This past weekend I raced in my first Jekyll Island Turtle Crawl Triathlon, Olympic distance. Jekyll is definitely a beautiful setting. I had looked at this race last year, but scheduling in May is a toughie. However, with Ironman Florida looming, and between its Gulf Coast ocean swim, and run/bike terrain, Jekyll seemed like a great prep race.
Before going further, let me say this report is tempered by the reality that a man, Christopher Petty, died during or shortly after the swim portion of the race.
We had vacationed in the area earlier in the year, swimming at St. Simons and Jekyll. I did not have great confidence being able to execute a decent stroke for any real distance in the surf. However, in the time since, my stroke in the pool has greatly improved, and a good bit has transferred to open water training (in the lake, albeit).
Down and Dirty
Once we got going, this was a fun race. The volunteers are all super friendly, the locals are great (hard to be a hard-ass living on Jekyll). There were some organizational glitches and one outright tragedy. However, I would recommend this race.
Distances: 1500 meter swim, 28 mile bike, 10k run. With relay, sprint, and 5k- & 10k- only options.
Course: Point-to-point 1500 meter swim along the Jekyll Island ocean-side coast;
28 mile loop (essentially) bike, one bottle exchange station; 10k out and back run, two water stations.
Registration: $85, 95, & 105 depending on how early you register, USAT member. There is a mail-in option. SetUp Events has an unsecured login and registration page. One lady assured me the payment processing was secured, but I don’t do unsecured logins.
Host: SetUp Events
Weather: Weather was beautiful. When I got on the island I heard the water temps were 72ish, that morning, someone said 74. Regardless, the water was an ideal temperature–Wetsuit legal. My second race in my new Xterra john suit. There was some rain the day before, but that seemed to only enhance the race conditions.
- Swim–A long walk down the beach to the swim start. Wave start on the beach, into the surf, hang a right and swim 1500 meters, hang another right and swim out. Slightly swimming against the current exiting the water.
- Bike–Pretty flat. Some slopes and rises, not even rollers. The issue is the cross- and head-winds. It was really a cross wind, so on the way back no tail-wind benefit. Apparently, good Florida training.
- Run–Virtually same terrain as the ride. A paved stretch with the beach to your side. Dappled shade.
Competition: Mixed bag of super fast guys, and first-timers. Given the destination angle of the race, there were a good mix of mid-packers and a more than usual dose of relayers. The relayers tend to skew your perspective on each leg of race.
My results: Back of the pack swim, mid-pack bike, mid-pack run. Giving myself a break on this one, as I still had a cold or something, and was racing after working hard all day, getting on the road late, and only catching a couple of hours sleep.
General Impression: Fun race. Idyllic setting & conditions. Some organizational flaws. Post-race recovery food was virtually non-existent. There was a food truck selling food. The Muscle Milk girls were there.
Room for improvement: I usually don’t have a long list of complaints, however, I think this list is justified. Regardless, it does not prevent me from recommending the race.
- Arriving at my hotel at 1:30am, necessitated early morning packet pick up. The packet pickup process was terrible. The volunteers were not empowered to make decisions to move the line faster, and could only process one person at a time off of a single paper registration list. This took the already stressful transition setup process, and made it far more stressful than necessary by sucking up all the time.
- There was no pre-race briefing. We were informed via email that all the info was available in an online doc, and there would be no pre-race briefing. There are several issues with this, one immediate on being that pulling up online docs while on the road is not always fool-proof. The other being that the briefing has a real purpose to inform participants of changes and new issues right before they start. The briefing is not a check-the-block kind of thing. Several niggling annoyances could have been avoided with a good pre-race brief right before the start.
- No port-a-potties. One after the race lady told me she saw one, but I saw none during the race, not at transition or anywhere else.
- Post race recovery food was utterly lacking. There was water and Gatorade at the finish line. Aside from that, I did not see any bananas, bagels or anything else. The Muscle Milk ladies were there, and that is always nice, but not quite the same.
There is debate about the ocean conditions and the race’s level of organization. I noticed one boat assisting a swimmer, however I did not see anyone in actual distress. I did not find the ocean to be too rough to swim, though I could see how it may have been hard for rescue kayaks to track and get to swimmers. One of my major criticisms is there were some organizational breakdowns. From my perspective during the race these were mostly annoying, not deadly. My initial reading of the reports indicate that the actual responders–the rescuers, EMTs, and State Patrol–all responded quickly and appropriately. It seems that the after-incident notification & reporting to emergency contacts and next of kin, was an issue, something I can imagine. I have noted some shortcomings, that definitely need to be addressed going forward. I don’t know to what extent, if at all, they contributed to Mr. Petty’s death, but the devil is in the details.
Triathlon is a dangerous sport, something that racers and organizers need to keep in mind, and be reminded of at all times. Many are saying the swim should have been cancelled. I don’t think so. The water was not unmanageable. It is an ocean swim after all. However, but all steps need to be in place, and taken seriously.
I mentioned earlier that May is a tough month the schedule, however, it is an important month to get in some test races. This year, on top of the usual soccer schedules, and end of the year school stuff, we are dealing with graduation stuff. I did not fully understand the impact that graduation stuff was going to have on my schedule in general. This race was no exception.
I generally, look at my schedule, consult with my wife, and try to shoehorn in personal race, training, and other stuff where I can. After doing all that, this past weekend seemed to work. Mother’s Day was the weekend before. Graduation was several day after. The regular club soccer season was over, the high school playoffs were done, and the State Cup series would be two weeks out. But of course, it didn’t work out like that.
Originally, I had planned to leave around noon Friday, get to Jekyll, pick up my packet early, set up my gear, hit the hotel, maybe watch the sunset on the beach. Actually, at one point, I envisioned making a mini-vacay with my wife out of this, but that evaporated a long time ago.
