Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My First Triathlon...

Waking up at 4:30, toasting up a bagel with peanut butter, and drinking a wonderfully chilled Honest Tea put a great start to what turned out to be the perfect weathered day for a race. We packed up our things and hit the road for the two-hour trip to Rocky Gap State Park, just west of Cumberland, Maryland.

And it totally was the perfect day. High 70's, moving to low 80's, the blue waters of the lake were in the mid 80's, the sky was scattered sparsely with clouds, and a light breeze kept things just right. I signed in, got marked (here's the first sign that something was “off” that day) and went to select my spot at the transition area.

Let's take you back a week real quick.

I get a great bike from a client of mine, not a $4000 ride, but a solid mountain bike that I know can hold me and take a beating as well. I know this because my client is a bit bigger than me, and potentially almost as crazy. I also know this because I brought it to a very trustworthy source of bike experts to get it tuned up. They said it’ll be just fine. They said this thing has barely been used, and it'll run great after things get tightened. We proceeded to have a three-minute conversation about replacing the chain, just to be safe. Remember that one.

Flash back to race day.

The lady asks me what I'm racing and I say, "solo triathlon." She asks what age group I’m in and I say, "25 to 29." She asks which leg I'm racing and I stare at her for a minute and say, "all of them, I'm doing the triathlon." She writes a 25 on my leg and turns to the next guy. I say, "what about my arm?" She tells me only people swimming get that. I say, "I am swimming, I'm doing all three events." She asks what age group. Oh. My. God.

That finally gets cleared up after a couple more questions (she then proceeds to mess up my friends numbers too) and the race is about to start. I test the water and it feels pretty good. The final instructions are given and the starting horn sounds. We run about 100 yards down the sand and splash into the lake. It's a "U" shape we swim in, and I just find a nice easy pace and stick to it. That was the plan all along – just don't get overwhelmed by the swim, then tear it up at the bike and run. We looped once, ran across the sand again and repeated. This time around, I felt even better, but still just took my time and ran out towards the transition 33 minutes into the race, not too bad.

I threw my gear on, trail shoes, tri top, sunglasses, helmet, gloves, and camelback, and I was off. Here was where it got real fun. I tore it up fast. Within one mile I had already passed some 30 bikers and I wasn't about to slow up, no matter what. Biking is where I turn it up a bit. My legs are strong and, generally, I have no fear of crashing or wiping out, I just go all out. We dipped into the trails and I kept passing people, feeling more and more confident with each turn, each rock, each sharp slope.

And then it happened. I took over a small group and put the pedal down to break away. I hit a small turn, a small rock and my back tire popped up. When it hit the ground my feet just started spinning, no pressure on them at all. As I careened into the woods and dirt I just thought, "crap, my chain popped off." Well, whatever, I'd hop off, hook it back on and get back at it. But when I jumped up and looked down I realized there was no chain to be seen. What the...

Now this was a physical impossibility unless the thing straight up broke, and I had never heard of that sort of thing happening. I went to go get the thing off the trail, without worrying about how it fell through the derailer, and hook it back on so I could go pass all these people again. But, of course, go figure, the one thing I never in a million years could imagine happening was staring me in the face. The chain was broken, right in half. Nothing I could do about it at all. I had tools, but not for that sort of thing; I had extra equipment, but who the hell carries a new chain around? And remember, this thing was one week old!! Seriously?!

So I walked back through the woods. Each step found me more and more pissed off, but what could I do? About 1/4 mile from the start I ran into a cop who was directing traffic. He asked what happened and offered to help. While it was against the rules, I figured at this point there was no way I would place anyway, so I might as well get it fixed and do whatever I could, so I did.

All patched up, I took off back into the woods, feeling a great deal better about myself and even better when I started screaming past people again. But! Oh dear god...

Same turn, same spot. Chain breaks again.

Race over.

Pretty depressed and pissed, I head back through the woods and back to the start where I laid out in the sun and waited for my friend. Man did that just take the wind out of my sails.

In retrospect, a lot worse could have happened, for example injuries and what not. And while it was really frustrating, and I had a rough evening dealing with the fact that all my training and money went to about 45 minutes of all-out effort and then walking through the woods with a broken bike, in all my years of playing competitive sports I have really had some great luck. So, I'll be back out there soon enough, that's for certain. But I’ll tell you what, being prepared is something everyone should be when going to compete in anything. You really never know when the impossible might actually stop you. I guess another way to look at it is, when you do a ton of things, some crazy stuff is bound to happen, and you should just enjoy it for the experience.

Never Stop, GET FIT.

Josh Courage

1 comment:

JimBathurst said...

Some things are just a sign. There was probably a bear around the next corner. In that case, bring an extra chain and a shotgun next race. That's legal, right?

Seriously, I know you've got plenty more tri's in the future. Get it done.