What was I thinking?
Sometime about two hundred fifty days after you left us, I convinced myself, Shannon, Eleanor, Aaron and Candace, that we should go ahead and commit to a triathlon this spring. Twenty years ago, this would not have been a problem. I was thirty-two and you were just a toddler. Certainly, back then, I was in the best shape of my life and training with some of the top triathletes in Atlanta. To put it in perspective a twenty- five minute mile swim, averaging 21 mile an hour on the bike and running seven- minute miles was representative of my racing pace. Somehow, I convinced myself that even at fifty- two, with only three months to train, this would not be an issue. What I failed to remember was my training regime twenty years ago. A typical training week would include nine thousand yards in the water, eighty miles on the bike and twenty- five miles testing the durability of my running shoes and anaerobic threshold. A group of us would meet each Tuesday night for a brutal track work out. It was short and intense. We would do a mile warm up and then complete twelve to fifteen quarter mile repeats, starting each one every two minutes. The typical rest was thirty seconds. The next night, and each Wednesday we would do our best to drop our training partners on a thirty- mile ride called, “The Hell of the North”. Early the next day and again every Thursday, we would do the same at 5:30 in the morning, except this time it was pounding the pavement and each other. To finalize our training week, on weekends when we were not racing, we would hammer fifty miles on the bike than run five or six miles. This went on for ten years and the result, though the slowest as compared to my training friends was placement in the top of my age group.
As this past December approached, still recovering from the Athens Marathon, with the help of Shannon, back into the water I went. This time in the water, brought back many wonderful memories, memories of you, memories of triathlon days of past and most important memories of the “Endless Laps” you and I completed together. I feel so close to you in the water. I sure Love you Honey! I knew you would be with me all sixteen hundred and forty yards. As far as preparation, swimming went well. I did spend three days a week in the water under Shannon’s tutelage.
Living in Virginia, presents some challenges as it relates to cycling. It really is just to cold and snowy to spend much time on the bike in December, January, February and most of March. For these three months, I spent each Tuesday and Thursday mornings at a spinning class, while my new bike gathered dust in my office. I did make it out for a few rides in March and early April, but not really enough to allow my muscles to remember the joy and discomfort of pushing to the limit. It would have to do. I really was disappointed in the amount of training time in preparation of my challenge April 10th. However, I knew I would complete the twenty- six mile bike portion though slower than I was accustomed to.
Running would also be a challenge. After the marathon, I pretty much took off three months to allow my feet, knees and mind to recover from all the stress-running marathons poses. However, running, and me go way back. So, though I did anticipate a loss of speed, the many years of base would get me through the 10 K portion. The run segment requires muscle memory like no other. Getting off the bike, after twenty-six miles and then convincing the legs to run for six miles requires not only muscle memory but also focus. This was always my favorite part of the race. This ability to push with dead legs makes triathlons, well triathlons.
I woke up at 5:30. It took me a few minutes to realize I was not in my own bed. I was in Durham at Candace’s house. Having spent a restless night in what is known as the boy’s room it would be just three hours before I once again enter the world of triathlon. I was nervous, not because Candace is not a morning person and can be a bit grouchy when wakened at this hour, but because it was cold. The water temperature at the start of the race was anticipated to be in the mid-sixties, cold by any standard. The air temperature was in the low forties.
As we arrived at the transition area an hour before the start, I began to remember. Ok, after putting on my wet suit, I applied Vaseline where the suit met the skin to prevent chafing and allow the suit to come off quicker after the swim. I pumped up my tires to 120 pounds of pressure, placed my bike shoes, running shoes, shirt, helmet and glasses in such away to allow for quick transitions. Hence, they call it a transition area. We all went down to the lake to hear the starting instructions. Looking at the buoys, I began shaking. I am not sure it was because of the cold, or the distance of the buoy from the shore. My plan was to swim this mile in twenty- five minutes. Adjusting my goggles and yellow swim cap, I took the plunge to allow my body to adjust to the water temperature before the race starts. “Now I know why I like wet suits. In addition to keeping you warm, it provides some nice buoyancy.” I felt smooth during my warm up.
