I had to show up extra early Saturday morning because I was not registered for the race and it had hit capacity Tuesday morning. I was planning on registering but Mary thought that I should wait to the last minute in case my achilles decided to go crazy following one of my runs. So that's how I found myself the first person in the parking lot at 6:59 am for a 9:30 start. I was actually there ahead of most of the volunteers which is always a little weird. I decided that my best bet to get into the race was to make myself a good natured pest like Bruce Denton when he went to see President Prigman without an appointment. I offered to help set up the registration pavilion, they declined my offer. I offered to help group the safety pins into groups of four to save time, they declined my offer. Finally they told me to just sit at the end of the table and wait. They put my name at the top of a nice little list and assured me that I would get to race. I decided that the coast was clear to get out all of my gear and to set up my transition zone. I'll have to admit that packing up my gear and setting it up was one of my favorite parts of the experience. Normally I just throw some flats in a bag with a fresh pair of shorts. So much more thought went into prepping my bag the night before. Gear for three different sports! As I was saying the setup was a blast. On the surface I tried to remain cool and collected but just bellow I was feeling frantic. My fears were many but I knew that I just needed to take them in stride with the new experience. I was worried about having never swam in a crowd the most. How was that going to pan out? I was also worried about Justin's bike. I was psyched to be using such a nice bike but it was way to small for me. I had the seat post an inch past the minimum insertion line! In the back of my mind I had a vision of the post slipping out while I was hammering down route 12a at 25 mph. On top of all of that I was terrified that my achilles was not going to hold up. I had terrifying visions of rupturing my achilles a mile into the run. Sure that this would be the end of my career I had it worked out that I would crawl the remaining two miles. Every single passer by wondering why this poor soul was putting himself through this sort of agony for a tiny triathlon in Surry, New Hampshire?
At eight forty-five I found out that I was entered in the race which was a huge relief. I had invited my father in law, and the Keene blogosphere out for the race. I would have felt like a huge tool if I did not get to race after telling everyone to show up for support. I headed out for a short warm-up with Steve in the parking lot. Mostly I was shaking out the nerves from earlier and started t realize that I was feeling pretty good. Oh right the race...
I stood with Andy and Steve knee deep in the water waiting for the starting horn. The three of us were pretty ticked off seeing about thirty different people wearing wetsuits. We were all under the impression that this was a suit free race and a little mad that we were all just standing there in out tights. Although a quarter of a mile swim is not that long and my best estimates figure that a wetsuit would have gotten me through the swim about a minute faster. We also figured that a good portion of that time would be lost in the first transition zone. As the siren sounded I charged into the water and mentally prepared myself to be kicked in the face while I was trying to find some space. In the first two minutes I felt a little overwhelmed, I looked up a couple of times and it seemed as if everyone was in front of me. I took a couple of extra strokes with my head down to try and get into a rhythm. Heading into the first turn I noticed on a breath that a lot of competitors were going very wide around the orange bucket. My runner instincts kicked in and I darted for the tangent to save time. Hitting the turn I was suddenly teleported to Fisherman's Wharf in San Fransisco. I felt like a walrus blubbering around on a pier with fifty of my overweight friends. Swimmer slipping under me as I gained momentum only to be knocked off course by another body toppling over mine searching for position. Free of the maelstrom of the turn I was finally able to find my rhythm. I took a peek up ahead during a breath and found myself to be in around fifteenth place. I was easily matching the strokes of the swimmer to my right so I decided to reach for another gear. Much to my surprise I was able to relax and swim significantly faster over the final hundred yards.
As I emerged from the water I instantly ripped off my cap and goggles and started to assess the situation. I assumed that I was in about twelfth place and judging from some of the swimmers around me I was sure to move up during the bike leg. Running up the boat ramp I momentarily made eye contact with Andy as he sprinted up the climb away from the park. Knowing Andy's fitness I knew that the head of the race was within my grasp. I sprinted to Fyffe's bike in a adrenaline fueled panic. My shoes went on like a pair of winter slippers and I felt ready to rock. I was so amped up that I just threw my helmet on my head and gripped my singlet in my teeth. Suddenly all of the athletes that were around me entering my transition were gone. My first glitch of the bike leg came an instant later. Three years removed from road riding I failed to remember that my pedals only had one side. As I struggled to get going I felt frustrated at rookie move. I threw down a Gu at the crest of the hill with one athlete in sight. I knew I had my hands full because I watched this guy, also named Mark, unpack his gear earlier in the day. Mark had a custom Ti frame with a sweet set of Hed 3 wheels! Perhaps I was a bit arrogant but I just assumed that my pieced together fitness would be able to over power his aerodynamic advantage. A few minutes into the ride I was able to close the gap as Mark overshot a ninety degree turn heading out of Surry Village. I did my best to catch his wheel but as soon as the surface leveled Mark tucked into his aero position and instantly established a gap that would grow throughout the ride. In fact I learned later that Mark was able to bridge the gap all the way up to Andy! I was frustrated that I could not get anything going on the bike. I was riding well beyond the limits of the 54 cm. frame that I was on. When I tried to put myself into a TT position I struggled with hitting my knees on the handle bars! Despite the cramped compartment I was flying down Route 12a. I consistently rode between twenty and twenty-five miles per hour. Coming into the park I knew that I was going to have to push the run. I was completely in no mans land as I headed into the second transition. I goofed up a bit getting off the bike and had my first case of the wobbles since the Endurance TT / track workouts with Elijah and Corey.
My pre-bungied flats went on in an instant and I quickly found myself back on the hunt. There was a tiny terror deep in my soul as I set out on the run. My drifting mind the previous night had gotten the best of me. With every foot fall I was wondering if this was going to be the one to end it all. As I crested the first hill I realized that everything felt OK. At that exact instant I looked up the road and saw a distant figure on the horizon. Something happened chemically in my mind and I was instantly transported back to Memorial Day in weekend in Burlington. That distant figure suddenly became Jonh Fassulo half a mile up the road at the twenty mile mark. Whatever had happened between then and now was irrelevant. I knew that I was a better runner than the lonely figure up ahead. I'll even admit that I thought of being a better runner than the majority of triathletes. Whatever it was that I was thinking all I knew in that instant was that there was blood in the water and that it was Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. Seemingly every step after that thought got a little quicker. The dial slowly turned and the figure got closer and closer. I stole a quick glance around a bend at the leader and Andy. I gave way to much away on the bike to challenge for the win but I knew that third was in the bag as I continued to gain on Mark number two. Back up on Route 12a with a thousand meters to go I caught Mark and prepared for the pass. I was giddy, hyper, and curious about the pass. I held off when I was within a few meters and gathered up for one big move. I did not want there to be any doubt about who was the superior runner. I threw down and hammered the final thousand like I had done so many other times in so many different races. Running faster and faster not because anyone really cared but because somewhere deep down in the very fiber of my being I knew that I needed this absurdity. I needed the feeling of my heart rate close to 190 bpm, I needed the tapping sound of my foot strike at pace; the old metronome beat of my being. Somewhere in that final stretch back into the park I experienced something oddly similar to bliss. I need the suffering and seemingly my suffering somehow needs me. I crossed the finish line with an ear to ear grin eager for my next triathlon. Sure I lost almost three minutes on the bike and never really contended for the win but I know that all the pieces are there, waiting to be assembled once I am back to 100%.