||A tale of two races
By Martin Gaiss
I don't know why the paragraphs are all lumped together, but don't be scared...
Quite a few people have asked to share my first-time experience of two back to back endurance races, so I thought a little recap would be interesting. Remember that I started triathlons in March, so the distances mentioned here may seem insignificant to some--but I am working my way up!
For those of you who don’t know, I decided to swim a 2.4 mile Ocean race on a Saturday, followed by a Sprint Triathlon the next day (which was a 600m Ocean Swim, a 20K bike race and a 5K run). Anyone with a little sanity left would have called this insane, but this was my first triathlon year, I came off a great LA triathlon and felt, well, invincible of sorts. Mind you, I had only trained for a few months…
Read at your own peril! It's long but i hope you enjoy the read.
First of all, a HUGE thanks to Paul B. and his better half (really, she is) for allowing me to use their raffle ticket for the distance swim challenge. I really appreciate it. And kudos to you for helping out.
End of last week, that wretched cold came back and I was worried that I was going to swim sick, but with the help of some strong cold medicine (what's over the counter in Russia is banned everywhere else) and a lot of sleep, I woke up feeling groggy but good enough to tackle a distance I never even remotely thought about. The furthest I ever swam was 1 mile--and I thought, "how bad can it be?" I also took a page out from the Rich Culver "we must die, we must die, we must die!—if you puke, you are a fluke!!" playbook. "If he can do 4.8, to hell with 1.2!" But most importantly, it was the challenge of doing something I never had done before--a total departure into the unknown, which was the impetus to do it.
On Saturday morning, Niki dropped me off at the beach. I looked for a large crowd from the Swim Distance Challenge but there was no sign of anyone. So i waited for Niki while she was parking (we got there a little late) and I saw a truck pull up and some guys hauling some boxes and gates across the beach, rather frantically. I spotted the two Swim Distance Challenge signs at the beach and made my way over. It looked fairly casual and although it looked like there were maybe only 40 people there, I was aware that some of my friends had started the race an hour earlier, another 2.4 miles down the coast, rapidly coming our way (Santa Monica Beach Pier was the finishing line). There was an informal corral and they had to do a manual count as to who was present, since they had no timing mat for the ins and outs. Niki and I looked at each other and she said "you know that pier doesn't look 2.4 miles away, it looks a lot closer" I nodded, thinking "easy for you to say" and “what have I gotten myself into?” It’s this weird feeling that one gets before a triathlon or any of these races. The feeling of doom, mixed with excitement and anticipation. At least I get that stuff.
Before you knew it, we went off. The sea (apart from some rough swells on entering) was pretty calm, and I set off. Immediately I felt I was not at full strength, evidenced by those who just flew by me. Now I know I am not a fast swimmer but I am also not THAT slow. Seriously, I thought "wtf" but I didn't have time to think about this too much since I realized that I was totally blind. BLIND. So I stopped, tried to air the glasses out, swam ten strokes, fogged up again. Decidedly, the anti fog spray that I applied ten years ago (an exaggeration) to the goggles had lost its effectiveness. So i was bobbing half blind through the sea as everyone disappeared in the distance. Behind me, something like two caps—I hoped they were swimmers in the same race, not the guys from further down. Jesus Christ! It really messes with your head when this happens. So I kept stopping a lot as I just couldn't see anything and also kept veering out into the sea, totally off course--I was yelled at by the lifeguards a grand total of four times. Deep inside, I just really wanted to join the seals on Catalina. But the lifeguards wouldn't let me. It was also hard because the buoys were very far apart from each other, at least for my taste. So coupled with my blindness and my natural propensity to disregard the idea of "the shortest distance between two points is a straight line," this made for some interesting zigzagging. Once you pass the first buoy, you are on your own--because i was so far behind everyone else, it made it hard to follow people. At the same time (and I have said this before), I feel very at ease in the ocean and love being in the water for an extended amount of time. I focused on my stroke (who cares if I veer to the left?) and started to enjoy myself. The water wasn't too cold, and my only worry at that time was the pee that I unleashed earlier and which seemed to creep towards my neckline. Oh, one thing--I was misled by one buoy that was the paddle boat race buoy and which was further out--I was gunning furiously for that one and had to be whistled back to course by the lifeguards. Ha ha ha.
