Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ironman 70.3 World Championship Race Report, 2013

Ironman 70.3 World Championships, Las Vegas, NV
September 8, 2013

Race Report

Weeks ago, my friends, Meredith Kessler, Monica Moreno, all of Team Every Man Jack, my mom and my wife told me that I should consider skipping the 70.3 World Championship race in Vegas if I wanted to race well at Ironman Lake Tahoe two weeks later.  

This was sensible advice -- which I planned to ignore.  After a great summer of training at elevation, I was pretty much immortal and all-knowing -- like when I was 15 years old.

But as race day approached on Sept. 8, 2013, I had come to accept that my friends had a point.  The Ironman Lake Tahoe course would be taking no prisoners and it would eviscerate anyone who dared race it in a fatigued state.  And so, I reached a compromise with myself and decided to simply "participate -- not race" in the World Championships, saving my fitness for Ironman Lake Tahoe.  

There was only one problem with this plan:  I'm not a natural participator.  

Some, including my brother and my wife have called me an egotistical, over-competitive jerk.  But that's only because they can't forgive me for crushing them in a game of Risk during the Christmas of 1998 and then trash talking all night.  Losers.

The point being, that my mental makeup isn't consistent with being intentionally uncompetitive.  

So I formed a plan:  I would convince myself that I was just having a training day with 2000 of my closest buddies.  No race visualizing, no stressing about efficient transitions, no worrying about whether I was racing with the right equipment -- I would completely disconnect from the racing process.  

It didn't occur to me that I might be too successful at executing this plan.

The first sign that I had successfully brainwashed myself into thinking that this wasn't a race, arose on Saturday morning at the one and only official practice swim.  

Having intentionally not read the athlete guide, because this wasn't a real race, and having skipped every mandatory race meeting since 2010, I was surprised to learn that we racers were required to wear timing chips at the practice swim.
The timing chip march through the practice swim.  Note the security barriers.

Of course my timing chip was still in my room -- in the paper envelope with my untouched copy of the athlete's guide.  

Wanting to at least feel whether the water in Lake Las Vegas was as viscous and foul as it smelled, and to get in a short swim workout in preparation for Ironman Lake Tahoe, I ran back to my room and grabbed the timing chip.  

A race official in a yellow shirt triple checked my timing chip, executed a full-body cavity search and performed a quick check of my credit rating (ok, I made those last two things up), and I was allowed to enter the water for 15 minutes.  

Swallowing some of the foul brown water while I was splashing around in the lake, I quickly gained an appreciation for why Ironman was guarding this swimming hole with such diligence -- they were afraid someone might swallow a mouthful, get a chunk of mystery gunk caught in their wind-pipe and choke to death.  

"Good thinking", I thought.   

I, on the other hand, was increasingly doing less thinking.  

I headed over to the parking lot where we were to check in our run bags at T2, arriving there without attaching my race numbers to my transition bag.  Like my timing chip, I had left the number stickers with the still-unread athlete guide in the big white envelope.

I really should spend more time in that envelope, I thought as another yellow shirted volunteer loaned me a Sharpie to write my numbers on my bag.  

Back at the hotel, I had an hour to pull my stuff together for the mandatory bike check-in.  Unfortunately, my luck wasn't improving and I couldn't make air stay in my tires.  I hadn't ridden my race wheels since Ironman Los Cabos in March and it seemed that my wheels were holding a grudge -- at least the rear wheel was.

Figuring it must be a bad tube, I removed the old tube and installed a new one.  The new tube was holding a grudge as well -- which was unfair since I hadn't done anything to that new tube.  

With 15 minutes left before the bike check in was scheduled to close, the adrenaline started to flow and I had an idea -- I should check the rear tire for sharp foreign objects.  

Within seconds I was able to locate a cactus thorn the size of an olympic javelin, impaling my rear tire.  It was so weaponized, I had to use a pair of plumbing pliers to yank it from the rubber. 

That's the thorn at the bottom.  That thing at the top is what I use to attach my race number to my shorts.

Mystery solved, I quickly changed the tire and raced downstairs to check in my bike and bike gear bag, arriving just minutes before the scheduled closure of T2.  

