Swimmer's Panic at Silverlake Sprint Triathlon
May 17, 2010
|I have spent the last 4 weeks diligently balancing my home duties of a Mr. Mom with this addiction called triathlon training. There have been a couple nights when Carole gets home and she can tell as the healthy well-balanced dinner of hot dogs and cheese was speedily thrown together, the dishwasher is partially emptied, 2 of 4 toilets are clean, the laundry is washed but not dried, the front lawn has been cut but the lawn mower is resting in the back yard still purring unattended, recently purchased milk is in the front seat of the truck and I am dragging myself back from an afternoon swim. I do, however, make sure the kids are picked up from school and deposited at soccer practice or baseball on time each night. Fortunately, I have only on one occasion dropped Dayla off at baseball and Daniel at Dayla's soccer practice. I know where the boundaries of dereliction of duty lay!
Since I last posted, 3-weeks ago, I have swam another 20 miles, biked 100 miles and had 14 runs where I averaged three miles per run. I really tried to focus on the running part of the equation as it was very clear to me that the more I talk about hating something the easier it is to avoid it and, in a wonderful circle of self-prophecy, it is where I fail again. I am trying, slowly, to break some of these life-long circles.
The Silver Lakes Sprint Triathlon is a pretty small affair with just over 300 participants in Pearland,TX., about 25 miles from our home, so it was an easy decision to set my sights on this event as I walk that Road to Kona. I think a lot of the butterflies were quelled in Galveston as the week before and night before this event were extremely quiet. The distances are all manageable now so it is a matter of just putting them all together.
These events are early affairs as all participants must complete registration by picking up a timing chip, having bike & helmet inspected, making sure that participant number #242 is firmly attached to both bike and helmet, getting their bodies marked with participant number and age, all before we enter the tightly secured 'transition' area to set up their respective stations. Once inside the cordoned off area, the bike is hung, by the seat facing out, on the bar and then I opened up my burgeoning duffle bag that could no longer qualify as 'hand baggage' on any airline. I lay out my bright yellow IronMan towel (as a subliminal reminder that Kona is on the horizon), place my running shoes together on the back of the towel, place my riding shoes immediately in front of the running shoes, check to make sure my participant number is in one riding shoes and that my prescription sun glasses are in the other shoe, place my helmet just so on the handlebars of my 8-year old trusty apple red Trek road bike, hook my sweatband to the helmet and make sure that I have two riding gloves on top of my riding shoes. The water bottle is partially full and on the bike and a Tri Berry syrupy energy gel is between my riding and running shoes, if needed.
It is too early to put the wet suit on but I fumble around my, slowly emptying, garage-in-a-bag and find the Body Glove lubricant that comes in a deodorant-like dispenser, and is applied to all parts of the body that rub against the high tech wet suit. The ritual continues as I liberally apply this paste to my ankles and neck areas. Once completed I am forced to make the first strategic decision of the day as I hold two different pairs of Speedo goggles in my hands. One is the tainted set that I find very comfortable and use for training. The other set, less comfortable because of a more solid nose bridge, is clear and comes highly recommended by Jay my TNT coach. In my first act of bravado I cast the tainted goggles back into the yawning bag and place the clear set in the back pocket of my TNT singlet which is worn for all three disciplines.
Finally, almost embarrassingly, I grab the pretty robin-egg blue bathing cap that must be worn for the swim. I am starting in the 4th group which will include men +50 and all male Clydesdales ( +200 pounders). I would easily qualify, from a poundage sense, but when you see some of these 30 year old 200 pounders with 4% body fat you know that they have not worked neither long or hard enough at honing their +200 pound bodies. Look at Team 55 if you want to see well-qualified Clydesdales!
With one last look at my station I proudly exit the transition area and pick up my support crew of Carole and Daniel immediately. We make the pilgrimage to the long line that leads to the freshly arrived and serviced port-a-potties before we head to the starting area. For some unknown reason a lone bagpiper is serenading us with show tunes from Rocky and Lion King! Quite the combination but it has Team LaRocque thinking back to Kincairdaine, Ontario and the story of the lone piper on Lake Huron. Daniel's former principal, Chad Stevens, a 38-year old mountain of a man, notices us and as members of the same church asks us to come over to the Tri4Him tent for an early morning prayer.
So, usually my prayers are pretty private affairs but in this case it does not seem to be the time to be shy so off we go. Interestingly, the minister has the IronMan logo tattooed on his calf with a cross in the middle of it. The combination speaks volumes. IronMan, wow!
After the prayer we head to the starting area where Carole helps me get my high tech, specially designed Team In Training racing wet suit on before I go for a warm up swim. No sooner do I get the wet suit on than I am fumbling around, searching in a panic for my goggles and 'pretty' blue bathing cap. Carole has to remind me that I put both in the back pocket of my singlet which is now tightly secured to my body under the figure-form-fitting wet suit. Zip!! and down comes the wetsuit and we retrieve the 'lost' equipment. And I did not think that I was nervous.
It is now 630AM and forty minutes before my 7:09 start! Remember, way back there I said "early affairs". Up at 430AM and on the road, with yawning, blurry eyed crew, by 5AM. I get up the four days before an event at 430AM to 530AM just to get used to eating that early and removing cob webs.
10,9, 8 7, 6....GO
My strategy, rather than just finish, was to make sure that I got out very fast in the swim leg to avoid the confusion, punching, kicking, drowning and mayhem of the swim start. Within 20 strokes I am well ahead of my group and moving past the first 100 yard marker. The water is comfortable, not exactly clear, benefitting from the torrential downpour we had the day before, and I can see about a body length ahead.
But I could not get comfortable in the swim for some inexplicable reason. The problem was that the sprint got my heart going and I just could not get it under control. My swim almost turns into a panicked event as I am having the craziest thought blast through my head. Rather than slow down, the fear of having someone catch me from behind propels me forward. I can't get my breath, my heart feels like it is going to explode and I am questioning why I am swimming in a lake in Texas at 710AM on an otherwise beautiful Sunday morning. My thoughts stray to the sanity of thinking that I could actually complete a 1.2 mile open water swim that is required in a Half IronMan event. Somewhere in that toxic thought process, I run up and over some poor, dog-paddling guy in a fire-engine red bathing cap, who started 6 minutes before me, and know that I nearly drown him. No, I did not stop to render assistance or apologize. Road kill in a triathlon.
My mind is actually racing like my heart, in no consistent pattern. I stray off course to the left in the last 100 yards but re-orient myself enough to find the steps out of the lake. There is no spring in my step as I reach out and one of the officials makes sure that I do not stumble up the green carpeted steps. As it turns out I am first of my group out of the water by 30 seconds and that I recorded the 6th fastest swim time of the entire +300 person event (7 min 9 seconds).
That was all lost on me as I basically stumbled to the stripping area where I have removed my cap and goggles, placed them in my right hand and the 'strippers' are peeling the wet suit off my body. My right hand catches in the arm of the suit and I remember the same thing happening when I was the stripper for the Gateway Triathlon 2 months ago. Time wasted. I am not thinking clearly and my heart is still racing out of control.
My training to date has been distance rather than speed so the sensation of having a 55-year old heart trying to force its' way out of my throat is disorienting. I make my way to the transition area and decide to sit down, slow down, collect my thoughts and maybe let my heart wind down a bit. Because, I ain't speeding up to catch up with my heart. Shoes on, forget the new high tech sweat band, helmet on and secure, gloves in hand, up I go, a quick sip of water and off I charge out of T1. After an eternal 2:52 minutes in T1 I am off.
I reach the timing pad and mount the bike only to realize that I am still holding onto my riding gloves and neither is actually on my hand. So there I am on the bike, the riding shoes already locked onto the pedals and I am trying to get my gloves on. Opps and one falls to the road. Rules are that all equipment must be picked up or you are disqualified. Around I go, stop, reach down, pick up my glove, put it on and finally, I am away. How much time lost? Maybe 30 seconds.
During my practice ride in the dark at 430AM I noticed a clicking sound on the front tire but forgot to address the issue when we arrived for registration. Yup, there it is as the signal device for the odometer clips the front spokes and mercifully falls down, away from the spokes and not off the bike.
My heart is still bouncing around like ball in a lottery machine and I decide to slow down until my heart finds a less chaotic rhythm to lead me through the rest of the race. At about the three mile mark I find a good comfort zone, pick up the pace to 21-22 mph from the 17-18 I was lumbering at for cardiac reasons. I more than hold my own as I begin to collect and pass younger riders. I found myself distracted and confused about what happened in the swim and not as focused on the present as I should have been. My ride finishes after 41:02 minutes, time on the bike is 31 min. averaging 19.1 mph, as it turns out I am still in first place for the Team 55 group, and I really don't feel too bad anymore. The side of my right calf is whispering something and my right quad is protesting but there is no strike on the horizon. My time in T2 goes pretty well and is one minute quicker than T1 even though the run in and out is much longer. Shoes off, running shoes on, don't sit down, quick drink, honorary Montreal Canadiens hat on, watch on and set, quick drink and off I go.
I exit T2 some 2:20 minutes ahead of the second place Team 55 participant. I have not seen anyone with 55-59 on their legs pass me through the bike ride so I am beginning to wonder. Well, wonder all you want because once the run started I am in survival mode. I run the first mile in just under 9 minutes, I have my breath and my heart seems to have rejoined its body. Per the Galloway running program (Thank you marathoners Tom & Margaret van Egmond) I am watching my sports watch, waiting for the 10 minute mark where I can walk for 1 minute. Not sure if I really need the walk but it serves as an oasis or mirage and something to keep going for. I make the mile 2 marker at 19 minutes, so my pace is off but I am shuffling forward.
With half mile to go I see Daniel waiting to jog in with me and I have to tell you I got a squirt of energy from him. As I turned towards the finish line, and with only 40 yards to go, I am passed by a 57-year old guy running barefooted. My mind is not processing quickly enough to mount a reply as there seems to be a debate. 'Maybe that 57 actually was 47 or 67'. 'Why would you break stride at this point of the race'. And finally, my heart said something like, 'Hey, big guy remember our talk after the swim!?" I pick up my pace and get to his shoulder but he is off and beats me by 1.8 seconds. Well, my final response was a silent but not very sportsman -like comment that you can guess. He and his support staff are jubilant! Seems to be kind of over-kill for having beaten just #242, that would be me.
The posted results suggest that he won our division but the award goes to some guy that was apparently 8 minutes ahead of us. I am relieved because this was likely my only chance to actually win one of these things and I would hate to have lost it by such a narrow margin. This morning the results are reposted and it would appear that I will have to live with the simple indignity of finishing 2nd by 1.8 seconds.
Something happened yesterday that really scared me. The little voices during the swim were haunting and have stripped a lot of my confidence. Granted it turned out to be a quality swim but, at such a high price. Now that I have done it once, beaten all of the kids in a swim and shown my patient bride that I can actually swim, I think that I am going to have to retrain myself to find a better pace and use the confidence in my swimming ability to provide comfort that I will finish this leg.
As a newly reformed male, I have to get the lingering traces of testosterone leached out of my aging, aching body so that I can participate in these events with the goal of completion not podiums and Olympic glory. I honestly believe that yesterdays scare will be a constant reminder to me.
So, on I go, looking to the horizon for that next stop on the Road to Kona.