I've raced a lot this year. Nine events, to be exact. One half-marathon, one marathon, one Half-Ironman, and the rest triathlons of various distances. And I'm not done yet! As the season has worn on, I've found it occasionally more difficult to get fired up to race. Especially when the events are on a Saturday, like today's Nautica Malibu Triathlon (International Distance). When I'm at work on a Friday, I'm focused on work (yes, as if it wasn't obvious in the above photo, I do work at Insomniac Games!). Not the race. So when the time comes to dash to the pre-event packet pick-up, I find myself struggling to get in the right frame of mind to torture myself so early the next morning.
That was the case today around 5 a.m. on the way to the race. Earlier in the season, my car would be bumpin' the sounds of rock and gangsta rap. I was jacked! My biggest problem was calming down, not firing up. This morning, silence in the car, punctuated by periodic conversation with Stephanie, who braved an oncoming sinus cold to join me for yet another day of fan support.
I couldn't quite get "there," that mystical place where body and mind shake hands and agree to work together to deliver a personal-best performance. Body showed up, mind was still wandering.
Until the National Anthem just before the sound of the first-wave cannon fire.
I have a little pre-race ritual that locked me in tight. During every National Anthem, I close my eyes and for some reason, I always picture the same thing. My grandfather, who passed away in 2005, is ambling towards me or hovering in my mind. I know he would have loved watching me perform in this sport, and the truth is, I miss him every day. So amidst all the hectic activities and moments in my life, the National Anthem before a triathlon is the place and time where I can quietly pay homage to a great man whom will always be my lovable hero.
And then I remember that it's now time to kick-ass. No excuses, just like grandpa. No fanfare, just like grandpa. It's. Time. To. Kick. Ass. End of story. No talking. Action.
Even though I always get a little choked up in those moments, I couldn't be more dialed into race. Everything else melts away. Nothing but racing occupies my mind. Literally 100% focus. To those who don't know me, it's probably my "stay the fuck away from me" face! Today that feeling was compounded by having my parents join me for the first time this season to watch me race. When I saw them, after my pre-race warm-up swim, I immediately returned to being that 12-year-old kid who craved their approval on the soccer field. I couldn't help but smile.
Happy, but not distracted though.
As if I wasn't rearing to go, being with my parents took that energy to another level. In fact, I broke my dad's eyeglasses giving him a head-butt before entering the corral for my 35-39 men's age group wave. I don't think the feeling of wanting to please those important to you ever goes away, no matter how old you are. If I got report cards at work, I'd still give them to my mom to hang on the refrigerator.
Now, add those emotions to the mental imagery I try to conjure up moments before the starting gun blasts: A steaming, smoldering, powerful 1970s-era rocket ship about to take off from Cape Canaveral. Complete in crackling, saturated 1970s-era filmstock. Film projector-sounding audio providing the sound enhancement.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5...I literally picture the gates coming apart from the rocket as the engines ignite.
4, 3, 2, 1...BANG!
I wish I could describe the sensation that occurs in my body when that gun goes off. Honestly, I get dizzy for a moment and my vision is temporarily blurred while a massive energy surge pounds through me. There is no sound in that moment . I can't hear my own footsteps. Not even the roar of the ocean. It's me and the race. Me against time. There is nothing else. Nothing else that comes close to mattering in that moment.
Granted, with a 28:40 swim that's a lot of imagery and motivation for what many would consider an average aquatic performance!
Nonetheless, that's what I think about in the final minutes before every race. And today, that's the added motivation I had to race faster than I have before, on a tougher course than this past summer's Breath of Life Olympic-distance event (the site of my previous best performance).
Some days, I race for me. Today, I raced for others.
That turned out to be more than enough rocket fuel to keep me going.
Swim: Nice pace. Good current helped. Stayed out of trouble by avoiding other, slower swimmers from the previous wave who seemed like sea mines because of their unpredictable, sometimes-chaotic behavior. One guy literally swim into me at a perpendicular angle!
Bike: I maintained a 20.5 mph pace despite dropping my chain on the second climb heading out to Deer Creek Road from Zuma Beach. Very proud of myself for not panicking, quickly fixing the chain and getting back into the race. Didn't lose my cool, and caught up with my pace-mates fairly quick. Speaking of, I played a helpful and fun game of "cat and mouse" with three cyclists. One tall, lanky 38-year-old, another 38-year-old and a 36-year-old Kansas native who was out on vacation and shared a bike rack space with me. He rented a Giant bike for the race and was an amazing climber. I beat him by around a minute but he was faster than me on the swim and run. I beat him overall by 16 seconds due to faster transitions. He served as healthy and friendly competition. We kept passing each other throughout the race, occasionally chatting, occasionally drafting (just a little, shhhh...).
Run: Wow! That's all I can say about my 43:43 10k. Coach Gerardo (pictured here with LA Tri Clubber and Tweet Tycoon @fittorrent) really got to me at the Santa Barbara Triathlon when he told me to "just run" and not worry about heart-rate. I never once looked at my heart-rate today and instead ran by feel, with the general mantra of "go as fast as you can" stuck in my head. Unlike Santa Barbara, I never stopped for water breaks. Unlike Santa Barbara, I didn't start off slow and build to a fast pace. I started fast and steadily grew faster. If I recall my Garmin watch data, my mile splits were 7:25, 7:29, 7:25, 7:18, 7:09 and I didn't see the final lap but think I broke 7. What's odd though is that my average pace is listed at 7:03. Hooray! For a change, I wasn't passed a lot on the run -- I did more passing instead.
69 days and counting.