Well... I was looking for some personal redemption from last year going into Rocketman '13... last year at this event I received a lesson in both hydration and bonking and I wanted to wipe that from the memory banks with a solid effort this year. I set the bar high given I just had C5-C7 ACDF surgery 4 months ago... given the recovery time I was not nearly as trained as I would have like to have been going into this race. I had certainly done the best I could with the time and limitations I had but setting goals high is just in my nature.
As I stood on the bank of the Tennessee River three things were abundantly clear... the swim was longer than last year given the buoy placement, the current was flowing as indicated by the paddle boarders effort to remain in place and the wind was blowing down river causing small whitecap waves. Now... everyone has to race the same course so the conditions were just part of the race day and last year we all knew the swim was short so I guess they were going to make sure that wasn't the case this year. The swim starts with a jump off a dock into shallow water... last year I did not know how shallow it was and upon impact with the bottom I set off immediate foot cramps... well... this year I was not going to let happen... can you tell from this photo?
So... after a soft landing I get on with the swim... I quickly settled into a really nice rhythm... I was calm and felt very smooth... for me anyway! After a couple of sightings for the first turn buoy... I feel like it is not getting any closer... and at this point I have had to stop breathing to the right as the waves were providing forced river water hydration. I started to take note of the trees on the bank to confirm I was in fact moving in the right direction... after was seemed an eternity I finally made it to the turn buoy... and with that behind me I settled into a nice, relaxed and smooth finish. I had probably one of my best open water navigation swims ever as evidenced by my Gamin.
Upon exiting the water I made a pretty good transition and headed out on the bike... at about 6 miles we made a sweeping right hand turn across some railroad tracks... given we were headed straight downwind at that point I was going right at about 27 mph into the turn and as I crossed over the tracks my Bontrager Aero bottle on the downtube launched off my bike. I watched it tumble off my left side as it went across the road... eventually the cap came off and all of my Fluid Performance came spraying out of it... so much for my "get ahead of the hydration curve" plan... I was now stuck with only one 24 oz bottle for the entire bike ride as there were zero water stations on the bike course. The rest of the bike ride was uneventful... post ride analysis showed I rode my intended power and heart rate from a pacing perspective and despite a few gusty crosswinds the bike leg went just as I wanted.... minus the bottle incident! Here I was pre-jettison... wish I had put a third bottle in that empty cage... hindsight is 20/15...
As I headed into T2 I knew I needed to take a moment to drink what water I had in my transition bag as the first water station on the run was a couple of miles into the run... as a result my T2 was bit longer than normal. The first mile went just as planned as I ran the trail portion through the woods in the shade. But not long after we exited the shade and headed out onto the gravel and asphalt roads that surround the ammunition bunkers, my right calf sent out a distress signal in the way of a knotted muscle. I had to stop and stretch it out... after a quick self massage I took back to running. But less than 1/2 mile later it was back. This time it knotted up solid... Now... I am talking about uncooked brisket kind of toughness!! It was in complete rebellion... and what ensued over the remaining 4 miles was a strategy of run-walk-massage-run-stop-massage-run-walk... I never could back into any kind of rhythm... and simply did what I could to finish.
One of the things I have truly come to love is the multisport community... you meet some amazing and incredible people as part of the journey. They come in all shapes and sizes... all kinds of backgrounds... all kinds of motivations... all out there with different aspirations and goals... some to win and some to just finish. This finishing photo is one of those moments... the young lady I am running with was the one person I spent most of the run with... she ran a continuous and steady pace and well... I didn't... she was well aware of my cramping issues... to the point that it became a joke between us... how many times would we pass each other... as we approached a 1/2 mile to go we were both running about the same pace as we crested the last uphill section... and she said... "C'mon... let's finish this together"... it was her first Olympic distance triathlon and we encouraged each other to finish strong... for just a brief few minutes we were each others biggest fan and supporter... what a spectacular way to finish the event!!
After spending some time reflecting on yesterday's race I have come to realize that triathlons are an amazing mirror of life in general... there are good times and bad... there are strengths and weaknesses... there are struggles and triumphs... you are challenged both physically and mentally... at the end of the day times and paces don't really matter... it is you against yourself manifested through a swim, a bike and a run... you can bore down and dwell on the negatives or you can chose to accept the day as it unfolds and enjoy the experience along the way... in the end it is a choice... and how you define success determines the payout... yesterday, despite my own personal challenges, was a huge payout for me... not by the clock but as a first big step in my recovery from surgery.