Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hy-Vee 5i50 US Championships - Des Moines, IA - September 4, 2011

After racing in NYC where I finished 12th, I was contacted by the race organizers of the Hy-Vee US Championships where they decided to invite me.  Finishing in the top 10 was an automatic bid, but I would find out later that most other para competitors were either going to the "Worlds" in Beijing or simply would not be going.  My initial thought was to not go.  My season was winding down and another race, which would have to include a flight and airfare was not in the family budget.  After chatting with a few Facebook friends I was convinced to go.  One team-mate said when you are invited to race, you race.  One other friend suggested I set up a fund-raising website and ask friends to help out if they so chose.  I have to admit I was a little reluctant to do that.  There are so many more worthy charities out there, so why would someone want to give me money to race?  Well, I set up the site and sent out an email and a posting on Facebook and to my great surprise, the money came in.  Before I knew it, I at enough saved up to ensure I could go without worrying about blowing the family budget.  To those that gave and those who decided not to but still wished me well, I am SO GRATEFUL.

This would be my first "destination" race.  I would have to find a way to get my bike there so when I asked around I was able to borrow a bike box from Kurt, our team captain.  It took a while to get the bike apart where I had a particular problem with the pedals.  After taking more than an hour I got the right pedal off, I was still struggling with the left.  And yes, I did know I was supposed to turn the left pedal in the opposite direction.  I ended up buying a pedal wrench and it worked a heck of a lot better.  Once the bike was all packed away, I knew I was actually going to make it there.

I chose to fly on FRONTIER airlines because I had good things about traveling with bikes on their airline.  I was not disappointed as I was allowed to check 2 bags and with the bike being one of them, I was not asked for any sort of SURCHARGE.  YES!  The flight there was uneventful with a brief stopover in Milwaukee.  I arrived on-time in Des Moines, called the hotel and was shuttled there with no problem.  After checking in I decided to make it over to the EXPO for a briefing and then get my race packet.  That all went pretty smooth   

When I started to check out the EXPO, I ran into a paratriathlete who raced in NYC.  His name is  Sean VanGerena.  I did not think he was going to be racing at Hy-Vee and then he explained to me he was to be going to Beijing, but had some passport problems, so last minute, decided to come to Des Moines.  He is a great guy and I was excited to be see him again.  This race for sure had the most amazing SWAG.  We were given a back-pack, cycling jersey, a visor or hat, IRONMAN sunglasses and a whole host of other stuff. 

I headed back to my room and then decided to try and find a place to eat some dinner.  I walked and walked and .........walked without finding something appropriate.  I decided to walk across the river to the concert and Beer Garden that were being put on by the 5i50 race organizers.  I ended up having a beer and some AWESOME authentic tasting tacos for dinner.  Not exactly the best dinner 36 hours prior to the race, but not terrible.  I even saw Tim O'Donnell and Mirinda Carfrae out for a evening run.  I had met Tim at Timberman last year and had managed to keep in touch with him somewhat through Facebook.  A REAL nice guy.  Something you're likely to hear about most of the Pros in triathlon.  Mirinda is the reigning World Ironman Womens' Champion.  I didn't stick around the concert very long and then made my way back to the hotel.  I managed a brief swim and jacuzzi in the hotel pool and then called it a night.  Prior to turning in I ran into a woman named Bridget who had flown in with her friend Aubrey was going to be racing as well.  They were both from the western part of MA.  Bridget was saying that Aubrey was in the need of a pump and I was happy to oblige. 

 I had a very restful night waking up a number of times wondering if I would be able to put my bike together without and help.  As such, I awoke at 4:30AM and proceeded to get in together.  To my amazement I was finished a little prior to 6AM.  I would try and get the bike out for a ride after breakfast.  I headed down to the restaurant for breakfast and was happily surprised by the EXCELLENT buffet that was available for only $13.  I grabbed a local paper and proceeded to enjoy a nice 2 hour breakfast.  I grazed and grazed on some great fruit and had an awesome omelette made to order as I watched.

As I was leaving, Aubrey and Bridget came down for breakfast.  I asked if it would be OK if I sat at the table for a while and we could all get to know each other.  I would later find out that unlike me, Aubrey was quite modest.  She qualified for the race by WINNING her age-group at a 5i50 race down in Florida.  She never told me any of this while we chatted.

