Tragedy and Triumph – Part Five: The Dog Park Redemption

This is part five of the Tragedy and Triumph story series.  Here are the links to the previous posts:

On to part five:

At 2:15am on August 9th, I awoke in a panic. I had a sudden and sickening feeling I had not put Miles’s cycling shoes in the car.  Yes, you did, I reassured myself and could clearly remember helping to put the bike, helmet and shoes in the back of the SUV.  I tried to go back to sleep, but after a few minutes, I could tell that wasn’t going to happen.  Wide awake, I eased out of bed…

The Charleston Sprint Tri Series

CSTS-2015-Circle2015 brought the 25th year of The Charleston Sprint Tri Series.  These days, the series is five events held over the summer at Charleston’s James Island County Park.  Triathletes compete for points over the  course of the summer to determine series champions in their respective divisions. The race on August 9th was the fifth and final race of the 2015 season. It was also the last scheduled race for Miles this summer.

Miles had not participated in any of this season’s previous four races, so he wasn’t competing for the series championship.  However,with double points on the line for the winner of the fifth race, the year’s top competitors would be out to try and secure the title.

“Do you want to enter Open or Age Group?” I asked Miles a day after the Hoskins win.  I had waited til last minute to register.  I figured it was a dumb question, but the Charleston competition would be tougher than Hoskins.  Plus, Miles had done this race in the Open Division in 2014 and not done well at all.  The bad memory lingered. I thought Age Group might be a good way to keep the positive mental vibe of the past few weeks going.

“Open,”  he replied with no hesitation and perhaps a hint of Really, Dad?

“OK,” I said and completed the online form by submitting the entry fee.

Next step – book a hotel room.  I thought this one might not be so easy at the last minute.  After all, it was Charleston in the summer time.  With the entire family going, I felt fortunate to find a suite about 20 minutes from the park. I wasn’t going to make the mistake we’d made in 2014 – leaving at 3:45am from our house on race day for the two hour drive.  Another difference from the 2014 race – I was sitting this one out.  Our 2014 visit to this race had been my first and only tri.  I wasn’t feeling it this year, though.  I felt being Tri-Dad was the better option this time.

Going to the Dogs

The Charleston Sprint Tri Series course is a 600 yard open water swim, a 12 mile bike ride and a 5K (3.1 mile) run.  It is flat and fast. It is also the best spectator friendly race I’ve seen yet.  After a full view of the swim, you can see the cyclists disappear in the distance, then reappear right before they leave the park.  On the run, spectators see the runners for the first quarter mile or so as they circle the pond for the first time on the road, then about the midpoint of the 5K as they circle the pond for the second time on the inner loop pedestrian path . Finally, if one remembers (I didn’t), you can see the runners again late in the third mile.

About the only downside to the event is the pond.  When races aren’t going on, it serves as the dog play pond for the James Island dog park. Combine that fact with high water temperature in August and there’s a certain ick factor to it.  The ick and the length of the swim may have contributed to my sitting this one out.

The race was on Sunday, August 9th.  So, on the 8th, we set off to spend some time in downtown Charleston before packet pickup.  It is hard to keep the girls off King Street on a Charleston trip, after all. Then, per routine, we went to packet pickup and refreshed our memories of the bike and run courses by driving the routes before dinner.

Unfortunately, there was no after dinner return trip to downtown to enjoy a beautiful summer night in Charleston.  This was all business, and we were all in bed early, with multiple iPhone alarms set for way too early.

Sneakin’ Around

After the rude internal alarm at 2:15, I quietly eased out of the hotel room and soon found myself in the parking lot, unlocking my vehicle at 2:30 a.m. If the shoes weren’t there, what was I going to do?  I had no clue.

I opened the rear window glass.  I saw a bike, a helmet, and…a pair of cycling shoes.  Whew.  A few minutes later, I was back in bed.  The next two hours sleep weren’t the best, but they were better than no sleep.

The pre-race routine started at 4:15 a.m. and was a little more stressful with four sharing a bathroom, but we survived and found ourselves in a pitch black parking lot at James Island Country park at 5:35 a.m.  Turns out Charleston traffic at this time of day on a Sunday morning is kind of light, and we arrived a tad early.  Race time was 7:15 a.m. for the Open Division.

