Tri the Midlands – Lake Carolina – Columbia, SC – 6/23/12

Tri the Midlands is a part of Set Up Events SC triathlon series held in Lake Carolina, a planned community in Northeast Columbia. Its a sprint tri, with a 500 meter open water swim, 14 mile bike and 5k run.

Tri the Midlands is what I consider my first triathlon. Yes, there was an event where I attempted to do three sports in March (aka the Downtown triathlon) , where I learned the painful lesson that one does not do a tri on a whim. Especially if your swimming experience amounts to playing around in the pool.  Although that event was also a sprint tri, with the amount of energy I put into 500 meters of pool swimming, it might as well have been Kona. I have never been so tired in my life.

With that experience behind me, I was, needless to say, a little gun shy on signing up for another one.  After a few months, I made tentative plans to do the Tom Hoskins tri in late July, but then I heard Trophy , Diesel  and Charley were signed up for Tri the Midlands.  My original plan was to watch TTM and take pics, but after a month of training for Tom Hoskins, I decided to take the plunge with the guys and do this one.

One of my main concerns was the OPEN WATER. My technique of swimming the deep end of the pool and “swim walking” the shallow at Downtown was probably not going to cut it in this one. So I got in the pool. Repeatedly. Like almost every freaking day. Basically if I had a free moment I was thinking about ways to get a few laps in. I also read articles, and listened to whatever advice anyone would give me about swimming. If you think this is going to end triumphantly, dont. I still sucked. Lots of flopping around, gasping. Fighting the old ladies for space with their damn pool aerobics. However, I did get better. Not Michael Phelps better, but I progressed to where I could do 500, then 800, even 1000 meters without stopping. I figured training overdistance would help me finish and at least allay my crippling anxiety about drowning in the freaking lake. The word “overdistance” would definitely come into play later.

And then there was the bike, which I basically kind of neglected. The good thing about the bike is that you dont actually lose your life if you suck. I bought a road bike from Anton “Bodourov Method” Bodourov and trained enough to at least assure me I could handle the 14 miles. Trophy, Diesel , Charley and I did the course a couple times in the weeks leading up to the race. I was no champ on the bike but at least I could get through fast enough to give me a hope of some running glory.

I got to Lake Carolina about 6:45 after going over my gear about a million times, desperately afraid I would forget something. I laid everything out the day before but I’m the kind of moron that would bring everything except the bike. I actually had a fear on the way over that somehow I had left my front tire at home. Met Trophy, Diesel and Charley at the transition area and tried to set things up in a coordinated manner. From downtown, I remembered they put all the novices together, so everything was a little bit of a cluster on our rack. Luckily we had tri advisors the Howells and Schmitzes to combat our complete cluelessness.  Jen Hill, Teo , and Aubrey were some familiar faces from the running scene on hand. We went down to the water and saw the course. A little scary but not too bad. Diesel looked like he saw a ghost though. .

As mentioned, I signed up in the novice male category. Tris go out of their way to categorize everybody, so there were like 4 waves of people ahead of us.  Diesel had gone rogue at the last second and decided to go the “Clydesdale”  (200+ lbs) route, so he actually started ahead of us. We were all a little nervous, so we were glad we got to see Diesel go off first.  I guess the race got confused with Diesel switching,because they gave him a white swim cap, which I think was for the Athena (160+lb women) group. But this would not be his greatest shame of the day.  About 100 meters in, we saw signs of distress. Diesel was all over the place and had already retreated to the backstroke.  And all of a sudden ..the tapout. Rescue boat came over and picked him up. Under normal circumstances we would have found this extremely funny, but there was a stunned silence on the bank because all the green caps were thinking THAT COULD BE ME. 


There were 17 novice males, but I still lined up front, not because I thought I was a stellar swimmer,but to avoid all the kicking and elbowing I heard goes on in the open water. And I started killing it. Pretty soon there wasnt even anyone around me. Wow, I must be really kicking some ass.  Looked up, saw the buoy, and I was already making good time. Then I smell gasoline and with a quick look up I see the motorboat, Diesel still aboard, and the captain motioning me to my left. I look left and I about have a stroke.  In all the hysteria of the start, I had somehow started sighting to buoy NUMBER TWO.  And not only was I off course but, WAY THE #$$% off course. Like 50-100 meters. I was actually closer to the people coming back than my own pack, which was now seemingly way off in the distance. Too add to my overall panic, the boat had managed to slap a half pint of gasoline water into my nose and I was treading water for a second trying to figure out what to do. I was dangerously close to being casualty number 2 when I just abandoned my swim form and kept my head up so I wouldnt waste any more time going off course. I finally made it to the first buoy with the next wave of novice females right on my tail. The second buoy was straight across about 50 meters, then back to shore. I just kept plugging away, setting world records for F-bombs in a tri the whole time. I finally caught the tail end of the green caps about 50 meters out and wasted even more energy thrashing to the shore trying to make up time. I was half delirious on the shoreline and could barely jog on the transition mat, but I was overjoyed just to be done. Kept cursing myself for wasting all that training in a couple of critical minutes at the start. I shouldn’t say wasted, actually, because my ass would have been in that boat without beating myself into submission at the pool for two months.


