Remember in elementary school when one kid wouldn’t stop fooling around, so the teacher punished the whole class? Remember how pissed you’d get at that kid for ruining your good time? Well, guess what. Those kids grew up to be adults who still screw up and have everyone pay for it.
Let me explain. This morning I competed in the Norwalk Mossman Sprit Triathlon. This was my first triathlon in 2 years, so it was a pretty big deal for me. It will likely also be my only triathlon this season, so there was a lot riding on it. I have competed in this triathlon twice before, and my times were almost identical at 1:41:01 and 1:41:26. So, my goals for today were to be satisfied with my performance and beat my old times.
Well, since I’m in such a crappy mood right now, let me spoil the whole thing for you and say that I accomplished neither. Most of the triathlon was a disaster pretty much from the get-go. First, I realized that my swim wave was women aged 20 – 49, which meant that it was going to be huge. For those that don’t know, huge swim waves in triathlon are bad. That’s just a lot of arms, legs and heads to get around and to make sure don’t slam into your arms, legs or head. Also, being on the more “mature” end of that 20 – 49 age spectrum, this meant that I’d be swimming with women 25 years younger than me who were going to blow past me and take my confidence with them. We also learned that we were in the second wave of 5, meaning that there were going to be a whole bunch of people from later waves – and pretty much all men except for the few women over age 50 who still compete in triathlons – who were going to swim right over me.
All of these thoughts started my panic before I even hit the water. And let me tell you, swimming in open water in your first triathlon in 2 years only increases that panic attack ten-fold. I was screwed from the start. I couldn’t catch my breath, and every time I turned my face into the water I felt like I was suffocating. At one point I tried to stop and put my foot down and take a second to collect myself – and then I remembered that I was in the friggin’ Long Island Sound and not my nice shallow pool at the gym. The bottom was probably 15 feet below me. The water was choppy, the taste of salt water was making me nauseous. This wasn’t good. I looked around for a lifeguard with a plan of swimming over to them and asking for a “DQ” (disqualification) that would at least earn me a tow back to shore even if my race was going to end about 3 minutes after it started. But the first lifeguard was far enough away that I figured that if I was going to swim to him, then I might as well just swim the damned course.
Freestyle simply wasn’t working, so I decided to see how strong my backstroke was. The good news is that my backstroke is pretty good. The bad news is that it isn’t straight at all. I was finally moving better, but like a flat tire that pulls the whole car to one side, I kept veering off to the left. Every few strokes I’d flip over to see where I was, realize that I was wayyyy off course, yell out a bad word, then flip back over onto my back and try to redirect myself. Finally I got to the last turn and was heading inland and suddenly I could breathe again. So, I swam freestyle for probably 5 minutes of the entire half mile.
I got through transition and have to admit that I have never been so happy to be on my bicycle. The course is 2 six and a half mile loops containing one short, evil hill and one long less evil but still difficult hill. I got through both on the first loop (though on the short evil hill I was pretty sure that my bike was just going to stop dead) and was all kinds of happy until I remembered that I had to do it again. The second loop was better because it was less crowded since most people had finished, but it was also worse because I kept stressing that I was dead last. Right near the end I passed two guys which gave me a cheap thrill that there were at least 2 people in the race behind me.
|Transition area. Note the bright yellow "RUN" sign.|
Any slow triathlete will tell you that the second transition is harder than the first. You see, transition areas are really crowded with everyone’s bicycles and other gear. When a slow swimmer comes out of the water and into transition, their bike is pretty easy to spot since it’s one of the only ones still there. When a slow biker rolls into “T2” as it’s called, though, it’s a whole different story. You need to get back to your stuff to rack your bike and grab your running shoes, but it’s hard to find. Almost all the bikes are back and racked (and sometimes in your spot, grrr), wetsuits are everywhere, and some people are done and hanging out with medals around their necks while you still have a 3.1 mile run to do. I had brought a BRIGHT yellow running jacket that I tied to the end of my rack (and which after the race several of my rack-mates thanked me for) so that I could find my row. Someone was racked in my spot (grrr), but I managed to wedge my bike into place. A guy near me was done and he said to me, “Hey, just so you know; the run course is only one loop.” I thought this was an odd thing for him to say. The race organizer’s website clearly stated that the run was one loop, and the guy with the megaphone at the beginning of the race who went over the details clearly stated that it was one loop. I smiled anyway, said, “thanks for the head’s up!”, ate a couple of Shot Bloks and went on my way.
Up until now, the race had been pretty hellish. The swim was so bad that I spent my bike ride considering how the term “duathlete” sounded instead of “triathlete”. The bike ride was fine, but I was still so shaken by the swim that I know I didn’t do that great. But then the run began. I started off pretty much by myself, but I turned the first corner and saw a lot of people. I kept running, trying to shake off the dead leg feeling I had from the bike, and when I looked forward again I realized that I was getting closer to those people who had been way ahead. And that’s when the rocket boosters came out. I don’t know how or why, but suddenly I was flying. I passed one person, then another. That lifted my spirits and I dug a little deeper. Before I knew it, I was at the turn-around of the ONE loop out and back course (this will have a point later). Going back I could see a lot of people still heading out. Knowing that I wasn’t last, I turned euphoria into energy and passed a few more people. Finally I could hear the music and announcer which always signals the end of a race, and sprinted over the finish line.
I looked down at my watch and saw pretty much what I was expecting. My time was 1:52:52, a good 11 minutes slower than either of my previous years. The bike course was different this year and one mile longer, but that only accounted for about 4 of the 11 minutes. Bottom line: I sucked.
But wait, it gets worse. Later in the day when I was home, showered and had eaten anything in the kitchen that wasn’t nailed down (best part of burning about 1300 calories in a triathlon; afterwards you can eat like an elephant. Hell, you could eat the actual elephant if you felt like it), I checked my email and had one from the race directors. I opened it and read my official time: 1:24:58. Now, I know even a genius can make a mistake in math, but being off by almost a ½ hour didn’t make any sense. Then I read some more: some of the leaders got confused by the run course and did 2 loops instead of 1. So, they threw out the run times. Though I now understood why the guy next to me was helping me count up to 1 when he was talking about the run course, I was pissed. They had the run times posted, but they weren’t part of our final results. And guess what? My run time was amazing. I ran a 5K in 26:27, my fastest 5K ever. My pace was 8:32, also a personal best. And because some people couldn’t read a website or listen to an announcer clearly explain the only loop of the run course, and because they couldn’t seem to follow the quite clear yellow signs with black writing along the course pointing out which direction to go, and because they couldn’t follow the 10 or so arrows at every freaking turn of the run, my personal records don’t officially exist.
|5K from 2013 that counted|
That said, I know I had a great run. One of my 4 marathons was run in a race that got canceled and didn’t officially exist, so now I’ll just add a best 5K and pace per mile to that list of imaginary accomplishments. Hey, I did do them. They’re real to me.
So, what is probably my only triathlon of the season is over, but I learned a few things:
- Panic does not dissolve in water, and if anything only becomes more powerful.
- Reading is fundamental.
- Before each race, officials should make sure that participants can distinguish the number “1” from the number “2”.
- A crappy race can still produce some of your best work, even if nobody is going to count it.