Every year, I do the Mountain Man Olympic triathlon in Flagstaff. The memory of how painful it is always forgotten, only to be realized again when it is too late. The cool weather, tall pines and mountains enticed me. Fields of sunflowers lined the lake. This year, puffy cumulus cotton ball clouds mesmerized me, since they rarely appear in Phoenix, other than the monsoon.
Race morning always had an obscenely early start. The day had a particularly inauspicious incident at 3:30 a.m. when the toilet got clogged. And of course, I had to poop a second time. I felt bad leaving a poop filled toilet, but what could I do? This cheap hotel has a front desk manager that sleeps by his post. He would not have appreciated being woken up to be told about the toilet at an awful hour. The poor maid would have a sight when she got to the room. I was in a hurry anyway, and had to pack due to their ungenerous check out time of 11 a.m.
The morning was colder than usual for Flagstaff. I was used to eighty-eight degree mornings in the Phoenix hell hole. The car thermometer read forty-five at one point, but mostly fifty. This race was on the road, so racers have to find a spot to park off the pavement in soft dirt that wouldn’t require extraction by a tow truck. Luckily, I found a spot.
I struggled into my wetsuit and got in the sludgy brown Lake Mary. At least it was warm seventy-one degree dirt water. The air was colder, so I decided just to stay in it until my wave started. I swam to warm up and tried to avoid cutting my feet on the treacherous shore rocks.
The buoys were arranged differently from previous races. More of them were placed so I could see them, which was a novelty. The previous race owner only had a bare minimum of buoys that he spaced as far apart as possible. Distance was an approximate measurement, plus or minus a hundred yards. A swimmer needed binoculars to see the last turn buoy. The new owner had visible buoys and had an accurately measured distance.
I always dreaded this swim, since it was hard to breathe and swim at the same time at 7,000 feet altitude. The swim could be terrifying with the prospect of hyperventilating due to lack of oxygen. Strangely, this time didn’t feel as terrible as usual. Instead of fighting off panic the whole time, I just disliked it and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. I stopped less and didn’t feel as tired. The water was smooth with little wind. Being dazed when emerging, I couldn’t run up the ramp quickly, though. The time was two minutes faster than last year. Strangely, people were still in the lake. Could there really be worse swimmers than I?
I ran into an empty transition, then to the port-a-potty. How much can one pee, anyway? I started the bike still cold from the swim. My feet were numb for quite a while. My objective was to try to beat last year’s time, but I had no illusion of speed on the hilly course. Altitude will always win. The route went past the lake and to the hills. My heart rate monitor didn’t work because the watch strap had broken and couldn’t be replaced in time. I just tried to go hard or what felt as hard. Judging from the pain in my legs, the effort was sufficient. The hills didn’t seem too steep, but I didn’t go up them very fast. Lots of nice wildflowers along with the numerous sunflowers were on the side of the road. Occasionally, I would see some tiny blue ones. Oh look, pretty! Puffy clouds contrasted with the deep blue sky. Sometimes, a goldfinch would warble and I would try to answer back. Anything to distract from the discomfort.
I was thirsty most of the time. I tried to keep up with nutrition, despite not being very hungry. The sun was hot when climbing hills, but the shade felt cool.
On the way back, I wasn’t sure if last year’s time could be beaten. The hills were fun to descend. Two miles to go after ninety minutes of riding. Maybe? Final time was a little better than last year’s.
I negotiated the traffic of people who had already finished in transition and were drinking beer. Screw you all. At the start of the run, my legs felt dead. This point in the race was always awful. The road was fairly flat and seemed like it should go faster, but it didn’t.
At the bottom of the dreaded Hill, I notice that they had the magic elixir, Coke. Maybe not a good choice for a strenuous climb, but Coke can revive the dead. My gut was a little backed up and I had side stitches. The Hill was a nasty, steep 1.5 mile climb. I ran up the entire hill when walking was highly tempting. This involved a bargain with myself. Go this far and I can walk. But I never did because it was just more time to be miserable. Running up that hill hurt. At the top was a dirt trail to the turn around. It was flatter, but not easier.
Running down was fun, because it was halfway fast and I could see the poor saps still running up. All too soon the black hole of the last two miles awaited; the worst part of the race. Instead of being cranky and miserable, I had long ago learned to toss away my expectations and just try to survive. Still, I was tired and wanted to be done. Usually mile four of a 10k is difficult, but this race was especially so. My heart rate felt like 160's. Total time was thirty seconds better than last year. A small victory.
When I finished, they were giving out awards already. Not being very hungry, I waited around, since my age group is so small that I often place. When they finally got to my age bracket, they said they didn’t have any finishers, so I had to point out that error. The guy corrected and gave my first place because no one else was in my age group. This seemed to happen often in races. The old and slow get forgotten. At least he cared and was a little embarrassed.
Total overall time was 3:50:18. My first reaction was meh, but it was four minutes better than last year.
I went to get a beer and a hot dog, but the hot dogs had all been eaten. Curse you fast people! Quit eating all the food! Luckily, my tri club people had food. The light beer, which was still available, had a good flavor. I needed something more than cookies and fruit after a brutal race.
It was hot when I slogged back to the car. This is the fourth leg of triathlon–dragging all my crap back to the car. The bike, bike helmet, a heavy bag with a wetsuit, and bike shoes all have to be moved from transition to my car a quarter mile away. I always fantasize about having to sherpa to help, preferably a cute one, but no one ever materializes.
|The prize when no one else shows up|
your age group
This race doesn’t get any easier as I get older. I used to do it faster, but those days are gone. More effort yields the same or less speed. Puffy clouds and sunflowers don’t make my legs hurt any less. But who doesn’t need strenuous activity with less oxygen?
Pain? What pain?