"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. "
I think my mental processor must be getting slower, or else my RAM needs to be upgraded. I have been trying to process a race report on the Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake for days and days, and yet it just would not gel. It is a great event, and I am glad I undertook the challenge, and I had a lot of fun. But at the same time, it was the Murpyh's Law of weather--windy swim and bike, rain in Lubbock (WTH??!!!) and then a sunny hot run with high humidity -- in Lubbock??? How do you write any kind of unified account of that type of experience.
Then, things went from bad to worse when I read the race report from Crazy Jane, M.D., who seemingly just floated, unworried and untroubled, through conditions that I found very challenging. Since Jane has a license to practice medicine and the ability to prescribe medications to her psychiatric patients, I immediately suspected that she had been self-medicating. That, and I rationalized that the swim did smothe out for the later waves and the wind died down for the later waves on the bike. So. See, it was much harder for me. (Blah blah blah excuses and rationalizations).
And then I read a version of the quote set out above in reading a recent magazine article in connection with the Boston Marathon about Bill ("Boston Billy") Rogers. And it kind of snapped into place. I have been chasing butterlies, trying to get faster and be happier with my skills as a triathlete. The worst moments of the weekend happened when I was chasing the fastest, the inability to sleep the night before worrying about swimming open water without my wetsuit, bumming out about my swim time, being judgmental about my bike performance, pulling the plug in the last mile of the run rather than risk puking. The happiest moments of the weekned were when I just "sat quietly" (or as Mark Allen says, "quieted the mind") and just focused on the task at hand--making a good swim stroke, efficient pedal cadence or rapid foot turnover. If I had done that more, the race, which all in all should be considered a success, would have been even more of a positive experience.
I swam what time?
The day began very windy, me shivering in the water before the swim start, sans wetsuit. I had decided to swim without one to begin getting accustomed to the feeling in advance of Ironman Cozumel, which is not wetsuit legal. I ran and swum a good warmup, which allowed me to start swimming without hyperventillating. I thought I was doing OK and would swim somewhere in the mid-40s, which is my normal, pedantic, half-iron pace, but it was not to be. I found the lake to be fairly choppy and sucked down much water. The swim times in the pros and the rest of the field would indicate adverse conditions and perhaps a course that was long. I saw myself bouys being blown and moved during the race. That said, with all the improvements to my swimming of late, I was not expecting to swim ELEVEN MINUTES SLOWER than I've swum the course before. I was not happy, as you can see:
Starts with "F" and rhymes with "Duck"
Note to the race organizers: 4 main buoys spaced 400 to 500 meters apart is not adequate for a half-iron race, especially one that starts in the dark and has lake chop. It certainly would neither kill you nor break the bank to have a little round buoy every 100 to 150 meters to aid in siting and provide interim goals for iffy, middle-aged swim novices.
The bike involved a much quieter mind, and although I was not as fast as I had hoped, I showed some gains in fitness. I narrowly edged out my previous performances on this course, notwithstanding much tougher conditions than the last two times I did this race. I wanted to average a touch over 18 mph, and through the first 40+ miles I managed to do so. A stiff 20+mph wind from the north, and the last two northerly-oriented climbs out of Ransom Canyon, however, served to lower my average speed to such an extent that I could not bring it back above 18 by the time I re-entered Buffalo Springs Lake Park on my way back to T2.
Re-entering the park, one had to deal with car traffic on the road--getting stuck behind cars during a race?? That probably cost a couple of tenths of an mph off the average, but the main issue was one of safety. Note to the organizers: close the road over the damn to incoming traffic until the race is over.
The good news is that the parts of the course most like Cozumel--flat and windy--I did just fine. If the road does not tip up, I am in my element. I was able to just relax, hunker down, focus, and chip away at time and distance. Hopefully, this is a seed of confidence for a quiet mind on race day in November.
The good the bad and the ugly. The good was the relatively flat portions of the course where, notwithstanding some tired legs, I was able to get a rhythm going and set a sustainable pace that chewed up the distance and got me from aid station to aid station in good stead. I even overtook Coach Liz about a mile after T2, which surprised me to no end because she's a hard case and a great athlete. But, I took a cue from Hillary Biscay, "no walking in Ironman," (at least on the flats in my case) and every time I had a wave of discomfort, I just focused on my stride and rationalized, "the fastest way to get this overwith is to keep running." That is what one needs on Ironman day.
The bad--three very steep hills. It made no sense to run them on the day, so I power walked. It's just a tough course, so no excuses but no worries either.
The ugly--chasing butterflies. I wound up running a better pace on this course than I have in the past, due to my consistency (if not speed) running the flatter sections. Had I known that, I would have been content to keep the mind quiet in the last mile and a half and just suffer a little more discomfort and done even better.
At the time, however, I was thinking about the PRs and the time goal butterflies that had gotten away--indeed they were unrealistic given the swimming and biking conditions and might have been unrealistic even under ideal conditions. In so doing, the butterfly chasing brain began to ask, "what's the point? No need to puke if you're not going to PR." And so I began walking instead of channeling my inner-Hillary-Biscay. Coach Liz passed me back at about 3/4 of a mile to go. I should have run with her and finished a fun race with a friend, but I quickly cut her loose and hobbled until the finish line was comfortably in sight.
So, again, I finished Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake. I did not get near the numbers that I had placed on myself, but in a sense, those numbers will come when I stop chasing them and just get down to the business of putting one foot in front of the other during individual moments.
Even more important than the numbers, however, was the experience and its fruits. I put some big deposits in the Ironman Bank on which I can draw in Cozumel in November, and learned a ton. Better still, the beer was great, the comeradery authentic, the after party loud and boisterous, and the hunger for more such races rekindled. The road goes on forever and the party never ends.