Last year I fulfilled childhood aspirations of running down the yellow brick road, hand in hand with Dorothy and her sparkly red shoes, the brainy scary crow, the hearty tinman and the courageous furry lion.  I had such an amazing time I was all to eager to hop, skip and jump back to Lawrence for more of the same 70.3 action. I arrived the Wednesday before the race, time to bike the course again and remind myself just how many hills they had managed to fit into a 56mile ride and, more surprisingly, in a state that is supposed to be as flat as a pancake. (I mentioned to my friend Dennis that I might even have to use the small chain ring. His answer. I didn’t know your Cannondale possessed a small chain ring. A fair comment given my propensity for large rings, but in this instance I was going to have to utilise my left gear shifter). In addition to a lap of the course I did a few runs, and a couple of swims in the local 50m pool which is split widthways into about a million 25yard lanes (and for some reason is kept at temperatures more suitable for polar bears. Thankfully it was about 95degrees outside so I soon thawed out).

On Friday night I had the honour and pleasure of hosting a dinner for about 60 age group athletes in the Sunflower Bike Shop, in downtown Lawrence – with all the proceeds dinner going to the Blazeman Foundation. It was a great evening, with many of my sponsors providing awesome raffle prizes to make sure that many of the attendees went home with more than just a smile and a dubious picture of yours truly. It was great to meet some of the athletes and get to spend some time talking to them and their families, whilst consuming industrial sized bowls of pasta. I want to thank everyone that came to the dinner, and have directly helped to support the important work of the Foundation.

I have to admit to being a tad nervous going into the race – my first one of 2010 after the bone breakage hiatus. But I controlled those nerves with the peace of mind that comes from knowing I have prepared, and have come back from the injury strong and incredibly hungry to compete. Race day dawned bright and clear, and hot – with temperatures climbing up into the 90s. There was a 15minute delay to the start as the medical team got into position, and then the gun(s) went off  –  the pro men first and the pro women 2minutes later. I really like this separate start as I think it makes for a fairer race, with less chance of drafting. Maybe other races should follow this lead including Kona. The water was a balmy 78 or so degrees, so I had to leave the Hurricane neoprene at home and instead don the Sayonara. The lake in Clinton State Park is beautiful  – you couldn’t wish for a better setting for a race. I could have wished for a better swim though. I came out of the water second, but more than 2 minutes down on the fish-like Pip Taylor. More work needed in the pool to build up the guns and make sure they are firing on all cylinders.

Once aboard the Slice it took me a few miles to get going, but once I did I felt really strong and took the lead at just over half way. The course is scenic, passing through green farmland and around a couple of beautiful lakes. The road goes up and it goes down. I ground it out and really tried to work some of the climbs. The roads are pretty much free of traffic, although we were thrown one curve ball in the form of a small oil slick. Not coming from BP’s devastating transgressions in the Gulf of Mexico, but a local spillage that covered one side of the road. The marshals and volunteers have to be commended for quickly make sure it was as safe as possible – requesting that athletes so down and actually walk around the area. This might have cost us all a few seconds, but was far better than seeing athletes slip and slide on the oily brick road. I felt strong as I finished off the 56miles and peddled into the Park and T2 with a big smile on my face. And that smile didn’t fade for the whole of the run. The hamstring injury that has plagued me on and off for the past couple of years is (touching wood) no more and I finally feel fluid and powerful again. The run course is great – a few ups and downs, and a meandering path through the campsite which makes for a great atmosphere as spectators line the course, cheering, shouting, eating BBQ delights and drinking beverages that require a proof of age card, and certainly weren’t of the sports variety. A big shout has to go out to the ‘ironman band’ who livened up the route with their rendition of the chart-topping, ‘Chrissie Came to Kansas’ among other endurance based audio delights. Those who wish to experience ironband in all their rocking glory should check out their website – http://teamwms.com/ironband/. True American Idols. ‘I Don’t Mind (Bein’ Passed by a Chick)’ is a particular favourite.

The run course itself was the same as last year – and, according to officials, measures 13.1miles – but only if you take the widest route around the many corners. I made sure I followed the quickest line, which might account for my, and others’ run splits being slightly faster than expected. But to me the time itself is less important. It is how I felt that matters, as well as how I have performed relative to the other pro women and men. For me, 1hr15 for the half was indicative that my run is getting back to where I want it to be.

I rounded the last bend and faced the Yellow Brick Finish Line, complete, as always,  with all the Wizardy characters – including 4 Dorothies (she seems to have multiplied since last year),  one lion (clearly a less popular costume  – probably due to the fact that wearing a thick, furry outfit in the scorching temperatures would be akin to baking in an oven),  a scarecrow (or two if you count me), and a few tin men (one was actually a woman – so really a tin transvestite). As I raised the banner above my head, and then rolled in memory of Jon Blais, I was filled – as always – with a sense of elation, joy, relief, pride and happiness. My first race back, and to have secured the victory back at Kansas  and meant so much to me.

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And that wasn’t the end of the celebrations. I stayed around for about 4 hours afterwards, chatting to people, giving medals to heaps of finishers, jumping in and out of ice buckets, grooving to ‘I Don’t Mind (Bein’ Passed by a Chick)’ and eating the equivalent of my body weight in brisket  (I didn’t know what brisket was until I went to Kansas. What a culinary post race delight).

I stayed in Kansas for a couple of days after the race to take part in the World’s Largest Community Workout. As you may remember, last year I was fortunate to meet the Lawrence institution by the name of RedDog. Don ‘RedDog’ Gardner has been running community workouts, called Dog Days, in Lawrence since 1984.  http://www.reddogsdogdays.org. The hour long Dog Day workouts are held three times a day – 6am, midday and 6pm – 6 days a week throughout the summer, and are free and open to all – and last year was able to go and see a workout for myself. I was blown away both by the sheer numbers (there had to be about 500 participants) and also the range of people there – from toddlers, to grandparents, of all shapes and sizes, backgrounds, and physical abilities.  And it is all down to one man, whose selfless, altruistic actions are helping to bring sport and physical activity into the lives of the Lawrence community. Unfortunately the World’s Largest Community Workout had to be postponed due to bad weather, and is now due to take place on 15 June. I hope that as many people as possible take part, and make Red Dogs’ Workout a model for all to follow.

A huge great big THANKS goes out to Ryan Robinson, his wonderful wife Jenni, their sons Hunter, Hayden and Hudson – and their extended family – for organising such a great event, but also being such fantastic hosts. As always, i waqnt to applaud the rest of the committee –  the majority of whom are volunteers – whose energy and commitment are unwavering. Also, thanks to the ‘Ironman Band’ for making ‘rock’ and (the Blazeman) roll the 4th triathlon discipline, and to all the amateurs who joined me and the other pros in proving that there really is no place like home!