After leaving the girls, I made my way upstairs to change and go out for a ride.  The clouds looked a little ominous, but I thought I would try.  The bike worked great and all seemed fine as I headed down to ride over to where I would later drop my bike off.  I was about 2/3 of the way there (a 4-5 mile ride from the hotel) when the rain drops really started to fall.  I saw a covered parking garage and headed for it, when the unthinkable happended and my chain came off.  When I looked, it had not really come off, but had come APART.  I obviously had not connected the quick link the proper way and now the link was missing.  I was so lucky the rain shower lasted for about 1-2 minutes.  I got off of my bike (luckily I had brought my glasses as well) and started to look for the link.  I was looking for about 5 minutes and was having no luck.  I was in a real industrial area at this time and there seemed to be no one around.  What was I going to do?  Walk my bike back to the hotel and look like a real amatuer?  Just as I was about to give up, a small car pulled up and out of came a nice couple named Ken and Sue.  Ken quickly got out of his car and started to help me look and if he didn't find the link in about 1 minute.  Just as he did I looked over and a man who was TOTALLY STONED came walking up the road towards us.  I was carrying a leaf and put it in our faces and was wondering why we weren't as interested in it as he was.  He stumbled around a bit and even fell.  As Ken asked him if he needed any help, he managed to get himself up and contined on his way.  All I said to Ken and Sue was, THANK-YOU!  I could only imagine what would have happened if they did not come along and I was face to deal with this guy all on my own.  I am sure I would have been OK, but what might he have tried to do if I was alone?  I tell you, God sure does look after us! 

I managed to get the chain back on and then proceeded to ride carefully back to the hotel.  Ken had given me his number in case I needed help between there and the hotel.  Thank goodness I got back OK.  Back in my room I checked out the chain and it seemed to be OK.  I de-greased and then re-greased it.  There was a small bike shop called the Des Moines Bike Collective across from the hotel and they took a quick look and said the chain looked fine to them.  I must not have fastened it the right way the first time.  While waiting I met a young woman named Traci and her dad Larry.  Her mom's name escapes me now.  We had a lovely chat and I was enjoyed talking to her about racing as this would be her first triathlon.  We talked a bit what got us both to this point and I was happy to share with her the story about Ken and Sue and how God does make sure that as long as we put our trust in Him, we will be cared for. 

My bike in transition with the other para bikes.
I got some lunch at a small restaurant near the hotel where I met a young couple from Nebraska and their two young children.  He was coming to race even though he was under the weather.  He had won the entry to the race while doing another race.  When I was done I finally saw an opening and rode my bike down to the transition area at Gray's Lake.  After arriving the bike techs from Scheels were there and they also took a good look at the bike.  They tweaked the gears and brakes a bit and said the chain looked fine.

Greg Welch
I had no luck finding a taxi to get back to the hotel so I started asking around for a ride and managed to get a lift from a nice guy who would also be racing.  We had a great chat and he dropped me off just in time for me to make it back to the Expo in time to see the Pro Panel.  Eight of the pros (4 men and 4 women) were answering "softball" type questions from Greg Welch.  Greg had won Ironman in back in 1994 but had to take a quick exit from the sport when he was diagnosed with some major heart problems.  He now does the commentating online for IRONMANLIVE during all the big races.  He is just as funny in person and I went up to him prior to the event and introduced myself.  I often hear other races teasing him because he is shorter than most of the male pros.  I told him he can tell them now he is not the shortest guy in triathlon.  He thought that was pretty funny.  I later would ask a question of the panel and he asked me to repeat the story to everyone.  I gave them all a good chuckle. 

Tim, Rasmus, and Chris
 When the panel concluded I stayed around to say "HI" to Tim O'Donnell.  It made me feel pretty good when he actually came up to me and said, "Hey John, how are you doing?"  He even introduced me to Mirinda, which was very cool.  I also made a point of saying hello to Rasmus Henning and even Chris McCormack (reigning World Ironman Champion ).   I later felt a little dumb as standing right there as well was Ironman LEGEND Paula Newby-Fraser who won Kona an unprecedented 8 times.  I also asked passed Ironman Champion Heather Fuhr, if she was pro Dr. Amanda Stevens.  Boy, did I feel silly. 

Mirinda, Me, and Tim
Chris McCormack and Me
Heading out again from the hotel I managed to find a nice restaurant for dinner.  The wait for a table inside was going to be more than 45 minutes or I could sit outside under an umbrella at a table right away.  I chose the one outside and had a nice dinner in the pouring rain without getting wet.  After dinner I headed back to the hotel for the night.  I showered and then put on my TRI-TATS.  They are temporary tattoos and as I am writing this a week later, they are still visible.  If only I could have spent the whole last week wearing a tank-top!  I took a while to pack up my bag for the morning and drifted off to sleep around 10:30pm with the alarm set for 3:15AM.

The alarm went off and I was up pretty quickly.  Being away from home without a car and no market nearby, I had to improvise for breakfast.  Breakfast was a Protein drink, wheat and berry muffin, a CLIF bar and some water and gatorade.  I headed down to the lobby and quickly asked a couple of they were heading down to the race.  They were and they said they had room if I wanted to go with them.  Dave was going to be racing and his wife would be leading a small cheering section comprised of parents, in-laws and children.  They had driven up from Kansas City, KS. 

