í94 US Military (Europe) Triathlon Championships
My competition was going to be a guy that worked at the NATO headquarters in Belgium. Mike Garcia used to be a pro triathlete, and although he couldnít train as much as he used too, he was still very good. If you read the World Championships, an event that would occur several months later, it was Mike that got sick on race day. I knew that Mike would kill me in the swim, but I'd make up some time up in the ride--having crushed him in the time trial at the '94 Cycling Championships the week prior. The snowboarding crash 7 months previous had cost me enough training that beating him in the run might be unlikely. I figured that I'd probably need a 30 second lead by the time we started the run. So that was the plan, not go nuts too early in the swim (no sense killing myself in Mike's event), get on the bike, become a madman, fight to catch up to him and pass him before the ride-run transition, and then kill myself to keep the lead through the run. Well, it didnít quite work out that way.
There were thundershowers off and on all morning and the ďThe Time MachineĒ, the dedicated time trial bike, is extremely unstable when there is traction. It is positively treacherous on slick wet streets. You know how on most bikes you can sit up and ride without your hands on the bars? Well The Time Machine is so f**king unstable, because of small light wheels and aggressive frame angles, etc, that just a quick glance at my watch could throw me across to the other side of the street. I did not like riding it because it did not "fly itself". You had to fly it every second or it would get away from you. But boy oh boy is it greased lightning. It is soooooooo fast.
I was 4th out of the water in my start group, I was 4 minutes behind my buddy (Jesus, how can he swim so f**king fast!). I grabbed the bike and ran towards the exit of the exchange zone. The week prior I had experimented with having my shoes already clipped on my pedals so I could just jump on my bike, flip the shoes over with my toes and pop my feet in.
I put my helmet and sunglasses on, thru my bike over my shoulder and ran to the road which was the bike start "mount point". Under the trees and in the rain it was too dark to see out of my amber sunglasses so I popped them off and stuck them in my teeth. So I jumped on my bike, started riding and simultaneously worked to flip my shoes around and stick my toes in them. Somehow at that instant the sunglasses exploded into a dozen component parts labeled Oakley. That was bad. It meant no eye protection from the rain.
Still moving I was having trouble trying to do the perfect little flip that would spin the shoe around such that I could tuck my toes in. What went smoothly all last week at home was proving to be impossible here in the heat of battle. In the 20sec struggle, a couple nuckleheads passed me. It was an inauspicious start to the ride.
I passed the couple nuckleheads on the first hill. I was in my element now. I was on the bike where no one could stand against me. I was RangerGress and I'd come to ride.
Which is when things started going poorly. I was flying down a hill in the middle of a small town in a huge thunderstorm. The rain was coming down in buckets, battering into my eyeballs. Even if I could keep my eyes open, there was still too much rain to really see. I was zooming down a hill into the unknown. The rain soaked brakes would be worth a shit, the wind was blowing me all over hell, and the 140psi tires had about 2sq cm of contact patch for traction. It was a very perilous situation and altho I tended to reflexively take huge risks during races because the berserker battle rage of emotional frenzy knows only "GO GO GO GO", this was the one and only time in 35yrs of various kinds of racing where I heard a little voice day "this is very dangerous".
I was really flying down that hill. It was in a little German town. At the base of the hill was a T intersection with a race volunteer standing in corner. I would have to turn either left or right. I had no idea if this was a right turn or a left turn. All I knew is that getting set up for the turn was going to be very tricky because I was going so fast, and the roads were so narrow and slick. I started studying the volunteer intently from several hundred yards out. I need to see some gesture or some sign or something that would tell me which way I was to turn, with plenty of time to set up for the turn. He had an umbrella in one hand and a flag in the other. With the flag he was clearly pointing left. "Ok, this is figured out", I decided.
I continued to race at him as fast as I could go. Judging the last possible safe moment, I started setting up for the turn and got on the brakes as hard as I dared. The bike got a little squirrely, but I kept it under me while I got the speed down, and coaxed it to turn left even as it tried to slide a bit.
Turn completed I accelerated very hard and continued the charge after Mike, somewhere up ahead. When I was about a hundred meters away, still accelerating, I suddenly at some subliminal level I thought I heard someone say something behind me. Like maybe that corner worker had yelled something after me. This was bad. Simply the act of turning around to see if he'd said something would probably cost me so much time I'd lose the race. And what if all he'd done was holler encouragement to someone else? If I turned around and I was wrong, I'd have just lost the race entirely. If I turned around and I was right, I'd have lost 1st but could probably still get on the podium.
In full berserker battle-rage, I was horribly wracked with indecision, I decide I needed to find out what is going on. I fully realize that this delay was going to cost me the race. It took me another 50m to stop and then very carefully turn around.
When I could then look back at the corner worker I was immediately puzzled because he was not waving me back or making any kind of obvious gestures at all. He wasnít even looking in my direction. So I had to ride all the way back to him and ask him which way I was supposed to be going. Not until I got all the way back to him and got his attention did he start waving his arms in the other direction.
