Thursday, April 1, 2010

California 70.3 Race Report: Getting By With A Little Help From My Friends

From my two blog posts on Friday the diverse emotions I experienced are pretty apparent. When I arrived in San Diego on Friday morning I had truly believed that my race was over before it started. Jerry mentioned in the comments one race does not define a season and my triathlon career is about something much bigger than how I perform in a given race but disappointment that I wouldn’t be able to test myself on the course was abound. However, adversity leads to life lessons and growth opportunities and after this weekend I can say I left San Diego as a better triathlete but more importantly as a happier person.

Friday started with several angry phone calls to Continental as I was trying to figure out why it was taking 36 hours to get my bags to cover a 13 hour drive. Operationally, it just didn’t make sense and for that lapse in operational efficiency I plan to never fly Continental ever again. I will also carry my triathlon gear onto any flight with me in the future – I may have to check my nutrition but I’ll be damned if my shoes, wet suit and sun glasses are out of my control ever again. The issue I had with Continental wasn’t that we had to make an emergency landing, I 100% agree with that decision; the bigger issue was why they had no protocol in place to get the checked bags from point A to point B in a more efficient way.

After I found out that my bags would not get to San Diego until at least 10am on Saturday (race day). My Mom suggested that I carry on as usual just in case I was able to race on Saturday. Downtrodden, I headed over to Rudy’s dinner for some huevos rancheros, a cup of coffee and some delicious multi-grain pancakes. Thankfully I filled up on about as much food as I could because the rest of my day would have me traveling all over Southern California on a scavenger hunt for triathlon gear. Some quick text messages from Mary Eggers improved my spirits and I returned back to my hotel room for what I thought would be a relaxing day of doing school work. Coach Egg – thank you for all the support, through it all you really have been a guardian angel for me in the triathlon world.

Upon getting back to my hotel room I received a text message from Nate, the type 3 diabetic of the year, saying “dude are you in sunny socal yet?” My response “dude I’m not fing racing my gear didn’t make it.” The following day I found out that Nate called Peter, Triabetes commander in chief, and said like hell Ed isn’t racing let’s put the wheels of Triabetes in motion and figure this out. After a quick phone call with Peter the army that is Triabetes was in action. Peter contacted Jason, a supporter of Triabetes and Ironman himself to inquire about gear. A 10 minute drive had me at Jason’s gorgeous home where he handed me a wet suit, goggles and a Desoto tri suit to race in and some sweet Oakley sun glasses. Unfortunately, his feet are 2 sizes too big for me so I was still on a quest to find running shoes, cycling pedals and cycling shoes.

Peter had also sent out an e-mail to the Tri Club of San Diego telling them of my predicament. Within 30 minutes of Peter’s e-mail I had received about 70 phone calls and e-mails from TCSD offering me gear and whatever else I needed! Seriously, people who had no clue who I was were willing to offer me their triathlon stuff so I could race, people I had no connection to, people who simply shared my passion for triathlon were willing to go out of their way to help out a stranger – how amazing is that. A special thanks goes to Jerry, John and Darrel. Jerry let me borrow his shimano pedals and sidi cycling shoes, John called Nytro bike shop so I could purchase nutrition and a hydrotail at a discount and Darrel let me borrow his Garmin 305 so I would have access to my heart rate during the race. Individuals who went above and beyond to help out a guy in need – that is flat out Awesome. Although I will never race as a member of that tri club, I became a member when I returned to Charlottesville; I simply couldn’t resist becoming a member of such a great organization.

Jason’s friend Craig, also a member of TCSD, offered up his old Saucony Sinisters for me to run in – we both wear a size 10 running shoe, so there I had it, everything I needed for race day was in my possession. I also purchased a visor at the expo to shade my face during the run and picked up some water bottles at Nytro – if nothing else this race was going to be an adventure. I returned to my hotel room at 7:45 the night before the race with some food from Trader Joes, and a ton of prep to do before a 4:45 am wake up.

I finally finished eating, drinking and prepping my bike (thank god for Tri Bike Transport) by 10:30 pm and got into bed. Since I drank so much water to hydrate between 7:45 and 10:30 I woke up about 5 times during the night to pee and not just a little bit- more like a gallon at a time (should have hydrated more frequently during the day but the scavenger hunt took up my focus and time.) At 4:45am my alarm went off and I thought – holy cow what a crazy past 48 hours, now it’s time to just go out and have some fun – today it really doesn’t matter what happens I’m just thrilled to death I’m having the opportunity to race.

I got to Oceanside and was so nervous accidently drove onto the military base, thank god I didn’t get shot – that would have added some fun to the weekend festivities. I collected myself, turned around and finally found the parking lot where athletes were supposed to park. I picked up my makeshift transition bag and hopped on my bike to ride to transition. For the first time all week I felt confident, the second I got on my bike I smiled and was happy to feel El Bastardo between my legs. The comfort of something I knew brought great solace to my mind - the one thing that would be “mine” on the race course was my bike frame, the thing I spend the most time on during training, the thing that has become a part of me – at that moment it struck me the only thing that mattered on this day was to have as much fun as possible and smile as often as I could, because the ability to race on this day was truly a gift.

