Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ironman Coeur D'Alene

I was in the Phoenix airport. I was sitting in Starbucks watching my flight time slide from 3:45 to 3:55 to 4:00. They were playing Jimmy Cliff “Many Rivers to Cross.” I had no laptop, but suddenly I was inspired to fill the time writing. I walked down to the news store and found behind the racks of romance novels and assorted c.r.a.p. there was a little shelf with a couple pads of yellow lined paper and a few pens. It was basically an homage to things from a bygone era. And while I knew even then I was getting a little mellow dramatic, nonetheless the song and the moment inspired a “reflective” report.

The planning, build-up, trip, and lastly the race are all over now. 23 months in the making and over just like that. 23 months of seeking a do-over for Lake Placid ’09, and the near miss to Kona. And after all is said and done, some undeniable truths emerge.
1) I feel a lot better about LP ’09 than I did in ’09.
2) I’m a pretty competent race manager.
3) I’m still not going to Kona.

Can one be really happy with an experience and very disappointed at the same time? I wrote months ago that going to Hawaii didn’t matter so much anymore, however the very apparent truth is having the option to do so, in other words qualifying, does. I didn’t race poorly; in fact I raced pretty well. I saw no blatant cheating. I was just beaten. I’m forced to respect that. It’s hard to live with, but you have to respect the people who did a better job than you. I’m pretty sure I got everything out of my body that I had to give, and still it wasn’t enough. So I’m proud of my race, and yet disappointed. Less than 4 minutes, 3 places, and this report would be vastly different. I’m now 3 for 3 in near misses. The trip was also one of those experiences I’ll remember for a long time. And as great as my time with my teammates was, the trip as well will forever be one of mixed feelings.

A brief recap of the race reads like this. At 7:00am the cannon sounded and we were off. The start was chaotic but I’ve been in much worse. I think the clarity of the water helped. The swim was slow and a really big boat wake appeared on the second loop just as I was approaching the turn, screwing up my navigation and causing me to turn too much and so turn back. I also had a goggles which were leaking thanks to a bump in the head breaking the seal around my right eye. My contact effectively became like a cataract. It wasn’t too much of a problem during the swim, but the bike could be an issue. As I approached shore I remembered I had not thrown glasses into my bag as a backup in case just this thing happened. I came out in 1:11 and just like that I knew 10hrs was out of reach. Time to recalibrate the goals…age group place.

My hands were cold so transition was slow. In fact it took 3 shots to get my watch on. Once I got out on my bike I started to settle myself. I checked my heart rate and it said 140, and then 80, and then nothing. “Okay, this one’s going to have to be by feel. No heart rate today!” It did eventually start reading again, but was still wacky. The bike leg was my biggest disappointment. I should be 10min faster at my fitness level. And it was the flat lands, coming back into town into a bit of a head wind, where I got my ass handed to me. In fact comparing to fellow teammate Pat Wheeler, who rocked the course top to bottom, I only gave up fractions of a mph on the hills, but upwards of 3mph coming in, especially on the second lap. Disappointing.
CDA Bike

So it was down to the run to see if I could move up and perhaps get a Kona slot, which I may or may not take. I was fairly conservative going out. It’d been almost 2yrs since I’ve run this distance and it was warming up outside. I focused on nutrition and told myself to dial it back…slow it down. I got my heart rate, the monitor now working, back into what we call a mid Z1 effort, basically a steady aerobic running pace. I passed the eventual women’s champion Julie Dibens around mile 2. She was, however, on her 2nd loop. It did tell me I was running well. Still I expected to have problems so I kept it conservative. Mostly the run was uneventful. I did see teammates in force, and I was extremely surprised at the “Motivation Station.” As I crossed the mat, I looked up expecting to see some lame generic message. Instead I saw, “J. Kehm, B.M.A.” There is only one man who could have done that because only one other person in the state of Idaho on that day would know what that meant. Thanks Doug MacLean (the overall age group champion). I had decided to keep it conservative until the final climb was over. Then it was time to roll it out. I brought it home hard, including a 7:10 final mile and a final sprint to mid 5s.

I crossed the finish line. I got my medal. I returned my chip…and then I returned all the coke and water from the last couple of aid stations! A medical volunteer jammed a barf bucket in my face. I used it. And then she asked me if I was done. However she did so with the bucket literally jammed in my face. I said, if you move my puke out of my face, I may be okay. She didn’t move. So I just stood up. They walked me over and put me in a lawn chair with a couple of ice packs. “When was your last pee?” “Mile 18.” “Of the bike?” “No, the run. In fact I think my shorts are still damp if you don’t believe me! ;)” Okay I didn’t really say that last part, but I thought it!

My final time of 10:16 was not a PR, and so as I said I have mixed feelings. But I’ve got mixed feelings about much of the trip. At 6:30am PST on Tuesday I woke up to an empty house. I knew most of my teammates had left early, but it was odd nonetheless. We had just had what was really a pretty cool week. Just hours before the house had been alive with people and food and beer. We shared stories of the race, stories of home. It was a great afternoon/evening which had that “final bonfire of summer camp” feeling. In a short time you shared quite a bit and suffered together in the race, and then you went your separate ways. I can’t remember the last time I shed just a bit of my conservative demeanor , but there I was cap to the side (tag still on!), pants ½ off my skinny butt, and a 40 of Olde English in a brown paper bag. Now it’s back home and back to the “real me.”

On Tuesday I had a final breakfast at a local Coeur D’Alene diner named “Franklins.” We had gone the day before and I had the “Philly Cheese Steak Omelette.” It was pleasant then. Today not so much. Coeur D’Alene was quiet now, the carnival known as Ironman having packed up and moved on to the next town. A few locals had emerged and positioned themselves in their favorite spots. I had the same waitress as the previous day. She was perfectly pleasant to me. But then I heard her conversing in the next room. The discussion began with the waitress and a regular saying they were glad the athletes were gone (the place was empty so I didn’t have to try to hear every word). “Did you see them?” “Why would they do that (Ironman)?” “It’s stupid.” “And they think they’re better than everyone.” “They’re assholes.” “Yeah, they’re a bunch of geeks who think they’re better than everyone else.” (That's only some of the comments.) Well, I was glowing. Not just red. Glowing. They’re remarks weren’t intended for me to hear, but that didn’t much matter. I heard, and it offended and hurt me. And while they have a point, there are definitely assholes in the triathlon world, clearly we don’t have a monopoly on that category. When she brought me my check for breakfast she didn’t appear uncomfortable. She didn’t know I had heard. Now it would have been easy to pay and quietly walk away. After all I will never see them again. But I didn’t just walk away, however I didn’t cause a scene either. After all, wouldn’t that just validate their opinions? Instead I walked up with my check and said, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m truly grateful for your hospitality. I’ve been here twice now and have enjoyed my meals. I also wanted to let you know that I’m a middle-aged father of 2, I work at a bank, and I don’t think I’m better than anyone else.” “Oh,” she said. “I’m sorry you heard that.” She repeated that a couple of times. She looked a bit embarrassed. And then I walked out. Summer camp, or the mirage of it anyway, was truly over.