The true value of sport is that it provides highly intense, miniature experiences that simulate life. You set goals, and work hard to achieve them. Sometimes, you succeed and celebrate. Other times, you fail and learn what you can from it so you can try again. Without those failures, you don’t improve, and you don’t fully appreciate the successes. In the moment, it sucks, a lot. But when you persevere, and eventually achieve your goal, it makes all the sucking and suffering worth it. That’s what I have to remember today.
**Disclaimer – This was a fairly emotional day, which tends to give me potty mouth. In an effort to keep this blog relatively family friendly, but also be honest about what I was really feeling/saying/expressing to myself – I’ve made substitutions, “dubs” if you will, like when you watch Superbad on TNT or TBS. I think you get the point.
Oh yeah, quickly, here is the soundtrack to this report. One of my favorite songs off the new Metric Album, “Breathing Underwater”. For better and for worse, it works with this race – a good beat, a little epic, and a little sad. You can also hear a live, slower version here.
Sunday started like most race days – some nervousness and anticipation, but a lot of excitement about the opportunities ahead. There were a few bumps, but nothing that took me physically or mentally out of the game. I was ready. I was excited to race.
Swim: Until You Bleed!
Following my plan, I keyed off of Richie & Joe Gambles as we started the swim hard. Almost immediately, I felt off. Within the first minute I noticed lactic acid filling my legs. WTF?!? I’d felt this sensation before – at the end of long, high intensity swims – but never at the beginning of a race! I was worried, but I blocked it out. Yes, this is unsustainable, but that’s what it takes to stay with the pack. Stay on it!!
About 3-4 minutes in, the lactic began to take its toll. My breathing became panting, my stroke labored, and I worried less about staying with the pack, and more about finishing the swim, period. It didn’t seem that fast, just hard, the effort wasn’t proportional to the speed. As the lead group pulled away, and second packers passed me, images of getting passed, and dropped, by the women clouded my head. Just six minutes into the race, I was on my way to another disappointing performance.
I literally yelled at myself to refocus. You’ve worked your [tooshy] off for this swim! You are a different athlete! No comparisons! As Matt Lieto told me the day before, “Your [bung]hole better be bleeding when you exit that swim.” Thanks, Matt. I told myself, Just stay with them for 100 more strokes. When that passed, another 100 strokes, then another, and so on. My outlook turned to mildly positive as I realized I would make it out with this pack…and not get chicked :). Even though it wasn’t what I’d hoped for, it was still a significant improvement over last year, and in a deeper/stronger field. As I exited the water, Matt told me I was about 75 seconds behind Richie & Joe, ~3 minutes from the leaders. Not awesome, but it’s a long race, and I’m just a good bike and run away from a solid result. Here we go, mother [bucker].Bike: Playing Catch Up
I struggled a bit in transition. I threw up a bit of poo-colored, desert man-made, lake water. I felt disoriented after the hard effort, and had trouble snapping my helmet strap. By the time I got on my bike, I was a solid 15-20 seconds behind the group. I knew I had no choice but to hammer until I caught them. I put in a big effort and reeled them in by the top of the first hill, at about 3 miles. I sat in the back on the long downhill to recover and get a sense of the pace. It was too easy. It was obvious we weren’t going fast enough to make up time on the leaders. I had to move and move hard if I was going to be a factor in the race. So I smashed up the next climb into the lead and rode strong without looking back for the next 8 miles or so. As we approached the first aid station around mile 12, I was surprised to see most of the group still with me. Maybe my legs aren’t as strong as I thought today.
I slowed quite a bit through the aid station to grab plenty of water. As I did, a couple of guys went around me. I spent some time drinking, dumping the remainder into my Shiv Fuelselage, and resettling into the aero position. It was obvious the whole group was packed up from the aid station. I remember thinking, [Swashbuckle]! I’m close to Griffin, I should probably slow down. I looked to my left for the dashed road lines, which the officials said they would use to measure the distance between us. There were no lines, just tons of those bumpy white things with no distance between them. Am I too close?
