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American Past Time
A novel by Len Joy

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Race Day

We got a break on the weather. Saturday morning was clear with temperatures in the 70s to start the day and the humidity was closer to 50% instead of the 90% that it had been all week.

I got up at 4 am, had a light breakfast and made it to the transition area a few minutes after it opened at 5 am. I had my tires pumped, arranged my bike helmet, racing belt, transition Gatorade, running shoes next to my bike and I was ready to go by 6 am. The 55-59 age group was the third wave off at 7:06 am. Some races they let the younger guys go first, which means that the older guys finish the course last. With this approach, while we are getting passed by a lot of the young guys at least everyone is finishing at about the same and as an observer it is nice to be able to see some of the top younger athletes performing.

There were 38 men in my age group/wave. We all got a surprise when we jumped into the Black Warrior River. There was a significant current. I had heard that the river had locks and that they were going to control to water flow so that the current was negligible, but perhaps because of the rain of the last few days, they couldn’t do that. Before the start we had to hold on to the pontoon deck to keep from floating down the river.

The swim course was set up so that we swam west and downstream for about four hundred meters, then across the river about fifty meters and then east, upstream, into the just rising sun for next thousand meters and then back to the shore. It was like swimming in one of those continuous pools that you see advertised in the airplane magazine. Once we made the turn upstream, I was unable to see any of the buoys. The sun was low and reflecting off the water and so I just followed the other swimmers. I hit one of the buoys with my arm, but never saw it until I did so. I was swimming my normal pace, which admittedly is not blistering, but I started to wonder where the hell the yellow turn-to-home buoy was.

Finally I saw it, but as I was making the turn around that buoy I ran into someone. I instinctively stopped swimming for a moment so as not to swim over them and both of my hamstrings cramped. It wasn’t a severe cramp, I just straightened my legs and kicked gently and continued swimming. As I neared the shore my goggles fogged up and with the sun’s reflection I could not see the finish line. Finally I took off my goggles so I could see. The current had pushed me downstream so I adjusted course and swam the remaining hundred yards without my goggles.

I had hoped to finish the swim in 34 to 36 minutes, but I knew it had taken me a lot longer than that. I expected my time to be maybe as bad as 45 minutes. When I looked at my watched I was shocked to see that I had been swimming for 58 minutes.

My legs felt a little crampy and my run to the transition area was slow as I tried to stretch them out. My transition time was just under three minutes. I made sure to take several gulps of Gatorade during the transition. I figured the cramps were due to slight dehydration as I was in the water about twenty minutes longer than normal and the water temp was 83 degrees.

I was, admittedly, discouraged with the awful swim time, but it is sort of like golf where you can’t undo a bad hole, so my new goal was to have a solid bike and run. However I was concerned about the cramping, so I did not gear as aggressively on the bike course as I had planned. On a couple of the steeper hills I dropped down to the small gear in the front so as not to put as much strain on the hamstring. I finished the bike course in about eighty minutes, an average of 20 mph, which was my goal.

However when I dismounted from the bike, both hamstrings cramped. For a moment I was just stuck at the dismount line, unable to move. Finally I was able to straighten my legs out and trotted gingerly back to the bike rack.

I had a lot of trouble getting my shoes on. I kept getting cramps in my quadriceps and hamstrings. It took me a couple of minutes, but I managed to pull them on. My original goal was to run the 10k in about 50 minutes, but my adjusted goal as I left transition was just to make sure I finished. I figured an easy pace of 8:15 to 8:30 was doable. I just needed to maintain a steady pace to avoid the cramps.

I have to say, after all my complaining about the weather, that in the swim and on the bike ride, the temperature was not uncomfortable. As I started the run, the sun was getting intense, but I felt good as I started the run. Then about a half mile out my right hamstring cramped and I had to stop and stretch it out. It took about thirty seconds and when I continued I slowed my pace and tried to will my legs not to cramp. At this point I just wanted to finish still running.

At the first mile aid-station I slowed to take a cup of Gatorade and the change in pace sent my right leg into a severe cramp. I was stuck at the aid station for a three of four minutes unable to get the muscle to relax.

At that point I realized that unless I just walked the course I would not be able to finish the race so I withdrew. A very disappointing conclusion. Nobody likes to post the result: DNF.

I’m glad that I waited a few hours to write the blog. I was real disappointed yesterday. I felt like I'd wasted a lot of time and money and did not perform up to my expectations, which was true. But it was an interesting experience. I had never competed in a national competition. Those other guys are really good, very fit, very experienced. I have a lot of work to become competitive.

The race organization was first class. They did an excellent job with all of the set up, the volunteers were great and there was a really cool jumbotron where they flashed the finishers name and showed them as they crossed the finish line. I would have liked to have seen my name up there, but I couldn’t make it happen this year. I hope to have another chance.

The key for me reaching my goal of becoming a top ten finisher by 2011 is to become a much better swimmer. I’m close to be competitive on the bike, and when my legs aren’t giving me a problem, I am more than competitive on the run. But I’m getting out of the water five to ten to fifteen minutes behind the top finishers in my age group, which is too much.

I think I can do better than that. We’ll see.

Workout: Loading my son’s van so we can drive him to New York tomorrow.

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