"I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind.... "
~Albus Dumbledore, from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
I knew that Vineman would be difficult. I had no idea about the race report.
As if hobbling around on a sore body wasn’t enough, I’ve been dealing with the inevitable sickness in the wake of last weekend’s triathlon, as my immune system went into complete shutdown mode almost immediately after I returned home. I felt like I wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere – and it took me almost two days to reply to e-mails from friends asking how my race went.
Then I went about the process of organizing my thoughts on the whole race experience, which became an ordeal of its own. I guess it’s predictable that after an event of this magnitude, there’s just too much to say for it to all fit into one post. What I really need is a pensieve like Dumbledore has, to store all of my memories for future viewing (yes, there are certain to be one or two Harry Potter references as we go along). But I suppose that's what this blog is all about, when you get right down to it.
So in the absence of an actual pensieve, let’s approach this recap in segments, with Part 1 today, and the others as soon as I can get around to publishing them. Feel free to comment as we go along, or hold your reactions until the final installment – either way is fine with me. (And if you’re a lurker … I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. Just go ahead and keep on lurking.)
Before we get to the details, I’ll expand on the executive summary a bit, and say that my overall experience was very enjoyable. There were brief moments of uncertainty and/or near-panic (as I’ll explain later), but for the most part, I had nothing but positive feelings before, during, and after the race. Even the “bad” parts of the weekend are memories I want to keep in that penseive for a long time.
If nothing else, an ironman race makes for some interesting storytelling – which happens to be right up my alley. And on that note, why don’t we get started?
Pre Race: The Incredible Mascot
I checked in at Windsor High School for the race expo on Friday afternoon, received my race packet, then stood in line to get one of these t-shirts:
You know what? Maybe that M-dot logo isn’t so bad, after all - especially when compared with this creepy mascot the Vineman folks came up with.
I mean, I get the idea that all of us competitors are heroes, yada yada yada, and the mascot represents the strength that we possess inside of us. But when I think of endurance sports, an impossibly muscular Incredible Hulk-looking character on a steroid rage is probably the last image that comes to mind. Shouldn't a triathlete superhero be some scrawny dude with a swim cap and a disposable razor, wearing three kinds of straps and monitors around his chest and arms, and carrying a bottle of 10 different vitamins and supplements to help him on his mission? Or, you know ... something like that.
Anyway, I grabbed a small size of the official race shirt for my son, then walked to the concession booth and bought a much more subdued shirt:
There, that’s better. More simple, more classy. Initially, I thought it was the smartest 20 bucks I had spent in a long time, but then I wondered: do you think they purposely gave us ugly race shirts so that we’d spend extra money on a nicer one? If so, I was a sucker for the trap - but I still don’t regret spending the twenty.
The rest of the night was blessedly uneventful. I settled in at a friend’s house, watched the Giants blow a late inning lead (typical), and drifted off for about 6 hours of sleep.
Part 1 – The Swim: Bubble Toes
(Before you read this section, try this: click the video player below, and listen to the Jack Johnson song while you’re reading. Then by the time I reference the song, you’ll know what the heck I’m talking about.)
Race morning dawned surprisingly warm - which was nice in that we didn’t have to deal with the early morning chill while setting up our gear in T1, but an ominous sign of conditions to come later on. The race announcer used the PA system to repeatedly remind athletes to wear sunscreen and hydrate often when we got to the road later on.
The announcer also killed time by mentioning some of the notable athletes at today’s race. While we didn’t have a former Bachelor contestant, we had somebody almost as cool: Nick Diaz, a talented Ultimate Fighting-Mixed Martial Arts competitor who was doing his first Ironman. Hearing this, I looked over at Nick, then made a mental note to avoid drafting behind him – because I suspected he might have a pretty harmful kick.
We waded into the Russian River, and treaded water in the dammed portion before heading upstream at the sound of the starting gun. The initial frenzy lasted for about ten minutes before I settled into a smooth gliding rhythm, trying to stay as relaxed as possible for the long day ahead.
There’s an old Jack Johnson song called Bubble Toes, which became stuck in my head as I thought of nothing else but following the bubbles behind this guy’s feet. For the next several minutes, I kept repeating the lighthearted chorus to myself, and coasting behind a seemingly perfect pair of bubble toes. I was as relaxed as possible, and feeling good.
**Is it Time to Panic? Part 1 ** But just as I was la-da-da’ing along behind Bubble Toes, I nearly scraped my hand against a concrete bridge support, and realized we were significantly off course. As I paid closer attention over the next quarter mile, I figured out that Bubble Toes was doing a lot of zigzagging up and down the river. Maybe he was purposely trying to shake me, or maybe he was just terrible at swimming in a straight line.
Either way, I had a decision to make: I could stay behind him to keep swimming effortlessly – but adding more distance – or I could chart out a direct path on my own, and expend more energy to swim a shorter course.
I went with the first option, for this reason: the Russian River is fairly narrow. Even if Bubble Toes veered wildly to one side or the other, he probably wouldn’t get too far off course before hitting the shoreline (to our right) or crashing into oncoming swimmers (on our left). Obviously, if we had been in the ocean, I probably would have decided differently.
At any rate, Bubble Toes wore himself out by the third turnaround point, and I was left to swim most of the home stretch on my own anyway. But by saving all of that energy during the previous mile and a half, the last half mile of the swim still felt pretty comfortable - and I kept the mellow la-da-da groove in my head the whole way. I really don’t think I would have saved any time if I had made a solo break further back.
As I approached the swim exit, I heard the PA announcer’s voice calling out people’s names as they exited the water. When I exited, I had the ramp all to myself, and I heard the following announcement:
PA guy: Now coming out of the water we have …
Me: (smiling, giving a little wave)
PA guy: IT’S ULTIMATE FIGHTER NICK DIAZ!! ULTIMATE FIGHTER NICK DIAZ IS OUT OF THE WATER!!
Apparently as I reached the top of the ramp, Ultimate Fighter Nick Diaz had just poked his head out of the water, and was following me to T1. So I missed my first opportunity for a little recognition at the hands of the UFC guy. I can’t say that it bothered me – at least, not yet. I was just happy to be done with the swim.
Swim Stats: 2.4 miles in 1 hour, 1 minute.
T1: Happiness is a Full Bike Rack
When I first started triathlons, I’d routinely come out of the water to find nearly empty bike racks, and realize that almost everyone else was already ahead of me. Nowadays, that doesn’t happen very much anymore – and I’m always delighted to get out of the water and see rack after rack still clogged with bikes.
I spent nearly 5 minutes in transition, taking extra seconds to scrape river dirt out from between my toes, and struggling to put on a cycling shirt whose pockets I had already loaded up with seven Clif Bars (it didn’t work – I spent additional time picking said bars off the ground after they fell). But one nice thing about an Ironman is that extra transition time hardly matters at all in the overall results – so I had no worries about taking as much time as I needed to get all of my gear ready for the long ride that awaited me.
Even as I exited T1, the bike racks remained full. I jogged my bike to the mounting area behind Ultimate Fighter Nick Diaz and a handful of other racers, and headed out into the great unknown.
And that’s where we’ll pick up the story next time.
Click here to read Part 3