Working The Blue Carpet At The Malibu Triathlon
Sunrise on Zuma Beach in Malibu. The majestic beauty. The serenity. Being at one with nature – and 6,000 other people. All here to take part in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon, even if it’s only as a curious and supportive Sports Fan.
I was actually on hand to take in Day Two of the event. On the previous day, the Herbalife International Distance Triathlon had been conducted, consisting of a swim of 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles), a 40 kilometer (24.8 mile) bike ride, and a 10k (6.2 mile) run. For obvious reasons, that drew a generally harder-core group of participants. It is today’s shorter course “Classic Race” that draws the amateurs who have been training hard and looking to test themselves. It also draws the celebrities – and by extension, the fans.
Shortly after the sun came up, the competitors began the first leg, entering the water for the half-mile swim in, well…in waves, spaced apart by five minutes. The Bird and I watched the first two waves of athletes propel themselves down the sand toward the surf and then wandered down the beach to where they would exit the water, head into the transition area, and switch over to the second leg – the 18-mile bike ride.
We quickly picked up the pace of our leisurely stroll though, when we looked into the water and noticed that the early leader was pretty much swimming faster than we were walking. We jogged the rest of the way and still didn’t get there in time to watch Chris Lieto come out of the water and sprint up the sandy chute. His time in swimming a half-mile in fairly heavy surf? Eleven and a half minutes. It takes me that long to get my water wings securely in place.
The transition area is itself a model of elegant event engineering. It’s a space roughly the length of a soccer field and the width of a basketball court, and it houses all of the equipment and supplies for each athlete or team. The entire field must negotiate this area twice: first to trade their wetsuit in for biking gear, and then to swap that out and strip down into running shirt and shorts.
Even if you’re Chris Lieto and you have the entire place to yourself the first time through, you still have to zigzag through a huge crowd of people the next time around – when you’re starting your running leg and most others are transitioning from beach to bike.
Outpaced by Lieto once, we made sure to station ourselves at the far end of the transition area early enough to see him come through after completing the bike ride. Roughly 56 minutes after beginning the race, Lieto glided by us to start the running portion of the course. The next individual competitor was already over eight minutes behind him.
My mission as the official emissary of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour was to capture a picture of the event winner breaking the tape. And it was this tireless dedication to duty that led to some truly valuable spectating real estate at the Finish Line.
Because Lieto had been burning the course up so quickly, most people weren’t even aware that at 8:00 AM, he was almost done. In fact, we were two of just a handful of people that headed over to the Finish Line in plenty of time. Upon arriving, and without even thinking about it, we climbed onto the raised platform that afforded the best possible view of the competitors when they crossed the line.
Not too long after that, we were joined by a cadre of professional photographers – for whom this platform had actually been built. But since none of them seemed to mind us sharing their workspace with them, we stayed. Hey, I’m with the media! Sort of.
Not too long after Lieto crossed the line in a mind-boggling 1:18:20, Laurel Wassner became the first woman to finish. Her time of 1:30:19 was impressive in and of itself, but even more so when it was announced that less than 24 hours earlier she had finished the more grueling International Race in just 2:06:15. Two days, two triathlons – in a combined time of slightly more than 3 ½ hours. And I’m not even sure she was breathing hard.
At this point we were no longer lonely at the Finish Line. Competitors began to stream across, greeted by a trio of Miss California contestants who bestowed each competitor with a medal. The P.A. announcer working the finish was beyond outstanding, providing a running commentary in order to recognize as many people by name or team as possible – even squeezing in mini-anecdotes about some of the contestants.
As best as I could tell, he was working off a computer screen that was displaying the names of finishers based on a bar-code reading of their bib number as they came up the final chute. Their names appeared to be visible to the announcer just as the runners took the final turn that led them onto the Finish Line platform. If I’m correct in that assessment, it was impressive technology and even more impressive use of that technology.
If I’m wrong…well it sounded good, didn’t it?
I hadn’t intended to stay in the photographer’s pen for so long, but the immediacy of the moment as people streamed across the Finish Line and realized what they had just accomplished was addictive. Even the celebrities completing the triathlon, who I would imagine closely guard their outward emotions in public, were open books – for a few fleeting seconds anyway.
I’m sure that’s what drew the phalanx of photographers with whom I was professionally bonding. And while I’m not exactly the foremost authority on popular culture (is there such a thing as a “least-most” authority?), my having inadvertently joined the paparazzi pretty much requires an attempt on my part to channel my inner Entertainment Tonight for you…
Dr. Andy Baldwin, who was evidently at one time the Bachelor, blogs periodically about triathlons on the Nautica web site, so he appears to be fairly experienced in running them. So it was somewhat of a surprise when he crossed the Finish Line, and immediately proceeded to throw up – not once, but twice. The first drew a sympathetic “awww”. The second a louder “eewwww”. He pulled himself together though and managed to work up a sheepish grin for the crowd.
Speaking of the Bachelor, Krista, the original Bachelorette – who I believe is the only one of those guys and gals that ever actually got married as a result of the show – was spotted with husband Ryan, chatting up Chris Lieto near the Finish Line.
Oh, and Travis Van Winkle, who I think is one of the stars of the new version of 90210, looked a whole lot like a veteran triathlete, touring the course in just 1:44 to finish among the top 100 individual athletes.
And I’m guessing that this guy’s a famous TV star too.
What’s that you say? I should stick to sports? OK, point well taken.