As men age, the power and effect of competition decreases. As their testosterone levels naturally drop, they lose their need to have an edge as, and winning isn’t as important as their days of youth.
And if you believe that, I think there is some glaciers for sale in Arizona that you might be interested in acquiring. Good price, you know?
The World Championship was one of the most enjoyable and intense competitions that I have ever been privileged enough to be a part of. I wonder if “enjoyable” and “intense” are separable words, now…
Intensity was a part of the competition within 30 seconds of commencement. As our age group (40-49) raced out of the stadium, we followed a motorcycle and camera escort onto the streets of Pontevedra. Adrenaline levels were high, but the cortisone shot that made the Cary race possible just two weeks ago had worn off, and it hurt to walk, let alone run hard.
I looked back. There were no other competitors behind me. Not even one.
Translation. On the biggest stage in my sport, I was in last place. Sure, I was pacing myself and nursing a bad foot. In fact, just two days before, I had visited the team doctors. They suggested that if I had come a day earlier, they would have given me another cortisone shot.
In the moment, blaming my foot was an excuse. Pain or not, this was the World Championships, and there would be time to heal, beginning as early as dinner tonight. For now, last place was unacceptable, and it was time to go.
Enter testosterone. There was a pack of 4 runners just a few yards ahead of me, and it was time to do something about it. We turned a corner and started up a hill.
Boom. There were now 4 runners behind me. My foot was no worse for the quick sprint up the hill, and my soul was better off for the effort. During the next 20 or 30 minutes of running, I would pass competitors with uniforms that didn’t match mine. As I passed each one, I thought of the process I went through to be in Spain for this event. All of us, regardless of our country of origin, had gone through a national qualification and then another process to train and prepare. All of us were fully invested knowing that this was the top of the cake. Yet, each one that I passed led me to passively wonder, “So, I am on a bad foot. What problems are you dealing with? Why aren’t you at 100% or are you at 100%?” For those who spoke English, perhaps we could talk about it, if we had the time. However, the French, Portuguese, Japanese, Brazilians, etc., don’t share a common language with me, so I will never know what their story may be. Too bad.
When the run was over and I entered transition to jump on the bike, I felt strong. I knew we had a hill ahead that we were required to climb two times, and I had a plan for it. Thirty seconds after leaving transition, just as I was getting my bike up to speed, bad luck struck. One of my water bottles fell off the bike. Normally, I would have concluded that it isn’t worth stopping the bike, running back to get it, then run back to my bike. Certainly, I can go without an extra 24 oz. of water, and I had a spare water reserve, anyway. However, the bottle landed right at the foot of an ITU official, and I knew the rule: any athlete who intentionally leaves equipment on the field of play is disqualified. I didn’t fly to Spain to get disqualified over a water bottle.
All stop. Jump off the bike and run back to get a stupid water bottle. A minute later, after retrieving the water bottle, my anxiety hit a new high. Many of the people that I had worked hard to pass had now overtaken me, and I was back in last place (I think…). Damn it. Over the next 20 minutes, I poured sweat like I have never done while cycling. It was after 1 pm in the middle of a hot day, and I was climbing the mountain faster than I would normally have done so. Sure, many of those guys who had overtaken me during the bottle pickup were now behind me, but my work rate was too high to be sustainable. When we turned around at the top of the climb and began heading down the mountain, I rested as soon as the bike reached the 40-50 mph range and had achieved terminal velocity, and I used my core to hold my body tight and low, to minimize wind resistance. It, too, was a successful strategy, as I passed a couple of more people that had been ahead of me since the beginning. Passing without pedaling….I liked that idea.
My whole being was feeling joy. Physically, my bad foot was performing strong enough to be competitive, despite being at ~ 50% effectiveness and running a minute per mile slower than I would otherwise have run. My confidence was strong from overcoming earlier adversity, and the encouragement that I had received from friends and family was carrying me when my lack of a good night sleep and a good breakfast were not assisting me.
On the 2nd climb up the hill, I felt great, and I held back some energy knowing that I had a 5k to run as soon as I get off the bike. As I crested the hill and began the descent back to the transition area, I got my 2nd unexpected event. At full speed on the downhill, the front tire on the bike began shaking uncontrollably, like it was out of balance. I had to stand up and prepare to get thrown from the bike, for I knew it would take many seconds to slow the bike to a safe speed. I decided that I would fall to the left, even though that is where the greater traffic risk lie. To the right was a mostly traffic free area, but the road was rough, and there was space under the guardrail for me to slide through. I would have been more certainly torn up if I fell that way.
