By Wendell Scott
Richard Russell State Park seems like a really long way from Atlanta, and if I lived inside the perimeter, it would be. For me, it’s only about a 90 minute drive, so if I’m really organized and get my race gear fully ready to go the night before, I can easily make the drive and still get there in plenty of time.
Race morning arrives with the promise of clear skies and sunshine, which compared to the prior year, is welcome news. Last year anyone finishing after 2:45 race time was caught in a deluge of biblical proportions.
I arrive without incident, and my pre-race prep goes well. I’m able to do a warm-up ride, followed up by a comfortable swim warm-up. My only concern about this distance is that my swimming volume has taken a hit in the prior 30 days while my wife and I were moving. Normally, I can easily get 3-4 swim sessions/week, but the prior month had been 2/week at best.
I felt good on the two-loop swim, but like most loop swim courses, it feels longer than advertised. Surprisingly, the swim goes well. I’m out slightly ahead of my time from the prior year (assuming any two years are comparable).
Wendell exiting the water
On the bike, I start passing people one after the other.
Richard Russell has a long uphill around a mile from the park entrance and each year, I see people just blasting up the hill only to be forced to take a long recovery at the top while more conservative riders go past them in bunches. The bike portion is one big loop with a short lollypop stick out of and into the park with very low traffic and a scenic ride-by of the Pinederosa. I look for this landmark every year and remember one of my favorite childhood TV shows, Bonanza, which was a western that took place on a ranch called the Ponderosa. I continue picking off riders ahead of me, but haven’t seen anyone from my age-group, so I feel pretty good rolling into T2. This feeling is further enforced when I only see one bike on the racks in my vicinity.
The wooded uphill section leading out of T2 is not steep, but it is taxing. Being more of a rhythm runner, it takes me a bit to smooth out my effort and settle in. Usually, I’m about mile one on this course before I start feeling like I’ve hit my stride, which is the case again this year.
The course evens out nicely after the trail section ends, with only minor ups and downs. After the first turnaround I can see some of my age group competitors and I get a sense of where I am. While I have a cushion over some of the people I know, I’m still thinking about that bike that was racked when I hit T2. If I keep pushing, maybe there is a chance I can catch him. Maybe I already have and he’s now chasing me. Not knowing, it’s no time to take my foot off the gas.
Wendell on the run
Lap two of the run goes a lot better than the first and my times reflect this. Overall, the second lap for me is about 90 seconds faster and each mile segment is quicker than the first lap. I finish strong and find my wife, who surprised me by getting up early and making the journey with me today.
I sit at the finish line waiting for Dan Meyer to arrive. Dan is training for his first IronMan (Wisconsin), He’s raced well, but I think his training is definitely affecting his freshness. He knows what’s important and he’s focused on the big goal, which he should be.
Fortunately, he and I both do well. I get second in my age-group and Dan gets third. Looked like a pretty good day all around for Team Podium and I treat myself to some tasty Mexican food on the way home.
Bonus: my wife volunteers to drive so I can take a nap. Doesn’t get any better than this!