Tri the Midlands – Lake Carolina – Columbia, SC – 6/20/15


Tri the Midlands is a sprint tri (500 m open water swim, 14 mi bike, 3.1 mi run) put on by Set Up Events in the Lake Carolina neighborhood.

First, it should be known that I am not a triathlete. But racing options start drying up in the summer and somehow I get the ridiculous, grandiose idea that I can wing a tri and still do well. You’d think I’d have learned. The Downtown triathlon in 2012, my maiden attempt at a swim-bike-run event, was such an epic failure that I still get crap about it. I’m pretty sure Brandenburg and Wes Spratt have my T1 shame photo as the background on their computer screen. For the uninitiated, here it is:




That’s me, sitting down, more exhausted than I’ve ever been at any athletic event before or since. This after a “brutal” 500 meter pool swim. I use the term “swim” loosely, since I pool walked about 75 percent of it. Somehow  I thought I could swim with absolutely zero training. A word of advice: I wouldn’t recommend it.

That same year, I decided to try and earn back a shred of triathlon dignity by jumping into this event. I trained for the swim like a man possessed, because this being an open water swim, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t walk it. That time I plowed ahead as hard as I could go…towards the wrong buoy. I almost panicked and had to be rescued (ask Diesel for his story) but I managed to correct and finish the swim. I even placed 2nd novice and Blue Shoed Trophy after he passed me on the bike. I can’t thank Greg Howell enough for capturing that moment for posterity:


But all of that was 3 years and one major trauma ago. I did do the Tom Hoskins duathlon last year, and some beer fueled night a couple of months ago I decided to go all in for the tri this time. That’s in July. And I guess some other equally beer influenced decision 2 weeks ago, I decided to jump into Tri the Midlands again to see how my “training” was going. Apparently I need to stay away from computers while drinking. Training needs air quotes too, since I had officially done 4 bike rides in June, only one over 10 miles. My swimming amounted to about 5 times in the pool, topping out at about 42 lengths (about 1000m).  But hey, my grandiosity knows no bounds, so I was going to crush this, right? Plus, I finally made the plunge and procured myself a 58 cm bike (Felt Z95) that actually fit (my old one was a 54 cm) – thanks to Henry Mandrell at Summit cycles. I was surely going to be Craig Alexander in no time.

I showed up to Lake Carolina about an hour ahead of time. I had originally planned to be 90 minutes early, but I kept forgetting stuff and generally being a total noob. I ripped the laces out of my blue shoes to replace them with elastic ones, only to break the elastic laces and be totally screwed. I brought my huge orange hokas as an emergency backup. The Code was already on site to spectate presumably because my tri attempts are such high comedy. The parking is like a half mile from the set up area so I had to go over everything in my mind several times to make sure I didn’t leave anything. Darrell offered to help with the gear transport – I think they call this a “sherpa” in tri speak, but I just prefer “bucket bitch”, so that was his new title.

The transition area was pretty packed. Of course, thanks to both of us signing up last second yesterday, the Pale Beast and I got side by side set up areeas. The battle of the Paleness was on. I had toyed with the idea of signing up as novice again (this is my third tri and first since 2012) or even better “masters clydesdale” but I figured the former was kind of weak and I couldn’t fudge 25 pounds to be 220 (running races usually do 200). So age group it was, complete with a periwinkle blue swim cap. So manly.

There were a fair amount of familiar faces. Trophy was on hand to photodocument all the whiteness. I saw Laura and Greg Howell for the first time in forever, which was nice. Ken Lowden and the Howells were helping man the boat/SUP/kayak brigade meant to keep us clueless swimming noobs safe. Eternally grateful for that. J Reeves, Erika Burgess and Pam Griffin were volunteering. Both Brandenburgs, Rob Weber, George Smith, Ilia, Paul Laymon, Wendy Hart, Missy Caughman, Healther Alexander, Keith Sikes, Les Boan, Tenacious J Hill, Patti Lowden, Sandra Ricciuto, April Hutto, Pat Norcia, Kristin Cattieu and the Vokatys were some familiar faces. Aubrey Johnson and Angel were doing the relay. Wes Spratt had called me out about not registering and Tom Beattie was thinking I might be able to beat him, though Tom is unaware of how bad I suck in the swim-bike area. I would have to be less than 5 minutes behind at the start of the run to catch him. Hey, maybe I can do that?

