The 2018 team road trip landed the team back in Chattanooga, the 2015 team outing redux featuring a bit of a different mix of team members in attendance and new bike and run course layouts for this event hosted by Team Magic.
Fourteen team members would make the haul but the traditional van + pickup truck + enclosed trailer (i.e. bike transport) would be abandoned given a somewhat fractured array of travel plans amongst the multiple team members. The team made it work with and around such commitments and goings on as family vacations, job duties, summer mission trips, professional school, training injuries, food-borne illness, etc…
It truly is a team effort on coordinating this team road trip: hotel reservations, transport vehicles, bike transport, pre-race meal, hounding everyone to remember to register for the event. This is how the annual team road trip manifests every year. That said, as the dust has barely settled on the 2018 outing, an unofficial polling of Chain members would indicate excitement in planning and preparing for the 2019 version of the annual trip.
In an attempt to break away from a hackneyed “race report” this author offers a bullet-pointed summary of the activities surrounding the trip and raceday:
All that said, this is a top-notch event which served as a great destination for the annual team trip. So much so that USA Triathlon partnered with the deserving race directorship group to designate it as the Mideast Regional Championship which made for a fast, competitive field of athletes. If you haven’t gotten around to racing in Chattanooga in June, put it on your list of “must do” events.
The members of Chain Tri Team enjoyed this event and appreciate the effort which goes into conducting an event of this scale in the center of a large metro area. Many thanks to the race directorship, event volunteers, event sponsors, local law enforcement, fellow athletes, and USA Triathlon for making this a memorable outing for the team.
Now, with fourteen members making the trip this year and with a different combination of team members attending every year seems there has been enough data collected over time to entertain an FAQ on the team road trip… Beyond that, if you have never road tripped to an event with a handful of fellow athletes (club, team, training partners), please consider it. Memorable and rewarding…
Until next time!
What is the requisite distance for a team roadtrip?
400 - 500 miles, beyond that and someone starts getting a little crispy, anything less than that and the vibe and camaraderie of the trip experience wanes almost in a linear (maybe exponential) manner.
What sort of vehicle or vehicles get(s) the job done?
A large rental van, heavy-duty pickup truck, and enclosed trailer usually do the trick. If travel demands dictate, multiple trucks and a few borrowed bike racks sans van or trailer can also fill the gap. Expect 3-4 travelers and 3-5 bikes per vehicle, save for the post-race dinner outing wherein 10+ athletes may perhaps ride in one vehicle so as to minimize the risk of parking tickets administered by local governing bodies. Pro tip - some jurisdictions enforce parking on Sunday evenings.
What is the attire?
Triathlete casual - old race t-shirts, khaki shorts, sandals which may also double up on yard and lawn duty in the home environment; ideal for the time spent in the vehicles
Triathlete formal - team kit, post-race team shirt, race flats, aero helmet; requisite for raceday
Triathlete casual dressy - race shirt (perhaps one from an epic event serving as the backdoor brag when amongst fellow athletes), jeans (i.e. well-worn pair of Wrangler for instance), shorts not used for lawn duty, maybe a collared shirt (may also feature a race logo or “finisher” inscription), sandals (keep them clean and you can use the same pair the entire trip); ideal for post-race dinner and social time
Recreational outing - boardshorts, extra workout clothes, double duty on the travel clothing is an option; one should not confuse swim briefs as an acceptable substitute for boardshorts
How do I make myself a good travel companion?
Bring snacks and drinks to share. Back seat drivers are frowned upon. Willingness to share phone chargers earns points with the group. Also, be willing to share stories from high school, prior race experiences, your job, or your family members - truthfulness not a requirement, embellishment welcome and encouraged.
What sort of fare can I look forward to?
Looking back at every team road trip since 2014, this would make at least the fourth trip which included a minimum of one stop at Chipotle. Pre-race group dinners depend upon the venue, Chattanooga 2018 featured the aforementioned Italian feast hosted by team member Chad Hon and family - that one will be tough to beat in future years. Beyond that some fun establishments with a variety of menu items is clutch when traveling with 12-15 guys (i.e. Chattanooga’s Community Pie or Urban Stack). Finally, a hotel with a complimentary breakfast makes for a great morning rally point.
What sort of weather conditions might one encounter?
Traditionally, the team road trip lands between late-June and early-August so 80F - 90F (100F+ heat index), pop-up thunderstorms, and high-humidity are par for the course. 2018 would include relatively pleasant 75F temperatures and low humidity on raceday morning, climbing to the mid-80’s by the end of the event. The reliability of the weather (translated - basically hot and humid) makes for ease in packing and also saves on hauling space as there is no need for layers upon layers of clothing.
