Monday, May 16, 2011

A lesson in perseverance... my first Olympic distance triathlon!

     Triathlon races vary in distance. According to the International Triathlon Union, and USA Triathlon, the main international race distances are Sprint distance (750 m swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run), Intermediate (or Standard) distance, commonly referred to as "Olympic distance" (1.5 km swim, 40 km ride, 10 km run), the Long Course (1.9 km swim, 90 km ride, 21.1 km run, such as the Half Ironman), and Ultra Distance (3.8 km swim, 180 km ride, and a marathon: 42.2 km run); the most recognized branded Ultra Distance is the Ironman triathlon. 
     Having completed a couple of Sprint distance tris had me hooked on multisport and naturally I wanted to see how far I could push myself so the next logical step was to sign up for an Olympic distance race... so I did just that and registered for the Peachtree International Olympic Triathlon which occurs in Peachtree City, GA just outside of Atlanta and also serves as the USAT Southeast Regional Championship.

Friday 13 May 2011
     We finish up the "Global Challenge" wargame on Friday around lunch time and my plan is to hit the road to get up there for packet pickup... but more importantly get there early enough to drive the 25 mile bike route and ride my bike on the 6.2 mile run courses in the daylight just so I know what I am in for the next morning. After an uneventful 2 1/2 hour drive I arrive at the hotel... the Atlanta Peachtree Dolce (very nice place to stay if you are ever in the area)... I get checked in and then proceed over to Drake Field for packet pickup. I get my stuff... which includes a nice SweatVac tech shirt and some socks... walk over to the transition area to check it out as well as the swim.... the first impression I have as I look out into the lake is... "HOLY CRAP.. those orange buoys look really far out there!"... keep in mind that I have never swam 1500m without interruption at this point.  I talk with a couple of the other competitors about the swim... pending thunderstorms... and general conditions... then head back to my truck with map in hand to drive the bike route. The route turns out to be nice... lots of rolling hills with a couple of climbs... nothing compared to the ones I ride here in Prattville though... no issues in my mind... did I mention how far the orange buoys were? So... I get back into town and it is just about dark and I realize that I do not have enough time to ride my bike on the run course which is on the golf cart paths around the lake... no issues I think to myself... I will log on back at the hotel and look at the map and elevation again!
     But first... I need to get my pre-race dinner... I asked around about the best pizza in town and head over to Athena's Greek restaurant... I order up a pizza to go and then hit the local Walmart for my beverage of choice... turns out to be Ranger IPA by New Belgium Brewing... life is going to be great! I head back to the hotel... have a couple of slices of really good pizza and a beer... then decide to see where the hotel Business Center is since I did not bring my laptop... 
     The front desk tells me that the Business Center is closed off because there is a symposium this weekend for a company called Ties That Bind which is a Foster Parent program and there are a bunch of kids on the property... so they have it blocked off to prevent the kids from getting to the computers... but she walks me over and shows me how to get in and asks that I close the barricade behind myself when done... easy money! There are two computers on opposite sides of the room... I proceed to log onto one of them and head over to the event website to look at the maps... my phone rings... I pull my phone out of my pocket to see it is Sherri... following a quick discussion... we hang up and I set my phone down next to the monitor... 
{cue internal voice} "I should put that back in my pocket... nah... it will be fine"
      I finish up on the computer and as I head back out I see two teenage boys on the other computer... my only thought at this point is "WOW... he has on way too much cologne"... as I walk out the front door of the hotel... BAM... I remember my phone... as I walk back to the Business Center I see the two boys walking toward the lobby... and at this point I get the funny sixth sense feeling that something is up based on their reaction to seeing me... I quickly head to the computer and realize my phone is gone... {cue perseverance}I then rush back towards the lobby to only find one of the kids... I approach him and ask... "Hey... where is your buddy?"... for brevity I will just say this... his buddy is gone... he stayed behind as the decoy... he was a disrespectful punk ass teenager with VERY bad attitude. A couple of the hotel staff see what is going on and ask if I need assistance... I tell them what happened and they assure me they know exactly who he was and who his buddy was as apparently they had already made their presence known earlier. I end up talking with the Director of the program who is responsible for the boys and she assures me that she will get my phone back.... we trade contact information...
     Now... at this point I realize that I am completely lost... no phone... no calling card... can you still make collect calls? I don't know... but I know I need to get in touch with Sherri to let her know what is going on so she does not worry when I don't contact her for the next 18 hours... thank goodness for Yahoo's ability to text via email... I proceed back to the computer... log on... and start sending her texts about what happened... THIS SUCKS!
       I take a nice walk along the paths around the property to calm down.... reanalyze the entire event... and consider options... let me say this... 30 seconds is all it took... I actually walked through the event and timed it... 30 seconds is all it took... let me say this so we can move on... it is Monday and my phone has yet to be found.

Okay... onto the topic at hand... 

per·se·vere [pur-suh-veer]

verb, -vered, -ver·ing.

1. to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement; continue steadfastly. 

