Location: Syracuse, NY
Date: September 18, 2011
Placing: 12th Overall Amateur, 1st 45-49 Age Group
Format: Half-Iron Triathlon
My Race Photos
Official Race Photos
Results: Click Here
I had a revelation. Actually, I had several 'events' that when added up...led to a revelation. It's not the kind of revelation where you realize something that you never knew before. No, it was a revelation that I had forgotten something over the course of time. A revelation that had long gone by the wayside. Slowly. Over 30 years. As a competitive athlete I've learned to train and hone my body in an effort to outperform others. What I've fogotten over the years is that the emotional and mental aspects are what turn an 'event' into a 'race'. Racing isn't hard on the body. Racing is hard on the psyche. We may see it as a physical test but in all honesty, I can almost predict my swim, bike and run times under certain conditions. And there's the rub. There is no such as thing as 'certain conditions' and how we react to 'uncertain conditions' is the real test. Yes; racing is a test of fortitude. A test of the human spirit.
A test of the human spirit?
After hundreds of races spread across 3+ decades, things get easier. But don't be fooled - not everything that's 'easier' is good. Complacency is easier. Accepting defeat is easier. Quitting is easier. Stripping in public is easier. Before the race, I was already looking for interesting things to jazz up my race report under the simple assumption that I would be going through the same motions I've gone through so many times before. So many things to talk about; an interesting venue, interesting weather, the absolute nightmare that was my bike shipping, and the fact that I was without my massive network of a support system otherwise known as Janis. I'll save most of these for my 'Notes' section because in the end this story really is all about a 'race'.
My season made a sharp turn for the better at the beginning of the Summer when my doctor upped my dosage of my allgery-blocking medication and anabolic steroids. Which probably also accounts for the reason my upper body has gotten so ripped. Yep, no more checking size 'small' in the race t-shirt column. I started to once again "own my body". Coach Rick pushed me as hard in August with a focus on speed in the pool and transition runs after interval rides. I felt as fit as I have in a while with no losses of power or heartrates that would not climb. I tasted this feeling in Portland in July and like Oliver Twist...I wanted some more. After my scheduled attempt to do Branson 70.3 with a friend fell through - there was no way I was going to waste this fitness. I signed up for Syracuse.
Finn made me promise to put a photo of him in my report. He stowed away AGAIN. I must admit, he DID have some great tips on cold-water swimming. But mostly he watched cable TV.
As I mentioned in my first paragraph, my fitness is never a source of stress. I control that. I've done the work and my training tells me what to expect. This weekend, it was telling me to expect something good - maybe even great. Yes, I beleive it used those exact words, "maybe even great". I also don't stess much about the things that everyone must deal with. Who cares if the course is hard or if it's raining or if your race number is an ugly color orange that doesn't mathc your Team Kattouf outfit? The guy or gal next to you isn't going to get things any different. But then there's a caveat. People are different and things affect us all differently...which brings me to the temperatures. I admit my advantage in the heat since I am part camel. No, I'm part gila monster - yeah that sounds way cooler than a camel. "Monster". So, any-who, you won't find gila monsters in the arctic because they can't handle the cold...and because most of them can't afford an airline ticket with the price of flights these days.
It looks real nice but if pictures could transmit temperatures - you'd be wearing a coat right now.
Just days before the event, a cold front had come through and dropped the temps considerably. Jeeez, it felt like New York!...which makes sense if you think about it. So there I am - the gila monster - on race morning. The air temp is 43-degrees and they announce the water temp at 62-degrees. Isn't that just a couple of degrees away from freezing? A little stronger breeze and we'd be looking at a skate-bike-run. 15 minutes before the start I sat alone in my car with the heat on. Not a sole to be seen since everyone else was several hundred yards away at the beach start. I put my wetsuit on and seriously debated whether or not I could get into water that cold. I had come close to hypothermia last year swimming in Lake Hartwell in the very early Spring. You may hurt yourself badly if you fall off your bike or trip while running. But losing use of your limbs while swimming never ends well.