Then the turn buoy came in sight for the first 1.2 miles, which is where the first check station was, so I had to come out of the water, get checked and go back in. My sorry attempt to body surf resulted in me getting thrown under by a crashing wave--but it also propelled me forward, so who cares. Got out (overshot way too far and had to backtrack to the station), they asked me my name and number (bib number, not phone number)--that was the extent of their medical exam that I was curious about. How about a field sobriety test? Anyone could have uttered a name--anyway, I digress. The aid station had water and some sorry looking fruit--or maybe it was my blurry goggles, which had flown off anyway.
Back into the ocean, as I was grinning to myself, "well maybe you are slow today but you already did half of this thing, rest should be a piece of cake." Not so fast, Herr Gaiss! As the Germans would say "you made the bill without the chef"--which translates into "you fool." Started to feel a bit pruny and my hands and toes got a little numb, but nothing worrisome. I set my sights on the SM pier, which (through the fog) still didn't stand out from the background, and I was off zigzagging again. At some point, I saw a couple of large shadows to my left and even though I knew lifeguards were close, couldn’t shake a bit of a feeling. However, I was soon to busy cleaning my lenses and redirecting myself that I forgot whatever it was close to me. Soon thereafter, I reached the SM pier. DO YOU KNOW HOW WIDE THAT EFFING PIER is?? I kept swimming and swimming but bloody hell, no advancement! Then the turn buoy came and I thought, "oh, choppy waters, welcome back!" as I made my way towards the beach. I couldn't see f all and had to stop a number of times--I was that blind. I stumbled/ran on to the beach and it was great seeing Niki, Paul and Kirsten cheering me on--that was really amazing, guys.
I ran across the finish line, glad to have made it. BUT THEN!! This is like the moment where you realize that the movie has a bad, surprise twist ending, a la INCEPTION, with a joker thrown in. So I catch my breath and think, "well at least Rich didn't beat me" and BAM! There he is, the joker from Batman, "what took you so long??" Rich had beaten me…
I almost went back in the sea after that. You little bastard. :-)
Now seriously, I think Rich deserves some kudos--that's an amazing feat, my subpar time notwithstanding.
All in all, I want to do it again--a longer distance, because now I have done the 2.4, something else beckons. Capri-Napoli swim race, anyone? http://www.fina.org/H2O/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=52&Itemid=303.
The race itself is a fantastic idea and I can’t wait for it to happen again.
So home I went to relax and prepare for Sunday's race, the Playa Triathlon.
Couldn't sleep for some reason and was up way before i wanted to get up, so I was at the race site this morning as the gates opened. It was dark, and there was heavy mist that soon turned into light drizzle. There was much less of a crowd than at Malibu but the layout is similar in terms of looping etc. I got there early enough to stake a claim right at bike out (which was also bike in, so almost no running with the bike shoes on). The fact that everything was pretty wet didn't deter me from looking forward to this final event. I must admit that I did feel quite tired overall--definitely not a "taper" event, this ocean swim the day before, ha ha ha. In contrast to the LA Tri where we were the first ones there--even before everything was set up--the registration tent and everything else had been set up (I got my stuff the day before but still had to pick up the timing chip) so it felt quite well organized. I heard people complaining about the fact that they had maybe 8 porta-potties only. I thought,"thank god I went earlier, so I don’t need to go later"--a thought I regretted later.
