to the winds and participated in the Menomonie, Wisconsin Tin Man Triathlon.
This race has been run 13 times; I think it's the first race to use the phrase
"tin man" to indicate a course that's roughly half the Ironman[tm] distance.
The short course is a 1/2-mile swim, a 30 mile bike and a 10K run. The long
or 'traditional' course is a 1-mile swim, a ~58 mile bike (advertised as 55
miles) and a 20K run.
The reason that this event has taken on some of the features of an obsession
for me is that its challenges are unique and compelling. The run and bike
segments are held on some extremely hilly roads; some of the grades exceed 15%.
The first year I did this race, I remember wondering with horror if the entire
course was like the first few miles of steeply inclined roller-coaster terrain.
Thank goodness, there was enough level ground to recover on, but some of the
course turned out to be worse! If that's not enough, the weather is usually
hot. This year, however, the weather demons held back the hot temperatures,
but instead treated us to high winds.
We dashed into the algae-infested waters of Lake Menomin at 9:00am sharp. The
swim course was set up like a baseball diamond; swim out to the 'home-plate
buoy, then go around the bases, except go clockwise, not counterclockwise.
With each buoy set about 220 yards apart, one lap made a 1/2 mile, two laps
made a mile. About 100 yards into the race, my goggles fogged up, but
fortunately there was a tether line running between the buoys. I simply used
the tether line like a lane marker in a swimming pool and I had no trouble
staying on course. What really give me trouble was the choppy water being
whipped up by the high winds. Despite that, my time was 25:13, only two
seconds slower than my previous best on that course.
I decided to wear full cycling regalia (bike shorts, jersey with back pockets,
little white socks) for the bike leg, although it's not easy getting that
stuff onto a wet body! Within 2-1/2 minutes, I was on my bike, letting more
impatient competitors go until the legs warmed up. About six miles into the
bike course is the _little_ town of Irvington. This is where the first big
climb is encountered; I don't know what the vertical gain is, but it's about
1.5-2 miles with an average grade of about 9-10%. I passed a lot of people
here, although one fellow was doing a good job keeping up despite having
problems with his derailleur.
As the course turned west, we were battered with a stiff head wind. I had
trouble maintaining anything close to a 18 mph average speed. The flip side
of this is that when we turned east, the wind pushed us to some rather gaudy
average speeds. Imagine going up a moderately steep hill at 95 rpm, pushing
a 53x14! The downhills were something else too; I simply pedalled up to
about 115 rpm and let the hill and the wind do the rest for me. The fellow
with the dysfunctional derailleur put some distance between him and me during
this stretch. When we came back to Irvington for the second loop, he was
dismounted at the foot of the hill struggling with his derailleur. I don't
know if he ever got it sorted out; I never saw him again.
I had to make a 'comfort stop' at a farmhouse about two hours into the bike
leg. This cost me about five minutes, but what's worse, I had to work hard
to catch all the people I'd passed in the previous two hours. Between the
wind and my hyperactive lower intestine, my time for the bike leg was the
slowest of the three years I've done the Tin Man. 3:13:25 for 58 miles was
not what I had in mind!
In events like these, a lot is settled on the final run. Running is my weak
sport; in past Tin Man events, I've run out of gas 1-1/2 miles from the finish
and wound up doing a lot of walking. Also, I usually expect the stronger
runners to get some 'payback' from me for my having passed them on the bike.
This race was no exception, but I was able to run strongly from beginning to
end, except for walking up the steeper hills.
The run turned out to be a parade of platitudes. Let me elaborate. I overtook
a fellow who looked to be in his twenties. He was walking from time to time,
occasionally stopping to stretch and sometimes wandering off the paved road.
As I went by, he ran with me briefly, wondering aloud, "Why do we do this to
ourselves?" I answered, "There's the $64,000 question." We ran on in silence
and then I said, "You know, this is supposed to be some kind of adventure for
the spirit, but it's drudgery for the body." For some reason he liked those
words. I didn't think it was all that profound or even positive, but it
helped him finish the race.
Later, I got a dose of my own medicine. I was walking up a particularly steep
hill. A fellow coming the other way got on my case, saying, "Don't walk, dig
deep into yourself and run this hill, you've got it, now go for it." My
thought was, why don't you mind your own business? :-) Walking the really
steep hills was in my game plan; I didn't want to fry my legs with so much
of the race ahead of me.
I reached the turnaround point in Irvington (the run course uses the first 10
km of the bike course, then returns) about one minute ahead of my goal time.
There was a water stop there and I walked as I drank down two cups of water.
The fellow I'd overtaken earlier saw me and exclaimed, "You can't walk, you
were my inspiration!" "Not to worry! This is part of the plan!" I replied.
As I set off running again, I could watch this young man and a woman I'd been
trying to overtake. As the race progressed they stayed about 150-200 yards
ahead of me but then disappeared from view about 2 miles from the finish.
About this time, I was overtaken by a man and a woman. We sparred a bit for
a mile, but they got a 25 yard lead on me on the last short but *** hill on
the course. The man continued to stretch his lead; I let him go because he
was a relay team member. I had a shot at overtaking the woman but I decided
to just finish; outsprinting a woman who'd run faster than me anyway didn't
seem gentlemanly after 5-1/2 hours of racing. At any rate, I missed my goal
time of 1:40 for 20 km by less than a minute, but I ran strongly through the
entire event which was a big improvement.
After the race, I took a quick dip in the lake to freshen up, put on clean
clothes and wolfed down a picnic lunch with my family. We watched as other
brave souls found their way to the finish line. As the last competitor was
approaching, I noticed that there was no one there to hand her water as there
had been for me. Despite my soreness, I rushed to the finish area, grabbed a
cup, filled it with water and handed it to the last finisher after she crossed
the line. Despite her time (~7:00:00), surely she deserved the same courtesy
that I had received.
In past years, it was a either a struggle just to get to the finish line, or
it was a struggle to function coherently after the race. For an event that
takes anywhere from 4:20:00 to 7:00:00 to run, it's probably impossible to
have 'the perfect race.' I seem to learn something every time I do this race;
maybe that's why I am so attracted to it.
"No I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should
they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." -- George Bush