Saturday June 4
In a synchronized movement, the sun began rising, the ominous rain clouds began to dissipate and throngs of racers began to converge on Fairhope Municipal Park. A stroll through transition was a walk through Grandman history with nearly every overall event winner of the past decade present. Swarms of volunteers swept through the area answering questions, marking racers and ensuring a productive morning for all.
THE SWIM: It's easy to appreciate the mission of the Mobile Baykeeper when the water conditions are so accommodating - no chop or current to churn things up. The water is surprisingly "fresh" and thus none of that swollen-salty-tongue feeling that plagues most racers along the Gulf Coast after open water swims. And maybe I've watched one too many "Epic Fails" videos on YouTube but there were enough athletes snaking along the pier awaiting their time-trial start that I have to tip my hat to the pier's engineer and builder. The course was well-marked and extremely well supported.
THE BIKE: The hill coming out of transition is obviously the most notable feature of the ride and it makes its appearance immediately. All the blood that congregated in the upper body during the swim must do some speed work of its own down to the quads to make the 100+ feet climb. After that quick ascent the rest of the course is a breeze (some years in more ways than one, but it was pretty calm this year).
THE RUN: When the available course features a pulse-spiking climb, why not utilize it twice? The run course begins with the same labored-breathing, leg-burning grind as the bike. Fairhope is one of those quaint cities that just has that comfortable, inviting aura with its shady streets beneath overhanging oak-limb canopies and spacious front porches. Residents along the course are scattered throughout offering encouraging words and an occasional cooling, water-hose rinse.
CELEBRATION: Crossing the Grandman finish line is almost like traversing the threshold to the Willy Wonka factory of electrolytes and carbs (minus the Oompah-Loompas). Pizza, pastries and produce. (Editors note: if "beer" or "hops" or some other alcoholic reference started with the letter "P" it would have been easier to incorporate...BUT for those serious about their post-race adult beverage, evidently beer on tap abounds here and is kind of a big deal). I, for one, couldn't get over how many times they let me come back for another Publix navel orange.
One of the reasons I love triathlon is it has a way of invigorating my gratitude for life. That was especially true for this year's Grandman. News of tragedy began to circulate days before the event. And while Chris Miller was not able to physically cross his first multi-sport finish line, he crossed the finish line Saturday morning hundreds of times on the minds of each finisher as symbolized by his initials - CM - body-marked on his fellow athletes. Sincerest condolences to his family and a visceral reminder that life - breathing-sweating-climbing-struggling-celebrating type of life - is a gift to be appreciated.