I got to transition and started to unload my over stuffed bag. I was cracking up as I tried to figure out where to put everything, I had no towel, no sun screen, I was in a one piece tri suit, and didn’t recognize anything that was coming out of my bag. Bad News Bears style I was ready to race! I spoke more with the people around me than I had ever before, I felt no pressure on this race, I was just having a blast being out there. Still in my warm ups (all of which I bought the day before except my jacket) I put on the running shoes for the first time and set out for a jog – hmm my pace seemed to be ok, but the shoes felt a little off, oh well I’ll get used to them during the half marathon I thought; a ¾ mile warm up and then I stopped by the Triabetes tent to say hello to Nate, then was off to stretch and eat.

As I tested my blood sugars before I put on my wet suit, the guy next to me asked “are you diabetic?” Yes I am, I replied and it turned out so was he! Are you kidding me, 2,000 people in the race and the guy right next to me on the transition rack is a good ol’ type 1 – pure awesome! Ryan from Dallas if you find this blog – hello! And please shoot me an e-mail would love to hear how your race went.

Sans body glide (yeah I forgot that too) I put on the wet suit, grabbed my goggles and was off to race. I got in the water and thought, well my arms and legs still work, the only thing that is different is I’m wearing someone else’s gear, I’m just lucky to race today, keep remembering that. I got into the water a bit late so had to motor a bit to get through the pack and find some open space to swim. The goggles I borrowed didn’t fit my face too well so I kept having to stop to dump water out of the goggles – I tried to swim through it but my eyes were burning from the salt water. Also, because the goggles fit differently my swim cap kept falling off so I had to adjust that constantly – I think you get disqualified if you lose your swim cap but I’m not sure.

The first of many hilarious incidents happened during the swim as I was full into my stroke on the home stretch of the swim, I swam head first into one of the support surf boards! I’m swimming along and then bam goggles hit the side of the surf board that was supporting some guy who was struggling to get through the 1.2 miles. The girl laughed at me and said the finish line is over there – she was in the middle of the swim course but I was laughing as I swam away, at that moment I knew this was going to be an interesting race.

I exited the water in 37 minutes, a bit slow for me but not a bad time at all. Given all the constraints I was operating under I was totally happy with my swim. As I got to transition I began to laugh again realizing I didn’t recognize any of the gear and had no clue how to fully strap on the bike shoes! At least my blood sugar was 204 when I left the water so I knew I was perfectly set up for a strong bike.

My transition was a disaster. Since I was in a one piece tri suit I had to wrap my insulin pump into the right leg of the tri suit instead of just clipping it onto the waist of my shorts. I also didn’t have the usual set up on the back of my bike because I removed that for transit so I stuffed tubes, co2s, tire irons, gels and other goodies into the pockets of my tri suit in transition. Nate, Jason and the Maloneys watched me in transition and I looked at them and said “well it’s off to an interesting day, I don’t even know whose stuff I’m using!”

I hoped on my bike and off I went. Man it felt good to be on my bike, I stayed out of the aero position for the first 5 miles of the bike – I wanted to warm up my legs and make sure that my shoes weren’t going to fall off. I had to stop 3 times to get my water bottles filled with nutrition as they kept getting ejected from my hydrotail (I bought the cheapest water bottle holders Nytro had). Finally we got to a flat, open stretch of road and I decided it was time to get to work. I dropped into the aero position and just let it go, smile on my face I hammered away in zone 3 at about 24 mph and was having as much fun as a little kid on his birthday. All that training paid off, I was rocking the bike like an all star.

The bike course at Oceanside had everything a cyclist could want. The course presented flats, hills, downhills, cross winds and gorgeous scenery – I freaking loved this course. Finally we reached the first of 3 major hills on the course and I was psyched to see how I would handle it. Eric warned me to just get in a rhythm early, not to force it too much and just scrape away at the hill. As I climbed I passed about 20 or 30 athletes who were walking their bike up the hill. I simply got into a small gear and spun up between 6 and 8 mph – no big deal, easy climb, pretty long but I got it done.

Around the same time my stomach really started to kill me. Usually I have some protein in my sports nutrition mix but couldn’t find any to buy in the scavenger hunt leading up to the race. I added a little extra carbo-pro and EFS to make up for the difference. I add the protein to assist in the absorption of the carbohydrates in the mix and without them a ton of sugar was just sitting in my stomach. Given that I tried to take in extra water but it was pretty clear that was doing the trick – this was just going to have to be an area that I had to roll with.
I continued fighting the hills on the bike course and by the middle of the third hill my hip totally acted up. Instead of getting off the bike I slowed my pace a bit and tried to loosen it up. By the third hill my cadence had dropped way down and I was starting to struggle – little did I know there would be a 7 mile stretch of downhills and flats after the third climb. Salvation!

