Sunday, June 14, 2009

I didn't succeed, but I'll tri, tri again

I felt like I was prepared for almost everything heading into my first triathlon -- Sunday morning's Tri Latta race for Novices.

Granted, I'd put in the bare minimum on the bike (one 17ish-mile ride per week) and in the pool (one 1,000ish-meter swim per week)... but as a somewhat serious runner (25-30 miles per week), I was sure I possessed the base of training to get me through the sprint tri in about 1 hour and 45 minutes or so.

Turns out that the one thing I didn't prepare for would be my undoing.

The morning started out great. Though I got to bed later than I had intended to, I slept soundly (which was a surprise), and I literally woke up about 15 seconds before my alarm was set to go off (at 4:20 a.m.).

An hour later, I was arriving at Latta along with the other 500 participants. An hour after that, I was moseying down to the swim start corral. And at 6:30 a.m., with 4,000 mosquitos buzzing around us and a watersnake slithering along the shore within a few feet of competitors, I was off with the first wave of swimmers.

The 750-meter swim went as well as could be expected, given that I knew going in that it would be my weakest leg. I felt mostly strong; the hardest part (as anyone who's been on open water knows) was simply making sure I was headed in the right direction and not swimming in circles.

Swim-to-bike transition seemed fast for me -- I have pedals with cages and not bike shoes with clipless pedals, so I was headed up and out of the chute with my Trek 1000 wearing my running shoes. And through the first half of the 17-mile bike course, I was cruising along nicely. Got left in the dust by several guys on $2,500 bikes, but did my share of passing as well.

Then, about nine and a half miles in, as I was coming out of Huntersville Business Park, something didn't feel right.

It seemed like I'd lost some shock absorption on the back end. My first thought was, do I have a flat? I tried to look but at the same time was attempting to keep my speed up; turns out it's harder to see your back tire while moving at 20 miles per hour than you might think. I just couldn't tell.

You know when your car starts shimmying or making a funny noise, but the vehicle still seems to be driving fine, so you just ignore it? This was kind of like that. I kept hoping the tire was still fine, almost believing the tire was still fine. Because, while the good news was that I had all the tools and supplies to change a tire, the bad news was that I had no idea how to actually do it.

I kept pedaling along for about another couple miles, but instead of the ride smoothing out, it was getting even bumpier. So I pulled off the shoulder and took a look.

There's a pivotal scene in "A Christmas Story" when Ralphie loses control of the lugnuts as his dad is changing a tire on the side of a busy, snowy highway, and utters "Oh fudge" -- but what he's actually saying is much more offensive. So when I say I said "Oh fudge" upon seeing the flat... well, you should know what I really said.

I took one more stab at riding another mile or so, but less than five miles short of the bike finish, I was starting to slide around a lot and was convinced I was wrecking my rim. So when I came upon a volunteer at Mount Holly-Huntersville and Beatties Ford roads, I asked him to call for assistance. I have no idea how long it took for the "sag wagon" to come along, but it didn't come quickly. Each of the dozens of bikers who passed as I stood on the side of the road, it was like a knife in the heart.

Nice kid in a truck finally arrived and ferried me back to the park entrance, but since the access road was closed for the race, I had to run my bike the final two miles back to the transition area. And, having accepted the ride, my race was officially over. I never even set foot on the 5K run course.

I wasn't the only one who had issues Sunday. My friend Holly, who did the MAP Triathlon earlier in the spring and the bike and run legs of the Over the Mountain tri a few weeks ago, took a wrong turn and ended up riding eight extra miles on the bike. Another friend, Melanie, would have scored a top-four women's finish... but was assessed an unusual two-minute "positioning" penalty for crossing the double-yellow line while making a sharp turn and finished eighth. Medals go to the top five.

So anyway, that's how my first triathlon went. It's hard to even explain the crushing disappointment.

But two things got me through: One was the support of strangers, who coaxed me along as I jogged my bike along Sample Road with cheers of "Good job, man" and "That's the way to bring it in!"... they had no idea what my circumstances were, they just knew I was someone whose race hadn't gone as planned.

The other thing that got me through, of course, was the support of several friends and family members -- who were worried that something much worse had happened when they didn't see me come back in a timely fashion, who gave hugs, and who reminded me that there'll be other races on other days.

And there will be, there will be. I just signed up for the Lake Norman tri in August... which gives me a little more than two months to learn how to change a tire.


Anonymous said...

Fixing flats seems to be the Achilles heel of every novice triathlete. Head up, better luck next time!

Jennifer said...

My favorite thing about running is that there's always a "next time." Your blog is wonderful. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Laura said...

I saw you running your bike in. My thought was - wow, that guy is toughing it out and really wants to finish! Didn't know you got a ride from the sag wagon. Note to self...learn how to fix a flat on a Tuesday afternoon - when you're NOT in a race! (I should do the same) Good luck at Lake Norman - I'll see you there. Love the blog, by the way...keep 'em coming!

Anonymous said...

hey - whatever the outcome - YOU TRIED IT. And now you'll be better prepared next time. Great job!

Anonymous said...

You were 4 miles from the bike finish but took a ride and then still had to run 2 miles. Are you kicking yourself for not running all 4 miles? You could have gone on to the run and finished the tri. Don't take assistance next time for a flat, not that close to the end anyway. Running the 17 mile bike route though before the 5k would have been too much. Death before DNF! Good luck in August!

Anonymous said...

Also put a wet knap (one of those little tissues to clean your hands) in your tool pack because when the rear tire goes, you usually end up with some grease from the chain on your hands, and you can never get it all off by wiping it in the grass. Then you end up with grease on the handle bar tape. Also, keep an eye on the road when riding...most flats caused by running over something like glass, rocks or hitting a small hole. Good luck on your next race!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great effort and just wasn't your day. Your prep just went up a notch for August - best of luck. I enjoy following your blog! Thanks.

Theoden Janes said...

This was a great learning experience -- and not just because I now realize the importance of knowing how to change a flat.

As a first-timer, I had one view of a triathlon: You swim the swim, you bike the bike, you run the run. As you may have heard, I took the sag wagon, but the ride was only 1.65 miles; I then had to run my bike two miles down Sample Road back to the transition area, since it was closed to traffic for the race. If this happens in future races, and I know there are only 3.65 miles to go, I'll just run my bike the whole way so I can complete the triathlon.

I learn something new EVERY time I race. Every time.

By the way, I got an ironic (and inspiring) e-mail from a reader late Sunday. Here's an excerpt:

"Sorry to hear about your disappointing turn of events. Something similar happened to one of my friends at Saturday's session at Latta. A small rock hit his bike (a new fancy tri bike, not like the Trek 1000s we have!!!) with about six miles to go in the ride. Tire was flat, he didn't have tube on him. He ran the bike in [with his shoes still clipped to the bike]. Luckily, all of his past marathon training paid off. He was awarded a tire tube at the ceremony yesterday. Took his bike to [a shop] in Mooresville immediately afterward for instructions on changing tire, and a new tire changing kit. Today he did the run, in a relay, with some nice blisters."

Jason said...

Sorry about the outcome yesterday. Seems like it's always the little things that get in the way. But I'm sure you learned a lot getting out there and busting it while I was still in bed! I'm sure you'll master it @ Lake Norman. Great blog!