Supporting local races helps build relationships within the community, promotes growth of the sport and encourages sponsors. Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation put on an excellent late-season triathlon at the Trail of Tears park. A 700-meter swim in Lake Boutin is followed by a challenging fifteen-mile bike ride before finishing with a four-mile run from the lake to the Mississippi River. The course is well marked and marshalled to provide a safe experience for the athletes.
The Coors Light Trail of Tears Triathlon holds a special place in my heart because it was my first attempt at the sport after an absence of more than twenty years. This is the race that pushed me into the active lifestyle of swimming, cycling and running. I do enjoy the training, but racing is the kick in the pants that motivates my daily efforts.
Conditions for this year’s race were near perfect. In fact, I don’t know what would have made it any better. Air temperature was in the low 70s with a light breeze, water temp around 80 and the beautiful blue sky was punctuated with just a few clouds. The 9 AM start made it easy for people to drive in day of the race.
While setting up my transition, a man in yellow approached. Head to toe yellow with feathered wings, the Cancer Chicken was hard to miss. Actually, his shoes and the tip of his head were red like any respectable chicken. Kevin Hand introduced himself and told me this was his first triathlon but that he had run the Chicago Marathon in the chicken suit. A stage four colon cancer survivor, Kevin dons the costume to raise awareness of the disease and to bring joy to those in the battle. “Nothing is more boring than sitting through those four-hour infusions with nothing to do but think about your life”, Kevin said. So monthly he returns to the cancer center as the Cancer Chicken to lighten the mood and share some hope with the patients going through the same things he recently experienced.
And yes, the Cancer Chicken swam, biked and ran the whole course in full dress. Even his cycling helmet was ‘fowled up’. My friend, Robbie at Red Banner Coffee had told me about this guy who does athletic events dressed as a chicken. But I wasn’t expecting to see him. And honestly didn’t think anyone would attempt swimming in costume. Not only did he swim, but Kevin and his costume finished the race in great shape. A couple hours of exercise on a beautiful day wasn’t hard for the survivor. His story was especially moving to me after losing my sister to colon cancer last year. So, don’t be a chicken, get checked out.
I was pleased with my race results. During the swim, I was jostled and bumped more than I recall from my five previous attempts on this course. I got bunched up at the start but found open water after a couple hundred meters. At the first turn buoy there was just one other swimmer close so I tried to do draft with little success. When I was about 80 yards from the swim finish, I recognized my friend David running toward his bike. He was first out of the water and had a great race, finishing third overall.
I exited the lake fifth and had a decent transition to the bike. The initial climb out of transition set the tone for the next couple miles of fairly technical hills and curves in the park. The course flattened out a bit as it left the park and had a nice decline heading north. The middle portion of the ride was pleasant with decent roads, light traffic and plenty of nature to enjoy. Around mile twelve, the hill at Oriole provided a memorable challenge for most cyclists. With a steady incline prior to an abrupt change in elevation, the hill wasn’t extremely long, but the climb tested the legs and lungs of participants. After enjoying the downhill that followed this climb, it was easy to push through the remaining miles that rolled back to transition.
I planned to slip on Zoot flats to finish the race, but my feet needed the added cushion and support of the running shoes I brought as back-up. So, I added a few seconds to my second transition putting on socks and shoes. The run felt good and there’s no way to know how my legs would have responded in the other shoes.
The run was a four-mile point to point that finished near the Mississippi River. The second half of the run course was predominantly downhill and fully shaded, an encouraging way to finish any race. I crossed the finish line at 1:36:18, about 15 seconds slower than my personal best on this course.
The race was chip timed by SplitMaster Timing, who did a great job of timing and publishing the results. Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation planned and produced an excellent race. Finishers were provided a post-race meal of freshly grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, sub sandwiches, potato salad, fruits and vegetables. Plenty of sports drinks, water and beer were available to quench the thirstiest participant.
I’ll admit a bit of a sentimental tie to this late season race. Regardless, this year’s Coors Light Trail of Tears Triathlon was an excellent event for those who participated.