Monday, August 3, 2009

Relax Your Face! Relax Your Face!

Here are the details of a first time triathlete. This is the extended mix. There is no single edit. Endure.

I was up around 5 a.m. and decided that all the sleep I'd gotten the previous two nights had left me perfectly ready to get up just that early. I did my five back/legs Yoga exercises. I got all my stuff ready and went down for breakfast. Dad made me four scrambled eggs, toast, and soy bacon. I had a third of a cup of regular coffee, as recommended by the book I read. Perfect. I was awake and fueled.

We put the bike on the back of the car and my support team and I went to Cleary Lake. We parked in a far grassy field. I was very nervous, unsure whether my preparations and training would be enough. I felt reassured when I entered the "transition area" and everyone seemed friendly and it was plenty spacious.

Dad acted perfectly as my valet, holding whatever I didn't need at that moment and walking back to the car for a towel when I realized that would be helpful in the first transition. (After swimming that is. Seems like an easy one but it hadn't occurred to me.) We sorted through the stuff in the bag I was given after we found the registration area. It was mostly freebies and ads, but I got the race number and ankle strap with an electronic timing chip. I got my number (280) written on my arm, hand, and leg in magic marker at the area where that was going on.

We went back to the transition area and I set up my bike, helmet, and jersey. I asked a volunteer if I needed to wear my number in the water. He asked someone else to make sure and it turns out I did not. I attached the number to my new jersey and left it by Dad's bike. (Right this second I'm listening to iTunes on shuffle and Neil Diamond's "Headed For The Future" is not, technically, a very good song. Or is it? Good Lord it is something. It is definitely headed somewhere, seemingly straight for the excesses of mid 80s synthetic pop. I might call these excesses "wretched" if I were a self-aggrandizing rock critic who made his own tree seem taller by cutting down other peoples' (ahem, Greil Marcus!) but I am not and I actually kind of like them and see the logic behind them.)

Anyway, I headed down to the beach in my triathlon shorts, feeling very exposed and chilly. I had my goggles and yellow swim cap, which color identified me as a 35-39 year old man to swim in the fourth heat at 8:09 a.m. I waded into the water and put my cap on. I put my goggles on and the band snapped. I crudely tied it to the frame of the actual eyepiece. The first three heats took off to the "Ready...(gunshot)" and my heat was called. Ready...BANG!

I can't describe how very, very strange it was to try to swim fast in a straight line with only dark brown water below, a wavy surface, and bodies crashing all around me. Seaweed brushed my face and my skin over and over. I was glad I'd practiced breathing straight ahead to find my way. I was glad I'd read some books that told me it would be weird. I felt a slight urge to panic, but easily calmed it with some rhythmic, strong swimming and mental discipline.

I found that I was one of the faster swimmers in my heat, which was a surprise. I kept crashing into people's feet until I just went ahead and passed them without worrying about them catching back up with me and/or feeling put upon. It's a race after all. I think I was well within etiquette and no one passed me. I was pleasantly surprised by how fast a quarter mile goes by when you don't have to do a flip turn every twenty-two and a half yards.

I ran happily out of the water, stripping off my cap and goggles and waving to my parents. My dad wore a Memphis, TN t-shirt and shouted, "Go Memphis!" I understood later that he'd worn that t-shirt on purpose and was excited about it. Typical supportiveness from both my parents throughout this whole enterprise. They told me later I was third or fourth out of the water in my heat.

I got to the transition area, dropped my cap and goggles, dried off a bit, and put my jersey, socks and shoes, and helmet on. I walked the bike out of the transition area then hopped on that particular bicycle for the first time ever. My mom took some pictures as I rode off towards the park entrance.

The bike ride was long and I had similar decisions to make about who I would actually be faster than and who might be mad that I passed them. It was a whole heck of a lot more spread out, though, and I got over it. Never had an unpleasant encounter. All were friendly and there was plenty of "on your left" and "coming up on your right" and so forth. The long country roads were all very hilly and I felt very sensitive to variations in grade. I tried to keep a steady rhythm using whatever gear would facilitate that. It was tough and about twice as many people passed me as I passed.

If there was one thing I would do differently (and there is) it would be to have a hydration system installed on the bike. Guys were whipping by me with fantastic combinations of handlebars that allowed them to lean forward and straws that allowed them to drink at will and easily. I am pretty sure I got dehydrated. Early on in the bike part I ate a Vanilla Bean goo tube, which mostly seemed to make me thirsty. I was very glad to turn back west and then north. I was even happier when a woman yelled that I'd passed the nine mile point. I got back into the park and one of the almost finished runners (with whom bikers briefly shared a path) yelled some encouragement like "Keep going strong, Buddy!" and I felt good.

I came in towards the transition area and my folks cheered for me. I hung my bike back up and started the run. My legs felt like I was still on the bike. They weren't in pain but were nevertheless crying out to just stop for a second and get their bearings. I did not do this. I was too eager to reach that water station at the first mile. I felt that if I stopped I was not sure I would start again. My legs felt very, very strange. It was something completely new, which one doesn't necessarily get every day.

I felt like I'd never get to the first water station. A young woman was a little ways ahead of me and I kind of paced myself by her for a while. That or I kept my head straight down looking only at the ground directly in front of me. I couldn't bear to think about how much distance I had left to cover, even though (unlike the marathon in 1996) I was absolutely not in pain. To sum it up, I was dehydrated and my legs felt weird.

I'll always be grateful to the woman who shouted at me shortly after that first mile of the run (at which I got two cups of water). She said, "Relax your face! Relax your face!" and made appropriate hand gestures regarding which direction the muscles in my face might go if I relaxed them. It is very good advice and it's amazing how different a run feels when you're not grimacing and squinting. I relaxed my face, my shoulders, and felt ten times better. Plus I'd finally drunk some water. I started pushing it a little when I got to the spot on the path that said 4K. I didn't want to leave any energy unused.

I was wondering how much time had gone by the whole time and there were no indications of that anywhere. I was very pleased when I ran in and saw that I was under two hours. I was hoping to finish under three hours. I turned in my timing chip, they read something that sounded kind of like my name, and I got my finisher's medal. I walked quite a ways off into the picnic area by myself to cool down. I was very happy and not in pain. My training and preparation were adequate, my support team was outstanding, and everything about the race exceeded my expectations.

My parents hugged me and said how proud they were. We got some free fruit and drinks. I ate a packet of Organic Energy Chews my dad had kept in his shirt pocket for me. After a while I ate the protein bar I'd put there as well. He had a hot dog and we had gatorade and water, all sitting at a picnic table talking about the race. We sat there for a while then stood near the presentation area near the finish line and watched the drawing winners get their sweatshirts and the race winners get their trophies. My parents noted that if either of them had entered and finished it they would have won their gender/age group as the sole entrant.

So, hey, what were my results? I was 170th out of about 300 overall, 28th out of 32 men aged 35-39, with a time of 1:41:57. It was great and I intend to do it again.

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