It’s 4:15 am on a SATURDAY when my alarm goes off in the middle of the most lovely dream. It’s tempting to turn over and hit snooze, but I remember that today is the kick off for the Tri the Parks race series and several hundred triathletes are counting on all3sports to roll in when transition opens. We are there for any athletes who need last minute bike maintenance or who have forgotten items --goggles and race belts being the most common ones.
A much-needed cup of coffee and quick walk with the pup later, it’s time to hit the road.
The all3sports van is….big. It’s not my favorite thing to drive but thankfully the usually busy highways around Atlanta are mostly empty in the early morning hours.
It’s just over an hour drive to Carrollton, GA, where John Tanner 1, affectionately known as the ‘Triathlon Olympics’ takes place the last Saturday in April. At first, I’m grumpy. Still tired and I can’t get the volume loud enough on the van’s stereo to listen to my newest podcast. I finally give up and drive in silence. The full moon is out and its light is so bright that I almost don’t need headlights.
As I get closer to the race site, I start to see vehicles with bikes pass me - not unusual since the van tops out around 70mph before it begins to violently shake. I think of all of the people driving out to the race today. Some are racing their first race of the season, some are racing their first race ever. I have no doubt that everyone is experiencing that nervous energy that they feel before race day.
The closer I get, the more excited I feel. I kind of regret my decision not to race. There’s nothing like race morning and I believe that local races have a special energy that you can’t find anywhere else. You find less stress and more pure joy in racing. Everyone wants to show up and bring their best to the day, but they also feel a bit less pressure than in the big race venues. Everyone knows that a sprint can be the most painful race you’ll ever do — and if you ever hear anyone say, ‘it’s only a sprint’, they haven’t really raced a sprint!
John Tanner, in particular, is like a big Atlanta family reunion. Friends and frienemies who you haven’t seen since last season gather. Many stories are swapped about years past. No remembers a time when the water was this cold. The hills on the run seem to get bigger every year. And do you remember that time….. -
Transition is buzzing but the great thing about this race is everyone helps each other. Need something? Ask your neighbor. Are you a newbie? Someone will help you. There’s an atmosphere of camaraderie in the triathlon community.
The all3sports table was hopping from the moment we were set up. Most people were venturing out for the first race of the 2018 season and realizing that their bike was making that ‘weird’ noise, that their brakes were rubbing or that they forgot something - yep, goggles and race belts.
Then it’s time to suit up and head to the beach. The water is 67 degrees, last year the same lake was 77 degrees for this race. Sixty-seven-degree water is cold and people are standing on the bank deciding if they should venture in for a warm-up swim or not.
The great thing about local races is the pre-race environment. Families can hang out until the second you hit the water, exits aren’t blocked off so you can get high-fives as you come out of the swim, and they are often in venues that are fun for families to hang out while a parent races. Dogs are on leashes wandering the park and as soon as an athlete finishes the race, he/she heads down to the last brutal hill to cheer in finishers.
There are many other advantages to racing local. It’s less expensive, especially if you don’t have to add travel costs. It’s a great venue to get practice your transitions for your ‘A’-race — much easier to swallow a bike crash on your attempt at a flying mount at a local race than at that 70.3, Ironman or race at which you’re trying to qualify for Team USA. If you’re training for a long-course race, you can still go out and ride or run after the race and not miss a day of training.
There are also less tangible benefits. Getting to chat with that person who is doing their first triathlon and remembering what it was like to experience that. Getting to high-five that runner who doesn’t think he can make it up that last hill. Supporting race directors who live in your community and pour their heart into making race day a perfect experience for you. These are just a few of the benefits of racing local.
My favorite moments are the finish line moments. At a larger race venue, you experience the finish line solo. It takes a while to make your way out of the finisher chute and find family or friends in the crowd. But here, on a smaller field, your family is waiting at the finish line - full of smiles and hugs. Your buddy is there with a high-five. Your teammate has a big smile on his face because he’s so happy for you. The finish line is a special place where community gathers.
By the time the van is loaded and rolling back to Atlanta, I have forgotten the lack of sleep and early morning desire to snooze. I am grateful for another race day, an opportunity to serve both the race directors who have worked tirelessly to create a great event and athletes who showed up and raced with so much heart.
I’m also reminded that it’s really important for athletes, stores, coaches, and brands to support the local races. Our business is born from dreams that begin on those courses. When we write them off as ‘just a local race’, we lose a part of what makes our community great.
What is your favorite local race and why? Tell us about it and maybe we’ll feature it on our blog!
And if you want to join us at a future Tri the Parks race, check them out here.