Last year for the Batavia Triathlon/Duathlon it was my honor to work the course as a volunteer. Our club Experience Triathlon hosts the race and it takes multiple dozens of workers to make the race go forward. From course marshalls to water stations, beer tent cart drivers to body markers, the logistics of a triathlon are numerous.
If you’ve not yet worked at a race, you should. It will make you grateful for the opportunity to race when you do so again. Along with the gratifying fact of real-life contribution to society, there is the pleasuresome task of being witness to the efforts of others. From the fastest athletes to those slugging through their miles, there are good reasons to cheer.
Last year there was a dark and frustrating reason I stood by the wayside rather than competing. My Achilles tendon was so sore it was difficult to run more than three miles at a time. I could still bike quite well, so that was not a problem. I was certainly grateful for that. Perhaps a little too grateful in some ways. With my head down thinking about the cover of my pending new book last year, I piled into a tree that had fallen across the trail during a late night storm. The resulting injuries, especially scar tissue in my lower back from the impact, are still being addressed to this day.
But this year has been different in terms of running. Last fall I stumbled into a pair of Saucony Triumph running shoes in a quirk of obnoxious fate on my part, and it changed everything. That and a tweaked pair of orthotics put me on the road to Achilles recovery. Plus some stretching, strength, yoga and now speed work.
All the counterintuitive information in the world cannot always explain why things turn for the better with running injuries. You can try everything, do everything and things don’t always get better. Hamstring ache for months. Calves tweak. Knees twinge. Hips knot.
So to emerge in 2015 after a winter of indoor track running and be able to add some humble mileage and actually do the speedwork necessary to build fitness is a gift.
Toeing the line
That’s why standing on the starting line of this year’s Batavia Duathlon felt good. Of course we stood on the starting line in vain the first time around at 6:30. A massive storm front had gathered and was heading east. The race director postponed the start for half an hour waiting to see if the storm would somehow dissipate. It did not arrive. Then we waited another fifteen minutes and it was judged to be safe to embark. Then the start happened so fast I almost missed it. So there wasn’t much time to warm up. The countdown came and off we went…
We did so into a rising wind that channeled up the narrow bike path on which the Duathlon started. The green tunnel of trees above us waved and shook in the wind. It began to rain.
All of my pace rehearsal on the track kept me sane at the start. The first mile passed at 6:45, and the second at perhaps 7:00. Right on target for a 13:45 two mile.
The transition was jumbled but not so ugly as usual. The first bike shoe refused to go on as the rain picked up. Then came the clickety clack walk to the bike mount zone and I was off with a host of others.
Up and off we go
The bike course starts with a steepish 75-meter climb out of the river basin. Then it weaves through Batavia to grab the flat stretch of McKee Street that is the start of so many of my own training rides. So I fell into a quick cadence into a now-driving rainstorm and was joined by a shifting mix of expert and struggling cyclists threatening to disappear into a grey world of rain and wind that lay ahead.
It was really, really raining by then. I knew the rain was coming however as the forecast had predicted a 100% chance of storms. Yet something in me has long enjoyed races like these. My favorite running victory was on a cloudy wet fall morning at the Frank Lloyd Wright 10k. Moments like that stick with you.
Plus one gets caught in the rain sooner or later if you do any serious cycling at all. You learn that the pace doesn’t slack all that much just because there is water on the street. It’s best to let the Inner Kid emerge and laugh at the sight of rooster tails flying off the front wheel.
So I put my head down and got into the drops and just rode. On Wednesday I’d practiced the course with Sue guiding me through it and knew the roads so well by locality that my enthusiasm was high. A few weeks ago in Galena my biking had been average and I was determined to improve on that.
Still, you had to be very smart on the corners. That whole ‘rear-wheel-sliding’ thing is so not fun. So you did not dare bank the turns or take them hard in the pouring rain. There were rivers of rain in the street grooves, and even the flash of lightning. It’s one of the tarsnakes of competition that the worst conditions can be the most memorable and fun.
