Old Hickory Lake Triathlon 2013


Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

Going “home” stirs something in the spirit. When you’re weary and tired from life’s day to day challenges, returning to the place where your dreams were formed and your lifelong friendships began inspires you to continue the journey.

That’s why I’ve raced the Old Hickory Lake Triathlon in 9 of the 12 years it’s been held. Hendersonville and the lake itself feel like home to me, along with Charleston, and course, wherever you kids and mommy are.

I wasn’t that excited to race this year though. I’m not sure why exactly, but the motivation just wasn’t there for me. We have a lot going on in our life this summer. I’m selling peaches by day and continuing to consider and prepare for the long term by evening. But that’s life and that’s the choice triathletes make everyday: Include this incredibly fun, but incredibly difficult sport into your life.

We drove up to Hendersonville on Friday afternoon. Izzy, you have been asking to get your ears pierced for about a year now. Because you got straight A’s again for the entire school year and you’ve done so well this swim season we finally gave in. We stopped at the mall on the way and had them pierced. Kate, you hugged Izzy several times before it was done.

I’m pretty sure it hurt me more than it hurt you, Izzy. You look so pretty though.


Afterwards we went straight to Nana and Papaw’s house where you kids immediately stripped down to your underwear (we forgot your bathing suits) and filled up the kiddy pool on the driveway, rode the electric motorcycle, and dug into all kinds of snacks.


Papaw and I went to get my packet for the race.

In 12 years of my “triathlon career” I’ve never worn #1 in a race. But that changed at this year’s Old Hickory Lake triathlon. I was humbled to be given the #1 bib number. My tepid level of motivation changed instantly as I knew I needed to honor the bib number with my best effort the next day.

After dinner we went for a ride in Papaw’s 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible.


Then we made homemade peach ice cream and sat on the driveway well past dark.


Before I knew it was 9 o’clock and time to get my things together for race morning. First sleeping arrangements had to be decided. Here’s how it worked out:

* Izzy you slept on the couch so you could read and watch TV

* Max, you slept with Nana and Papaw

* Kate, you slept with Mommy in the guest room

* I slept in my childhood bedroom

I laid there in the dark for awhile looking out the window of my old room. The same bed I’d slept in as a kid. Those many sleepless nights as a wrestler – wondering if I would make weight. Wondering if I could find the strength to win. To find greatness. At what expense. Those memories are both beautiful and painful. I didn’t think much about the race the next morning. I drifted into nostalgia and sleep came as 20 years fell away from my weary adult mind and I was a teenager again, finally a boy again, and asleep in a twin size bed.

I woke at 5:00am. I could hear Papaw already in the kitchen starting the coffee. I got up, put on my tri shorts, a pair of wrestling shorts, and my SkinStrong teeshirt. I ate breakfast while Papaw paced around the house waiting. You kids, Mommy, and Nana slept in.

We were among the first to arrive on site at the Sumner Country YMCA where the race is staged. I saw Faye and Therese from Team Magic going through their race day lists of to-dos. They are a big reason why I always race several Team Magic races every year. Not only do they put on the best races anywhere in the country, but they are both always smiling – never appeared stressed out – and make race mornings a pleasure. This is supposed to be fun and I think they both get that.

I found my bike rack and got the #1 spot, right beside the bike in and bike out gate.


I went for a quick ride to make sure  my gears were all in working order. When I returned #2 had arrived on site.

I would hit the water wearing #1. 3 seconds later, Ashley Whitney – former Olympic swimmer – would dive in the water on my heels. No pressure. I asked her not to dunk me as she passed me on the swim. Throughout the morning several people asked “You’re not going to let Ashley pass you are you?”. My response each time: “I don’t think I have much choice.”

My buddy and mentor Bruce Coleman showed up as well. Bruce wore #7, so he wouldn’t be far behind me either. He is a great triathlete, so having him just a few seconds behind me motivated me to push myself during the race.


We walked down to the start in a quiet cove of Old Hickory Lake. It really is a great spot for an open water swim. Down the ramp, a quick right hand turn by the dock, and then a rectangle swim course – all within view of spectators. I did a quick warm up swim and then took my spot in line on the shore. I talked briefly with my childhood dentist, Dr. Bill Taylor. He sponsors the race each year. He asked what I’m doing these days. I told him “I’m selling peaches. And looking for what my life holds.” He loved the idea. I still do too.


