"This was a bad idea ..."
I said that many times Wednesday morning. But I said it for the last time as I stood on the beach wearing a life jacket and propping blue goggles on my forehead. Just then, a large firework shot out of a homemade stand and 29 of us hit the water.
For reasons I can't recall, I entered the TinMan Triathlon on Lake of the Woods near Solon Springs. The race consisted of a 200-meter swim, 10-kilometer bike ride and 5-kilometer run. I think more than anything else I wanted to know if I could do it. I've never run an race in my life, so why not try one now?
Less than 50 meters into the swim, a thought crossed my mind: They should call this the Scarecrow Triathlon because unlike the tinman, who was searching for a heart, I should have been searching for my brain. I've never been accused of being a "strong swimmer," but at the halfway point, I was in the middle of the pack, not in the front, but certainly not last. It was at that point I figured I'd flip over and backstroke for awhile. I was already out of breath, and this was the first (and shortest) event.
After a few more minutes of swimming and only one backward steering malfunction, I made my way out of the water and got prepared for the bike ride.
I grabbed my towel, dried off and changed in a sauna off the side of the Donohoo house (race headquarters), then began what I thought was the easy part of the triathlon. Boy was I sorely mistaken. I've been riding my bike around Superior a little bit in preparation and quickly learned that it wasn't enough. Once I rode down the Donohoo driveway, took a quick left onto Lake of the Woods Loop, it wasn't more than 100 feet until the trail marker directed us into the forest. I didn't prepare for a forest. For six miles, we rode up and down hills, over rocks and logs and through sand. And I'm not talking city sand; this was hardcore, the Jawas from Star Wars might be living in this stuff type of sand. At one point, I was sure I was riding on flat tires, but it just turned out the sand was so deep I couldn't see where they ended.
It was during the bike ride that I really thought about quitting. I had just started walking up a hill that would have made Lance Armstrong cringe (OK probably not, but still, it was big). I thought I was going to get sick, then doubt really crept into my thoughts.
"If I throw up, I'm done; I'll quit", I thought to myself. I was out of gas. I thought maybe I started out too fast. Well luckily, I didn't hurl and kept plugging away. I watched as competitors started coming on the opposite side of the trail -- the fast people who have already gotten to the turn-around point. Dang those in-shape, athletic folks! But I kept on. My only goal was to finish the race, and pushing myself to others' paces was a bad idea.
After more than 50 minutes of the "easy" part, I got back to the changing station and got ready to run. This is the part of the story where fear comes into play. I hate running. Basically I'll only run if something is chasing me, and it would have to be bigger than me. So I grabbed a bottle of water and headed out on the trail. On a side note, the guy that won the whole race passed me in the opposite direction as I got into the woods part of the trail. That was not encouraging. He was finishing as I was starting. About a quarter mile in, I needed to walk, so I stopped running behind another guy who was also walking. We started talking and decided to run down the hills and walk up them, because this trail, much like the bike segment, was constant up and downs through the woods.
I ran with my new buddy, John Musowka, through the woods and we talked for quite some time before I finally asked him where he was from. "Guess," he said. Well, using my Velma from Scooby-Doo deduction skills, I knew he wasn't from the United States. "I'll give you a hint, I'm not from Jamaica," he said to me. I laughed and guessed Africa. "It's in Eastern Africa," he said. Since its been a long time since I've played "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?," John told me he was from Tanzania. John's wife was friends with someone in the race, and he thought he'd give it a try.
About three miles into our run, we came up with the plan that we would run hard at the end to look good for the crowd at the finish line. Once we hit the pavement, we took off. I ran maybe 50 feet before it was evident I had nothing left. John knew some people watching on the road so he went out in front of me. As he turned into the driveway, he stopped and waited for me to catch up.
"I won't leave you behind," he called out.
We ran down the driveway to the finish line together, one hour, twenty eight minutes after we started.
Mission complete. And it turns out the TinMan was a good name for the triathlon -- it took more heart than anything else to finish.
The TinMan was created three years ago by Barry and Jen Donohoo as a fun event near the Fourth of July Holiday. This year, the swim portion of the race was shortened to 200 meters.
"The first year, a third of the people had to be rescued by boat," Barry Donohoo chuckled. In its second year (there was no race last summer), the race has seen participants from places like the Twin Cities, Texas and New Mexico.
"We pull them in from all over," Donohoo said.
Over-all winner: Alan Philips, of Albuquerque, NM.
Mens Division: Jeff Ornell, 1st, Grant Nelson, 2nd, Mike Simonsen, 3rd.
Womens Division: Britta Smith, 1st, Beth Lindberg, 2nd, Stephanie Janigo, 3rd.
Youth Division: Rachel Alworth.
African Division: John Musowka.
Big Man Division (over 250 lbs.): Jed Carlson.