Sometime in an athlete’s career a race or event just doesn’t go as planned. I have been fortunate, thus far, to be able to execute important races to my maximum ability with minimal adversity. However, this past weekend in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at the age group National Championship, things didn’t quite go as planned.
The last time I did the Olympic distance National Championships was in 1998, in Claremont, Florida. I had a great race and qualified for the world championships which were held in Lausanne, Switzerland later that summer. I was happy but I had to curb my enthusiasm because my wife, Dana, dealt with a mechanical issue on her bike which blew her race. It was tough to watch, especially because I was the chief bike mechanic for the family at the time and felt responsible.
My lead up to this race was flawless and I had reached my best form of the season. I felt primed and ready.
The week leading up to the race was tiring. I had three days which I worked greater than 15 hours and Thursday, the day before I left, I was on call and had to arrange for a partner to cover for me while I went to the airport to catch my 6 a.m. flight to Birmingham. No big deal, I do hard workouts after being on call all night all the time. I would sleep on the plane.
I got to the airport, checked in, and got to Birmingham with only a slight delay. I was only carrying my transition bag with just a few clothing items and checked only my bike. My plan was to rent a car, drive to Tuscaloosa, check in, do a short workout, then rest and kick back in the hotel for the remainder of day. The best laid plans are doomed for failure.
I stood at the baggage claim like a forlorn lover awaiting the return of his long lost love. Once the baggage claim cleared and my bike didn’t appear. Dejected, I made my way to the American Airlines lost luggage counter and spoke with Dawn, a nice old lady who didn’t seem to have the attitude that most customer service representatives convey to airline patrons these days.
Dawn made a phone call to the luggage handlers who checked the plane one more time. She went back out to the unloading area on the runway herself to check and make sure that it hadn’t been left out there. She even called Dallas by phone, my connecting city, to check on it. Dawn went above and beyond the call of duty. Unfortunately, the next flight into Birmingham from Dallas wasn’t until 5 p.m. Athletes were supposed to check in bikes to the transition area by 6 p.m. That wasn’t going to happen.
I ended up driving the hour to Tuscaloosa, checking into my hotel, and picking up my packet. The race director gave me a pass on checking the bike in that evening and allowed me to bring it the day of the race.
The original plan was to do a short hard workout on my bike and run maybe swim a little in the river then check out the course. That didn’t happen. I had to drive back to Birmingham to pick up my bike. I was back at the luggage carousel at 4:45, then soon learned that the flight was delayed for over 2 hours. I hung around until 8 p.m. and was relieved to see that my bike show up on the carousel. I got it put together by 10 p.m. and finally got some much needed sleep.
Race morning was uneventful, I was ready to go. I visited with a few friends and hit the water for warm up when my heat was called. Quickly I noticed that this river was really a river. There was a strong current! This would be really good for me since I am a strong swimmer.
When the start horn sounded, I took it easy because the first portion of the swim was downstream. When we made the turn upstream into the current, I punched it and found someone to draft off. The physics of laminar flow systems and Reynolds numbers was far from my mind as I powered behind this guy at the buoy line near the middle of the river. I suppose a recon swim mission the day before the race would have helped. Anyway, I was in the top group of guys and pleased with my position, but I couldn’t help but think “ How much further? This swim is lasting much longer than usual.”
( For those who don't want to click on the link: The velocity of flow becomes less at the perimeter of the river than in the center)
It took me high 27 minutes to swim 1500 meters! If that swim was that hard for me it must be three times as hard for non-swimmers. I was 3rd in the age group and was licking my chops. This race was going to go very well for me.
I made a seamless transition and was just getting my land legs when 7 minutes into the bike “Snap!” Uh Oh! My left aero bar had broken loose from the base bar and was just hanging there. I thought” can I ride safely like this?” The answer was “No” . My race was over. My first DNF. This was hard handle when I was having a great race. I thought “don’t chance it. There will be other races.”
It guess it wasn’t meant to be. I pulled off to the side of the road and watched other racers go by and cheered for those I knew. I checked my bike in, handed in my chip, then went down to the river and watched the remaining swimmers who were still in the water.
One woman looked as though she was swimming in an endless pool. The arms were moving but she wasn’t. Kayaks were surrounding her. She would stop to rest only be carried backwards. I admired her strength and perseverance to keep at it. Some folks took 2 hours to swim 1500 meters. The winner completed the entire event in 1:57.
I made the best of my trip despite the poor outcome. I met a few other outstanding athletes in my age group then I watched the pro race. I had a few drinks with Mike Llerandi and some nice folks from Team Psycho.
DNF is something I don’t want to see again. When I got back to Tulsa, I replaced all my attachment bolts on my aero bars. Sometimes you learn more from bad race than a good one.