I jumped in the water and took a few hard strokes around the dock onto the straightaway. I swam as if I where swimming a hard 50 yard sprint for the first bouy more than 150 yards away. My ego got the best of me unfortunately. I didn’t want Ashley to pass me while we were still in easy view of the watching crowd. To my surprise I held her off for most of the way to the that first bouy. But then I was spent. I was breathing heavily and on the back stretch, Ashley along with two other swimmers passed me. I completed the swim in 5:47, good for 6th overall out of 300 participants.


Old Hickory Lake is unique because the run is split into two segments. You swim, then run 1 mile, then bike 12 miles, and finish with another 2 mile run. That makes each run segment an all out sprint. I came out of the water and pulled my running shoes on in the corrals that served as a transition area. I heard so many people yelling my name from the crowd of waiting swimmers and spectators. We have a great and supportive triathlon community in middle Tennessee.


The first run is almost entirely uphill, so I reserved myself a bit in the beginning, knowing that there is a significant climb about midway through the mile. I ran hard, but not all out. The bike leg is more important and certainly the final 2 mile run. I passed a runner who had passed me during the swim and came into the bike transition area 3rd. You kids and Mommy were there waiting and cheering as I headed out on the bike. My first one mile run time was 7:07, good for 23rd overall out of 300.


I put on my Rudy Project Zyon sunglasses and aero helmet and shoes and ran my bike to the mount line. Old Hickory Lake’s bike course starts very slightly uphill, so the first few miles are deceptive. I didn’t feel good on the bike, but reminded myself to stay patient, stay aero, and try to be consistent in my effort. Once the initial uphill and short climb up an onramp are past the course goes down hill for several miles on closed bypass roads. I clicked into a huge gear and hammered, trying to catch the few bikes ahead of me on the road. Sometimes I take our beautiful surroundings in middle TN for granted, so as I put in my hard effort I also tried to look at the green hills in the distance to distract myself a bit from the pain of a 12 mile bike effort. Strange how an all out 12 mile ride can hurt more than 56 moderate miles.

At the bike turnaround I got to see the other racers who were closing in on me on the bike course. You get a false sense of panic at that point on the Old Hickory Lake course because when you see them you are going uphill and they are coming downhill for the turnaround. I saw Bruce, maybe 3/4 of mile behind me and thought “Oh no, Bruce is going to catch me on the bike.” I settled down and stayed in my aero bars as the course rolled towards what I think separates the contenders on the course. There is a significant climb between miles 8 and 10 on the bike. I tried to relax as I approached the climb. I clicked into an easy gear, reminding myself that I still had to run after the ride – it wasn’t a race to the top of the bike course climb.

Once at the top of the long climb I moved back into a big gear and hammered for transition. I had passed a couple of bikes on the course and had also been passed by a couple. Roughly, I think I had held my position on the road. My bike time was 32:59. Good for 16th out of 300 overall.


It makes a huge difference to see your family at this stage of a race. All of you yelled for me as I pulled my running shoes and visor on for the final two mile run. I set out on the run and tried to push my pace on the out and bike course.


I pretty well held my position on the road, not catching anyone ahead and also not letting anyone from behind catch me. The final few miles are through a neighborhood, rolling hills, almost all of it a blur as the deep pain of a sprint distance race courses through the body.

I did the final two miles in 13:58. Good for 20th out of 300 overall.

FINAL TIME: 1:02:02

OVERALL: 14TH of 300

AGE GROUP: 4th of 32

My goal for the race was a top 20 finish, so I was happy with the result.

Afterwards we sat in the shade, talked with Mr. Bruce and so many other friends I’ve made through the sport. We went back to Nana and Papaws where Nana made biscuts and sausage gravy for breakfast. After breakfast we had more peach icecream and went for another long ride in the Mustang.

Going home, swimming in the lake I grew up in, and having my whole family around me as I accomplished my goal was good for me. No matter what they say, you can always go home.

I’m not certain what the rest of my season holds, if there will be a “rest of the season”, but I’m always glad that I did Old Hickory Lake. It’s a well organized race. The people are friendly. The course is both challenging and beautiful. And to me, it’s home.

I love you,

– Daddy

Big thanks to all who  support this blog and made this race possible and more comfortable: Team Magic Inc., Skin Strong, Gold Bond, GU Energy, BASE Performance, Rudy Project, Pearl Izumi, and BreakThrough Nutrition.