Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tri, Tri Again

Awakened by the electronic sounds of the iPod next to my bed, I open my eyes. The sun is not yet up, the room is dark except for the greyish light from the noisemaker next to me. Most mornings, at this point, I would blindly reach toward the night stand and tap around until my finger found the snooze button, but this morning was different, this was the morning of my second ever triathlon.

The mental list sprang to mind unbidden, goggles, helmet, running shoes, energy gels, sports drink, five-gallon bucket, helium balloon, towels, bandanna, bike, tires are aired up, time for breakfast.

Steel cut oats with berries, fried eggs, orange juice, clif bar in the pocket for later, and coffee.

Also, more coffee.

The dark outside the window was turning gray, then pink, then orange, the sky brightening to the east paralleled the nervous energy rising in my mind and body. Actively distracting myself by going over my checklist, neatly packing my bucket with all my triathlon gear, and taking my bike out to the bike rack for the drive up the road to the Bowling Green Sprint Triathlon.

I couldn't decide whether to listen to some soothing classical music on NPR or to scan the radio stations for something more energetic. I turned on the radio, it was already tuned to NPR, and I liked what I heard, so I took that as a sign to listen to classical. Not long after, NPR news came on, so I switched the station. The first push of the button led me to "Welcome to the Jungle" so I decided it was time for some pump me up music. All the while hoping the triathlon would not bring me to my kn-kn-kn-kn-kn-kn KNEES!

Mid-August felt more like mid-October this morning, I got out of my car, headed over to have my number marked on my arms and left calf and to get my timing chip. I was number 248 of nearly 300 participants. We would later be lined up in numerical order which was determined by our estimated and self reported swim times. 248 out of 300 means I was going to be a pretty slow swimmer.

I met up with my awe inspiring support crew. My wife Tammy, whose example got me started running, and doing triathlons, and trail racing. My stepdaughter Jordan who constantly sets amazing goals for herself then busts her tail reaching them including graduating from the high school ranked number one in the USA by Newsweek. My daughter Emma, who decided one day she wanted to train enough (at age four)  to bike 5 miles to Chaney's Dairy Barn for ice cream.

I set up my transition station with everything I would need after exiting the pool including that helium balloon tied next to my bike to make it easier to find my spot for the transitions. The race director gave out pre-race instructions and all the athletes headed over to line up.

There are some things I like about the swim leg being in a pool, one is the calmer start. I've not yet done an open water triathlon, but I've seen the videos. The swim start looks less like a race than a battle. As if the beach were a sinking ship and the swimmers were rats trying to flee before they drown. Another is the opportunity to chat with other triathletes who reported similarly slow swim times. There was a ten second wait between starts, 2,470 seconds for me to wait. 41 minutes. This year, instead of nervously pacing in line, I sat down and relaxed.

Too soon it seemed, the line was thinning out, my turn to jump in the pool was coming. I watched as person after person walked up to the line, "3,2,1, GO! Move to the line. . . 3,2,1, GO!" As each person jumped in and I got closer to the front I could feel a thrumming energy in my core, growing stronger and louder with each 3,2,1, GO!

My turn.

3,2,1, GO!

I swam. On the first lap the doubts came to mind. "Why am I doing this? Swimming is so hard! I don't even like to swim. I don't know if I can even finish the swim."

I had forgotten about all these doubts that like to try to sabotage me, but I remembered the secret doubt crushing weapon I used during training. I began to repeat my mantra in my mind.

So I swam.

My family cheered me on at the end of each odd lap. Then the last lap, exit the pool, run barefoot to the transition area. Even though I had rehearsed my transition. I forgot what to do for a second. I grabbed that upside down bucket that was on my towel, how could I sit on the towel with that bucket there. Oh right, I'm supposed to sit on the bucket. Transtion one was quick. I grabbed my bike and ran to the "bike out" gate. The guy in front of me was running his bike, he got to the line at which you may mount your bike and he. . . stopped. Right in front of me, he stopped. So I stopped, and nearly fell down. Next time, if there is someone in front of me I won't be so silly as to assume that just because they are in a race they will continue moving quickly.

On the bike, to the road, squeeze out the energy gel, stuff the wrapper back in my bike bag because I hate litter, pedal, pedal, pedal towards the hill on Glen Lilly Road.

Here is the part I like about being a slow swimmer, a fair cyclist, and a slightly fast runner. I get to pass people. Up, up, up that hill, sucking in wind then spitting it out to make room for more. To the top, catch my breath, start on my bottle of sports drink. Still passing lots of people and occasionally getting passed. Now, for the reward from that climb. Down the hill at forty miles per hour, water streaming out of my eyes and over my ears.

Pedal, pedal, pedal,  back to the transition area. Jordan yells, "Don't forget to take your helmet off." In a normal state of I would have thought, "How in the world could I forget to take off my helmet?" In this state of mind I thought, "I am so glad she reminded me of that!"

Time to run. Last year, I left my watch at home on purpose. I only wanted to complete the triathlon. I wound up running the slowest 5K I've ever run. Today, I started my stopwatch and ran. Much faster this year. I headed toward the water table behind a woman in a dayglow shirt. She grabbed a cup, I grabbed a cup, and she. . . stopped. Right in front of me, she stopped. So I stopped and nearly ran over her. Next time, if there is someone in front of me I won't be so silly as to assume that just because they are in a race they will continue moving quickly.

On to the run course, still passing people, words of encouragement from some of them, "Good job." "Looking good." Runners can be so sportsmanly.

Mile one under 8 minutes, not really fast for me, but much faster than last years pace. I checked in with my body. Heart drumming but not too much, breathing hard, but not gasping. Yeah, I can maintain this.

Just before mile two, I see my family, my support crew, my little girl wants a high five. I smile. Slap her hand, then run off.

Somewhere in there I heard my family giving words of motivation. I can't remember what they were, but I remember getting pumped up again.

Mile two, I go into my usual 5K self motivation technique for the final mile. I start looking ahead for people to pass. Then I start picking them off. One by one I find someone in range to pass, catch up with them, and pass them. It might sound overly competitive, or arrogant, but for me it is just a way to keep myself running hard.

Less than half a mile to go, the guy in front of me grabs his daughters' hands, one on each side. I smile thinking of my own. One of his girls says, "Nobody can pass us now!" He says, "Yeah, he can pass us," and moves his girls to the left. I pass on his right.

Nearing the end. I come around the last curve, there is Jordan who tells me it is time to run hard, to finish strong. Thanks Jordan. I can't let her down, so I run for the finish line.

PR. Personal Record. I beat last year by four minutes.