Prologue 1: September 29th, 2011
I’m waiting for a ride at Sibley Hospital smoking a menthol cigarette in front of the “smoke free campus” sign. I’m loaded on Percocet and the antibiotics they use to treat anthrax. I've just been discharged after five days of intensive care. How I ended up here was for a few reasons, but the three biggest were my average ten drinks a day, three packs of Newport kings , and a bad drunken fall that bruised my right leg so badly there was barely any circulation in it. I was told another day’s delay getting to the ER could have really simplified my retirement planning.
Never one to be a quitter, I gave this lifestyle another go until the day after Thanksgiving, then changed course.
Prologue 2: General Smallwood
I’m trying to avoid being in the club picture. I’m NTP, but the two acronyms I’m focusing on are DNF and WTF. My swim time was an abysmal 1:15, and my bike time a bad 1:45, putting me in T2 just in time to be told by my waiting friends that the run course was shut five minutes before I rode in. All the other NTPers are giddy in their hard-earned accomplishment, and all I can think about is leaving this sport never to return.
Race Report: September 29th, 2012
I’m 50 lbs lighter than I was waiting for my ride from the hospital the year before. The ride today is around the run course on the Half Ironman I’m doing tomorrow. A summer of Masters Swim and weekly OWS practice means I've done the swim at Nation’s 25 minutes faster than Smallwood. 52 minutes is nothing to brag about but fast enough to finish the race and finally finish a triathlon, something I had wanted to do since reading about them in “Sports Illustrated for Kids” in 1988.
But I’m worried. I haven’t told any of my civilians that they can watch my splits live on the ironman website because I’m not sure I’ll finish. People say “overtrain on the bike,” which I have not done. But desire is the root of suffering, so I have no conditions on what I will consider a success. Whatever happens, I’m a million miles from the chain smoking corpse of last year. I notice with delight during a little brick that the run course will take me past a Sibley street.
A beautiful gray sky that promises ideal temperatures. Bobbing around against a current and waiting for the airhorn. And we’re off. There’s a lot less face kicking than I had expected, a truly under praised perk of being a slow swimmer. OWS is old hat to me at this point, and I enjoy looking at the brightly colored aquatic plants in the Savannah river and the brightly colored kayaks I have no need to hold on to anymore. My normal thoughts of “boy I can’t wait to get out of the water” are silenced when I notice a buoy flying past me and my watch must be broken because it looks like it says 37 minutes. That’s 13 minutes faster than my Peasantman sprint swim. Racetime: 37:45
I’m not one for “gentleman’s clubs” but I can say that after Augusta I am in love with a stripper, the wonderful type of volunteer that pulls your wet suit off of you in T1. The rest of T1 is uneventful. Because I will be biking further than I ever have before I decide to treat myself to bike gloves, slowing me down ever so slightly. Racetime: 45:21
The start of the bike course feels a lot like Nation’s with a gentle grade up from the river. The first half goes smoothly with rolling hills. I’m eating a gu seemingly often enough, very occasionally passing another 30-34 year old dude, very occasionally yelling at a stray dog to “git!” in my best faux southern accent, and keeping my cadence in the leg preserving 100 range. I get good encouragement from the DC Tri Club women as they go by as well as people riding for the Bike Rack and some riders with kits that have a Potomac River Running Company logo.
At mile 30 I’m about ready to get off the bike. At mile 40, I’m thinking about how stupid bicycles are in general, how much I really wish I was off the bike, and why is this taking so long? Who the hell puts a bottle exchange in the middle of a hill? Does this jerk not realize that you either pass or don’t, this isn’t a two lane operation we’re running here? Mile 45: you know what else is stupid? Triangles, my useless bike, my ass-destroying tri kit, asphalt, trees. This Perform drink is pretty good though, and maybe strawberry banana gu would make a good cake frosting? Mile 50: woman rides by as we round a clover leaf for our final decent into the Augusta metropolitan region and yells out “LET’S FINISH STRONG!” The lyrics to “Last Caress” by the Misfits, one of the songs I get pumped up with before a race comes into my head and I get choked up. I’m going to do this. Pull it back. Ozzy Osborne screaming into the pickups of a guitar – I AM IRON MAN – travels across space-time from 1976 into my head and I’m choked up again. Pull it back. You’ll get DQ’d if they see you crying. You’re going to do this. Racetime: 4:04:21
Fast and furious, delighted to be off the bike and onto what I do best. Racetime: 4:06:51
Running is a joy. I’m pacing 30-34 year olds right and left. I try to gangnam style for the DC Tri Club camera at mile 1. See other DC Tri folks and tell them how awesome they look. I’m keeping a good pace until about mile 7. Then I hit a wall. I have not taken in enough calories, but I don’t know that. My pace craters from 9 minute miles to 11 minute miles as I trade between running and walking. Under 6 is over. I’m both cold and hot, soaking wet, and I don’t remember a mile being this long. But it’s mile 12 and coffee is for closers. I put the hammer down on whatever thin metal is left and bound across the finish with a smile on my face and my hands in the air. Racetime: 6:22:16.
Epilogue: It’s been a great journey, but I've got to remember I didn't build this. I can’t thank my wonderful NTP mentor Catharine Myung enough for her help and support all season long, and without her neither this victory nor Nation’s would have happened. She showed up early to masters to help me with my swimming, insisted I get the bike fit that made me 25% faster, convinced me to stop feeling sorry for myself after Smallwood and retrench my training, made me believe I could do a half Ironman and even drove me down to Georgia when she got injured and couldn't race. If the world had more Catharines, it would be a better place.
Of course, I also need to thank this wonderful club for all the help and support it has given me, the rest of team DC2A that made this such a great trip, the Masters coaches Katie and Jule who also took out special time to help me with my “unique” swimming style, and the NTP co-leads.
140.6, here I come.
CONGRATS PAUL!! :)
Great story and a pleasure to read. Props to you.
Congrats! Glad I could help. Now git back in the pool! :-)
Great (and hysterical) race report. Congrats on the 70.3.
You're so inspiring, Paul!! And that was a hilarious race report.
Yay Paul just read this. Congrats and what a journey! Very inspiring.
Well done, Paul. :)