I jogged to the beach and the first 3 waves had already gone. I was wave 6. I waited as long as I possibly could to take off my shoes, hat and sweatshirt and drop them to the 'holding area'. I would not touch the water before the start. If I knew how cold it was, I might just back out. But if I ran into the water full bore when the gun went off, I might just take my brain by surprise (as if I could surprise my brain after some of the stuff I've put it through the last 30 years). And so that's what I did. And my brain was surprised alright. Surprised that 62-degrees hardly felt any colder than the pool I train in! I didn't know it at the time, but this was TEST#1 of the day. Remember that.
A great shot of the start to show you what the view was like on the 'short side' of the rectangle. I think I have a hole in my retina.
I felt amazing in the swim. I had been using a different technique in the water the past month that involved actually swimming instead of flailing around (who knew?). All my training swims were slightly faster because I was not fatiguing as easily. My ability to swim very straight came in very handy on the short section of the rectangle when we swam directly into the rising sun. A quick stop at the turn to shield my eyes and locate the next turn allowed me to swim the entire length in a straight line without needing the ability to sight the intermediate buoys and cause permanent damage to my retinas. I caught more swimmers than usual and it took longer for the wave behind me to catch me. Most importantly, I never once looked up and thought "God, how much further?!" Something that usually happens about 2 minutes into the swim.
No disorientation today. Which is bad because I totally realize at this point that I still have 4 hours of exercise to go.
I emerged in a little under 36 minutes. A good swim for me. I was in the dark about a lot of things on this particular day. Here's what I DIDN'T know: my swim was even better than it sounded because a lot of the times were slower than 'normal' - only a handful of amateurs breaking 30 minutes. I had cracked the top 17% of swimmers and was 12th out of the water in my age group a great jump from my usual 25+%. Here's what I DID know: my training didn't fail me. Here's what I LEARNED: if you have size 13 feet, be sure to pick a wetsuit stripper with some strength instead of two tiny women. "Pull harder!! Really yank it!". And keep your minds out of the gutter. They weren't doing it so I had to. I yanked my foot so hard, I almost pulled both of them down on top of me.
This is not me...but it is a good representation of how comical wetsuit stripping can be. "PULL!"
With feet that were almost numb, every step on the pavement to transition felt like the principal's paddle against my soles...or so I'm guessing. Maybe. I got to my bike and I had a quick discussion with my brain, "Do we really need arm warmers and a vest?" "Yes, you idiot. It doesn't feel cold now but when you start moving, you will realize it is barely 50-degrees!" "Oh, OK. How do you think we're doing? Hey, check out the Power Bar banner; we should try to steal that after the race" "Sounds like a....". Anyway, the rest is not important. If you thought pulling socks onto wet feet was hard - wait till you try getting big, nubby, half-frozen, wet hands through arm warmers. I looked like I was doing Flashdance on LSD. After getting dressed, I took a few snapshots, wrote a letter to Janis and was surprised to see it was still Sunday when I finally got on my bike almost 5 minutes later.
So embarrased that my arm warmers are not positioned exactly right so you can read the 'Kattouf'. It negates the entire day's accomplishment.
I had at least 3 different people tell me that starting at mile 2 of the bike, you climbed for the next 10 miles. Yeah, I didn't believe it either. I thought maybe it was like some kind of Facebook gag or a type of flash mob, "Hey let's all get together and start a rumor that the bike is all uphill." I mean hell, I started telling people even though I had no idea. It was fun in a sadistic sort of way until I found out they were not kidding. As an ex-bike racer I was smart about how I took the hills. Rick was confident that a more conservative heartrate would still yield a good ride and open me up for a good run as well. And I was confident in Rick. I stuck to the nutrition and heartrate plans and at 30:00, I was right at 9 miles (18mph) and picking people off at a constant rate. Mile 6.75 was the last time on the bike that my HR went over 140bpm. It was great day!...for the next 6 miles.
Yeah right - all uphill the first 12 miles. Oh and let me guess, there are 10-foot waves on the lake. Oh. Wait a mintue...
