Monday, October 16, 2006

Race Report: Pumpkinman '06

It is time for a race recap.

I was in Las Vegas for the weekend.  Actually, I was in Boulder City, which is a little bit outside of Vegas, sort of the gateway to the Hoover Dam.  I drove north at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Dan Tkach's bike strapped to the back of my car, and pulled into Boulder City at around 1 p.m.  The team met up at packet pick up, which was near the second transition area (bike to run, for the uninitiated), then we went back to our hotel to suit up and go for a quick ride.

What began as a quick ride turned into quite an adventure, since we decided to try to bike to the Hoover Dam.  This was especially important since the ride would be part of our bike course.  But from Boulder City to the Dam is pretty much downhill the whole way.  Long story short, we definitely hit 35 mph going down those hills on our bikes.  It was hella sweet, but also hella scary.  Zach (our team captain) halted us at a less-steeply-downhill point, looked back, and realized we were missing two of our nine team members.  So . . . we waited around and had some water . . . and here comes Jon, hops out of some random guy's car, pulls out his bike with one flat tire.  Aiya . . . so Zach and Mark tried to fix the tire, which didn't really pan out because something was wrong with the spare tube we had . . . and so Mark and Zach decided to bike back uphill and get the team rental van to pick everyone up.

Jackie and I decided that it would be fun to bike back up the super-steep hill.  Seriously, it was uphill the whole way; there was no flat; there was no downhill.  But we made it up, and just as we were reaching the end, Zach and Mark drove up with the van.  We hopped in the van with our bikes, picked up the other guys (9 people and 9 bikes in 8 seats) and drove the rest of the way to the dam, where we got out and took a picture.

We hit a pizza place for dinner (mmm . . . ton o' carbs . . .) and watch the game in the bar.  At half-time, we went back to our hotel to chill (or, um, not) in the hot tub.  And watched the rest of the lame USC game (Booty, you've disappointed and distressed me).  Then we went to sleep.

And woke up at 4:30 a.m.!  Yay!  Ate breakfast (which we bought at Vons the night before), got our gear together, and headed off to the swim start.

Okay, I have to admit that I was so nervous . . . Thinking back to that moment, the exact emotion returns to me, the butteflies, all the thoughts of "I can't believe that I'm really doing this again!"  I set up my bike gear, squirmed into my wetsuit, and hit the port-a-johns . . . twice in one hour.

Standing, freezing with Drew in Lake Mead, waiting for the swim start.  "We should warm up, huh?" he asks.  I shrug.  Okay.  We swim around for like two minutes.  Everyone huddled at the edge of the lake.  Cannon shot.  We start off.  Asthma, wtf?  I can't breathe.  Can't get my face in the water.  Already thinking, "I'm never going to make it.  I don't want to do this again."  Proceed to side-stroke, back-stroke, dog-paddle, everything but my highly refined and efficient front crawl . . . Round the first buoy, passed again and again.  Wondering what the heck is happening . . . last time I was the one doing the passing.  Hear the second cannon go off.  It's been 15 minutes already?  It can't possibly take me longer than 15 minutes to do 750 yards!  Keep swimming.  Round the second buoy.  Finally feel like I've caught my breath a bit.  Put my face in the water and start swimming for real . . . 1, 2, 3, breathe, 1, 2, 3, breathe.  Almost to where I can touch.  Sight the chip timing pads.  Feet touch mud (very slimey, btw).  Slog my way to shore, half-jog to T1, fully aware that my first transition time is going to suck.  Get into T1 and proceed to walk to my bike (which I'm regretting, now that I've seen my 5 + minute T1 time), pull off wetsuit, which has become very fond of my skin and doesn't want to leave.  Pull on shoes and socks.  Pull on tri jersey.  Suck down a GU (energy gel . . . yummy), and jog out with my bike.  Mount.  Onto the bike course.

