Friday, September 27, 2013

A world championship (and a European vacation).

Well, here goes. This was going to be a compilation blog of all sorts of events but it's turned into a race recap. Or else you'd be reading all day.

For those a little late in the game, on Sep 13th, I competed in my 4th World Championships in London, England. As a 3x World Champion, my goal was to defend that title and add a 4 to that. However, as I've found with life, what I want is not always in the cards.

The race started on a rainy, wet Friday Sep 13th in Hyde Park. We had been in London for a few days, I was feeling good, happy to be back with Team USA, happy to be with my second family of Dare2tri and the 5 other elite team members and ready for a solid race. I had 3 other competitors in my classification. Sarah Reinertsen, who I've competed against many
times, Hailey, my Dare2tri teammate, and a great friend and this new girl from Denmark. Let me say now that this girl from Denmark was a little off from the start. She had all of her limbs and 'used' a cane when she walked. Before the race even started many commented that she was classified wrong and shouldn't have been a Tri2 competing with us. But there she was, her starting alongside the 3 of us missing our legs. So be it.

The swim was great. I got out of the water first feeling solid, crutched into my transition and was on the bike. The bike was a whopping 6 loops, so a little over 2 miles each and each loop would bring us by transition where we could see the crowd. And my handler. Keri of course. It was wet roads, a little rough and lots of turns. The bike is usually my weakest of the 3 but I had been training and was ready to push hard. The first loop went well. I came through transition knowing I was still ahead and feeling great. A mile into the 2nd loop something started to feel a little strange. I kept thinking something was loose on the bike. And then I felt it, the thump, thump. I looked down and yep, flat tire. Having never had a flat tire in a race, my first thought was seriously, here? and then crap, what do I do...

 Well, here's what I did... I made it to the crowd and frantically yelled out, I have a flat, I have a flat. And then I kept going.. loop #3. I had everything I needed to change the tire but I was too caught off guard to do it or know what to do. So I did a 3rd loop. A slow 3rd loop. I couldn't get above 13mph without feeling unsteady. At one point, with all the turns, I looked down to see I was going 9mph and thought how ridiculous this was. It was world championships and this wasn't my plan.  I kept telling myself to just get to the crowd, hoping that someone would tell me what to do. I did just that and Brian called out, Keri is in the wheel pit. Who knew there was a wheel pit? So I creeped my way into the wheel pit, thinking Keri and I were going to change my flat. Instead they had an entire wheel there for me to switch out with my flat one. Great news. As we put it on, we realized that this wheel is more narrow than my other one and my front brakes don't work. No worries, what did I need to brake for? So 40 seconds later, I was off. I had 3 loops left, I had no idea where I was in the pack and I tried to make up for lost time. I pedaled harder than I ever have, this was after all World Championships, and I had lost too much precious time.

I came to the end of the bike and saw the dismount line. I went to pull the brakes and nothing happened. Turns out when your front brakes don't work, stopping isn't that easy. It was a shocking revelation. I pulled a little harder, slid past the dismount line, saw a red flag go up as I screeched to a stop many feet later. Turns out
they take that dismount line seriously. Penalty it is.

I run into T2 shocked to see that only the only bike there is the girl from Denmark. I assumed after all the tire drama, I had been passed by everyone. I gave my bike to Keri (aka, the best handler ever) tried unsuccessfully to get my running leg on fast. Turns out a silicone liner that's wet and wet hands don't work well together. So as I struggle to get my liner on and lament to Keri that I just got a penalty I see Hailey next to me getting off the bike. I finally get my running leg on and head out with Hailey not far behind and Denmark girl up ahead, who knows how far. At this point I'm thinking a mess of things. First, can I still pull this off? Second, why a flat tire, here, now, at Worlds championships. Third, I have a looming penalty and fourth, man my legs hurt. At the 1/2 mile point there was a turn and I can see that Hailey is about 20-30 sec behind. I try to pick it up, I try to keep the negative thoughts out, and it was enough until about 1.5 miles in. And then I hear it. The unmistakable sound of a runner with a prosthetic leg I know she is there. She comes up to my right, I try to stay with her for a second, but this girl is on fire. I keep her in sight and as we round mile 2 and I try again to pick it up. But it's not gonna happen, it's not in the cards. Plus, I had a penalty to serve before I finished, so why should I even try. Mentally, I was weak. Whether the tire, the legs, the looming penalty, the day, who knows, but I gave up and saw Hailey get further and further away.

A few hundred feet before the finish I see the penalty box and my number in it. I walk into the penalty box, I see Brian close by holding the signature American flag for me to carry into the finish. I wait my 10 seconds, walk over to Brian, get the flag situated over my head and run home. A bittersweet moment, proud to be there, proud to cross that finish with the flag overhead and a proud American. Just not my race.

I crossed the finish line, saw Hailey, gave her a hug and had to smile. Regardless of what happened in my race, Hailey had the race of her life and her best run time by minutes (yes that's with an 's'). And it was a proud moment. Here, a girl who lost her leg to cancer at age 15. Years later we fit her with her first running leg and witness her first 5K. And then her first triathlon. And now (becasue that 2 legged Denmark girl did get disqualified) a World Champion. A teammate, a fierce competitor and most importantly a friend. It turned this day into a day of mixed emotions. Did I want to win? Absolutely. But it wasn't meant to be. This was Hailey's day. I was proud, but I was sad, I was mad, I was all sorts of stuff.

The rest of the weekend was a celebration. Awards were the next day and I got to stand on the podium, hand over my heart and listen to my favorite song as 3 American flags went up. USA sweep. And adding some silver to those golds adds some color right?
A quick thank you to our sponsors Deloitte, Scheck and Siress and all the family and friends that supported all of us to make it to World Championships. You were thought of often. 

We got to see the big sights in London, tried to fit too many people in a phone booth, tried to get the guards to laugh and then took the chunnel over to Paris for 3 days. Myself, Brian, and Dan Riley, our favorite travel buddy. Because this post is already too long, I'll keep it brief. Think crepes, wine, cappuccinos and cheese. Think wine on the lawn by the eiffel tower, the mona lisa, walking and more walking, the Arc de Triomphe, more wine, more crepes, street performers, rain, sun, the Seine, running by the Seine, more cappuccinos, book shops, street vendors, Notre Dame, pastries, flower shops and yes, more wine. Paris really is a spectacular city and September is the perfect time to go.

I would be lying if I didn't say that the race didn't run through my head a few times while I was there. OK, maybe more than a few times. The flat tire, if I could have done more, why I wasn't strong enough to have a better run and the feeling that I had failed. I think what got to me most is that I wasn't mentally strong. I let that stupid flat get to me. In the race and in the days after. I talked to many people about it and they all said I should be proud for not quitting after a flat, I should be happy with silver after loosing minutes trying to deal with it. I tried to look at it that way, at the positive parts, but all I could think of was that run. That dang run.

But this whole 'what if', it doesn't matter in the
long run. Just like April 13, 2004, it reaffirmed an
important lesson, that things aren't always in your control. And as cheesy as it sounds when I got back home I put that flat tire in my room to remind myself of that. As Jimi would have said, It is what it is.

So there it be. Back to home sweet Chicago. A pending Ironman in 7 weeks and lots of training to do before then. I've had some good training but that's for another post, this one is too long. But that IM finish line is just what I need.

Peace Out!