We 'topped out' around mile 12 and we shot down the next couple of miles. I chased a rider who was moving fast - but he chose to coast on several portions of the descent while I pedaled. I raced by him shortly before the road flattened out around mile 14.5. Here's what I DIDN't know: the rider I had just passed was the leader in my age group. It was an absolutely glorious da..:* BANG *. TEST#2. My rear tired exploded like a shotgun literally seconds after passing the 15-mile marker. I pulled slowly to the side of the road. "Well, that sucks...I was going pretty good. Coulda been a great day." I dismounted and was in no hurry to take stock of the situation. The last couple of years I've rarely even carried a spare with me figuring if I flat I'm out of it. Besides, this is like race # 278,304. But today, for some reason...I carried a spare. I stood there kind of glazed over for what seemed an eternity. One by one, people raced by me. And one by one, they shouted things like "do you need anything?" and "are you OK?". That was THE defining moment. That was the point at which the 46-year-old me remembered the 16-year-old me. The thrill of the race; the desire to face obstacles head on with total disregard to 'what HAS happened' and total focus on 'what WILL happen'. The video at the bginning of this post was me 30 years ago. Don't think...just overcome. What the hell happened to me? Go, DAMN IT!
I set to task ripping my tire off the rim. I was using racing tires that you glue on and with cold hands and a good glue job - it was not easy. But I was in a new frame of mind that really was an old frame of mind. I 'willed' the tire off the rim. I mounted the new tire and crossed my fingers that the air cartridge would not have problems. One squeeze and BAM! About 120psi. I threw the wheel back on the bike, grabbed the old tire and cartridge in my hand and - after leaving the 'event' - I entered the 'race'. What I DIDN'T know: the second place rider in my age group rode by while I was fixing the flat and I had been stopped for almost exactly 7 minutes. I rode a quarter-mile and threw my tire and cartridge into the feed zone, put my head down, and 'got to it'.
Totally relaxed. Totally aero. Totally gonna look bad luck in the face and say "Nanny-nanny, boo-boo".
First and foremost, I had to remember that my rear tire was no longer glued on. The pressure would keep it on just fine except for any turns. Fortunately, there were not a lot of turns on this course but it would still eat a minute or two into my time as I normally take turns like any veteran of 30 years of bike racing would - insanely. Instead, I felt comical nearly coming to a stop at every turn. Just 3 miles after I flatted, I caught and passed a guy in my age group. At this point, I didn't know that he was second in my age group and that he had passed me while I was changing my tire. He was really moving well. At mile 20 we shot down a steep descent that was equally steep on the other side. I decided to attack it and gain some time. I kicked it as I neared the bottom and carried my momentum into the climb, passing a couple of women who were already slowed to nearly a stop. Shift, shift, shift...TEST#3. I was shifting too agressively and my chain dropped. I quickly moved to the side of the road and disengaged as my bike quickly rolled to a stop.
There was no thought process involved. I was a different guy than the one that started this ride. I jumped off, got my chain back on in a matter of seconds, looked at the steepness of the road in front of me and without a moments hesitation - started to run. On my toes. In my cycling shoes. Dragging my bike. I ran up that climb for almost 2 minutes until I could reach a spot flat enough to mount my bike safely. Guess what? The second place rider passed me again. This had to be both entertaining and psychologically annoying for him. I think I spurred him on because this time it took me until mile 35 to catch him...and pass him yet again. All this while, I was still keeping the heartrate in check. I was still well within myself.
The photographer caught me literally as I remounted my bike. I dropped my chain on this climb and ran to the top.
I had to deal with a few more turns in the next 15 or so miles and crawl through them but I did what I had to do and used all my skill to keep from losing time. When I hit mile 50, I looked down to see 2:12 on my Garmin. I should easily break 2:30 'ride time'. The question is - how much time had I spent 'not moving'? Turns out that number was a little over 7 minutes. I was taking my last sips of nutrition when the powers that be slapped me in the face for the last and final time. TEST#4. At first it made a sound similar to when you get a leaf stuck on your frame and it rubs your tire. For me, it sounded a bit like the sound someone makes when they stick their tongue out at you - not that I'm insinuating some higher being had an agenda. PHSSSSSSS. At mile 51.5 my rear tire slowly began to lose air. Over the course of the next 3 miles, it gradully reached totally flat. The last mile was rim and road, cushioned only by the thin layer of latex that was once an inflated tire. As I approached the final turn into the park, I REALLY had to be careful. A couple of volunteers must have thought I was going to stop at the park entrance and yelled "No, the dismount line is a little further." As I barely rounded the turned I could hear some woman say "Oh, he has a flat tire".
