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September 9, 2008

The Memory Remains

Admin note: this started out as an introduction to my Big Kahuna triathlon report, but things got a little carried away, and before I knew it, nearly 1000 words had gone by. As it developed, this segment seemed to tell a story of its own, so that’s what I’m doing for today. Look for the race report in the next couple of days – and by way of a theme preview, there’s a classic (potentially somewhat vertigo-inducing) rock video after the post.

**
If you detected a sense of ambivalence in my pre-race posts, that wasn’t exactly an accident.

Truth be told, I spent much of race morning questioning just what the heck I was doing at this race anyway. I hadn’t done any training (aside from developing an enormous slow-twitch aerobic base – but that’s not entirely effective for high-intensity activity), I wasn’t particularly excited about participating, and I had pulled myself away from two other weekend family activities at home to take part in it.

Furthermore, these several months of ultra training had led me to feel like I didn’t really fit in with this tri-crowd all that much. More specifically – and I’ll try to phrase this as politely as possible – a large percentage of the tri crowd seems to take this athletic stuff way too seriously. It’s a direct contrast to the laid-back, whatever-gets-you-to-the-finish mentality of most ultrarunners I met this year.

The feeling started at the expo, in brief exchanges and conversations overheard while I picked up my race number: Your clothes are last year’s models? You’re totally behind the times. Your bike still has factory wheels and components, without high-end aerodynamic upgrades? You’re giving away speed, dude. Your sports drink is from Costco, and not a scientific $5-per-bottle superpotion? You’re cheating yourself, bro.

Finally, there was this conversation I overheard in the porta-potty line on race morning, between two women immediately in front of me, after each had asked the other where they were from:

Girl 1: So have you done this race before?

Girl 2: Yeah. I’m only doing it again because I didn’t qualify for Kona this year. I took second in my age group at Ironman France, and they only gave one slot for Kona. I should have won, but some other girl beat me by a few minutes. I’ve done Kona three times, so this is my easy consolation race for the year.

I mean … are you kidding me? Who talks like this? From all appearances, this was the first time these two had ever met. And they were in the porta-potty line, for goodness sake - it’s not like there might have been Zoot or Cervelo scouts combing the area looking for athletes to sponsor. It’s hard for me to fathom just how much some people are into themselves. All of a sudden, I was feeling very out of place.

So when the Kona woman turned to make sure I was listening, I said, “Guess what? I only have eight toenails!”* - and that was enough for them to leave me out of the conversation.

(*My other big toenail fell off the night before the race, as I was getting ready for bed. My daughter was already asleep, I wouldn’t see her until the following evening, and I didn’t want to carry a toenail around with me while racing 70.3 miles. So the OFFICIAL story is that the toenail fell off in the ocean during the race – are we all clear on this? Yes, I’ll probably go back and delete this paragraph once she starts reading my blog someday. Let’s move on.)

Needless to say, I wasn’t in the greatest mood while walking from T1 to the start area, but as soon as I hit the beach, everything changed.

(photo from pbase.com)

There’s a reason that I live in California. OK, there are several reasons - but one of them is this: there’s something absolutely magical about watching the sunrise over the ocean. And as I walked towards the start line and saw the sun coming up over the pier, with the silhouettes of hundreds of athletes standing on the shore and swimming in the water, on an unseasonably warm September morning, all the things I appreciate came back to me.

I waded into the ocean and took a short warm-up swim, then stayed about 100 yards offshore, floating in the water, looking back towards the beach. In all of my athletic experiences, it was one of the most inspiring scenes I’ve ever observed: masses of triathletes and spectators gathered on the shore, with the Santa Cruz Boardwalk in the background, and a red-orange sunrise heralding the promise of the coming day.

In that moment, there was no place else I wanted to be.

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t trained very much. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t identify with a lot of the competitors sharing the day with me. It didn’t even matter that I only had eight toenails. All that mattered was that I had a race to enjoy.

I took a few more warmup strokes towards the shore, and drifted on the waves until my knees skimmed the sand. I stood up, exited the water, and took my place in the throng of age-group men anxiously awaiting their charge into the ocean.

A few seconds later, the horn sounded, and our race was on.

**

Metallica, "The Memory Remains" (click to play):

18 comments:

Darrell 9/10/08, 4:42 AM  

With these words in the post, "no place else I wanted to be", I was thinking Jesus Jones.

stronger 9/10/08, 7:31 AM  

I'm still trying to figure out how the sun rises over the ocean in CA.

I really enjoyed your "who cares" response.

Deene 9/10/08, 7:38 AM  

excellent response to girl 2.

Muppetdog 9/10/08, 7:39 AM  

So...funny coincidence - my friend was Girl #1. She told us the story when we met up with her before the start. She was not especially impressed with Ms Kona either.

Spokane Al 9/10/08, 7:40 AM  

I am with Stronger on the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean question. However, no matter where the sun was, I am still betting that it was an awesome scene.

