Early in the year, I had an interesting conversation with a man I didn’t know. He told me that he no longer raced triathlon, because he’s no longer as good as he used to be; that the fun of the sport had essentially been lost. I found out later, that this man was none other than Peter Reid, multiple Ironman World Champion. What struck me most was, although he is a world-class athlete, our conversation was humble and, for lack of a better word, normal.
But what of this, getting to a point in the sport where it is no longer interesting? This concern framed much of my season. I’ve gone through many interests and obsessions over the years. I was into rock climbing a few years after high school. I took up yoga for some time. My interest faded in both.
It has been a challenging year on many fronts, full of all kinds of issues and drama. And unfounded fears. I had initially planned on Kelowna being my season-ender. Kelowna was my A-race. An Olympic-distance course shared with the ITU elite, the likes of Paula Findlay and Simon Whitfield. But there was something missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until I expressed my concerns among a few friends, about losing interest in the sport. What if I’m not good enough? What if I reach my limits, and never see improvement? In a moment of genius, one of my friends suggested that the game ends, once it is no longer fun. I signed up for Cultus Lake, thinking, this is going to be fun. I even joked about racing with handlebar streamers, spokey dokes and a hockey card taped to my chainstay. I was going to have some serious fun!
I never had dreams about rock climbing or yoga. But about a week before Cultus, I had yet another triathlon-related dream. I’m sure it was full of metaphor. The message: The race is not over. The race is not over. It is so not over. So, of course, I looked up last year’s results online. I realized that it was well within my reach to push harder than ever before, and give more than ever before. And it was well within my reach to get a 3rd place medal in my age group. I can do this.
So I decided to take it seriously. Still have fun, still enjoy it. But let’s take it seriously.
The race is not over. This athlete isn’t tired. Not yet.
Swim: 15:20 (2:03/100m; 10th overall)
My swim is usually pretty consistent during wetsuit-legal races at 1:55/100m, so this split is a little slower than I thought it would be, but I’m by no means disappointed. At the start, I found myself weaving through a crush of swimmers, and my ankle-grabbing training with Kyndra and the rest of the Canwi gang came in handy here: I got kicked a few times. I got kicked square in the chin by a guy wearing a yellow swim cap. He elbowed me in the face later, too. Yes, it’s all about wrestling in rubber suits. I had my trepidations a year ago. Now, I almost enjoy the frenzied mass swim start. We’ll see if I say the same thing at IMC next summer. But for now, it’s a small race, with a couple hundred participants.
The first turn came up faster than I expected. Before I knew it, I was swimming in clear water, finding a pair of feet to draft off for a while, then pushing ahead to the next pair of feet. I don’t recall thinking about much of anything on the swim, but I tried to remember that I have legs, and that I can use them to help propel myself forward.
Coming around the second turn, I found myself neck-and-neck with another swimmer. He tried to pull away, and I pushed a bit more. There were also two swimmers behind us, drafting off our feet. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jeremy (who finished 3rd overall) was one of them. His remark: We were drafting behind two guys. One was kicking up a storm and the other wasn’t moving his feet at all.
I was tenth out of the water. And I don’t know any of these people were at this point, because as far as I can remember, I was the only one around. I see from the results that I was definitely not the only one around, but it seemed like it.
Transition 1: 1:47 (3rd overall T1 split)
Wetsuit off. Sunglasses. Helmet. Chin strap. Bike. Go. I lost my goggles somewhere in T1. They were decent goggles, but I’ll just have to get a new pair.
Bike: 34:29 (34.8km/h; 1st overall bike split)
I was the sixth athlete to get out onto the bike course My previous race in Kelowna had a much larger pack, so I passed a lot more people on the bike. I had no idea how many people were ahead of me. I passed three competitors fairly early on the bike course, and didn’t see anyone else for at least ten minutes. It was very strange, being completely alone on the bike course. I looked back, and there was nobody chasing me. There was nobody ahead of me.
I wasn’t as diligent about hydration as I should have been, mostly because I was running a single bottle aft, with nothing between my aerobars, and nothing in the frame. I think I took three or four sips, but really: it’s a sprint, and it wasn’t all that hot yet on the bike course. I think in the future I’d like to have something between my aerobars.
Not a lot else going through my mind at this point. I was comfortably spinning about 94rpm, keeping it nice and easy. Focussing on an even pedal stroke. 10k to the turnaround. It didn’t seem like 10k. I began watching the other side of the road to see how many cyclists had already made the 180°. I counted two. I was apparently in third place, behind Joel from Victoria, and Jimmy, the speedster in a Canadian team tri suit. I’m pretty sure I counted wrong. There’s no way I’m in third place overall right now. I made the turnaround, and then caught up to Mr. Team Canada. Passed him like he was standing still. Riding into T2, I hear Jordan’s voice over the speakers. ”We now have our second athlete coming into transition.” I’m still pretty sure he’s talking about someone who’s ahead of me.
Transition 2: 1:52 (2nd fastest T2 time overall)
I racked my bike on an empty rack, slipped on my running shoes, grabbed my hat and race belt, and go. There’s not really much else to do in transition.
Run: 25:59 (46th overall run split)
They say that runners win triathlons. Unfortunately, I’m not as strong a runner as I am a cyclist. I was first overall on the bike split, but 46th on the run. I’m seven minutes slower than the fastest runner (who, incidentally, finished almost exactly five minutes after me).
The phrase, if you feel like you’re about to puke, you’re going too slow was in my head. I kept repeating to myself anything I could, in effort to dig deeper and push harder.
As I approach the finish line, it’s time to turn on the afterburners and use up what little is left in my legs by this point. I don’t remember seeing the clock, or there was something wrong with the clock, so I had no idea about time. So I pushed, hard. Darryl-style sprint finish.
While I didn’t do terribly well compared to 45 other runners (and particularly the five who did well enough on the run to make up for the dust I left them in on the bike), I did achieve my best 5k split ever. I consider it a resounding success.
Overall finish: 1:19:25 (7th overall, 1st in age group)
Technically not a sprint PR, because my last sprint was 1:18 and change. The asterisk though, is that the 1:18 course was a little shorter on the bike.
What’s unique about this finish though, is that I placed seventh overall, and first in my age group. First. I thought I could barely make third, and here I am, placing first. Mind buzzing. I kept looking at the posted results, thinking, there must be something wrong. But it was right. I’m first. For the first time in my life, I’ve won something. It’s not ITU world championships, but I won something.
More importantly, I had a fun time doing it. It was a great race, and I made some cool friends. I’m sure I’ll see them again next year, somewhere. I’m sure I’ll be a better runner. I’m sure I’ll be a better swimmer. Now, more than ever, I believe in me. I had my doubts, before. I had my doubts that I wasn’t good enough. But now I know, that I am worth it. I believe that I am good enough to justify the time and expense required to reach the next level in my sport, to become an even better triathlete.