Sport > The Starting Line

The Starting Line

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: June 5, 2011

It's hard to find the starting line for this piece. I could go back decades to swimming at this park. I could go back years to being dragged out of the swim after a really bad experience in the water. I could go back two weeks to when I told my brother I was heading east this weekend and asked if he had anything going on and he answered "nothing but pinchot." Ugh. I'd been off swimming since breaking my skull, hadn't rode more than 10 miles in a shot since messing up my knees two years ago. Hadn't attempted a fast run since a heel injury in Balboa Park about a year ago. Yeah, I could have started there, but all lights were red. So I'm not starting there.

I'm starting at BWI car rental facility. I'm in line behind a lady who has this tattoed on her neck

"He who loseth his honesty hath nothing left to lose."

Now why did I have to wait until 53 to see this? I lose stuff all the time. If I could just lose my honesty...I wouldn't have to spend so much of my day looking for stuff. I had plenty of time to contemplate this tat as the lady who owned could not get any of her credit cards to work. Sometimes, I don't jump on hanging curves. This was one such time. I waited patiently, as I'm not often wont to do. But I think that was the purpose of this line, remind me to be more patient. And less honest when it comes to commenting on the knuckleheads.

I hooked up with my brother, crashed at his place and headed up to the race sit ahead of him as I had yet to register. My patience the day before was rewarded. I had race number 171. I've never had a bad race when my race number was a multiple of 9. The omen side of the race was shaping up.

From there I went to see my Mom. While I was wondering how I'd get through this race without any kind of proper training, my mom had to go to the bathroom. Mom is on full time oxygen. It is a 20 foot walk to the bathroom. When she came back it took her 2-3 minutes to catch her breath, but she recovered. I figured I'd recover from the lack of training too. Same genes.

I then headed over Lancaster to eat dinner with my brother, nephew and spouses. The traditional prerace meal is pasta. Carbo loading. I opted for a burger and beer. Fat and alcohol loading. Some might take issue with this on about 30 or 40 different levels. But on one level it did work "race the way you train". Mostly I'd trained by drinking and eating burgers.

My sleeping accomodations were an air mattress in the baby's room. The baby isn't due until August and overall I had to say that I was terrified to be in that room. All the baby stuff for the baby that had yet to arrive. All the planning, the preparation...I was overwhelmed by just how devastating it is for mother's who lose babies. I thought for a second I might be feeling an emotion, but I don't do those. But the point was, it could have been an emotion, I mean if I was anyone else. So with that behind me, I tried to sleep. It didn't really work out. I was up all night pumping the mattress back up and listening to the crazies in the street. I did conclude that east coast crazies are different than west coast crazies. Our west coast nutters are more chill, cosmic and generally just a lot more vague when they go off. These nutters seemed a lot more specific.

I followed my brother's car on the drive over. The early morning rain did nothing to lift my spirits. I hate running in mud...I kept thinking "Wouldn't it have been nice if we got into NASCAR racing instead?" Warm and dry inside the car. And you get the day off when it rains. Ah well, we were born on the wrong side of the Mason Dixon line for that.

It was clear that I was mainly doing the duathlon because I hate swimming and my last two open water race swims were nightmares. But in addition to that, there was the issue with my busted skull and not getting kicked in the head in the swim. So that was my official story. Though my brother had to reference the prior race by saying "It's more likely you'd get hit in the head by a canoe paddle when they drag your deranged self to the shore." Now while that was true, he could have exercised the restraint I exercised with the tattooed lady. Just saying.

At 7:20 all the swimmers were suited up and in the lake. I was in the bike area and saw one other duathlete. She didn't know where the starting line was either. We joined up and started to hunt, eventually a volunteer pointed up to the line. I'd once missed a race that had two start lines by being at the wrong one when the gun went off. I ran 200 yards to the start line and finished second by a 100 yards. You make enough mistakes, well you learn.

The gun went off and I had no idea what pace to run. Three guys took off fast and I let them go. I tracked a medium speed guy in 4th place and stayed on his shoulder. I could have passed him...but it was nice to have a pacesetter. I eased around the 1.3 mile run. It seemed to be over in seconds vice minutes.

Transition to the bike was a little bumpy, but it went well enough. I passed the guy in front of me in transition and saw the guy ahead of him about 200 in front of me. I stayed about 200 yards away from him for the first 9 mile lap. I knew the fast triathletes would catch me soon enough. Sure enough, the race leader got me about 8.5 miles in. The second time through the big hill, I knew I was hurting and the lack of training was showing. The number two guy passed me on a Cervelo bike and said something like "good job, keep grinding". I thought it was my nephew in second. Then three other guys passed hot on his heels. Ok, I knew the second lap was going to wipe me out.

But it turned out I was passing a lot of folks too, people who were still on there first lap. I hadn't figured on that, but it was a pretty good boost. Then the bigger boost was at mile 16 when I hear "hey I finally caught you!" That was my nephew. He thought he might finish 4th or 5th overall in the tri, and he was only going to get off the bike about a minute ahead of me. I hadn't really pushed hard on the bike. I was mostly focusing on staying relaxed and keeping the RPM's high hoping that might limit the damage to my knees. But now that I knew I was only a few minutes off my nephew...I knew this was going to be a good race. All I needed to do was not flat over the next two miles. I didn't.

The bike to run transition is the worst. It's hard to reprogram the legs. Especially if you haven't practiced it in like 3 years. But the legs started moving and my body followed. on uphills, grudgingly. But downhills i was flying, mostly because there weren't any muscles to hold me back. I was a mile in an no one had passed me. Then 1.5m...huh? What was going on? Finally one guy caught me close to 2 miles. At 2.8 miles I saw another guy starting to close, but as my brother will tell you, if you can't beat one of us to to the last quarter mile mark, you can't beat us. This guy followed the program and me over the finish line.

Came in under an hour and thirty three. No idea what the splits were, but I was happy with the day overall. It was much easier, I think because the lake freak out the time before just wiped me out before the bike. Here I was relaxed the whole way. I started the race by looking at the really fast bikes and the people who were obviously in great shape and said "I'm toast". Then I hung around after the race and watched many of those people finish.

My nephew was 7th overall and 3rd in his age group. My brother took third in his group also. Neither were happy with there races.

My brother had trouble in the swim, he was swallowed whole by a large mouth bass, then shat out after the second buoy. He got leg cramps from that. Then he popped a chain on his bike. And his Mom never loved him much as a child. There were other issues too as he grumbled his way up to accept his medal.

I think my nephew was struck by lightning and hit by an asteroid in the swim. He ended up doing the bike in 53 minutes, which I thought was flying, but he nearly threw his bike in his truck after the race and seemed equally disgusted as he went up to take his third place medal.

In the duathlon, they didn't give age group medals. Only the top three of all ages. I was fifth overall and first in my age group. Was I disappointed? Well let me tell you about the guywho passed me on lap 1. That guy was just flying. He went on to win easily.

I figured he was a 20 something when he went by me. But with his helmet off, he looked like he was 60. My brother ran over to check the results and came back and whispered "He's 42". I whispered back "wow the year's haven't been kind to him."

And in the end, even though I didn't get a medal or a trophy, didn't get eaten by a fish or hit by lightning...I was prettier than the guy who won.

I'll take it.

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