As a kid I grew up singing (off key) ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’, ‘We’re off to see the Wizard’ and most notably, ‘If only I had a Brain’ – in fact I recall one year when I was actually forced by my mother to dress up as a scarecrow for the local carnival. Needless to say i didn’t need much in the way of a costume. My hair was already enough to scare off any birds (or prospective boyfriends). Anyway, when I was invited to race the Kansas 70.3 I jumped at the chance to visit the state of the fairytale, and see whether there really is ‘no place like home’.
I arrived in Lawrence the Wednesday before the race, time to check out the course and make sure that I could find a big heart, some courage and a brain to race with. On race day, the pro women started at exactly 6.32, two minutes after the pro men – which I think made for a much more honest, fair race. The water temperature was hovering just below 72 degrees, and so fortunately for me (and my body fat of a beetle body) it was neoprene all the way. I was determined to start strongly, and make sure I didn’t have the ‘drown/swim’ that I had in Colombia. I found myself in a great position on Pip Tayor’s feet, but one vicious, pub crawl style pounding from another girl left me a few metres back and I simply couldn’t bridge the gap that opened up. But overall I was pleased with the swim, and came out of the water under a minute behind Pip in 2nd place.
I jumped onto the Slice and into perfect racing weather – overcast, but warm – and went into the lead at about the 6mile mark. Now Kansas has the reputation of being as flat as… my bike tyre….But someone forgot to tell that to the race organisers, Ryan and Tom, who clearly wanted to squeeze in every hill they possibly could into the bike course. Me. I loved it. Grinding away in Mr Big, up and over the climbs and into some pretty tasty head winds. So, I was trucking along when, at around the 35mile marker, I found that my ride wasn’t as comfortable as it had been. I looked down at my clearly soft front tyre. Oh bugger. I thought to myself. That is unfortunate. I bobbled along for another mile or so thinking that maybe I could complete the rest of the ride on Mr Soft – but when rim finally hit tarmac I knew a rubber change was needed. Luckily this time I was not a Tinman without a brain – my post Kona tyre changing practice paid off, and I managed to fix the problem in about 4minutes: just enough time for Pip, Jo Lawn and Amy Marsh to whizz by me. My skinny legs went like pistons up the next hill – I managed to regain the lead after about a mile and came into T2 about a minute up on Amy.
The run course was simply superb, two loops with a couple of sneaky climbs, through the State Park and the campsite. Spectators lined the course every step of the way and, whilst I was disappointed not to encounter a flasher like I did in Australia, there was a scantily clad blow up doll to get the adrenalin pumping. Running down the Yellow Brick Road finish chute, crossing the line in first place and be greeted by Dorothy, the not so Cowardly Lion, the Tinman and the Scarecrow (whose hairstyle looked distinctly like mine) was a unique and special end to a fantastic race. But the day didn’t end there. It was great to see Pip and Jo – two other TYR chicks – rounding off the podium……and no sooner had we finished we were soaking up the carnival type atmosphere – staying around all afternoon talking, signing, smiling and enjoying what was a great party with the rest of the 2000 competitors (including quite a few enthusiastic and inspirational GOTRIbal girls – www.gotribalnow.com).
Over the weekend I was also fortunate enough to meet a Lawrence institution by the name of RedDog. Now RedDog is not a dog, nor is there much in the way of the colour red. 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. I first met RedDog at a dinner on Thursday night, held to raise funds for the prostate cancer charity, Athletes for A Cure – a disease which RedDog himself has recently been diagnosed with. Having heard so much about Dog Days, I was determined to see one for myself. I went down on Monday evening, and was blown away both by the sheer numbers (there had to be about 500 participants, and that I was told was quite a small group!) and also the range of people there – from toddlers, to grandparents, of all shapes and sizes, backgrounds, and physical abilities. At a time when the sense of community is dwindling, and people simply go to the gym, stick an ipod in their ear and work out alone this was a sight to behold and to celebrate. 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, bring people together and make sure that the community heart is beating for all to hear. Wouldn’t it be awesome if this simple model could be replicated elsewhere, across the US and around the world?!
I truly had an amazing time in Kansas. Not just at the race, but in the days before and after. A huge great big THANKS goes out to Ryan Robinson, his wonderful wife Jenni and their extended family for organising such a great event, but also being such fantastic hosts. To the rest of the organising committee, whose energy and commitment I witnessed first hand and whose efforts deserve special applause. To RedDog and his wife Bev for everything they do to bring sport into the lives of the people of Lawrence, and to the owner of the blow up doll for making me smile!
I had a great great time in Kansas, and left singing (still off key) the lyrics of the famous song…
“Somewhere over the rainbow,
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true”.