Things are different down here in South Carolina. The barbeque is better, the confederate flags are larger, and the grits are grits-ier. The people are friendly, cars let you merge whenever you please, and everyone just meanders down the sidewalk. This is wonderful until you have to pee and are trying to walk down said sidewalk, in which case it’s a reason for justifiable homicide. In general life moves at a slower pace for everyone down here.
So after living the low-country life for a couple months I figured it time to go test the proverbial triathlon waters, wondering if the day-to-day ease of living would carry over to a crop of speedsters at the sport of kings (fyi, triathlon is now called the sport of kings. Says me. Effective now). So with that, I ponied up some serious cash ($50, actually rather reasonable) and signed up for the hometown sprint.
Being the weekend after the fourth, and having a few days off, I went out to check out the race site and course on the day before to see what struggles lay ahead. The swim, run, and start of the bike all took place within a county park that is only a stones throw from my house, so the plan as it were, was to head out to the park, drive at least the bike portion, and hopefully take a look at the swim venue. Of course, things are different in South Carolina… The park has an admission fee, $1 per car to get in, and try as I might to pay with my $.75 in car seat change, they just wouldn’t let me in. Of course this is no problem and I just went out and drove the remaining 10 miles of the bike course that weren’t in the park.
I am becoming a pro at taking pictures out the window while driving.
From this I gathered a good idea of terrain, road condition, sharp turns, sandy corners, possible wind directions etc.
So the rest of the day was Walmart for olive oil and parmesan, bake a pizza, pack up, and early to bed Saturday night for an early start on Sunday. Now with a 7:15 race start, I’d usually like to be parked and unloading by about 5-5:15. That’s plenty of time to set up transition areas, and pick up packets while still having an hour or so to warm up, stretch, hydrate, and worry. This is just my standard pre-race ritual, and in most cases, I’m not alone. The race is up and moving by the time I’m there. Lights on, music playing, freds applying their helmet badges and pumping up the 808’s on their comfort road bike. But of course, things are different in South Carolina. This was what greeted me as I entered the park, sight unseen.
“That one little speck of light was the cigarette of a homeless guy who hangs out at the park because he thinks he’s a goose”
Yup. I was the first person there. Not the first competitor, the first person. Except for the park ranger who opened the gate in front of me, there was nobody! No officials, no volunteers, no event staff, nobody! So after some frantic checking to make sure I had the date, time, and location correct (thankfully I did), I put the seats down in the back of my car, set my watch for 5:45, and took a snooze. Finally, I awoke to the sound of other cars being unloaded, and people filtering in. So packet pickup it was. Nope. Morning-of packet pickup doesn’t start open until 45 minutes before race start. Yup, that makes sense. Either way, it gets picked up and all my other pre-race festivities are undertaken, and it’s off to the start line.
Swim goes well, calm waters, but I came out of the water second and exited T1 in first (quick helmet skillz ftw). So off to the bike course, the latter 80% of which I’ve already seen. Of course, I still have to navigate the foreign 20%. So off I go, rounding the few turns as the volunteers and lead-car are still getting in place. Now you drive in, bike on, and run on this same first part of the course, so there are signs everywhere. Most are pretty straightforward “Run left”, “Bike Right”, but one rather ambiguous one says “Triathlon right ->”. Of course, this is the part of the course I didn’t look at the day before. At this point I’m going 26mph, and out of breath from swimming, and seeing that the volunteer standing there isn’t trying to change my course, I assume the “Triathlon Right” sign to mean parking for cars or volunteers or something like that. Obviously if it was supposed to be for bikes, it would say “Bikes right” right? Sure whatever, the rest of the bike leg goes smoothly, and at the turnaround, I do a quick estimation that I’m up by about 2:30 on 2nd. Awesome! So it’s on to the run, feeling good and with a clear lead. The run starts and as you come around the first turn, you are right where the ambiguous sign is located. Now as I’m running, I see people making a right. Exactly where I didn’t…. Damn.
“Well at least finish up Ben, maybe you’re wrong as to where you went straight” I say to myself. So I finished, solid lead of 3+ minutes, good run split, feeling good throughout.
And the race director comes up to me, and the look on his face said it all. I was totally supposed to turn there. And I didn’t. So my bike split was .75 miles shorter than it had to be… so welcome to DQvile. Population: Me.
And with that the day was done. The crappy thing about stuff like this is that there is no recourse. You can’t appeal, you can’t protest, there is absolutely no place to put blame other than my own aloofness. So like a Metalhead at an folk concert, I was pretty rocking bummed out.
Oh well I guess. Cool consolation was being called an “Elite.” I don’t know why, but that’s always fun! Also doing some quick math, I shorted the course by .75 of a mile, which at the speed I was going (24 mph average), would have taken just under 2 minutes. Still putting me in 1st. Hollow victories, but still nice. Of course, things change when you are actually right in front of someone versus being virtually right in front. There’s a lot of motivation that comes just from having someone in sight, so nothing is for sure, but on paper, still a good day.