It’s been a busy time in this triathlete’s life, and so much has happened. But since this weekend’s official pictures are not available yet, and I haven’t mentioned last week yet, it seems appropriate to chronicle the first tri of the season, which sadly ended in a DNF.

As it was May the 4th it was fun to hit the road with one of my most stalwart road trip partners, Dennis, and head south toward New Jersey a day before the big race. Our first stop was at the King of Prussia Lego store for their May the 4th Star Wars promotion, then over to the IMAX theater for opening day of The Avengers. (It was about this time last year that I stopped on the way to Annapolis to see Thor on opening day.)

We settled in to the motel in Vineland NJ. Even though we were 25 miles from the race site, it seemed everyone at this motel was there for the race. That tells me the actual race site was pretty remote for Jersey. That’s good: little traffic.

Devilman is run by Piranha Sports. They do several events each year, and know how to put on a race. They have huge inflatable “tents” for registration, a finish line, and a very long inflatable chute as well. They provide free pictures with your registration. The only complaint I have is their BORING race shirts. They never change year to year, but on the other hand, they have a brand identity that you recognize right away. But hey, we don’t do this for shirts, right?

The worst part of the day was standing in line for registration. The entire East Coast gnat population apparently lays eggs in that field, and they all hatched that morning. I’ve never seen anything like it. I wish I had put on long clothes at the jeep beforehand, which I did after getting my packet. Dennis went to find a Walmart for bug spray. It was horrible. I’m talking about taking a bug zapper into transition for next year.

The sprint went off at 8am, the half-lite was at 8:20. Oh yeah, the race: Half-lite course, so just about 2/3 of a 1/2 ironman. (Or 1/3 ironman if you like.) .8 mile swim, 40.3 mile bike, 8.8 mile run.

This was my longest race to date. I noted on BT that I was way more intimidated at this event than at all the sprints I attended. Part of it was being the first tri of the year. But once you go longer in distance, the pool is less diverse, meaning, fewer fat guys. I was probably the heaviest guy there by at least 20-25 pounds, even after the weight loss. A high percentage of the parking lot was covered in 70.3 and 140.6 stickers. The average bike quality was higher. It’s just a more serious crowd than a sprint. So I’m back to feeling like the Sesame Street song “one of these things is not like the other, one of these things, doesn’t belong.” But I talked with someone who recognized me from BT, and felt more like I could do this.

The swim was two laps around a lake. Pros: no wind, no chop, no current. Cons: dark, disgusting goose-crap filled water. This was my first open water swim of the year. The buoys were laid out in a square, so I mentally figured it was 8 “lengths.”

I have to confess, by the time I finished one length, I had already decided I was done. I couldn’t believe how badly it went, and I wondered if they’d be pulling me out of the water. I was so disheartened at being out so early. I turned around the buoy and headed toward the corner. If I got there, I was halfway around, and the only way to get out would be to complete the square. At least do one lap, man.

Then around the second buoy, some voice in my head said “suck it up buttercup” or probably something with saltier words I won’t publish here. I decided that I drove all this way, I’m going to do this swim. If they tell me I didn’t make the cutoff, or drag me out, so be it. I’ll deal with it. But I’m not going to just crawl out after one tiny little 700 yard swim and call it a day. So I plugged on, I got my sighting down better. I settled into a rhythm I could sustain. I was lapped by the wave behind me, then people from my own wave. There weren’t many out of the water after me, but I got it done.

(look for the yellow cap)

I wasn’t kidding. Meg worries about all  open water, so Dennis texted her I was out. My total swim time was 38:39, which included a slow jog to transition. Extrapolate that to a HIM 1.2, and it would be a 58 minute swim. Within the cutoff, but not by much.

I was a bit dizzy for a while, but had to get out on the bike. I won’t even post the video Dennis shot of me leaving transition, it’s too painfully slow to watch.

Once on the bike, you tend to forget all about the swim. You get dried off from the wind, there’s a course full of people, and since this was two laps, I saw plenty of folks in both directions. There’s a psychological need to keep moving when other people can see you. And, when you see the wheelchair athletes go by on the other side, there’s certainly a shame factor in feeling tired and slow because you’re fat and out of shape. What’s my legitimate excuse exactly? Can I tell THAT guy why I feel like stopping? Again, suck it up buttercup.

