Monday, July 16, 2012

Triathlon Spectating: an event unto itself...

It's time for the Racine 70.3 Half Ironman!  A day at the races, and it was a hot one!  I'm so grateful that I was just along for the ride, cheering friends on and enjoying a sunny summer day.  An opportunity to take a few pictures and enjoy the view.  I tagged along with friends Jilly and Beth, who are veteran Racine-racers.  Jilly has a closet full of race bling, including this light-catching medal from 1986! Yes, 1986, and she was on the podium, of course!
Racine on the Lake, 1986
It's an early day, as usual. Here are Jilly and friend Beth setting up their transition area at about 5AM.  Bikes were racked on the day prior.  All they need to do is set up their gear, lay out bike/run clothing and shoes, race number, helmet, nutrition if needed (water, gel food for ride, and anything else that they deem necessary).  This is a participant's opportunity to obsess over every tiny detail, as if they haven't done so already. It's also a great time to make sure that gearing is set properly on the bike, lest somebody jump onto a bike and attempt to ride up a hill out of transition in a difficult gear (witnessed numerous times coming out of transition).  
 And then it's sunrise time!  Racine's view over Lake Michigan on a summer morning is simply spectacular!  We sat and ate a light breakfast, chatted, got out some nervous energy and the pit crew focussed on trying to get a few good shots.
Beth's husband, Brad, had a much more impressive camera with which to photograph sunrise.
 We ran into my friend Bob Bell and his daughter, Sarah. Bob is another of the gang that I was eager to support today.  I wasn't surprised that Bob and Jilly were able to spark a conversation pretty quickly.
Bob & Jilly
 My pit crew services came in handy when I was able to spring for a coffee for Sarah & give a sip of mine to Bob.  You never know what these athletes are going to want once they've relinquished their wallets, phones, glasses and the like in order to get ready for a long day of triathlon-ing.  Nervous chatter and race planning, and then, we're off, hiking 1.2 miles up the sandy shore, because the course is a point-to-point race, necessitating that racers must walk a great distance to start line.  My friends thought that the half marathon should be shortened accordingly, but I think we all know the answer to "that" question.  Having achieved the status of an Ironman sanctioned event, this already popular event has ballooned in size in the past five or so years, as I understand.  Lucky for the athletes, there are wave starts, spread out over almost an hour, so the swim isn't too rough.  The water looked calm, but at least one companion complained that it's always too cold in Lake Michigan.  A problem answered not long after, as the temps of the ambient air rose throughout the day.
Listening to the cannon go off, to start our first racers.
 And so they're off!  Lots of fun and excitement in the air.  Me?  Enjoying the sun, before it becomes blistering-hot.  I hike back to the swim finish and prepare for my friends' water exits.  Here's one of my favorite racers of the day, Kris!!! This was her first half Iron and she trained like a superstar.  I knew she was primed for a great race.  Swimming comes easily to girlfriend, so here she is coming out of the water.
Thinking about what is ahead.

