Sport > A Race for the G

A Race for the G

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: June 7, 2010

This is my brothers race. And mostly his writing. A few things you should know about him. About 30 months ago he was 70 pounds heavier than me and three inches shorter. Now he's just shorter. He from Amish Country where new fangled inventions like the internet are not well received. So I'm posting this as I doubt he'll ever figure out how to do this.

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It's 10 minutes to the start of the Pinchot Triathlon and I'm just getting into my wetsuit. A little closer than I like to cut it, but I figure I have time. I grab a plastic shopping bag and slip it over my right foot. I place my right foot in the right leg of the suit. It slides through slicker than gooseshit. I pull the bag off my foot and repeat it on the left side. Next thing I know, I'm shimmying my suit over my hips and slipping my arms into the sleeves. A quick zip up the back of the suit and I

grab my blue color-coded swim cap and head down to the beach. It's four minutes to the start of the Pinchot Triathlon and I'm running back to my car. I'm pretty sure i'm going to need those swim goggles at some point during the swim. On the return run, I think — "It figures, it's been that kind of a month." I've been a little more than forgetful over the past four weeks, juggling a hectic weekend training and race schedule that included minimal cycling and maximal swimming and running. From driving to Annapolis without a towel and clothes to change into after a swim, to driving to Havre de Grace to run 20 miles of a 100K without my GPS and fuel belt, I've been showing up for events three-quarters prepped. Third time's a charm, as the saying goes. This time, the forgotten item is only a couple hundred yards away. I try to find some positive in the situation on the run back to the beach... "Oh, well... at least my heart rate will be up..." I get into the water and check. Yep, sure enough. My heart rate is about 112... roughly double its 54 resting rate. The race director is going over the swim portion, explaining to keep the orange buoys on the left until you round the last corner, where you can then pass on either side of the final buoy. Some unlucky competitor needs a new timing chip and there's a brief delay to the start. I look out over the swim course and it seems much shorter than I remember it. Two years ago, I splluttered my way around the half-mile circuit in 35 minutes, using every swim stroke in my limited arsenal to cover the distance. Concerned kayakers cornered and questioned me on my ability to finsih the swim back then, insisting I take a rest on their boat for a bit. But things had changed in two years. Not the least of which was me spending every Saturday for the last four weeks swimming 2+ miles in and around the Chesapeake Bay. This was a lake swim with no chop roughly 1/4 of my minimum daily distance over the last few weeks. Unlucky gets his chip and the RD starts the countdown to the swim start. My intent is to go out hard, figuring that's the only way I'll beat last year's time of 20 minutes. With a 5-4-3-2-1, we're off and I'm taking solid strokes to the first buoy — and getting the living shit kicked out of me. Turns out one of the perqs of being slow is you miss the madness of the Cuisinart start. Within the first 100 yards I'm bumping and slapping into other like-minded sprinters in the mad dash for the first buoy. Terry Laughlin of Total Immersion swimming suggests relaxing and allowing yourself to ping-pong off the bodies. Screw that. I spot and go around the folks that are in my way. I make it past the first turn and the lead swimmers are still within 50-75 yards. I am a swimming fool. I try to find a good swimmer to draft from, but it's not happening. There's one lone white buoy to sight along on the way to the next turn, and that's gone in surprisingly short time. I'm still swimming hard, but have developed a nasty habit in my spotting technique. It's more a response to the speed of my strokes, so I don't worry about it too much. Actually, I'm surprised I'm even aware of it. Some good things have happened as a result of the slow Open Water swims and the 50m lap pool. I have a much more consistent stroke, and I'm sighting regularly without stopping. All of these are helping cut down on the down time I used to experience during OW swims. Before you know it, we're around the last buoy and heading for home. I manage to draft off a swimmer for about 60 yrards, but when his sighting proves to be less straight that mine, I ditch him for my own line. On my way into the shore, I check my watch and it's 18:20 seconds, and I'm not even out of the water and past the timing mat. My hopes of breaking 18 are shot. As I approach the timing mat, after struggling to get the top section of my wetsuit off and over the GPS on my left wrist, I see that the clock reads 15:20. WTF? I check my watch, and whaddya know... it is only 15 minutes and change after I started the swim. I head into transition a few step behind some random gal. She's pulled her wetsuit down to her hips and I do the same. Her bike is racked in front of mine, so I watch as her feet strip the wetsuit from her legs and I try to mimic her. It doesn't happen. I take a few swipes at it, but resort to my old method of sitting down. Only this time, the suit is off in 20 seconds, and I have my socks and bike shoes on in no time. I slap my glasses and helmet on and I'm off to the ride. My goal for the bike is to break an hour. I was close last year at 1:00:57, but the course is tough. My son figures I can do 58:30 based on how I raced in April, but I haven't done near as much biking this year as I did last year when I was preparing for my first Half Ironman. When my brother did this course at roughly the same age I am now, he called it one of the toughest tracks he had ever ridden. He didn't think breaking an hour was a possibility for Maffett's of our advanced age, and I had done nothing in the previous two attemps to prove him wrong. I hit the road with two other cyclists and we are out of the park in under 2 minutes. Last year, I recall it being closer to 3 minutes until was out of the park. I make a right at the park exit and am sailing down Alpine Road at 30 mph. But the first hill is a real ballbuster and I'm downshifting to beat the band as I watch my rpm's drop. I am in my lowest gear, struggling to maintain 6 mph. I take some pleasure in knowing that I'm climbing this hill with a 25-year-old guy and a 32-year-old gal, and neither are gaining on me, until the very top where they stand up on their pedals. I stay seated, but hammer the top section as soon as I can. Over the past two weeks, I've been doing mini time-trials on the bike trainer at work. I've been focusing on maintaining high rpms, in the mid 90s, and doing two minutes easy, one minute hard. I take that approach to some of the hills. I just put my head down and go hard for 60 seconds and the hills disappear. I risk a glance at my watch. I'm 19 minutes into the ride... and too far from the entrance to the park to break 30 minutes for the first lap. Oh, well... I hit a false uphill and hammer it. I'm averaging 25 mph through this section. Last year, I was happy to be pulling 21... I pass the mooring dock sign... I remember that from the car ride in as a good two miles from the entrance. I look at my watch, 25 and change, and another tough uphill before I hit the entrance. Well, if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be. I power through as best I can, dropping gears to keep the rpm's up while I spin up the hill. I'm still with two cyclists, just not the same two from the start. We've taken turns passing each other up and down the hills. Me on the downhill mostly The gal passes me and pulls right in front of me, unable to open a gap once she's past. It's then I notice the crowd of people in front of the opening of the park, which has come upon us surprisingly quick. Okay, so it wasn't two miles from the mooring dock sign. It dawns on me the crowd is maybe 300 yards ahead and from their perspective, it looks like I'm drafting this gal up the hill. A big no-no. I move out of her slipstream as the guy comes along side me. He passes both of us and moves to the front. (In the interest of total disclosure, this all took place in the space of about 30 seconds. I only include it so my big brother can read this and a say to himself, "Well, hell... I could have broken an hour if I drafted somebody up a hill too... " I pick my son out of the crowd and smile for the camera. Once we're past the entrance I check my watch again. What's this? 28:30? Last year I was here in 31 minutes. I know I can do the second lap faster than the first. I hammer the downhill on Alpine road again. But it doesn't matter how fast I hammer that section, the hill on E Camping Area Rd is just ahead. I know as soon as I hit the hill, it's gonna hurt. I haven't had a moment to really catch my breath on this course, and it ain't gonna happen now. I start wheezing within 50 feet of hitting the hill. And not just your regular sucking wind that hits you on a tough hill. These are huge whooshing gasps that would triple the line on me in Vegas if I was miked. Anyone within earshot would recognize a death rattle when they heard one. I am not long for this world and my fellow travelers give me a wide berth. Because as every cyclist will tell you — it's hard to jump a corpse uphill. Somehow, I make it to through and force myself to open it up as soon as I reach the top, ramping the rpm's back up to the 90s as I shift up through the gears. Still no time to rest, still no time to catch my breath. Instead, I press harder. I attack the hill on 74 this time. My first time through, I dropped below 13 mph, this time I don't go below 14... it's not much of a change, but it means my training is paying off. I figure the second lap is all about not giving up when the going gets tough. I make it through two more tough uphill sections before hitting the first of two good all-out sections. I was averaging 25 the first time around, I manage to get it to 27 in the same section this time. On the final downhill, I get the bike up to 41 and change. By the time I make it to the entrance of the park, I'm just over 54 minutes and there's no doubt I'm breaking an hour. I pass a few riders on the way to the dismount section. The race clock says 1:13:40 as I cross the mat. My watch has me at 56 and change for the bike portion. I rack my bike, slap my helmet to the ground and put on my trail shoes. I grab my fuel belt and race belt with my number on it and head for the timing mat. That's when I run into Brian Wert. Brian and I had run track together back in high school. He started doing triathlons last year and we literally ran into each at a race this past April. He's doing the duathlon, since he raced in the same tri my son did the day before. We're chatting as we hit the soggy trail. We were neck and neck in the quarter mile back in high school and I'm thinking I probably overdid it during the swim and run today. If he's any where near me at the end, he has the potential to drop the hammer. I'm a half mile into the run and already making deals with myself. I can dog it and still break 1:40, and that's really more than I was hoping for when I started the race. About a mile into the race my quads start to spasm — a sure sign that I pushed it too hard on the bike. Yeah, I could slack off a bit and still have a good race. "Or you could keep a steady stride going as long as you can... the run is your best event." I love that voice that drowns out the slacker in me. Yeah... just keep the legs moving. No need to press it, but no need to let all of the hard work up to this point go to waste by slacking off. I figure I've dropped Brian after I caught the 28-year-old guy ahead of me, but a glance back as I make a turn shows he's only 30 yards back. I press the middle section of the trail, remembering there's a short but brutal uphill section around 2 miles. I reach it and feel like walking, but I keep chugging along. I hit the top and open my stride, dancing over the trail top as I pick my way among the roots and rocks. Before I know it, I see the road for the entrance to the park. Now it's just a loop around the parking lot and a sprint to the finish — only I don't have any sprint left. Last year, I caught my daughter-in-law in the closing stretches of the race with a kick worthy of my old running days. Not today. The low-fuel light is on and I'm just hoping my wheels don't flat on me. To make matters worse, Brian has caught up to me. My guess is, he was hanging off my shoulder the whole run waiting for the chance to put the smackdown on me these last couple hundred yards. I told myself if it came down to me and him on the final stretch and he had anything left, he could have it. But I couldn't just let him win. As soon as I hit the asphalt, I opened my stride up and pressed it one final time. I didn't have to worry. He told me later that as soon as he saw me open it up, he knew he wasn't going with me. I hit my stride and kept moving. Down that final straightawy, the finish line seemed impossibly far away. I kept legging it out and it finally met me. The clock was at 1:36:92 as I approached the finish. Now that's a damn odd time, I thought. It slipped to 1:36:50 as I crossed the line, but I wouldn't figure out until later that there were issues with the display. But that was it. Two years after my first race at Pinchot — where I swam, floated, back- and breast-stroked my way to a wheezing exit from the water — I was turning in a very respectable time for a tough course. I hadn't seen anyone in my age group pass me, so it was just a question of who in my AG finished ahead of my official time of 1:36:49. Turns out no one in my AG finished ahead of me. I had won my group. Good deal.

