two words: killed it

Monday, July 14, 2014

I achieved two major things yesterday: First, I blew my very first snot rocket ever on the bike. (And you'll be very pleased to know I did not accidentally blow it onto my own shoulder.)

Second, I set a 43-minute PR.

I know, right? I keep checking the results page over and over because I'm still in shock, and part of me expects an e-mail from the timing chip company telling me there has been a terrible mistake. But no matter how many times I refresh, the truth is there: I finished Vineman in 6:39:48 -- compared to 7:22:29 last year and 7:32:45 in 2012.

This text from Coach Mark was waiting for me when I finally made it back to my tri bag after the race:

If you ignore the fact that math is not Coach Mark's strong point (and as you may recall, neither is typing), you get the gist: Lovey dovey amazing day all around. 

I will tell you that even though I'm still in holy shit mode, I wanted that PR something fierce. I knew I had done the work -- I knew I was ready. It was a matter of staying calm and sticking to the plan.

And perhaps also trying not to get intimidated by my ridiculously pretty (and very, very fast) teammate / housemate for the weekend.

If Ryan Gosling was a triathlete. That is all.

(By the way, since we are ignoring details in photos, let's also ignore the fact that I look like a midget next to these boys. And don't ask me why I'm smiling like that, either.)

I was lucky enough to be in one of the earliest waves this year, with a start time of 6:54 a.m. -- a huge relief since I was worried about the heat. (I already felt fried at packet pickup, so I knew temperatures were going to be an issue.)

Locked and loaded.

As you know, this year was a weird one for me -- so much loss, so much change. I was texting Layla in the car on the way to the race (don't freak out, I wasn't driving), and we were remembering when we volunteered at Vineman together in 2011, before triathlon was even a remote possibility for me. We had spiked our coffee. She had long, long hair. I still had a wedding ring.

I teared up in the backseat on the way to the start. Funny to think of a race as a gauge of where you are in your life, but in many ways, that's what Vineman has become for me. And the person I am now -- the person brave enough to start in the middle of the pack in the water yesterday instead of hanging back and letting everyone else go first, the person with no parents on shore taking photos, the person with no significant other to kiss before putting the goggles on, the person whooping it up with total strangers, hungry for a PR -- I never, never would've guessed that would be me.  

But when that gun went off at 6:54 a.m., I dove in -- right into the middle of the flailing limbs and that crazy washing machine of humanity. It was the most aggressive swim I've ever been in. I got kicked in the face. I pushed and was pushed. And I finished in 47:48 (compared to 49:11 last year). I had hoped for a 45-minute swim, but hey, not going to complain. I tore out of that water and was through transition in 4:08, even with the full wetsuit (5:12 last year with a sleeveless wetsuit). 

Obligatory T1 photo.

I immediately felt more comfortable on the bike -- out of the washing machine and reunited with Muppet, the love of my life. Unfortunately, because I was in such an early wave, I got passed a whole hell of a lot. I had to tell myself to hold steady, that I would catch up on Chalk Hill. I stayed focused and concentrated on nutrition and hydration, since I knew this would be key to setting myself up for a strong run.

As expected, I was solid on the hills. (Dear Seattle: I bitch about my neighborhood all the time, but that shit has made me such a better climber.) Had no problems riding up Canyon. But as I started the descent, I thought I heard my rear tire deflating. I became more and more convinced that it was going flat, so I rode into the Geyserville aid station yelling, "I have a flat! I have a flat!" at all the volunteers until someone brought a pump out to me. And then we realized I didn't have a flat after all. In fact, nothing was wrong with my tire.

Me: I'm sorry. Am I crazy?

Volunteer: No, you're just tired.

And then I refilled my water bottle and used the port-a-potty and was on my way. Rode most of the stretch between Geyserville and Chalk Hill in aero, pushing the pace hard to make up for the imaginary flat tire incident. Bombed down the rollers on Chalk Hill Road, and when it came time for the big climb, I just let loose and started yelling, "Fuck this motherfucking piece of shit fucking hill!" the entire way up and tried to pass as many people as I could. (Really glad they don't give you penalties for cursing, or I'd probably still be sitting in the penalty tent right now.)

