Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Number 7

I had an absolutely fantastic trip to Des Moines, Iowa over Labor Day weekend.  My oldest son qualified for his third Ironkids National Championship race and of course, we were going to reward his hard efforts in qualifying during the season.  There also happened to be an adult race the next day.  I hadn't realized the 5150 championship race was one of the highlight races but because I did not participate in a qualifying race, I could only enter the citizens race.  I did excitedly because I had made the decision to race amateur elite for the first time in my triathlon career, which proved to be quite a challenge!

Back to the Ironkids National Championship.  My youth and junior teams, Kids that TRI and Teens that TRI, had 28 team members qualify and make the trip to Iowa to reward themselves with the season ending National Championships.  It was a great venue, although a bit unfriendly for spectators, for the team to participate.  Every single one of our team members did fantastic and all had fun and were honored with participating.  We had some solid finishes also of which provided us the 2nd overall team award (for the second year in a row).  My oldest son had, literally, the race of his life in terms of execution.  Everything from his swim, bike, run and transitions was spot on with no faltering.  Mounts and dismounts were great, finish line kick was awesome and his attitude and professionalism made me proud!  For his efforts, he was awarded 7th overall in his age-group and 10th overall among all 9-11 year olds (over 300). We enjoyed some great time after his race hanging out with the team and our friends we made the drive with from Colorado.  Shortly after spending the day on my feet, I had to switch my focus to my race.  Oh yea, I had a race didn't I?

I was extremely excited for my race after I switched hats from coach to athlete because my son was going to be there watching.  I love leading by example but the real truth is: my son inspires me.  He may not know the full reason why just yet but he soon will.  Everything that he does in his life inspires me to be my best and I want to show him how much I appreciate who he is.  One of the ways I do this is by racing.  It may not make sense but then again, it just may!  Whenever I race, I always write 6 letters on my thumb knuckles.  Three on the left which are CNK (the first initials of my kids) and three on the right which are KTT (Kids that TRI).  When I race, I race for my kids and my team.  I race because I am inspired by who they are and what they do.  I race because I want to inspire them by who I am and what I do.  Quite simply, I think of it as a roundabout (less complex in nature though than driving through one!).  A full circle of showing respect and admiration for one another.

I also race because I have a teensy weeny competitive streak in me.  Yes, I let the cat out of the bag!  Of course, I always want to do well but first and foremost is proper skill implementation of all three sports plus transition.  I pride myself on the little things and focus on them and my process goals.  If I do well with these, I will be rewarded with a good outcome goal.

Racing amateur elite was exciting.  I was in the first wave, was not too crowded on the swim and did not have to worry about the heat of the day.  The water temperature was flirting with the 78 degree mark in the previous days but it was deemed wetsuit legal on race morning.  I had planned for the opposite but to my delight, I was able to use my TYR Freak of Nature wetsuit in the swim!  Much to my dismay, my race started without a swim warm-up because we were not allowed to get in the water.  Stretchcords, while a staple in my warm-up sequence, was not enough for my body to become activated.  My muscles did not receive the "attention" they needed and thus my muscles were a bit tight throughout the swim.  No problem I thought, just swim as fast as you can and don't worry about it...that just wastes energy.  The swim was definitely the most gloomy part of my day and while I did not come out of my wave last, I wasn't in the position I had expected.  Again, I didn't let that get to me and entered the transition area ready to bike.

A few days before the race while coaching my Teens that TRI open water swim practice, I had cut the bottom of my foot pretty bad upon entering the water and it was right under my arch.  It was pretty painful and while it hurt to walk, I didn't let it bother me.  "The race is going to hurt anyway because of my intensity, what's a little cut on the bottom of my foot going to do?".  Again, my mantra of not sweating the small stuff...This cut prevented me from running barefoot without a lot of pain so I opted to put my cycling shoes on in transition and run with them to the mount line.  Luckily, it was a grassy transition area so no risk of slipping.  Onto my flying mount and I was off on the bike!

