So my first long course triathlon is in the bag. And like all things that don’t go according to plan; I just drove home from the race with blisters, raging quads and a whole lot of road grit and no finishers medal. My dad, who won about a dozen amateur dirt bike races in the 70s, always told me that no matter what happens finish the race and if that doesn’t happen, tell a good story. Here’s my “good” story…
This fall I’m an assistant coach on my son’s football team. It’s important to note that I never played football. It’s also important to note that on Saturday the 17th (of all weekends) our usual coaching staff of five would be down to two so we were very short staffed (and in all honesty, five is not quite enough for the 22 5-8 year olds we deal with for 15 hours a week). So I was already stressed of getting out of Tucson to Tempe for bike checks and sign in, but now I was stressed and in charge of the defensive portion of the game. And what a game! Back and forth scoring, dramatic plays and even an interception (a huge deal for our teams’ age group). All was fun and exciting until one of our younger and quietest kids, who literally has not spoken the entire 10 weeks of the season looks at me on the field, right before the snap and says “what am I supposed to do in football?” My brain just left me and with the stress of the road trip, the anticipation of the 1.2 mile swim and what I would do if the water was too warm, the impending saddle soreness, the course surprises, snakes—oh god, there could be snakes— etc…, I spent the rest of the game in sort of daze. At one point my co-coach had to calmly remind me of what kids could play what positions, what the positions were and in fact…what I was supposed to do in football.
We ended up eeking out a win and the glorious, triumphant Vikings were champs for a day and could now boast of a 1-5 record. (If anyone can let me know how to have a .midi file of “We are the Champions by Queen” playing in the background of this blog, please comment below). In fact I thought in my head “what great foreshadowing.”
The drive up was easy, but the whole way I was nervously expecting a huge morass of in shape but stressed people scrambling to get fit with numbers, wrist bands, ankle timers and water wings.
As busy as I’ve seen Tempe Town Lake before, parking was close, easy and accessible. The sign in tents were well marked, coherently laid out and everyone was friendly. I racked my bike, went to the hotel, got checked in, had a swim with the kids and then went for dinner on Mill Ave. Later, we met some friends who live in the area and their new baby. All in all, we had a nice relaxing evening, I laid down just before 9 with plans to sleep like a baby, in a quiet, comfortable hotel room.
And then…not a wink of sleep. My mind raced the entire night. I thought about all the training rides I had missed, shortcuts I had taken on runs, how my little toe squished in my cycling shoe sometimes and had I really counted the laps properly when I’d done my training swims? I was so worked up, I imagined my wife and kids and their nice new husband/dad who didn’t go on foolish errands of 70.3 mile triathlons at the very ripe age of 41. That brought me some comfort for a few minutes; the Tempe police would fish my buoyant, wet-suit clad body out of the lake and after a very short grieving period my family could start their lives anew with a husband/dad who loved cats, real estate and video games. The suffering would have ended for all of us–dramatics aside of course.
At 4:30AM I decided that I couldn’t lay down any more and started moving around the hotel room. My amazing family, wanting to see the start of the race instantly popped awake and helped me get the last of the stuff to the car. We found pretty easy parking, but in an odd mix of cultures, I was walking to the hardest physical event I’d ever planned on attempting while of the bar goers and merry makers were making their way home on Mill Ave. More than at any time since I started this “adventure,” I wanted to call it a day, go get a huge breakfast and spend the entire day watching Pawn Stars in the hotel room while having an IV of good beer hooked directly to a vein.
I got my transition area set up exactly the way I wanted and then had to move it because it was on the wrong side of my bike. While I was making the move, an announcement came over loudspeaker music (not that I minded the interruption of the 3rd playing of Smashmouth’s “Rockstar” in 7 minutes–holy god race organizers, can you update the soundtracks already? Not just WTC–EVERY RACE ORGANIZER EVERYWHERE!) that the race would not be wet suit legal, but that those who chose to wear a wet-suit would have the option of starting in the last wave at 7:45. I had no plan to swim open water without the wet suit so it really was a no-brainer. With about two and half hours to kill, my family chose to go back bed for a while. I nervously paced around for the rest of the morning. I met some nice people, ran into a friend/parent from my kids’ swim team, drank some coffee and even layed down in the grass for a bit.
After a time, I found myself in the appropriate starting coral and nervously began putting on my wet-suit. I made my way into the water at which point my nerves seemed to cool quite a bit. I was one of the first people in the water and despite knowing I would be passed and swam over, I took a position pretty close to the starting pylon.
The horn went off at exactly 7:45 and I calmly hit start on my Garmin and took a few strokes and THEN panic hit. I didn’t seem to making any progress, I couldn’t keep my face in the cold(ish) water, people were touching me…didn’t they know I’m an extreme introvert and don’t really like people!!!! It was about 100m from the start to the Mill Ave bridges, at this point I thought very hard about swimming to the side of the canal, climbing up the embankment and disappearing into the crowd (inconspicuously as I would have been in goggles, wet-suit and bright orange swim cap)
After about 200m I got myself under control. The course marking pylons began to come a little faster, and I got a little more confident. I ended up doing about an even mix of breast and freestyle which wasn’t my plan, but even during the swim I was able to chalk that up to inexperience with sighting and something to work on for next race. With all the limitations the swim went surprisingly well. I don’t mind admitting it was not fast, but it did get done.
