Silicon Valley Long Course Triathlon Race Report
June 11, 2011, San Jose, CA --
The universe was bored today. It decided to amuse itself by screwing around with my day.
The alarm woke me at 3:00 a.m., after 2 hours of perfectly useless sleep.
I shuffled to the coffee pot. Organic, water-filtered decaf.
Decaffeinated, I hopped in the car to pick up my buddy Dret for the drive to San Jose.
The gas gauge read "empty".
I rolled the dice, pulling into a station next to my favorite Starbucks.
Snake eyes. The Starbucks was closed. And I remembered that my credit card had been cloned at this station a few days ago.
I found some gas nearby and managed to pick up Dret on time.
Being a good host, I sacrificed my pre-race Metallica, Foo Fighters playlist in favor of Dret's preferred "whiny British" playlist (his description). Somehow, without caffeine or metal, I fought through drowsiness, Coldplay, The Cure and The Church to deliver us to a Starbucks a block from the race start.
Man, I love coffee.
But the day was still in play and things were looking down. At race registration, they had no record of me.
After paying for the race a second time, I started wondering whether this was going to be the theme for the whole day.
In transition, I struggled to squeeze my swollen right leg into compression socks. Oh yeah, I remembered -- bee sting, right knee cap. I’m allergic. My right leg looked like a Bratwurst.
The swim offered a glimmer of hope. No one tried to drown me.
By the second lap, I was catching a bunch of young guys in blue caps who had started 6 minutes ahead. That's when the purple cap of my teammate, Erin Moody, tore past me. She started in the wave after mine.
I continue to be an excellent mediocre swimmer.
Since I didn't wear a watch, I had no idea what time I posted for the swim, but it didn't seem like there were too many guys ahead of me in my age group. Hailey Manning entered transition about a minute behind me, which meant she had made up two minutes on me in the swim -- par for the course.
In T1, I caught one of the guys in my age group who beat me out of the water. He was breathing really hard, had a solid padding of body fat, hairy legs and was struggling with his wetsuit. One down.
I headed out on the bike feeling good -- ripping through the field, stalking guys in my age group. But by mile 10, I had caught plenty of guys in their 20's and 30's, and not a single 45-49 year old.
Damn, those old guys are fast, I thought.
My rear tire interrupted my train of thought with a tragic, sudden eruption of air.
I was never going to to catch those fast-swimming 45-49 year olds with a flat.
But, I didn't just have a flat. I had the worst possible flat -- a flat that is not quite flat enough to remove the tire from the rim without manually releasing the rest of the air. Which, you would think, would be easy. Except that I ride a disk with a valve extender, meaning that I couldn't get to the valve stem -- because I am an idiot who forgot to bring a piece of wire to jab into the valve extender.
Hailey and a whole train of others passed me.
Momentary frustration gave way to genuis.
To release the rest of the air, all I had to do is to find the shard of glass, slice of metal or whatever it was that caused my flat and jam it deeper into my tire. Voila! -- complete flat -- then I could change the tube and get on with my day.
But since the whole day was apparently a practical joke, it wasn’t that easy.
The tire looked like new. There was no reason for the flat.
I decided it was best to keep riding and figured eventually the tire would go flat on its own.
Of course, that’s precisely when the tire decided to hold on to air. I couldn't get a complete flat if my life depended on it. Five miles later, I was still riding. It felt like I was pulling a parachute. I couldn't stand it any more.
Pulling over, I stared at my tire hard, willing it to go flat.
Then, I thought, “hey, dumkopf!” why not jam some more air in there? What's the worst that can happen? I popped the CO2 canister onto the tire and waited for it to explode.
Nope, just a slow leak through the valve stem. “Hissssss.”
I got back on the bike and rode, sounding like I had a snake in my back pocket.
Resigned, I figured I would pull over and add air every so often. Eventually, it would go completely flat or explode.
Either option was fine with me. My race was over.
Sensing that I was about to shut it down, the universe suddenly realized that it is no fun to toy with a broken man. And just like that, my tire was capable of holding enough air to allow me to complete the bike leg.
Absurdly, it wasn't a terrible ride. I caught quite a few more young guys, finishing in about 2 hours and 33 minutes.
But still, I hadn't caught a single one of the fast guys in my age group.
“Is everyone in my age group on testosterone therapy?” I wondered.
Racking my bike, I stared at my swollen right leg and considered whether it was worth doing the 9 mile run. These guys were just too fast. I was mentally beaten.
But I’m proud that I’ve never quit a triathlon. And, being honest with myself, a few minor problems pop up in every race. This race wasn’t really any different. I was just piling the little things on top of one another, creating the illusion that I had a major problem. Maybe I had to come to terms with the fact that I just wasn’t fast enough.
I headed out to the run, with my teammate Jaffa cheering me on, saying "keep it smooth, Steve!"
"Smooth, smooth, smooth" I thought.
The first couple miles were anything but smooth. I was breathing way too hard, I was fixated on the time I lost because of the flat tire and I was almost hoping my leg would go from numb to painful so I could stop the suffering.
I was a man in a funk, searching for excuses.
But, with a solid dose of "keep it smooth" bouncing through my skull, I made it to mile 3 -- only 6 miles to go.
I approached the first out-and-back, watching the guys ahead of me running in the opposite direction. Oddly, there were only about twenty or so guys ahead of me, and not many of them looked all that old.
Of course, we 46 year-olds can be deceivingly young looking.
But still, I grabbed that glimmer of hope like a drowning man holds onto a life raft.
Statistically, with 20 guys ahead of me, I figured I might be in the top 5 in my age group. And finishing top 5 with a flat tire would be respectable, right?
I saw that my Team Pac Bikes buddies, Dret, Nate Helming and Adam Carlson were about 5 - 10 minutes ahead -- surprisingly close, given that they had started in earlier swim waves and were each complete studs -- and younger.
Ok, I decided. I can make it to the finish. Just focus on not losing any more spots the guys chasing.
By mile 6, I had been passed by one 30 year old, but he seemed fast and I was managing to keep him in sight. Another small victory.
By mile 7, at the second out-and-back, I saw Nate, Adam and Dret again and it seemed like they hadn't opened up the gap much. Of course, without a watch this was an estimate. But after rounding the turn myself, I noticed that there was a big gap to the next guy who might be in my age group.
I ran for all I was worth, my sausage leg flying in the wind, now completely numb.
To the finish line I raced, another young guy coveting my finishing spot a hundred yards back, a quarter mile from the line. I gave it all I had, now wanting to hold off everyone, not just the guys in my age group.
Sprinting across the line ahead of my pursuer, I was mentally and physically done.
I stood there for a second to let the guy who was chasing me cross the line. We did the dude-hug-thing and congratulated each other, reminding me why I put myself through this stuff.
Adam and Dret had finished a few minutes previously and had waited at the finish line to greet me.
After standing around chatting with Adam for a few minutes, Dret wandered over again. He had checked the results and delivered the unfortunate news that I wasn't on the first page of finishers, meaning that it was unlikely I had finished on the podium.
Dret had had a terrific race for someone who had run 30 miles the day before and had finished 4th in his age group.
Oh well, I figured. All told, it turned out to be a fine day and a solid effort. Still, I was curious about where I had placed. I was secretly holding out hope for a top 5 finish.
I went with Adam to check the results.
We found Adam's name quickly and saw that like Dret, he had finished 4th in his age group, another fantastic result.
But my name didn't seem to be on the list at all -- forget top 5. I was just as non-existent as when I tried to register this morning. "Figures", I thought, dejectedly. They probably forgot to activate the timing chip.
I scanned the list to at least see whether I knew the names of the top finishers in my age group.
Some guy named Stenier Kukia had won the age group -- never heard of the guy. This age group keeps getting faster and deeper.
I kept scanning the list, trying to estimate where I would have placed based on Adam’s finishing position. But because he had started 6 minutes ahead of me and because people were crowded around the list, fingers pointing in every direction, it was a little too chaotic to make sense of the details.
That’s when I noticed it -- Stenier Kukia and I had the same race number! He was me! I won!
After all this, I won my first race?
I had been third out of the water by about a minute or two, had passed both of the other guys in T1 and had been chasing ghosts all day. I had a 12 minute lead off the bike even with all my flats.
"Adam, that's me! I am Stenier Kukia! I think they couldn't read my handwriting when I re-registered this morning."
"Way to go, Stenier!" Adam said.
"How do you think I should pronounce my name?"
"Stenier. Silent “r”, I think," he said.
"I do like the French pronunciation."
Dret, of course, lobbied for the Germanic pronunciation (Stenierch), with a guttoral “r”.
But I’m going with "Stenier (Stenyear) Kukia (Kookya)" -- the mysterious triathlete with one swollen leg, who won his age group by 20 minutes in his first and only race.
"Fear the Stenier!" I say.
Next race: Vineman 70.3.
See you there!