In transition around 5AM
I arrived at the race site around 4:30AM after a short walk from where the car was parked.  It was still pretty dark and my head-lamp became very helpful.  I was a little freaked out that the pressure was down in my front tire.  The bike techs checked it out and felt it would be fine for the race after being pumped up.  I trusted them and would later realize, it was a wise thing to do. 

All 3 of the other para-triathletes were there: Sean, Aaron Scheidies, and Mark Dobersh.  I slowly got things ready and started to enjoy a very beautiful sunrise.  On one of my trips to the porta-john I ran into another Kona Ironman Legend.  Shivering away, I saw Sister Madonna_Buder, the IRON NUN. We had a lovely chat about racing and faith.  As we parted, I felt the Spirit around both of us and cried for a moment.  Total tears of joy!

Two days prior to the race the race organizers had been telling people the lake water temp was 83 degrees.  That's too hot for a wetsuit for age-groupers who want "official results".  Well, people should not have listened as the water temp for race morning was 77 degrees, which is cool enough for a wetsuit if wanted.  Lots of people were walking around upset as they had left their suits at home or at their hotel.  Para-triathletes are allowed wetsuits in any weather.  I was planning on only wearing my wetsuit pants, so I had no worries.

All set, I made my way to the swim start and looked out on the lake.  This was a 1.5KM swim which was comprised of a swim straight out with a right turn then we simply made our way around the outside of the lake making 4 left turn before heading back in.  Our para wave was to go out after the elite men and then women.  We waded in a bit and then before I knew it, I heard the horn and we were off.

I managed to make it to the right turn before I heard the next wave of swimmers make it in.  I knew it would only be a few minutes before they were passing me.  This wound it being the first open water swim where I really got hammered by others.  Having a MINI COOPER go to the first place finisher might have something to do with that along with prize money for the top 5 in each age-group.  I got hit in the back pretty good at least 3 times along with getting my ankle grabbed once.  I was trying to do my best to stay in line to the turn buoys knowing I was going to be in the think of things.  The long back stretch was difficult to sight as we were swimming into the sun the whole way.  Keeping swimmers to my left ensured I pretty much kept on track.  The water tasted a lot like fuel and I felt it was actually stinkier than the Hudson River swim I did 4 weeks previously. 

Swim exit
Making the last turn I lined up to try and swim straight to the swim exit.  All went well and when I got out and passed over the mat, I was happy to hit the lap button on my watch at 47:34.  That was a pretty good time for me and I tried to run some of the way into transition.  The run down to the entrance was pretty long and since my bike was racked near BIKE OUT, I knew I would have to make it all the way back down to my bike.  The good thing is, that meant less distance to run with the bike.  With the run included I made it out of T1 in a time of 5:47.  I would bet that more than 3 minutes of that was running to my bike.

Out on the bike and rolling all went well.  The roads for the entire ride were very smooth, save for a little section right near the end.  There were some nice hills up into West Des Moines but along with that came an AWESOME decent, where I managed to get up to 38 mph.  We passed over a number of railway tracks where they put some carpet over top of the tracks to help, and it did.

There were two lollipops on the ride where both turnarounds went pretty good without too much of a slow down.  I had to stop around the 15 mile marker to add water to my aero bottle.  I can carry the bottles in a cage on the back of my bike, but can't reach them while riding.  It amounts to less than a 1 minute stop, but I know I can't ride without water for 10 miles and then expect to run well off the bike.

Enjoying the ride
Getting back to T2 in a time of 1:37:32 was a great bike time for me.  I was very pleased with my ride and was confident I left a lot more in the tank for the run.  Off the bike and into T2 I got changed pretty quickly but needed a stop at the porta-potty.  Out the back of transition in a time of 4:59, was not at all fast, but again, most of the time was due to the long run out.  Lots of relay runners were waiting for their bikes to show up and cheered us on as we left out and onto the run.  

I was determined to have a GREAT run after my poor showing in NYC.  It's important to note that the run in NYC was a lot hillier and hotter.  The first few miles of the run were all on a paved path with no hills at all.  There lamp posts or cones along the path the whole time so I started out the run doing a 3 to 1 ratio of run to walk and then upped it to 5 to 1.  I made sure of sticking to that ratio as to start the run, my back got really tight and I was worried I would end up having to walk a lot again like in NYC.  My strategy worked as I took those rests each time I felt like I was actually GAINING strength.  There were water stops each mile with lots of cheering volunteers.  As we ran as I went out to a turn around near mile 2, Sister Madonna Buder was running out as I was running back and we gave each other a cheer.  As I neared the water stop at mile 3, I saw Traci's parents.  Her whole family got up to cheer me on and boy did it give me a boost.

