Sunday, May 18, 2014

Another Birth

Dazed and Confused in T1
Birth is messy and ugly but the end result is wonderful and becomes more so the further we move away from it. I experienced a birth of sorts on Saturday. Fifty-five years ago I was born the first time. Then several years after that, I was born again, baptized into Christ. Those two births are the most important, so much more important they stand in a different category.

Saturday a triathlete was born. That would be me. I have presented false labor over the last couple of years, dabbling with a little swim of some kind or another, followed by a ride and a run. Saturday in Terre Haute was the real deal, birthing me into a triathlete for real.

I wish it was a story of me emerging as some kind miracle child, wowing the crowds with unusual athletic ability for an old man. No, it was ugly, but that’s ok. At least some of the best friends a man could have tell me it’s ok. I believe them and appreciate them.

The water was cold, around 65, and air was a lot colder, around 40. The lake was calm, fog beautifully rising in the sun that was doing the same. Humans dressed in black neoprene looked like a bunch of seals walking upright. Nervous talk filled the air, dominated by weather commentary.

Practice swim anyone? Jimmy said, "Come on, Al!" I said, "OK," joining several others. The water felt fine. I baptized myself and took several strokes. I felt good and confident. I was smooth and my breathing was calm and controlled. "I’ve got this," I thought. I did not think it was pride, the kind before a fall.

The elites took off, and a minute later, two by two, swimmers ran into the water to begin the day. Chip timing allows a more controlled start. Knowing I would be slow, I seeded myself at the back. I, 121, lined up with 120, an unknown female. "3,2,1, Go!" In we went. Why was this so different from the practice swim?

Panic showed up, almost shocking me. I really didn’t see it coming. Panic, by nature, is irrational and unreasonable, so all my reasoning and self-talk were pretty much ignored for a little while. There were others around me having trouble, one guy in much worse shape than me. I feebly tried to calm him, since I couldn’t completely calm myself. If it is possible, my panic was a controlled panic. I did not let it get me to the point of wanting to quit.

I had moments in the water of getting everything under control. I made my way slowly across the lake. I had trouble sighting. My goggles fogged up and leaked a little. I never stopped. I kept moving, at times very slowly, toward the completion of the swim. I finally made it out, taking nearly twice as long as I hoped.

Once out of the water, I put on a pair of old running shoes to make my way to T1, the place to transition from swimming to biking. I peeled my wetsuit to my waist, while making my way up the hill to my bike. There I sat down and finished pulling off my suit. The swim beat me up mentally, so I had some trouble focusing.

I got my socks and shoes on, and methodically made my way up to my head, donning sunglasses and helmet. I put a jacket on to finish it all off. Surprisingly, biking in wet clothes was not too bad. Though in the 40s, I never really felt the cold, except on the way back and only in my feet. My ride was less than stellar and less than I expected.

The swim had taken too much out of me mentally and physically, I guess. My legs burned a lot. I just tried to keep steady pressure and keep taking what the course gave me. The course was a little hillier than I expected, and there was a slight headwind coming back. The bike portion was mostly uneventful. I did pass several people and did not get passed. That’s what a slow swim will do for you.

As I rolled back into the park and up to the dismount line, the official confused me about where to stop, telling me to go to the top of the hill. I thought he meant another 50 feet, and I had already clipped out. After struggling to get moving on the top of my pedals, he said, "there," which was only five feet more. Crazy. The problem was I dismounted in a very awkward way and really tweaked my left hamstring.

Wincing in pain and groaning a bit, I really thought my day was over. I could hardly walk my bike back to the rack, but I did. I went ahead and put my shoes on after taking off all the bike stuff. I grabbed my race belt, with my 121 bib on it. I made myself run, and it hurt. I kept going and it kept getting better as I went.

It took about three and a half miles before I could feel my feet properly. They were some kind of numb which made them feel like solid blocks of wood. It was a weird and unpleasant feeling. At one point I looked down to make sure I had running shoes on and not my bike shoes. Once that feeling went away, I started feeling more comfortable on the run, finishing relatively strong. Overall it was a slow run. I’ve been fighting injury for about two months, so I was not super surprised. I’ve been averaging about 10 miles a week for the last 6 weeks.

The finish was sweet and a little emotional. The emotion came from being surrounded by a great group of guys who have encouraged me for more than a couple of years to experience this birth. Their encouragement continued.

This was an interesting day and major move toward Ironman Florida. I confess lots of doubts about Ironman during the early miles of the bike. I was deeply disappointed by what happened in the water. Doubts quickly follow disappointments. But as I continued to think, I reminded myself that this was my first open water swim of the year and that I will get more comfortable with the water in a race context.

Ironman Florida is November 1. I will have lots of opportunities to get in the water and continue to improve. In my world of endurance athletics, that is priority 1. I am motivated and ready to keep growing and developing now that I finally have experienced birth.

Even with the problems and pain, the day was quite enjoyable. Most of us love accomplishments, especially the kind where we overcome difficulties to experience them. Saturday was like that, and it will get sweeter as the days go by.

Finishing it up


Anonymous said...

I am proud of your accomplishment and amazed at what you do. Keep it up, it encourages me.

Pat A

ironBill said...

Everyone, from the greenest neophyte to the most seasoned veteran, experiences panic from time-to-time in the swim. You did a great job and have nothing to lament. Keep positive, analyze what went right and wrong, and make the appropriate corrections. You inspire people, believe it or not.

Anonymous said...

Well, you got your toes wet, the wheels of progress were turning, you took your first step and never up never in. Skip that last . . . cliché (had to lookup the spelling)wrong sport. A job done is a job well-done. Congrats.

Tim "the elder" aka "offroad"