Saturday 14 May 2011
      Clock radio alarm, watch alarm, wake up call... all set for 0500... I open my eyes and look at the clock... 0437... perfect... awake before the alarm... I get up and commence my race day routine.. shower... shave... cup of joe... race gear on... now let me say this... I have a dedicated tri kit that I only wear on race day... and this being the first tri of the season... I have to admit that putting it on made me feel really good... a great feeling on race day! I quickly run through the checklist to make sure I have everything... throw my bowl of oatmeal in the microwave to eat on the way over.. life is good! I arrive at the site... get a great parking spot as I am one of the early arrivals... get my bike out... pull out my pump for the tires... AH SNAP... the pump does not fit in the hole of the rear wheel because of the disk... {cue perseverance} okay... don't panic... I ask the lady parked behind me as she pumps up her tires if I can use her pump... hers is a different model and it works like a champ! I continue to eat my oatmeal... hit the restroom conveniently right next to where I am parked... grab my transition bag and start heading toward Transition. I get body marked... then head to my spot... #186... I rack my bike and start the detailed process of setting up my transition... TMAT Pro... running gear... biking gear... get it all in the right place... this is awesome... I feel the power of nervous energy... I have completely blocked out the phone incident from last night... I am wearing my race kit... this is real... YEAH BUDDY! 
      I hear someone ask... "Does it matter which ankle I put my timing chip on?"... oh yeah... where is mine? {cue perseverance} IN THE HOTEL ROOM... now... I have always purposely not picked up my timing chip early for this very reason... one more thing to keep track of in an already complex, OCD induced, checklist crazy morning routine... DO NOT PANIC... the hotel is 3 mins away... I calmly walk back to my truck... fully realizing that I am about to lose my sweet parking spot... and head back to the hotel to get my timing chip which is still in my swag bag. 
      After what appears to be a half hour... in reality about 1o min round trip... I am back in Transition... I go back to making sure everything is set up... gear in place.. CHECK... watch locked onto GPS... CHECK.. wetsuit ready... CHECK... bike computer working... CHECK... iPod... CHECK... so I now have my music to put me back in my happy place... all is good! I do some light stretching and walk around checking out some of the bikes... LOTS of very sweet rides! I walk down to the lake... there are some folks out there warming up for the swim... the sun is just starting to come up... it is race day! I head back to my spot and strike up a conversation with a couple of guys around me... great positive energy abounds! 

"10 mins until Transition closes"... alright... time to don the wetsuit!