Even though it is June, July, August should I bring my wetsuit?
Sure, throw it in the back of the truck. Never know when half the team may trot back to the hotel to grab their wetsuits, buoyancy shorts, etc… if the magical mercury settles under 78F. No trotting back to the truck this year as the 80F water temperature announcement was made early in the transition hustle and bustle, right around when a couple of the team members were locating their relocated bikes in transition (see - 70mph winds and hail as referenced above).
What sort of music can I look forward to?
A diverse selection makes for a successful trip, be willing to offer up your personal play list from your mobile device. Becoming lost in the wormhole of YouTube videos also works well.
Grandman is a race we have both looked forward to for many years. For us, it’s always been the big race to end the first half of our Tri Season! For Allen, it has held a special place as it was his first USA Triathlon race back in 2010 and together we’ve tackled this course a combined 15 times since 2010. It’s always a pleasure to visit Fairhope as it is a beautiful town with lots to see and do. The race has always been a well-run event with a venue that seems like it was built for a triathlon. After some worry about water quality and whether we would “du” or “tri”, we were cleared to swim about 5pm on Friday.
Race morning, we woke at 5am. All of our gear was ready the night before, so we dressed, had coffee, and ate our sweet potato/almond butter concoction. We rode down to transition on our bikes from our hotel. We discussed that air felt nice as we rode, and we laughed because we knew the heat would come. We entered transition smoothly after getting body marked and picking up timing chips. Grandman always has TONS of volunteers that help to make the day run seamlessly. We tend to be notoriously late to arrive for races, so actually being there with plenty of time was a nice change. We were able to talk to friends a bit and then went our own ways to find our racks to set up. We each ran a bit and Amy swam while Allen opted for a 3rd and final porta-potty visit to get warmed up, and then it was time to head out on the pier for race start.
The swim starts on one of two piers that come off of the main, large pier. On the walk out to find our spot in the swim line, we heard a referee say that there were 33 kayaks on the swim course for support. He said that’s the most he’s ever seen. We think that is awesome! We both have always enjoyed this swim venue as typically there is very little to navigate and it’s difficult to get off course. This year, there was a bit of a West wind which really stirred up the Bay. Out of all the times we’ve done this race, we both agreed that the water was the choppiest we’ve experienced. Getting out to that first turn buoy felt long heading straight in to the wind and waves. It was impossible to not drink a bit of Mobile Bay as the waves were coming straight at you. After the turn, there was an immediate relief and an occasional feel of “surfing” from time to time heading in to the beach.
The Hill, we mean the Bike.
The bike at Grandman is something we both always look forward to. It is really a fantastic course, outside of the start and finish, there is almost nothing technical to navigate. The road surface is outstanding which produces some fast bike splits. If you’ve ever done this race you know the one intimidating part, the hill. We always think of the “hill” as being the first 100 yards or so after leaving transition, but in reality the road only slightly flattens after that and continues to go up for over a half a mile. This makes it really difficult to manage your effort to start. Your heartrate is already spiked from the swim, and you are then immediately forced to work hard just to keep from falling over. If you can keep from blowing yourself up and manage a few miles of rolling hills you are rewarded with a big downhill at the half way point. That downhill dumps you out onto scenic 98 which is flat and typically has a tailwind! This is when it’s time to really lay it all out there on the bike! Transition seems to come quickly, and it’s always a bit shocking to come from this flat and fast road to having to make a safe turn and descend the hill while coordinating getting off the bike. We have both witnessed a lot of skin left on the road, so we try to stay extra careful coming in.
Honestly, we believe the Grandman run is the most challenging of any of our team races. Running off the bike is never easy, but immediately running up THAT hill and the subtle grade that continues even after, is a challenge. Thankfully, there are screaming fans that help to quiet the screaming legs as athletes take on the hill. Our teammate, Mary, was strategically placed at the top of the hill, and we certainly needed her there. The other plus is that it is fairly shady for a bit when the hill ends. There are beautiful homes to see on the course if one needs to take their mind off of the pain and heat. There are plenty of volunteers at each water station, and many residents on their porches and in their yards to cheer us on. A personal favorite is when the residents provide the perpetually spraying hose for us to run through. It’s a must to run through that water. Once you make it back to Fairhope Avenue you can let gravity do the job as you charge down the hill. A quick trip into the park dodging geese and a run on the boardwalk finishes out a truly stellar course!
Year in and year out The Grandman continues to be one of our favorite races. Hope to see you there next year!