THE SWIM-500 meters

We all line up for the start on the shore and I’m nervous as hell. Damn that buoy looks far off. I squirm up to the front to see the whole course and make  ABSOLUTELY SURE I don’t sight towards the wrong buoy this time. Set Up starts playing what seems to be their anthem, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”. I think it’s supposed to make you fired up but all it does is about send me into a panic. Open athletes go first, followed by the under 40 men’s age groups 3 minutes later. All the “old men” are next, which now includes me, complete with periwinkle swim cap crushing my oversized brain. The water is disgustingly warm. Total bathtub, and murky as hell. I look around and there are a lot of people. Novice had like 15 in 2012, there’s got to be 30+ in the age group wave. The start is complete mayhem. I was dumb for being right in the center, and suddenly I’m getting beat up left and right. First a hand to my head, a couple of kicks, then some dude slides right over me. WTF?? Lots of warm masters man on man action. Not exactly my thing, but at least I know why Brandenburg loves this stuff.  I’m having trouble trying to get into any rhythm, and it turns out Lake Carolina doesnt have lane markers and a black stripe on the bottom. I’m sucking in a lot of wonderful bacteria-free Lake Carolina  water and having to dog paddle at times to not grab feet or go off course. About halfway to buoy 1 I abandon any hope of my usual swim pattern and just breathe with every stroke. It actually gets me free of the pack and I plow ahead through the warm murk.  Suddenly I look up and I’ve managed to get right at the buoy, mostly by blind luck. It’s pretty scary to be out this far, remembering my downtown tri nightmare and definitely violating everything that early 80’s Sallie McDonald ever told me about water safety. I’m still breathing too hard but at least I’m free of the Marquis de Sade bathtub scene from earlier. Somehow I hit the tangent of the 2nd buoy and I start picking up the pace towards home. I’m actually catching some of the royal blue young dudes. Geez, these guys must be really slow. One of my fellow periwinkle caps has adopted some power breaststroke just ahead to my left. I stop sighting and just follow him, since I figure he sees the shore, and my noodle armed freestyle isn’t much faster. I’m totally euphoric when I take a stroke and hit mud. The great white whale has been beached!  I spring towards the shore and all these guys are freaking walking. Dudes, this is a race isn’t it? I break free and do my best spandexed pants barefoot jog about 50 meters to the transition area. Trophy and Julia Early make sure to capture all the paleness for posterity. I’m just glad to have survived, though Trophy informs me the Beast is just ahead. (Swim split 12:14 )

Sure enough, Ken is power fumbling through the swim-bike transition and I join him in the chaos. I throw on a shirt to avoid blinding passers-by and do a thoroughly awkward and slow shoe change. I throw the megamind helmet on and do my stiff bike-cleat jog out of T1. At least I can stand upright next to my bike now instead of hunched over. (2:06)

THE BIKE – 14 miles

Thanks to not doing an extra 100 meters of swim this time and having a bike that fits, I tear out onto the bike course like a man possessed. Oh yeah, these suckers are going down. This lasts maybe one mile until our first incline, when it suddenly dawns on me that I havent even done 50 miles of total bike training in a year’s time. Jeff does more than that on a bad DAY. A couple of miles in I manage to pass some people and I;m feeling pretty good. Pretty good, until Kristin comes whizzing by like I’m standing still. WTF? I guess it pays to actually train on the bike. On Kelly Mill road, I can actually see the Pale Beast up ahead, so maybe I can catch him. No matter that he’s been bike training while being run-injured and left me and Trophy for dead on our last group ride. I can take him! Or not. A big incline on Addams rd (see Blythewood labor day 5k 2012) sucks some energy and I realize I maybe got a little too frisky out of the gate. Langford road has some nice flats and downhills, but I know what is to come. Sure enough, the Langford section ends with 2 nasty inclines that I’m probably barely doing 10 mph on. I do manage to pass a Clydesdalish guy and a woman that had both passed me earlier. Twenty five mile creek rd is awesomely downhill so I start crushing it in the big ring pretty hard. Oh yeah, I am the man. And then I get re-passed by Clydesdale guy, and then an Athena-ish woman… 2 of them actually. And Ken is no longer visible. So much for pride. 25 mile creek ends with a brutal wall like hill and I reclaim a small sliver of dignity by passing Mr. Clydesdale yet again. Not the two Athenas though – those girls have destroyed me. Back on Kelly Mill, I know I’m only a couple of miles from the bike finish. One problem – stick a fork in me, because I’m done. The heat has come out with a vengeance (80’s) and I start hating life pretty quick. There’s a long slow incline on Kelly Mill and my legs are complete jello. I contemplate small ringing it on this really weak hill but my pride wont let me. What’s worse is that I have yet to develop the cyclist’s iron crotch, and my nether regions are crying out for me to stop the torture. I’m standing up in the saddle to get some blood flow back to the naughty bits and moaning like a shot elephant trying to power through the last few inclines in Lake Carolina. Thankfully no one passes me during this ugly display. Maybe they were just scared.