Because of my flat tire situation, I blew off my usual routine of pulling my feet out of my shoes and removing my Garmin from my handlebars while still riding. I ran into transiton, threw my bike on the rack and didn't give any of my problems a second thought. I had arrived. I had arrived back at a place where it didn't matter what you threw at me, I would merely kick it to the curb. It reminded me of a recent poster I saw about marathoning:
One of my favorite posters courtesy of I <3 to run on Facebook.
I stripped (not completely, of course - I'm saving that till I'm in the 100+ division and my dimentia kicks in), chugged, re-shod and off I went. I heard another bike slam onto the racks as I ran out. What I DIDN'T know: the guy I played tag with all day on the bike managed to catch back up to me in the final miles and that was him racking his bike just behind me. I stuck myself in my prescribed heartrate zone and started focusing on the runner ahead of me. I don't know if it's just me but I have a hard enough time guessing how fast I am moving when I'm just out for a run, but after 3 hours of swimming and cycling my body always feels like it's moving at about a 10-minute pace...but I wasn't. I cruised past mile 1 in 6:34. Before all my 'asthma stuff' a couple of years ago, I had this trick of being able to predict my run pace as being whatever my first mile was. It was pretty darn accurate. Any guesses on my final run pace today?
As Popeye would say, "Looks at me musk-els...ah, guh, guh, guh, guh"
The course was quite the change from last year's point-to-point, net downhill. We climbed 700 feet in 13 miles with a couple of very long grades and a couple of very steep grades. I was on auto-pilot and hitting my splits like a world-class bowler (get it?) - not having any idea where I was in my age group. I was still on the first lap and the runners were spread pretty thin - catching 2 or 3 'targets' per mile. My target around the 6-mile mark was moving well and as I approached, I could see he was 48. I pulled beside him and we exchanged words about how bad the road camber was in parts; basically because it's the politically correct thing to do. Yelling "Yeah, I'm gonna kick your ass", would not be nearly as sportsman-like although we all pretend it's not what we're thinking...I knew as soon as I went by him, he would be looking at my legs. Not because they are well-toned and shapely but because that's where my age was written. I also knew that I would have to give a little extra "umph" as I passed him just to say "Uh, uh...don't even think about it." Moments later, I crossed the 10k timing mat and turned to start lap 2 and join the masses of people on their first lap. What I DIDN'T know: I had just overtaken the leader in my age group and Janis - sitting at home in Greenville - saw me cross the 10k mat and calculated that I was exactly 10 seconds ahead of 2nd place at that very moment. She actually had more information than I did.
The run? Yeah...also not flat. If you squint a bit, it almost looks like the course is flipping you off.
I entered the climb at mile 7 still feeling good and decided that it was not too early to take it up a notch so I did. The large number of runners ahead of me now spurred me on. I chased a young relay runner who was surprised to see me. He ran with me for 2 miles before I left him behind. As I often do, I got the feed station at mile 3 all riled up on my first lap and had an ice-cold, defizzed Coke with my number on it waiting for me on lap 2! Messing with the volunteers is one of my favorite things. They are awesome. I kept focusing on the runners ahead of me that were moving faster. Mile 11 was a steady downhill for the most part and I chased one runner for nearly the entire mile. I finally caught her. I don't think she liked that (and she told me so after the race ;-) but she also told me that I pushed her to stay close the final 2 miles up a slight grade. I have that effect on women. She stayed within 30 seconds of me those final 2 miles and she would wind up being the top amateur female. As I turned onto the finish straight, they announced me as being the 8th amateur to finish. That didn't help me much because I didn't know if anyone ahead of me was in my age group. I also thought that there were tons of age groups behond me and with all my problems on the bike, I would be lucky for a top 30 finish.