      Okay... I have only had this thing on once before and this is going to be my first wetsuit legal race... I follow my Brother's advice and liberally rub some Body Glide on my calves, heels, neck and shoulders... the wetsuit goes on great... the fact that I am 25 pounds lighter than the last time I put it on is not lost on me... you cannot hide anything wearing one of these things! I grab my goggles and swim cap... and make my way over to the start swim... we were all seeded by race number based on projected swim time... 2 swimmers will enter the water every 5 seconds... I get in line... as I am standing there listening to the nervous banter that goes on just prior to the start... I look out to see those damn orange buoys... {cue perseverance}... for a fleeting moment I have self doubt... DAMN YOU... get your head in the game... I think of my Brother's mantra... "YOU GOT THIS!"... I got this... then like angels from the heavens... I hear the beginning of the National Anthem... nothing puts me more at ease than listening to someone pour their heart into belting it out... a wave of goose bumps covers my body... I GOT THIS!
       Next thing I know... I am next... "GO"... I run down into the water like a Gladiator attacking a foe... fear... gone... self doubt... gone... anxiety... gone... visibility... GONE... HOLY CRAP... I cannot see a damn thing... {cue perseverance}... I have to admit... I miss the black line on the bottom at this point but this is not a time for weak thoughts... I quickly settle into what feels like a really nice pace... I feel great... the extra buoyancy of the wetsuit is a welcomed attribute... I am actually passing people... this feels great... I pass the first sight buoy to my right... check... this is awesome... I put my head down and settle in... I start counting strokes to measure distance in my head and keep me preoccupied with the fact that I literally cannot see more than a foot ahead of me... and I pop up for a sight line... WHOA... where are the buoys??? I am dreadfully way inside the line... I have to now make a concerted effort to get back on a good line to the first turn buoy..... unfortunately... this scenario plays out about 6 more times throughout the swim... my sighting was awful... {cue perseverance}... this is not the time nor the place to doubt yourself and each time I make my way back towards the other swimmers... just for the record though... on the way back to the shore... nearly 3/4 of the way through the swim... I pop up for a sight line and realize that there is not another swimmer within literally 50 yards of me... I am confident that I ended up swimming way over a mile given my path... but as luck would have it... I eventually find my feet on terra firma... mucky nasty lake bottom but nonetheless... ground! I quickly get my thoughts centered on transition and begin to unzip my wetsuit and pull it down to my waist as I exit the water... through the fresh water shower and into T1... I SURVIVED THE SWIM... 34:54 (35th in AG)...  nearly 5 minutes more than I wanted but it is now behind me!
      I have a good T1... 2:13 and head out on the bike... about 1/2 mile into the bike... my Powermeter computer goes blank... I fart around with it for a mile or so... unseat... reseat... power down... power up... each time it goes blank... {cue perseverance}... DAMMIT.... no worries... I have my GPS watch... I end up getting passed through the first 10 miles or so by about a dozen riders... all on tri bikes... but as I hit the hilly part of the course I start passing some folks... the hills of Prattville are paying off... at mile 17 I start hearing a... TICK... TICK... TICK... where the hell is that coming from... somewhere on the front... I eventually look down to see a triangle shaped piece of glass sticking out of the front tire and the ticking is it making contact with the asphalt... OKAY... {cue perseverance}... I go through the steps for changing a tire in case I get a flat... no worries... just keep pressing... I then decide that I am going to wiggle the handlebars in time with the ticking to try and jar the glass loose... after about the 20th try I get it... SWEET! Now... somewhere in the midst of the shard of glass debacle... my insides decide it is time for some sort of revolt... and I start with some serious GI distress. {cue perseverance}... Up to this point everything has been just as planned from a nutritional perspective and the only thing different than all of my training was the addition of some Gatorade... I took a bottle at the halfway point... not sure that was the culprit but suffice to say... feeling like you are on the verge of an air-shitter separator malfunction while pedaling a bike at 20 mph is not a fun experience. The rest of the ride is uneventful... and as I make my way to the finish I take my feet out of my shoes and ride to the dismount.. a perfect hop off of the bike and into a run with my bike into T2... 1:18:23 (19.1 mph avg and 30th in AG)... I rack my bike... quickly take off my biking stuff.. put on my running gear and head for the exit... 1:59... very happy at this point.
     Now... on the run... the plan was to not worry about running a pace but rather run at whatever the body would give me... so I hit the run at a comfortable pace without worrying about the watch... I hear the beep of the first mile and look at it... WOW... 8:12 pace... okay... adrenaline at work... let's see where this goes... then... {cue perseverance}... at 1.75 miles I get a "stitch" under my right rib cage that very quickly becomes so much of an issue that I cannot take anything but a very shallow breath... BEEP goes the watch... mile 2... 8:26 pace... hmmm... I am holding fairly well.... and this is where my mantra comes into play... Attitude trumps pain... I begin to repeat that to myself... actually saying it out loud as I continue to run... the "stitch" moves from under my right rib cage to dead center in my chest... Attitude trumps pain... Attitude trumps pain... then... magically... at about 2.75 miles it is gone... YEAH BUDDY... at this point I go back to focusing on pushing my effort and realize that I am passing people with relative ease... I hit the turn around and realize that I am 5K from finishing my first Olympic tri... I pick up the pace and before I know it I am exiting the woods and headed up the main road with only a 1/4 to the finish... as I enter the chute I hear the announcer call out my name... I smile like it is my birthday as I cross the finish line... 50:27 (8:10/mi avg and 26th in AG)... 2:48:04 total... I could not be more thrilled with the result... beat my goal of 3 hours by 12 mins... life is good!
       I grab a protein shake from one of the booths... and a banana... and cheer on some of the other finishers... what a great feeling! As I am standing there I strike up a conversation with a guy... we exchange thoughts about our performances... I tell him about my abysmal swim and then he proceeds to tell me his story... {cue perseverance}... he was a seasoned triathlete... but this was his first wetsuit race... and his first time ever even wearing one... at about 200 yards into the swim he started to panic because he felt like he could not breathe because the wetsuit was too tight... it was constricting his chest... so... he swims over to one of the kayaks in the lake... and proceeds to take his wetsuit off in the water... he flips it onto the kayak and says to the guy... "My bike is #XXX... can you pls put these there when you exit the water?"... he then proceeds with the swim... now that is perseverance!
      I head back the Transition to gather the tri equipment carnage that is transition... head back to my truck... then back to the hotel to shower... I check with the front desk on my phone as well as with the Director... she is confident she will have my phone by the end of the day... I then hit the road for a very quiet 2.5 hour drive... a great time to reflect on the day!

     The thing I liked about this event is that my mindset was not to race it... but more about pushing myself for a sustained physical effort without getting into any distress... I had zero expectations on where I would finish... but I wasn't trying to just finish it either... it was a nice balance between the two extremes.. and the end result was an accomplishment I will be forever proud of!
     Now... I would be remiss in not mentioning that the training required to execute this event required a significant amount of time... and despite my best efforts to not impact family time I know there were times where it did... and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to wife and kids for allowing me this opportunity as well as their continued support to keep doing it! I also owe a huge shoutout to my Brother for his continued support and sounding board as well as the continued counsel of my mentor Scott "Jonser" Jones ( It was truly a fun event and one I will do again.... but here is another lesson I realized... I am not interested in attempting a Half Ironman 70.3 yet... it is not that I don't think I can do it physically... it is that the time committment required is too much at this stage of my life... I am looking forward to doing some Sprint distance events with Colby later this Summer... as well as one event with my Brother...  triathlons have forever changed my life.. but my new refocusing on not trying to win them all has actually made them more enjoyable... as my buddy Jonser says... "Train with joy or not at all"!

Attitude Trumps Pain!