It’s tacooooo day! Yahoo.
Hot off the press, triathlon season is coming to a screaming close for me, amazing as it was, it’s certainly time for a break. I always hate when my favorite time of the year comes to an end, it’s slightly depressing despite of all the high moments that a race season brings with it. One of my friends commented on the weekend’s festivities, mainly all the super ripped triathletes, that it really is a lifestyle not just a sport or something you show up and do. How very true.
Almost 90% of my year is spent A) racing B) getting ready to race C) recovering from racing or D) eating to race. The odd 6-7 weeks that I take off from triathlon entirely is still spent in the pool, lifting weights, and hiking to maintain an athletic edge.
The triathlon “year” is cyclical, just like school + summer + back to school used to be. For me, November and December are base periods, or time spent on the basics of biking and running (since I swim nonstop), I patiently survive January with the occasional snowboard trip or two, February 1st is the official start of all things triathlon, and then it’s full-speed ahead until it’s late September or October, my shin splints decide otherwise, or I’m so wiped out from everything that I re-prioritize my time to other things and wait until the coming of yet another fun season.
It’s hard to put to paper (or the interwebs) everything I’ve learned in just this year alone, not even considering the crazy lessons from racing. I do, however, have a great story to share from this past weekend…
Donner Lake has always been my favorite spot in the northern Nevada/California/Tahoe area. It’s beautiful waters, small size, and fresh smelling trees that reach down to the water’s edge with their green fingers provide something special and relaxing to those fortunate enough to have ventured there. For those of you Reno people *cough* you know who you are, who haven’t gone to the lake, you should be ashamed. It’s like Tahoe without the crowds but is 15 minutes closer to home. Much like the bubbling rock on the University of Nevada campus, Donner Lake is where I take all of my troubles, seek refuge from my non-resting mind, or just go to enjoy something besides the city. My loyal dog is becoming quite the fan as well.
This year was the third time I’ve raced at Donner. Unfortunately, Donner has always been a stepping stone to a bigger race that season. In 2010 it was preparation for A half marathon, in 2011 it was my warm up race to Lake Stevens 70.3. Last weekend, it was the follow-up to IRONMAN … I knew it was a poor decision from the beginning, but I signed up anyway. It was too painful to waste all of that IRON level fitness, so I signed up and went regardless.
I don’t always do things that make sense to other people, frankly, who cares? I do my own thing and enjoy carving my own path. Make way! Full steam ahead!! GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH!!! Er, sorry. Moving on…
I know that my strengths in life are swimming, enduring, building relationships, getting the right resources in the right place at the right time, and listening. I tend not to listen to myself, because that makes too much sense, and I often choose to sacrifice sleep in favor of swimming. That’s OK.
I am usually ultra-prepared for racing, especially since it’s the primary activity that I live for year in and year out. Unfortunately, the race organizers at Donner messed with that when they decided to move our heat’s starting time up by 20 minutes without telling any of the participants. Oops. We had a grand total of five minutes to prepare before the gun went off. Already well rattled by the time we got to the first buoy, I was convinced that I was racing the wrong distance of the race and chatted with a paddleboard mounted peep for that confirmation. After nearly swallowing half the lake and getting rammed in the face by competitor’s feet, I was definitely not in the racing zone.
I am not a quitter. Not now; not in high school. But for the first time in my life, I had the very real urge to just give up in the middle of the race. I smoked IRONMAN, I destroyed my goals for the year. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. I had nothing to be ashamed about. For whatever reason, I pressed onto shore, hoping, however futilely that there was something positive in sight. If I could just manage to have fun for the next two hours then I would count it as a success.
Turns out I had to earn all that the hard way…
The bike, as any racer will tell you, is not particularly easy. Only 500 feet out of transition you hit a very un-fun 20 minute climb straight up a mountain without much chance to catch your breath or at least orient yourself to being on a bike. Once you’re at the top, you scream down the hill at 40 mph, which you must then proceed to turn back around and climb right back up, grinding all the way to the top of the hill you just descended. The fun part was brief, although a new PR time had me convinced that the day could still be salvaged. I can’t emphasize enough that I was positive that this race was doomed, and that finishing, at this point, would be a monumental achievement.
The bike came to a close and with it arrived the nearly seven mile run. It’s flat for 4.5 miles with crazy hills that make you want to stab yourself in the calves for the remainder. It isn’t an easy course, because you run around the perimeter of the lake and can see where you “should” be the entire time. Really, it is more of a grind than anything. However, I managed to hold my own, only getting passed by a crazy in-shape 41 year old who just went zooming on by. Even nearing mile five, I was still convinced that at this point in time I was behind everyone I would normally compete with (typically, the top 25 or 30 athletes at this race) and that my season was as good as over. I should’ve quit when I was ahead, meaning post IRONMAN.
I dragged through the last piece of the race, finally reaching the finish line at the beautiful, crystal lake. It was nice to see the friendly faces that accompanied me on my early morning adventure and it was a well-placed sigh of relief dragging my feet across the checkered line. A few swigs of Gatorade to avoid passing out and some stretches were well appreciated.
We only hung around the race site for 30 minutes or so, mostly due to the fact that I wanted to avoid the scene of the worst-race-in-history crime. My friends seemed to be overly excited about how well they were saying I did. I thought they were just being nice since this was their first triathlon. However, as more and more competitors started trickling in, I realized that perhaps they were onto something and I was still in the top 50. I went to the timing board (everyone’s favorite moment of any race) only to find that I placed 1st in my age group and 19th overall. I took a double take: something must’ve gone wrong in the timing. How could I possibly have placed so well (a new personal record for the Donner triathlon for me) after having such a crummy (emotionally) race?! It absolutely blew my mind.
I was incredibly displeased with myself for even considering quitting. How dare I?! The nerve… that will be the last time I consider doing that. Sorry for the long narrative but it needed to be done. Here’s my lessons from the race:
- Don’t freaking bail!
- Persevere through the lousy parts.
- Winners never quit; quitters never cross the finish line.
- A race is what you make of it… so make it great!