Some students who used "bro" and "dude" way too much started crowding our rack and one of the guys (an older guy who had done numerous IM's) took umbrage with one of the kids--who crammed his bike right on top of this guys’ and then told him "I am here, just deal with it. I almost called him "brosef" but that would have been a term of endearment. The older guy almost forcibly removed the young one from the rack. Little punk. One of these gentlemen later threw his bike into the rack and took up so much space that I had to rack the bike somewhere else coming back into my bike transition--but we will get to that. So i do a little warmup run and couldn't shake that tiredness but psyched myself up thinking, "this is the last one!" Lots of volunteers, lots of UCLA students, some of which I recognized from the Saturday workouts. Very excited to do this. That feeling returned: at some point before the race where I think "why am I doing this?" and then you remember that great feeling you get when you are done.
No timing mat again so as we got into the corral, some students frantically took down our numbers. Not phone numbers. Bib numbers. Off we went and I sprinted into the ocean, thinking "yeah' I am gonna be out front!" and as we got into the swimming, I felt like I was driving a Miata in a Formula One race. I went "wtf" as my arms said "f you" to me. At least the goggles didn't fog up--a little spit did the trick. So I tried to keep up but found myself again at the back end of the pack, at least for the first few hundred yards. The sea was the choppiest I have ever witnessed swimming--like the return leg of the LA tri, but much worse. I drank water about every second time I breathed. I found my stride and tried to push ahead and made a bit of headway, passing a few of the guys. The buoys were clearly marked and in smaller distance increments, a nice change from yesterday. I do think that the swimming was my weakest portion, yesterday, and today (am waiting for the final results to be posted). No see-sawing this time but the movements of the sea were enough to make you seasick. Out I came, into transition and on the bike. It was really wet and I almost wiped out on my first fast curve--I pulled a slide that Wayne Rainey would have been proud of. Or Rossi. Seriously--note to self. These road markings are extra slippery.
I pushed and pushed, passing a few people but the interesting thing is that my heart rate never got over 162. My legs were really tired so I need to figure out a way how I can push myself more as obviously i still had some energy in the tank. I had a great little race with a guy who kept getting me on the turns (I was extra careful after my previous episode) but then I smoked him on the ascents and descents. This went on for about ten miles, before he passed me on the final curve into T2. The road course itself is great. Nice and flat, great road. Wonderful sprinting material. I spent most of my time in the aerobar position. Before I knew it, the course came to an end (I was so focused, I missed the turnaround--priceless--so I did a few yards more and "that guy" got me again. Of course I reeled him back in. Anyway, slid into the final curve before T2 (some woman frantically motioned for me to slow down as I brutaled over some iron sheet metal in the road (which seems to have been the cause of my flat that I later discovered). There, I had to find a place to rack my bike as someone had thrown his bike carelessly onto the ground in a masterful way--it ate up space for about five bikes. Moron. The run was uneventful, other than me realizing that once again, my heart rate didnt go up more than to 162, even though i was running sub 8min miles--sometimes 6.5 even. My legs felt tired and I am now determined to break through that wall--maybe it's mental, as obviously my heart could still take it. Towards the end, i felt my legs getting heavier and heavier, and as it started raining more, I sure was glad to see the end of the race in sight.
I finished in 1.24.36 (or something like that) so I will start dissecting my splits and individual times soon enough. This was a great season-ending race. Oh yeah, and you know who was there too. Very chatty. Said three words. "Go, faster, go."
There you have it. I feel that my training with Gareth has helped me some--of course it was already late when I started, but I noticed a difference between malibu and today (yes, it was a shorter distance but i felt tons better and my HR was better too).
In closing, thank you to the LA Tri Club for being such an open and friendly environment, my friends who trained with me and my girlfriend for supporting this massive life-style change. I have a lot of goals for the new season and can't wait to get started. Big goal next year is a Half Ironman.
If someone would have told me this time last year that I was going to do an Olympic Triathlon, I would have said "You are out of your mind." We are all living proof that once you set your mind to achieve something, you can do it.