This past weekend I returned to Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH to compete in the Rev3 Half Aquabike event, Clydesdale division (220 pounds and over). This also happened to be the US National Triathlon National Aquabike Championships, which was also pretty cool. This was also my big event to raise money for the Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation (CNCF) as part of Pedaling With a Purpose. Inspired by Christi Thomas, a sweet little girl who lost her battle against the disease at the age of 9, Cedar Point was one of her favorite places and we spent many afternoons riding rides, eating elephant ears and having fun. Plus, September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, so even though my race is over, I’m leaving my donation page up through the end of the month and with any luck, I’ll be able to exceed my $1,000 fundraising goal (so spread the word!).
While most have heard of the term “triathlon,” which consists of a swim, bike and run, an aquabike event eliminates the run part and just athletes swim and bike. It’s a great opportunity to compete in a multi-discipline sporting event, yet avoid running (which seems to be what takes most athletes out of comission). I hurt my knee earlier this year training and was not up for the 13.1 mile run, but wanted to still compete in this great event. The funny part is, when I say I’m doing the aquabike, visions of a “bike riding on the water” spring to mind. However, with the rolling waves in Lake Erie at start (3-5 foot swells), there’s no way I’d even consider riding a bike on those waves (heck, swimming was hard enough).
A Swim Like No Other
Our wave was the first to head off at 8:20 am and many of the full distance Rev3 racers were in the process of finishing their 2.4 mile swim (they went off much earlier). Heading into the water the get used to the temp I realized very quickly that this was going to be a swim like no other. I’ve played in waves this big before, but never swam in them, let alone tried to race. Good thing for the wetsuit, as the buoyancy was surely going to be a Godsend and keep me from becoming fish food for the Lake Erie inhabitants.
Start time arrived and we were off. Swimmers were “dolphin jumping” over the waves, as the sandy bottom reached pretty far out into the water. Once we got past the point of touching the ground, it became an immediate challenge just to spot the sighting buoys to keep on track and swimming straight, having to time my breathing with the roll of the waves. For racers that had done a lot of open water swimming this may not have been a big issue, but for me I have to admit to being just a “little freaked out” at what was ahead of me. I kept saying to myself “just keep swimming forward, even if that meant breast-stroke and doggie paddle to get this over (which happened more than I care to admit, unfortunately).
Once I made the turn (which seemed like it took forever to get there) and started swimming parallel to shore, it got a bit easier. I breathe on the right, so when I turned my head I was facing away from the oncoming waves, but there were times when I went to stroke with my left arm and I could feel it never even coming out of the water with my timing coinciding with another oncoming wave. “Just keep swimming” I said to myself and make the turn to that final buoy to make the swim back to shore. One of the cool parts about racing in Lake Erie is at this point when I took a breath, I could see Cedar Point (assuming I was not at the bottom of a wave and looking at water, that is).
As land got a little closer with every stroke I was elated that very soon I’d be back on the ground and soon would be tossing a leg over my bike and headed off for my ride. Coming out of the water, my buddy (and WSI Cycling teammate) Shayne was there to cheer me on and he said afterwards that I looked totally spent – he was right. I can honestly say I’ve never been so glad to be back on land after a swim in my life. But the good news was I was headed off to get on the bike and then the fun would begin.
Let’s Go For a Ride
After getting “stripped” of my wetsuit (yae) by a couple of the volunteers, I entered the transition area. Knowing that I was not going to have to continue with a run afterwards, I skipped the socks and just tossed on my shoes, grabbed my helmet and glasses and was off for the remaining 56 miles. Due to my horrible swim time, I knew if I wanted to make up any positions I’d have to put the hammer down.
It was so nice not to be sucking in water and praying for land like on the swim just a few minutes ago and I was able to keep a fast pace for most of the bike leg. Passing riders one after another, you can tell which division they are in thanks to the markings on the racers’ calves. “H” meant they were also competing in the Half Rev event, everyone also had their age, but I was looking for that extra “AB,” which stood for the aquabike. Those were the people I was after and needed to pass as many of them as I could.
I passed a lot of people out there, but it wasn’t until about the first 15 miles, I started to see some of my fellow AB-ers and was able to pass by them with ease. It was pretty obvious which of the disciplines was my strongest and I kept thinking about how nice it was going to be not to have to put on the running shoes and finish with those 13.1 miles at the end. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to do all three legs of a triathlon (and a little part of me did miss being able to do the full event), but it always ended up with me passing a ton of people on the bike, only to be passed by them again on the run, which meant they ended up finishing before me in the overall event. Well this year that was going to change and I just ride.
