LAKE OZARK – Wind ripped through tents that housed makeshift first-aid and food centers. Fathers drank beers and talked over rock music blaring from a series of speakers on the side of the road while their kids guzzled Cokes.
Men in spandex and women in Lycra sipped Red Bull while eating hamburgers and pizza, and those waiting at the massage tent were drawn to open-air barbecue pits. PA announcers tried to keep the crowd entertained while they ran to a tent to wait out sporadic showers, and then back out to the stands to bask in the sunlight several times throughout the day.
The scene near Bagnell Dam on Saturday had all the makings of a street party. Somewhere in all the mix, a race was taking place.
More than 360 athletes competed in the Ultramax Triathlon, a three-leg race that included a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run around the Lake of the Ozarks area.
The triathletes can burn anywhere from 8,000-10,000 calories throughout the day. The reward for the 10 or more hours of physical exertion: a trophy, free food and a round of applause.
Or, as one spectator put it: “If you’re willing to put your body through that kind of torture in one day, you gotta be crazy.”
In the event, some athletes ran a half-max — a triathlon with the distances cut in half. Others ran a team triathlon, where three members each choose an event in a grueling three-man relay.
So what did the same spectator have to say about the half-max and the team triathlon? “Still crazy, man. Still crazy.”
Lori Yows, her daughter and 11 friends looked tired – not triathlete-tired, but road-weary tired – by the time they reached the finish-line party. Yows, from Lees Summit, arrived at the Tan-Tar-A resort at 6:45 a.m. to see her husband, Christopher Yows, compete in his first full triathlon. She didn’t see him until about four hours later. Christopher Yows’ traveling fan club watched him zoom by on his bike from a spot in residential Eldon.
“This is really where we’re going to find out how well he can do in this,” Lori Yows said. “He banged up his knee last week. Doctors think it’s just a bruise, and we hope that’s all it is. He’s trained so hard for this.”
His length of training varies by whom you ask. According to his wife, he is been training hard for three years to compete in a full-length triathlon. According to Christopher’s in-laws, he has always been active but has cranked up the training since June.
Since the summer, at least, Yows has jogged every day and swam whenever he found time and an inviting body of water. He has worked to improve his cycling, his strongest event, biking 100 miles every Saturday and Sunday.
“He’s worked so, so hard for this,” his wife said. “All we can do now is just cheer him on and see how he does.”
So all the Yows waited at the corner, two blocks from where Christopher and Lori met at Eldon High. They received cell-phone updates from friends watching the race from different points on Aurora Street. Grandparents, in-laws, brothers and sisters became excited as each rider went by. The first two dozen weren’t him, but Laurel Yows, 2½ , Christopher and Lori’s daughter, held a sign that read “#170 Is My Daddy!” and yelled for her father every time a rider passed.
After several false alarms (“A lot of riders look alike in biker jerseys,” Lori said.), the moment arrived.
Christopher cycled by, gray-and-white jersey soaked by sweat, slowed down enough to wave and say hello to his family, and then he was off again.
He still had 82 miles of biking to complete. His family wasn’t done, though, either. After their stop in Eldon, they packed up their signs and camping chairs and drove to High Point to see another part of the bike race, then left for Latham to see the bike race a third time, then to the second transition to see Christopher drop off his bike, get a quick change of clothes and start the marathon.
As the Yowses arrived at the second transition, another racer’s fan club was leaving. Branson’s Kris Cooper was completing the second leg of the race for his team, which was put together only months ago.
Cooper fell down a step earlier last week, tweaking his right knee, and on Monday couldn’t manage to finish three miles on his bike. Five days later, he finished 112 miles.
When he finished in the middle of the pack, his family and friends – all wearing custom-made blue T-shirts, were there to cheer him on. For Cooper, it was never about the bike race.
When 6:45 p.m. arrived – a full 12 hours after they arrived to watch the swim portion of the race – Lori Yows looked exhausted and Laurel was ready to doze. The rest weren’t nearly as spunky as they were when they first saw Christopher bike by in Eldon.
When Belgium’s Wim De Doncker crossed the finish line in 9:55:08.09 to win, ahead of Hal McKelvy and Adam Brown, Lori Yows must have known it was going to be a while before her husband was going to finish. But it didn’t matter.
“We’re going to wait for him,” Lori said. “This is a big deal he’s doing, and I just want to help him anyway I can.”