What actually happened was I was informed the day before that my son’s signing day ceremony would be at 2:30pm in the afternoon (automatic arriving in Jekyll like 10pm), worked all day, pushing to make headway on projects we are already behind on, had to address some domestic logistic issues, and didn’t get on the road until crazy late, arriving at Jekyll at 1:30am in the morning. I couldn’t fall asleep for another hour, and then started to trying to wake up at 4:45am.
I got to transition about 6am, which should have been plenty of time to get my packet, setup transition, and do everything I needed to. With the aforementioned glitches, it wasn’t. Luckily my transition set up is very straight forward, only needing about five minutes to do.
The walk to the swim start is long–be prepared.
Once in the water, I figured swimming in the breakers would be impossible, so I swam out as I could beyond the breakers, and once in the swells, the swimming was manageable. I saw people struggling in the breakers. Definitely swim out to the flatter water. It took a while, but I was able to settle down to a decent free-style. Alternating sides. Timing the swells. Sighting off of the water towers on shore. Around the last buoy and back to shore.
T1 was uneventful. I’m working out how to best deploy my homemade Lara bars. Packaging and carrying during the race is still slightly awkward. The wetsuit came off super easy this time. One fitting, one open water swim, and two races later. Breaking in is key.
The bike was also uneventful. Beautiful. A couple of inconsiderate drivers. After five miles my legs loosened up, and I was able to push my cadence for the remaining 23. There was a fairly steady cross-wind on the way out. It was more of three-quarter wind, needing to actually lean into it at times, and forcing me into aero for most of the ride. Typically, aero is a big issue for me, causing my back to seize up. However, I had recently adjusted my set up, going for a shorter, more vertical aerobar reach, and had no back issues.
One other big guy and I were hopeful for a tail wind on the way back, but no such thing. Only less of a cross wind.
In T2 a lady drug her bike through my towel and space, fortunately, not disrupting my gear too much. I helped her get her bike situated. Looking at my T2 split, it might have cost me 10 seconds. And my gear survived. No biggie.
The run went well. I kept my stride short, and maintained my form fairly well. I could feel my hamstrings on the verge of cramping during the last few miles, so I’m confident that I did not hold back.
I walked out of the Woods the other day, drenched, cold and exhilarated.
I spend the better part of this past four-day weekend in the Cohutta Wilderness. It was my second trip to the Cohutta. My earlier visit was with the two Princes, and we overnighted on the Chestnut Lead trail, and then hiked a portion of the Conasauga River trail, before breaking camp and heading back.
This time I got to the Mountain rather late in the afternoon, and found the road leading from the intersection of FS 64 and 68 was closed in either direction leading to the trailheads. So I parked at the gate, and made the two-mile hike to the Tearbritches Trailhead. My plan was to hike Bald Mountain, overnight, hike to Cowpen Mountain, overnight, and then hike out the third day. Primary trails would have been Tearbritches and Panther Creek.
The weather forecast for the weekend was not good. I had considered bringing my dog, who is warrior and always down to go, but thought better of it. Good choice. The weatherman essentially called for continuous rain Saturday night, Sunday, and Sunday night. I packed some medium cold weather gear, my lightweight gortex, my hammock set up with rain-fly, typical extra socks, and trail feed.
I was well into sunset by the time I got to the North side of Bald Mountain. I found a spot on the North-East side of the ridge and set up. The rain was to come from the South-West, and I wanted a good wind break on the opposite face. Another good choice. That night it did rain, and I could hear the wind howling through the upper canopy coming from the opposite face. However, there was virtually no wind in my spot.
By the way, I love hammock camping for many reasons. Among which are: a) I can set up on virtually any level terrain, without having to clear any ground, b) and I can camp leaving no trace, no compacted ground, no tent clearing.
It did rain all night. It let up just after sunrise, though the fog and mist made for an undramatic sunrise. Then it started raining again.
I decided to start hiking. In the rain you’ve a few choices, my option is to load up the heater (my backpack), and stay warm by keeping moving. Plus I figured the rain would let up at some point, and if it didn’t I could probably make my total distance, pack it in and hike out.
It literally rained all day.
Tearbritches Trail is aptly named. I thought at first maybe because there were a lot of briars and brambles. No. It is because of the phenomenon when you take a big step up or down, and tear out the crotch of your pants. I didn’t tear out my crotch, but the trail basically descends the entire 4000 feet or so from the top of Bald Mountain to the Conasauga River. And what trail goes down, must come up . . .
Towards the bottom of Tearbritches, the river crossings begin. When hiking in the Cohutta, be prepared to get your feet wet. They’re gonna get wet and cold, so accept it, suck it up, and keep moving.
A right turn along Conasauga River trail brings you to Panther Creek, and a wide river, somewhat treacherous river crossing. Panther Creek trail leads off Southwest.
Panther Creek trail leads off at a fairly tolerable elevation, but soon becomes a literal rock scramble. Treacherous for the inexperience hiker. Panther Creek tumbles down several very nice falls, and eventually to a dramatic cascade down a sheer rock face.
I lost the trail in the rain, and found myself (almost) lost. I used my map and terrain navigation skills to climb several ridges and eventually linked back up with the East Cowpens trail. At this point it was late, I was cold and freezing. East Cowpens lead back to FS 64 where I made the four mile return hike to my truck. I started sleeting. I don’t think I was ever as glad to see my truck, through the mist, in the sleet, in the fading light.
The Mountainside is my Temple;
The Shoreline is my Masjid;
Deep in the Woods, I kneel,
The Shrine surrounds me
Each morning I wake
The weight of the day down presses.
Coffee and out the door.
At the red light I see. . .
The Sun Rise
. . .The weight lifts.
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