“So, do you think the swim will be wetsuit legal?” Brianne asks me, around mile 200 of 900 into our drive.
“I sure hope not,” I say, “since I forgot mine.”
Thus began our journey to Shreveport, LA, a tiny little jewel of a city near the Texas border, surrounded by boggy marsh, confusing highways, and indecipherable Cajun Southern accents, for the 2003 USAT Age Group Championships.
At this point in our journey the situation was merely theoretical. The temperature of Champion Lake was measured at 84 degrees one week prior to the race date.
“You’re kidding,” she says.
“I’m not,” I says. I had packed everything. I thought. Whoops. Somehow, the wetsuit slipped through the cracks of my occasional feeble brain. “Don’t worry," I say, "if it’s wetsuit legal I’ll just tough it out.” I’d only lose about 30 to 45 seconds. No big deal, right?
“You can use mine,” she offers. That’s sweet of her and heartfelt, but…she’s a size two. I tell her thanks for the offer.
We’re not worried. I don’t really think it’ll be wetsuit legal. Do you think the temperature is really going to drop five degrees in one week?
Needless to say, we arrive at the race site and discover that, indeed, the water temperature has dropped to 71 degrees. First, I experience denial. No way. It can’t be that cold. Then, anger. Damn it, how could I be so stupid. Next come frustration and panic. Oh shit oh shit oh shit this it it oh shit ruined season ruined trip wasted damn it shit shit shit!
Finally – acceptance. I guess I’ll just have to deal.
“Hey, smart guy,” Brianne says, “why don’t you buy one if you’re so worried about it?”
Brianne is truly my better half.
$189 dollars in credit card debt later, I’m the proud owner of a brand new Aquaman sleeveless.
My training in September was geared around steady state work (MSS/AeT/Z2) on the run and swim with the occasional tempo session on the bike. I had fried myself in August by experimenting with too much intensity and wound up racing poorly at a couple of the Coca Cola series races.
As the month progressed I could feel my body coming around, and was finishing my runs comfortably and under 6:30 pace. The Sunday before the race I did a last ‘long’ run session on a 1-mile trail loop and dropped a comfortable last 5:50 mile. Nothing earth-shattering, but if I could hold that pace for 10k off the bike….we’d be talking. No track work. Occasional strides in session. Bike training volume was nothing to write about, but at the group rides I kept the HR in check and still managed to throw a hurt on a few good cyclists.
I was getting my form back and feeling good.
I went to win. So did a lot of other people. But with the quality of the field, my intentions were this: Race as well as I could by staying strong and steady, then drop the hammer in the last minutes of the run. The wave format would make it impossible to know who I was competing against, and how close they were. If someone beat me, they would have to earn it.
The wetsuit fit well, by the way. I pushed the start of the swim to get some clear water, then tucked in behind a couple pretty fast guys in my 30-34 AG at the first turn. Followed them around the back of the course. After that last turn, with about 200 yards to go, I picked up the pace in order to get myself set for a fast transition. Passed the number two swimmer and pulled close to number one (Michael Ingardia). I was about 1 second behind the first guy out, and there were 2 more on my heels (Todd Menzel and John Dewey). I pushed the transition run, tore that wetsuit off, put the glasses and helmet on, and got going. I didn’t want any tagalongs on this ride.
Once on the bike I pushed it in order to get a gap, but around mile three Menzel caught me. We wound up going back and forth, and I really didn’t get my cycling legs under me till about mile eight, but felt strong once I did. (We weren’t allowed to warm up on the bike unless you brought a bike trainer or an extra bike. I continue to think this is one of the stupidest rules in big triathlons, but that’s beside the point.) Behind us, I could see at least one strung-out group of four or five had formed, but it looked like they were riding clean. I later heard that a couple massive packs formed in my AG and others, but I never saw them. There were lots of officials, and a look at the results confirms a number of penalties as well as a few questionable bike splits. That’s racing for you.
Around mile 12, I noticed I was about to pass a beautiful, shapely woman on a black bike. I got my commentary ready….then stashed it when I realized it was my fiancée! ;-)
I came off the bike and felt good when running into transition. I can usually tell if it’s going to be a good one or a frustrating experience at this point. It’s nice to have things go your way once in a while.
I passed Todd just outside transition and concentrated on staying relaxed while keeping the tempo up. Some minor cramping and a bit of juice sloshing around in my stomach had me concerned, but I told myself to relax and run through it. First mile - 5:48. A good sign. Mile 2 – 5:52. Passing lots of people from earlier waves.
Then I heard a few steps behind me. It can only be one person. The Dark Prince of Florida Triathlon, as we have begun to affectionately call him. There he goes. Just past mile two, one of my (several) Florida arch-rivals and the master of the regional racing scene, John Reback quick-stepped by. He said, “Keep it up, Marty,” and I told him he was now leading the age group. I also figured he was gunning for the overall. But I kept him in sight, and he only slowly crept away. Mile 3 – 5:56.
Mile 4 started to hurt. My knees began to drop a bit but I stayed tough mentally. According to the splits it was a 6:09. Mile 5 was about the same effort, but at the end of it, it was time to start digging deep. I picked the pace back up for the last mile and toughed it out. With about a half mile to go I hit the accelerator and dumped everything I had left. Up a small incline, and round the corner to the short trail. All out. I didn’t come here to smile at the finish line. Full on, stomach churning, legs burning, all out kick to the finish.
The final tally would put me at 1:57.20, third place overall, just 10 seconds ahead of 4th place and 21 seconds ahead of 5th. That final kick put me in 3rd, no doubt about it. I split a 36:45, while the 4th and 5th place guys (Chris Reeves and Bill Peters, both 35-39) had me outclassed on the run, running low 35s. John ran a 34:32 for 1st, while a 28-year old by the name of Brandon Marsh ran a 34:53 for 2nd.
On paper, if I could have run a 35:20, I might have won the overall. But since that also happens to be right around my best standalone 10k…well, you’ve gotta learn to crawl before you can run! “Ifs” and “Buts” don’t win national championships. Only talent and years of consistent training will get you to the top of the podium. With the training I was able to get in this season, I should be praying to several different deities right about now, offering my eternal services for their blessings!
Brianne would go on to finish tenth in her age group with a 41:24 run and a 2:20 total time. Her training has been good but not great, and while she was somewhat satisfied with the result, watch out for her next year. She don’t like getting beat!
So, without further adieu, that’s it. I took third overall, second in the age group, at our organization’s amateur national championship. I am officially, now and forever, a pretty darn good triathlete.
But I want to be great. I want to win. I want to see my name on the roster of amateur national champions. Radkewich. Kemper. Cuddeback. Gennari. Kain. Reback.
I can only do my best. I gave it one hundred percent on race day, and I touched upon my true potential as an athlete. I am a happy guy.
OK, now that I got that happy horseshit out of the way, I’ll level with you.
All I really want to do IS BEAT THIS FREAKIN' DUDE!!!!!!!! ;-)
*Dark Prince of Triathlon, originally coined by Rob Skaggs
*Artwork by Brianne Harrington
PS - Anyone wanna buy a wetsuit? Never fired, only dropped once...