"Aaaaand CUT! That's a wrap. Don't forget to shut off your Garmins"
It only took a few minutes for the puzzle to come together. I had won my age group. It took a bit longer to learn that I was 12th overall amateur. 12th overall and yet for 7 minutes on the side of the road I was a spectator. It was bittersweet. Those 7 minutes cost me a top-5 overall. If you throw in 2 or 3 mintutes for running up a hill on the bike course, riding in on a flat and taking all my turns at a standstill...I was looking at a top 3. This is one "I coulda" that wasn't purely conjecture - it was fact. But at the same time, it was another "I coulda". "I coulda sat there on the side of the road and waited to be picked up by a race vehicle. I coulda sat at the finish line and watched everyone else finish. I coulda gone to the awards ceremony and thought it just wasn't my day." But I didn't. And it was. It felt great to be 16 again...
I only wish Janis was here to share the day with!
* Much like Portland, I noticed almost immediately that nobody was on their cell phone while driving. Illegal here. And again, like Portland - and unlike its reputation - the New York drivers were courteous and I saw very few doing anything stupid or illegal. I used to think that there were bad drivers 'everywhere'. After visiting Portland and Syracuse, the cold hard truth is that these people wouldn't last a day driving in Atlanta. Our drivers suck.
* This was the first time I can remember that I was literally all alone at an event. No Janis, no teammates, nobody I knew. Doing an event like this on your own is double hard. (Of course Finn snuck along but without opposible thumbs, he was only good for moral support)
* Do not read this race report and see it as a message to 'never quit' a race. 'Never' is a very definitive term. There are a lot of sensible reasons to quit a race. I mention this because a friend of mine was literally disgusted at Chris McCormack for quitting a 70.3. "He's a pro, he shouldn't quit". Sometimes quitting will ensure that you are able to race another day. Don't have so much pride that you overrun your brain. Don't misinterpret quitting a single event with quitting reaching for your goals.
* I rarely lose my sense of humor. While I was running up the hill in my bike shoes pushing my bike, a couple of people rode by and one said "Bummer". I just turned towards them and yelled "Where the hell is transition?!" (we were at mile 21...in the middle of nowhere)
* DO NOT USE HIGH COUNTRY SHIPPING to ship your bike to an event (or for any other reason for that matter). Trust me. Unless you have an extra hundred dollars to burn in your backyard and a lot of extra time and stress to fix their screw ups.
* Thanks to my friend David Hall who lent me his neoprene cap for the swim. Although I didn't realize it, I'm sure it was one reason why the water did not feel as cold. Plus it gave me an idea of what I would look like if I were black and bald. And the answer is: not bad.
* The last time I had to deal with some 'weather condtions' was at Ironman Wisconsin. In both cases, I dressed perfectly on the bike and the temps were completely a non-issue. By the time the race was over, the day couldn't be any more beautiful: clear and 65-70-degrees.
* I would finish out my day with the 4th fastest amateur run split; a 1:26:03. The athlete in my age group who came into transition just behind me turned an impressive 1:28:47 and yet he never saw me (he ended up also catching the guy I caught at mile 6 and overtook him to finish 2nd). It had to be a hard psychological day for him if you could imagine it from his point of view.
* My streak continues - I've qualified for World's at every Ironman and 70.3 I've done. Number of times I've accepted? 0.
* After 5 years of triathlon and dozens of events at every distance, my streak of having one of the 5 fastest amateur bike splits was broken. My bike split was 22nd.
* As I mentioned in my report, in my last two half-irons my run average has been within seconds of my first mile split; something I used to do often 'pre-asthma'
Next Up: Rev3 South Carolina and Spinx Half Marathon
These poor bikes - suffocated to death by their owners. Why do people insist on killing their bikes? I hope the culprits were caught...
Never flatted in 6 years of triathlon and today - twice. With a total of less than 40 miles on it, this tire cost me about $1.50 per mile...