Sunday, March 15, 2009

OK People...this THANG just became REAL!

I AM A TRIATHLETE NOW PEOPLE! YAY ME! Last week our team traveled to Palm Springs, La Quinta to be exact, to participate in the Desert Tri. This is an International Distance race consisting of a ¾ mile swim, 26 mile bike, and 6 mile run. All of these distances should be cake to me by now because we have already covered these distances in our weekly workouts. It was my FIRST ever official tri so I was excited to cross that achievement off my "Things To Do In Life" list. It was a weekend of many emotions and one that taught me a lot about what I have gotten myself into. The reality of what I have signed up for finally hit me like a ton of bricks and I had that “OH SHIT” moment. Doubt of completing a FULL distance Ironman crept into my mind for the first time this entire training. Here is a recap of the weekend to elaborate further.

Saturday March 7th: We had our normally scheduled Saturday morning practice. We met in Malibu at our usual location across the street from Pepperdine. We completed our longest bike ride of the season, FOUR HOURS PEOPLE. I must say, I had a great ride. My butt didn’t hurt as much as I expected sitting that long on the bike and the only discomfort I felt was that nagging lower back pain that pops up on me from time to time. According to my Garmin watch I covered roughly 62 miles in those four hours. Using that as a rough guide that means I should be able to complete the 112 mile bike ride on race day in somewhere between 7 and 8 hours. (Picture above shows me fixing my flat tire along PCH towards the end of my ride)

Immediately after practice our team drove down to La Quinta. It was a mad rush to get to the packet pick up at 4pm and then meet the rest of the team at the start of the race at Lake Cahuilla. Here Coach Paul wanted us all to get in our wet suits and get a feel for what the water was like. We got some coaching tips on the next day’s course, practiced getting in and out of the water, and then headed out for a team dinner at an Italian restaurant. After dinner it was off to bed for early morning wakeup call at 5am. I had been up since 5:30am and had been motoring non-stop till 9pm on Saturday. Now THAT is action packed day and I was one tuckered out latino.

Sunday March 8th: RACE DAY! Having the experience of marathon races under my belt, I know what RACE DAY feels like. This race day however was different. I had to set up my transition zone, had much more to pack and I was doing my best to rid myself of the nerves regarding the swim. The swim was the thing that had me worried the most but I tried to stay calm.

8:03am: It’s all a big blur in my mind but this is the start of the race for me. The swim begins in different waves of groups that are determined by your age. Black swim caps go first which are ages like 18-28, then 3 minutes later my wave goes next…we are ages 29-34 in white swim caps. 3 minutes behind me are the purple swim caps and so forth. The entire first half of the swim was a freak-out session. Everything our coaches told us about your first time in an open water race in a wet suit happened EXACTLY as they described. One of my teammates, Eurie, captured the experience of her swim in her blog. It was her first tri also and I could not have described it better than she did. I felt EXACTLY what Eurie describes below:

“…the air horn went off and the purple swim caps jumped in the water and I started swimming. It took about a minute for the reality of the situation to sink in and my body went into supreme freak out mode. My heart rate quadrupled. I couldn't get enough air. Every time I put my face in the water to swim, I thought I was going to drown. I would try to get a stroke in and when I went to take a breath, it seemed like there was no oxygen entering my lungs. I would end up taking double breaths on every stroke, and it still wasn't enough. I couldn't slow my heart rate. I tried going on my back, I tried doing a weird modified breast stroke with my head out of the water, I tried a sidestroke, I'd try to swim again once I calmed down, which immediately made me freak out again. Around the first buoy someone screamed my name in encouragement but it felt more like negative recognition at the time. The second fucking buoy seemed like it was in Arizona.

Here's the thing. I like swimming. I would even venture to say that I love swimming in a pool, with chlorine, a dark blue line running along the bottom, a plastic lane marker, and most importantly, a nice fucking wall to push off from every 25 yards. I could swim for miles in a pleasant chemical environment. Lake Cahuilla is not a pleasant chemical environment with a wall. All I can think at this point is: fuck nature.”

No joke...that pretty much describes what I felt for the entire first half of the swim. Within the first ten minutes I panicked. It is amazing what places your mind will go to when doubt and negativity creeps into it. I was winded. I was tired. I couldn't see in the water because it was just black. I couldn't swim straight and kept having to swim back on course. What makes the swim different than biking and running is that you have the least control of your surroundings in the water. Lack of control=PANIC!I thought to myself…”OH SHIT! If I am struggling now, how the hell am I going to cover 2.4 miles in an Ironman?” The reality of what I had signed up for hit me for the first time and I wondered why I even signed up for this thing. I was scerrrrrrrrd big time. But then something magical happened. It was like I heard Coach Paul’s voice right in my ear. His words from practice and the previous day rang in my ear. I thought God was talking to me. He said to stay calm. To stay focused and just do what you do in practice and JUST SWIM. About halfway through the swim I finally got my rhythm. I no longer felt short of breath and I was just swimming. Stroke 1,2,3...breathe left side. Stroke 1,2,3...breathe right side. Stroke 1,2,3...breathe left side. It was brilliant. I finished the swim in just over 31 minutes and let me just tell ya…I have never been more happy to see solid,dry land than this moment. I stumbled out of the water and I was dizzy. I nearly tipped over jogging to my transition area numerous times and I was SO SO SO SOOOOOOOOOOOOO happy to see my bike.

