March 25, 2017
Jared Moore, GCTT
The beginning of my relationship with the Red Hills of Tallahassee was exciting - abbreviating the morning workout on January 22 every year to ensure my registration was one of the first 300 in order to secure a slot in the sell-out event (almost like a close-to-home Kona or Escape from Alcatraz), traveling into the state capital with a large contingency of racers from my hometown (and collectively trying to take home as many of the coveted pottery podium-awards as possible) and enjoying what is just a great venue and overall race experience.
What I believed to be my final experience with the Red Hills Triathlon, however, was not so pleasant. And to be clear, I don't participate in the sport of triathlon for pleasantry nor comfort. The discomfort I believe to be a forging of the holistic man (or woman) and is more what keeps my interest. I genuinely enjoy the challenge and sweat and burn. The near-mile long hike through darkness, abundant pollen, and climbs that reduce many a rider to a pedestrian are welcome and what made the Red Hills Triathlon an annual, anticipated fixture several years consecutively.
However, in 2015 pedaling upon a fellow competitor sprawled out motionless along the side of the road, drawing conclusions from the accompanying, visibly damaged automobile idling a few feet away, and wondering with uncertainty as to his fate as the swirl of light and siren came rushing by were a strong factor in my resolute decision - I WILL NOT DO THIS RACE AGAIN!
And in 2016 I didn't.
Now it is not my intention to be overly dramatic or overstate its significance but I believe multisport to be on some level the rehearsed simulation of conquering metaphorical death, staving off its accompanying evidence - atrophy - as long as possible by continuing to push when the part of the brain responsible for survival begs for respite. But it's mostly just that - a metaphorical battle simulating the defeat of death. There are obviously risks we acknowledge implicitly (and explicitly when signing the USAT waiver during registration) but the belief that it's a simulation creates a sense of safety. To be more concise, the risk of injury is real but I personally do not wish to confront Death whilst vulnerably clad in spandex and decorated with a pointy aero helmet.
Reckless drivers hate Joe Zarzaur and I obviously told myself a lie because when the decision to add the race back onto the team calendar was made, I reluctantly signed up. After all, the race organizers had wisely altered the bike course to two roughly-9-mile loops on roads with much lower traffic volume.
And it didn't take long to validate the decision to return. Race morning resonated nostalgic reminders of why the demand for this race was so high in years past. The formations of racers marching to Transition by light of LED headlamp creates a nervous excitement that culminates with the starting countdown. It all equalizes once finally wading out through invigorating chill and lillypad into the fresh water of Lake Hall (I love swimming in fresh water!). The water temperature here is in that sweet spot that creates freedom to choose - wetsuit legal but not absolutely necessary. The swim waves are sized proportionately so that the groups stretch out enough to minimize congestion at the turn buoys. And the perimeter of trees keeps the morning sun from posing a blinding buoy-sighting obstacle.
The bike was the bathwater that caused me to toss out the baby the year before so I focused on it a little more intensely. The first, and most obvious, attribute is that it requires all the gears in the cassette. I believe some of that holistic forging I mentioned earlier occurs on those two loops. An interesting chain of thoughts occurs when fighting the Red Hill gravity. As the grade increases and the legs begin to burn and breathing becomes more labored, the brain reacts by making some biased proposals. It highlights the discomfort as it builds its case. It advises shifting up just another gear or two. It counsels on the risks of injury and their increasing possibility if intensity is not decreased. It rationalizes compromise - those goals were probably too lofty anyways. Fear. Compromise. Comfort. You find out if your instinct is fight or flight. But the top of the hill is visible. If you're able to convince yourself to keep pushing, the brain reminds you that you have to do this climb AGAIN on the second loop. Shut up legs and shut up brain.
It should be noted that although it is still an open bike course, the only dangerous conditions reported this year were created by this race-report-writer/racer by crossing over the double-yellow line (acknowledgement of gratitude to the head race official for the variable time penalty in lieu of optional disqualification).
There is some more character to be forged on the run as well. There are equal parts trail and road, up and down. But I find the brain stages less of a protest as it's a bit of a head case; it's just a little too exhilarating running through the trails with the chute of trees pulsing by for thoughts of defeat. You just feel faster.
Speaking to a first-time triathlete after the race, I was struck by his energy. Without a long mental database of race contexts to use as comparison he knew he had just accomplished something noteworthy on a personal level. He had confronted the overwhelming impulse to ease up (or even quit) and had persisted. His character had been forged. He was an absolute stranger but I couldn't help but be excited for him. My kids were excited for him. Of course, they were amped on Daddy's post-race snacks and adrenaline from tree-climbing, rock-skipping and cheering for hundreds of strangers. My wife said something to the extent of this being the most spectator friendly event I'd ever dragged her to.
I assume the directors for this event experienced a similar civil war within themselves in 2015. Certainly, there were moments when confronted with this difficult situation that fear and compromise created an unrelenting longing for release and comfort. But having experienced the reborn version of the event I can't help but respect what the evidence suggests - that they persisted and continued to "pedal". I will have zero reservations when signing up for this race in 2018 and will set my alarm a few minutes earlier in January to make sure I secure a slot.
As an additional highlight seven of the Tallahassee kiln-fired awards will be housed in different cities along the Gulf Coast with 100% of the participating GCTT members claiming podium placement. Most notably was the M45-49 with a team sweep. (Team award pic and Pic of Drew, David and Spence)
**and to avoid any unintended confusion, despite this author's morbid inclusion of the topic of death into the musings on the 2015 bike-course incident, the mentioned rider's injuries were NOT fatal.