rested and ready for tomorrow, Meg’s half-marathon.