This race was different for a few reasons.
First, it's genesis was in an outpouring of support for a fellow triathlete who, last year, had been training for Ironman Chattanooga. In the midst of that training, his young son was diagnosed, for a second time, with leukemia. The decision to not race in Chattanooga was a no brainer. His friends decided, though, that all of his training couldn't go to waste and hosted a full ironman distance event just for him. So, one very hot day in September, Ryan's father, Austin, completed his first 140.6 miles, with friends by his side every step of the way.
The RyanMan Foundation was born, and a little more than a year later, the first annual RyanMan Triathlon half iron distance race was held. The goal: support the fight against childhood cancer in Mississippi by raising money for organizations that lead that fight. This year, the money raised from the race was donated to Batson Children's Hospital.
Not only is the race for a wonderful cause, these people are my friends. I wasn't able to support Austin at his ironman last year, but I sure could be a part of this event.
Second, it's the only half ironman distance race in the state. And it's almost in my backyard.
Finally, my brother chose to do this race as his first half ironman. I was so excited. Now, I wouldn't be the only crazy one in the family.
Our Mississippi summer this year seemed to be extra hot. Ninety degree days nearly every day since May (or at least that's how it seemed). Next to no rain. Dry. Sunny. Hot. Humid. Training was brutal. And October in central Mississippi? At best, a crap shoot. Based on weather history, it could go either way...excruciatingly hot or kinda' cold.
And I was certain that there was no way the reservoir would cool down enough to be wetsuit legal.
At first, the weather gods appeared to be smiling down on us. It would be sunny but temps and humidity would be dropping. On Friday morning before the race, it had cooled down. But the wind picked up and turned the water into a washing machine. Then, the cloud cover came. The wind got stronger. The temperature went down some more. David and I did a practice swim on Saturday morning before the race. It was miserable. And cold. The water had already reached wetsuit legal temps earlier in the week. It was steadily getting colder. We comforted ourselves by believing the weather forecast that called for sun and slightly less wind.
We were foolish to believe any such thing.
That morning, the wind continued unabated. Stupid weather app said 6 mph. It was easily 10-12 mph. It was cold (for us southerners, including my Floridian brother and sister-in-law) and in the 50s. All day it stayed in the 50s. The sun never came out. The water was measured at 64 degrees. Someone said 3-foot chop. (Pretty sure that was an exaggeration. But it sounded good.)
As I was putting on my wetsuit and reviewing my strategy for the swim (freestyle for 10 strokes, breastroke for 5 to find out where I was and settle down in the churn), the word came that the swim was cancelled. Not a good thing for the stronger swimmers among us, but a bit of relief for me. I knew, with where my fitness level was (not where it needed to be), the swim would exhaust me before even heading out on the bike.
So, after a quick little 1.2-mile run, we hopped on the bike. My brother, David, was already 45 seconds in front of me, a lead he would continue to increase throughout the rest of the race.
Once the race was over, everything picked up and put away, and everybody back home, I found out that Ryan is now dealing with another relapse of his leukemia. It breaks my heart that this sweet little boy and his wonderful parents have to continue to deal with such a serious, life-threatening illness, and all I can do is pray for them.
So...that's what I do.