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Triathlon Adventures in China

By Brent Reynolds | Sept. 04, 2018, 2:06 p.m. (ET)

Brent Reynolds Tri China

In April, Brent Reynolds moved from the U.S., to China. He picked up triathlon three years ago and in this story he gives a race recap from the Chengde Triathlon in China. 

Up at 5 a.m. Saturday and biked about 10k to the bus pickup. 

Drenched in sweat on arrival and because I was looking for a large bus, I passed the IronSmith group standing by a large van with bikes. Rolled a few blocks further then turned back to find the group chucking at me. 

Our bikes were stacked on the roof, the big bus arrived and we headed toward Chengde about 300k northeast of Beijing through the Great Wall and lovely mountains.  

Sunday morning, 5 a.m. wakeup with a Chinese breakfast at 5:30 and off to the races at 6. Never a dull moment. A bit warmer and wetter than expected but overcast and no sun. Lovely sandstone peaks and outcrops surrounded the narrow valley with a sweet cool creek running through it dribbling ... dibble, dibble, dibble, dop, dop, dop over the rocks and around the bends. Lush thick flowers lined the roads the scent wafting past us as we walked, bike, ran. The air was fine and clear and a treat to breathe.

Race started at 8 a.m. with hundreds of competitors all lined up in number order. This was my first Olympic distance so I approached it with little trepidation because I had no goals other than to have fun and finish without injury. As we moved up in the long line on the red carpet (oops it was green) like ducklings following their mama into the water, the trees shaded us, the flowers attracted butterflies and the dragon flies performed their aerial dances.   

The countdown for our group: "5, 4, 3, 2, 1 go!" 

Some dove, some jumped but Papa had to perform a twisting turn into the water just to start the day light. Focus on form, stroke, pull through, turn the body with the stroke, keep the head down, kick with your thighs, focus, focus, focus.

Repeat 1,500 times.   

Finishing the second lap and the 1,500 swim not out of breath and in good condition (for swimming about once/week in Beijing) I struggled up the carpet to get out of the water and quickly started running the 300 meters to the bike zone.

Focus, baby, focus. Everything in place, everything put on in sequence fast and effective, strap the helmet, suck the gel down, suck the fruit puree, stick the four extra in the back shirt pocket, grab the bike and run (run Lola run).  No "lollygagging" allowed, as transition is a freebie so you can easily gain minutes on competitors if you’re quick and you can recover on the bike (allegedly). 

I pushed the bike out of transition, navigated past or avoided my brethren and turned up the hill. I mounted the 40-year-old Steel Beast and started pedaling.

I got the speed up quickly, and "the dogs" are gathering and lathering behind, ready to take me down. Click click click through the gears. Only six laps to finish. The first half is a slight uphill so I have to stand to keep the heavy bike moving fast with the "carbon boyz." 

Now at the end of the third lap at the lovely turnaround on the hill, I have to tell you about how the Chinese are gracious, thoughtful, supportive and cheering all the time. 

They constantly yell “Tsai yoo” which I translate as “get oil” or “have oil."  When I have breath I often yell back “you yi” which means friendship or simply give them thumps up when oxygen starved. They love it and they constantly give me juice for speed and endurance.   

So, at the uphill turnaround I stand again but now we’re getting more serious, as I’ve finished half the bike, Standing I pump those pedals and sway the bars in time to some inner motion/dance. Coming around the first curve, I’m centimeters from the metal spectator rails and the spectators love a fast bike. I’m tucked into max TRI position and hitting 50+ KPH.   

I round another curve and my favorite IronSmith Factory (the super Beijing TRI team I got lucky to join) girl and guy are sitting taking pictures. I see them 12 times in the race and each time I get more energy from them.  I’m back on the slight uphill flats (they kill me) but maintain pace when six Chinese "Carbon boyz" come from behind and take me, all in a pack and drafting.

I stand up to get my speed back up and stay with them. I gain on the cobblestones, and now it’s the slight downhill and I stay slyly rolling 10 meters back. Into the curves and the slight hills and back to the turnaround and lap five. 

They catch me on the slight uphill and get a warning from the referee on a motorbike to quit drafting. Now I know I got them, their team is broken so on the cobblestones I gain and on the slight last downhill home I’m right behind them biding my time waiting to pounce upon my juicy tired prey. In a long section of straight away I pass one, two more more then I’m past the leader and to make certain. I turn the hill and pass my favorite spectator and photographer flash another curve and into the last hill, hit that sweet turnaround number six now and quickly down the hill to the transition spot off the bike and running barefoot into transition.  

I rack the bike, set the helmet down quickly, put on my kids Armani street tennis shoes. Now, normally I run barefoot but luckily I found out the night before the race that the run is 70 percent dirty gravel trail and steep uphill and downhill. 

I lose those precious seconds on the shoes but I remind myself I'm racing Olympic length today for three reasons: 1. Have fun 2. Have fun with the crowd 3. Finish the race with no injury.   

I'm out of the transition to the run through the cool water park, through the cool mister spray and past the hotel. Fast forward to the last lap baby, and daddy’s coming home. I'm going fast on the flats and big long hill quickly slides under me like a fast “people mover” inexorably coming at you.  

The last little hump down rolls under me and the svelte lady I'm following and we’re into the flats and she turns onto an arched ancient bridge and the finish line is 100 meters away. I know I’ve paced well because I put on the afterburners. Even though she’s 50 meters ahead, I figure I’ll try to catch her, but not pass her. We come into the finish chute and it feels sweetly delirious finishing after 2 hours and 46 minutes. 

I go just past the finish and lie down. It feels so good to stop moving and review the sky and let the heart and lungs slow baby slow and they slow but too slowly. I make my way to the local creek and find some of my buddies have figured out the mobile cool bath laying in the stream. 

What a lovely valley, creek and day….