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End of the day, one heck of an effort here. I did this course two years ago and didn't fare well at all. I've been having some random mind body separation issues on race swims. My body starts of great near the front of the pack. My mind lingers on the shore. Eventually the separation becomes dysfunctional and I'm pulled out of the water. Its not pretty. G had a great swim here. The ike course in this race is cruel and unusual punishment. I'm a natural hill climber and did well on the big climb here. But the rest of the course was such that I never settled into any kind of rhythm. About the time I'd get into a good pace on a flat, it wasn't flat anymore. It was that aspect of the course that made me wonder if either of us could break an hour. That said, I'd have bet on my brother to break it first. Of the three sports, I thought biking was the one where he would excel as he was a better half miler and quarter miler. That meant more power in the legs and biking is more power than endurance. As to the run, well, the year I did it the course was all mud, and it was raining at the time. You ended up having an extra pound of weight on your shoes for the duration. Good weather would have helped a lot and I have to think that was the main fix on the run time.

I take no credit for any of this, other than one small part. I've played the role of nagging housewife or Robert Frost, depending on how you choose to see it. The worst part of the races for him were the transitions. This is the time changing from one sport to the next. His times were in the 3-4 minute range. Just horrendous. I kept thinking of Robert Frost's Death of a Hired Man, the guy who thought if he could just teach the young kid how to properly tie a bale of hay...well, I never actually taught him how to transition. I mostly just nagged at him that he was throwing time away. If he had his usual transitions, he wouldn't have spent the rest of the day wearing a first place medal. Like I said, that wasn't me, everything out there was him. For my part, I was most pleased that in the end, he learned how to bale that hay.

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