Important reminder so you really have a genuine feel for the moment. In a race you are operating on pure adrenaline and hysteria. A normally quiet person turns into an f**king ax murderer on wheels. Or, at least I do, anyways. Now, normally, endurance types are a pretty pacifistic bunch and Iím sure that Iím even as calm and relaxed as any, but I was so out of my mind with fury that I almost came unglued, dumped the bike and beat the shit out of him. By any measure, I was absolutely insane with rage at that moment. I paused and ferociously clenched every muscle in my body to make the moment pass. Then, with a few words of encouragement on how to be a race volunteer, I accelerated hard down the street in the other direction.
In the next town I came to ďYĒ intersection with another race volunteer standing in the middle of the turn. The trouble was that she wasnít pointing anywhere, as a matter of fact, she wasn't even looking at my approach, she was looking in another direction. What a surprise. Sigh. I had to ride up and ask which way to go. Then she came alive. Again, I was in a bit of a hurry and kinda annoyed so Iím afraid that I wasnít too polite. No, not too polite.
By this time I was so frustrated, and feeling so sorry for myself that the race was unraveling, that I just kind of said ďscrew itĒ and quit riding so hard. From then on, the best I would give was a 90% effort.
The next turn had a guy with flags in both hands and both outstretched horizontally, one left and one right. Now what the hell does that tell you? I guessed from memory and turned the correct direction, fortunately. I was moving too fast to even bother yelling at him.
Finally, after riding not all-that-hard for 10km I saw another guy up ahead. After I passed him I was the second man, of those in my start group. When I finally got back to the transition area, there was my friendís bike, parked next to mine. After my weak ride, it had probably been there for 15 minutes, I figured.
The run was painful and dull. I couldnít see the Mike the ex-pro ahead of me somewhere, and I had no one to worry about behind me. I was just an island of fury and dispair running through the forest. It was mostly an out and back run course so I was able to see my friend pass me going back towards the finish. He had about 800m on me which might have well been 3km for all of the motivation that I had.
When I got to what I thought was the turn-around point I found a two old women manning a water station in a clearing with a big tree about 5-10m behind them. As I ran at them I tried to figure out just exactly how this turn-around was supposed to work. Was I supposed to run around the tree? Was I supposed to just run up to the women? Maybe they would mark me with a marker of some kind to prove that I was there. I looked for arrows on the ground, signs, gestures from the women...Anything. Well, nothing. There was just no clues. So I ran up to them, took some water and raced off back down the hill.
Had to happen. I was flying away when suddenly I thought that I heard something again. I stopped bout 30m down the trail, looked back and sure enough they seem to have said something. Not bothering to make this feeble effort at communication move faster I just turned around and headed back for that f**king tree, 30m back up the trail, in disgust. My effort to constructively correct their inadequate attempt to guide exhausted runners came from the same reserves of anger and frustration that had been building all morning. I guess that Iím fortunate that I didnít give them heart attacks.
Itís not really any of the volunteerís fault. They donít race, so they have no idea what works and what doesnít. When these folks were briefed they should have been told that they needed to imagine what it is like to be a maniac flying at them on exotic racing machines. You can barely see through the clouded glasses (assuming yours didn't explode off your face) and rain, you canít hear over the wind noise, you are 100m away and you have only one remaining non-frenzied rational brain cell that has a 1/2 second to understand and act upon what the referee is trying to get across. Once those conditions are understood, then the average person will be able to figure out a way to make navigational guidance to the approaching competitors work.
After the turn-around I ran for the distant finish, 5km away. As I neared the lake where we started this all, I started looking for that turn of last year, where we turned off of the main trail, broke out of the woods and took the 1km trail down to the lakeside finish. I looked and I looked. I ran and I ran and I started getting worried. I could see the lakes, I could see the last yearís trail paralleling me down below, I could even see the crowd, but I was still on the main trail and not on the one that we took, last year, to the finish line. I had checked the big posted map carefully before the race and it was clear the run course was exactly the same this year as it was last year. Oh shit. Somehow, here, Iíd had missed the turn. I was being so careful and somehow I had STILL missed the damn turn.
I started looking for a way to get over this big fence that separated me from last yearís trail. I just kept on running, though, depressed, looking for a turn, a hole in the fence, a race official....anything. It was a bleak moment. But for lack of anything better to do I just kept on the trail and headed back around to the exchange zone, following the course that we had taken out.
As it turned out I was on the right course. THE DAMN MAP WAS WRONG. Those idiots had changed the run course, but then posted last year's map.
I hit the finish line, had a hell of a hard time trying to find some water and just kind of stumbled around, drank and thought about how pissed off I was.
In talking to the other competitors later, nobody had the problems that I did. It seems that I became the race course trouble-shooter by viciously correcting the slackers that were working the course. "Well", I thought, "you all are very welcome".