Friday, September 5, 2014

The Test

Things starting coming apart race week and seemed to continue right on through the event. The first thought was that this is a sign that I am not supposed to do this. But I can’t remember every feeling good about following and obeying those alleged “not suppose to do this” signs . Doing the “safe,right and judicious thing” was always followed by an empty echo feeling - a sort loss of self respect for not pushing long enough; not trying hard enough; listening to the “can’t” and “shouldn’t” voices instead of believing more.

The temptation to use difficulties for an excuse came swarming at me, it seemed. Early in the week my shifter to the rear cog set stopped working. Luckily, the front shifter still worked so I at least had two gears to go with. For a couple of rides I made do my two speed bike. Then, that front shifter started throwing my chain off. This got scary a few times and at the very least it messed up my momentum, not to mention greasing up my hands from the chain work. My white bar tape began to look real nasty. So, I took my 11 year old bike off my indoor trainer and did a couple rides to make sure it was a viable option. Not sure about that viable option thing. The headset was in bad shape . The bike was sketchy to steer. Which ever way I turned the handlebar, it wanted to stay there.

I can do this. After all, the bike leg on the event is only fourteen miles. Additionally, the bike is pretty small for me. Without the stability of it being on a trainer, getting a water bottle out of the bottle rack while dealing with that unstable front end was risky business. But again, I only had fourteen miles that I had to go.

Traffic in and around the big city was horrendous, especially for someone living in the country where a traffic jam is five cars waiting for a red light. It seemed we stopped on the freeway about every mile. Then the traffic would clear, and we would go another mile before we came to stopped traffic again. People were changing lanes, making quick stops, cutting us off, and generally driving aggressively. Stress levels were peaked. Finally, after many more stops on the freeway, we came to our exit. We turned onto a street where we went from traffic light to traffic light with traffic backed up. Finally, we arrived at the hotel and the venue. I was pretty well spazzed out; not the way I like to be the day before an event.

The rest of the afternoon I lay in the hotel bed, starring at mind-numbing TV. I realized, I guess, it could be worse. There are worse things than heavy traffic on the way to a triathlon. I could be sentenced to a life of forced viewing of daytime television. That would be much worse. Naw,! Not so bad, fighting traffic and doing triathlons. The pressure started coming off and I started preparing for the event. Fitful sleep and awake at four AM. My swim wave didn’t started until 7:54 AM but ----. Got there early to set up for transition and all the other stuff. Wait, wait. It is already hot. Barely daylight and sweat is already dripping off my nose --drink, drink.

We congregated at the end of a pier which was obviously a shoring bird roosting area. Puddles of white poo were everywhere on the pier. Footing could be slippery in most spots; not the place to sit down to wait for my wave to start. Standing and waiting were the order of the day. I started to go for a practice swim, but something smelled wrong about the water. No sense getting in that stuff until I had to.

Finally, it was our turn to get in the water. I eased off the pier but my head still went under the water: YUK!The water smelled nasty, like pollution or worse. Other participants were affected as well. One hoped he wouldn’t get sea sick from the smell. Another hoped no one would light a match for fear the water would catch on fire. Seems like forever we tread water waiting to start. Finally, we were off. I couldn’t bring myself to put my whole face into that water, so I swam with my head sticking up for the most part. No problem sighting in this swim. But, despite my poor body position in the water, I was hammering this swim - I wanted out of this stinky stuff. At the end of the swim we had to climb straight up on 8-10 foot ladders to get out of the water. Thank God, I was out. But my tri suit smelled like that water later in the day, the more I sweat.

The smelly water was a matter for trepidation, but the bike was my greatest fear. The tires weren’t all that great. The front end was a mystery. And, who knows what will come off or come apart on a bike that old. Right away, even before I was out of transition, a brake started dragging. Stopped, fixed that. I didn’t use a bike computer because I didn’t really want my spirit threatened by knowing how slow I was going. Out of transition and on the course, I moved nicely along; doing well as long as I kept both hands on the bars and stayed alert. I only had 14 miles to do and be out of the danger zone.

About two miles in I heard a tickey-tickey sound on my bike. Maybe my race number blowing in the wind; held the number but the sound continued. Oh my, something was on my front tire. Something on my front tire was hitting my front brake every time it came around. Looked like a tack, a roofing nail- couldn’t tell. Didn’t want to stop. What would I do anyway? Pulling a nail out would deflate the tire. I had less than 12 miles to go. So I kept on. The miles keep being consumed and the noise continued, as I expected any moment for the tire to go flat. I didn’t push the pace, but kept a nice cadence, only wanting to get through with the bike ride.
Steering around corners was a little scary and I tried to set up the turns without anyone around me. When only about four miles to go, I reached for my water bottle without checking to see if anyone was coming up on me – mistake. The small bike made me double up like a pill bug to get the bottle out of the holder, and the unpredictable steering pulled me to the left. Whosh! Another bike buzzed by barely missing me. That was close. Cadence had dropped during all that, and I needed to pick it back up. So, I stood up to get the momentum going. Oops! My foot slipped off the right pedal. I wobbled around trying to keep from falling over or dragging my loose foot on the ground, and finally got my foot back on the pedal and righted myself. Scary. I have never had that happen before in thousands of miles of riding.

My nerves began to calm a bit when I saw the hotel on the race venue in the distance, and knew I could at least run the bike in from there. Life was good . The bike would soon be over. I must have been grinning from ear to ear coming into transition. In and out and on the run course. I had made it on the bike – yes! Later I found that the thing on the front wheel of my bike was only some tenacious sticky back paper – thank God.

The run was terribly hot and humid. Feeling blessed beyond measure to have gotten through the bike, I decided just to do a walk/run and not get over-heated. It was a good run. I poured cold water on myself at the aid stations, talked to the volunteers, enjoyed myself, and cruised on through the short run. I had survived the smelly water; the scary bike leg, enjoyed the run, and coming down the finishers chute I was all smiles. It was over.

My performance had not been all that awesome, except the swim, where I swam my fastest time ever for that distance - no surprise there. The bike leg was surprisingly good considering my tentative effort. And, I got first place in my age group: the only one in my age group. I think I was the oldest participant in the sprint triathlon that day.

I have been doing marathons and triathlons and such for about three decades, but even aged warriors such as I need continuing education courses on certain aspects of this lifestyle. This CEU was about keeping on. Demons will come at you - accept that, bear up, stand in, keep moving forward. Training is like that: ironman is like that: life is like that. Then too, this whole thing could also have been a small test to see if I have a few basics of what it takes to push through to an ironman. I don’t think the test was so that God would know if I can: it was so that I could know that I can. All I have to do is obey, put one foot in front of the other, stand in, and overcome the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and “run the race that is set before me” to the Glory of God.