A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 6th Edition
52.6 miles run and 3000 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: USAT Off-Road National Championship
Place: Waco, TX
Miles from home: 100
Weather: 84 degrees; sunny, humid
I have two main goals when I participate in a race:
1. Give all I have on that day.
2. Don't get injured.
As I just celebrated my 42nd birthday, the second axiom holds more sway than the first. I don't recover as quickly from, well, anything, anymore and I have less patience to deal with the human race if I am injured and can't exercise. So being injury free is paramount to my, nay, all of society's survival.
Which brings me to my DNF at the USAT Off-Road National Championship this past weekend. But before I put the cart ahead of the horse, let me describe why I had both a cart and a horse to begin with.
While searching local races about a month ago, I saw this national championship race was taking place just up the road. As I do not have otherworldly athletic ability and will never really participate in national championship races where the absolute best athletes compete per se, I jump at any chance to take part in an event like this. Three years ago, when living in Portland, OR I saw the US Mountain Running Championships were three hours away in Bend. I am not a mountain or trail runner, and I hate running uphills, but hey - National Championship race. I took part, did about as well as I could expect (horrible
), and was glad I did it. I knew that an off-road bike being sponsored
by Xterra would probably be out of my league skill-wise but I figured I would give it a go.
A week before the event I did a 42-mile bike ride on my 42nd birthday
, which was just long enough to be the second longest bike ride I have ever done. (It is only bested by two half-ironman bike rides. Yep, I don't ride often or far.) I had picked up my swimming a bit in the last month and felt even if I was mid-pack on the bike, I should do a-ok overall. Who knows what might happen if I held it all together.
I got to the Cameron Park starting line way earlier than I needed to on the morning of the race, because I know how hard it can be to set up all you need for a triathlon. So it was better to be safe than sorry and arrive early. However, even putzing around for a bit, I had 45 minutes to kill. Unfortunately, this had me looking around at all the gear all the people who knew what they were doing had with them. I don't normally care too much what everyone else brings to a race but that is when I am aware what is in store for me. Seeing bike gloves and elbow pads, and bike helmets which looked like could protect the wearer from a meteor shower did little to assuage my fears. Fortunately, I was blissfully ignorant of what lay ahead.
We gathered near the start of the swim which was the lukewarm 84 degree Brazos River. I was told the event had once been shortened because the water had reached 92 degrees. A swim being shortened because the water was too warm was a new one for me. Texas life. One of the guys next to me told me he had come from Denver and was shocked how I was pleasantly surprised that our 8 a.m. start time only had a temperature of 82 degrees. "I don't think we have hit 82 degree yet for the year," he mused.
I scoped out a place to try and get an unhindered swimming start but found even in this wide river, there were still people all over each other. I guess those pushing to the front were good swimmers. As the megaphone the RD was using had conked out on him (this seriously happens more times than it doesn't at races I have attended. How fragile are megaphones?) a quietly spoken "go" was our firing pistol.
Immediately I was caught in a tangle of arms and feet as bodies swarmed over each other. I thought perhaps the one thing I felt I would do well at today, this swim, might be a weak leg for me. The swim was to begin heading downstream to a bridge, around a buoy, upstream past our starting point to another buoy further up the river before turning around and heading home. As I pulled a bit inside to try and remove myself from the bodies, I saw a few swimmers already out in front of me. I also saw plenty of swimmers to my right who were WAY to my right. Not sure why they started so far over there as there is no need to swim longer than you need. Maybe to avoid all the other thrashing swimmers.
When we got to the first buoy and began to swim upstream, I can honestly say I felt no difference in the current. In fact, if I hadn't known which way the river flowed, I wouldn't have even known there was movement. (Interestingly enough, I read in other reports from other athletes how they HAD noticed it.) I had heard someone say knowing the river helps as there are places where the current is stronger and can tell you I had never once in my life thought of that in terms of racing. (I also learned about a thing called "fetch" from the overall winner
- and I actually still have no idea what he is talking about. ) Talk about home river advantage!
Approaching the second buoy I was a little confused. I could only see a handful of swimmers in front of me and none had turned to come back home yet. When they finally did, I could only count a few. Was I really doing that well?
Turning and heading for home, it appeared I was in the top ten. Huh. I finally was beginning to feel my groove and passed one last swimmer in front of me before exiting the water. It ends up I was seventh out of 126 men (and technically 40 women as well but they started after us.) In addition, while I am not necessarily going by my GPS, I will go by my time and there is no way that was only 1500m swim.
There was a long tenth of a mile run on the road from the swim to where bikes were racked. A bit further than I would like to run but it gave me a chance to get out of swimming mode and ready to bike. I didn't speed through the transition, as I wanted to make sure I had all my various accoutrements. I grabbed a drink of water and Gatorade from the station and was a bit bummed they were lukewarm.This would play in my decision-making a little bit later. (FORESHADOWING!) As an occasional race director I have prided myself on making sure drinks are always cold. That is so paramount to runner success, especially on a blisteringly warm day.
