This blog would not be honest if I didn’t mention the most embarrassing failures of my triathlon efforts. This entry is an attempt to keep this blog honest.
If you are going to swim the English Channel you have to train in water temperatures of 55 – 64 degrees, no wetsuit. I listened to a podcast about a fellow who swam it and to help acclimate to the cold water temperatures he took the hot water knob off his shower. When I heard that I thought, “Well, that does it, I’m never swimming the Channel.”
Cold water is not my thing, unless I’m drinking it.
Let me say that I was as ready for this triathlon as any I’ve ever done. I have never before been this trained up at this point in the calendar year, that’s in part because I knew I had this triathlon on the schedule in May. July is the earliest I’ve ever done a triathlon. I’d even had a good night’s rest when I woke up at 4AM the day of the race. We’d been in Kansas City the day before, shopping and attending a graduation party for my niece. I think that helped me sleep, and normally I don’t rest well when I know I have to get up early for a race.
I ate two boiled eggs, a couple of pieces of cheese, and two slices of pepperoni on the way to Longview Lake, where the race is held. That may sound weird, but my plan was to eat what I normally eat in the morning, and that is similar to what I eat on a day-to-day basis. Since I normally go low carb for breakfast I wanted to stick with that, but later I ate a banana in transition before heading to the beach.
The air temperature was 45 degrees on the way up to the lake. It may have warmed up a little while I set up in transition, but it was still chilly. I asked the guys next to me what the water temp was. They didn’t know but one said it was 64 degrees the day before. Brrr. That’s English Channel cold.
My first tri’s of the season are usually in July, all in lakes in the midwest, and given that the water is so warm by then they are not wetsuit legal. The only wetsuit legal races I’ve done are the Branson 70.3s, which are in September, but they were barely legal (like those videos). The first year I rented a full body wetsuit with sleeves and everything, and actually got hot while swimming. The next year I used the wetsuit I have, which is really a dive suit I bought in 1996. It’s 3mm thick. The legal limit is 5mm, and it doesn’t have sleeves. I can be so cheap about these things sometimes. The dive suit had these knee pads, but since I didn’t want to look like a dork I took a seam ripper and removed them. You can hardly tell they were there, except for the glue that went around the edges that I can’t get off. It was in this dive suit that I would swim on this day.
So I got my transition area all set up just the way I wanted it. I got my bottles and nutrition all set up. I saw this race, and every race I do this year, as preparation for Ironman Louisville. Even though the KC Tri is an Olympic distance race, I was going experiment with what I plan on doing in Louisville. In the past I haven’t responded well to gu and gel, so I wanted to try something different. I put a couple of Clif Bars in my bag. I don’t know that these are the answer, but this was the first race I had to experiment (though I have used these in training).
I made my way to the beach once they closed transition. My wife and kids met me there. Yes, they got up early on a Sunday morning to come cheer me on. If I, and they, had only known.
I chose not to get in the water for a “warm up”. My heat was one of the last, which was different for me. Generally my age group is one of the first to leave. I did not want to get in the cold water, get out, then stand around for a half hour in the cold air waiting for my heat. As I stood on the beach one of the safety kayakers told me I was going to do great. How little did she know.
My heat was finally queued up. I kissed my wife, hugged the kids, and went down to wait for the horn. The horn sounded and we made our way to the water. I’m up to my knees, and OK, not to bad. I plunge in, and WHAM! I knew I was in trouble.
The water was cold. Cold, cold, cold. Whatever I tell you from this point on will sound like an excuse because most people completed the swim with very little problems. For some reason, I shut down. Looking back, I don’t know what I could’ve done differently that day, but the fact of the matter is I wasn’t prepared. I had not been in that cold of water for a long, long time, if ever. Again, these are just sissy excuses, but I found it hard to breathe, hard to move. Hard to move, except the shivering. Oh, the shivering.
