This is my first non-podcast post in, well, I can’t remember when. My co-host John has been much better about keeping up with writing. For me, ever since the podcast began, I feel like I say it all on the show. That’s probably why John needs to write more. I won’t shut up. It’s like Penn and Teller on air, and Teller keeps a better blog.
Quick recap for those who just found this blog, or forgot that I actually used to write: this was to be the year of my first 140.6, at Mont-Tremblant. With a big move and job shift, this summer was not the time to do that. The Challenge Atlantic City race was going to be a warmup as I put together a relay team the day it went on sale. Until very recently I was still sure I’d be in for the bike. But training got lost, and I replaced myself. Three swimmers, two cyclists and one runner later, the team Doughboy and Friends took to the course, with me on the sidelines. But I still went down to volunteer, stalk Macca, meet cool people, and show the kids a good time. Meghan stayed home to pack some more, and tend to an emotionally needy dog. So vacation was all Daddy-pace, and the kids held up like rock stars.
The nuts and bolts of the race are discussed on the podcast with numerous guests with many perspectives. This blog is all about the experience of the triathlete tourist with kids.
First stop: Absecon Lighthouse. My old college friend Milt is the keeper. I recommend this to all Challenge finishers next year as a post-race climb on Monday. Extra Challenge. Like a Disney day-after-day race. It’s the third highest lighthouse in the US. AC PRO TIP #1: Climb this lighthouse.
Next stop: the EXPO. It did feel weird going to a big expo where everyone is asking me if I need to check in. “Nope, just volunteering and soaking in the scene.” I felt like a tri groupie. And honestly, for this weekend, I kind of was one. The next thing we did was wait to see Macca. I had promised my kids a long time ago that some time, we would find a way to meet him. We even collected Wheaties boxes and kept them in a closet. We’re hanging around on the comfy chairs at the Speed Concept booth, and a guy with a big camera bag asks Jack – “hey you like that picture? That’s mine!” This was the finish line photographer for the event who also shoots Kona, Larry Rosa.
Here’s the funny/embarrassing part. There were two pros signing autographs, giving out bags from the sponsor. The “other guy” is a major champion at Challenge Races. But Jack didn’t seem to be all that interested in anyone but Macca. To be fair, the athlete guide didn’t mention any other names. Next to one of the most colorful figures in the sport, most people are going to be relegated to “who’s the other guy?” status. But he was very gracious.
Now, this still is stolen from Macca’s site. One of his people took it, and it has been all over the web.
We got back in line at the end after everyone was through, and grabbed this family shot. You can also hear a special kind of “endorsement” from Macca on my podcast. Also, I accidentally stole the gold sharpie. I thought it was the one I brought. Felt I needed to admit this somewhere. (And Jack finally got that bag, so he could ask “the other guy” for a signature too.)
Our evening rolled on with a magic show. In the event that anyone reading is going to be in Atlantic City this summer with children, definitely go to the Comedy Stop at the Tropicana for the family-friendly 6:30 show: Joe Holiday’s Magic and Mayhem. Since we do magic and balloon performance, we’re aficonados of shows like this. The kids and I all got to be volunteers throughout the show. Not only is Joe a solid performer with strong local ties, he helped me out personally. I had left all my balloon stuff at home, but wanted to make a big hat for cheering. I came back to the Trop the next night where he had a hand pump and a huge bag of balloons waiting with enough reds and whites to do what I needed. Thanks Joe! AC PRO TIP #2: see this show with kids. Fun, clean, affordable.
Right after the show, we met three of the podcast listeners in the open area of the Tropicana Quarter to do some roundtable podcasting. It’s part of the huge episode we’re producing right now. I was so glad that Bryan, Dan and Joe reached out, because they are EXACTLY what our podcast is about, and the kind of people that I am glad to get to know in this scene.
