I originally wrote this on the 13th . . . of May. Oops! Somewhere between drafting it and adding the pictures, a month passed. Sorry to keep you waiting.
I love racing! That’s all there is to it.
I’m pretty good (but not great) at it, finishing in the top 1/3 of my age group in triathlons and in or near the top 10 at local 5K running races. My finishing position matters, but it isn’t what’s most important to me.
My body hurts to go all out for a short race or to race hard for hours and hours. My mind grows tired, wanders, and doubts midway through each leg of a triathlon. And yet there’s (usually) something quite satisfying about the rhythm of doing it, and the exertion feels almost cleansing. The days of pre-race doubts and worry about whether I’ve trained enough, whether I’m going to be able to perform well, whether I’m going to be good enough, they all get washed away when the starter’s horn sounds and I start doing what I’ve been training to do. Racing is about doing as well as I can and gathering the fruit of all those hours of training.
After a l-o-n-g winter of not racing, I had my first triathlon of the season on Sunday, and it reminded me of all the reasons why I love it.
Part of the joy of triathlon is the community aspect. Lisa and I hang out while waiting for transition to fill up and for the race to start, and I see people I know from past events, from my triathlon club, and even people from work. It’s so nice to just hangout and bullshit with my tribe. (Someone said, “I think when you sign up for an Ironman plan, you should get complimentary landscaping service. And housekeeping.”)
And, of course, there’s a fair bit of the ridiculous, too. The guy parked next to me in transition (whom I had never met before) had a plan, and he wasn’t afraid to share it. Lisa and I were walking around when we overheard him talking in a know-it-all voice to a fellow competitor. “I am going to go out and execute my plan. I think you should, too.” The other guy said something I couldn’t quite hear, which prompted Loud Guy to say, “No! I think you should execute my plan!” Lisa and I looked at each other and then burst into quiet, disbelieving laughter. It became the catch phrase for the rest of our time together before the race.
Anyway, Loud Guy and I started at the same time and swam more-or-less the same pace through the 58°F (14°C) water, finishing in the middle of start wave after completing 1/3 of a mile in 9:00, and leaving transition at the same time. I had already decided that, because it was an especially short event, my race plan would be to just hammer the whole thing, keeping my heart rate at or near lactate threshold for the bike and saving just enough energy for a strong 5K. These were familiar roads: quiet, hilly, rural, and rough. After much internal back-and-forth, I decided to bring my road bike instead of my tri-bike. It’s lighter, more nimble, and easier to handle on rough roads. (Plus my tri-bike still had its trainer tire on.) I think I made the right choice, even if it did cost me a little speed on a few of the open stretches of highway. With so many duathletes and triathletes, these quiet roads became a bit like a parking lot whenever we got to a hill. That worked out pretty well for me, catching lots of people on the uphills who had passed me on the flats.
One of those riders was Loud Guy, who became so frustrated with this every-five-minutes-leap-frogging that, the last time I passed him, he very loudly accused me (and another guy) of drafting. Consider the evidence. Exhibit A: I’ve never been accused of drafting before, and I hate it when others draft. Exhibit B: I was going over 5 miles per hour faster than him and executed a clean pass within 30 seconds. Exhibit C: Loud Guy was (rather rudely) riding in the middle of the lane, forcing the other guy (whom I was also passing) to pass him on the right while I (very correctly) went around him on the left. It wasn’t possible for us to have been drafting off of him or each other. Right-Hand Man and I exchanged puzzled looks, and the only response I could think of was to look back over my shoulder at Loud Guy and shrug. A minute later in transition Loud Guy had moved on to badmouthing race volunteers, who had failed to set up some of the bicycles to his satisfaction. The bikes had blown over during some strong gusts while we were out on the course. I guess somebody’s plan wasn’t executing quite as he had expected. Meanwhile, mine was going just perfectly: I finished the 8.3 miles in 26 minutes.
A moment later I was out on the run course, trying to hold off the other people in my age group. Over the winter I had “aged up.” Instead of being in the same age group with the other 35- to 39-year-olds, this year I am going to have a “40″ written on my calf at all of my triathlons. Ironically, thinking about becoming 40 this October bothered me more last year, when they wrote a “39,” than this year’s “40.” Anyway, the 40-45 group is fast! I passed a couple of people my age and got passed by a few others. The last few hundred yards were a mad dash, as intense as any track race I competed in decades ago. And then it was over. A third of a mile swimming, 8.3 miles of biking, and a 5K all done in 1:02:05. Good enough for 11th of 33 in my age group and 119th out of 431 overall.
Lisa and I hung out a bit more after the race, talking about what we had seen over the last hour and figuring out what we were going to do with the rest of our day. We also looked at some of the photos she took during the race. Here are a few: