Monday, July 16, 2012

Battle with the Triathlon Gods

On Friday the 13th, my six-month old laptop computer, having previously been declared completely dead by both me and the Apple store, mysteriously came back to life and is now working perfectly.

So what, right?  Who (except me) cares?

Here's what.  Good things aren't supposed to happen on Friday the 13th.  That's the day for bad luck.  It was also my last day of work (a topic for another blog post that I may or may not write).  Another good thing.  So on the universe's day for bad luck, I had two really good things going in my favor.  The universe was not happy.  And it let me know, with the assistance of the Triathlon Gods.

Later that afternoon, my friend Andrea and I had planned to travel to Hudson, IL for the Evergreen Lake International Triathlon.  This was a Saturday race, but neither of us could skip a full day of work, so we figured if we got out of town by 3:30 or 4:00, we'd get to the race site in time to check in and get in a quick workout before pitching a tent and calling it a night.  (I camped at this race last year and it was convenient and fun, and neither of us were taking this race super seriously, so we figured sleeping in a tent was OK).  I worked out a tight time schedule for the day that would get us out of town before rush hour started.

So at 2:00, per my carefully crafted schedule, I said my final goodbyes at work, and went to pick up my car, which was at the body shop getting some work done.  Long story short, when they pulled my car around, it sounded just like a Harley-Davidson.  When I dropped it off two days earlier, it had not sounded like a Harley-Davidson.  I looked incredulously at the mechanic, who got down on the ground, looked under the car, and muttered off a few choice words.  Not a good sign.  Apparently, while my car was parked overnight in the lot, thieves had come around and used a circular saw to remove and steal my catalytic converter.   This is, apparently, a thing that happens.

So off I went, just a little bit (or maybe a lot) peeved, to the rental car agency, where of course, the only vehicle they had that would fit two bikes in the back was an HHR.   Have you ever seen anyone, any single person, that drives an HHR that's not a rental?

Look at that hot ride! (and Andrea)
By the time I'd gotten my monstrous embarrassment of a rental car, driven home, and picked up Andrea, we were almost two hours behind schedule.  It was now the peak of rush hour and was raining, so traffic had slowed to a stand still, since apparently the lack of rain in Chicago this summer has resulted in Chicago drivers completely forgetting how to drive in the rain.  45 minutes into our trip, we'd moved approximately 3 miles down Western Avenue.  And just as we were finally pulling onto the highway, Andrea suddenly blanched, and said, "I think I forgot my helmet."  So back into town we went, back through the rush hour traffic, which wasn't moving any better the opposite direction.  Our "schedule" was doomed.  Happy Friday the 13th.

We finally arrived at the race site a little after 9:30 PM.   No time for a pre-race run or swim.  No time to scope out the course.  No time to relax.  Only time to pitch a tent and go to bed.  If you want true comedy, watch two city girls with relatively minimal camping experience try to pitch a rented REI tent in the dark.  We got it done, but I'm still not sure how.

Very early the next morning, Andrea and I both hustled around, trying to get everything ready for the race.  I was feeling pretty calm and chill.   But the Triathlon Gods weren't done with Andrea.  She found me in transition about an hour before the race, and looking more annoyed than anything else, said "I don't think I'm racing."   Somehow, she'd lost a skewer bolt for her front wheel.   Having torn the HHR apart, she couldn't find it anywhere.  Bike support was either lost or running late, and she couldn't find another skewer.  Happy Day-After-Friday the 13th.

But don't worry, the story has a happy ending.  She found a replacement bolt just in time.  But the feeling was ominous.  I can't speak for Andrea, but I can't say I didn't start the race wondering what else could go wrong. 

The Race
Evergreen is a small Olympic distance race, but there's a separate elite wave and they pay a decent amount of money to the first three finishers, so it attracts some pretty fast people including a few pros.  I raced in my age group last year but decided to step it up this year and race in the elite wave.  It's good mental training, and it's nice to start first and not have to swim around the earlier waves.  But honestly, after looking at the start list, my goal was to not be last.  Shoot for the stars!

The Swim
This race started with a swim, as triathlons tend to do.   And I completed the swim.  But apparently I missed the memo that the racing actually started with the swim.  I'm not sure what I was doing out there, but it was closer to a leisurely stroll around the lake than a hard effort.

Here's my list of excuses:  The water was warm, no, hot (84 degrees) and that made me a little sluggish.  I had a bad first few hundreds and the front pack quickly swam away from me, leaving me to go at it alone.  My swim cap fell off, and I swam with my hair loose for the last third of the race (the former pool swimmer in me shudders to think of the drag).   I couldn't spot the exit and zig-zagged all over the place.
Race pictures aren't in yet.  This isn't me, but it is a fairly accurate representation of how fast I was going.
But those are all excuses.  I just had a really bad swim, and was rewarded with a personal worst swim time.  By a lot.  Including those half-hearted triathlons I did without training in college.  I have a swimming background, so to come out of the water so far behind is new, but everyone has a bad day from time to time, and now I know I need to buckle down again with my swimming.  No more cutting my Lake Michigan swims short due to nothing more than boredom and seaweed annoyance (seriously, the seaweed is out of control this summer).

The Bike
After a clumsy transition, I set out on the bike, and immediately felt like crap.  Apparently, my legs decided not to show up to the race.  I could feel all the biking and running miles I'd put in in the last week, and three minutes in, I was ready to throw in the towel.

But, if you read my last race report, you know that my biggest struggle right now is not with anything to do with swimming, biking, or running, it's what's going on between my ears.  Since my mental meltdown in Lubbock, Texas,  I've given a lot of thought to the mental game, and I came armed with some new strategies.  I figured this experience (feeling pretty horrible this early in the race) was going to be a good mental test.