“I can get through this! I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” was all I could get out of my mouth. I repeated this a couple of times as I waited for the brakes to slow the bike down and the shaking to stop. When the shaking did stop, any emotional peace that I had was erased. I was rattled by that near accident encounter. In addition, any physical edge was lost, as my adrenaline levels were at the highest they’d been, all race long. Yet, I was OK, and I was trusting the Lord. Sounds like it might have been His intention anyway…get the focus off of my efforts and get back to a state of trust.
For the remaining 6 miles back to transition, I pedaled hard on the flat and the uphill, but I held the bike back on the downhill, fearing more shaking. I watched a couple of riders pass me, and, under normal circumstances, I would have attempted to pace or push to stay near them. Instead, I said, “Let’s wait till the final run.” I got a chuckle thinking that it got down to my weak foot being my cornerstone as I entered the final phase of the event.
Duathlon has a deceptive name. When you hear the word “triathlon,” you conclude three events. When you hear “Duathlon” you think two events. Not true. It is two sports, but running happens twice. During the first run, people go hard to get an edge. During the 2nd run, people do the best that they can and often review their 2nd run’s times and consistently conclude, “it felt like I was going a lot faster than that!”
When I hit transition, most of the bikes were back in their racks, meaning most of my competition was ahead of me. The clock appeared to be broken, as none of the lights were on, so I didn’t have the ability to judge how well I was doing. As I left transition, the crowds had thinned since the start of the race and all the TV cameras were gone, as I was not in the lead pack anymore. That said, there were still 5k to race, and I could see my targets running ahead of me. Like duck hunting, I picked them off, one at a time, slowly approaching them then doing a quick sprint to get by them.
On the final lap through old town Pontevedra, I saw Greer. Greer was a champion from RSA (Republic of South Africa). I had seen him all race, as he would be one who would consistently leap frog me, as I was forced to do things differently on the bike. When I saw him on the final lap, he was WAY ahead of me, on the final straight away, just before entering the stadium towards the finish line. I set a goal of passing him by the time we entered the stadium.
I couldn’t do it. I had passed about a dozen people during this run, but I couldn’t pass Greer. During the last minute, I pushed my running limits to 100%, but it caused my heart and lungs lost cadence. We entered the stadium, but he was a full 10 feet ahead of me.
As I entered the stadium and was still behind Greer, I saw the finish line. Despite not reaching my goal of being in front of him, I could still use my training. Throughout any race, I hear the voices of different people sharing with me. Some of the voices are negative….thoughts of discouragement about what I can’t do. Some of them are encouraging, reminding me that I am already a winner. Enter Pilates teacher Jill Hinson’s voice. I heard Jill saying, “Let’s control your breathing. Inhale two, three, four, hold two, three, four, exhale, two, three, four, five.” I did what she said, in that moment, as I needed two or three rounds of breathing control before I had control of my wind. At that point, I was halfway through the final turn, and I had slipped up to be intentionally 1 foot behind Greer.
Coming out of the final turn meant that in 30 seconds or less, my 14 month journey would come to a complete end. It was like Bilbo Baggins returning the Shire. It was like George Washington returning to Mt Vernon after the presidency. “I can do all things…..,” again entered my mind. Even it if killed me, these last 30 seconds were going to honor the promise I made to everyone.
“My best is about to happen.”
I went all in and ran past Greer. After passing, I dared not look back to see what response he might come up with, as I could go no harder. About 30 feet from the finish line, I was beginning to see stars. They didn’t slow me. When I crossed the finish line, I had the same feeling that I might get if I was swimming underwater to reach the other side of a swimming pool that had always seemed insurmountable in the past.
I turned and watched Greer cross behind me. Although he was uninterested in a sportsman’s greeting after the race, my performance in that moment helped me draw the conclusion that I belong at the World Championship for the sport of Duathlon.
I belong here, right now, with these great athletes, sharing stories and competing like the heroes others think we are. These last few days convinced me that my time spent preparing was fractional compared to those who were repeat competitors, but they also motivated me to try harder and take my nutrition to new levels of management. Despite my efforts to think that a bad foot was going to be my undoing, it was, in the end, my running that kept me competitive.
After the race, I met with one of the team doctors to discuss surgery to correct the issues with my foot. I spoke with a lot of competitors, and I honestly answered the question, “so how was your race?” with a “that exceeded my expectations by a lot! I hope that I get the privilege to race it again one day.”
For the rest of that day, I rejoiced with others about the competition and the culmination of all of our efforts. We were all proud.
Rumor has it that Australia is hosting the next ITU World Championship in Duathlon. Anyone going?