I ran into the exit chute and saw my wife and family cheering me on–maybe even a little teared up. I had a quick mental chuckle that “new dad” would have to wait for my demise when I take up wing-suiting (lol, loser). It was very sweet to see them there and as much as I told them that I didn’t want them to waste their day waiting around the transitions, it really gave me a boost.
T1 was very smooth but slow and I made it out of the chute and started the ride. The first of three laps went amazingly well. I looked down at my watch and kept seeing 17mph, my butt felt good, my feet felt nice, my legs were spinning nicely at my planned 85 cadence and all seemed right with the world. Despite being advertised as a flat course, the last six miles of the 18.5 mile lap was pretty hilly, especially because I wasn’t expecting it but I chugged through lap 1 just fine.
It was on lap two that I started to get some severe hot spots on my feet. I cranked along as best I could but I noticed that I was not passing anyone anymore and in fact, several people I had passed earlier were now catching up to me. I tried mixing up my pedal stroke a bit but by about mile 30 I had huge blisters on the bottom and sides of my feet. I actually stopped and rode with my feet outside of shoes for the rest of the second lap and a good portion of the third. My quads also started burning at this point and passing the transition area to start the third lap was a tough decision, but I pressed on. Having started in the last wave of the day and with most people already on the run (or even finishing) the last lap was quite lonely but I kept ticking off mental check points and ultimately rode into T2. No matter the outcome of the rest of the day, 1.2 miles in the water and 56 miles on two wheels were complete.
I’ll use the word run in a figurative sense here. I had made the mistake on the bike of thinking that because I had not had breakfast, I needed to take a banana or Clif bar at every aid station. This was fine on the bike but when my stomach started bouncing a bit on the run I felt completely bloated and sick. I decided I needed to walk for at least a little bit and let the food digest. I made it to mile one and started running which is when the cruel triathlon gods reminded me “Hey stupid…you have huge blisters on your feet! That sliding, squishy sensation on the ball of your foot…that’s not your sock!” Oh yeah…
So for the first part of the run I tried to ignore the pain and split the run into even running/walking segments. That worked for a while then then the splits began to become more walking until ultimately…I was just walking. Even walking was painful but doing the mental math I knew that I was probably going too slow to make the lap two cut off.
Right before the last turn around I asked a course volunteer how I was doing for time. He said that if I hurried I could make it. I asked him what he meant by hurried (I was moving for the entire conversation…I was going pretty slow) and he said I had 14 minutes to go two miles to make the lap two cut. Oh sure “hurry.”
For nothing less than my own edification, I ran as much as I could in a vain effort to make the cut. But unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be. With the sound of finishers names coming from behind the hill, I was funneled into a chute and had a very polite and encouraging course ref pull my ankle timer. I missed the lap two cut off by about 10-15 minutes. 2015 Tempe 70.3 was done.
The two weeks since.
I am still disappointed about the race, but I can certainly take the lessons I learned and be happy with them. There are quite a few specifics going forward that I know I need to work on. A lifelong goal has been to cross the finish line of a full Ironman. I hope to have a spot at the Tempe Ironman in 2016 and will take a shot at the 70.3 distance race at Deuces Wild in Arizona as a halfway marker in June. I did not finish in Tempe two weeks ago, but I did learn a lot for the year ahead.
- I need far more work on the bike. Summer in Tucson is brutal so I made a very poor estimation that indoor trainer rides would be enough for the race. They weren’t, and I even did some really long (and boring) training rides. Another oddity was that I never developed the blisters on the trainer, a fact that I can only chalk up to applying pressure to the shoe and pedal differently when out on the road.
- I probably need a wider tri (or road) shoe. The blisters started on my pinky toes and seemed to expand inward. I think different shoes would have made this a different race.
- More open water race experience. I took a great open water course in Newport Beach this summer which really helped but actual race starts are critical. If you are in the area I can’t say enough good thing’s about Ingrid Miller at Fearless Swimming and her open water courses.
- Hire a triathlon coach. We have some great coaches in the area and I’ve already reached out to a couple to see how they may be able to help.
- See a professional about my sleep issues. This has been such a long running problem that I don’t even really pay attention to it anymore. I am not sure how much this would have changed the race, but I certainly would have been in a better mental space.
- Lastly, but probably most importantly. I am far too heavy to be racing at these distances. I went into the race at about 250lbs when I really should be racing at about 200lbs or less. At the best case I was pushing around 20% of my weight that was completely worthless to me. I have tried many diets over the years but the one that has always worked best is eating the right foods and eating less than my Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). One of my biggest down falls is that I simply love to eat. I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been pretty active which is why I have been able to keep my weight to 250. But the old adage “you can’t outrun a bad diet” is 100% true, I just need to apply it.
Thank you very much for reading and I hope to update more often…please comment if you have questions, inputs or encouragement!