A yellow-shirt-guy blocked my way.  "Now what?" I thought.  

"Uh, sir, you need numbers on your bike before you can check it in." 

I stared at my bike like it had somehow betrayed me.  Was I having a stroke?  How could I have forgotten to put my the numbers on the bike? 

"Let me guess," I said, already knowing the answer.  "The bike numbers are in the big white envelope?"  

"Yep.  And you need a number on your helmet too."  I looked down at my helmet, which technically did have a number on it, just not the one for this race.  

Talking the yellow shirt guy into keeping transition open for a few more minutes, I sprinted back to my room, retrieved some numbers and stuck them to my race-things.  

I was starting to annoy myself.

Tomorrow would be different, I promised.

Unfortunately, there was more time left in today.  

I headed back to the room and began meticulously setting out all the gear I would need for tomorrow's race -- I mean, "training day."  

Goggles: check.  Nutrition bottles: check.  Every Man Jack tri-kit:  check.  No, check that -- "Have you seen my tri-top, honey?" I shouted to my wife, Laura.

"You're kidding, right?" she replied.  "You forgot your race top?"  

"Err, let me just dig through my bag again…yep.  Forgot it.  I've got the shorts though, so I have that going for me," I said, optimistically.  "In fact, I've got four pairs of shorts."  

I contemplated how I might creatively fashion a tri-top from one of my many pairs of shorts.

Cut a hole in the crotch... head through the crotch, arms through the leg holes..., hmmm.  

Nope, holding it up to the mirror, I decided that this would not be a good look.

Out of options, I found a loose fitting Team Every Man Jack running tank top in my bag and named it to the starting lineup.  It would be my new tri-top.  Aerodynamics and hydrodynamics be damned, at least it would be cool on the run, I thought.  

Mercifully, that was the last mistake I made on race-eve -- in part because I ordered myself to go to bed before I screwed anything else up.

After a cleansing night's sleep, I awoke to a new day, determined to be the model of efficiency.  After all, I grew up in Germany for Pete's sake.  "Have some self-respect, Herr Kukta" I chastised  myself as I drank my pre-race coffee.    

Alas.  It was not to be.   

With a 7:40 wave start time, I had figured I would get a little more sleep and head down to transition at around 6:30.  Looking out the window, eating breakfast at around 6:15, I noticed two things:  First, it was pouring rain, and, second, a bunch of people seemed to be sprinting towards transition.  

"That's odd," I thought about the sprinting people, dismissing it without further consideration.  

I grabbed my dry-clothes bag, threw a beach towel over my head to keep some of me dry, grabbed my swim gear, and headed down to prepare my transition area.  

Walking up to the entry into transition, the yellow-shirt-guy who busted me for forgetting my numbers last night was glaring at me and was blocking my entry into transition again.  He was either annoyed that I was doing something wrong again or he didn't like standing in ankle high mud in the pouring rain.  

I was rooting for him to be a rain-hater. 

"Sir, the transition area closed half an hour ago.  You can't go in there," he said.

"Seriously?  My wave doesn't go off for over an hour," I pleaded.

"Seriously," he said.  "You're really late.  Didn't you read the athlete's guide?  The pros go off in a few minutes and we need the transition area clear when they come out of the water."  

I didn't bother lying -- yet.  We both knew I hadn't touched the athlete's guide, much less read it, so lying about that detail was pointless and I might just annoy the yellow shirt more than I already was.

But I had to get into transition to put air in my tires and stick some fuel on my bike.  

Fortunately, some might say that I have a talent for talking people into things.  And this guy struck me as a softie under his stern visage.  

"Sir," I said, trying to look as somber as a man wearing a beach towel draped over his head could look, "this race means a lot to me.  I've worked incredibly hard to get here.  My wife surprised me by flying in yesterday and it would be devastating to her and to my entire family if I couldn't race.(I didn't mention that my family was busy having coffee on the patio of my mom's house in Southern California -- not that they wouldn't be devastated for me if I were to later tell them the story about me not being allowed to race in a sad enough manner).  I just need 5 minutes to put my bike bottles on my bike and put a little air in my tires.  Five minutes, tops.  By the time the pros get into transition, I'll be long gone."

At that moment, it seemed like yellow shirt guy might have teared-up a bit; though on further reflection, that was probably an illusion created by the fact that he was soaked to a level of wetness that was beginning to make his cheeks a bit pruney.  

"Ok, ok, but hurry," he said, his voice softening.

I patted him on the shoulder in thanks and jogged through the mucky transition area to my bike.  

Feeling like I should keep my word to the nice volunteer guy, I hurried to get stuff done.  

Standing in front of my bike, I reached into my bag for my bike bottles.  No bike bottles.   Somehow, I had been carrying a bag that weighed as much as pocket lint and never realized that my Cytomax bottles were not in there.

I started to count to 10 to calm myself down, but realized I didn't have that kind of time.  

"AAARRRGGHHH," I thought, instead.  

Ok, don't panic, just ride slow for the first 15 miles, don't sweat much (which fortunately wasn't going to be a problem since we were going to be riding in a monsoon) and get whatever sports drink they have at the aid stations, I thought.  

Borrowing a pump from a lady on the other side of the transition fence, I managed to put some air into my bike tires, stare for a pathetic moment at the empty bottle cages on my bike and declare it ready.  

At least I was going to be out of the transition area quickly.  Looking back as I was leaving, I saw that the guy in the yellow shirt was watching me.  I sensed that even he was impressed with the speed with which I had gotten my bike ready.  

But, while I was now getting quicker, I was not getting smarter.  

With transition locked up behind me, I noticed that, in my hand, I was carrying a small vial containing my electrolyte tablets -- a vial that belonged on my bike.   

Adapting to my own stupidity a little better each time I screwed something up, I didn't even blink as I walked along the fence heading into transition and propped my bottle of salt pills on a fence post.  

I figured I'd grab the vial off the fence post when I came running into T1.  

I've still got it, I thought.  

As soon as I started to walk away, though, a woman in a yellow shirt walked over, took my pill bottle and started walking off.  

"Excuse me!" I called.  Those are my salt pills.  I forgot to put them on my bike.  I'm leaving them on the fence post so I can grab them when I run into transition from the swim."  

"Oh, sorry.  I thought someone forgot them there." 

"No.  I've forgotten a lot of things in the last day, but that's actually not one of them."  I really didn't want to get into more detail, so I just left it at that.   

"Would you like me to put your pill bottle on your bike?" She asked, kindly.  

"You can do that?"  I said impressed by her power to go into the closed transition area. "That would be awesome," I said.  She headed off towards my bike, while I trudged carefully through the slippery mud towards the lake. 

Walking towards the mass of people milling around waiting for their swim waves.  I noticed that most people were barefoot.  I felt very clever for having kept my shoes and socks on.  But looking at peoples' bare feet made me I realized that everyone had timing chips wrapped around their ankles.

Anxiety took ahold and I was suddenly afraid to look down at my ankle.     

I knew instinctively that I didn't have my timing chip.  At a normal race, I'm such a nerd about wearing my timing chip that I have it on me days in advance of the race.  But here, on race day, (and yesterday at the practice swim), I somehow managed to forget my timing chip.    

I mean, for Pete's sake, I had actually been wearing the stupid thing all day yesterday after the practice swim and still I had managed to lose it.  
Rocking the awesome Hokas, with my timing chip on.  This was the last timing chip sighting before the race.

Now I was getting stressed.  I needed to find a new timing chip.

Stomping through the mud to the front of the swim start area, I begged a spare timing chip from another guy in a yellow shirt.  He seemed unhappy to see me and he too was extremely wet -- no one, it seems had remotely considered bringing an umbrella to Las Vegas.  

This made me feel slightly less inept.  

New timing chip in hand, I marched back through the muck to the end of the line of athletes and stood with the guys in my age group.  With a full 45 minutes to go until our swim wave was scheduled to enter the water, I struck up a conversation with a couple locals.  It turns out that they didn't even own umbrellas -- they had never seen rain in September -- ever.  

Since they looked bored and miserably wet, I tried to amuse them by telling them about the many things I had done wrong in the last day.  

I ended the tale by pointing at my timing chip.  "And here's the new timing chip!" I said, proudly. 

Being World Championship-level, type-A personalities, they were less amused and more analytical.  "Where did you leave your first chip?" one of the Vegas guys asked. 

"I don't know for sure, but I thought I put it in my swim cap.  At least that's I usually do.  But I'm not doing anything like I usually do it, so who knows." 

"Did you check to see if it fell out of your swim cap into the dry clothes bag?"  the other guy asked.

"Yeah, I checked.  And double checked," I said, opening the bag to show him the empty insides.

"Uh, there's a timing chip in there."  

"No way," I said, looking into the bag at missing timing chip.  


The timing-chip-guy was even wetter and grumpier when I showed up the second time.  I handed him back his spare timing chip, showing him my original chip in my other hand. 

"Sorry,"  I said.  "I'm an idiot."  

He grunted something that sounded like agreement. 

The race began.  

Miraculously, I was a part of it.  

In most triathlons it doesn't take long for the group of swimmers in a wave to break up and find room to swim without being punched and kicked.  After all, in a non-championship triathlon you have a few fast guys, a few more faster than average guys, a larger group of average swimmers and then a bunch of folks who are swimming in multiple wrong directions.   

But a non-championship triathlon is unlike a World Championship race.  In a championship race, most everyone is a competent swimmer and everyone is looking to draft off everyone else.  This creates a fight for space unlike in any other race.  

By prior unspoken agreement, we men in the 45-49 age group resolve this problem by attempting to drown each other into submission.   I swallowed quite a bit of the brown water as a result.  

On the bright side, I was going to be well hydrated for the first hour on the bike.  And given the amount of solids in the lake, I probably swallowed a few calories.  So I was taking care of fueling without even trying.  Genius.   

Exiting the swim and running to the bike transition, was a bit of a trek.  We ran around a significant portion of the lake, up and over a bridge and were deposited into what used to be a grassy area, but what was now tenderized sod.  

Running from the swim to the bike, strategically finding deep puddles to wash my feet clean.

Being the two-thousandth person to arrive at the field meant that the mud and grass was ankle deep.  My feet were starting to look like sod by the time I arrived at the edge of the lawn where the path turned into sand … "SAND?  Seriously?" I thought.   

But there was no way around it.  Soon my feet were encased in mud, grass and sand, I was getting pelted by driving rain, and yet, in the midst of the most inept race I've ever done, I experienced a minor miracle:  

I remembered that I needed to grab my salt pills off the fence post.

"Things are turning around," I thought.  Of all the things I figured to screw up, remembering those salt pills seemed pretty high on the list.  And yet, after getting punched in the head for 35 minutes, my brain now seemed to be operating at peak efficiency again.  

The salt pills were gone.  

I stared at the fence post bewildered, then began walking around in circles looking for the pill bottle on the ground and on the other side of the fence.  This was very distressing.  I had remembered these pills against all the odds, and now fate was denying me the satisfaction of doing something right.   

Looking like a soaked mental patient, I drew the attention of a guy in a yellow shirt, who appeared to recognize me.   

"Hey." he said joylessly, water dripping off his hair, soaking his already soaked yellow shirt.  "She put your pill bottle on your bike, remember?" 

"Right.  I am now officially a moron," I thought.   

Running to my bike, aiming for every mud-puddle to wash the junk off my feet, I stripped off my speed-suit, my goggles and my swim cap and prepared to toss them into my bike bag.  There was just one problem.  My bike bag was gone.  

"Really!??  What kind of freak steals a plastic bag?" I thought.  Or did I just forget to leave it here.  There was no way of knowing.  

Had anyone, ever had to overcome more self-inflicted adversity to finish a triathlon?  I was beginning to think that I was going to find out.  

I resigned myself to blunder heroically onward to the finish.  

Locating another yellow shirt, I held my wet bundle of swim gear at arms length.

"Could you please make sure that my swim gear makes it into a bag marked with number 1816?  My blue bag seems to have disintigrated I was swimming."

She looked dubious of my story and unhappy to touch my wet bundle, like she might want rubber gloves.  Toughening up, she said, "1860, got it.  Don't worry about it."

"six-teen," I said.


Oddly, I never doubted that my stuff would be there for me at the end of the race.  The yellow shirted people were proving themselves to be way more competent that me. 

Running out of transition with my bike, it felt surprisingly light and nimble.  Right.  No bottles. It was light by 4 lbs. of liquids.  

With the run out of transition being a long, steep uphill, (and being so well rested from all the walking around, doing things, in transition) I was moving pretty fast.  Unfortunately, the area where you push your bike out of transition is a one-lane deal and I was behind a guy who needed bike pushing lessons.  He was running in his plastic-soled bike shoes, uphill on a strip of wet and muddy astroturf.  

Friction and gravity were not his friend.  After much running in place, he arrived at the bike-mount line, where the astroturf ended and asphalt began.  This sudden appearance of traction caused him to lurch forward, face-first onto the ground.  The yellow shirt people picked him up as I ran around him to the bike-start line.  

Once on the bike, I was committed to going easy.  And with the monsoon turning the pavement into a river, this seemed like the smart play.  My Team Every Man Jack teammate, Yoni, passed me about half an hour into the ride on his way to an insanely fast bike split.  

And then it was just me, water dripping off my helmet onto my face, getting sprayed by huge rooster-tails of water shooting off the other riders' rear wheels.  
Just trying to keep the rubber side down on the bike course.  

I dodged hundreds slower riders over the next 30 miles.  With the course being essentially a series of mile long downhills, followed by mile long uphills, I was much happier pedaling the uphills.   

The downhills were not for the fain-of-heart.  With so many riders on the course, many of them from slower waves that took off before mine, I was forced repeatedly to squeeze past people riding two and three wide all of whom were shooting water in my face.

This wouldn't have been a problem if I wasn't going downhill at over 40 mph -- and if there hadn't been oncoming car traffic hugging the centerline of the road.  After a couple near-misses, I started to think that perhaps I should forget about making passes on the downhills and just wait to pass when crashing wouldn't have such dire consequences -- like at 9 mph on the uphills.  

Unfortunately, with so much water on the road, my brakes were just fancy carbon hand-holds that didn't remotely slow the bike down.     

At mile 40, I passed another teammate, Patrick, who appeared to have a mechanical issue as he was pulling to the side of the road.

As I passed, I looked over my shoulder at 30mph and yelled, "you ok?"  

I couldn't hear Pat's answer, but he stuck a finger in the air.  Which finger, I couldn't specifically see with my vision obscured by the torrent of water running over my sunglasses, but I chose to believe it was a thumbs up and kept pedaling.  

About this time, I noticed that my loose fitting running shirt wasn't ideal for cycling.  For one, I had to tuck it into my shorts to keep it from flapping in the wind, and this wasn't very stylish or comfortable.  

But, a more annoying problem was that the collar was cutting into my throat.  I attributed this to the fact that the shirt wasn't designed for bike riding.  But whatever the cause, I spent a lot of time tugging it away from my neck during the ride.  The heavier the rain, the heavier the shirt got, the more it tried to choke me into unconsciousness.  

My shirt collar might have been uncomfortable, but the bike ride got more beautiful as the rain slowed.

And tugging the neck down wasn't exactly without consequences.  The neck of the shirt would billow and scoop up the fast-moving air every time I pulled it down -- a distinctly un-aerodynamic thing.  But at least the collar wasn't choking me for a few minutes.  

A race report is never complete without at least one paragraph dedicated to all the cheating drafters on the bike.  From about mile 40 to mile 52, I was passed by no less than 100 people, riding in three groups of about 30 to 40 riders each, 95 percent of whom I had passed long ago and who were now hitching a ride behind a handful of strong cyclists, who were unhappily helping the cheaters post fast bike times.  

Fortunately for the good riders who were getting screwed by all the drafting, the last four miles of the bike-leg are significantly uphill and into the wind.  This caused the the last group of cheaters to explode, and allowed the strong cyclists to ride away.   

As I worked my way past the drafters, giving them my best "tsk, tsk" look, as I moved to the front of the pack, I eventually rolled up next to, and said hello to the guy named Brahim (or so it said on his shorts), who had been at the front of the peloton, pulling the last group of free-loaders in his draft. 

"Hey Brahim, nice pull," I said.  "The 30 people who rode in your draft for the last few miles asked me to ride up here and thank you."  

"They wouldn't need to draft if they could ride," said Brahim.  

"True.  Have a good race," I said, pedaling off up the hill.

At T2, after a 2:35 bike split (about 6 minutes slower than a couple years ago) I hopped off the bike and began running into the transition tent, sprinting past a number of folks who were struggling to find their legs.  My legs felt fine, having done an easy ride.  But I remembered that sprinting through transition was sort of like racing, and I was supposed to be cruising today.  I punished myself for my transgression by taking extra time in the transition tent.  

Experiencing the transition tent in a relaxed state was eye-opening.  Before I opened my bag containing my running shoes, I spent a couple seconds taking in the atmosphere, something I'd never done before despite having been in tents like this dozens and dozens of times.   

The tent was mayhem.  

People were walking around naked, hopping on one foot trying to get into shorts.  They tried to put wet feet into dry socks frustrating themselves terribly.  And, people in yellow shirts ran around trying to keep order and offer physical and psychological support.  

As for me, for once, I was going to treat this place like a spa.    

"Sure, a bottle of water would be great, thanks.  And would you mind applying a bit of sunscreen to my neck and shoulders?  Fabulous.  Appreciate you putting my helmet in my bag for me.  Am I done here?  Have I got everything?  Ok, then.  I guess I'll get on with it.  Thanks for the assistance."

So, as I jogged out of the tent into the sunlight, (the rain had stopped just in time for the last 20 minutes of the bike leg), I was ready for a nice long run. But wow, it seemed bright.  Blindingly bright.  About 50 yards later it dawned on me that I had left my sunglasses in the changing tent.  

Running back to my seat, I looked around on the floor for my glasses and found nothing.  That's when my butler saw me and asked if he could help me with something.  

"I lost my sunglasses," I said.  "I think I need them.  It's blindingly bright out there."

"It's the desert, sir.  And, uh, I think your sunglasses were in your helmet.  I put them both in the bag, sir."

"Great, do you have my bag?"  

"Err, yep.  It's somewhere in that pile over there.  What's your number?"

"1816," I said semi-patiently, fighting my nature, as I stared at a huge pile of bags.  

"1860?" he asked digging through the pile.

"six-teen,"  I enunciated.  I must have a lisp, I thought.

"Got it.  Wow, I tied quite a knot in this," he said grinning.  

I nodded non-committally, not being sure whether he was bragging about being good at tying knots or explaining why he was so slow.   

"There you go," he said triumphantly, threading my Rudy Projects through the hole in the still-knotted bag.  

"Thanks!" I said, attempting to bend the arms of the sunglasses back into a shape that resembled my head. 

Running out of transition, I gave up trying to fit the sunglasses on my face and instead, attached them to my visor where they stayed for the rest of the race.  

Surprisingly, running at a nice easy jog got me to the first mile marker at a bout a 7:13 pace.  Of course that first mile is downhill, so there would be slower sections to come, since the run course is essentially 3 laps on a two mile long course with 2 miles up and 2 miles down -- until you get to 13.1 miles.   

As I tugged on the collar of my tank top, making the turn to start the uphill, it occurred to me that this shirt really wasn't very good for running either.  Not only was it still choking me, but being soaked, I noticed that it was incredibly heavy. 

Still, I was proud to be representing Team Every Man Jack.  People would see me coming and shouted "Clean Up Nice!"  I thought it was cool that people seemed to remember the Every Man Jack slogan.   
Cruising.  The combination of running in Hokas and taking it easy made this an enjoyable run.  

Running along at mile 3, having settled into about a casual pace on the uphill, the heat was starting to boil the rain-water off the asphalt.  

"Ice.  I need ice!" I yelled to a volunteer as I ran up to an aid station.  Grabbing the cup of ice, I dumped it into my tank top and watched unhappily as the loose fitting shirt failed to keep any of the ice near my body.  Instead the ice hung in a little pouch off the front of my stomach, making me look like I had a belly hanging over my tri-shorts. 

"Not a great look," I thought.   

But man it was getting hot.  I toughened up and pulled the front of my tri short open, shaking the ice into my shorts.  "Aaahhh."

