“Destination Races” are always fun in that part of the challenge becomes the day(s) leading up to the race itself. Driving across the state, setting up a campsite in potentially sketchy weather conditions, sleeping, eating, hydrating, and showing up at the TA on the morning of the race with everything you need to complete a triathlon increases the preparation required to participate in the event itself. The Flint Hills Triathlon was no exception. I always love a good camping trip so when Steve and Nancy Strickland and a group of friends invited me to join their pre-race campout at Tuttle Creek State Park , I jumped at the opportunity. Arriving in Manhattan a day early would also allow me to attend the pre-race expo and pasta dinner, visit with Clay and Karen, provide a helping hand where possible, and get a full night’s sleep before the race rather than driving to Manhattan at 4:00 am. I would do the Olympic-distance course while Steve and Nancy, herself recovering from an injury, would tackle the sprint course.
Most of that unfolded as planned, save for the sleep part. I managed to make it to Manhattan late on Saturday afternoon and set up camp at the Strickland compound. We enjoyed a nice expo, pre-race meeting, and pasta dinner under a giant tent coordinated by Clay and his crew. This year’s race wound up wearing multiple hats: USAT Midwest Championships, Worlds qualifier, Best of the US qualifier, and a regional stop on the collegiate championship circuit. As a result the field was diverse and included people from 19 states and the District of Columbia, which proved to make for tough competition and a great race. Many of them were camping around the transition area and many had brought along kids who were enjoying the giant inflatable toys outside the “big top.” It was a great setting for a race.
After a couple Coronas while watching Steve and Chip’s unsuccessful attempts to resurrect their Boy Scout skills trying to start a bonfire with completely saturated firewood (we had upwards of 4-6 inches of rain the week leading up to the race), we called it a night, but not before heading down to the TA to see if Clay needed any final help marking his TA and run course, which had been altered at the last minute as a result of flooding in the area. After resisting his offer to “taste test” some wine generously donated to the event by Steve Bourgeois of Les Bourgeois Winery (who, as it turns out, is also a heck of a triathlete), I called it a night and climbed into my tent. Unfortunately , a large extended family and their dozens of kids decided to play chase/tag/You’re-It all over the campground until nearly 1:00 am, quicikly destroying any hope of a full night of sleep.
Twenty minutes later (not really, but you catch my drift) the sun was coming up over the lake and it was time to get moving. Gear packed, liquids stocked, power bar and some tri cocktail down, and we were riding toward the TA. I found Bill in the TA and shortly after setting up we were heading toward the lake for the pre-race meeting. The race would use a time-trial start; swimmers would start in 3-second intervals based on their estimated swim time. Bill was starting a few spots behind me so I had a 15-second head start on him. A few minutes later the first swimmer was in the water and we weren’t far behind. The water was pretty chilly since the Corps of Engineers had been letting water out of Tuttle Creek for the past week. Most were in wetsuits but a few were not.
My goal in this race was to use it as a springboard to a half iron-distance event, and then use that as a springboard for the final few months of Ironman training. As such, I went out at a moderate, evenly paced effort on the swim. Roughly 25 minutes later I was exiting the lake after two laps of the 750 meter triangle. As I ran into transition, Bill was already there getting ready to head out on the ride; I didn’t see him pass me on the swim , but he managed to make up that 15-secon