Most people might have still been in bed, but the mosquitoes weren’t.  They made an early breakfast out of us as we unloaded the bike and put air in the tires. The rest of the pre-race routine went smoothly as the sun came up.

Just before 7:15, the Open competitors entered the water.  The National Anthem played, and the announcer counted down.  3..2..1..And they were off. I started my phone stopwatch.  I would have much rather been participating than watching.

As I watched the swimmers head toward the first turn buoy on the far side of the pond, I changed my mind and decided it really was a good thing I hadn’t entered.  The swim looked much farther this year.

The swimmers rounded the next two corners, and at just past the 8:30 mark on my watch, the first swimmer pulled himself out of the water.  Several others were close behind.  Come on, son, where are you?  I thought.  This seemed to be way too much time based on his usual swim. I had to be right about the distance being farther. Finally, at the 9:07 mark, Miles emerged fifth male from the water.

Less than a minute later he was off on the bike.  As the cyclists passed back by before leaving the park, I couldn’t tell if he’d gained ground or not. Then, guess what?  You should know by now.  We waited.

At least from our vantage point near the transition exit, we were entertained by the rest of the field attempting to mount their bikes and get going. There were some near disasters and almost falls. A chain came off. One girl was not allowed to leave the transition area because she didn’t have a helmet!  Huh? How do you forget that?  Her mother rushed over to the vendor area and bought one for her to race.  Wow. Expensive mistake.

43 Seconds

Finally, the first cyclist came in, and I had a genius idea (at least to me).  I told my daughter to get her phone stopwatch out.  I told her to start the timer when the lead guy left the transition area.  We’d then know how far back Miles was when he exited.

Shortly after the leader left, Miles entered the transition area with a small pack of cyclists.  He had a pretty smooth transition and was off on the run.

“You’re 43 seconds behind!” I yelled to him.

I don’t know if he heard me, but I felt better.  We watched his first quarter mile or so, and he disappeared behind the trees in the distance.

This was agonizing.  We moved over next to the path near the pond, where’d they come by us at roughly the halfway mark.  I told my daughter to reset her stopwatch so we could time the gap again and see if Miles was gaining.  Soon, the leader appeared down the path. It was the same guy. As he approached, though, I could see a familiar figure close behind.

My daughter hit start on the stop watch as the leader passed, but there really wasn’t any need to yell out the time difference this time because Miles passed us and gave us a thumbs up five seconds later.  We watched the next few hundred yards or so as Miles chased the leader around the pond. Just before they disappeared again, Miles took the lead.

Images from the championship race at the 2015 Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series Race #5 at James Island County Park in Charleston, South Carolina.
Home Stretch

At this point, I completely forgot there was one last chance to see the runners, and moved into position to record the finish.  From my vantage point, I would only get to see the last few yards of the race where runners make the final turn and come down the finishing chute.  Soon, I could hear some cheering from the other side of the trees.  The leaders were close.

Finally, the first runner rounded the corner and into my view.  It was Miles.  He finished his run in 17:44, for a winning time of 58:06, just seven seconds ahead of second place finisher and 2015 series champ, Ryan Hoff.

We, of course, hung around for awards.  In addition to the overall first place award, Miles received an award for the fastest run time of the day.  He was also 3rd fastest on the bike and 10th fastest on the swim.  It was another solid all-around effort and the best triathlon of his short career. Miles achieved what he came for – redemption of the 2014 race.  I’d argue he had just redeemed Year of the Tri as well.

2015 Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series Race #5-460-2
Open Division Podium. 2015 Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series Race #5.

Being Sunday, there was no open Chick-fil-a for a victory lunch, but the IHOP in North Charleston was a worthy stand-in. A little while later, as we headed toward Lexington County on I-26, I found myself the only one awake in the car.  I smiled, turned the satellite radio to Classic Rewind, and reflected on the last three months. If I could have made a request, I would have, but I honestly didn’t need Styx to tell me it was the best of times.

Coming soon…The Postscript.  Click here for the final part.









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