Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Love Firsts

It's always fun for me to read about an athlete's first race.  Here's Spencer's first Half Ironman report.  Spencer's busy with his first year of law school, but managed to gut out a respectable finish at the daunting Oceanside 70.3 course.  

I woke up at 4:00 AM to eat one thousand calories. I had some gross almond soy milk drink to bank 400 calories, and made up the rest with bananas, bagels, and a power bar. John was adding 5 scoops of some mystery powder to my water bottle. I didn’t know what it was. I might have been doping during the race. It kind of reminded me of when Devin would slip some white powder (creatine?) into my protein shakes.
We threw our bikes on the back of the car and hit the road to the beach. We parked at America’s best hotel (the best one!) and pedaled down to the race. I had a few hours to set up my transition area, get my body marked, and use the port-o-potties. I learned that triathlete men love to strategize and discuss the frequency and timing of going to the bathroom leading up to a race.
Body marking satisfies my inner child’s desire to draw on myself with permanent marker. I don’t know if marking serves any real purpose other than to look cool, because the numbers are either obscured or redundant. Your wetsuit covers your body-marked numbers during the swim, and you wear a giant paper number around your waist for the rest of your race. You also plaster your bike and helmet with stickers showing your number. I did find it beneficial to refer to people’s left calves to see how old they were as they blew past me on the bike. It let me know how embarrassed I should feel. Plenty of men and women over 50 and 60 took me down during the race.
I set up my transition area. Bike, helmet, glasses, race number, socks, bike shoes, running shoes. I got my wetsuit on and chatted nervously with the guys in my age group. I said goodbye to John, and I hurried down the chute to find my group. I felt like a kid on the first day of school looking for his bus number. I found my group wearing the same purple swim cap as me and walked with them to the start. I was surrounded by people but felt very alone. I get nervous before swimming races. Every time I've swum in a competition I've had some sort of panic attack. The only other time I swam fast in salt water I swallowed some water and vomited a few times. I didn't know if my wetsuit would keep me warm enough. I didn’t know if my old goggles would hold up or if they would leak. I didn’t want to be swimming through the ocean for an hour without being able to see.
I stepped into the water and noticed it was warmer than Saguaro Lake I’d done the week before. Greg was volunteering and was helping people down into the water. It was great to see him. We swam over to the start buoy, most of swimming like water polo players to avoid sticking our faces into the cold water before we had to. A buzzer sounded, and we were off.
My goal was to finish the race and stay alive. Aly didn’t care about the race, she just wanted me to stay alive. I really don’t remember swimming faster or slower than normal. I don’t think I cared. I just took it easy and made my way through the harbor. The race started in waves, based on age groups, and not all at once. This meant that every so often a fresh wave of fast swimmers would come up behind me. I was off to the side, so most swimmers would go right past me. Some would actually swim directly over the top of my body. Others I kicked squarely and cleanly in the face. I apologized, but there was nothing I could do differently. They ran into my feet.
Anyway, as you swim out of the harbor and towards the open ocean, you start to feel it. Your body rocks up and down in the small waves. It became harder to get a clean breath without getting a salty taste in my mouth. I eventually reached the turn-around and headed back to flatter waters, but the salt water and undulating sea had gotten to me. I stopped and threw up. Then I threw up again. I kept swimming, but I had a gag reflex triggered every time I had the taste of salt on my lips. I threw up a third time, then stopped and bobbed for a while to catch my breath and compose myself. If I blew out carefully before breathing, and turned far to my side, I could keep swimming. Soon enough, I saw the boats in the harbor, and after swimming for a few more minutes I made it back. A volunteer tough old man with a chiseled hairy forearm pulled me out of the water.
Take that Aly--I didn’t die in the ocean.
It was great to see the Lesueurs on my way to my bike. It was warm enough that I didn’t need the extra jersey or the sleeves I brought. I hit the road. John passed me about 2 minutes into the bike. He had already closed the 15 minute head start I had on him. Greg Davis came up behind me a little while later. It was nice to start in one of the earlier waves, because all day long I was passed by people I knew. The aid stations on the bike were fun. The marines from Camp Pendleton manned all the stations. They were energetic and excited to be there. I took a few packs of gel from one guy and stuck them in my back pocket, wanting to save them for later. We biked along the coast for a while, then turned inland. There was a steep old hill, but I made it up.
Then I noticed something funny was happening to my knee. It felt like the back of my knee was sticky. I touched my hamstring, and my hand was covered in brown sticky gel. The stuff is like honey. The guys at the aid stations had opened the gels for me before I grabbed them, so I had three packets of this stuff all down the back of my shirt, saddle, race number, and legs. I saw later than my back was plastered with this red-brown stain. Ryan came up behind me and thought I was bleeding profusely. Aside from a sticky bike, the leaky gels didn’t prove to be a problem. There were more hills and it was windy but I made it back in.

The worst part of a triathlon is this transition. My biking legs are not too happy to start running. My quads and calves were killing me.I’d end up walking a bit at the first few aid stations, so my mile times were slow. It was nice to see the Lesueurs and Arnetts on the run course. Emily ran with me for a little bit. The run went down a residential street, so the neighbors blasted AC/DC and Eminem for us.The kids at the aid stations were having a great time handing out waters, gels, Gatorade, and orange slices. Jacque caught me on the run, also after eclipsing a large head start I had on her. She is intense. It was good to see friends and Tri-Mesa folks on the sidelines and racing on the course. At about mile 9 I figured that if I picked it up, I could finish in less than 7 hours. The last three miles or so was the hardest part of my day. I made it in 6:59:39.

So, I made it. I really don’t remember much about what happened afterwards. Someone gave me a hat and a medal. A long, cold shower felt good on my sunburned and worn out body. I couldn’t lift my legs to get into a car too well. Many many thanks to Kyle and John for letting me chase them on a bike on Saturday mornings, to Aly for letting me sleep on Saturday afternoons, and to everyone who came to cheer us on. Resolutions for next year: beat my old time, train on steeper hills, don’t swallow any seawater, don’t put half a jar of honey in my pocket.

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Que lindo es sonar despierto.
How lovely it is to dream while you are awake.

Dreams That Have Come True