For three years at least — since we started riding spin bikes one summer, or maybe even longer — The Yankee has toyed with the idea of competing in an aquabike event. This is a swim and bike, or a triathlon without the run, though purists would, I’m sure disagree with that as a oversimplification.
This summer has been the first time she’s been able to put it in her schedule. She’s on the master’s swim team at Auburn. Between doing laps and doing work she’s been riding her bike as well. And today there was a sprint triathlon — one in a series of six — in Georgia. They offered an aquabike component. And so we finally got to see it happen.
The race was at Indian Springs State Park which, like so much of Georgia, is in the middle of a rolling, rural countryside that features pine trees, pastureland and not much else. So we stayed last night in lovely Macon, and woke up and were on the road before sunrise. The race started at 8 a.m., which was great because everything wrapped up at 11 a.m., when the sun remembered it was June and turned ridiculous.
But we were, watching everyone get read as the golden rays filtered through the pines:
We’d registered yesterday, so that left only putting things in the transition area just so and getting numbers painted on your limbs and donning those fetching swim caps. They started the race, triathlete or no, on the basis of which cap color you had. Every group meant a different thing. The yellows were younger men. The green color caps, worn by older gentlemen, swam away three minutes later. Then came the purples, pinks and red for everyone else. The Yankee wore a red cap in the novice group, which pushed off 12 minutes after the yellows started the race. Perhaps this was the wrong category.
Getting her game face on. Or wondering how you’re supposed to be able to see in lake water.
Here’s the group’s start. They are swimming clockwise in a giant half-circle around five orange buoys. Those 600 meters look a lot different in open water than in the pool, I’d bet.
She got off to a good start in the swim, which is her stronger of the two events. She said she got off course at one point — which is precisely why I don’t swim in these things, my kick is so awful I’d go around in a circle — and had to correct. And then she started catching people in the groups in front of her, who swam away three minutes before she did.
On the other end of the manmade beach I settled in right where the competitors were coming out of the water. They swam the last 200 hundred meters into the rising sun, so very few people knew they’d arrived at the end.
I have a series of pictures of her coming out of the water, her red cap in contrast to the bulk of the pink-cap wearing group behind her. She’d put more than three minutes into a few dozen people in just the swim. (And later was displeased with how long she was in the water.)
In this race you stride out of the water and run maybe 30 yards across a narrow beach. And then you jog uphill:
This is on a sidewalk to the park’s lakehouse, where you turn right, run parallel another 50 or 60 feet to the beach, turn left and then have another incline to get into the area where your bike is waiting for you. It is a long run after a smart swim.
You put on your helmet and walk your bike out of the corral and to the “mount here” line. You climb on and immediately hit two rollers, a stop sign (that I imagine everyone ignored) and then a nice little windy exit to the park. You turn left and then climb hills for two miles. After that you’ve got a dozen miles of ground to cover, mostly rolling, but also some really nice flat distance.
I rode this yesterday and figured the early hills would hurt, but that she’d have a great ride the rest of the way. I was topping out in the low 30s on some of the flat stuff, and The Yankee’s bike is geared to give her a little more power on the flats than mine.
So I tried to stake out a good place just before the finish line back in the park, where shadows and light were playing tricks on the swiftly moving cyclists. The first guy back, by the way, completed the swim and the bike in less than 50 minutes. I assume he went on to have a masterfully impressive run and total sprint triathlon time as well. He was wearing an aero helmet, which seemed a bit excessive for the Georgia quasi-recreational race, but whatever made his head happy, I guess.
And, naturally, I found my spot and was largely alone for half an hour enjoying the morning and then the early returning cyclists all by myself. When my wife comes back through, working hard and looking good, this entire family walked right in front of my shot. So I have some fuzzy ones, thanks random family of ill-timed people. Now she’ll just have to do another race.
Which, after she’d stored her bike, tore off her helmet and did the final few yards of running across the finish line, she said she would do again.
That was about the third thing she said actually. First she asked for permission of the race volunteers to die. Fearing the paperwork, they said no. She did except their offer for a water, though. And then, later, she said it was a great race. Except for that first transition. And, when they posted times, she thought her swim could be better. But her ride was great. She did it today faster than I did it yesterday. We’ll just credit adrenaline for that.
She ate bagels and oranges and drank water and we tried to stay out of the sun while the rest of the field came in. She got cleaned up, we moved the car closer to the crowd and loaded our gear back in and on it. Just before the awards came through one of the last finishers. And just after they started handing out plaques and medals the last female racer, an older woman who finished strong, crossed the line. Not too far behind her came the last man, who was racing in the 75-79 division.
What did you do on your Saturday morning? Because that septuagenarian completed a sprint-triathlon. He swam 600 meters, biked 14.3 (I saw him come back in, looking serene and at ease) and then ran a 5K over a hilly course. Late 70s. How was your Saturday? Mine involved standing in the shade.
At the end of everything, when the official scores were tabulated through the magical powers of race software and the vagaries of USAT rules The Yankee was counted not as a novice, but as a third-place finisher in the women’s aquabike.
She was just two minutes out of first place. Her swim was four minutes slower than her pool time and we know nothing about transitions. So, yeah, we’re going to be competitive about this sport now.
More to come later.