I made the first loop in about the time I expected, which was dangerously close to the cutoff. We needed to average 14 mph, and I was at just that. Having used almost all the swim time possible, I had no cushion of “extra” time, so I had to keep going at the same rate for the next 20 miles.

Somewhere around mile 18, just before the first loop ended, I heard a huge pop and saw a flash underneath me. I thought I ran over my water bottle, but it was still there. I assumed I had a flat. I asked race volunteers as I went by, and no, I was not flat. I made the loop, saw Dennis, and headed out for round two.

But something wasn’t right on the bike. I had no idea what it was. So I finally pulled over. I found a broken spoke on my rear wheel. I never saw one before, so I wasn’t sure what it meant. I tried to snap it off by bending it back and forth, but that didn’t work. With no bike tech van around, I just decided to wrap it around the other spokes and keep moving. I lost time doing this, and my avg speed was down to 13.5 mph. I had to really push to get up to the minimum speed.

For the next 8 or so miles, I felt like I was just draining power. My speed kept dropping, and I figured I was just spent. I felt like I was pushing as hard as I could, but I was going slower. Was I really that fatigued?

As I got close to the turnaround, I did some math in my head. If the bike cutoff was 11:45, I would have to average over 20 mph to get there on time from where I currently was. I have never averaged 20mph anywhere.

At this point, I failed to take some of my own advice. I once got involved with a thread on slowtwitch about a guy who was mad that the course stayed open longer and let people finish who were past cutoffs, because he had DNF’ed, knowing he wouldn’t make the original cutoff time. It was an interesting thread, and I made some grandiose claim like “come on, you came to race. If they tell you you’re done, fine, but make them chase you down on the course. They’ll have to drag my fat ass off to DNF me.”

And here I was, mentally broken and giving up. I had no confidence. But at the same time, I also knew I was not going to be anywhere close to the cutoff, and this organization is serious about cutoffs, as well they should be.

So I decided to short the course, DQing myself, and head back to town. I was still going to ride back under my own power, but my race was over.

Having breathed a sigh of resignation, I eventually pulled over for a rest, my mind and body out of this race. I’d get there when I get there. As soon as I pulled over, a black pickup stopped, and though it wasn’t clear right away, the driver was a race volunteer. He asked if I needed a ride. I wanted to get back myself, but I also didn’t want to put demands on the course volunteers standing on the roads waiting out there for everyone. So, I very sadly, resigned myself to a ride. I had done 31.67 miles of 40, and I was done.

Then something happened to completely change my mood. I told him about my spoke, and he picked up my bike to load it in the pickup. Um, did you notice your wheel is all out of whack? It’s not spinning true. In fact, it won’t spin at all. It’s rubbing the brake every rotation.

So, for the past 11 miles, I’ve been pushing my own weight, as well as added resistance every rotation. It wasn’t a tiny rub, it was totally off. I realized I wasn’t losing ability, I was victim of a mechanical problem!

Suddenly, I didn’t feel like a complete loser who should go home and pull out of Eagleman immediately. I’d like to be the guy who averaged 18mph and would still have made the cutoff in that condition and discovered the problem later, after finishing the run and the race. I’d like to be the guy who doesn’t need every condition to be perfect to make the minimum. But today, I am still the guy happy to finish, and I am taking the experience for what it was: a mechanically induced DNF.

So at the end of the day, I had a great training morning. My longest OWS since the 5k DNF last year, and a 31 mile ride with resistance added.

By Monday afternoon, the bike was fixed. My local guy fixed the spoke and trued the wheel. Add a quart of fresh strawberries from their greenhouse and my total bill was $11.

I’m not proud of the mental breakdown I had in giving up when I was certain I was “beaten.” I saw people going out on the run well after 11:45, so maybe I could have too. I didn’t make them drag me off the course, I cut it myself. Granted, I had a mechanical reason, but at the time I really did not know that. I had quit before I knew why. But I have bounced back from that since, and I am continuing to move forward.

Next up – the bees are on the what now? And, Annapolis Rocks: the Encore.



2 thoughts on “If I Had More Time, I’d Write You a Shorter Blog Post: Devilman DNF

  1. DNF still beats DNS. You showed up, you gave it your all, and did well in spite of mechanical difficulties. That you could ride 11 miles with the brake full on is a testament to your strength and determination. I’m proud of you!

  2. Way to bounce right back up from an initially bad day, put it behind you (taking a few lessons from it) and looking ahead with a renewed passion and positive outlook!

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