The bike was a bit strange in that I didn't find my legs until about mile 5.  I am usually able to flip the switch a bit sooner but I theorized it was because I did not engage in my normal warm-up routine with a short swim.  No matter, once I found my legs, it was off to the races and race I did!  A fellow competitor and I were playing cat and mouse for about 10 miles but I finally put him behind me on a few of the hills (my specialty being from Colorado!).  He did catch me again with about 8 miles remaining and he brought a few of his "friends".  We all used each other's energy to bring out the best in us and this accelerated our performance (and muscular effort) to the finish line.  As we were jockeying for position, I couldn't help to notice the ages on their calves...all in the 20-29 age group.  And of course, all they saw on mine was "E".  No age-group so I wondered if they were trying to guess this "old man's" age!.

Coming off the bike into transition, I felt incredible.  A good friend of mine was at the dismount line and while I did not see him (I focus way too much internally), I did hear him cheering and yelling my placing.  He said I was in 11th position in the amateur elite group.  Not bad I thought but definitely not acceptable either (the competitor in me talking).  I headed out at a very good pace.  Interestingly, it was very comfortable.  I could feel the cut on the bottom of my foot with each step but disassociated it from my mental state.  I focused on my breathing which was very controlled.  My cadence was high, my upper body comfortable and I was picking off people from the first race at a rapid pace.  It was right around mile 1 when I started feeling some quad cramps coming, which was odd since I haven't had that happen before in a race.  At this point, feeling strong, I had to make a decision.  Slow down and let hope they go away or keep going and see what happens.  If you know me, you know which option I chose: the latter.  If they are going to hit, let them but I am not slowing down until they force me to.  That was my thought process.  Luckily, they only remained an annoyance and did not "pop".  Being in the performance zone mentally, I was able to block them out for the most part and just focus on my breathing and cadence once again.

Mile 1, mile 2, mile 3....they all seemed somewhat easy.  When I finally hit downtown Des Moines there were more people cheering, a few familiar families from Kids that TRI who stayed to watch me race and at that point, I could see the Capitol, which was the finish line.  I knew there were a few jogs around side streets before I entered the finish chute so I took it in stride and kept pushing, pushing, pushing.  I had not driven the course so while I knew there was a hill toward the finish, I did not know what it looked like.  Upon making the second to last turn, it stared me straight in the face.  "Really?", I thought.  It was a hill but nothing like I am used to.  I noted the athletes in front of me, put my head down and attacked the hill.  Luckily, my friend was once again placed strategically on the course and yelled out a reminder of "fast feet".  Quickly, I shifted into a high cadence, pumped my arms and powered up the hill.  I was a bit anaerobic at the top but then made a sharp left to the finish line.  The problem was that the finish line was on the complete other side of the grandstands.  That didn't matter though.  My son was in the stands watching and while I did not see him, he told me afterwards that I passed about 10 people in the last 300-400 meters before the finish line.  The facial expression on my finish line photo validates the work it took to do that!

I was extremely pleased with my race.  I had a few speedbumps but none that prevented me from not having fun and pushing my body's limits.  After finishing, I shared some race stories with a couple of Kompetitive Edge team members (Andrew, Eric and Trish) and met my friend Bobby, who was supporting me throughout the day.  Then, it was off to find my son and share an embrace of pride with him.  He loved the race and I loved having him there.  I told him that he was my inspiration throughout the entire day, especially during my sprint finish.  He asked me what I was thinking about when I was sprinting to the line, passing fellow athletes.  I thought for a second and responded, "inspiring others to do the same".   When I take off sprinting, I want others to follow.  He smiled, we hugged and then waited for my best friend to finish his race (his first triathlon in 2 years).

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend with great successes throughout.  Are you wondering why I titled this blog, "The Number 7"?  Well, my son eloquently pointed out that both he and I finished 7th in our categories.  Coincidence or not, I believe that there is a underlying message there.

Many people are wondering if I will try to race amateur elite next year.  Well, looking back, I would have won my age-group in Des Moines by over 2 1/2 minutes.  The question I ask myself is if there is a challenge out there that would help to inspire others to do something they have not believed they could do...hmmm.  See we will.  See we will!

Until next time...

Coach Bob

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