And that is how you mash up Van Halen, The Stones, and Charlie Daniels.
So, yeah…… Devilman 2013. I think I need to start by saying that in the Hyner Trail Challenge race report, when I quipped triathlon is for pansies, you all knew that was a joke, right? Tongue in cheek. I was merely pointing out that “just a run,” when over terrain like that, is so much more than a run. I never think I’m going to fall to my death in a triathlon. OK, maybe drowning has crossed my mind a few times. The point is, that previous comment was a joke. Sunday was definitely difficult. Crossing the finish line was far from a given.
I finished, I was last by a large margin, and I now have the most ridiculous tan line ever. Seriously. It’s making old ladies laugh at me.
This was race number two on the 2013 has to be better than 2012 redemption race circuit. Two weeks ago I finished the Hyner Challenge, after not even starting in 2012. I registered, paid, then passed on it. That was the beginning of a season of many misfires. I decided 2013 would be different, and so far so good. Devilman was stuck in my craw from 2012, when I dropped out on the bike route with a messed up rear wheel. It was a mixed bag, because I could tell myself that it was a mechanical problem, and I couldn’t do anything about it. The wheel was out of true, rubbing my brakes, slowing me down even further. That was all fact. But by the time I knew that, I had already quit mentally. That was a recurring theme of 2012, until I finally completed Beach 2 Battleship 1/2 distance in October.
So I have ghosts. Or, to quote Ironman 3, (which I saw in IMAX 3D on the way to this race) “we all create our own demons.” Well this is the year I get unfinished business off my back, so I can next turn to new business.
The day started with an interesting trade-off. Instead of the billions of gnats we dealt with in 2012, we had a cold, cold morning. No gnats, but a lot of people questioning their ability to swim in the temperature. Actually, the water was warmer than the air, but it was still a mental hurdle for some. I thought of Darren Miller getting ready for the North Sea channel crossing to complete the Oceans Seven this summer. By contrast, this would be a very warm, insanely short, swim for him right now.
The sprint course begins before the half-lite, so I got to watch a couple of swim waves. After having been in surf conditions, a bay, and larger lakes where my destination wasn’t even visible at the start line, I felt very calm looking out at the square of buoys. The distance was nothing to fear, but a year ago, this same venue was the site of my longest open water swim to date, and the spot right where I had my first open water freakout. I was barely halfway down the first side of the square on the first of two laps when I was convinced I wasn’t going to make it under my own power. I pushed through that last year, and finished the swim. I had no doubts at all this time. Still, I think that there must be some weird energy there, because that’s the spot where I saw people dropping out right away, including the snorkel guy.
I went in the water with the yellow cap wave, which consisted of 39 and under males, and Clydesdales. The pre-registered Clydes had consecutive bib numbers, so we met in transition. Only four had pre-registered, and there was an empty spot beside me. I thought there were only three of us in the race, so maybe I’d snag an AG award for showing up. It wouldn’t be the first time I was dead last and got an AG award, and I am not too proud to take it. One of the other guys dropped out on the swim with goggle issues, so I was sure I was 2 out of 2. It turns out that a few more registered the day before and day of, so no auto-AG award this time. I was 5th of 5 Clydes to finish.
One day I will actually follow through with my continual lament about swimming form. But until then, I know the pace I can expect, and I just live with it. I was shooting for a 35 minute swim, knowing transition would take some time, and hoping to be on the bike course by 9am. I was close. My swim was 32 minutes, and my transition took a bit longer. I was not the last yellow cap out of the water, but I was the last into transition with a pretty lengthy run from the lake. No matter, I’m on schedule.
Of three weak disciplines, biking is still my weakest. We had a strong headwind going out, and it was basically a crosswind coming back. It was an easy flat course, only limited by my lack of fitness and comfort in the saddle. I still need to go to the courthouse and officially change my legal name to ON YOUR LEFT!! My general posture is still a problem, and causes the top of my back and shoulders, and neck to be very sore after riding.
I got off at the water station on the second loop, so I did 32 miles straight, with a small break before the final 8. The course was to close at 11:45, but I rolled in just before noon. I knew I would be on track to finish well past the 1:30 time when transition was to close, and the awards were given. I told my friend Dennis who was along for the road trip (and the photographer for most of these pics) to not expect me until 2:30.
8.8 miles, all flat. Easy enough, but even at my strongest medium distance pace, I am shooting for 2:10 as a best possible scenario. I get on the road as a large number of people are finishing, so the out-and-back nature of the course allows me to see some much faster people, and to get inspired to push a bit harder. The further out I get onto the course, the more sparse the crowds coming the other way.
I did see one guy early on that annoyed the life out of me. So many runners were just using the whole road like a personal track. It was not a closed course. These were low-traffic roads, but not empty. One guy, at least 50 years old, was coming toward me running right down the middle of the road, with a truck stalking him right behind. I called out to him a couple times, but he was oblivious because of the earbuds. It’s one thing to violate the no music rule that exists in nearly every road race, but for the love of Frampton, if you’re going to insist on tuning out to your surroundings, at least stay to the side of the road!
At about the 1.5 mile mark, a familiar looking vehicle pulls up beside me. The driver says “well you got further than last year I see.” It’s the person who picked me up last year on the side of the road with my bike. He remembered me, and I certainly remember being in that vehicle.. So I say “well, today the plan is to keep moving forward until someone tells me I can’t.”
