In our first installment of "Faces of the Grandman", we sat down with one of the race's long-time supporters - Brad Burton, owner of Cadence 120 Bicycle Works, Inc. He talks about the early days of the race, what he thinks sets it apart from other races, why it's the perfect race for first-timers, and why he thinks every racer should volunteer at a race at least once.
How did you first get involved with the Grandman?
Erica and Jeff Pollock approached Cadence 120 Bikes for the very first race and asked us to help out with bike support. It was a real local event and there weren’t any other triathlons in the area at the time that I could remember. We’ve been involved since Day 1. Since then, we’ve done pretty much everything – bike support, course marshall, transition captain – just helping out however we could.
What is your role with the race today?
Today I oversee the entrance into transition area and still help out with bike support. There is a lot going on there. Every year there’s always a handful of competitors that wouldn’t be able to compete if we weren’t there to help them out. We always encourage racers to get their bike checked out before the race, but there are always last minute issues to deal with.
Why is the transition area such an important part of the race?
It’s almost like herding a bunch of cats. I like to call it controlled chaos. You have swimmers exiting the swim and transitioning to bike, and then riders coming down the hill and transitioning to run. It’s always a challenge getting racers to slow down when riding down the hill and getting them off of their bikes and settled into the transition area. Seeing every competitor that comes in and out shows you how truly diverse each racer is.
What advice would you give to racers to improve their transition?
Practice, practice, practice. Set up your transition area. You can watch as many videos on the Internet as you want, but there’s no substitute for hands-on learning. The more you do it, the more you get better at it like anything else. You’ve just got to get out there and do it.
The Grandman has been fortunate enough to have a core group of volunteers (like yourself) for many years. What kind of impact do you think this has on the organization of the race?
I think it speaks to the stability of the race. We have such a consistent product that we put out there each year in terms of the organization of the entire event. It is definitely something that is earned over the years. People know their jobs and there’s really no guesswork involved. There’s a great camaraderie among all of the volunteers. Everyone wants to be involved and is out there to help.
From a volunteer’s perspective, what advice would you give to competitors to make a volunteer’s job easier?
As a competitor, I would encourage every person who has competed in an event to volunteer for another event. Whatever the type of event is, I think it will definitely give you a whole new insight and respect for volunteers because you will see the race from a different perspective. The Grandman wouldn’t be possible without volunteer support.
How do you think the Grandman has grown over the past 13 years?
The Grandman has grown significantly over the years, but to me, what I still enjoy most about the race is that we get a lot of first-timers every year. It still holds true to the reason why this triathlon started in the first place – to get more people involved with the sport and encourage first-timers to participate. There are also so many local competitors who participate in the race year after year.
Many people often describe the Grandman as “the perfect race for first-timers”. Why do you think this is?
Being a sprint triathlon, it’s a nice distance and isn’t something that is too overwhelming for first-timers to tackle. It’s also easy to get to for many of our local participants. You can spend the night in your own bed and drive over on race morning. That makes it easy on a lot of people in the area. It is very well-known within the community as a first-timer event and has earned a great reputation over the years.
What do you think is the biggest fear or hesitation for most first-time racers?
Many first-timers are scared of the open water swim. It seems to be many of the racers’ weaknesses. Over 13 years though, being such an established event, a lot of that organization is just nailed down. When you have 15 canoes, a boat, tons of volunteers, people see that and it gives them confidence and makes them feel safe. You can say the same thing about the bike course and the run course. People really appreciate a well-organized event and the Grandman seems to get better and better each year.
There’s been a slight change to the swim course start this year. Tell us why this was necessary and how you think it will help improve the race.
Instead of just using one of the finger piers for racers to jump off of and begin the race, we’ll be using two piers and alternating back and forth between the piers as each racer jumps off. This will help speed up the start time and alleviate some of the issues we have had in past years as the race continues to grow. Starting on time is very important when running an event. The faster you can get racers moving is better for everyone involved.
Do you have any fond memories that stick out the most to you over these 13 years?
One year, I had a girl who was in tears. Her bike was unsafe and her wheel was literally separating. She wasn’t going to be able to race, but after making announcements and talking to different people, we were able to find her a wheel and have her bike ready for her when she got out of the water and came into the transition area. It’s always a good feeling to help people out in those situations.
What do you think sets the race course and location apart from other events you have been involved with?
I think the swim is so unique. The Bay swim is much different than the Gulf swim you normally see in other triathlons in the area. Jumping off the pier is also such a unique aspect of the race, too. The country roads and Bay views of the bike course are very scenic and not typical with other races. Fairhope is also such a great destination. You can bring the whole family for the weekend, race in the Grandman on Saturday and sign your kids up in the Jubilee Kids Tri on Sunday, and make a fun weekend out of it.
Why would you encourage people to participate in triathlons in general?
Triathlon is such a unique sport because it really requires you to be skilled at all three disciplines – swimming, biking, and running. They are all completely different sports too. It’s great exercise and so much fun. Everyone is out there to have fun, so if you’re not having fun, you might need to reassess what is going on. I would encourage anyone to give it a try.
Cadence 120 Bicycle Works, Inc. 251-344-7435. www.cadence120.com. 5558 Old Shell Rd. Mobile, AL 36608.