View From A Starting Line

If  like me, you probably enjoy hearing stories of fellow athletes. Strange things happen while training and racing and I’ve heard and experienced many.  I may begin a page devoted just to story-telling and no better way to start then with a tale from  several years ago at Cresent Beach, St. Augustine. For many years this race was the usual kick-off event to the Publix-Family Fitness Series, an event  known for it’s unpredictable swim conditions in mid-May.

But on this morning the conditions seemed nearly perfect with calm surf and sunrise promising  a beautiful day ahead.  We walked a quarter mile down the beach to the swim start while becoming familiar with the hard sand surface we’d be later running on the 5K leg. While the assembled athletes stood quietly for the National Anthem, I was looking out to the first big orange turn buoy about 50 yards out. From past ESM races I knew  drifting buoys were not uncommon in windy conditions. I also knew the direction of the current from a pre-start dip. Something strange was happening with buoy #1 and as the anthem finished I approached close-by race director Steve Tebon.

“Steve, what’s going on,” I asked? At first I thought maybe the ESM organization had added some unannounced odd quirk to the race but Steve’s expression told me this was not the case. The Elites were  gathered for their beach start and now everyone was aware  something was seriously not right. Buoy # 1 was increasing speed in the opposite direction of the current on a light wind day. It’s course was taking it at swim speed parallel to the beach! The jokes started flowing with speculation of whether a moving buoy was intended to turn the event into some new form of adventure race for a ‘follow the moving buoy challenge’.

 The motion of the inflated plastic sphere defied all logic with two concrete blocks on the bottom end of the anchor line. But it was clear the buoy was not prepared to stop so communication with the nearest kayak lifeguard provided instructions for him to position himself as a replacement. With the first wave off the beach and swimming for the kayak, we watched as the buoy made a 90 degree turn east to the open Atlantic. It was far distant by the time my fourth wave hit the water with one lifeguard kayak in pursuit. Whatever the cause of this aberration,  there was some grumbling before my start that once again a race committee was somehow to blame.

Of course at the finish of the race I found Steve Tebon to ask of the outcome. “Yeah, we got it back”, he said. “It got a quarter mile out and the lifeguard decided it was time to find out what was happening. He did a surface dive and discovered the line had been caught by the wing of a big manta ray,” he explained. “On his next dive he freed the line and brought it all back.”

Just another day in the always challenging role of  ‘Race Director’… it’s never easy and the unpredictable is always moments away from becoming the next big nightmare.