Friday was supposed to be done, but unfortunately our night included a call to the Atlantic City police at 4 AM to break up the pile of 7 drunk 20ish idiots in the room next door. So the kids were getting many new experiences.
AC PRO TIP #3: affordable off-boardwalk motels are also affordable to morons.
Up early, only a couple hours after seeing the police, we drove up to Trump Plaza to park for $5 (and used the transfer when returning to the boardwalk later that day when everyone was paying $20 – AC PRO TIP #4: always get a parking transfer when you pay.) It’s time for the kids fun run. 2k on the boardwalk. The only people out on the boardwalk at this time are runners and bikers, and the first campers for the best floor spots at the Lady Gaga show.
I was secretly hoping that one of the pros would be at the race to give the kids something at the finish. We got better than that: Timothy O’Donnell led out the race and ran with the kids.
The free event had nice swag: a great t-shirt, a water bottle, a cowbell, and one of those shoe clamps that the main race folks got. Olivia was mad that there was no water at the finish, she does not drink Gatorade. But hey, little things.
Next stop: Cape May County Zoo.
This video says it all.
AC PRO TIP #5: Cape May County Zoo is a short drive, free, and has a great population of animals.
Back to the boardwalk to meet up with my team. I was getting anxious. Everyone was in traffic, and the packet pickup ended at 5pm.
AC PRO TIP #6: the Jersey shore is a popular place in the summer, especially weekends. Do NOT assume the GPS predictions will mean a thing. Leave 4 hours early.
Thankfully, we all got there and I could calm down. I wasn’t racing, but I had gone through so much to see this team happen. I had dragged friends into it, then backed out. The least I could do was be there to cheer. By the end, it was one person I knew, and two random dudes from Slowtwitch. But you couldn’t ask for two nicer random dudes.
Then, for some reason, this lady with an accent demanded to be photographed with my daughter. Anyone have any idea who this is?
After a pedicab ride with Ben and Jerrys, I met Joe Holiday for that package I mentioned, then we walked up the beach. We spent all of 30 minutes playing on the sand. This wasn’t really a “beach” trip as such. Exhausted, we went to the motel to chill for the night. Our next two nights were at the Knights Inn on the Black Horse Pike, just across from Bader Field. Everyone made faces when I told them this, like we were staying in the Lucky 7, renting by the hour. But it’s a chain, it’s in the middle of renovations, and unlike the Rodeway Oceanview, it was QUIET. And clean.
This is where location matters. We were yards away from the race start. We woke up and went over for the swim start. Saw the whole team again, watched the Navy SEAL parachute jump with the national anthem. If it was just me, I would have stayed to watch our team swimmer get out of the water, but the kids had already had long days, and they were about to have another one.
After a trip to IHOP and Wal-Mart, way up the Black Horse Pike, we return with sunscreen, a cooler with sandwich stuff, a new game to play, and a screen house. We rest a bit in the motel, and I set up the kids for the long day. I was scheduled for 11-5 at the Aquavelo Finish.
I got myself assigned to the front end of the chute, which is right where I belong. I can be loud and bossy, and I take charge. I go to check in and get my t-shirt, and they are gone. I’m a bit miffed, and I joked about it all day – WHERE’S MY SHIRT? The volunteer situation is something we will talk about on the podcast, and I have great confidence in it being resolved next year. Let’s just say that Challenge ended up laying out a bunch of cash at the last hour for local “volunteers” to make sure it was covered. I do it for free for my fellow racers. No worries. Just would like that shirt.
Before any AV racers came in, (half hour start after the pros, so some wiggle room here) I shot photos of some leaders coming in.
And of course, we saw our cereal box guy…..
OK kids,back in the tent, Daddy has to get to work.
