When the alarm rang at 4:30, I was already in a light sleep. I get this way every night before a race. I sleep like shit, and wake up three to four times to make sure I am not missing my alarm, secure in the knowledge that I set the alarm for this very reason, so that I would get up only when it went off. It is a moronic game I play with myself, but so far I can’t seem to help it. 4:30, go time. The checklists begin, teeth? Brushed, Oatmeal? Cooking, Race gear? Ready to go. Pooping? Soon. Everything is going according to plan. One last look at the weather outside, cool but not cold. Perfect. Here we go, out the door 5:00. I figure we will get there with plenty of time. Oh, wait this is a big race. 1800 participants big. 1800 cars with friends and family extra, 1800 neurotic messes running around a public park trying to get their logistics straight. At this moment I am reminded of an ant farm, each person has their tasks, goals, and rewards. Everyone is doing their own thing but we are collectively doing the same goddamn thing at the same goddamn time. I leave the car while my faithful Leslie is trying to find parking and I make my way briskly to the transition area. The feeling in the air is electric but I try to remain calm. Checklist in my head as I run through it again, bike, shoes, running shoes, number OK, got it, air in the tires, done. I want to get in the water for a warm up swim but my time is running short. I hurry out of transition to find that there is a choke-point on the path where the hoards of people are slowed to the pace of molasses on a January morning. I watch the time for swim warm up pass and shrug shoulders. I begin walking to the start area, where there is supposed to be labeled areas for the rolling start, where you take your best guess of your swim time and line up with others of your ability. I planned on being around 35 minutes for the 1900 meter swim and after they announced the swim was shortened to 1500 meters I adjusted my time accordingly. I start to go to the coral and out of the crowd I hear my name, it is my wonderful Leslie who has found me in the throng of wet-suit and swim capped clad people. She wishes me the best, we talk about any last details and she sends me on my way with a kiss. I always love having her at these races, she brings me a sense of calm that I cannot put a price on. As we start to line up in the start chute, I look around me to find that most of the people I am with are being a bit timid in line. This is not a good sign as starts like this can be a bit of a fist fight and I realize too late that I am way too far back in the group. I will have to swim over hundreds of people during my swim. This thought quickly dissipates though as I remind myself to make the best with what I have. The moment is almost at hand. The world goes quiet. The gun goes off! And we don’t move, for a good 5 minutes, which seems like eternity. Finally there is movement and we shuffle to the start line where our chip starts and I am off running through the water like a madman.
The giant mud puddle that we are swimming in known as Beaver lake, is quite grown over with weeds as well. I feel them tug at my arms but I keep fighting, elbows being thrown feet being grabbed, the mad dash continues until about the 500 meter mark, then all of a sudden people start slowing down, I try to maintain my speed but I keep running into people. I get dunked once or twice swallow a big gulp of the lovely liquid and pushed on. I rounded the corner and saw the exit line not a moment too soon. I fought through the last drag net of weeds and up the ramp to dry land. Sweet, sweet dry land. I looked down at the watch, 25 mins and change, not too shabby. A personal record for me and in not the best conditions. Score. I sprint pass as many people as I can in the transition chute. I find my trusty steed and rip off my wet-suit, clip on my helmet, throw on sunglasses and run out of the transition area. I jump on the bike at the start line, things are going great considering and I am loving every minute of it.
I start out the bike trying to settle into a rhythm. Unfortunately there are many, many people that I have to pass as a result of my far back start position. I take off and try to remain calm. “It should feel easy” the words of coach, Daryl Smith, ringing in my ear. It should feel easy, and it does. About 20 minutes in I start putting down some more power playing with some racers as far as pacing and just enjoying the brisk morning sunshine. 56 degrees is a little chilly at 25 mph with just a wet tri-suit but I have had much worse and I am starting to dry out so that is great. I start whistling for some reason, I don’t even remember the tune but I remember that is where I start having fun. I love racing and this is where I come alive. I am fueling with a gel water mix in one of my bottles and water in the other to wash it down. Stay on target Brent, 10 minutes, sip fuel, 10 minutes, sip fuel, smooth power, nasal breathing, and don’t wipe that smile off your face. Thus continues the rest of the ride until I notice something doesn’t feel quite right. I look down and through the bumps and corners my handle bars have come slightly loose at the stem. Well shit. Time to work with this. I take my corners less aggressively and try to keep steady on the descents. I look down at my watch at mile forty, sixteen to go and I am behind pace for my goal but not doing that bad. I stay calm and keep working. Now I can put the power down, holding back still but less and less as the miles tick away. I turn one of the final corners and know that I have about two minutes until I get to run. Time to get ready. Shoes loose, dismount from the bike in 3…2…1..and start running undo your helmet, oh wait rookie mistake. Helmet back on, now you can run the bike over to the stand and transition…bike time 2:30 and counting…
For the last 10 miles of the bike I needed to take a leak, not like it would be nice if I could but bladder bursting pressure. To the point I was getting a stomach ache. Now I know that in a 4 hour plus race of consuming enough liquid to keep you hydrated, most reasonable people would stop and find a nice bathroom and take a wiz. Not triathletes, we think that we need to urinate on ourselves in order to save that precious 30 seconds. I say this out of jealousy. I have yet to fully be able to piss myself on the bike. Maybe someday I will develop this skill, or lose bladder control or who knows but it was not this day. Before I started running I HAD TO PEE. I ran into the port-a-john and pissed the best feeling piss I can remember. Other than that one time at Oktoberfest in Munich…but that story is for another time. I fly out of the door with fist held high, the race could end right there, I felt like a million bucks. Time to start running.
The run course followed around the lake with two small climbs at the end of each loop. My goal going into it was to “negative split” the loops, i.e. the second faster than the first. I have been working on pacing for the last couple months specifically half marathon pacing off the bike and I felt like I was nailing it after the first couple miles. Nice and steady, keep the rhythm, keep the energy. Coke at this aid station, water at the next, mile 3 mile 4, the miles kept clicking by I passed my coach at an out and back section and he yelled some words of encouragement which I yelled back. I was feeling great. Oh right, I have to run another one of these. Damn, for a moment I feel the gravity of that sink in. I see Leslie on the lap and she yells something nice I am sure, I yell back “I love you” or something like that. After that first lap I refocus and reset the mind. Time to put some pressure on. A little faster, pick up the pace, you got this. Last 5k time to really put it down. I am off my goal pace but there is not much left in the tank and I might have been a little over ambitious with my goals in the beginning. I grit my teeth for the last hill and charge down it. The end is near and I can feel it. That sweet feeling of crossing the line. That moment of pure joy and exhaustion followed by the rush of dopamine. High fives are shared, times are assessed, joking and excusing I mean analysis begins. I try to drink the moment in, savor it all. Since my first half-ironman I have shaved off almost 45 minutes. Final time is 4:36 something. 12th in my age group, 88th overall out of 1800 with about 30 pros mixed in there as well. Great day, great weekend, a great sign of things to come. Onwards and upwards.
Stats (if you are into that sort of thing) Also congratulations you made it to the end. Yay for you.