||Amy Blackman-Desert Triathlon 2010
hey clubbers- i wrote this mostly for peeps in my life who dont do tri, but figured i would post it anyway...
Sunday was my first Triathlon of 2010, my 31st Triathlon, and my 5th time racing the Desert International Tri in Palm Springs (Lake Cauhilla State Park).
This was the site of my very first Sprint Distance Tri in 2006, and last year I bumped up to the Olympic Distance. I have had nothing but wonderful experiences on this flat, fast, forgiving course. Until yesterday.
Now I will back up to say that usually either my husband, or my parents, or both have come to support me at this race. Its a great weekend getaway and the weather is perfection in spring in the Mojave. Its a chance for all of us to catch up, for hubby and my pops to play tennis, and for us to enjoy some early spring desert sunshine.
However, this past week my dad had tonsillitis and hubby had about the wettest gnarly-est head cold ever, so my support network had to take a bail on going with me. Feeling like I dodged a bullet by not catching either plague, even though I am flattened by work stress and work load and have been on my bike a total of 4 times since my last Tri in Catalina in November, I rallied deep and decided to roll solo. Man did I have one big fat dialogue with myself on Friday about how easy it would have been to blow it off, and man did it take a lot to pack my 10,000 bags and pieces of necessary gear, hydration, nutrition, clothing and crap and corral myself into the car on Saturday morning.
But as soon as I hit the road, I knew it was the right thing to do. I needed to get out of my head, and the spiral of endless work emails that have been creeping further and further into my weekends lately. I needed to be with the grounding thoughts that accompany the cocktail of excitement, fear, and anticipation in the 24 hours before a race. Its a special type of sickly unsettled feeling. But also one of single minded focus on what is ahead of me, which creates a lovely ancillary psychic reprieve from the work/life/mind grind. If just for a moment, it is me, and the conversation with my self, my bike, my feet, my gear, my choices.
So off I went.
It was our big event for LA Tri Club, as it was the “Duel in the Desert”- LA Tri versus San Diego Tri Club. I knew there would be folks I could count on for support if I got into any big problems (like bike malfunctions, blinding, debilitating migraines, back spasms and some of the other lovelies I have encountered in the 5 years of racing). Hooking up with other race geeks and getting some emergency cell phone #’s, I went to practice swim, took a basic ride of the course to ease out my legs, had an early bird special 5:00pm dinner, and went to sleep at the lovely Triathlon bed time hour of 8:30pm.
As I was heading back to my hotel room a rain cloud passed over a bit of spit rain. Just enough to solidify the dirt layer on the car windshield, not enough to actually wet the ground. I had heard rain was in the forecast for race day, and while I brought extra layers, I just didn’t really think it would be a major concern. Wrong.
It was cold in the morning. Cold enough that it was bitch hard to get out of my clothes and into my wetsuit. The air was about 49, the water about 63. Forget walking barefoot down to the lake, and getting into the water for a warm up- face numbing, breathtaking. We were all joking around that the rain clouds, which none of us including the race director Greg Klein thought would actually bear any significant rain, had actually passed us a break because we didn’t have to swim straight into the blinding sun while trying to aim for the buoy that you cant see and not swim hundreds of yards out of your way if you miss it.
A light sprinkle started as I was getting out of the water. I had a really strong swim. 3 minutes faster than last year. I have been focusing a lot on swim technique and swimming a lot in the cold and rain at the Rose Bowl so it actually wasn’t too bad.
Got to my bike transition and made the spot decision not to layer up too much in case the rain passed over- better not to risk overheating I thought. I took a quick look at the variety of layers I brought- rain jacket, leg warmers, pants, long sleeved shirts, gloves and left them all there on the ground. I put on arm warmers and a core warming sleeveless windbreaker. The most clothing I have ever worn over my basic Tri suit- usually there is so much adrenaline and effort that even though I am riding a bike soaking wet in the cold of the morning I feel totally warm.