The gun goes off. As my wave begins the journey, I am concerned about going out to fast. Intentionally, I slow my pace convincing my mind and body to find the old groove. It was not to happen. In about three minutes, I am hyperventilating. Panic did not set in however, for I have been through this before. Focusing, I kept looking for that feeling, that pace; however, all I felt was a few kicks in the face. This is not abnormal at the start of the swim. Once again, I remember this feeling, this distraction, as finally comfort begins to settle in. I spent three months training teaching myself to breathe every third stroke. This, I could not accomplish during this swim. I accepted it and swam on. As we made our turn around, I went a little off course. Being redirected by a guardian kayaker, I knew I lost some time. As usual, from memories past the last four hundred yards, I usually pick up the pace and begin to feel the water. Nothing changed. As I come out of the water, I am greeted by Candace and Aaron. I look at my watch at it reads thirty-three minutes.” Shit, I guess I need to work on my swimming”. I believe Eleanor came out of the water first in about twenty –one minutes. Behind Eleanor, Candace and Shannon came out in about twenty-eight. Looking back, “I did ok compared to high school and collegiate swimmers, I tell myself”.
As I leave the water and run towards the transition area, I begin removing my wet suit. No surprise, it fights back. Sitting down next to my bike, I pull and tug until it finally gives in. I throw on my shirt, glasses and helmet as I step into my bike cleats. Off I go, dodging fellow competitors also going out on their bikes. Immediately, I settle into a comfortable pace on the bike. Again, being too cautious, I stay aerobic. I did not have the confidence to push the limit. As we head out of the park onto the open roads, I understand why I always enjoyed these races. Approaching the first hill, I glance at my computer and am startled it only reads 16 mph. I really wanted to Average 18 or so. However, there was a substantial headwind. Out of the saddle, I push up this first hill. “Wow! I love this feeling”. Perhaps it is the endorphins, the competition or just the joy of pushing your body to its limits. Yes, you are racing against others; however, more importantly, you are racing against yourself. This feeling I remember well. This is what makes triathletes, well triathletes. It was a rather difficult bike course as the wind and rolling hills ultimately were the obstacles we all faced. Pulling into the transition area, I glance again at my computer. It reads and average of 16 miles an hour for twenty-six miles. “Ok, I tell myself, this is my comeback race twenty years after my peak racing days”. I am having a blast.
I am out of this transition quickly. Once again, Candace shouts encouragement. I smile and wave. This is my favorite part of the race. My legs are heavy but once again, they adjust very quickly to running. It only takes a half a mile and I begin to feel the road. I feel like a triathlete.
The first mile was a little slower than I wanted. However, I felt comfortable, again not pushing to hard, just hard enough to bring on the memories and endorphins. Probably, my favorite memory of every race I have done, is the support triathletes provide each other. They are different from pure cyclists and pure runners. They are a special breed. They would give up their goggles or spare tire if it meant someone with less ability would finish. I chose for the race a tee shirt the UNCW Swim team wore at the CAA’s this year. It reads, “Anything can be Accomplished with Confidence and Enthusiasm” This is your quote honey. During my six- mile trek on heavy legs I smiled, as everyone who passed me gave me the thumbs and said, “I like your shirt.” As I cross the finish line my watch reads three hours and twenty minutes. I smile a smile of disappointment as twenty years ago it read two hours and thirty-five minutes. I expressed my disappointment to Candace. I smile as looking back a few weeks, she got mad at me and said,” Glenn, this is not a joke. “It is a mile swim, twenty-six mile bike and six mile run. You did well” Perhaps, but now I have a new goal, a new age group and a new reason to compete. There are many newbie’s in need of encouragement. I will be there for them.
So Ryan, Thank you for providing the courage, faith, Love, and of the course the “Confidence and Enthusiasm” to re-enter the world of triathlon. My next race is May 9th, 2010.
I love you Butterbean!