While setting up transition for the Springfield Olympic distance triathlon this past Saturday, I was greeted by a tall guy parking his bike on the same rail. It was Denny Koonce, a reader of this blog and a solid triathlete. We exchanged hellos and got about our business in the warm summer sun.
Denny took second in the 60-64 age group, so this is a congratulations to him for a nice effort in conditions that grew kind of stifling toward the end. That’s a nice swim time on his part, and he rode nearly 19 mph for the 26 mile out-and-back course, much of it on new chip seal roads. The surface was steady but rough, with a slight breeze into our faces the whole way out. He finished off the day with a good run and did his hometown of Benton, Missouri proud.
I can’t quite say the same thing, mostly because I’m not from Benton, Missouri. But there’s also the part about not swimming, biking or running as well as Denny.
My swim took a massive amount of time. I’m still downloading the course map because poor old Garmin got struck by Ransomware and only now are the results spinning around inside my phone.
But I know from the race results that it took me 38 minutes to go from Point A out to the northern buoy, back under the bridge and out to Point B and in for the Swim out.
There could be a wide number of reasons why that swim was so slow. 1) I’m a slow swimmer. 2) I swam much farther due to wandering along the way. 3) I swam the uphill part of the course.
But I just downloaded the swim tracking with the map and much to my credit, I swam straight as hell. So the fact of the matter is that my lack of swim training (probably four times in the last three months) and sloppy stroke probably cost me. Seeing that I swam straight is actually encouraging to me. The night before the race, I asked Sue what might help my sighting technique and she shared that I should look during the left arm rotation since I breathe on my right. It worked. I felt smooth. And frankly, this was my first competition one-mile swim. So my goal was getting through it efficiently and not blowing up. I’m excited because I know I can do better.
But still, I was stunned to read that time of 37+ minutes on my watch when I climbed out of the water. I thought I was doing pretty well with a time of 15:13 around the north buoy.
The funny part about that part of the experience is that I didn’t hit the Lap marker properly on my watch coming out of the swim. So the Triathlon splits never kicked in and my race showed up as one long swim. Which was kind of apropos, it turns out.
Because as it turned out, the day did feel like one long swim. Heading out on the bike my legs were a bit soggy feeling. I don’t know why. I don’t kick much in freestyle.
But the instinct to ride in a higher gear than I should proved fatal. I rode out into the wind mashing away. As I came back the wind was favorable and I averaged 20 mph. But when I got off the bike I could not move. My butt muscles were completely locked up. It really hurt. Like, really.
I’ve had forms of that cramping happen in Sprint triathlons too. Clearly I’m doing something wrong in my cycling form during races that causes my upper hamstrings and gluteus maximus to clinch unto madness. So I stood there at T2 thinking about what to do. Was it even worth continuing?
The sweat was pouring off my head and I took off the sweat cap and bumped my eye in the process. The contact lens shoved up into my eye and I spent a minute trying to push it below the iris so I could slide it back into place. Then the lens popped out into my hand.
All I had to put it back in was the water in the hydration belt my wife suggested I wear for the run. Gingerly, I poured some fluid out and filled the contact lens. It stung horribly when I put it back in my eye. That’s when I remembered that I’d put some electrolyte powder in each of the bottles. Ouch.
Finally I trundled out of T2. Tossing the belt aside, I decided to use just water out on the run course. But running wasn’t possible at first. So I stood at the eastern edge of the bridge for a minute or two, contemplating the situation.
I had grabbed a cold bottle of water to start the run and stood there drinking it down. So I started walking to see how the butt muscles would feel. Not good. It really hurt. As in, “Can’t really run at all” hurt.
It felt like a giant wasp had bitten me in both ass cheeks. It think I found a model of the wasp in a display about pollinators at a rest stop on the way home. Given the size of this thing, it seems obvious that was what bit me. I’m sure of it now.
I’ve ridden plenty of times this year at an even faster pace for longer than the 26 mile segment of an Olympic Tri. Most recently I did a 40K time trial and average 19.5 mph. So there’s no reason why my butt muscles should lock up during a race except for making bad choices in pedal stroke and gearing. We all make dumb mistakes in this sport at times, but this is a repeated issue. Time to make better decisions.
Despite the ass-bitten state of my condition, I decided to do the run because I’d come all that way and there wasn’t likely going to be another chance to do a race this year. It was humbling to be moving so slow, but I’ve experienced so many of these moments in life they no longer daunt me. One foot in front of the other. That’s the way to go.
It took two full miles of shuffling to get feeling back in my ass cheeks. Then I started to run a bit better. By the last three miles I’d dropped down toward nine minutes a mile and was passing people. The butt still hurt, but at least I could move.
My watch still showed a swimmer icon. It was giving me some sort of readout that fluttered around the 3:00 mark. So I used that as a demarcation to sense my general pace and dropped it down to 2:40. Then I kept it there until the last half mile when the course opened up into bright sunshine and the heat whacked me like a thick stick.
I know my body well enough to realize it was time to back off a bit. So I rolled on in the last quarter mile at a sensible pace because I knew there was no chance of placing in my age group by that point.
Despite all that back and forth, I still had fun doing the race. That might seem weird to say, but frankly, my only goal was finishing the first time out at the Olympic distance. Last year was a disaster for me with races cancelled due to weather and my own health issues, including an infected tooth that nearly killed me. Literally.
Then 2020 rolled around and the Coronavirus pandemic is crushing the sport of triathlon.
This race was considered dicey by many within the sport. The race director plowed ahead despite strong skepticism from the racing community as well as community, state and national officials.
His pre-race talk was all about being grateful for the opportunity to race and urging us to take responsibility for keeping the course clear of litter. We all social-distanced on every front, wearing masks when we were close to others through registration and meals and the like. It was a successful day by many estimations.
There were no crowds around the finish line. It all had a hometown feel as people sat far apart and clapped and cheered as competitors came across the finish line. Our friend and dog mama Karah Osterberg took second overall among women behind a pro racer.
My wife rocked her Half Ironman as well. She missed out on racing at Muncie due to Covid cancellations. So this race was perhaps her only opportunity to use her considerable fitness this year. She won her age group, was 12th overall among women and was only fifteen minutes off her best time in conditions that were hot and muggy overall. That’s a great performance, if you ask me.
It’s hard to tell what else will happen with the sport of triathlon this year or next. One thing seems clear: there is a call for more independence and personal responsibility before, during and after an event. Athletes are being asked to carry their own nutrition and water. With less available volunteers, that’s the direction the sport is headed.
But we can tell you that even with those guidelines in place, this race was a nice experience. Everyone kept their distance, you might say.