This post will contain many disgusting moments. Prepare yourself.
It was a restless night of sleep filled with nightmares for Adelaide and rolling around in sweat-soaked sheets for myself. I haven’t been sleeping well or very many hours the past couple weeks for some reason. Even turning the AC on in the evening didn’t help put me to bed the night before the race. For one thing, I was nervous. Super nervous. The kind of nervous that only a cat 5 gets before a race. I haven’t been nervous for a bike race in nine years. So being this excited again to compete feels….good.
Pancakes and a mason jar of death-strong coffee brewed by Galen jolted me back to life at 5:00 AM on Saturday, the day of the race. Adelaide and I got on our bikes and coasted most of the 10-minute ride to the Boulder Reservoir, where the race was held. It was pretty awesome being able to roll out of bed and be at the race start 17 minutes later. None of this 12 hour drive nonsense.
While prepping in the transition zone, I looked around at the other pros to see how they positioned their gear. I also noticed that we had our own porta potties, which had seat heaters, triple-ply toilet paper, and cappuccino machines at waist level inside the door for our convenience. I shat thrice before getting in the lake to warm up. I’d been filling up on extra rice the day before, but most likely it was my nerves that were making me so void of shit. The last one was mostly liquid, and foretold of horrible things to come.
The start horn went off and the madness began. There were less than 30 of us but the instant fight for positioning meant we were bumping, slapping hands on feet, and churning the water into a violent froth. I was getting passed left and right and unable to get onto anyone’s feet for a draft. Unknown to me just a week prior, you use 25% less energy by drafting during the swim. Depending on the conditions, of course, that’s akin to the draft you get while riding a bike. Huge. I knew I had to make it onto someone’s feet but before I knew it, almost all of the guys had vanished ahead with an insurmountable gap. I had gone out hard but not hard enough to make it with the leaders, so I was left with the shitty swimmers. I let two guys come around me and I sat on their feet for 10 or more minutes, swimming super easily in their bubbles. After a while it felt so easy that I decided to ditch the group and go on my own.
I spent the next 10 minutes swimming hard while they drafted off me like I’d been doing to them, then with a few hundred meters to go we got passed by two women, who’d started five minutes behind us. My heart sank to the bottom of the lake, past the water weeds, and settled into the thick mud at the bottom to be pecked at by tiny fish and lobsters.
The swim was over. I slogged out of the water panting like an obese child chasing an ice cream truck and got through the transition zone without too much confusion.
Getting on the bike felt good and things were right with the world once again. I passed half a dozen guys (including the two women) within the first two miles. After that, I was in no man’s land. I was confident I’d catch plenty of people though, since my power was decent and my average speed kept going up, eventually maxing out at 27.8mph by mile 20. I knew that 27mph was a good time for this course so doing 28 would be fantastic.
And also unrealistic.
My glutes went to pieces by mile 30. My power took a nose dive too. An hour later I took a wrong turn, caught the mistake just in time, and narrowly avoided riding up on the sidewalk as I locked my brakes up and screamed a nasty curse word. Over the next half hour I became increasingly fatigued and disheartened as my legs failed to produce more than zone two wattage. I forced down more food and water.
I don’t know if this happens often or if this was an unusual occurrence, but the 70.3 distance race was put on at the same time as the Sprint distance triathlon, so that when I came onto Diagonal highway with about four miles to go, I suddenly had to share the shoulder with a long line of age groupers that had merged from a side road. No worries. I was fine riding out a bit to the left, but did they mind? Yes. At least one woman minded, I’m certain of that. I’d just chugged half a bottle of water too quickly and it came back up almost as fast. I vomited it mostly all on my own legs but a fair amount splashed over onto the lady that I was currently passing.
I ended the bike with a super pathetic 275 watt average. A power, in the past, that I’ve been able to sustain for nearly seven hours. Obviously it was on the TT bike so that instantly drops the power quite a bit. But still, I was not happy with such a weak performance in what should be my strongest discipline. So I peed my shorts just before entering the transition zone. “That’ll show em.”
The run instantly hurt like hell. I was out of breath and gasping for air by the top of the first tiny little climb at mile 0.2. Only 12.9 to go! Thoughts of not finishing or packing it in with a brisk jog went through my head. There was no way I’d make top 10. Not a chance. My pre-race dreams of making it into the top five were now laughable.
The course was mostly flat, but hot. 80 degrees and predominantly on dirt trails. It was only a little over three miles long, meaning we had to complete two out and backs. At one mile in I took a glimpse at my watch and saw that I wasn’t doing quite as terrible as I thought. The initial shock to my system was gone and I was only breathing slightly like a catfish at that point. And up ahead there was prey.
I came upon him quietly, then surged hard to kill his moral. I didn’t want company in my misery. And after three hours of really hard exercising, I mean racing, moral is easy to extinguish.
My fellow competitor put up no resistance and I set my sights on the next guy up the road, who had about 45 seconds on my at that point. As I approached the turn around I counted the people ahead of me as they doubled back on the course. I was 12th. A top 10 was possible after all.
I caught the next guy a mile or two later, then felt all hell break loose down in my large intestine. My pace went from low 6:00s to 6:30 within a quarter mile. I prayed for a porta pottie. Three appeared around the next bend and I held it in for dear life. This was going to be messy.
Before the door even had time to swing shut I had my shorts at my knees, squated, and let the demon roar. The violent explosion was over within two seconds and I was out the door instantly. From entering the porta pottie to exiting, the whole ordeal only took 8 seconds. I did not wipe.
The cheering squad of friends and family that Adelaide had assembled near the finish area would get me through the next lap. I heard Adelaide say, “I’m so proud of you,” which guilted me into having to really kill myself for those last 6.5 miles. I chased down another guy and was in 10th by the final turn around.
Just three miles to go.
Now two and half.
One and a half.
I kept the self-torture dialed at level 10, not thinking I could go any harder or catch anymore people. It was well over 80 degrees at this point. My lungs were gasping for air, legs screaming, stomach knotted. Despite the endorphins, I could feel the skin on my feet disintegrating within my shoes. I was content with 10th at that point. I was averaging 6:03 pace, which was pretty decent I thought. No, wait. Shit. I spotted one more guy ahead. I had to try or I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I increased my pace one last time.
With 300 meters to go I kicked and came by him hard and heard him whisper “ahh fuck” to himself and I knew I had him. I kept the pressure on and crossed the line a little under a minute later.
“This isn’t the finish line!” is exactly what I did not want to hear. But it’s what someone behind the barriers yelled as I came to a stop. In my defense there were multiple blow-up sponsor arches that spanned the road, and for some reason I assumed this one was the finish. I set off again and went another 150 meters around the bend and collapsed just after the real finish line.
I finished 9th, a minute and a half behind 8th place, which was the last to get paid. Just 90 seconds faster and I would have been $500 richer. That would have bought a lot of canned herring.
I was a little ticked off about the swim until I remembered it was my second race and I should shut up and enjoy the rest of the day…if you can enjoy anything about walking around on feet like these: