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I like to write and I like to party, but mostly just the writing. Disclaimer: A lot of these stories are true ones. The memory of growing-up in and around Killybegs. When you hold a mirror up to small communities, sometimes there are those who don't like the reflection. Capote knew this only too well. If you find the refraction just a little too much and would like the angle of incidence changed in your favor, please email me at georgevial@hotmail.com and I will be happy to make a name change here or there.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Swim, Bike, Run: Fun?

Swim, bike, run, in that order, 1500 meters, 42 kilometers and 10 kilometers respectively and it sounds even less when you put it in miles: 0.9, 24.6, 6.2. Sam and I figured we were up for the challenge. We’d already done Hospital Hill, Brew to Brew, and I trained for and he completed the KC marathon, therefore an Olympic distance triathlon was within our realm of possibility.

The swim was going to be the biggest challenge, so as soon as we made the decision to train for the Triathlon, we hit the pool. We rode our bikes down to the Tony Aguire Community Center just off South West Boulevard, paid our $15 monthly membership and jumped in.

Christ, we nearly died after the first ten laps, neither of us had swum in a long time. I had the advantage in that I used to swim for my boarding school, but that was fourteen or so years ago, but I think Sam had only maybe done a cannonball once or twice at a pool party in Idaho. But that first day we huffed and puffed and stopped and snotted and timed ourselves all the way to 30 lengths of the pool: half the distance we needed to cover.

It was a little discouraging that first day, realizing the gravity of the commitment required to complete the task in hand. After dragging our arses out of the pool we got on the bikes with wobbly legs, Sam actually bailed off his bike in front of the community center as he was mounting. The staff looked at us like we were half-cocked.

I had my mountain bike, Old Blue my trusty steed from college, fitted with street tires. Sam found that his wife’s bike was faster than his own so he brought it along, with its sexy girl crossbar. We went from the Boulevard down to the city market, out to the isle of Capri, then back and up Grand all the way through Power and Light, past Crown Center and up that monster hill. We turned into Union Hill and came back down to Gillham via that red brick road that shook our bodies to pieces. Near the end of Gillham Sam cut off at the park to head home and I finished up by heading down to the Plaza and home via Roanoke and Westport to State Line. First day of training over and we were fecked.

We had just under four weeks to complete all our training before the event, so we went to the pool every other day. Rode around the city, hit the downtown airport and even went out to Longview Lake to get a lay of the land and discovered the mother of all head winds coming off the lake by the dam. At about two weeks in we were both comfortable doing 60 laps of the pool and on one really good day I got my time down to about 37 minutes, but open water was going to be a totally different story.

Sam found a road bike on Craig’s list for $125 bucks. Next time at the downtown airport the bollocks was taking two minutes off me every four miles with the new bike. I thought seriously about buying or renting a road bike to stay competitive with him. I had him on the swim and he had me on the run and we had been pretty even on the bike, but now Old Blue was just not cutting the government cheese of Triathlon training.

The cost of doing the Triathlon was mounting, between the equipment, clothing, fees, and licenses. And I tried raising some money from friends and family, but “in this economy” who the hell has money to spare for charity. I brought in about 25 bucks, it went a small way to about 250 that the event was costing me. Then Sam had a hiccup at work and had to pull out a week before the event. He was devastated and so was I, ‘cause doing this event was one thing, but doing it alone was another. We were going to keep each other going. At least he still trained with me right up to the last day and that made a big difference. Especially since I had a football tournament in Little Rock the weekend before the Triathlon and my body was still aching from the four-game pounding it received.

Saturday night before the event, I’ve got the night off from work to get myself mentally and physically prepared. I went over my inventory: Triathlon shorts, goggles, swim hat, anti fog spray, bike all tuned up, helmet, bike shoes, t-shirt, sunglasses, running shoes, extra socks, race number, towels, footbath bucket, Gatorade, goo gel packs, energy bars and running cap and on top of all that, change of clothes, camera, ipod and bike tool box.

My alarm goes off at 4am, GNR’s Sweet Child O’Mine, then my back up alarm clock goes off, I drag my ass out of bed and try not to wake the wife. I spend the next hour hydrating and loading the truck. There is a light rain outside, so I add rain gear to my ever-expanding list of equipment.

It’s a beautiful drive out to Longview Lake that early in the morning and it’s about 5:20 am as I am being ushered into a field by event volunteers. It takes me a few trips to and fro the truck to the transition area to get everything set up. The first few racks in the transition area have a small hand drawn poster taped to them that reads “Reserved for Extreme Athletes,” I don’t fit that category, so I find a rack about half way back with a good marker that will be easy to recognize later when the place is filled up with people.

As more experienced triathletes hustle in an take up positions I watch how they lay their gear out and imitate them best I can to try and blend in, but amongst these “extreme athletes” I am being to feel like a pretender, a total fake, especially with my mountain bike. Some of the bikes hanging of the stainless steel cross bar look like they probably cost the better part of the price of a new car. Carbon fiber is everywhere and makes my 24lb aluminum bike look like a lump of rock.

The sun is peeking it’s head above the lake and the air temperature is slowly rising and I snap off a few pictures to capture the morning and I think that it sure would be nice to have someone here right now like Sam or my wife. The guy on the PA system announces that body marking is now open and all athletes should make their way over there. It’s like a cattle cal as we line up and get our age marked on the back of our right calf muscle and then our race number on our arms, it’s a little Germany Circa 1940s and I get a chill-giggle as I get marked and pass on through the gate and back to the transition area.

People are starting to pull on wetsuits and spray their goggles and make their way to the beach. I don’t have a wetsuit, so I pull off my shirt, stroll down to the beach in my fur-suit, I’m one of the only non waxed males in the area, makes me feel very manly like Magnum PI. Dad mailed me a wetsuit, but it’s stuck in limbo somewhere between Ireland and Kansas City, if it ever arrives I’ll use it for my next triathlon.

The seven thirty gun time is fast approaching, people are taking warm up strokes in the water, I walk out up to my waist and am surprised how warm the water is and not having a wetsuit isn’t the problem I thought it would be. We are all standing around in our swim hats and look like hundreds of sperm getting ready to penetrate the egg. A brief mandatory meeting is held, which I can’t hear a word of, but it must be very important and seconds later we are back at the waters edge. I stand at the back of the pack as I don’t want to get trampled and hold my breath for the gun. A couple of old guys that look like veterans of many Triathlons look at me and can see I’m new to this and remind me to have fun. I slip my goggles over my eyes and as I leave the beach a photographer asks me to turn my head around over my should and snaps a picture of me and I’m thinking that could be the last photo of me alive!

The gun goes and the sperm are away like a flash, water splashing everywhere and I gently glide in and get into my breast stroke rhythm and realize it’s on, I’m in a triathlon and there is no turning back. The main pack is pulling away from the stragglers and five minutes later the gun goes again and the female athletes are released and they swallow me up very quickly. Not caring that I am in their way, I get dunked several time and I swallow water as I try to curse at them “Fer Fuck, guck guck, sakes!”

The fifteen giant buoys in the water look much further apart in the water now, from the beach they looked like they were tightly spaced. It’s an eternity between each marker and I keep a good eye on the life guards on body boards and speed boasts and jet skis incase I should need their support. The small waves in the lake start to get a little choppy and there is a current that noticeable tows me off course, lots of zigzagging going from A to B to C. I can see the leaders way off in the distance across the lake, white foam splashing up the air as the “extreme athletes” cut their way effortlessly across the water. I just keep my rhythm and motor on at my own pace.

As I made the final turn and started my progression towards the beach again I really needed to pee, I tried peeing while swimming, but my little swimmer wasn’t performing, so I treaded water for a moment to relieve myself. A lifeguard started towards me “Are you OK? Are you cramping?” I was embarrassed and honest and said “just taking a wiz, thanks.” After that I set my sights on finish and slowly, stroked my way in.

I was surprised to Sam and Matt Furjanic standing on the beach cheering me on, both wearing their matching Trolley Run shirts and kaki pants, like my own personal support team. My legs felt like jelly as I took my first few steps in shallow water, my feet slightly sinking into the sandy bottom. I raised my arm in victory; I had survived the swim. The boys kept on cheering me and I sauntered up the beach to the transition area.

There weren’t many people in the area and I took my sweet time cleaning off my feet, getting them nice and dry and putting on my bike shoes. Talking to the boys shoved a few power bars in my shorts and walked the bike over to the exit and mounted my steed. I was powering up the hill, going through the gears when I noticed a hot, little Asian girl in a deck chair and realized “Hey Linh” it was my wife, book in hand, big smile and she says “Go George.”

I get up to the road and bicycles are zooming past at unbelievable speeds, already on their second lap of the lake. I join the fast flow and peddle my heart out. Those many thousands of dollar bikes go past me like I’m sitting still, I can hear the solid disc wheel coming from behind, a deep bass woop-woop sound and then they are past me. I see one unfortunate fella walking his bike along the hard shoulder, flat tire and no repair kit, I feel bad for him, but I have to keep peddling. As I pass the golf course there is a giant dead turtle still on the side of the road. Sam and I had seen it when we trained out here a few weeks ago, but now his shell is half broken and looks a little mummified from the hot weather.

Going past Long View Community College I keep pace with a road bike for a few minutes, but that is killing me on the mountain bike, so I back off and keep to my own pace. The course takes us through some neighborhoods and people are out in their front gardens yelling like crazy and shaking cowbells. It’s a great feeling and I take my hands off the handle bars and yell “Tour de France” it made sense to me at the time, even though I had wanted to shout “Lance Armstrong” but it got a good cheer from them all the same.

As I pass the start/stop area a volunteer tries to wave me in, while Matt and Sam are shouting at me and I get a little disorientated and go in and then nearly wreck as I rejoin the main road again, totally killing my momentum and I’m stuck in too high a gear and I think “Oh, bollocks I’ve got to go around this lake one more time.”

The second lap actually feels easier and I get into a good groove and I find my rhythm on this lap a lot quicker as there are not so many other bikers whizzing past me and I actually pass a few other riders. As I come up to Long View Community College there is a very fast section and I can see a rider about 200 yards in front of me on a race bike and I peddle with all I might to keep up with them and use them as my pacer. I tuck down as much as my mountain bike will allow me and I find that I am actually gaining on the rider. A little bit of uphill and I am definitely closing the gap, and on the next down hill I’m on their tail and as I go to pass them, the rider changes gear and their chain slips off. The rider is a lady and my first impulse is to stop and help, but I quickly analyze the situation and figure that any triathlete worth their salt can put a chain on a bike, so I hold chivalry at bay and peddle like blue hell.

Volunteers and local fans are still cheering us on and I bring in my second lap and finish off the 24.6 mile sprint. Linh, Sam and Matt are all at the transition area and I talk to them as I slip out of my bike shoes and lace up my running shoes and put a few energy bars in the back of my shorts, put on my running cap and I’m off.

The weather temperature is really climbing quickly and I settle into a crappy 11 minute pace, cause I don’t know how much reserve is in my tank. And then before the first mile is even over, I feel a painful sensation in my right knee. I get visions of the KC marathon when it seized up and put me out of the race. I stop, adjust my knee brace and start up again, it tinkles a little and then about fifty yards further along it feel great again and I push a little harder.

It’s a 3-mile lap of the event area and the first one is over very quickly, in my mind at least. Linh is in her deck chair as I pass by and she takes a few photos. I suck in my gut and make sure I don’t give the step-mother anything to make fun of, like my pose from the Broadway Bridge run when I looked like an escaped mental patient. The next three miles seem extremely long, and the heat is becoming more of a challenge than my cardio or knee. I dump water over my head at each water station and the few runners I pass look like they are having a real hard time, but I feel really good when I pass a guy with a 29 marked on his leg. It inspires me to pick up the pace and I bring it home best I can. In the last few hundred yards I can hear the music and the MC going full tilt, people are celebrating their day of endurance and the winners are up on the stage as the finish line comes into view. My three biggest fans are they’re cheering and shouting for me to bring it in and I take a huge big jump and leap over the finish line. I’m handed a finishers medal and a towel and Sam confirms it “you’re a triathlete now brother.”

My goal was just to cross the finish line and I figured it would take me about 3hrs and 50 minutes and I beat that goal with a time of wait for it, 3hrs and 49minutes! I placed 301st out of some 600 or so athletes. It was a wonderful sense of self I felt as I gulped down bottle after bottle of Gatorade in the transition area and the main thought in my mind was “when’s the next one.” And you know what? It was fun.


Jeanne said...

Yeah, George! I loved this story. Funny and inspiring and so honest. Keep going.

CJ said...

Yay G!!! A great read and an inspiration to try some triathalons with my mum and sis. They did that one last year. But for now, I'm gonna have some cheese dip and a beer and a toast to you! Miss you.