Suddenly, I heard a very loud, “WARNING!” It startled me, like when [butt]holes honk from behind while you’re on a bike because they think it’s funny to scare you. I looked to my left to see an official yell, “You’re too close! It has to be 7 bike lengths!” My heart jumped, I nodded and slowed immediately, thinking I’d just gotten a warning to back off after the aid station. Then he pulled out a red card, extended it out in my direction, and wrote something down on his paper pad. WTF?!? Did I just get a drafting penalty? Before I could even say anything, he sped away.
What the hell just happened!?! I was in denial, I kept replaying the scene in my head. Did I get a penalty? I was close, but it was so short, and I lead the whole way out. It couldn’t have happened, right? As the minutes went by, it began to sink in. He wrote down my number. [Sugar!] I think I just got a drafting penalty! [Fudge] me! Are you [farting] serious!?!
Trying to Rebound
I was absolutely crushed, all the life and inspiration from my legs and mind sucked out in an instant. I oscillated between taking long angry pulls at the front and sitting up in the back, dejected, waiting for the penalty tent to come and trying to re-evaluate what the hell I was going to do.
When I got to the tent, I still had a shred of doubt (and hope). I expected to see the guy there who gave me the penalty, to ask him quickly. Maybe it was just a warning? He wasn’t there. What?!?. I frantically asked the person in the official in the tent, “Did I get a penalty?” They didn’t know. “You don’t know!?!” I started to jump back on my bike. Then they asked me if he showed me a red card. Yep, he did. [Gosh darn] it.
They started the watch, and I sat there for the longest four minutes of my life. I had no idea what to do. I was so angry, so sad, and honestly really embarrassed. I tried to take a deep breath and relax, but it was impossible. It took all my strength not to be that pro dude who cried in the penalty tent. I felt my race and goals and hard work slipping away as the seconds ticked by. Logic brain was still trying to be constructive, How do I approach the rest of the race? What can I get out of this? Emotional brain replied, Who gives a [split]? Your race is [fudged.]
I schizo’ed between those two feelings as I rode the next 30 miles completely alone. I’d be angry and ride super hard, saying to myself that The penalty was bull[poop] and I was an idiot for letting it happen. I’m still going to get something out of this race! Then I’d get tired, my legs would feel heavy and I’d slide into depression, weeping, Why does it even matter? My race has gone to [shih tzu], I should just pull out. For better and for worse, the anger side of the brain was the dominant one. I had to finish. I had to ride strong. I could still have the day I wanted out of my body, regardless of what place I end up. In the last 20 miles, by myself, I made up almost 3 of the 4 minutes I lost on the pack I was with. I put A LOT into the bike. Deep down, I knew it was probably too much, but I was angry. And in some weird way, I felt I could take back the drafting penalty by proving I was a strong rider who didn’t need to draft.
I was 28th off the bike, and was surprised to hear I was only 75 seconds down from a big group. Between the hard solo ride, a super hot day, and feeling flat and tired all the way around, I knew immediately that this was going to be a rough run (Rundar reading: Survival Mode). Logic brain established a new goal – top 15. 15th place would earn me some points for next year, and provide a tangible benefit to an otherwise terrible day. I can still make this happen. Just do your thing.
My family and friends cheered, “You’re reeling them in!” But around mile two, on the steepest uphill pitch, my right Sartorius (yes, I looked it up afterwards) cramped. It was a full on seize that made me stop immediately. I quickly contorted into a stretch and held it for a minute or so. I took one step and it locked again. I yell/cried “Oh god, my Sartorious!” (just kidding, I did yell though), and tried to stretch again. I couldn’t move. A guy on a golf cart asked me if I needed to be taken to the medical tent. “No!” I screamed, a little too much like an angry child. He gave me some water. I guzzled it and just stretched there, awkwardly half bending over and sticking my ass out sharply to the left. Look at yourself. You’re [plucked]! Your race is over.
A few minutes later, I tried to walk – initially over to the medical tent. One step was OK. Two, three, four. I turned back on course. A couple more jogging steps, nothing yet. It was tight and sore, but not cramping. I started jogging. OK, if it seizes like that again and you risk injury, you’re done. You’re dropping out.
Why I Finished:
In all honesty, for the next 11 miles, I wanted my leg to cramp again. I REALLY wanted to drop out. I was cramping, my stomach hurt, my legs were dead, I was completely by myself, way behind my goal, and just a two minute jog from the Cheesecake Factory. There was NO tangible benefit to finishing! So why did I keep going? Long story short – because of this [ducking] blog.
