Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cactus Man Olympic Race Report

Cactus Man Olympic Triathlon was invented by Four Peaks with six weeks notice because all of usual race organizations didn’t feel like putting on any events this spring at Tempe Town Lake. One in particular, that shall remain nameless, gave lame excuses as to why the plug was pulled, but I suspect the issue was money.  The spring triathlon season is short in the desert. Too soon and the water is too cold. Too late, and the sun fries the participants. This only leaves April and May.

Race morning, I awoke after a bad night of sleep and questioned why I was doing this while driving to Tempe at O’ Dark Thirty. I felt less than terrible, though. I will survive.

Two weeks previously, I had broken my toe. A rock got in the way of my foot while I waded into a lake to swim. I realized something was wrong when I tried running and it hurt. A lot. The top of my middle toe was an angry looking purple. But it wasn’t a bad break and the pain went away. I could still swim, bike and run and no treatment was required. The toe only ached a little. The injury played with my mind, though. I would think oh my god, my toe’s broken! Then I would forget about it.

We lined up at the swim start to get into the water. A ramp led into the lake. What was just beyond the ramp was a mystery because the water was so murky. I gingerly walked down the ramp. I feared stubbing my toe again. Rocks were lurking in the soup, so I stepped cautiously and swam to the start line. My toe had survived.

The swim went better than expected, which shocked me. Most of the time it’s an ordeal that ranges from uncomfortable to terrifying. I get over run by faster swimmers who don’t care if I am in their way. I run out of energy and it takes me everything to finish. Most of the time, I am just miserable in the water and hate every minute of it. I hoped to be a little less mediocre this time and was actually a little faster. I didn’t stop much, except for trying to sight buoys while blinded by the sun. I got off route because I couldn’t see them and had to veer left to get back on course. It would have helped to have kayakers for guidance.  I felt fairly comfortable and didn’t panic. The water temperature was 68 degrees and the surface was pretty calm. The lack of swimmers helped. My goal was to not expend excess energy thrashing around in panic while sighting. It seemed to help.

I got out of the water without harm to my toe and ran through transition. I put my bike stuff on in a daze and rode off. The bike ride was tedious, but relatively uncrowded with cyclists. Every race in Tempe has about the same route and it gets old. Up Rio Salado to Priest, down the freeway ramp; blah, blah, blah. The trouble with an olympic distance was that this boring route is done twice. I amused myself by admiring a flock of white Egrets in the Salt River bed, which was visible from a bridge. I also picked off slower riders. My toe was behaving itself.

I kept passing a guy wearing a tee shirt, running shoes and running shorts, who would then pass me again. Most experienced triathletes wouldn’t be caught dead riding the bike in running shoes. This may sound elitist, but running shoes are difficult to pedal in. The mushy soles lose energy. Bike shoes soles are stiff. It also violated the mandatory “must look cool on the bike” code. He was obviously a newbie and would have probably have been faster with better equipment. I passed him one last time and finally dropped him. At least I beat someone. Total time was about what I was aiming for. My plan was to ride conservatively the first lap, harder on the second. They ended up being even.

The weather remained fairly cool by the time I hit the run. The lake banks usually create a heat bowl and the sun showed a welcome modicum of mercy. I didn’t have high expectations of a great time, but I got gradually faster every mile. The discomfort was manageable. At minimum, that is all I can hope for–not to slow down. A run where I don’t suffer too much was good. The course was empty on the second lap, since the rest of world had finished already. At least I wasn’t last. And my toe survived unscathed.

Total time was 3:38. I was third in my age group, but the person ahead of me had a 31 minute split for a 10k, which I doubted was a valid run. This was bullshit. Even the overall winners didn’t have that fast a run split. Did she cheat? Did she not do the second lap and not tell anyone? Was it an innocent mistake? A timing issue? Oddly, though, she got her medal at age group awards.

I debated questioning it. Still, it didn’t seem right that the overall winners’ run splits ranked behind hers. When I emailed the race director and pointed out that the second place person in the 60-64 age group probably didn’t have a 31 minute 10k, he deleted her immediately. I was now second.

Age group placing is mostly meaningless for me, since the number of people in my age group can be sparse. To be second sounds good, but in some races, it is the prize for showing up. Still, being there counts.

I don’t do these races to for time compared to everyone else, anyway, because being faster than most of the field is impossible. I would have quit a long time ago if I hadn’t accepted that. Even exceeding my previous times would be a rare event at this point. I can’t even beat myself anymore.

But at my age, I can still punish myself, get out of breath and train endless hours just to be able to pass Gym Shoe Guy on the bike. As long as the toe bones stay intact.

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