Monday, July 23, 2012
Two Race Reports
Race reports can get old. I have written many. Sometimes they come close to capturing the emotion and drama of racing, sometimes they induce boredom faster than a math lecture. Which is interesting because numbers are usually where we start and finish when assessing a competition. It's a math lecture on screen. And today's lesson is peppered with history.
PLEASE check out this perfectly penned race report from the 1936 Olympics where the USofA was represented in the rowing Olympics by the University of Washington crew. It is a great story, flawlessly told and cracking with intensity and pathos. I was cheering for the good guys (Huskies) as they matched strokes with the heavily favored bad guys (Hitler and Mussolini) in a rather hostile Berlin setting.
Moving ahead 76 years, and jumping from rowing to triathlon, which didn't even exist at the time, I file this abbreviated report on Saturday's Chelanman Long Course Triathlon. Please forgive if it fails to illicit a similar emotional tone as the former piece.
Going in, I knew it was gong to be a battle of a different type. I was balancing on fatigued legs, tired from overwork, not fully recovered from two prior workouts. My right arm dulled by the relentless ache of RSI (repetitive stress injury). My sleep had been interrupted the night before. We drove five hours to get to a camp site where the sprinklers would cause yet another interruption to much needed REMs at 0200. Wake up call was 0500. You don't need a lecture to figure the math. Bloodshot and bruised at the swim start.
Saying that the swim conditions were ideal might be an understatement. Seventy degrees, as calm as it gets and crystal blue water to match even that of Tahoe. The game plan was to go easy (again) smooth, breathing, rolling on side, maximizing every movement for propulsion and efficiency. At about 800 meters I even chuckled at how simple it was. Find the slippery groove and cut the drag. If I have been any more relaxed I would have sunk. The right arm goes numb at 1000, leaving the left to compensate. I adjust, correct and keep eyes on the underwater rope. What I don't need now is to lengthen the swim. Every five breaths I look up to sight, squinting into the bright yellow ball of fire in the morning sky. I think about the Race Director's sister and her battle with MS, I think about Chris and Stephanie's constant, gracious and fitting gratitude for strong and healthy bodies, I think about how beautiful it is right here, right now. I feel lucky, even with the use of only one arm. I think that this is not the time to be a wuss either so I put on a little move to test the limb. A least I am an alive wuss. And know what? In about five minutes the swim wuss would be hitting solid ground and morphing into a BIKER.
A biker with wheel fatigue it appeared. Off to a fast start on the 58 miles. Steady, controlled, big 56 ring ring churning. Nutrition strategy in place, new (non-matching) Michelin on rear. Beautiful blue skies, lakeside, 80 plus, slight sidewind. By mile 30 on the rolling out and back, the challenge was to manage the quad pain, keeping split times and finish goals in the equation. It needs to ouch a little but not to the point of failure, a scenario that often destroys confidence and willingness to stay aggressive. By the course signature hills, a consensual damage control gear provided close to maximum speed, now given the heat, fatigue, elevation and distance to target. Usually at about this juncture in any race the debate begins over what to give and when. Kill the bike, slug the run? Save a little for the 13? Or save a lot and kill the run? All part of the game. What they call in Iron.
Back in T2, transition from bike to run, I am feeling decent, all things considered. Seemed to be an abundance of endorphins called into emergency action. With quads and hip flexors getting a rest and hamstrings and glutes about to take control, the big question was now about nutrition, electrolytes, water and pacing. What is left and how long until the onset of debilitating fatigue? Or, rather bluntly, how long can I go at desired speed?
Facing but a single option to learn the answer I set out on the 13.1 mile out 'n back run. I am feeling surprisingly good, even without the data that would later indicate that my bike split, which seemed a day slower than last year, was actually fairly close, with the perception of half of the effort. In doing the obligatory total systems check I find back and core still surprisingly strong. Mental not to self is made to erasure hydration and with that the pace quickens to approximate desired speed and result. Legs are sore, tired and turgid. Close to cramping at any second. I shorten stride making quick, mid-foot strikes trying to coordinate upper body movement with ground level impact. Find the flow. Breathe. Two down. Keep charging. I am passing people with black markings on their right calf's indicating they could be my children. I recognize several from the bike leg. Teach them to pass ME on a climb. At mile 5 I am out of EFS liquid shot, the fuel I carry. I must now call upon my experience to mix and match water, Heed, Hammer Gels, pretzels, oranges and bananas to power the finish. A blister has developed on my left toe. I begin to splash ice water on my hamstrings and calves at every aid station. I no longer care about time. It is this step, this foot-strike, this breath, in rotation, that counts. I am managing pain. It hurts, but we endure. It is hot. I like it. The sun sparkles on the water and I think about how sensual it would be to skinny dip RIGHT NOW. I get to mile 10. My pace has suffered. Both legs are about the cramp. The toe is bleeding. I am passed by the eventual Women's Overall Winner. I run with her for five steps before she drops me like a bad habit. My head and heart want to give chase but my legs only want relief. They are screaming to stop this punishment. Five clicks remain and I can see the finish in the distance. Keep it going. Stay present. Find what remaining juice remains and squeeze it to pulp. The faster you go the quicker the end. This ain't so bad. I can take a little hurt. This is precisely the scenario for which we train. The person who can delay the onset of fatigue, wins. Not only will I delay, I will thrive in the effort. I surge. There is still some gas in this rusty old tank. Burn it. I get there. Finish.
There are worlds of differences between rowing and running, between the 1936 Olympics and the little, local 70.3. The stories and the passions are very similar. Sport is played out in order to reference the heroic. We need something to compare ourselves to. We like to create relevancy and validate our training, our talent and our character. We accept challenge.
It is why I keep coming back. Stories like the Huskies in '36. I want some of that.
I'll keep trying.
Pix: Top: 2012 Highway 97, Chelan, WA bike in , run out. A RCVman photo. Bottom: The 1939 Rowing USA gold medal winners from the UW. A Slate magazine photo.