Race morning: Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon
I’m not much of a morning person, but love the vibe before a race. The energy is high, the music is loud, and everyone is ready to chase their dreams.
I’d hung my bike on the rack the day before, and strolled through downtown Chattanooga with a full backpack: water bottles, helmet, bike and run shoes, sunglasses, race belt, etc. All I had to do was walk across the lawn and lay these race essentials on the ground next to my bike. But there was a problem.
Transition was closed.
I thought it was a cruel hoax, but a stern race official assured me I couldn’t come in.
“Too late, sir. Transition closed at 6:30!”
A quick peek at my watch told me it was 6:45 and even though my race didn’t start for nearly an hour, this guy wasn’t going to let me drop my gear next to my bike, or graciously offer to walk 50 feet and do it for me.
It was one of those moments when I felt like a stranger on my own planet. I had been dropped by aliens to deal with the absurd ways of humans.
The only word I could summon to my lips was, “Seriously?”
He paced nervously as if expecting a child, then looked in my general direction to say, “We announced it, it’s all over the website and the literature . . . transition closes at 6:30.”
He was right.
I was actually in a good mood and curious about how this problem would be solved, so I nicely asked, “Okay, any suggestions for what I should do?”
He said, “Sorry, nope. Not sure what to tell you.”
I kinda laughed at that one. No contingency plan? Do I swim with my backpack, or maybe I’ll just leave it somewhere on the ground to pick up when I get out of the water?
By now, my situation was a minor spectacle among the other humans, who seemed to be taking my side. Some whispered under their breath, “This is bullshit.” Others simply looked at me with a sappy look that seemed to say, “You poor little alien.”
Ten minutes earlier, my bones were relaxed, but now started to tense. I stared over the fence at 1000 bikes, and 999 of them were cozied up to expensive shoes and helmets.
There was a lot of money inside that fence, but it wasn’t Fort Knox. It wasn’t the CIA headquarters. It wasn’t even the Smithsonian. It was a transition area for a triathlon, which by most people’s interpretation signifies “hobby.”
This sport is a hobby. Something people pay a lot of money for . . . to have fun. It’s more of a carnival than rock and roll show, but either way, I’d paid admission for backstage access.
I stood quietly, looking at him, hoping eventually his compassion would cave and he’d say, “Okay, but this is the last time, you silly alien!!!” Or something equally cliche’ said by stern people.
That’s when he stopped and looked at me with glassy eyes.
“Look, I’m sorry, but we closed at 6:30. The timing mats are activated and you’re wearing your chip. We can’t let you in.”
Umm…. “Okay, I’ll take my chip off.”
“Can’t do it, the Sprint Swimmers (who started earlier than the Olympic) will be coming into transition any minute.”
Hmm… Sprint Swimmers . . .
It triggered a memory from Music City Triathlon which I raced in Nashville the year before. For some reason race organizers didn’t realize the river current was too strong for Sprint swimmers that day. The first third of the field jumped in and were all promptly ripped off the course by an angry river. Dozens of people had to be plucked from the water by kayakers and rescue boats. Before it turned to complete chaos, Team Magic canceled the Sprint swim for the rest of the field.
At the time I wondered how a company that puts on triathlons for a living couldn’t see this coming.
But on this morning in Chattanooga, I began to think the concept of logic had run its course.
“Please, Sir. I’ll run to my bike throw my backpack on the ground. It’ll take me 3 minutes.”
“No! Transition is closed!”
I’ve been in many transitions while other racers are coming out of the water. No problem. I didn’t trip anyone or get run over by someone pushing her bike. It was easy, it was logical . . . you just watch where you’re going.
My shoulders slumped, and suddenly this sport that is supposed to be fun had once again put me on the fence of despair. I lethargically sipped coconut water and wondered why people are so hard on each other.
That’s when a young volunteer restored my faith in humanity.
He discreetly waved me to the fence and said, “Hey, if you want, I can try and put your stuff by the bike.”
“Oh man. That would be awesome!”
We leaned in close and whispered our plan. He wasn’t a triathlete, but said he’d do the best he could with my cluttered backpack contents.
I climbed a shuttle bus to the swim and wondered what I’d find when I got back to transition. In the end, he did a great job. He loaded my water bottles, and sort of put a few things around. It was a bit like potpourri, but it worked.
After a crappy race (which I do not blame on this transition mishap) I contemplated what happened that morning. I guess it was technically my fault, but like to think this world has a place for more second chances. We do stupid things like . . . lose our wallets, forget umbrellas, and not let people who pay $150 to do a race load their gear in transition.
But, rules are rules.