Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tales from the front - racing, finally, and rediscovering my love for the sport

"Do not let us speak of darker days; let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not the dark days: these are great days, the greatest days our country has ever lived."

Winston Churchill

Well sports fans, its been a while since I've written one of these, but I'm very happy to be doing it again. But luckily for me, there's more to this post than just a race result.

 September 14 was an opportunity to defend my title as the Michigan Duathlon Champion in Belle Isle, MI. Its a great little island between Detroit and Canada, suited for F1 car racing, and great for multisport.

I came into this race with a lot more questions that last year, having spent the last 7 weeks training and rehabbing from an injury sustained in a race. 7 weeks ago I was in the lead at the Mackinaw City Triathlon, when on the bike, I hit a really rough patch of road on a tight turn, and got launched from my bike. I bounced off the pavement a few times before coming to a stop, only to realize I was bleeding badly from my left arm and left knee. Needless to say, after another ER visit, I was bandaged up pretty well, and the rest of the season looked questionable. But I stuck to my plan of training and getting physical therapy with the best people in the area, and fortunately, I was gaining fitness every week. Still, I wasn't sure what would shake out on Sunday morning.

We were treated to cool temps, 52 degrees at race start, sunny skies, and a light wind. The course had changed a bit from last year, making it a 3.6 mile run/40k bike/10k run. I planned to be a bit conservative at the start, and start attacking on the bike. When the gun went off, I could feel myself wanting to push, but I purposely held back, conserving energy. By the first mile marker, I had about 5 seconds on the field, and did a couple of 15-20 second accelerations to see what would happen. The surges worked, gaining me another 20 seconds heading into T1. 

Fast transition and I was on the 4 loop bike course. Same plan here, start slightly conservative and build. I was negative splitting each loop, not paying attention to who I was passing, rather making sure I wasn't passed. Solid ride kept me in the lead and out of harm's way as I slipped back into my 155's for the 2 loop 10k. On the first loop, I felt great, starting to clock 5:45 pace and passing a ton of triathletes who were also fighting for the title of best of the Michigan. Because it was a loop, I still wasn't sure where my competition was, but figured, as long as I don't get passed by anyone, I'm good. By mile 4 of the second run, I realized I made a bit of a tactical mistake by not taking in enough fluid on the bike. It was cooler out and I made the rookie mistake of not realizing that I could still dehydrate. I felt both quads starting to lock up, but there was no way I was going to stop. I backed off my pace a bit, but just kept running as hard as I could without risking my quads completely seizing up. 

The last mile hurt. A spotter at mile 5 yelled to me "4 minutes", but at that point, I wanted a quality time to match the win. Nothing left to chance. I ran hard all the way to the line, and did my best to stay upright as I was ushered into the drug testing tent. That was probably the least pleasant part of the day, but I didn't care. I had defended my title proudly, with respect and honor, and humility. And in the process, became the first athlete ever to repeat as either the Michigan Duathlon or Triathlon champ in the 10 years of the race's existence. 
The win felt great, and gave me a much needed confidence boost, as I knew I wasn't 100%, but needed to know where I stood fitness wise. However, it was a race this past Sunday that reminded me once again, why I love multisport.
At INTENT, we have a kids tri team, and Coaches Rick and Mary Ann do an excellent job with them, helping these kids find a place that they can express themselves in a different way than the conventional "bat and ball" format that doesn't work for every child out there. Our kids are great representatives of the sport, and provide all of us a glimpse as to what made us fall in love with the sport. So when I was asked by a member of the kids team to be his partner in a super sprint tri, I jumped at the chance. I felt so honored, and could see that both Tyler and his parents were extremely happy that this was going to happen.
On Sunday, a new race took place in Oak Park, IL - a family triathlon, where 1 adult and 1 child would compete together in the race.  This wasn't a relay, it required both athletes to complete the same distance, preferably together. Tyler and I would be racing side by side, encouraging one another the entire time. I loved the concept, and not having ever done anything like this, I was excited.
Rick and Mary Ann also raced with 2 other kids from our team, who just happened to be Rick's kids. It seemed a bit odd at first that I was quite possibly the only non-parent racing with a kid. But that feeling was quickly washed away when I saw Tyler and his family, all bundled up, with signs and posters for us. And Tyler was smiling the whole time. I felt completely energized, wide awake, and determined to make sure this would be a great experience for him.
The race was a 200 meter swim in the YMCA pool, a 5 mile bike, and a 1.5 mile run, all on closed streets in Oak Park. The race directors truly deserve major kudos for making this happen - I have never felt so safe racing, and the number of volunteers cheering right along with family members was amazing. Tyler and I game planned on the pool deck, as his mom got us matching swim caps, to go with our matching INTENT race kits, and I realized that I was having the absolute time of my life. Here was another opportunity to give back to the sport, and to really help the next generation of triathletes to see how great they can be.
The race was a blast; I spent the entire time on the bike and run keeping an eye on my partner, and encouraging him when we rode into the wind. He is a tough dude, and he had a great race, sprinting to the finish line where his family was waiting with posters, camera phone's clicking and several smiles. I was happier to have been a part of this race than any race that I had done on my own. I am not some superstar athlete, I'm not king of Kona, but on that day, Tyler and his family made me feel like the world champion. As they were so graciously thanking me, I couldn't help but express my humility and honor in being able to be a part of their family for an hour on a Sunday morning. It was a priceless experience, one I will treasure always.

The takeaway for me was - I love this sport. Yes, I know it can get flat out nasty and there are several people in the sport who are looking simply to take as much as they can from you. There are athletes who will talk tremendous amounts of shit, swearing they are the next big thing, and after a while, you can only hear that stuff so much before you just have to walk away. But in that 1 hour, my faith was restored. From the race directors to the volunteers, to the families, it was clear that this was FOR the kids, it was to make lives better, brighter. It was what attracted me to the sport almost 2 decades ago. And in the days since, I feel revived, thankful for the ability to race, to compete, to live UNSCARED, and for the honor of paying it forward.

Stay strong,