Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Five Worst Races Ever

The worst of the worst are in a category by themselves. Suffering to reach a physical goal has a purpose, but unnecessary discomfort is not what I signed up for

 After doing triathlons for almost fifteen years, I can say most races are okay, some are outstanding and some are true stinkers. Stinkers are usually disorganized, have bad or no food, poorly marked routes or worst of all run out of water on a hot day. The worst of the worst treat the last finishers as unworthy nuisances.

My experience may vary from the front and middle-of-the-pack. Slow athletes get the brunt of poor planning. Faster types eat all of the food, when enough isn’t provided for them and me. They and their children that they drag along eat all the goodies. I didn’t pay a fee so that I could feed their children. I resent coming in near last and finding the table bare. It’s insult on top of injury and I take it personally.

Worse than bad or no food is to run out of water. This is absolutely inexcusable and dangerous. If a race director is under the illusion that the flimsy waiver they make participants sign is going to protect the organizer from their stupidity, they are sadly mistaken. They can be sued for any serious harm to a racer resulting from dehydration since it is gross negligence.

Some of my top worst are:

1. Any triathlon at Lake Pleasant. 

This used to be a popular spot before Tempe Town Lake was created. The lake tends to get shallow at times and if it’s windy, it gets rough. Submerged trees and logs will suddenly appear in the water. In one race, I could barely control my panic when the wind and other swimmers kicked up the waves in the lake. I was ready to bail at the first buoy. I had to keep my head down and  not sight to avoid water slapping in my face and into my mouth.
On the bike, the rough roads are hilly, with obnoxious climbs and descents. I usually can’t go very fast and I feel inadequate. The terrain sucks the joy out of me and I have to wonder why I would even race there.

One particular race put on by a local company was tops on the suckage factor. I was last or near last. The end of the run was along the road, so all the other cars were streaming out as I was coming in. I had to breathe car exhaust and everyone could witness my disgrace. Some people shouted encouragement, and I felt like telling them to shut up. They meant well, but I hated it.

The deserted finish line was being dismantled. I was tired, hungry and no food was left. This was a new low in triathlon experience.

I never did any race put on by this organization again...Ever.

I felt as wrecked as I looked in this picture.

2. Wildflower. 

People rave about this race, probably because the aid stations used to be populated with topless female co-eds. But it is in the Middle of Nowhere, California and a ten hour drive from my home. If anything goes wrong few options are available. Of course, something did go wrong. I lost my car keys and I had no spare. To this day, I don’t know if I dropped them or if they were stolen. As if someone would want a ten year old Toyota Corolla. I had to call a tow truck to unlock the car.  

Camping and racing did not mix.  I didn’t sleep well, with people coming and going and the water trucks going down the road to keep down dust. A good night’s sleep would have been nice before my soul was crushed on this race course. Besides, camping sucks. 

The bike course has an infamous hill named Nasty Grade. It lives up to it’s name and gets steeper near the top. Traditionally, it has the Energizer Bunny at the summit, but I think he was off drinking.   

Nasty Grade was a long painful grind. I thought the worst was over, but the hills weren’t done. All my energy was gone. The lack of sleep, the stress of losing my car keys and the heat had finally gotten to me. I wondered how the hell I was going to run.  

The run was even more difficult than the bike. The so-called reputed cheering crowds that made the run from hell less agonizing were off drinking by the time I got to it. No one cared that I felt horrible. It was hot and dry and the only ice I could get was in the med tent at the finish line. Beer bongs at the aid stations were amusing, but not when I was dying of thirst. The only relief was the sight of a naked guy, offering hugs. I was startled when I first saw him on the trail. He was pale and I thought he had light pants on, but then I saw no pants and no pubic hair. I regretted passing up the hug. This was sadly the highlight of the race. 

The finish line wasn’t the end of the ordeal. Now I had to figure out how to leave. A call to my motor club was not helpful. Thank you Allstate for leaving me to fend for myself. The operator kept asking for the address like I was at a business. It’s a freaking park and I am at a campground. A race volunteer suggested a towing company who suggested a locksmith. Getting the car to the locksmith  required a tow to Salinas, the armpit of California.

Where the hell was Salinas? Wasn’t this town a setting for a John Steinbeck novel? I found out it was seventy-five miles north and the only place that I could get a locksmith on Sunday. It doesn’t pay to have car problems in the middle of nowhere. The absurdity boggled my mind. I threw my camping stuff in the car and the tow truck took me to this town. He was kind of chatty, telling me about the weird accidents and creepy people he sees at night. I was beyond tired. He dropped me and the car at a Motel 6 after I gave him $300. This trip was getting better and better.

 The motel was in a part of town that had the Monterey Pasta Factory and a Farm Products Processing Plant nearby. The pasta plant was spewing water(I hope) into the air and I didn’t want to think what the Processing Plant was emitting. It smelled vaguely like cow poo, like the odor of a dairy farm  when the wind blows the wrong direction.

The locksmith finally showed up and liberated me from this hell hole. For lack of a little piece of metal, I had to pay an extra $600 for the tow, the locksmith, the room that I couldn’t stay in and the room that I was forced to use. This was the trip from hell to the race of the damned. But I can say I survived this ordeal. The hills and the heat didn’t stop me. Plus, I got to see Naked Dude. But do this again?
No thanks, Wildflower.

This race was unkind to my toe.
3. Deuces. 