Freaking uphill forever.  Then turn right, uphill some more.  Quick downhill, more uphill.  Down, more up.  Actually passing people, woot!  I'm not going to be the last person on the bike course this time!  Hit the turnaround for short course and realize that a lot of this segment is going to be downhill!  But also realize that after that, it's going to be all uphill.  For like 5 miles.  Half an hour of solid hill-climbing.  Try to focus myself, encourage myself.  "Tuck into aero, really use those downhills.  High cadence.  Downshift to a more comfortable gear, but keep the cadence high.  High cadence for Candiss.  For Dad.  For Dischord.  For your family.  For your team."  Also berate myself.  "Can't you pedal a little faster?  You're in your lowest gear!  You have to be able to keep a high cadence in your lowest gear!"  Thinking how glad I am that I climbed this the other day with Jackie.  Noting the beauty of the sun rising over Lake Mead, through the clouds, over the mountains.  Nice and cool, fresh.  Praying for strength.  The "Lane ends, 1000 ft" sign is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, because it means that the climb ends in 1000 ft.  500 ft.  I know that just past that bend, it's downhill all the way to T2.  See that chip timing mat and dismount gracefully right before it.

Do much better in T2; just have to hang my bike and take off running.  And I do.  Manage to keep my feet moving for the first mile.  Thinking, "I'm going to walk; it's only a matter of time."  Running through the shourt course water station, then walking as I drank my water.  Running some more.  Running past Bethany Baptist Church, thinking, "Wonder if they would pray for me."  Wishing I was running with someone else so I could share the joke with them.  Walking, running.  Uphill, downhill.  One absolutely adorable old lady with a tin can shaker, cheering us all on.  Running past people saying "Fight on, USC!"  "USC, Class of '93," one woman shared.  Hitting the turn-around, running over the split-timing mat, starting to walk.  Knowing in my heart that I'm too easy on myself, that I'm not working as hard as I could be.  Knowing that I could be walking faster if I were fresh than I'm running while I'm fatigued.  Knowing that, as close as I am to being done, I should be making myself sick with effort.  Things getting more familiar.  Volunteers saying that I'm almost there.  Grabbing water and Gatorade, walking, running.  Finally seeing that blue, blown-up arch . . . "Finish."  Remembering the Shawnee Mission Tri, wishing my dad were there to run through the end with me . . . Pretending he is, anyway.  Hearing his voice as I break into a sprint in the last 50 yards and take off through that blue arch and feeling his pride all over again.

A medal, food.  Water.  Drew, already standing there (having eaten like four scones, he said).  Trip to the port-a-johns, taking a picture in our post-race bliss.  Waiting in line for a complementary massage (which made the whole thing totally worth it).  Taking the best shower I've ever had.  Meeting up with the team in the end.  Endorphin high extra sweet, knowing that it's going to last for days . . .

That was pretty much my tri experience.  Before I wrote it, I was thinking, "Is this really for me?  Do I really want to invest hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in this?  Is it going to wear off in another year or so?  Will I grow out of it, like I did with climbing?"  After all, I don't think I'm genetically designed to be an athlete.  Short.  Slow.  Heavy.  And mentally, I don't think I'm equipped for it.  I don't have the motivation and focus to tell myself to keep running until the lactic acid fades out of my calves and I hit that second wind and can keep going.  I don't feel like I gave as much as I could have given in this race; I feel like I could have been more stubborn, more driven.  I should have taken more pain.  I should have forced myself to exhaustion.  I should have poured out all that I've stored up in the past few months and drained myself.  That's what I see as giving my best.

But, having written all that out, having essentially relived my race . . . I realize that I absolutely love it.  I can't wait to do it again; I can't wait to do it better.  Last time, I finished third from last.  This time, I moved up to 50 from last.  I was still last in my age group.  Maybe next time I can be next to last in my age group.  Maybe next time I can set a 10-minute mile pace (my run split was 39 minutes for 3.1 miles, so a little slower than a 10-minute mile).  Maybe next time I can keep a higher cadence in the run.  Maybe next time I can go back to an exceptional swim leg (my split ended up being 21 minutes for 750 meters, compared to 24 minutes for 1000 meters, which is what I swam last triathlon).  Maybe next time I can attain new levels of mental drive and focus.

At any rate, I can't wait until I can tri again.

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