Sunday, November 11, 2007

Clearwater Race Report

I awoke on Saturday morning after an interesting night's sleep on Dr. Pearce's hotel room floor. As the medical director for the World Championships, he actually had to head down to the race before me, so the alarms were blaring at 5am.

The night before the race, I was very nervous because my right calf *really* hurt bad. For the first time in 2 weeks, I ran that day for 15 minutes on the road, and it felt like I did some serious damage. I iced, iced, iced, but on race morning, as soon as I stood up, I groaned, because the left peroneal tendonitis hurt and the calf hurt. The back was very tight still, but the pain, in the past 48 hours, had subsided.

I contemplated not racing. I just wanted to go back to bed, really. I've never been this "non-pumped" for a race. But I went to the vending machine in the hotel and filled a couple bags with ice, then sat watching Fox News until about 6am with ice bags on my foot and calf. I then rubbed Arnica and Hammer Balm into the affected areas and self-massaged both injuries for 10 minutes. They still hurt, but if I was going to race, I really had to get going down to transition, so I put on my sweatshirt and warm pants (atypically cold in Florida rightnow), listened to Kanye West's "Stronger" song (namely the phrase that says "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger", ate 2 sweet potatoes, and headed out. My right calf was tightly wrapped in an ace bandage.

My plan was to take my custom orthotic for my left foot, that I've only been using in my running shoes, and actually use it during the entire race, transferring it from the bike shoe to the run shoe during transition. I'd never done this in training, but it was a last ditch desparate effort to try to alleviate some of the left foot pain. This made transition a little tricky.

Conveniently, our hotel was literally *on top* of the beach where the race started, so all I had to do was walk downstairs, as bike check-in was the day prior. Technically, the race started at 7am, with my heat being the last wave at 8am (which affected the race quite significantly, as you'll read). Transition closed at 6:45, so I had to have all my pre-race prep done by then, then basically sit around in my wetsuit for an hour, waiting to race.

This venue was huge. The air was buzzing with tension and excitement. I believe 1600 athletes raced, and they were spread out over the beach in multiple colored caps, waiting for their wave to start. As this was the World Championships, there were 52 countries represented, and multiple dialects being spoken all at once. You could barely hear yourself think. The entire race transition and finish line area covers 4 blocks of the city, so it's pretty bigtime.

I reluctantly headed down to the water as our wave was called, not really wanting to be there. My plan at this point was to swim my perverbial ass off, then probably withdraw from the race. This was how I felt inside, but I was really trying to put on a strong face and not look intimidated or weak. *Please* quit hurting I kept telling my foot and calf, *please* God let me just be pain-free for the next few hours.

We couldn't get in the water, so I did "shadow swimming" as I waited, standing alone on the beach in my wetsuit, trying to block everything out.

Finally they lined us up. There were 143 athletes in my division, and some very fast European looking dudes. We stood motionless on the beach for what seemed like hours as the announcer introduced our division over the loudspeakers. Finally, they called out 60 seconds to the cannon boom start.

This was going to be a running beach start, with a 40 yard sprint before you get to the water. As you lean forward onto your toes and await the cannon boom, it feels like you are in a some kind of midieval battle waiting to rush the enemy. The breathing becomes short and shallow. The heart races. The fingers tingle. Every sense of your body is on fire, super-tense, hyper-alert. I am addicted to this feeling and love this type of race start. I live for that moment, just *waiting* to attack. It is true when you watch a movie like Braveheart and you see the guys in the front line urinating themselves, because it is a natural reaction to the pre-battle tension. I always pee in my wetsuit prior to a running beach start. Strange but true.

BOOM. Everything goes quiet and you're just running. Suddenly you have complete tunnel vision. Straight ahead focus. The swim goes by fast. Stroke, breathe, stroke, breath. The muscles are on fire within 3-4 minutes, and they maintain an enormous burn for the next 30 minutes.

About halfway through the swim is where it got messy and stayed messy. We ran into the back of the wave that started 5 minutes prior to them. We swam over their bodies. You feel bad, but they're in your way and they're swimming slow. Then we ran into the next wave. And the next. I did not draft in this swim. I towed from what I could tell 3 or 4 other racers in my draft for the first half, but things just fell apart when we started swimming up onto the slower waves. You can't draft because you're weaving side to side trying to get through people.

I came out of the 1.2 mile swim in 27:48 and hit the beach. Running through transition hurt, but I didn't care. I forgot about my plan to quit after the swim. I got on my bike like a madman and hit the pavement. The bike was a complete cluster. Crashes everywhere, orange cones flying as people hit them, bikes sliding into each other. It was the same as the swim, really. Just riding *through* people the whole time. Flat and windy, but a fast course. If I come back to this race, I don't even know if I'll bring my triathlon bike. I may just bring a road bike with better handling. I was only in my aerobars for maybe 30% of the entire race. I averaged 25.64 miles per hour and finished the bike in 2:11:02.

My foot hurt during the entire bike, but I think the orthotic helped me a little. Today my foot is sore is a *different* spot, probably because I never trained on the bike with an orthotic, then went out and hammered 56 miles. I drank 260 calories of Perpetuum every hour on the bike, and also consumed 1 gel.

The run, just like the rest of the race, was full of people the entire time. I cannot express how much my body hurt during the run. i thought my legs were going to fall off. Not because I was running incredibly fast (I actually had to hold back and I think I could have run closer to a 1:18 on this course), but because my foot and calf hurt so teribbly, horribly bad. I just tried to block it out. I kept counting to 20, over and over again, telling myself just a few more steps and then you'll have to start walking. But I just never really stopped. Dr. Pearce said on that morning as he left the hotel room that it was, after all, the last really important race of the season and I would have some time to heal if I injured myself, so I should just push through it. So I did.

The run was a 1:26 and my pace averaged a 6:38 mile. The finish line came up quicker than I expected and I wasn't able to wave at the crowd too much or even flash the smiles that I like to display at the finish because I ran around a corner and the finish was *right there*. I should have been paying more attention!

My overall time was a 4:10:54. I was 12th in the world for my age group and 77th in the world overall. I'm happy with that. I guarantee you one thing: if I had not been injured, I would have been on the podium. I think I could have biked slightly faster and run much faster, and probably ahd closer to a 4:00 split. I had the fitness to do it. I will do it. Just stay tuned.

My body hurts today. Much. But you know, that's what I love about this sport. If it was easy, everybody could do it. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger baby.
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