It’s another race that some people like, but I don’t. This takes place in Show Low, Arizona. Fools Hollow Park is pretty, but the town is unappealing and I don’t want to drive three hours to get there.

I use this race for training, not for enjoyment. The altitude is 6,000 feet, but it never feels very cool in the summer. The air heats up quickly and sucks out my energy like a feeding vampire.

Some people camp there for reasons I can’t fathom. I tried this once and was serenaded all night by my partying neighbors. Never again. I would rather stay in a cheap motel.

The swim at a altitude is always challenging because of the lack of oxygen. Sometimes the water is cold and choppy. Last year, it was smooth and fairly warm, but the finish was clogged with weeds that snagged my arms. To get out of the water involved wading through thick six inch mud.  
I am always alone on the bike course and without any markings, the ride feels like I am on the way to Totally Lost. If I am lucky, it won’t be windy. My anxiety won’t ease until I see some sign that others have passed before me–like a gel wrapper that litters the road.

 The miserable run is shadeless, on a crappy, boring, dirt road guaranteed to any normally good run mediocre, if I even care by that point. The out and back makes me want to poke sticks in my eyes. Last year, the aid stations ran out of water. I had my own, but it was little left.  Other racers doing the half iron weren’t so prepared and had none. They made their opinion of this very clear to the hapless volunteers. One skinny, young male screamed that he hadn’t had any water for hours. I guess he was too cool to carry his own or wrongly assumed that it would actually be at the aid stations.

They even ran out of water at the finish line.  I was hot and considered the kiddie pools that they had set up, but the water was looked dubiously cloudy. God knows what was floating around in that water with many people sitting in it. I saw some one actually wash her face with it. She might have regretted that later.  

Phoenix is too hot to race in during the summer, so this race is better than nothing. Maybe.  

The Finisher's Medal for the "finish." 
4. Silverman. 

My worst half iron ever. I assumed that Wildflower couldn’t be topped for suckage, or Soma half when it was ninety degrees, but I was wrong. 

Henderson, Nevada in early October was not a good time to have a difficult race. The bike course was great for endless hill climbing, but I could have done without the rest. I wasn’t sure if it would be wetsuit legal until race day and I would have drowned without my wetsuit.   
The swim start had us crammed into a tiny chute. I got a little claustrophobic standing around in the sun in a wetsuit jammed next to other people and pressed myself to the barrier to get some air. The water was not refreshing and the day had only just started.

The day had heated up by the time I started the bike. I wanted to wet myself down, but there wasn’t an aid station until mile twenty-two. I liked the bike ride-rolling hills the scenery was a cross between the Painted Desert and a moonscape. After 4100 feet of climbing on the bike, I had to scramble to make the cut off and I probably over-cooked myself.  

The run in the raging inferno was a train wreck. I was trying to get under three hours so that I could finish before the run cut-off, but it was ninety degrees by then. Sucking on ice constantly during the run kept me from collapsing.  At mile 11, it was uphill for a mile with no shade and I couldn’t run anymore. I got nauseated and felt bad.  At that point, I gave up. I finally got to the turnaround and tried to run, but my calves kept cramping. I finally could run about a quarter mile from the finish line.

It wasn’t an official finish, but I was the only person in my age group to do the whole race.  I was rewarded with a big fat DNF.

They were liberal about giving people with heat exhaustion I.V.s in the med tent, which was usually an Ironman “screw you.” I took advantage of this opportunity. 

The greatest sin was that race cut offs weren’t applied equally. I got a DNF for finishing in almost nine hours, and other people with the same time didn’t. If they don’t fix this, they will incur my hatred forever. “Anything is possible” Ironman, but this was unfair. 

This wasn't the way.

5. Desert Classic Duathlon 2015. 

Normally, I like this race. But for some reason, they reversed the mountain bike route direction, which made the start location from the road a mystery The website map was a joke, a satellite map with no markings. I assumed I could find the route, but I couldn’t, since I am not a satellite or Google. The markings consisted of occasional pink plastic tape that you might notice if you happened to be looking that direction. 

I couldn’t find the bike turn off from the road and by the time I realized my mistake, I couldn’t fix it. I wandered futilely around and then basically faked it. I got in seventeen miles, even if they weren’t the right ones.

In the runs, the route was confusing there as well. There was a u-turn at a juncture, but the wrong trail wasn’t blocked off. I yelled to one runner that she was going the wrong way.  

I wasn’t the only one with problems, though I don’t know if anyone else screwed up as badly. At least four mountain bikers missed the turn off to go back.  Some actual signs and arrows would have been nice. If the trail had gone the opposite direction, like in past years, I would have been able to find it. This is the same race outfit that screwed up Deuces last year by running out of water. People got lost there as well.

I felt really utterly stupid, but it wasn’t all my fault.


This lackadaisical effort to keep racers from getting lost shows they either didn’t care, or were incapable of an effort to create a good experience. Then again, they were the same people who ran out of water at Deuces on a hot day. Organization wasn’t their strong suit. I am not sure what was.

Though I am not a race director, I am sure it is a time consuming and thankless task to put on an event. This doesn’t excuse poor organization or treating participants, particularly the slowest, like they don’t matter. If I pay to race, I need food and water and at least some semblance of care about my well-being. If not, then these organizers should be punished by being consigned to do their own races, be denied water and food and be forced to come in last. 
And no topless female co-eds will be provided for distraction.