Over the last two plus years, I’ve shared a story. Initially, the only people that followed were my family (mom) and friends (one of my mom’s friends), but it’s eventually progressed to include other supporters, sponsors, and of course, some crazy ass fans. I’ve met you at races, read your comments, tweets, emails, Facebook messages and owl-delivered letters. I feel like I owed it to YOU as much to myself to see it through, regardless of the outcome.
When I was out there on Sunday, you guys weren’t only in my head, you were out on the course. It was a constant reminder of this journey, how long I’ve come, and the value I’ve received from your support. It was another one of those miniature, highly intense experiences within an experience. I was SUFFERING out on that run, but I never went more than 2-3 minutes on that course without hearing everything from “Nice Aviators” to “Go Jesse” to “Survival Zombie Mode” to “Jesse Bieber Fever!” My family, friends, other spectators, aid station #2 (my favorite!) fellow racers, even industry people. It was IMPOSSIBLE to escape your presence. On the last lap as I headed into the last two-mile uphill stretch, seriously doubting I’d be able to keep jogging, you know what I saw? A [clucking] Picky Bar wrapper on the ground. Are you kidding me!?! THAT my friends, is awesome.
And it wasn’t just that you were cheering, or in my head, or that I felt like I owed it to you guys. It was also that, despite the fact that I was out the back, dying, miserable, all chance of “success” long gone, you guys didn’t give a [shot]. The people on that course cheered me on like I was a [fracking] rock star about to win American Idol. They cheered me on like I was Jesse Bieber. They were stoked when I grabbed water, poured some ice on my balls, muttered a “thanks,” or gave them an ugly, I’m-dying-smile after a cheer. The energy I felt lifted me through the last 10 miles. There is no way I would have finished without it.
So anyway, that’s how I rolled it in, one painful step and uplifting cheer at a time. The unlikely combination of intense pain and sincere gratitude that I felt may or may not have pushed a few man-tears out of my eyes. You’ll never know. That’s what the Aviators are for.
A Few Post-Race Thoughts (Extra Credit for the Crazy Asses):
Don’t blame the penalty: What I don’t want people to take away from this blog is that I got an “unfair” drafting penalty that bombed my race. That is not true. When I got the penalty, I was drafting. I was not seven bike lengths away. Was I in that position long? No. Was my intent to gain an unfair advantage? No. But the official probably didn’t know either of those things, and he was doing his best to keep the race fair. And “intent” isn’t the rule anyway, drafting is. Like I said, I was as embarrassed and sad as I was angry. And part of the anger was at myself for not paying attention and letting it happen. I don’t want drafting to ever be associated with my reputation, and I’ll do my absolute best to make sure that that never happens again. This was only the second time I’ve ever ridden with a big group, and I just wasn’t paying close enough attention in the moment. It was a rough time to learn that lesson, but hopefully I’ll only have to learn it once. While it derailed my race quite a bit, my average swim, hammering too hard on the bike, and feeling flat in general had just as much to do with my result as the penalty.
I May have left my Race in Maine: Matt and I talked at length afterwards obviously and there are a lot of questions and things to evaluate about what went down. It’s possible one factor was that I just wasn’t ready or recovered for this race. I think I underestimated the toll that Maine took on my body and mind, because it was an Olympic distance race, I didn’t have to finish the run all out, and my body and mind were buoyed by the endorphins of taking a solid win. When it came down to it, I swam and rode as hard/fast as I ever have in that race, and it might have been too much to recover from. Who knows.
Once Again, Transitions Matter: A frustrating thing about looking through the results today was that eventual winner (Keinle) and 6th place finisher (Aernouts) both came out of the water JUST behind me. But, they both beat me by 15-20 seconds out of transition, In the first 10 miles of the bike, I was actually keeping an eye out for Keinle, expecting him to come flying by me. But it turns out by the time I caught the second group, they’d both already rode off the front of it. That was my ticket (without having a stronger swim) to a better result. They both rode remarkably well (Keinle, on-another-planet-well), but maybe I could have stayed with them as they bridged up to other riders. Who knows, maybe on the day I couldn’t have, but something to take away for next year.