Miles 3 to 5 were downhill and very enjoyable.  Even if I had been stressed about my finishing time and place, it would have been impossible to know where I was on the course.  I saw Tom Trauger and Devashish Paul coming the other way and had no idea whether we were even on the same lap.  

And so it went, 2 miles uphill, two downhill, repeat. 

My sense was that, wherever I had gotten off the bike (33rd place it turned out, after a being in 62nd after the swim), I was being passed by surprisingly few guys considering how little effort I was giving this race.  And, as the run wore on, some of the guys who had run by really fast at the start of the run, slowed down enough that I started catching them.  

Of course, since they were racing this thing, they weren't going to let me pass them without a fight and so they began seesawing with me, trying to secure that valuable 40th or so place in the standings.  

They didn't know, nor did it matter to them that I wasn't trying to beat them.  To them, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I was a guy stealing their place in the top 40 -- someone who had to be dealt with.  I had to respect that.  

On the other hand, the last thing I wanted to do this day was to exert myself in a pique of competitive adrenaline.  So I made a game of slowing down for just 20 yards or so every time someone in my age group passed me.  I could tell that this made my "competitors" feel great as they appeared to be surging past me.  

Unfortunately for them, as they looked back over their shoulders repeatedly to make sure the pass was sticking, they seemed to dig a little deeper and expend energy unnecessarily.  And since the act of slowing down was actually allowing me to conserve energy, it wasn't long before I started re-catching the same guys and we enacted the competitive dance all over again.  

Interestingly, of the handful of guys with whom I was "racing" over the last half of the run, most seemed to blow up completely after a few back-and-forths with me.  Perhaps this was a lesson in race strategy to stick in my back pocket for some future race, I thought.  

As I ran the last mile downhill to the finish line, I couldn't help but to reflect on how much more relaxing not-racing is than racing.  

So why do we race? I thought.  

The answer came in the finishing straight.  

A quarter mile from the finish line, a guy in my age group put in a heroic effort.  He caught me, looked at me as he attempted to put in a surge, a grimace of pain blanketing his face, pumped his arms and legs furiously and opened a small gap.  

The urge to just sprint by him to the finish line was almost overwhelming.  I've never exercised so much self control in my life.  I was running right at my 7:20 pace and had so much energy left, it would have been unfair to unleash it all on this guy who wanted 41st place so badly he was burying himself to beat me.  

I decided to keep my pace steady and let the chips fall where they may.  Seeing the small gap, my competition dug even deeper, straining his body in pain as he opened it up in the finishing straight.  He catapulted himself over the finish line and had to be caught by the volunteers.

Victory was his.  

No, that's not my finishing time.  My wave went off 70 minutes after the clock started.  

I jogged over the line some seconds later, feeling no real emotion and wanting nothing more than to get out of my uncomfortable shirt.  But looking at my counterpart kneeling on the ground, it was obvious that he felt something great.  He was smiling from ear to ear, despite the exhaustion. 

"And that," I thought to myself, "is why we don't just do these things for exercise."  

I bent over, looked at my opponent and said, "Congrats man.  Great race."  

On the other hand, it was nice to have the energy to walk over to the finish picture area and take a post-race picture that didn't make it look like I had just peeled myself off a hospital bed.

Yes, the shirt is still partially tucked in from my attempt to keep ice contained against my body.


Later on in the hotel room:  

Laura:  "So how did you feel out there today?"

Me:  "Great. No one has ever messed up a race worse than I did, but it's funny, I'm almost screw-up proof.  If I can finish a race under these conditions, nothing can stop me.  In the end, the only thing that really irritated me is the way this shirt rode up and choked me all day."  

See this," I said pointing to the high collar.  "It's just a stupid design." 

Laura:  "What shirt is that?"

Me:  Pointing to the name I believed to be on the front; "Every Man Jack.  You know, what it says on the shirt," I said sarcastically..    

Laura:  "It says 'Clean up Nice.'"  

Walking around to look at the back, she said "It says 'Every Man Jack' on the back.  And the collar in the back is low." 

"Did you wear that shirt backwards the whole race?"   

The end. 


  1. Holy smokes!! Loved the writeup! I was lauging the whole time!!

    Hopefully, focus will be a lot easier at Tahoe!

    All Day!