Lucky Number 13: Eight Years in the Making

Ladies and gentlemen, we are more than halfway through 2019. What the heck?? That’s just crazy… however, like I always say, once the 4th hits, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas :D

I am not a superstitious person. I don’t believe in luck or randomness. Fate, while a fun mythological twist on many fantastical adventure stories, has no grasp over me. It’s us and our decisions, and a sovereign creator who watches over all running the show. That’s it.

I have been racing a long, long time. So long, in fact, that distances that once caused me to lose sleep, frantically pacing the floor or anticipating the coming tri-storm have turned into restful nights of known preparation, habits that have been ingrained thousands of times, and a relative calm among the panicked newcomers and worriers. Hilariously, where I once used to be the noobling asking thousands of questions, I now try to avoid large groups before a race, so as not to be thrown off by their pre-race jitters and inquiries.

This year has been exceptionally fun, as I’ve had some new equipment to figure out, adjustments and tweaks to make, and new strategies and areas of emphasis (running – it’s always running), and alas, my shoe collection continues to grow :[ My deepest apologies to my wife!

It was actually a very rocky start to 2019 for us on the personal end of things, but it feels like we’re finally getting to the sweet spot. Fitness, energy, and my obligations are all lining up for a big end-to-summer blitz of delicious racing, adventure, and vitamin D. Yummy! We also have some very fun trips to look forward to very, very soon.

June Lake triathlon. Brutality at 7000 feet!

This past weekend I completed my 13th 70.3 mile triathlon. Dating back to 2011, this distance has quickly become my favorite of the bunch, and I spend a majority of my time preparing for and grinding out the needed training to excel here. While the swim is still short in my opinion (1.2 miles), the 56 mile bike ride followed by a half marathon offer the perfect mix of needed speed, endurance, and guts, and yet it doesn’t exact a toll on your life so as to make you regret signing up to begin with.

The swim, always my favorite part, was absolutely gorgeous. June Lake is an incredible place, with crystal clear water and lung-scorching, 7000 foot elevation. Probably one of my favorite swims! Exited the water in 2nd place, pretty much exactly where I wanted to be, and quickly ran out of the water, threw on my bike helmet, and was off for the 52ish mile ride. I had passed the leader in transition (didn’t realize it), and enjoyed the first 12 or so miles of the ride in peace. We passed silver lakes and blue lakes, a friendly deer spectating from four feet away, and RVs and campers galore. I was passed soon after, assuming that put me in 3rd, and wrapped up the grueling hill climbs and remaining miles pretty much solo. Unbeknownst to me, this race was heating up to be something exciting…

A wrong turn from the leader brought us within seconds of each other heading into our bike-to-run transition (still not within eyesight), and we were off onto the super gnarly half marathon up the side of a mountain. For years and years I have struggled with the run, whether because I burnt all my matches on the bike, or just hadn’t put in the appropriate miles for a fast pace, but I immediately felt fantastic off the bike (I was very conscious to save a TON in the tank) and began my pursuit! The entire week before the race, my goal was quite simple: break 5:00 hours – get on the podium – and I was here to do just that (to the best of my ability).

By this point, the run course was full of athletes from the shorter distance races going on concurrently, which always helps with energy management. You identify racers to chase down, you get a bit of a refresher from encouraging the other athletes, and there is a new abundance of enthusiasm to be had.

The run was a two-lap, six mile grind, which I prefer because you know how to pace yourself quite well when you’ve got to do it twice. The worst part was coming within 100 feet of the finish line and having to turn back around and head back up the hill! ACK! The two lap plan – burn 20% of my energy on 80% of the miles, and use up the last 80% of my energy on the remaining 20% of the race. As always, energy management is the name of the game. About three miles in I began to wonder where my competition was. It was odd to not see one or more fellow racers from the long course race (we had bright blue bibs compared to the red and yellow of the others). I just assumed they were cruising on up ahead and were long gone… so I plowed on.

One of my favorite aspects of these races, besides the epic scenery, is the good-natured volunteers that come out to direct traffic, hand out drinks and icy sponges, and just cheer everyone on. Two favorite moments: one volunteer missed handing me a cup of electrolytes, so on my return back through their station they made sure to give me two cups + an apology (completely unnecessary) + the world’s most amazing sponge. My other favorite moment was returning back for my second lap up the mountain, and the gentlemen guarding the water and sports drinks said “I just saw a fellow not that long ago wearing that exact same race suit…” Note: I have a very bright and unique tri suit, and the joke was initially lost on me. After a second it finally clicked that he was talking about me, and I went on with my day with a smile on my face and a cheery thanks for the liquids!

Up and up I went. As I reached the top, one of the volunteers said to his buddy “there goes one of those long course guys” and the other dude said “he must be the leader.” I didn’t think much of it, other than they had missed the other racers in front of me. At this point, the course veers sharply back down the mountain, and it was off and away to the finish and I had little time to think of much else.

Arriving at the finish line, in any race of any distance, is a phenomenal experience. Your pain subsides as the adrenaline triples in your system, you hear the roar of the spectators, the buzz of the MCs microphone, and that glorious black and white checkered banner. I really hit the gas with a mile and a half left, wanting to break that five hour mark, and avoid any competitors sneaking up on me from behind trying to off me in the final mile. None emerged as I charged onto the beach, and I heard a lady shout out that I was in the lead. At this point, I believed her! I streaked (more like walked briskly) across the finish in a time of 5:03, and captured my first overall race victory. I collapsed onto my knees, mostly in shock, because I could not figure out where my competition had gone, and reveled in the fun and reward of a ton of hard work and investment of time. I also took great pleasure in having a FANTASTIC run.

Turns out that I had, in fact, buried the competition, putting 12 and 15 minutes on the gentlemen closest to me. I have no explanation for how that happened, I don’t know why we all lost track of each other, and I certainly don’t know where it all came from.

What I do know is that hard work, commitment to a plan, and more hard work will bear fruit in their own time. I have done an absolute boatload of races, but never experienced anything like this. I’ve lost by 15 seconds, trailed by mere minutes, and gotten destroyed by half an hour, but the lesson we all should take away is to never, never give up.

Overall win. Couldn’t even believe it!

I want to be super clear: I do not race to win; I race to challenge myself. I race to push limits, explore my boundaries, and then shatter them. The emotional roller coaster of crossing the finish line first was crazy! I was honestly struck with disbelief, bewilderment, and a holy-cow-that-actually-just happened! It was followed very quickly by elation and total stoke-age, and I quickly ran to the icy cool water to lay in it, relax, and enjoy the previous five hours of some serious work.

Due to having two A’s in my last name, I often get the #1 bib in many, many races I have been in (or an iteration containing the 1), and this time, this time, I nailed it. Somehow. Also, a huge thanks for my dear friend Deaon, who has been to almost as many races as my wife! You rock, sir.

I am not a superstitious person. I don’t believe in luck or randomness. But on July 13th, during the 13th year of the June Lake triathlon, I completed my 13th long-course triathlon and took home the best reward – satisfaction. Coincidence? I think not… 0:-)
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