The bike ride was also a reality check. The 4 hour ride the previous day really took a toll on me because my legs were immediately burning within the first ten minutes. I was like WTF?!?!?!?!?!?!? The course was not even hilly. I was pedaling as fast and hard as I could but I was not moving fast. I remember people ZOOMING past me as if my bike was just parked. I gotta admit, it was quite a blow to the ego and a bit demoralizing. I thought I was a better biker than that but on this day it seemed like EVERYONE was passing me effortlessly. I finished in about 1 hr 35 minutes which is not a very fast time but hey…I was just happy to finally RUN. That's all I could think about for those 95 minutes, "I can't WAIT to get to the run".

The run came and I felt right at home. My lower back was hurting me a bit as soon as I got on the course but I chugged away. I began passing up people left and right. It felt so GREAT. For the first time, I was the one demoralizing other people. I recognized folks from the bike ride, the ones that had zipped passed me, and now I was like “so long SUCKA! BAM! Who's YO daddy now!” Running is where I did most of my damage and I completed the 6 miles in about 53 minutes or so. My final time was 3 hours 6 minutes.

Overall I had mixed emotions about my first triathlon. Let me be clear that I am indeed happy with it, however I didn't expect so many emotions to come out of it. On the one hand I was super happy to have overcome my struggles on the swim and conquer another fear. On the other hand I really expected myself to finish much faster overall, especially on the bike. The race was a total learning experience and one that finally gave me a chance to measure where I stand in each of the three events after 4 months of training. The race also finally made it feel like IRONAMN was real. Like I have signed up for something pretty serious here and if I don’t train properly, race day will HURT and feel like hell. The panic I felt for those first 15 minutes of my swim would be how I would feel for 15 hours on race day if I didn't prepare properly. My competitive side basically came out on this day and this race motivated me more than ever to work HARDER. It was also a great weekend with my teammates and the first real bonding experience we had together. It was great being cheered on by them and cheering on the rest of my teammates. I loved it.

As if my entry today was not long enough already, I am going to leave you with some more passages from my teammate Eurie. Eurie had a rough day out on the course overall. She was the very last finisher in the entire field and she took that fact a little too hard. Many folks QUIT somewhere along this race but Eurie didn’t and I hope she realizes how much that says about her. She rocked it but it took her a few days there to realize her great achievement. Her experience and emotions are to me exactly what this Ironman journey is all about. It’s so much bigger than your finishing time and more than what place you finish. It’s about breaking down the false limits you have set for yourself, conquering your fears and most importantly…NEVER GIVING UP. Eurie’s range of emotions are what all of us contemplate at some point or another. I found her revelations described below very inspiring, motivating, (and pretty darn funny) so that is why I am sharing it with you all.

“…so there you have it folks, the story of the most physically excruciating 4 hours of my life. And I'm probably only saying this because I have not yet given birth.

I've spent the last few days trying to stay positive, falling into depression, trying to get myself remotivated, practiced many versions of the "why it's totally reasonable for me to quit the team" speech, thought about postponing until next year, wondered how I was going to tell of my lovely friends and family who donated that I was quitting, wondered if I could possibly avoid everyone from the team for the rest of my life if I did quit (I actually thought about how I would have to unfriend all of my teammates on facebook), tried to not think about anything related to triathlons, numbed myself with movies and text twist and sleep, and thought about skipping tonight's swim practice. I just couldn't face the world.

At this particular moment, I’m not planning on quitting. But let me tell ya, coming in dead last really made me face a lot of my insecurities. Any moment of feeling isolated, condescended to, fat, gross, having a bad hair day, and feeling unpopular and kicked to the curb, all kind of fell on top of me like a giant elephant and it's been hard to get that fucker off my back.

I want to say how amazing my teammates and coaches are, but I'm not sure I can convey how important they are to this whole process. They're awesome and supportive and un-judgmental. They're the anti-me.”

Way to go Eurie and the rest of the WESTSIDE IronTeam! We are on our way!



Alexander said...

Great entry Carlos. I appreciated the notes on Eurie's experience. I didn't know she was taking it that hard, but its totally understandable. I felt really discouraged by my swim, especially nearly being the last one out of Lake Cahuilla. In endurance events, my mindset is you're competing against yourself. The important thing is doing your best for that day. So many conditions can effect your performance on race day. You can only control yourself. By finishing, we are all triathletes now, and we are all winners in my book.

Arkady said...

Dude, this was probably one of the better Blog entries I've read... Great job!

Arkady said...

Dude, this was probably one of the better Blog entries I've read. Great Job!!! I panicked 20 times worse during my first tri... you're going to rock Vineman.

Anonymous said...

so proud of you Carlitos!