I’m still psyched about my season: As bummed as I am writing this recap, it isn’t too hard to turn my frown upside down. While my result here was below what I’d hoped for, my results throughout this season were better than expected almost across the board. I’m improving at a faster rate than both Matt and I anticipated. The fact that I even believed that I could podium in this race is a level I didn’t expect to achieve this year. Even though I had an off day, I still swam 2 minutes faster and biked 5 minutes faster (INCLUDING a 4 minute penalty, so, yes, that’s actually 9 minutes faster) than last year. That’s improvement. Especially on an off day. I’ll have another crack at this one, and it doesn’t take away from the progress I’ve made.
Next Step: TBD
Plans are still in the making. Since I didn’t get any substantial points, I may throw in a late season 70.3. I’m also slated to race the Rev3 Final in Florida (where I just lost 2nd place in the series by 10 points to Viktor Zymetsev!). No solid plans yet, just some R&R with the wif, a new season of all my favorite TV shows, and then a blow out tailgate weekend on 9/22 with the b-school buddies. We’ll see what happens!
I’ve said enough about it already, but the LEGIONS of crazy ass fans, my wife, my family (including my mom & Jeff, dad & Janna, Terri & Jim) twitter and facebook peeps, my support crew, my newsletter subscribers. You all kept me going out there, so TOP BILLING this week. You earned it :). Thanks so much for cheering me on. BOOYAH!
- Coach Matt Dixon – Like I said at the end, the fact that I even believed I could compete in this race is somewhere I didn’t expect to be even a year ago. And the first person who ever believed I could compete at this level was Matt. I’m slowly catching up to him. I sincerely appreciate the guidance, mentorship, and friendship. Onward!
Mallory, Joe (Spider Monkey), and Paddy at Specialized – These guys were once again a HUGE help this weekend. In case you missed it, I got a brand new bike last week – TriRig Review w/tons of pics here, and these guys not only built it and got it all set (even after I blew a tubular the day I left for Vegas). They also took Lauren and I out to dinner and gave us a ride to the airport. You guys are da bomb!
Ritch, T-Bone, Dan, Tom, Niall, David & Pierre of the Every Man Jack Racing / General Badasses and Good Dudes Team (team facebook page here). Thanks a ton for letting me crash your party this weekend guys. The house was awesome and it was a huge help to be around some fun dudes who helped me keep it chill leading into a big race. Looking forward to doing it some more down the road.
- Geoff, Kody & all the guys at Pearl Izumi. Not only a HUGE amount of support all year long, but expedited some new shoes and apparel out when I realized I definitely needed some stuff before this race. Those Streak II’s felt great, even though I was running slow, haha. Thanks a bunch guys!
- Gerry Rodrigues of Tower 26 – Even though it wasn’t my best day in the water out there, a 2 minute improvement over last year is HUGE. Looking forward to getting that last couple of minutes. Well, looking forward to actually being faster, not particularly looking forward to the work its going to take to get there! Thanks Gerry!
- Rob & Kurt at Roka Sports – Thanks again guys for the support this weekend, making a quick swap with the swimskin and especially being out there on the last long uphill section of the run. I looked forward to your group every lap around, like I said, cheering like I was in the lead. Thanks as well for all the awesome photos, Rob.
- The guys at Rolf Prima. 9 min faster than last year, and I know a chunk of that comes from the wheels. Thanks so much as usual for all the support, excited to hop on a CX bike with you guys back in the EUG!
- Robert at First Endurance – What was honestly amazing about this race was that my 70.3 Nutrition Plan actually kept me from completely imploding/dying. I honestly believe that First Endurance’s stuff is the best in the heat. Yeah, I cramped at the beginning of the run, but that was due to pushing the bike way too hard, and taking in Pre-Race on the run is I think what “turned back” my cramping, amazingly, and allowed me to finish. Anyway, as always, great stuff. Thanks Robert.
- Steve at CycleOps – Even though I didn’t get to use the power meter, I did get to use the new GPS Joule, which worked fantastically. It gave me some pace goals for the way home by myself, and something to focus on while I was suffering out there. Thanks Steve for the late help going into the race!