About 1/4 mile later, I have a thought: why was it that I found one spare sock in my right shoe, but nothing in my left. Where is that other sock? I stop and lean on a utility pole, and take off my left shoe. There is my missing sock, wedged up between my toes and the end of the shoe. I had barely noticed, but once I dug it out and tucked it into my tritop pocket, I definitely felt the difference.
By this point I have seen almost everyone I am going to see. Maybe 10-15 people are still coming toward me or just ahead of me on the out of out-and-back. Soon the race looks a lot like my training days. Long, slow, solo runs on roads with no traffic.
Piranha Sports Rocks
The run was slower than my usual slow, but I never doubted my ability to finish once on the course. I doubted the existence of a timer and finishing line when I got back, but I should not have. All along the run, even after I saw no other racers, the water stations were open for me. I was so glad for the good weather, not for me, but for them. I’ve run in the rain. I signed up for this. They stand there for hours. I made sure to thank every aid station volunteer, traffic controller, and police officer that I saw. They all had great attitudes. Even when I got my body marking done in the morning, I got a good laugh. It was still really cold and I didn’t want to take off my sweatshirt yet to expose skin. I balked at the temperature, and the body marker who was about my Mom’s age just shot right of the holster “hey, I didn’t sign you up for this.” Perfect.
Everyone I met that day from Piranha Sports and their volunteers had that spirit. What really blew my mind was that not only was the timing mat still active when I got there, as most everything else was torn down, there was one more person waiting: the finish line photographer. I made sure to give a proper smile, and shook his hand. (Or more accurately, I delivered a poorly executed high five.) I came in at 2:32, 62 minutes after it was supposed to be over. But a small crowd of people made sure I had the same finish line experience as everyone else.
Now that I’ve done races from the local YMCA sprint to a WTC branded 70.3 and most variations in between, I can say that this race offers a nice blend of triathlon experiences. Here’s what I mean: the course itself is nothing to write home about, but then again, most aren’t. It’s a unique distance, which I’ve taken to calling a 1/3 Ironman, but half-lite has a nice ring too. The race bag is just a shirt and a stack of advertisements. The medals aren’t very big. So compared to the typical large corporate experience, it could look slightly disappointing if you race a lot of WTC or DisneyRunning, or events like my beloved TriRock series. Its early season placement also means it is an ideal warm-up race for a later 70.3 or 140.6. Subsequently, my impression is that the field is more hardcore than the more beginner-friendly races I mentioned. The small number of Clydesdales relative to the field is an indicator of that.
But never judge a race by the size of the field or the medals. What you can’t see from those insignificant details are the things that make a race worth doing. I’ve already mentioned a couple, but they are, in no particular order.
1. free finish line picture. That image above is just part of the race fee.In my opinion, the position of the photographer makes it one of the best finisher photos I’ve seen, and I’ve bought a few. By the end of the day, this was online with the graphic on it. It takes at least a week to see proofs of the ones from a commercial outfit who is selling photos.
2. Course is well marked and staffed, no surprises. Road crossings were safe.
3. The spirit of endurance is strong. The crowd may be hardcore, but that doesn’t mean less positive toward slowpokes. On the run, I heard as many words of encouragement as I have in any other race. I think it’s typical for most people to have a stoic game face before the race, as we’re all fighting some kind of jitters. For some it’s just finishing, for some it’s shooting for podium, for some a PR by a small margin is a major win. But once the day has worn on and we’re all still out there (well, the mortals are anyway) the shared experience makes for a bond that doesn’t honor finishing time as a dividing line.
4. Really enthusiastic staffing. Seriously, in my days waiting tables, if a party kept eating and drinking until an hour after closing, and it delayed my ability to get home, I wasn’t tripping over myself to thank them for coming.Yet that’s the experience I had here, and I believe it to be absolutely genuine.
About That Tan Line
Combine a sunny day with an afternoon run that lasted over 150 minutes, throw in a disdain for the use of sunscreen, and add a visor and sunglasses. What is the result? A sunburned yarmulke.
I believe that Hyner revealed to me a truth about my fears that I need to work on. I have two other major issues that endurance sports are identifying, which I hope is the first step in changing them. One of them is the continuing struggle with identity and belonging. The day before the race, I was in downtown Newark Delaware for free comic book day. It was a huge event with a number of local artists signing work and drew a sizable crowd. I felt like I fit in visually. I wasn’t the, shall we say, huskiest guy in the crowd, not even close. But my heart wasn’t really in it. Conversely, at the race, I felt like I was in my tribe, even if I was visually conspicuous. Matching the fitness and leanness with the sport is taking a long time.
The third issue is related to the other two: body comfort. Not only am I so unsure of my balance that the serious trail runs make me fearful, I have a general discomfort with physical activity that bleeds into every aspect of triathlon. I don’t run hard, my swim stroke is a disaster, and my bike posture leaves me sore every time. I feel like all of these things are related, and it’s going to take a monumental sea change in how I relate to my physical being. I know that these techniques come slowly with training and experience. Still, I know that something is going to “click” eventually that brings together balance, posture, speed, and other elements I am not even thinking of yet. I am not sure what it will take or when it will happen. But it will have to happen for me to ever consider continuing on the path to Ironman and beyond.
I took off a Sunday to challenge the devil(man), and though it took me the better part of the day, I prevailed.
Thanks again to all the course volunteers, the staff, Dennis the best road trip buddy ever, and my fantastic wife and kids rooting me on in all things.