I manage a feeble jog to T1 and start putting on my cycling shoes when Trophy comes running up. I half expected him to be in the boat too, but he had made it and I had lost any advantage that I thought the swim would give me (this is relative , novice advantage, not actual real swimmer advantage).  I manage to clip in cleanly on the first try but it doesnt help that I am toast. The swim, though not quite the epic cluster of the downtown tri, had left me pretty obliterated.  The whole way out of Lake Carolina I am definitely not setting any land speed records. Finally, about a mile or so in, my head starts to clear and my whole body isnt screaming for me to stop. And I actually start passing people, quite a few really. It should be noted that this is a bit of a fake-out, because the novice guys are the next to last wave, and just about everybody is ahead of you.  I am cycling scared though, because the one time I looked back, I was pretty sure Trophy was there.  All of a sudden I’m passed by some dude with the full tri-suit, 7000 dollar bike ensemble, and I dont know what to think. Then I realize he’s one of those “secret power” novices,  i.e. probably a cyclist doing a tri. I try to keep him in sight so he can get a dose of the Blue Shoe secret power.  Some tough hills in the middle of the course, and with the exposed part of Langford road, I’m starting to realize that it is definitely famously hot out. Blazing really. I am supremely thankful we finally hit a shady area with the turn back towards Lake Carolina. Unfortunately, I’ve also entered into a bit of a pissing match with some other guy. He keeps speeding up when I get close, and I’m deathly afraid of the tri police coming to penalize me for drafting. I’m also realizing that i havent hit my water bottle yet,  which is quite the challenge for the coordination impaired such as me.  I about wipe out when I hit a bump with water bottle in hand. This gives me a jolt of adrenaline, and I power past pissing match guy just before the mountain of a hill that’s the worst on the course. I power up the hill thining i’m a hero, and start gaining on the guy in front of me. All of a sudden I hear a noise behind me and figure its pissing match guy when…SONOFABITCH ITS TROPHY.  Trophy comes flying with sadistic grin on his face by at mach 3 while I’m spinning my small wheel like a toddler on a tricycle.  Now Im standing up and trying not to get dropped.  Trophy is tearing it up though and is still gapping me on the straightaway at the top of the hill.  Very slowly, I start to reel him in a bit. I’m getting pretty close when the last downhill stretch starts and he blows me away again. Do I have to suck on bike downhills too? He hits the transition area about 10 seconds ahead and I miraculously clip out of my pedals like Ive been doing it longer than the 3 days that I actually have.

Trophy and I somehow managed to draw consecutive numbers in the tri (I think they were thinking of a clueless, pale mid 30’s Irish dude category but decided against it) , so were flailing around in the same area in T2. I manage to knock off Trophy’s bike and then get both of our bikes tangled in a mad rush to transition. Luckily we get the bikes back on the rack (again lest the tri police come and assess their evil time penalties) and Trophy takes off while I’m left fumbling with my cycle shoes and running shoes. Its a full two minutes before I can get out of T2 and I figure I’ve just given Trophy the race.


But then I realize the run conditions. It is unbearably hot by this time, and this 5k course is a killer. Right off the bat and they make you run up a hill out of the Harborside subdivsion. And its like a carnage out there. People walking…barely moving. I cant be doing much faster than 8 minute pace, but in the setting of a 90 degree day against back of the pack tri competition, I feel like a complete stud.  Time for the secret power to be unleashed. But first of all, where the hell is Trophy. I get to the top of the first half mile hill and he’s nowhere in sight.  Just when I’m ready to hand him the race, I see a blue blur in the distance. And the trackdown commences. By the bottom of a crazy long downhill, I’m only about 30 feet back. I see Jen Hill motoring her way back to the finish, and I  know our times are going to be close, though I know I cant catch her. I see Greg Howell come by on his bike and immediately fear he’s given away my stealth factor on Trophy. But then Greg comes up to me and tells me I can probably get him on the next downhill. The middle of the 5k course is an insanely steep trek straight up the worst hill in Lake Carolina, then right back down again. I’m really laboring on this thing when suddenly Trophy slows to a walk of shame. I pass him with a probably similar sadistic grin and have a renewed burst of energy. Then I see Charley stop at the turnaround to get water, and I briefly run with him and then pass him on the downhill. The ensuing hike  up the previous crazy downhill is a total death march for the field, so by just maintaining a brisk jog I’m making up some serious ground. I’m finally fully into run mode and my pace starts to pick up, though the heat is getting really oppressive. By the time of the final downhill I’m in a full out sprint because I’m so ready to be done with this thing. I keep thinking I hear Trophy footsteps but they never materialize. Towards the finish chute I hear Crazy Legs and I swear he’s saying someone is about to pass me, so I pull a little sub 5 blast kick in and basically flop across the mat, completely beat. Finished the 5k in about 22 1/2 minutes, which considering the course, conditions, and my hellacious swim, I’m pretty happy about.  Total time 1:28:34.

It takes awhile to see the total results, since I’m way back in the pack. Yet, through some minor miracle, and almost all due to my run, I win first novice male.  I can’t believe it – totally thrilled since I had written off the whole race about 2 minutes into the swim.  113th overall, and about 15 minutes off the age group, but hey I’ll take it!  Kristin won her age group in a smokin 1:21 and finished 11th overall female. Aubrey Johnson also took home third in age group. William and Teo both crushed me with 1:24 and 1:22 respectively. Jen Hill managed a PR of 22 minutes faster than last year, though I should note, 1 minute slower than the Blue Shoes. Diesel came back from his boat trip and finished the race. He said he will compete in the Tom Hoskins…in the duathlon.

Pics below are mostly from Jennifer Ward, with a few from Laura Howell , Greg Howell and myself.  Thanks to my loyal paparazzi!!

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