Just back from a long (and often seemingly-lost) weekend in New Orleans. I don't go to NOLA for no special reason; nearly every time (like almost any trip away from home) has something to do with running or multisport. Nice way to go through life, in my humble opinion.
While I'd love to say the weekend was a complete & utter success it was not. I'm still dealing with a serious fear of open water swimming, something which has affected me since last year in Panama City. I had the strangest feeling of panic earlier in the week as we were discussing swim courses & initially attributed it to one-too-many cups of Starbucks. Unlike a twelve-step program, realizing you have a problem is probably not the hardest step.
A couple of things I learned this weekend which might even parallel life:
Bargaining does not work with every adversary. I went out to do the traditional Saturday morning run along Lakeshore with New Orleans' 5:20 club. At the 3.5-mile point, I backed off my 7:30-per-mile pace, looked out toward the calm (at that moment!) waters of Lake Ponchartrain & began to make peace with her. The next morning's conditions were (supposedly) as placid as the day before...but conditions became more challenging in the two hours between arriving at transition & the wave start. I remember someone saying a phrase some time back about running being eighty percent mental & the other half physical. Triathlon, however, is not running. It's one-hundred percent mental & the other half physical. If your head isn't all there it's not going to be a good day.
Always have an eighty-percent solution. Since the IM70.3 NOLA event has attracted many first-time triathletes, the race director left an opt-out option. A great idea, in my humble opinion, especially when nearly 30 persons were either taken from the water or bailed on the swim before the finish of the 1.2-mile leg. I'm not certain how many took the opt-out, but in hindsight, I might have felt worse about the day if I had. Getting in the water & getting my butt kicked was better than not getting in at all.
Attitude is everything. After the obligatory 30 seconds of oh, cr*p, not another day like Panama City...the race staff told me I could still do the opt out. Suh-weet! I hadn't ridden my Softride time trial bike since IM week in Panama City, & really wanted to know how much benefit my new (F.I.S.T.) set-up & new (Gray) aero helmet would provide on what I initially perceived as a wicked good bike course. I was half correct; the bike course definitely had its share of wickedness, two bridges to climb - one right after the other - within the first ten kilometers...this course is an out-and-back, so the same challenges in the first ten would be there for the last ten, when we were fatigued. At first, the wind on the course was relatively light & in our face, but began to increase in strength & shift in direction, leaving few places on the course where a racer would benefit from it. I noted after a slight sluggishness in the bike's handling after the 50-kilometer mark, just a few miles after the mid-point. As the ride progressed, the sluggishness increased, & I knew from looking down at the tire patch that a flat was in my near future. Finally, at 48 miles, I realized the road conditions of the next eight miles plus the mushy tire could possibly lead to a very bad day. So, I stopped to try & repair the leak. After attempting to refill the tire, I found the issue was, er, something deeper...a cracked valve stem extender, literally something I could not repair. Fortunately, the trooper protecting the course was able to call bike technical support...who didn't show for an hour & a half.
When you're in a situation like that you can either become Eeyore & bemoan your fate with a face long enough to eat corn out of a pop bottle, or you can channel Normann Stadler in Kona, circa 2005 ("another flat $&#*^% tire!"). But since I was feeling fairly good to be alive & not in an emergency department, I decided to laugh at my fate. Come on, how many guys run the risk of pulling what I would call a "double DNF" in one days' racing? Not many. Of course, if I had been more smart about the issue I would have pulled off the road at the overpass where there was shade, but I was thinking more along the lines of communication & not so much speed of response at the moment. If I had known it was going to take at least 90 minutes for tech to show, I probably would have ridden up to the overpass & taken advantage of the shade. So, silly me, I stood in the sun & nearly dehydrated myself. Tech, once they caught up with me, got me back on the chain gang again very quickly, with a couple of bottles of water to boot. My buddy Dixie came past about five minutes before tech did, so my goal was to catch him some time before the finish line.
Patience IS a virtue. The one thing I did not want to have on the run was a repeat of Augusta, where I hammered the first three miles & struggled the next ten. I knew if I was aggressive with my hydration & electrolytes during the bike & continued with it as far into the run as possible I might not have a bad day, or at least wouldn't have the kick me to the curb cramping I had from mile seven to the finish at Augusta. The plan was to run ten light poles, followed by walking one, plus I would walk as I took fluid at the aid stations on the course. Since there were stations every mile I did not wear my hydration belt, but took hits from my gel/electrolyte flask every second aid station.
I encountered Dixie at the only bridge on the run course, somewhere between the second or third mile, & passed him like he was tied to a tree. However, he was close enough behind throughout the run we saw each other on every switchback through City Park. Nothing like unadulterated fear a buddy is going to catch up with your butt to make you keep moving as quickly as possible. After the ninth mile there was just about nothing left in the tank, which seemed to be a good a time as any to engage in a brisk walk & see what strength I could recover. Amazingly, I was able to get back on the groove at mile ten, just before the exit of City Park...and just in time for the roughest patch of pavement on the entire run, Esplanade Avenue. I've run up & down Esplanade many times in the past ten years or so; knowing the best of the worst conditioned road I've ever raced upon was going to be a benefit. Again, it was the ten-to-one ratio, & things seemed to work fairly well until mile 13 when whatever reserves I might have had in store were depleted. Of course, by that time you have a new fuel source, namely loud music & cheering spectators. Most of them don't have a clue how bad you feel by that time, & I think they'd gladly give the functioning half of their liver to you if they could.
So, all you can do is suck it up & look like you're really STRONG when all you want to do is sit by the side of the road on the curb & drink two or three beers. Repeating as tolerated.
There's NOTHING like a finish line. But you want to look good for the photographers & the friends who finished hours before you did, so you tighten up the loose fasteners & set yourself up for a strong finishing kick which tells people: 'yeah, I did this, & if they asked me to do it tomorrow I probably would...as long as you're out here waiting for me again.'