Someone smart reminded me this week that racing isn't all puppy dogs, ponies, and rainbows (or whatever other happy illusions make this list), negative thoughts will pop into your head, and to try to fight them only makes it worse.  Another someone smart wrote recently about a race she had where the bike was just not fun, and when the the negative thoughts started, she just accepted them ("yes, it sucks, it's a sucky sucky race and it sucks.  Get on with it") and then ended up throwing down the run of her life.

So, I tried it.   The negative thoughts popped up.  They always do.  Instead of trying to fight them, I accepted them.  In my mind, I was thinking "this hurts.  This is not fun.  I do not like this."  And instead of trying to think about happy things, I just responded (to myself, kinda weird, whatever), "Yep.  It's not fun.  It does hurt.  It sucks.  You can quit this sport forever after this race.  But for now, just get it done."  At some point, I puked a little.  On my hand.  Internal monologue:  "what the hell?  I just threw up on myself.  This is ridiculous.  After this race, it's over.  No more.  But for now, let's just keep on working.  Finish it up."

Of course, I didn't quit after the race.  But, I did have a pretty good bike, despite having a lonely stretch out there where I didn't see another person for 25 minutes.  It was prime territory for giving up, for slacking off.  But I didn't.  So maybe those mental games worked!

I got off the bike in 5th place, and as I was finishing my ride, I saw Kristin and Tami heading out together in 3rd and 4th.  They had a lot of time on me and are both good runners, so I had no illusions that I'd catch them.  But, I wanted to get out there, see if I could close the gap, and most importantly, have the kind of run that my training indicated that I was capable of.

The legs felt good from the get-go, and I settled into a just-below 7 minute/mile pace.  A few really fast guys blew by me, and then I found a friend.  I'll call him Mr. Congeniality.  See, this race was also a Midwest Collegiate race, and triathlon teams from the colleges in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan all showed up.  I think Mr. Congeniality was on the University of Illinois team, but I'm not entirely sure.  We ran together for about 4 miles, but when I say "ran together," I mean I set the pace, and he stayed right on my heels.   So I never actually saw him.

Anyway, Mr. Congeniality was a good sport.  Every time we'd see another collegiate triathlete on the out-and-back, he'd give them a cheer.  "Go Dayton, looking good!"  "Alright, Illini... let's go!"  "Illinois State, you got this!!"  Between that, he chatted with me.  We reveled the downhills.  Commented on the heat.  We were buddies.

But one thing I noticed.... we passed a couple members of the Ohio State triathlon team, and he stayed silent.  No cheering.  I went to Ohio State, I grew up in Columbus, and I Bleed Scarlet and Gray, so I noticed.   But I wasn't surprised.  We Buckeyes are used to other Big Ten-ers not liking us.  It's the jealousy, since we win all the time and are pretty awesome.  I get it.

I didn't even know there was a triathlon club when I was at OSU, but I'll give them some love as a proud alum.

There was a turn-around at Mile 4, and shortly thereafter, a guy ran past me.  I was pretty sure it was Mr. Congeniality, having grown tired of sitting on my heels.  So he passed, and I said something like, "I guess this is the time when I should tell you I'm a Buckeye."  The guy turned, and gave me the most confused "WTF" look I've ever seen.   I tried to clarify, "yeah, you know, I went to Ohio State, I know you hate us, so I guess we're not buddies anymore."

Complete and total confusion. "Uh, yeah.  OK.  Ohio State.  Yeah."

And then I realized it was a completely different guy.  Mr. Congeniality had fallen way back, and I'm here talking college alumni trash in the middle of a race to some random other dude who passed me.  Who was not in the collegiate race.  I started thinking of it from his perspective....that must have been the most bizarre thing anyone has ever said to him as he passed in a race.  I bet he spent the last couple miles trying to figure out what the hell I was talking about.  It makes me laugh, a little.

As for my run, it ended the exact same way it started.   It was incredibly even.  I stayed the same pace throughout, right at 7 minute miles or a little below.  The course was a smidge long, so I claim this race as my fastest Olympic distance run pace ever.  It's still not where I want to be, but it's progress and that's what's important.  I didn't gain any spots but I closed that gap a little, and I made a friend, even if I couldn't pick him out of a lineup, so it was a successful day.  Fifth overall, six minutes faster than last year, horrible swim, good bike, great run, and I'll take it and get back to my training.

I waited for Andrea, who was in a later wave, and right after she finished (looking strong, of course), the rain started.  We ran to our campsite, took down our tent, and hightailed it out of Hudson.

And on the way back, our bad luck continued.

First, there was this.

That's the cop who gave me a speeding ticket on the way home. 
We tried to flirt out way out of the ticket, but we failed.  At that point, all we could do was laugh.

Second, I got home and realized I'd left my debit card in the Arby's we stopped at on the way back to Chicago.  Yeah, I know, we should never have been at Arby's, that's no way to get to race weight, but this summer I've been craving Roast Beef sandwiches and they're sorta healthy (when you don't smother them with Horsey Sauce which I may or may not do) so lay off me, I'm starving.

We wrote these occurrences off as revenge by the Triathlon Gods for actually having good races despite all Triathlon God efforts to prevent said outcome.  So hopefully we're even now, Triathlon Gods.  Right? That's it, right??


  1. I enjoy your blog for entertainment purposes.
    That car screams, "65 year old retired vet!" My dad, for example, loves that car.

    I love Evergreen TRI - I went to ISU. Congrats on a good race - Andrea too!

  2. LMAO!!! What a weekend. At least you finished the race up feeling strong and got through the rougher mental moments, so it does count for something! And 6 minutes faster than last year, with a tough start to the race, is pretty awesome!

    I'm fairly sure my school, while local to the area (University of Chicago), doesn't even have a tri team *sigh*