I’m eternally grateful to be done with the bike pulling into T2. Vowles has already  left the building. I throw on my Hokas, which are easy to lace up. I neglected to think about the fact they weigh twice as much as my racers. Between the fidlding around and taking my Garmin off the bike, I transition like somebody’s grandma.

THE RUN 3.1 miles

I hit the run course the same time as April Hutto, and I try to impart some encouraging words, but then I realize we are treading on the surface of the sun. Or an oven, or whatever extremely hot metaphor you want to use. It’s probably 85 degrees, but the internal furnace I built up by overextending myself on the bike has left me dangerously close to a meltdown. I run by my friend’s Ryan’s house and scare the hell out of his 4 year old son who is wondering what freak out there knows his name. I’ve likened the run to bike transition as jogging while 2 cobras bite you simultaneously on each ass cheek. Thankfully, the new bike has made this considerably better, maybe just vipers or some other lower grade snake. Still, I am just trotting. Here I am, finally at the part I’m supposed to be good at, and I’m royally sucking. The heat has me totally paralyzed, and here we go up another hill out of Harborside (see Harborside Lights 5k 2013).  The Code and Colleen are there trying to be supportive, shouting out encouraging words while giving me “what the hell is wrong with him?” looks. A finisher is being announced as I start my 5k slog and I ‘ve never wanted to be “Michael Frassica from Irmo”so bad. But hey, even my power jog is letting me pass people because it is a total war zone out there. No shade, sun beating down like satan’s anus. Lots of walksies even a half mile into this. After the climb out of Harborside, there’s a nice long downhill. Erika is there at the water stop and I take hers and another cup and do a double chug. I’m maybe doing 7:30 pace on the downhill – between the furnace-like conditions and my general lack of motivation (i.e. no trophies) I just can’t fathom going any faster. I even get chicked by a woman in green and can’t respond.  I see Angel coming back towards home and then Kristin, who not only has killed me on the bike but is doing the same on the run. Kudos to her. The worst part of this course is Mt. Carolina – a towering hill right smack in the middle of the 3.1 that is annually the leading cause of walksies in the Columbia area. I start the miserable slog up this mountain and the walksie voices are really screaming, made worse by seeing Vowles trundling downhill and being completely uncatchable at this point. Damn that Beast.  I finally reach the summit of this monster pulling like 10 minute pace, but I can’t walk now with J Reeves herself managing the water station (who I constantly rag about 5 k walking). I let gravity take over on the way down, just doing nothing but falling down this hill. I’m really good at that, trust me. That nice long downhill after Harborside is now that not-so-nice climb back up. The heat is out of control. I manage to pass Barb Brandenburg on the hill less than a mile to the finish. I feel really good about this pass until I realize she started three minutes behind me. I finally hit Harborside again and I give it all I can in the last quarter mile or so, which is probably the only time I went under 7 minute pace for the whole run. I see the clock heading towards 1:33 and I put the jets on to cross in 1:32:51, or 1:26:51 corrected for my wave. 6th in age group.

OK, so triathlons are definitely a humbling experience. I’m happy with improving my swim time by a minute and bike by two minutes (from the 2012 event) with minimal training. The only problem is that the effort to do that produced a world of suckage on the run (3 minutes slower). I have this sneaking suspicion it might help to swim and bike more. Novel concept. Oh, and I desperately need to transition better. That’s probably because I use them more as rest zones and go about them like a grandpa changing into his slippers to go get the Sunday paper.

I don’t know a lot of tri peeps but here are some of the names I recognize. Brandenburg was a beast of course and won 1st male masters and 3rd overall. 34 minutes on the bike, jeezus H.  60 year old Jeff Allums placed 5th overall and won the 60-64. Wow. Michael Frassica placed 3rd male masters. Jennifer Kryzanowski placed 2nd open female and Janice Addison took home first in female masters. Kristin ran 21 minutes and change for the 6th fastest run time overall and had the 2nd fastest women’s total time, winning the 35-39. Wendy Hart took 3rd in the 40-44, while Barb Brandenburg won the 45-49 and yes, beat me by over 2 minutes. Lisa Powell took 1st in the 50-54 and Paul Laymon took 2nd on the men’s side. I did manage to beat Wes Spratt by 5 minutes on the run, though perhaps that just underscores his blue shoe destruction on the swim/bike, beating me by almost 6 minutes overall. He took 2nd in the 55-59 for his efforts. Patti Lowden and Shawn Chillag were champions of the 65-69. Ilia finished 2nd overall Athena and Pat Norcia won the aquabike, overtaking Tom Syfert with a blazing 38 minute bike split.




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