In a triathlon, even when things are really bad, they still are pretty good. [Warning: Long Race Report, Far Too Much Detail]
Yesterday’s Austin Triathlon started with some tough news – Angie and Laura had heard from Transplants for Children, and they could not find Elida‘s family for the drive up to Austin. I was both very worried and very disappointed. But I also had a race to wrap my head around, and I had a number of aggressive goals that I wanted to chase, and I couldn’t do anything to change things at this point. I set up my bike in transition, and as always, a few stupid mistakes: 1) all my bottles were frozen, so I couldn’t put anything in my hydration system 2) no flip flops 3) left my wedding ring on and had to run back to put it in my transition bag at the last minute.
The Swimmer is Back
Everything came together for the swim start. I hopped in the water, moved up close to the buoy, because I wasn’t going to lose time to any slower swimmers in this event having to fight through them unnecessarily. I think “they” should all be happy, because I’ve become far too much of a combat swimmer and now even enjoy fighting through the bodies. The gun sounded and within 30 seconds I was separated from the pack, and found myself with only 3-4 swimmers around me, which quickly became 3, one of whom took off like a rocket, and the other who I managed to draft off of for 150 yards before he accelerated away. Then I was on my own, and feeling great. The Xterra Vector 3 wetsuit I own may be the perfect wetsuit for me. My legs do not need to work at all, and so every bit of my two-beat kick goes into propulsion and not flotation. Every stroke feels phenomenal, and I’m rotating to breathe, and really moving water. Sometimes you have no idea how you’re swim is going. I knew that I was kicking ass (relatively speaking).
All by myself, in solid stroke rhythm (even doing more front quadrant swimming, a new thing for me), I popped up my head to “sight” (look where I’m going), and a Waverunner is right in front of me, just a stroke out of reach. As the male passenger looks at me, the female driver guns the engine, creating a huge wave that crashes on top of me, and I dive to keep from gettting pushed back, meanwhile giving them a “gesture” of my thanks, and then spending a breath above the water and yelling “THANKS” in my most pissed off voice.
I managed to pull myself back together, get my head back down, and begin hammering through the “Otters” (my affectionate name for novice swimmers who are treading water in the middle of a race, who have started in the waves before you, who you have caught). You don’t go around Otters, you go through them. I made it to the swim exit feeling like I’d turned in a great time, and as my T3 teammates pulled me out of the water, as the wetsuit top was peeled back, they recognized the T3 jersey, and then finally me. “Bryan?” came out of a couple of people’s mouths – a lot of my teammates don’t know how much stronger I am in the water than on the bike or run. I felt like turning back and saying “YES, ME”. It seemed like no matter what happened, I could only get angry about it.
A chip off the worst possible block
The timing chips for this race were new – instead of the tried and true champion chip, they used a new plastic throwaway chip, that stuck out almost a full inch from your leg. Triathletes are usually the first to embrace something new and innovative, but this was a resounding failure. A teammate’s wetsuit ripped trying to pull the leg over the chip. My chip dug deeply into my ankle as I pulled my suit off, and during the bike it was digging constantly into my achilles tendon. Not cool. New chip gets a big fat F.
Where the rubber or skin meet the road
My transition was quick given the wetsuit removal, and I was on to the bike. I ran faster through transition that I usually do, and it felt great. My heart rate was above 170 once I was on the bike, but my legs weren’t burning. I kept my cadence about 95 whenever possible, even on the climb up South Congress. While a few people passed me up the hill, I flew passed them on the downhill. The race wheels and helmet were definitely a help, and my legs just weren’t that tired from the climb. I felt good, and my heart rate stayed between 165 and 170 for all of the first two laps, and I wasn’t dying. One more lap and I’d be in a great place to survive the run. Rain, which seemed to come from nowhere, was pouring on Congress Ave but completely missing on the West side of the course.