The only “potential incident” (that was luckily avoided) was coming out of one of the small towns that we pass through. There were people lined up along the streets yelling, rattling their cowbells and cheering us on. I was coming up on the right of a woman to pass her and ahead was a 90-degree left hand turn to take us back out into the country. Not even thinking that she would go the wrong direction, I was surprised (and quickly applying my brakes) when she turned to the right, directly in front of me. It looked like she was really out of it and obviously was not paying attention, but fortunately I avoided a crash, which would have ended my day on a sour note (and some road rash).
At about mile 40 I could tell that I had been riding at red-line for most of the race as one of my legs began to cramp. I ate one of my energy gels, grabbed a drink and dialed it back a bit so I would not blow up. Heck, I still had 16 miles to go and wanted to make sure that I was able to finish strong. Fortunately, I got the cramping under control and was starting to see more AB racers. Being in the Clydesdale division, when I saw a “big guy” with an AB, that got me even more excited.
Coming into the last five miles, I basically took the gas pedal and stepped on it, all the way to the floor. While many of the triathletes on the course were starting to dial it back a bit in preparation for the run (which I would have been doing if 13.1 miles awaited me), I was blowing by people like a man on a mission. Making the final right-hand turn in to the big Cedar Point lot, I could see the aquabike finish banner in the distance and sprinted across it, leaving “nothing in the tank.”
Coasting into the transition area was much different than years past. I would have been hurrying to get to my rack, ditch the bike, scurry around swapping my cycling shoes for my running shoes, messing with my number belt and then heading off to run the streets of downtown Sandusky. Not this year. My event was done and I coasted in, took my time, sat down and leisurely put on my socks and shoes to go out and then run through the finish chute and claim my medal and get a few cheers from the crowd.
I hopped up and exited the transition area. Volunteers were handing out water and Gatorade, which I would have normally taken as I started the final 13.1 miles of the day, but I decided to leave it for the runners and made my way to the final turn, headed back into the finishing area. Shayne was there and could see he was headed back to try and get a photo of me, so I just took my time and even waited at the end of the final straightaway for him. The announcer, who is a bit of a card himself, even called me out on it saying something like “looks like we’ve got another finisher taking some extra time to make sure he’s got a nice Kodak moment – here comes Eric Cook from Battle Creek, MI.”
Unfortunately, Shayne’s iPhone froze on him (hmm… maybe he should get an Android – ha ha) so I don’t have any photographic evidence of my finish, but I came across in 3:34:12, which was good enough for 2nd place in the Clydesdale division. Overall I finished 78 out of 141 and considering the horrific swim time, I was happy with my result. Not sure I could have done either the swim or the bike any faster, which is what my goal was.
The day before my race, Shayne raced in the Sprint triathlon, which was the second year for the Saturday event. He won the Clydesdale division last year, and since it was the first time for that race, we were telling people he was the “world record” holder for the Rev3 Cedar Point Clydesdale Sprint Triathlon. May be a bit of an embellishment, but it was true (technically speaking). Good news is that he retained his crown and again won the Clydesdale division. In true Shayne fashion, I caught him “hamming it up” a bit coming into the finish line (and yes, I’ve got an Android phone that did not freeze up!).
Just Being Kids
One of the best parts about this race is spending time at Cedar Point with Shayne and just being “big” kids. We went in Saturday and Sunday and rode just about every ride we wanted. As mentioned earlier, it’s a special place for me given the memories of Christi. Angela, Shayne’s wife, and Shayla, their daughter, came up Sunday as well and I got to take Shayla on a lot of the rides her sister and I used to ride together. Of course, Christi was seven or eight years old and Shayla is now a sophomore in high school, but it was nice to carry on the tradition.
With any luck I’ll be back agai next year for the “regular” half (70.3) triathlon and will have some time to get a bit of running in. While I’d like to continue competing in the Clydesdale divison, it would be nice to also come in next year under 220 lbs. I have a feeling the run would be a little less painful if that were the case, so we’ll see how it goes.
Thanks again to those that have donated to support the CNCF and supporting me along the way (and it’s still not too late to donate). While the ability to compete is certainly a blessing, being able to tie it to something that can does good for others is just an added bonus.