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!