P.S. With your missing toenails I am guessing that you will not be taking advantage of the advertisement on your blog for the elimination of nail fungus.

JTri's,  9/10/08, 9:11 AM  

Hey, girl #1 here, I have to agree that the conversation was INSANE. I have never spoken to anyone quite like girl #2. I didn't hear your missing toenails comment, namely because I was so stunned, by the "I was supposed to win my age group in France, but I came in second" whine from that woman.

I also agree that the vibe there was very serious. Next time you can look up my friend and I, with our clothes from last year and our bikes from 7 years ago (but make no mistake, our shoes? those are this year) "Team Ghetto" is our name and we have fun, even when nobody around us is...

209Mike 9/10/08, 9:32 AM  

Another good article. I love that exchange between the two ladies. Just another reason to love the ultra/trail running crowd. Looking forward to reading your report.

21stCenturyMom 9/10/08, 10:41 AM  

I love this post! As I arrived at Lake Natoma in Folsom and groped my way in the pitch black from parking lot to transition the sun just started to shed a little light on the situation. I thought about going back to the car and getting my camera because the cerulean blue of the glass flat water with a lemon wafer of yellow sky in that moment was specatular and all of a sudden I went from 'what the hell did I do this for' to 'ahhhh...' I still wasn't that keen on racing but I was much happier to be there.

Now how do you suppose Metallica got Marian Faithful to join them for a video? They don't deserve her (due to Hetfield's nasty fencing off of a trail).

ps - you are the new King of the Snappy Retort. Well done!

Paul 9/10/08, 1:27 PM  

Hey Donald,

Sorry I didn't see you out there. I was looking around a bit, but was honestly too cold at the start to move much. That sunrise was amazing! I was wishing I had a camera at that moment. I agree the tri crowd is a bit funny sometimes. Like this one girl walking around after the race in a bikini and running shoes...Just get some flip flops girl. Sometimes you need to let it go a bit. :)

Anonymous,  9/10/08, 6:09 PM  

Nice writing. Enjoyed being transported to renewed appreciation.
When there's too much new equipment around, I remember racing a 10k in VA back in the 80's. I was trying to break 6-min pace and latched onto a guy with old dress shorts and dress shirt with the sleeves shortened by scissors. (Yes, it still had the button-down collar.) I thought 'who is this retro'. He was moving my goal pace so I stuck with him, figuring he would be dying soon. We talked a little, then separated when I followed the 10k route and he peeled off on the marathon route. Yea, I was humbled.
Richard

Rainmaker 9/10/08, 6:12 PM  

Many things I think are hilarious:

1) Your toenail comment was awesome

2) Stronger's question about the sun rising over the Cali ocean

3) The fact that a friend of #2 shows up

4) Then girl #1 shows up

I think you hand out little cliplets with your blog on them, like those 'for sale' flyers on bulletin boards to take a number. :)

Actually, one more thing - that girl #2 is simply...#2.

Rainmaker 9/10/08, 6:13 PM  

Doh!... I meant 3) That a friend of girl #1 shows up.

This commenting thing is hard work.

RunBubbaRun 9/10/08, 8:54 PM  

Your post hit home, after doing my 100 miler in the beginning of the year, I felt so out of place in the TRI world.

I do tend to like the laid back attitude of ultra-running these days.

But the sun rising over the water, that does make it all worth again.

keith 9/11/08, 7:53 AM  

I was supposed to win my age group at the Superior 50 Mile last weekend, too...in my head!

I'll go watch a sunrise somewhere there aren't uber snobs around.

'Bout the only thing I can brag about is that I still have all my toenails. Knock on wood.

Ian 9/11/08, 9:05 AM  

Cracking post as always Donald! can't believe the arrogance of Girl #2.. shame how one person can give a bad impression of a whole group

triguyjt 9/14/08, 2:34 PM  

the porta potty conversation....
sorry to say i have heard several similar conversations over the years...

yes...folks can be into themselves a bit....

Gretchen 9/21/08, 1:34 PM  

I seriously have tears streaming down my face from envisioning you in a port-a-potty line suddenly announcing "I have 8 toenails!" like you're totally proud of the fact. So Brilliant!!

Speed Racer 9/25/08, 1:03 PM  

Oh my god! I came back to read this one because I was intrigued about who had busted you blogging about them, and when I read, "Guess what? I only have 8 toenails!" I burst out laughing. Now my coworkers know I'm not working.

That is EXACTLY what I hate about triathletes. I want to look those Kona people in the eye and say, "Yes, but I have no legs and I can still beat you!" Then I want to kick them, because I really do have legs but they'll be too stunned to have figured that out yet.

And when I, on my factory model bike and round, un-aero helmet pass them going 18 mph on their $50,000 TT bike with all the disc wheels and trinkets and toys I kind of want to fart at them before they fall out of the draft zone.

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