No time for questions
Which made one vacuously question the wisdom of starting the race at all. For me, absorbed as I was in childlike joy, the issue was not large in my mind. As a competitor you have to tune out distractions and I felt enormously dialed in with the spinning legs and all.
A couple moments could have improved yet my bike segment wound up being a 19.7 mph effort for 15 miles. That’s a good sign for me. The training is taking hold. As we eased up to ride back down the hill to T2, I wasn’t thinking about safety or wisdom any longer, but how my legs would feel coming off the bike.
Admittedly I’d spun home the last mile but kept the pace at 20mph with the wind from behind. My strategy was to let the blood work out of my muscles and make up any lost seconds against riders ahead of my on the run. Of this I was fairly confident given recent track work and the realization that if you can run between 6:30 and 7:30 in a duathlon or triathlon, you pretty much rule.
Ooops and whoops
Of course it helps to actually start off in the right direction. I did not. My ET friends laughed and turned me around when I headed out the bike mount side of transition. “Turn around, you’re going the wrong way!” they laughed. My T2 time wound up being in the 2:00 range as a result.
Okay. I’m still a rookie at this. But damn I was happy that I could run. Last year in the first duathlon my legs were beyond jelly. This time around and following the somewhat struggling run at Galena, my legs actually responded and I quickly locked into 7:30 pace and started passing runners.
There were still a few that passed me. With a bit more time training that’s going to reduce as well. My serious goal is to run 6:30s, not 7:30s by the time summer winds up. It is a very realistic goal. To some degree I was conservative in my pacing.
Which made the chortling cheer of one of my ET teammates even funnier in the opening mind. “Pick it up, Chris,” Daryl Tyndorff teased. “There’s a Republican chasing you!”
Okay, so I wear my politics on my sleeve along with my body marking. That comment made me laugh for then next twenty strides or so. I yelled back, “I hear ya!” but the trees and the wind buried the words.
Running through puddles has always been fun. There were plenty of opportunities to do so over the next four miles, which I covered in 30:27. Exactly 7:26 per mile. I felt strong. My Achilles did not hurt for one moment. I was gratefully running and excited to be doing so. It was fun. Rain and all. It was a blast. My final time was 1:32:44. Good enough for 8th overall and fast enough to place in the top four even at the 35-39 age group.
There were a few moments when I felt a side stitch coming on. It happened right after gulping some water at an aid station. Which raises the question: Was it drinking that caused the stitch, or a lack of hydration during the bike that led to the feeling. At any rate, that was the reason I kept the pace where it was. I opted for consistency over blowing up with a potentially bad side stitch.
It was fun. Rain and all. It was a blast. My final time was 1:32:44. Good enough for 8th overall and fast enough to place in the top four even at the 35-39 age group.
During the awards ceremony I received both my certificate and a kiss of congratulations from my girlfriend Sue, who was doing triple duty after setting up the swim the night before, getting up at 3:30 to help with race morning logistics and then drove out on the course to be a marshall in the wind and rain and cold. She was soaked, exhausted and freezing by the time the race was done. She went home for a shower and food before coming back to hand out awards.
She did all that so others can have fun. She knows the value of race workers because her own Bling rack is covered with finisher medals and awards. On a day when it was questionable whether the race should have taken off at all, she was one of many still working to make it happen.
Kisses all around
Which is perhaps why our ebullient friend Anthony Cesaraetti also planted a huge kiss on Sue’s lips while picking up his age group award. Then came yet another kiss from the talented Maxine Franck-Palmer, another age group winner whose husband Jeff was up at Duathlon Nationals qualifying for Worlds in St. Paul, Minnesota.
I was truly sorry to have missed all this kissing whilst off getting my bike from transition. Especially that girl-on-girl moment. I mean, when else in the world do you have opportunities to see something like that going on with your girlfriend?
Hee hee. All in good fun. The whole day was raining surprises, it turned out. And I remain thankful to be part of it all. Gratitude does indeed goes a long way.