Triathletes and spectators, alike, could not have asked for a more beautiful morning. My day started at 4:57 a.m. Rob was already gone when I got out of bed. At 4:50, Rob’s Dad took him out to Alum Creek, the start for the swim. We were on the road at 5:52 a.m., three kids packed in the van (toddler twins and a baby), coffee in hand (for the Grandparents), water (for me), and a cooler full of food and drink. We parked in a little parking area off of Lewis Center road. There was a gravel path that was about 0.5 mile from the road to the Creek. Dad took the twins down in the “Strech Limo” and I carried Baby about halfway, while Mom rolled the food down on the umbrella stroller. Twenty-one pounds of Baby got heavy, so I put him in the stroller and we continued on. That trip took about 20 minutes.
We saw Rob and took a few pictures of him and with him. A beautiful, red sun peaked its semicircle body above the horizon. Triathletes milled about everywhere. Mom waited with the three kids on the sidewalk away from the water, while Dad and I stood near the Start. Shortly, the bullhorn sounded for Rob’s wave and he was off. Thankful that at my request, he was wearing a neon orange swim cap because I could distinguish him from the others very clearly. Then, I lost him. I turned to take pictures of the kids and grandparents and when I turned back around, I was never really sure what group he was in. Typically, I can find him because, being a former collegiate swimmer, I know his stroke. However, there were over 1500 athletes this year and last year there was under 700. Not all 1500 triathletes were in the water at the same time, but nonetheless, it was hard to locate him. The fact that they swam away from the shore about 50 meters before swimming parallel to it and also while watching them on the far side of the shore, I was looking into a full-bodied sun. I was one of the very few spectators who walked parallel to the swimmers all the way down the shore to the turn. While searching for him by the turn buoy, I heard him call my name. I scanned the water to my right and saw him standing and waving to me. Cool, I thought, now I know where he is in the water. And then as I’m taking photos and video near the Exit, I sort of lost him again. I thought he and the other few swimmers he was swimming near, turned to go around again, but I either didn’t know or didn’t remember that he was swimming two laps. I quickly asked one of the volunteers and sure enough, I knew I would have a hard time finding him once again in the water. Again, he had to stand up, call my name, and wave. I was able to see him at the Exit and I ran up to the transition area (T1 for Transition 1) and took some pictures and video in transition.
I called Mom and Dad to let them know that Rob was in transition while I ran up as he exited the Transition Area to take another few pictures and cheer him on. It took me a while to get across the Transition exit due to the constant stream of Cyclists. I ran/walked all the way back up to the van. The Grandparents were putting the kids in the van and getting all the gear packed in. They confirmed what I already figured. Rob had already gone by. A few nights before the race, we had estimated that it would take Rob 30 min to swim and 3 min 20 sec for every mile on the bike. Dad wrote in the time on our map, starting at 3:20 for the first mile on the bike, 7:40 for the second mile, and so on, so that we could predict around when Rob would be at each mile marker to know whether we could stop and cheer him on or if he would have already passed by. We drove up to the parking lot of an empty church on Orange Rd and only had to wait three or four minutes before Rob came riding up the hill in a relatively steady stream of cyclists, right around the time we had predicted. Next, we headed to the corner of Sancus and Campus View to cheer him on from the parking lot of a gas station. We made it with about one and a half minutes to spare before he flew by us! Then, drove over to 23, to 270, to 71 downtown. We exited Broad St. and took a right on Front Street, then went up to a parking garage. On our way, I checked my watch and we had about 25 minutes. I should have checked the time, though, once we parked. We all thought we still had plenty of time, so Grandmom changed the twins diapers and we let Sam stay sleeping. Dad pushed the Stretch Limo and I pushed a twin in the Umbrella stroller. When we reached the top of the hill of the street we parked off of, Mom or Dad saw Rob turn in front of us, still a ways up. Mom offered to take the stroller and I ran down to try to get Rob’s pic. I missed him, though. Surprisingly, Dad, followed by Mom, was not far behind me. We were bummed that we missed him finishing his bike leg, T2, and run beginning.
We made are way down the sidewalk of the long green toward the finish. Dad asked me about how long Rob’s run would be. I estimated off of 8 min/mi because I wanted to give us a little time just in case. I had started my watch right when he crossed T1, starting his bike leg, so though I didn’t see when he left T2, I knew it was right around 1:20. At eight min/mi, that would put him at 2:08. When 2:08 came, I told Mom that he would be in within the next 6 minutes. He came in at 2:14 per my watch, so I was right on target! The weather was perfect for spectators. The tall buildings downtown kept the sun at bay and once Rob crossed the finish line, we were able to keep shifting back to stay out of the sun as it climbed its way through the sky. It didn’t seem humid at all, either, which was a big bonus!
I knew that Rob wasn’t in bad condition, but he wasn’t where he had originally wanted to be either, and I figured that after almost a mile of swimming followed by just over 24 miles on the bike and a 6.2 mi run, that a fair estimate would be a 9 minute mi. I knew he had a good swim leg and was relieved to hear that he had a good bike leg, since last year during Giant Eagle (sprint distance as opposed to the Olympic distance he did this year), his bike brakes were rubbing against his tire for a good part of his bike leg. Though, I did find out that he cramped about 0.5 mi into his run. Adding in all of the factors, a 9 min mile pace was really good! He averaged about 0:55 sec per 50 yards swimming, which is a little bit better than what he has been averaging per 50 (yd) in the pool during a workout set. On his bike leg, he averaged 19.9 mph! He has never averaged that fast in a race before, so that was awesome! I can only imagine how fast he could be if he was actually able to train seriously on his bike (and find more hills). Maybe we’ll see in a few years, when he is done with school and the kids are a bit bigger. His run pace turned out to be just over 9:30 min/mi. Not shabby considering. If he can figure out how to keep from cramping (this happened on the run of his first ever triathlon, which also happened to be his only other Olympic distance race), he can get this down to low 8’s. With more strength training, combined with better strength and technique for his swim stroke, even without cycling more than once or twice a week, he could start looking at being competitive. I think with the time that he has available to put into training, Sprint Triathlon, could be his specialty. However, I understand why he wants to still do Olympic (5150) distance. It motivates him to practice at longer distances than he would for Sprint, which keeps him in better condition. Well done, Rob!
From a spectator standpoint, we got a really good workout. I could not have done it by myself and would not have even attempted to do so. It was definitely a team effort. Mom and Dad did all the hard work so that I could be more available to watch Rob. This race was not spectator friendly for families with young children because of having to go from point to point with kids and gear. However, in a way, it was the perfect race for spectators (Okay, we are talking about triathlon here, people! It’s more spectator friendly than road racing, though!). It allowed us to see more than we would have normally during a tri race where there is only one transition area. In the typical race, you don’t leave and you only see the different legs (swim to bike and bike to run) coming into and out of the transition area. However, HFP did a phenomenal job putting it together and it was athlete friendly which is the most important part. Since every race is different, and there are always things that we can do more efficiently, a few lessons we learned along the way as spectators for the Giant Eagle point-to-point triathlon: leave cooler in van during swim leg and just bring a baggie of bagels (or whatever breakfast food is easy; bagels worked well for us) down to the beach; check watch right when we get downtown to see how much time we have until the predicted arrival time; if there is not much time, unless there is a diaper blowout, wait to change diapers; and don’t forget the blanket in the van for the run leg—it is nice to have something to sit on while we wait for the finish!