 During the downhills I was able to stretch out my right hip to ease the pain and by the time I reached the flats I was ready to go. Over the last 10 miles of the course I averaged close to 27 mph and felt like a mad man. If I can identify how to maintain that focus and intensity throughout the entire bike I can really improve my times; I have a tendency to zone out during certain periods on the bike and need to figure out why. Over those last 10 to 12 miles I biked more confidently, more smoothly and faster than at any point I had before and it felt incredible.

With about a mile left to go on the bike I heard a buzzing between my legs and a bee hand landed on an area that a guy totally doesn’t want a bee to land! I shooed it away and it came back full force to sting me in the thigh – honestly I got stung by a freaking bee, what else could happen during this race!

My final bike time was 2:56, an average of 19mph and a PR for me in a half Ironman; not bad on borrowed cycling shoes that were a half size too big! I pulled into transition laced up the sneakers, tossed on my visor and headed out to the run. Within a half mile I knew that the shoes I was running in were just “wrong.”

I have run exclusively in Nike Frees for the past 9 months, in those shoes my foot is allowed to act naturally and I can totally get on my forefoot as I stride. The Sauconys I borrowed were forcing me to mid-foot or heel strike which didn’t allow me to rotate my hips like I normally do. I headed out at a 7:45 to 8 minute pace but a mile and ½ into the race my legs and feet were in a tremendous amount of pain. At the 3 mile mark my back had spasmed so much I could barely breathe. I pulled off to the side of the course to stretch for about 5 minutes and then trotted off at a 9:30 pace. Anytime I tried to stride like I normally would I simply couldn’t – it would feel like someone was shoving a knife into my lower back.

At the 5.5 mile mark I felt a ton of pain in my heel. I looked back and noticed my ankle was covered in blood. I took off my shoe and saw that my sock was covered in blood. The shoes beat up my feet so badly that I had 3 cuts across the top of my foot and a huge cut on my heel – I sat for a moment on the curb and contemplated what to do. I decided to take off the sneakers and walk for a bit to figure out a strategy. Should I stop? Am I going to really injure my feet? Is running a 2 hour plus half marathon worth it? Those were the thoughts that went through my head. Then it dawned on me, so many people helped get me to the starting line of this race, so many people who I will probably never see again. Finishing this race is the best way I can thank them for being incredible individuals, finishing this race was the only way I knew how to show my appreciation for all they did for me. With that I laced the sneakers back up and trotted off, never able to crest a 9:15 pace for the rest of the race.

I struggled throughout the rest of the run, my feet were destroyed but I was just thankful I could race. I was racing in red a color I can’t stand for athletics because it was the color of our big rival in college. I was racing in shoes that were killing me, I was getting burnt to no end because I forgot sun screen and I was hungry. To be honest none of that mattered though because being able to race California 70.3 was a gift from some really giving people.

My final race time was 6:03, I grabbed a Triabetes t-shirt from Nate as I came down the chute and tossed it on, I race for such a bigger cause than myself and wanted to make sure that cause was apparent when I crossed the finish line. 6:03 means nothing in the grand scheme of things, I had more fun during this race than any race I had done in the past – this race was an adventure, it was about not freaking out and just being thankful that I had the opportunity to compete, this race taught me to stop freaking out and to just have fun.

On Friday Coach Orton text messaged me and asked me what the “one thing,” I wanted to learn or accomplish during the race was. I replied, “That there is no such thing as a perfect race and my only goal for any race should be the same as any training day – to smile knowing that pushing myself athletically is what I love and what makes me feel alive and the only difference between a training day and a race is a few more people and a couple beats per minute of heart rate.” Saturday’s race and preparation was anything but perfect, I didn’t follow an exact nutrition protocol leading up to the race, I wasn’t neurotic about my gear and I didn’t care if something threw off my plan – I just had fun. I hope I finally learned that the people in this sport and the cause I race for is what makes all this worth it and that in the end nothing will ever be perfect and the only thing that matters is enjoying every second. I guess bloody feet and borrowed gear can make you think about stuff differently. Plus I got to share the experience with some really great people – more to come on the Triabetes festivities of the weekend…..


LoveOfShoes said...

Congrats, you really did put together a great race under the circumstances!

Amanda said...

Great RR!!! Love how everyone pulled together to help you out. What an amazing story.

You doing Musselman again this year?

Mary Eggers said...

OMG!!!!!!!!!!!! Ed you are MY guardian angel. What a performance on BORROWED STUFF!

PJ said...

That might be the best race report I've ever read. What a crazy experience! Most people would have been so overwhelmed with the negatives they likely wouldn't have raced. You are awesome. Can't wait to follow the rest of your season!

Alison said...

I just finished reading your entries from the past week, Ed. What a crazy as hell few days! So glad you were able to race and had the support of the Triabetes crew and the San Diego Tri club. Way to overcome. You kicked ass!

Scott K. Johnson said...

What an amazing story Ed! I'm so glad you got to race. Bee stings and bloody feet. Triumph over some very challenging circumstances.