Around mile 4 to 5 there was a loud speaker set up playing and re-playing the theme to ROCKY, "Gonna Fly Now".  It was so fitting for me as I had received an unsolicited good luck email from Chrissie Wellington the night before where she wished me luck in the race saying, "Fly like the Wind".

Actually remembering to SMILE!
We passed by a bar called "Mullets" and there was a large crowd tailgating there in preparation for the AAA Baseball game in the nearby park.  I got them all cheering as I ran by a lifted my arms a bunch of times to get them going.  Again, another boost.

Across a small walking bridge and we were nearing the downtown core and the State House.  We had to run up near the State House then come back down and then again back up for the finish.  The streets were lined with specatators and I could feel my energy level increasing.  As I passed mile 6, with only 2/10 of a mile left, I turned to corner to the finish and saw a HUGE uphill into the finishing chute.  I started to walk and knew I would need some help to run the finish.  The streets were barricaded and lined with fans.  Again, like before, I started to move my arms to get people cheering and they responded.  As they cheered, I started to run.  Made the final turn and headed to the finish.  

Crossing the Line.

Again, still all uphill, it was a challenging finish.  I kept my arms moving and people continued to cheer, so I kep running.  I am glad I never checked the total time I had, because as I crossed the line, I looked at my watch and saw the time, 3:59:56.  With a run time of 1:24:06, I was able to stay on 13.5 min miles for the whole run.  Though longer than my last 5i50 time at NYC, I have to keep saying to myself, you can't compare times from different courses.  There are so many variables in each race.   One particular note, my swim in NYC was only 23 minutes, thanks to the current in the Hudson, so there is 25 minutes right there.

5i50 US Open Para-triathlete Champion!
I got my clothing bag, changed and then waited for the awards.  Since finishing 4th out of the 4 paratriathletes, I knew I would win something.  I was initially worried when they called the prizes and were only awarding 1st, 2nd, and 3rd and then I heard, "Winning 1st place in the Open Paratriathlete Category is John Young of Salem".  First place?  I was given a gold medal and a huge gift certificate from Orca (wetsuit company).    I later was to find out that thanks to my classification problems in NYC, where I was too tall to be classified, the Hy-Vee organizers contacted USAT and were told I was to be in the Open category, not with the other athletes.  Well, I guess it goes to prove, "Good things come to those who wait."  I get my classification sorted out sooner or later, but I guess winning something in the mean time is good too.  

I went over to the Hy-Vee tent to find out I automatically qualify for the race in 2012.  I am sure next year, we will budget for this race.  Hopefully we can manage trip home to MN as well to see Sue's family.

Food after the race was pretty poor.  Especiailly since Hy-Vee, the race sponsor, is a supermarket chain.  It was simply bagels and fruit without much more.

I made my way on a shuttle to transition, loaded up my gear in my bag, put it on my bike and then rode back to my hotel.  Nice and slowly I made it back with no problems.

I quickly got changed and then walked back towards the river to watch the PROS race.  The women had already started and I got there when they were all on the bike.  I watched for a while and then walked towards the State House grandstand.  I stopped to talk with a group of 3 people who were watching.  They had all raced earlier as well.  I ended up spending the rest of the womens' race and then the entire men's  with Kattie and her husband. 
Mirinda catching Luxford

Mirinda, 2nd place woman.
Swim Start for Men

Chris McCormack
Greg Bennett, First Place Male

After the men's race, I met up with Sean and his buddy and we had a nice dinner and some drinks together.  I made my way back to my hotel later in the evening.  I even managed a short swim and jacuzzi before the pool closed at midnight.

The next day I packed and headed home.  Except for a pretty bumpy fllight from Milwaukee to Boston, the trip home was pretty eventful.

Again, I want to says THANKS to all those who helped get me there.  Your generosity and encouragement have not gone unnoticed.


  1. Nice job John & good write up! Good play by play. Congrats on your race, so glad you were able to make the trip! Sounded well worth it. Love the story of the stoned guy & the leaf. HA! :)

  2. Congratulations, my friend. Sorry it took me so long to get around to reading this, the move really got me behind on blog reading. I have my own unbudgeted Olympic coming up, but I'm sure I can figure it out. I just wonder if I can even come close to your time, that was pretty darn good!

  3. Hi John! So glad I finally was able to read your are such an awesome writer. Thanks again for giving me the words of encouragement that day before the race, you truly gave me the strength I needed! Congrats to you taking home first place, that is fantastic!!

    I've already signed up for next September....hope you have too! Best of luck with everything and hope all is well with you---maybe see you next fall and always remember Philippians 4:13 :)

    Traci Moklestad