Duathlon National Championship 2021
Entering a competition, I like to set goals and challenge my limits. I train hard and want to use superlatives to describe the event when it is over. I like phrases like “the best ever” or “the fastest ever” when I retell the tale afterward. I yearn for others to get a taste of the impact these events have on me. Most of my friends and family have no idea what I experience as an endurance athlete. It is often the tales after the events that open the door to conversation. Indeed, creating stories in these blogs is part of my role as an ambassador to the sport of duathlon.
Long before race day, the coach in me concocts a training regimen, and it is more like a witches brew than a page from Betty Crocker. To prepare, I bike, run, and do strength training, sometimes all on the same day. Some days are easy, and some days are hard. I cook up those structured workouts based on how I feel, what I did yesterday, and what I expect to do tomorrow. The blend of efforts and the consistency of my push make me ready to go as hard as I can on race day. More often than not, when I suit up and go to the start line, my questions don’t have answers of the yes/no variety. They are focused on answers to questions that are much more subjective. Instead, I ask, “how much can I do” or “how fast can I go?”
This National Championship was different. I had only one question I was seeking to answer.
Can I finish this race?
This low standard sounds crazy, considering how well I have done at some of the most challenging races that our planet and my sport have to offer. This event is shorter than an Ultra Marathon and much more manageable than Powerman Zofingen. Yet my standards were different, and I had a reason for concern.
Before my bike wreck 20 months ago, I trained regularly. Many of these workouts included back-to-back efforts meaning I ran as soon as I finished cycling. These multisport brick-style workouts made me stronger, and I found great value in the mental resilience that the concurrent development of multiple disciplines creates.
Since my wreck, my body has not physically covered those running distances, and I hadn’t gone further than three miles after a bike ride. This race had a half marathon that started after a 56-mile bike ride, and that post-ride run would be four times longer than anything I had done in a year and a half. I didn’t know if I could do it.
The Monday before the race, I weighed myself, and I was 192 lbs. That is 17 lbs more than my ideal race weight, and I would now need to carry extra weight on that run.
I could not correct these issues before the start of the race. However, I could still find the advantage of favor with the unpredictable. Indeed, I received the gift of perfect racing conditions. The weather was dry and cool, and the issues associated with extreme heat and humidity in the south were non-existent. We started the race in the upper 50s, and it was in the 60s when I started the run.
Mile one took about six hours. OK, maybe it didn’t, but it sure felt like that. However, once I hit mile three, the miles ticked off with relative ease. However, at mile 10, cramps starting rearing their ugliness in my inner thighs, and I needed something to finish the last three miles. I passed Mike and Ado when I looped by the finish line, and Ado ran onto the course to cheer for me and push me to pray and keep going. Their reassurance and affirmation helped me keep going, and the 12th mile was my fastest one. When I hit the finish line, I felt no desire to fall and collapse, as I have in the past. Instead, I greeted my friends and started telling stories about all the alien abductions I saw during the run as my mind played tricks on me.
At the start of the race, the race roster showed that 12 people in my age group registered to race. That is an all-time low for a National Championship. At the end of the race, the results ticker stated I came in 8th. However, the four places below me were unoccupied; the other competitors never made it to the finish line. Yes, I finished, and four others didn’t make it to the end. Perhaps my goals weren’t so low after all!
I have done this National Championship before, and I have earned medals on the podium. However, this day my finishers medal was my achievement, and I was proud to have it. It took me six hours to do what should have been a five-hour race. If anyone ever asked me how long is an hour while racing, the answer would be, “I don’t know, but that is what 17 pounds of unwanted body weight costs.”
I dedicate every national or world championship that I have ever competed for someone else. There has to be a reason other than glory to keep pushing for six hours during a race. Sustained high heart rates and suffering for self is not enough to keep going. I dedicated this race to my oldest son, Michael, and my wife took him my finisher’s medal the day after I got home, and he knows why.
As far as competition is concerned, 2021 is past tense. I will review my efforts and make adjustments for the next year in a later blog. For now, my message is simple. Competition doesn’t mean trying to win the whole enchilada at every race. Sometimes, small victories like crossing the finish line are big enough.