At the beginning of the third lap, turning right from Cesar Chavez to Congress Ave, another cyclist came around the outside of me, in a tight turn putting three of us in a crowded lane. I could have held my line and kept him from passing, but I moved a little more to the inside, and then both wheels slid out from under me. I slid 15 feet on the wet ground. My heart jumped, but I seemed unhurt! A race crew member helped me look at my bike – I was a little freaked and the chain had just jumped off a bit, so I got underway and started the climb. I immediately slipped to anger again. Anyone who knows me well knows that I rarely get angry – it’s almost a foreign emotion to me, and I was filled with animosity, now directed at the cyclist who had cut outside me. Yet this was not his fault, he didn’t force me inside.
At the top of the hill, I pulled over quickly because my cadence sensor was getting hit by the spokes on the back wheel, so I fixed that and was back down the hill. My right arm aero bar pad had come off in the wreck, exposing the tops of two bolts that were not comfortable to lean on, so I could no longer get into aero position. The crash, the fix, and no aero all added up to a much, much slower third lap, and starting the run with a mental cloud. The rain had stopped, and I love the Austin Tri run course, so here was a chance to shake off the negativity and get back into a positive frame of mind. You have less than a hour left. I feel like I can do anything for an hour, so the finish is near.
But shaking off the emotion was not to occur. I was angry at anyone who passed me, and angry at anyone I passed. Only my teammates and the Jack and Adam’s crew seemed to evoke a positive response. The friend in Austin I have known the longest came to the race and was cheering me on, and I barked at him to shut up. Yes, a new low. Yes, I really said that. The anger fueled a sub-8 minute mile. My goal pace was just to hold 8 minute miles, and as each half mile ticked off, the pace was slipping, to 8:10, then 8:15. This was my challenge: could I muster the strength to run harder despite being exhausted, angry for no reason, and starting to feel more and more pain in my right leg from the crash.
I did not meet the challenge. My pace slipped all the way up to 8:30 at times, which I could run last year. I think the strength in my legs was there. I think I was hydrated, fueled. There were no excuses. I told myself that I had better not have a kick at the finish line or it showed that I didn’t give everything. With over a mile left, I put everything I had into the run, and had no kick at the finish line. I could have pushed harder. I could have run faster. But the finish line came soon enough and I could celebrate.
I got to see Lisa and Dan (another bummer is that a very close friend of mine who has never seen me race, was going to come out, but couldn’t), my T3 teammates, I went to the medical tent to get bandaged up, and then a massage. Incredibly painful in short moments, but my legs feel 10x better afterwards as a direct result of the my miracle worker in the T3 tent. I wanted some peace and quiet and to head home, so I did.
Time heals all wounds
In the end, I went 2:34:42, 14 minutes faster than my time last year, 9+ minutes of which came from the swim. Take away the crash and the third lap out of aero, and I think I could have knocked off 3-4 more minutes on the bike. The run appeared to be measured short (6 miles instead of 6.2), so add a couple more minutes back, and it was still a time that made me very happy. My time put me around 29th for my age group, and in the top 25%. I don’t think I’ve ever finished in the top 50% in an Olympic, so it was a big deal to me.
Elida is okay
The most important event was finding out that Elida was okay. Just not feeling well enough to come to the event. It made me remember canceling my trip to a friend’s wedding in Turkey when I was on dialysis, just 2 days before the event. I felt so guilty (and still do) that I could not make it, but it was clear that going was a foolish decision and it could have been a health disaster for me, and I was the only one who thought it was a good idea. I am still sad that Elida didn’t get to see a triathlon, and enjoy all the things that Jack and Adam’s set up for her, but her health is the most important thing by orders of magnitude, and I am glad their family did not try to come down when she was sick.
What I learned
1. I need to challenge myself and believe in myself during the run. Ironman Arizona will be very different, but mentally an even harder battle, and I need to win that one, because it’s the difference between a 4 and 5 hour marathon.
2. I’m a swimmer again! I know I can go faster than I did, which is even more exciting.
3. Despite everything negative that happened, 99% of it entirely caused by no one else but me, I had a ton of fun, and it will go down as one of my favorite days of racing. The Austin Triathlon is still my favorite, hands down, and despite all my problems, it only grew in my love for the event.