I’m not 100 percent sure what a water moccasin looks like, but I’m fairly confident I saw one as we stepped into the lake for the swim warm up. It swam off hurriedly, a few inches below the surface. I decided to move a few paces away before plunging into the 82 degree lake, which was well above the temperature that allows wetsuits. I made an attempt to warn two others who were near by, but not that hard of an effort. Less competition is always a good thing.
The water felt like stepping into a bath that you’d been sitting in for half an hour–body temperature and full of pubic hair. Minus one of those things. While the water was perfect, my stroke was shit. I drag my feet way too much without a wetsuit and I could tell that I was already lagging in the first few hundred meters. I lost contact with two others whom I’d been trying to follow and stupidly decided to not make the effort to get back up to them. I was worried that an all-out, two-minute sprint, on top of the effort that I was already doing, would cause me to blow up and get passed by the next group. It ended up being the wrong decision. I should have gone for it because the large group I ended up swimming with was more concerned about throwing bows than going fast.
I came out at a disappointing 28:22 in a group that contained 11th through 23rd. I fumbled around in transition with my helmet strap for a few seconds and made my way onto the bike, remembering to first take off my swim skin all by myself, unlike the last time. I’m a big boy now!
I haven’t been feeling strong on the bike since the end of March and had been feeling increasingly weak throughout April and May. Three weeks ago I did an all out 20 minute power test and averaged 335, which was more than 30 watts less than what I did last year in May. Adelaide says that I spent the rest of that week moping about the kitchen, foraging for chips and salsa in which to drown my sorrows. Luckily my legs finally started coming around about a week after that, and I actually had some good intervals Tuesday of race week.
I put in a good effort right away to minimize the gap up to the 10 leaders, who, at the time, were all within three and a half to one minute of me. This was still the first few miles of the bike leg, which, unlike a bike race, are the most important, to a degree.
Matt Russell, the only guy who’d been able to stick with me, came around at mile 10 and began taking long, hard pulls. The first half of the course is flat to gently rolling, while the second half has some decent rollers. This meant that it was easy for guys who we picked off to latch onto our wheels in the first half. Drafting, which is still a big factor even at 7-9 bike lengths, was made even easier by the fact that there were virtually no motor referees at all. It was honor system, and you can always bank on someone who’s suffering to be dishonorable.
By mile 18ish I finally turned around and lost my shit all over the guy behind me, who had consistently been just 4-5 lengths back for the previous eight miles. My cursing storm worked and he dropped back. Russell decided to hit it hard for the next few minutes and we dropped the drafting guy plus a few others who we had recently picked up along the way, including James Hadley who I knew I should not come off the bike with due to his run strength.
We came off our bikes in 4th and 5th, me forgetting to take one of my shoes off before the dismount, meaning that I had to run in one shoe through transition. I’ve done this many times actually.
Russell fell back quickly on the run since he must have been feeling off, and I charged ahead holding back just enough to keep my lung cramp from becoming debilitating and my chest from closing down. The run course was a 3.5 mile out and back with a box at the start/finish, and mostly uphill on the way out. By mile three the cramping was mostly gone and the normal pain of running had taken its place. The course felt extremely hilly despite only 600 feet of elevation gain. It was hot, exposed, and I used every inch of shade and welcomed every whisper of a breeze, of which there were few. The dead, humid air rose into the upper 80s. The only sound, other than my wheezing, was the chirping of crosswalks, all of which were signaling white stick figures since the traffic lights were turned to red. Only fear kept me going.
With Tyler Butterfield, Andrew Yoder, and Jackson Laundry long gone, my focus was to stay away from Russell and Hadley. I was gaining on Russell but Hadley was approaching fast. I knew that he was dangerous even at four or five minutes back.
The ‘descent’ into downtown wasn’t much easier than the rolling climb out, and I began to feel the slightest pinching pain in my lower back. About 12 days ago I did a hard run followed by lifting (30 heavy ass pound squats mind you), which threw out my low back/right glute for a couple days. The pain went away but came back the day that Adelaide and I traveled to Raleigh. I’d gotten a massage and taping two days before the race, but the pain was still there. Currently, I needed it to hold out for another eight miles. No biggie. The last eight miles of a triathlon are always the easiest. That is a joke by the way.
My feet were on fire from the molten pavement, my lungs and stomach were suffering, my back and legs were crying, and I felt my slow slogging would surely cause me to be swept up by a hard-charging Hadley, or a senior jogger pushing a baby stroller. “Why do I even do this horrible sport?” is always a thought that comes up during the run.
At the final turnaround with 3.5 to go I saw that I still had over a minute. Endurance sports are all about who can suffer the most, and I told myself to stop being such a damn wimp and get on with it. I held the gap until a half mile to go, at which point I knew I had secured 4th place and let myself slow down and bask in the cheers of literally dozens of spectators who were wondering what was going on and why their city’s roads were all blocked off. It’s only when I slowed that I started feeling the real pain in my back. I crossed the finish line and quickly dropped to my hands and knees, then laid down on my back, enveloped in pain and joy for being done. By the time I caught my breath and let someone help me to my feet I could barely walk. My back was completely cramped and each limp was a stabbing shot of agony. So, pretty much a normal race for me.
It felt terrific to finally have a high placing, to see decent power numbers, and to earn enough prize money to pay for the next two months of my physical therapy. Soon after finishing, though, I felt a bit let down since I wasn’t part of the champaign-spraying podium celebration. Always be left wanting. It’s the human condition that has turned our planet into a clear-cut, overpopulated, polluted mining pit filled with Wal-Marts and parking lots.
The best part of my day was watching Adelaide come storming down the finish shoot, taking names and blowing by everyone else like they were using walkers. I could practically hear her thinking to herself, “You’re going down, bitches!” as she came past. She finished with a time of 4:44 and we found out that she won her age group shortly after. It took a while to confirm that she had won the female amateur division outright, which qualified her for her professional license. It was a good trip, to say the least.
I’d like to thank our hosts Brian and Michelle Kennedy for taking such great care of us throughout the week. Brian, who also raced, had a bad stomach from being sick earlier in the week, but managed to finish. We all went out for burgers and fro-yo afterwards.
Additionally, Kwami Imani, a nurse at the medical tent, went well beyond his duties. I had come limping into the medical/massage tent assuming that the post-race massage was free, because they almost always are, only to see that it was $20. I obviously didn’t have that on me. I limped dejectedly away across the street to lay down on the sidewalk and Kwami came out searching for me, helped me get up and walk back to the tent, and wouldn’t accept my offer that I’d repay him. That’s the southern hospitality that you always hear about when talking about the South. I didn’t realize that it was so literal (nurses work in hospitals…hospitality..get it?)
Finally, thank you to my terrific sponsors for making it all possible: A2 Bikes, Cuore of Swiss, Vision, and Hammer Nutrition.