Check out the back on her!
 Here is friend Bob Bell, attempting to finish half iron at 74 years!!! A hero to many, I was eager to be a small part of his big day.  The weather was daunting, but he was energized and good to go.  His swim time gave him the assurance that he had a pretty good shot at finishing in the allotted time.
Bob must be moving so fast that I wasn't able to get his face in focus.
 After the swim I was able to jump on my cruiser bike and move around town easily.  Although too hot for racing, it was a great day for riding around, enjoying people and the race.  Downtown Racine has that incredible midwestern sadness of abandonment dabbled with spots of hopeful rejuvenation.  Lots of empty storefronts, like this grand deco store, Porter's, which I soon learned was a high end furniture company, back in the day.  Boarded up, we can only hope that the core of this truly beautiful city can sustain it's lovely architectural heritage.
Porter's Furniture Store
 Breakfast was awaiting me, at about the only open storefront, Robert's Roost, which is a bar/breakfast joint, packed with triathlon crowds and locals alike.  My new friend, Lance, is a working artist who has made his home in sleepy Racine for 30 years.  He told me all about Porter's, his foam core sculpture, and the gallery scene in Racine.
"Come back to Racine...we need more people like you."
 And it was time to haul back to our lovely race venue, jam-packed with triathletes and their posses.  I missed Jilly finishing on the bike (she's just too fast), but I saw Beth fly by with a bright red road rash on her shoulder (Beth is 56 and an absolute rock--I'm scared of her!).  Beth's husband shrugged when I acknowledged she must be tough, yeah, and a great viola teacher/player, also!!!  But I digress,  I waited around for Kris to pass on the bike, not meaning that she was far behind our veteran athletes, but she had started in a later wave.  When she turned the final corner, indicating that she was under three hours for the ride, I jumped on my own bike and hightailed it down to transition so I could cheer her on as she left the transition area.  Kris was out on the run route lickety-split and man was I proud of her!!!  Kris' run training has come a long way this year, and I've been watching her run past my house while I blog and pin and Facebook for about 7 months now!
Kris, we all love her effervescence and muscle!!!!
 Kris said she felt great and ran onward. She threw something at me, a pair of stinky sweaty cycling gloves.  I felt useful!!! It was truly wonderful to just show up and celebrate somebody else's race, also less nerve-racking!
Here, take these!!!
 So I positioned myself along the run course where I could begin to track a number of my friends.  This overlook can see mile 1, mile 5, mile 12, so a great place to be in order to get a sense of where people are/were.  Also a fabulous view of our wonderful Lake Michigan!
 I love meeting people, and it makes the blogging more fun.  A local man, a young guy, rode up on his bike and asked if anyone could watch his bike.  I said, "sure" as long as it wasn't for too long.  He jumps off his bike and heads down the giant staircase all the way to the beach.  He's going swimming, of course!!!
Hey...can you watch my bike?

There he is, in the water.
 I'm always kind of curious about the impact of thousands of triathletes and their gear and operations and families descending on little quiet beautiful places all over the world.  This was one of those moments of interfacing.  Usually, he could ride a lot closer, park his bike and get in.  He was doing his own triathlon, as far as I could tell.  Old school.

Alas. Back to my spectating work.. Here's Jilly, either about to finish or at mile 5.  I actually can't remember was a long day with a lot of athlete tracking.  Jilly's the one with the old-school bikini. Amazing.

Second back, knee surgery this spring, Jilly is hardly running these days.  Still whip-fast.  Rock star.
 Back and forth, back and forth.  I saw most of my people, plus a lot of other area athletes that I know.  It was a lot of fun, especially when I was sitting in the shade as they shuffled and ran past me.  Unbelievable, really, the whole thing to watch when I'm not doing it.  Am I ever going to do this distance again?  Looks hard. When I had assured myself that my people were finished safely, I skipped the finish line because as the day progressed I realized that I had lost track of Bob!  I went to the finish of the bike and tried to discern when and if he had come in.  Bob's daughter was running, herself, so I had to figure it out on my own.  I rode out to the mile 2.5/8 area and stayed put, knowing that if he was out there I'd find him sooner or later.  Jilly and I set a meet-up time for 2:30, in case I couldn't find him.  Lucky, Sarah wizzed by me with a smile on her face!!! I asked her if her father was out there and she said, "yes! he'll finish!"  And then it was all gravy.  Here's Bob starting his SECOND loop of the run course, at about mile 8.
"Did you get a good picture?"  I hope so!
 I jog alongside with Bob, and get a bit of a report that he feels good and I assure that I will be cheering him on as time progresses.  I race back to the finish line to meet friends and celebrate that we've located our hero.  Kris, Jilly, Beth, and many others have finished by now and it's tough to find them in a sea of triathletes unless there is an agreed upon meeting place.  I meet Jilly and crew. They look awesome and I buy them popsicle from the ice cream guy.  I feel needed, again!  I say goodbye to awesome friends, they need to drive home and recover.  I head back out, determined to support Bob, but to also enjoy Racine.  I was wowed by the collection of beautiful midcentury homes in Racine, many overlooking the lake.
A new friend in front of this gem told me both houses next door were for sale. "buy one! come to Racnine!"

