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The honey & the sting

While the rest of you were watching NFL football yesterday, I marched to the beat of a different drummer. Woke up early (though not triathlete early) to log onto the computer for the live coverage of two iron-distance races. Being eastern time, Rev 3 Cedar Point was up first. Then Ironman Wisconsin. Basically watched the swim start in Madison before it was time to get ready for the event I'd signed up for at Morton Arboretum...a tour of their beehives with beekeeper Greg Fischer. (I'm a bit of a bee-nerd.)

So feel free to skip around the post to whatever interests you. Triathlon? Bees? You want to stop reading right here? 

I can't wait to read some race reports from each location. Both the races I was following had a set of issues that was amusing to watch as a neutral spectator. But probably frustrating and annoying as an athlete. So I'll be curious to hear how others interpreted things. 

Rev 3 Cedar Point was first up and the first thing I noticed was that Sandusky (OH) was getting pounded by wind and waves. A small craft advisory, rip current warnings, etc.. The beautiful thing about this race is there is a backup swim venue. The swim is supposed to happen in Lake Erie on the beach, but if you cross the parking lot for the amusement park you get the protected, harbor side of the peninsula. Personally, I was fairly impressed with how organized it looked considering the Plan B nature of it. I hear the winds never really let up all day though. I could easily follow the race from home and really got a feel for it. Rev 3 seems to treat you right. They're cheaper, they respect your family, you the athlete, they keep things someone weighing what 140.6 race I'd like to do, this one gets high marks in my head. Only 23 people in my Age Group yesterday...though I think the last place finisher was from it. Well past midnight they do fireworks and a big group lining the finish chute. On the swim side of things, the full distance was supposed to be a mass start but ended up being a time trial start in pairs down a boat ramp. Edit: I've seen someone's Garmin file of the backup swim course and it looked like a fairly easy 2-lap swim by the docks and breakwaters. I've heard nothing but praise for how Rev 3 handled things, so far. Though some confusion about where exactly the backup course went...lots of follow the leader. 

Ironman Wisconsin I was standing on top of Monona Terrace a year ago thinking how freaking far that 2.4 mile swim looks. Having swam a mile in a race now, I still think 2.4 miles is a long way but I also have a new appreciation for what it takes. This is the race that, in my head, I was supposed to be doing a year from now. So my opinion of it is sort of pragmatic but it gets a special place in my heart for what got me interested in this sport. (Not Kona? I know. I'm probably the only triathlete in the world who doesn't have an "I got the bug watching Hawaii" story.) 

Compared to Cedar Point, this one should have been an easy-peasy smooth lake swim. But easier said than done getting over 2000 people in the water in an organized fashion for a mass start. And, just my opinion watching, I thought the announcer was being a jerk. It's a two-way street, granted. Every single person racing yesterday should know from the athlete guide, meetings, all the info out there, that they need to get in the water and tread until the cannon fires. I hear every year there's always a bottleneck as people stand at the boat ramp and chat, stick a toe in, blah blah. But if this guy with the mic wasn't yelling at the volunteers to move a kayak, he was yelling at the athletes to get in the water, they were too far past the starting buoy, whatever. Given that some of these people had paid $1300 for a slot to race and how much people talk about how "special" WTC makes you feel with the Ironman-branded races, the unprofessional attitude was uncool. Not that I think anybody had their race ruined during the national anthem. But if you're going to put on the flagship races of triathlon and want to continue to be on top, it's food for thought. 

I really enjoyed the camera angles though and there were some great shots of the nice, wide line you can take to the right of the boat ramp if you don't want a lot of contact. One lady had the right idea if she knows the cutoff isn't a concern for her...she simply waited until everybody swam away then started in clear water with nobody around! 

Our group started by meeting in the botany lab where the instructor was the last to arrive...he'd been interviewing in downtown Chicago on the morning news about the honey weekend at the gardens. He's been tending to bees since he was 8 years old and professionally beekeeping since the 1960's or 1970's. His hives include Michigan Ave, the abandoned steel mills along Lake Michigan, the arboretum's 40, plus commercial ventures. He's also the owner of a company that turns honey into mead. (Which I tasted later!)

It was a bad day to stir up beehives...cloudy morning. But the class was small and he wanted to get as demo-oriented as possible so we all grabbed some netting and headed to 2 hives near the Children's Garden. Greg said he rarely works with a bee suit (80% of the time) because part of beekeeping is knowing the mood of the bees. But after prying the lid off the top of the more active hive, he had us put our netting on and decided to not poke around too deep. No finding the queen for us. Happy bees are working in the sun, making honey, etc.. These were grumpy bees. Though they mostly went after him as the instigator. They do like to buzz faces, too. We stood probably 10 feet back the entire time and only got curious exploration from a few members of the hive.   

The class wasn't necessarily aimed at the backyard beekeeper though we did have one woman who is on her first year. She is not harvesting honey though to let the hive setup over winter and hopefully produce well next year and be healthy. But Greg covered the basics for us and was full of bee facts. Everything from the life cycle to the social order inside the hive, how to avoid getting stung, what to do if you are, honey nutrition, the relationship between bees and plants, even how bees actually make honey. Bee-geek that I am, I confess this was new to me...I think most people assume bees somehow magically "make" honey in the way that cows give milk. In reality, all they do is transport their nectar to the hive and dehydrate it--essentially fanning their wings to dry it. 

I won't list all my new bee knowledge here. But I do feel confident that with a tad more I could own a hive one day. It certainly isn't as scary as one may think. The bees mostly want to be left alone to be bees. They're fascinating creatures...the woman who already has them in her yard said she sometimes pulls up a lawn chair and just sits to watch them work. Which I totally get. There's queens and workers and guards and honey robbery and bee dances to communicate and different tones of buzzing. You can actually tell the mood of the hive--and whether it is about to swarm, for instance--by the sound of the buzzing. Even if you have absolutely no bee knowledge, I'm guessing you've been stung once or twice enough to know the difference between an angry bee and a happy bee. 

Bees are pretty amazing. Enjoy the photos I took. 


  1. I have good friends who now live in Houston who are bee keepers. They have been active for several years. It is fascinating and I know they would encourage you to try one. They also always suggest joining a local Bee Keepers Group for more information. Have fun!

    1. Add it to the list of critters we want to keep when we get out of this condo building...sheep, bees, chickens, etc..

  2. So now when the Windmill Prophecy comes to fruition, you are ready to be the resident beekeeper and coffee purveyor?


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