When I was in a college fraternity, "brotherhood" largely meant drinking and doing stupid things together, and having your buddy's back in a barfight. Nearly 20 years later, on a picturesque Santa Barbara morning, "brotherood" took on new meaning. Certainly something more special, and far more real than the concept we thought we understood it to be during chapter meetings.
My friends and fraternity brothers Theoden and Doug joined me for the Santa Barbara long course triathlon, held this past weekend. I ran into Doug volunteering at Ironman Arizona last year, but I hadn't seen Theoden and Doug together since Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Atlanta Olympics were popular topics. Nothing had changed between us, while everything had changed around us. We're family guys, or at least married. Beer drinking has largely been replaced with carb loading, and the near-40-year-old versions of ourselves could kick the crap out of our 20-something versions. We had a good laugh about that over a couple beers the night before the race.
On to the race itself. For starters, I forgot how HARD the Santa Barbara Triathlon long course actually is. Most of my focus is squarely on the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, and I hadn't paid much attention to Santa Barbara. I've done the course many times, had a great race there last year, felt terrific going into the race despite a high fatigue level, and figured I'd just cruise through. As I drove Doug and Theoden through the bike course amidst Friday afternoon traffic, I realized I had better slam back to reality fast. This would be a precursor of things to come the next morning.
Instead of my normal long-winded race recap, I'll cut to the reason I'm really writing. After what I thought was a good swim and what turned out to be a sub-par bike performance, I knew I needed to really haul ass on the run to hit my 3:19:00 goal time. As the clock ticked 2:17:05 on my watch, I knew that dream was impossible for a 10-mile run. Worse yet, I was on pace to finish three minutes slower than I had in 2012. What the heck happened? I felt fine in the swim but my legs were rubbery on the bike...I just never felt like I got in a good rhythm.
I was so wrapped up in my own ball of worry that I barely noticed up ahead someone in a red tri kit that looked very similar to my friend Theoden. I didn't expect him to be waiting for me...I mean, I knew he was fast but why would he just be sitting around wasting time?
It turned out that the bike he borrowed (Theoden is from North Carolina) had mechanical problems and he abandoned the race about five miles into the ride. I can't imagine the frustration after waiting so much time to race with his buddies from across the country. But instead of mope about it, he showed what true brotherhood is about.
Theoden greeted me with a smile and started jogging alongside me, explaining what had happened. Undaunted, he was going to run half the course with me, and half with Doug. I wonder if I would have done the same thing.
We both fed off each other. At first Theoden pushed me to go faster, even faster than I thought possible. Then, I found the legs that had alluded me on the bike and picked up the pace. Theoden stopped near the halfway point on the run to recharge his batteries knowing he'd be running with Doug on the way back. I was on my own, but confident. The honey water solution I've been experimenting with kept me plenty nourished. One year ago, I ran hard but labored to a 1:12 10-mile performance. On Saturday, I was three minutes faster and the truth is, I could have maintained that pace for a half-marathon. I'm grateful to Theoden for his positive attitude and his selfless dedication to Doug's and my race. While I remember every detail of every race I run, I'll remember the funny conversations and tri-talk with Doug and Theoden even more.
For me, the concept of brotherhood has come full circle. It took a triathlon 20 years after my initiation to remind me.