Long story shorter, I got two-thirds of the way through the swim when I did something I’ve never done in a race, I stopped and hung on to a safety worker’s life ring. Now, I’m not a great swimmer. Below average really. But I have never stopped swimming during a race, and I’ve always completed the swims, even longer swims than this. Out of all the things I did I think my biggest mistake was stopping. As soon as I stopped the shivers became uncontrollable. The rescuer asked me a few questions and I tried to answer but my teeth were chattering so bad I could hardly talk. He blew his whistle and motioned for a boat. The boat came over and the dude hauled me up. My race was over, but not my day.
As soon as I hit the deck of the boat both my calves began cramping. The pilot couldn’t help me because he was taking me back to the beach. We landed and I crawled out. Another dude on the beach grabbed me and took me to the medical tent. On the way there, and here’s the saddest part of my story, I saw my wife standing on the beach looking out at the swimmers watching for me. I caught her attention and said, “I didn’t make it.” I wanted to cry (like I said, I’m a big sissy).
We all went to the tent and they took off my wetsuit and wrapped me in the mylar blankets of failure. I still couldn’t stop shivering. They added some regular blankets. The head EMT came over, I assume that’s what she was, and she asked if they took off my clothes. The other EMT said no, just my wetsuit. So they proceeded to take off my tri suit. Long story shorter, cold water is not kind, and those EMT ladies saw my junk, or what was left of it. So horrible, but I appreciated their efforts.
I laid on the cot for probably a half hour or so shivering while they tried to pour coffee down me. The EMT said I’d eventually start to feel hot. I never felt hot while lying there, but I did finally get to the point where I thought I could get up, but only after another bout of calf cramps. My wife brought me my Rocky Balboa grey sweat suit. I got dressed and headed back into transition to collect my things.
Every single cyclist was gone. In fact, some of them were trickling back in and heading out on the run. The crowd was cheering for each of them as they came in and out. Their cheers depressed me.
I put all my triathlon paraphernalia in my backpack, took my bike off the rack and then tried to decide how to exit transition gracefully. There was no way to do it. I’d have to leave pushing my bike and excuse my way through the crowds cheering the folks on the course. It was humiliating. The bike push of shame.
My wife had to park probably two miles away from transition. We waited at an intersection for a few minutes watching a lot of the riders come in. At one point it slowed and we made our way across. When we were within sight of the van my eight year old points down at my bike and says, “Dad, isn’t there supposed to be one of those on both sides?” I look down and see that she’s talking about my pedals. One of them had fallen off! What the…? I give my bike to my son and I go back and look for the pedal. Sure enough it had fallen off not far from the intersection, in the grassy median we traversed on the way to the van. It didn’t come out of the crank, rather, the part you clip your shoe into came unscrewed from the shaft part that you screw into the crank. OK, why not, on a day like this?
I understand that relative to millions and millions of people in the world on that day I had a pretty good one. Supportive wife and kids, nice home, nice van to ride home in, physical ability to at least attempt a triathlon. But I felt so horrible and depressed. I don’t know why, but I’ve never felt like such a failure. As I pushed my bike through the crowds I wanted to yell, “You know, I’ve done these before and finished!”
One the way back home I ride in the passenger seat and let my wife drive. It wasn’t long until I had to reach over and turn on the A/C, BECAUSE I GOT HOT! Perfect.
This last week in our town, they closed the indoor pool and opened the outdoor pool. They always do this in the summer time, that way they can do maintenance to the indoor pool. However, they never make the transition this early. Normally, I like when they open the outdoor pool for lap swimming. It’s a full 50 meters long, whereas the indoor pool is 25 yards long. But it hasn’t been exactly hot around here lately, so when I went to the pool on Wednesday I had flashbacks of the KC Tri. I swam for 28 minutes and then was still shivering when I got home to shower.
I don’t know why but that made me really nervous to swim again yesterday, but I went to the pool, got in, it was cool, but not so bad, and swam for 49 minutes. When I got out I was fine. No hypothermia. Of course, the water was warmer by then, but it gave me confidence. Confidence I’ll need, because, to redeem myself from my abject KC Tri failure, I signed up for the Kansas 70.3, which is this Sunday. I must be an idiot.