I was pretty unaware of the actual bike course. I knew it was supposed to be hilly, twisting, and had lots of roots and cervices. I figured, worse-case scenario I would just take it easy when necessary and just power through. I came out of the transition right after another cyclist and was immediately on his heels (tires?). I didn't know we had about half a mile of payment riding before hitting the trails or I would have sped up a little bit to take advantage of the part I was half decent at. As it stands I passed him and another cyclist as we climbed a big steep hill.
I had rented a nice mountain bike from a store in Austin with shocks and bouncy bits and air canisters and lots of other things I had no idea what they were. What I did learn, however, is that getting "up in the saddle" as they say didn't really work on this contraption. Every time I tried it, I just bounced up and down on the shocks. No bueno. Once I got to the top of the hill, saw the narrow entrance to the trail and motioned the two cyclists behind me to go ahead. I wasn't going to start out with two guys on my ass when I had no idea what lay in store.
Here is where I am going to cut this short. I am not going to describe every fall I took (at least four),
every time I almost fell (at least ten) and the countless times I trepidatiously scooted around one twisty-turny bend only to be confronted by a steep uphill that almost had me losing my manhood on my handlebars. All I know is that once I took a tree trunk full-onto the collarbone and chest. I was certain I broke it as I came to a stop with a sickening thud. (Same overall winner from above in his recap mentioned he crashed a quarter of a mile in as well. I feel less bad about my skills now.) I know I went over the handlebars twice. I almost went down about three ravines. I will say without a doubt that half of that was because of my inexperience of riding a mountain bike. But half the credit goes to this course which was absolutely ridiculous. I don't mean that in a bad way per se. If one had ridden it they would know what was in store for them. I did not and I am glad as I wouldn't have even attempted it.
After about the 30th rider who passed me (seriously) where I either had to pull over or just stayed over after a crash, I was beginning to wonder what I was doing out here. I thought perhaps I could just take it easy and go slow and make it out alive. The problem was that even taking it slow was dangerous. On one particular hill, I had pulled over after almost crashing and five cyclists went by in rapid succession. Then, this blur of a human, went down the hill like he was on rails. I have zero idea how he avoided ever hole, root, branch, rock, etc. and make it look like it was a sled ride down a water park hill.
I used this stopped time to take a long swig from my water bottle and drained the entire thing. I had a feeling the aid stations were going to just have beverages warmer than before. I was three miles into a nine-mile loop we had to do twice. Granted there looked to be about two miles on each loop near the end which would be easy to ride but who knows what the rest would have in store for me. Then, my last tumble ended it for me.
Just last year I had to get my thumb surgically repaired after I was attacked by two men at an intersection in Austin
. I got my thumb caught in the shifter as I went ass over tincups and I felt for sure I messed it up. I sat there for ten seconds before I even tried to move my thumb. When I finally mustered the courage and could tell it was just sore, I knew it was time for me to call it a day. Sure, I think I could have pushed my bike the rest of the way and still finished high enough to qualify for the World Championship team (I am serious) but that was not why I was here.
I rode on and came to a road we had to cross. I asked one of the volunteers how I could get back to the start. Then I did the painful but smart thing and quit. I rode down the hill, passed the spot where we entered the trail, and found the referee for the event. I turned in my chip and stood there.
Finally I decided to go for a little bit of a run to just feel out my body and make sure nothing really was broken. I have hurt myself before, gone to get x-rays and been given a clean bill of health, only to find out I did a doozy of a number to myself weeks later. (How do you miss this
?!) After a short two-miler, it felt like I was ok. I won't rule out I somehow put my spleen into my stomach or something else just yet but all systems seem go.
The decision I made was correct. It still sucks. Then going to grab some consolatory food after the race I got a speeding ticket in some street that magically went from 45 to 30 for one block. That has nothing to do with anything other than let's just say the day was not a good one. In talking with a few people at the event, most of them offered consolation but at the same time told their stories of how they had continued on with a broken femur or a case of Black Death they caught at an aid station or how they fought off a lion, skinned it, and wore its pelt back to transition two before going back out to look for their arm. It is this kind of bravado which is lost on me.
There is absolutely nothing impressive about continuing on in a race where nothing but your pride is on the line when you are hurt or about to be hurt. Sure if you are stuck in the mountains and the only way down is to keep on going, then you should keep on going. But too often we applaud the efforts of people who soldier on when they were either unprepared, under-trained, or any of a variety of things where the "Come back with your shield or on it" faux toughness is paramount. I wonder how many of these people would be so willing to risk their health or well-being if there wasn't social media to tell them how epic they are.Well, I know I am not one of them. Think you are tougher than me because you would have kept going? Okey dokes. Doesn't bother me one bit. Even if our health care system didn't suck, it is not worth it to me to collect a non-precious medal or bauble, rather than return home unwounded.
But I went for a swim two days after my race and it was the best swim workout I have had since I was in high school. So I have that going for me.