The original setup for the end of the chute had this small sign hanging on the side. Not really visible from a distance. I suggested to a Team person that we cut it down, and I carry it out further and really direct. We did that, and I planted myself there for the duration. Vigo looked at it and said “that sign needs to be four times bigger.” Once I was in place, only a couple people went the wrong way, but if you can’t see the split at the turn, then the fat man with the sign (yelling to boot) and the giant AQUAVELO FINISH arch – that’s on you. What didn’t surprise me: it was the not-first-place-but ahead of the MOP guys that yelled at volunteers at the end after their own mistake. My theory is intact: true elites rarely act like jackwagons. It’s the almost-there’s that have all the pent up rage, and act out on others. See my column on Beginner Triathlete: Jan Brady Syndrome for more in depth analysis.
I had a blast standing in the sun with no bathroom break for the duration. Seriously, I did. I asked a couple different people to bring me a water or coke, I sent one person to tell the kids in the tent that I’d like to know they were alive, and then sent them back to get me a sandwich. But I got to see every bike finish, and direct the AV racers to their end point. I talked to several folks in the area, some of whom were other RDs or production people from NJ. The top guys putting this on are smart: and they brought in other capable, smart people to help. Even smarter. In triathlon, there are no competitors, just part of the tribe that we all want to succeed. (Unless you’re WTC trying to swallow everything up like the Borg.)
I talked to one guy in particular that said something really funny about doing course control for tris. I wish I had gotten his name. He said “once they put on the spandex, you gotta talk to them like they’re eight. ‘NO NO NO NO!!! THERE THERE THERE THERE!!!!!” He is so right. It’s why I didn’t want teenagers as course control in my 5k. They’re too timid. I need adults who will step in front of cars and wave flags, and yell loudly and point with both arms. Acting for stadiums, not coffeehouses.
I got to see my new friend and now podcast guest Bryan McCauley, come in from his relay leg in true “by any means necessary fashion.” Not only did he break a spoke a few miles from the finish, another racer plowed into him while he was walking it in, never apologized and went on her way. That would never happen in a trail run. I came up with a theory at the line while talking to a PA trail runner who I hope to see at Eastern states 100 – every group of people has jerks. It’s all about the ratios. Triathlon has wonderful wonderful people. But the ratio of decent person to jackwagon is higher there than in running, and especially trail running. Probably not as high as cycling though, so we got that going for us. Which is, you know, nice.
My friend Matt, also heard on the podcast, had a beastly time with the wind, and was nursing a knee injury, but he got off the bike feeling like he could do a marathon. He’s ready for Mont-Tremblant in August.
We packed up, and since I knew the sign wouldn’t be used again, I almost kept it as a hostage for my shirt, but one of the Jersey Girl team members was an AV finisher and was still around. I gave it to her. I have enough posters right now, and she earned it. I just held it.
Back to the motel to rest a bit, swim, and recharge for a night on the boardwalk.
We went directly to the World Cup of Sand Sculpting on the beach. Gallery here.
At the finish, there were laser light shows on Boardwalk Hall, cheering crowds, and even a proposal. Listen to the podcast for that story too. I happened to meet the happy couple the next morning. This is the benefit of being an extrovert who can walk up to someone in IHOP and say “hey, cool bike, I saw it yesterday.”
We made our way to the actual chute with our cowbells.
And this relay team was having a good time, Three Times the Charmers.
We were spent. The kids asked to go back, not really interested in the final seconds. They were champions all weekend, so we left. Of course, in doing so, we missed the finish of Fireman Rob. My only regret for the weekend.
So it is indeed possible to be a triathlon groupie/tourist/volunteer and drag kids around Atlantic City for a weekend and not feel like a total degenerate (except for two casino bathroom breaks that were unavoidable.) I am glad I wasn’t racing, I would have been too exhausted. This was almost like a dress rehearsal for the Dopey Challenge at Disney.
All the race analysis is in the podcast, by people who actually did it. It’s a long show, in several parts, but we talk to an AV finisher, a relay person, a multi-ironman finisher (including Kona) and some guys who really understand BOP racing and weight loss.
Will I be at Challenge Atlantic City 2015? Listen to the show to find out.