Every race, like a story, has three parts. Swimming, biking, and running… no, not really 😛 But they do have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
I have done a lot of soul-searching lately, and have realized that I delight in stories. I love telling stories. I indulge myself when listening to tales told by others . Happy stories, funny stories, stories that make you go “oooh!” Stories about wedding planning, or summiting a mountain, or how your dog ate your homework which is why the dishwasher didn’t get unloaded. A good story can stick with you for years, and is such a powerful and impactful medium of communication.
The Donner Lake Triathlon, a long-time favorite of mine, always offers up a story that I relish in. At last count, I think I had done the race six or seven times, each with its own glorious chapter scrawled in the ink of time. There are so many variations of that delightful lake triathlon: the year I thought I was going to quit. The year I got 3rd overall. The year the literal shoe ended up in my mouth. The year I was just glad I finished the dang thing! And then there was this year… a tale that requires more context to paint a picture.
This season has been very heavy. Heavy from an emotional perspective, but also one with more emphasis on tackling the unknown rather than prescribing to what I had done the past five summers – training for an IRONMAN. For 2018, I raced 21 miles up and down a giant freaking mountain with some of my friends. I zipped 178 miles around Tahoe, Reno, and Carson City with five of my buddies, traveled to Utah with my wife and stepson for one of the greatest triathlons in St. George, watched my sister get married, welcomed a few nieces into the world, traveled to Spain, Gibraltar, and Andorra with my wife (epic post soon!), and sought enjoyment outside of my normal five hour bike rides or 17 mile runs that had so often peppered my schedule from February through September.
So that brings us back to Donner… On the best of days, that race will make you earn every inch of the 31.7 mile race. On the worst, it will eat you for breakfast and spit your carcass tumbling down the giant, three mile hill that you have to climb twelve seconds into the race. Its brutality is so serenely masked by the scenery and glassy water, but make no mistake, this race hurts and will expose every weakness if you aren’t careful!
After a life-best race at Donner last year, placing third behind two men with metal legs and no need for oxygen, I must admit that I had certain expectations going into this race – mainly, just doing incredibly well. I suppose it’s natural to place those burdens upon ourselves, and yes, I definitely missed the memo on “make sure you have fun while doing it.” Strangely, that pressure probably did me in, and combined with a completely different training regime this year, plopped me firmly in the struggle bus category. Not that I didn’t place well, I did, but I didn’t have fun or enjoy it as I should have, and that was a real shame. I tacked on time to my race from last year, ran and biked poorly, and was just glad to make it to the finish (45 minutes before the smoke rolled in and ruined our annual paddleboard outing). UGH! COME ON!
The way the cards fell this year was just very different. My “A” race was in May in St. George, which went incredibly smoothly, but also meant that my training started wayyyy back in November *gag* and so it’s natural that my fitness and emotional drive would fall off mid-year.
The swim went well, although by the time I exited the water at the lead of the pack (2nd fastest of the day behind my favorite ex-pro), I felt like I had already melted down too many candles. Not a good sign for a 2.5 hour race. I had an excellent transition, quickly waved to my wife and stepson as they were cheering me on at the mount line, and it was off an away up the hill.
All was going according to plan, but it was taking an inordinate amount of energy getting up that first three miles. My longest ride of the year had been… 2.5 hours. Barely half of my regular four, five, or six hour jaunts of previous years. And I was feeling it. On top of the lack of training, I had been dealing with getting a lawn up and running, as well as planning an international vacation and just a few other curveballs thrown in for good measure (character building). There was just a lot going on…
I slogged through the 24 mile ride, getting past by a handful of athletes, including the legendary Scott Young, but finally found the end and was able to escape that horrid ride. Absolutely atrocious effort. It felt like I had never ridden a bike up a hill before – that was a major discouragement if there ever was one.
My hopes for a wonderful run were quickly dashed within sixty seconds, and I began the long (usually beautiful and super fun) 6.7 miles around Donner Lake. Each foot dragged by like it was an eternity, although I didn’t get passed, which for me counts as a success in at least some way. Apparently I had ninjaed one competitor in transition, but the run course was a ghost town. Not a soul to be seen, and all I could hear was my labored breath, the gentle tapping of my well-worn Altra Paradigms (372 miles and counting!) and the conflicted conversation going on in my head screaming “BAIL NOW!” There was no one anywhere close to me, and yet I was nowhere near anyone, or the finish for that matter.
It was a gorgeous day out but my thoughts just couldn’t be kept from my unpleasant lap around the lake. The legs were tired and heavy, and the brain couldn’t stop thinking about how terrible the first two activities had gone. But – that’s just racing 😀 The finish line finally emerged out of the forest, and it was hugs at a distance, to avoid sweating on my loved ones, as well as multiple cups of sports drink and all the watermelon I could handle.
Lessons from the day proved good ones regardless of the activity or lot in life:
- Continue to the end, regardless the hardship.
- Dedicate 100% of what you are able to that day, even if that doesn’t match 100% from another time or place in your life. Giving it your all is giving it your all!
- Less is more – always. You will pay the price for doing too much 0:-)
The race has come and gone, I had a wonderful trip across the pond with my wife, and things are ticking again! Still, it’s the best damn triathlon out there, and I can’t wait until next year. Donner Lake is triathlon at its finest!