Bombed down and pushed hard until the end. Finished the bike in 3:26:07, with a negative split (down from 3:42:56 the previous year). Had been aiming for 3:30, nearly shit myself when I realized what I had done. Went through T2 in 4:56 (last year's 4:44 was better) and then I was off to run.

Last year, I couldn't run. I was so dehydrated and cramping so badly that I could barely keep going. This year, I was extra-careful with hydration and nutrition on the bike -- went through two bottles, plus gels and a Picky Bar -- so I wouldn't die on the run. The heat was terrible as expected. And officials changed the rules so no spectators could access the run course between miles 1 and 11.5 -- which meant it was a silent slog, with only the sound of people's breath. I did have a few "Why the hell am I doing this?" moments, but I just made myself keep running. I focused on form and hydration and doing my best to cool myself down (water over my head at every aid station, ice chips in my sports bra). I also tried to find people I knew (Kimra, thank you so much for volunteering -- so uplifting to see you on that eerily quiet course!) and say nice, encouraging things to other racers. (See? Contrary to popular belief, I don't just curse all the time.)

The last two miles of that run were tough -- the finish was so close, but I was so tired and hot. I just kept telling myself, "How bad do you want this? How bad do you want this?" and then I pushed on, keeping turnover high and trying to be as efficient as possible.

Coming down that chute was incredible. I knew I had PR'd -- I knew that even in the terrible heat, with the terrible sadness that has been weighing on me these past few months, I had done what I set out to do. I saw my teammate Himanshu on the sidelines, cheering me on (so great to see a Seattle face in California), and I just brought it in. The announcer called me Michael, but fuck it, I thought that was funny. And I crossed the line. And I got my medal (or my "better bling," as Layla put it so nicely). And then it hit me.

I found Layla -- who was volunteering in the athlete food tent -- threw my arms around her and just broke down sobbing. It was like everything I had been holding on to just bubbled to the surface and exploded. All I could think about was Erika and how much I missed her and how we had gone tubing in the Russian River the weekend after my first Vineman and how I still hear her voice in my head, every day.

I finished the run in 2:16:49 (compared to the atrocious 2:40:26 of last year). And when Layla looked up my final time, I started crying all over again. I had gone into this race wanting a sub-7 finish, maybe hoping for something in the 6:45 range at best. And I came out with a 6:39.

This girl. I'm so blessed to have such good friends.

It is hard to explain to someone who doesn't do triathlon, who maybe thinks all of this is crazy and masochistic, just what this sport means to me. It has been my anchor, the one sure thing I've been able to hold on to, when the rest of my life has felt like total chaos. I've learned how to be strong and work hard, how to keep my mind steady, even in the most difficult times. I've rolled with the punches (literally, especially in that swim) and realized that anything is possible if you're brave enough to try to make it happen.

Yesterday was amazing.

Disbelief + river hair = HAWT

And of course, we celebrated.

IMAZ is next for the two of us!

Guess which one I picked?



Kimra said...

OH MY GOD I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU. I cannot say it enough. You looked like a VISION coming down that road toward the finish, no matter what it felt like! I'm so glad I caught you -- we thought we'd find you at mile 4 at the GGTC aid station, but we got detoured and you were blazing through. I was so excited when I realized I could still see you. IMAZ OR BUST.

Kristina said...

I've been following your blog for a while - and CONGRATS! That is such a huge PR - very well done! Good luck as you continue with IM training.

Layla said...

I am so incredibly proud of you. After the stress fracture and the people letting you down and the immensely unfair loss of Erika, you proved that you're stronger than all of it. Seeing your victory and being able to be there for you made the day more than worth it.

And thank you for reminding me that not everyone lets me down -- some friends do accept me and encourage me and let me glean a little hope from their accomplishments. And they let me hold them up when they need it, which on its own is a true compliment.

Angela said...

WOO HOO!!! How great does it feel when all the sacrifice & hard (HARD) work pays off? You've earned it!! So happy for you!!

Anonymous said...

I'm just catching up on your blog ... CONGRATULATIONS! The run sounded tough, nice work sticking through it. It's amazing how much spectators help.

I think your determination and drive is amazing. When I'm running I sometimes recall those last few miles of CIM a few years ago and how you pushed me to run faster when I didn't realize that I could. Thank you for that. I hope to run a marathon again some day ... can't wait to hear how your training goes. Stay cool in TX.

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