View of the lighthouse and lake from my Racine midcentury dream home.
 When Bob was coming in with about a mile left to go, I told him that I was going to get some great pictures of him running in front of the houses that I love.  Bob is an architect, and has a terrific aesthetic.  What a man!
For sale.  Bob wasn't really interested in houses today.

Moving right along.

We're joking about something. What a true gentleman.  Kind, intelligent, fierce.
 And then I say goodbye again and race ahead to the finish line.  Here he comes, and the announcer wisely announces that at 74, Bob is the oldest finisher of the race up to that time of event. Running forth, fists up, smile emerges.  Awesome!
Bob Bell!



An Ironman!!!!!
 Big hugs afterwards, I said "hi" to a few of Bob's friends, and it was time for my own return to Oak Park.  As I neared my car the sun was dipping just a tiny bit behind buildings. Late afternoon, a beautiful time of day.  I get to the car, only to realize that all of my running and biking and jangling around had loosed the car key from my keychain.  No key to speak of.  So what do I do? I go to a bar, naturally.
I wondered why the joint was empty at 4.  AC and buck fifty beers?  My new friend said: "i don't think out of state athletes want to be drinking after their race"  yeah.  that's true, i agree.
 The Michigan's Pub, right across from where my car had been parked since 4:30 AM.  I ask the tender if I can hang out, charge my phone, and start making calls.  "Sure, and here's a water!"  I employ the assistance of Peter (he's driving up) after I realize that my roadside assistance can do me no help.  While I wait for Peter, I head back out into the world for one final fruitless search for my missing key.  It's the perfect time of day for  a ride, and I soak up the feel of late summer afternoon families at the beach, and the ever-beckoning lake.  I stop at the Oasis, which is the very spot that Jilly, Beth and I sat at about five this morning to gather our nerves.  This late in the day, there are lots of folks, a band, buckets of beer, and lively chatter.  I feel like dropping into the scene and hanging out, but after I check the lost and found, I'm back on my ride, north, all the way to the lighthouse.  I retrace the course of the run, and  again admire the neighborhoods.
The Oasis. Heart central of Racine Beachtime. Band, brew, brats.
 I'm especially tickled when I meet a guy in a golf cart who is picking up IM equipment.   He calls himself the race director of another major 70.3, and we get talking about the races and being middle aged in a sport of hopeful youthfulness.  We discuss the heat, and he shares a story about a racer asking for ice to cool oneself and this man insists that only enough ice is provided to cool the product that athletes will be ingesting.  That number, I learn, is 12,000 pounds of ice, in one day.  He tells me that the Mont Treblanc 70.3 is the new race to do, and I best get myself to Canada and do it soon.  I reply that I like my midwest races, and I'm racing in Door County this coming weekend.  He offers to buy me an ice cream off the truck, but I've already had a popsicle.  I decline, then am off, all the way to the lighthouse and back.  A spectacular sight at the end of the day, all detritus from Ironman mostly cleaned up, short of a few chalked signs on the road.
 Just at the edge of Racine it feels a bit like other parts of Wisconsin.  A bit rural, grass blowing in evening breeze, and some farm animals on a little plot of land.  Hard to believe I'm going to be sleeping in the big city this evening, but it's true, finally back home.  Peter arrived, I introduced him to my friend the bartender with warm goodbyes, we grabbed dinner, and drove the ninety minutes home, in our separate, bumper-sticker clad cars.  Another adventure concludes.  I'm satisfied, and ready for rest.


  1. Now I understand the "key story" - yikes! Peter is a saint to drive all the way up, just to turn right around again!! What a FUN day you had. Too bad I'm going to Tour De Fat next weekend - you make me wanna come up and spectate Door County (with an EXTRA set of keys hidden somewhere!). Have a GREAT race - it will be an awesome day!

    1. yes. when the first words out of pete's mouth were: I'll come up there, instead of "you idiot< why didn't you secure your keys.' i was so happy with who he is. And yes, next time it's a hideakey!!! TDF will be a blast! have fun in the big city!