As I left out on the bike, it started to really rain. Hard. At first I was into the novelty of riding my bike in the rain. The air smelled amazing, the sky was dramatically beautiful and I was into the challenge. Until it started to rain even harder, and I began to have trouble. Besides the fact that I wear double frame glasses which are great but collect a whole lot of water, and thus a whole lot of fog, as I rounded the first turn into the wind I realized that not only couldn’t I see but it was freezing cold. And I am in shorts. Soaking wet. Riding a time trial bike with tiny race tires. I love to swim and run in the rain, but why would anyone in their right mind train on their tt bike in the rain- its dangerous and stupid and thus I have no experience doing it. it was very disorienting. I put my head down and rode, focusing on not sliding my bie out from under me, avoiding puddles, trying to stay straight and upright in the wind.
Heading into about mile 10, my feet and fingertips went numb. My body was so cold my skin hurt. Every time someone passed me the spray from their back tire shot dirt and water back up into my face and all over my glasses. Oh yeah. And I just dug deeper and deeper into my mind. I focused on eating as much as I could (bars and gels), taking in as much liquid as I could (in the cold, its hard to make yourself drink), and taking the course one mile at a time.
After a while I got so cold my legs just didn’t work. I couldn’t fire any power into my pedals. My body went into this odd conservation mode, where I could not exert any additional energy beyond keeping my core warm (my extremities were done at that point).
I took to the cadence mantra
Which morphed into
With the occasional
And then it was done. I pushed myself up over the last hill and back into transition to the run.
My feet were completely numb and my body was dopy and loopy and I just couldn’t get it to do what I wanted it to do. The garbage bag I covered the rest of my stuff with had blown off, so there were puddles in my running shoes and my ipod was drowned. But off I went. Splish splash, I wobbled out of transition. You cant really call it running, but I was stumbling in some forward motion that was perhaps faster than walking, not really sure, out and on to the course for a muddy slog around the lake. Twice.
I took my ipod with me as a treat- most races don’t allow them anymore but this one does. It worked for about 20 minutes and then decided it didn’t like being this wet or cold either, and died. Then it was just me and my mind again. Steadfast, really pulling back from thinking about how much more was ahead of me, thinking about my feet under me, present. Warm/dry, warm/dry. Dig/deep, Dig/deep. Break/fast, Break/fast.
And I made it to the finish line. There was nobody there to give me a warm hug and a dry sweatshirt. Our age group was second to last of the day, and even the most earnest spectators had grown tired of standing in the cold blowing rain for 3 hours plus. I grabbed my finishers medal, walked back to my drowned transition area, threw all my soaking crap into a garbage bag, wheeled my huge bag of wet crap balanced on the handle bars of my bike and my freezing self back to the car, and promptly fell apart. Called hubby from my wet but still working cell phone. He answered. A warm/dry voice. I made it. And for some weird reason, I smiled.
I love this quote...
“The more improbable the situation and the greater the demands made, the more sweetly the blood flows later in release from all that tension. The possibility of danger serves to sharpen both awareness and control. And perhaps this is the rational of all risky sports- you deliberately raise the ante of effort and concentration in order to clear your mind of trivialities. Your actions, for however brief a period, are deadly serious”... A. Alvarez, The Savage God
So if as you read this you ask why, and its perfectly understandable that you do, it is to empty my mind. To create the opportunity for that moment of undiluted conversation with my essence. It is extreme, I am aware of that; the lengths I must go to in order to clear the way for this flow of dialogue, so that I can connect with who I truly am, unfettered by the clutter and electricity of my life.
Some of you can sit on a yoga mat, or laying in bed at night, or gardening, or just sitting still in your back yard or living room. I am really envious. I personally have a very noisy, relentless, often inexorable monkey brain. And the only way to put the monkey down for a nap is to create a moment of exertion so great that I have no choice. There is no space for monkey in those moments- just the quintessence of me. And she gets me through, every time. And yes, I am still smiling.
Amy B (not the iron one, Amy Blackman)