September 15, 2012
All I had to complete was one more open water swim, one more climbing bike ride, and one more fast run to wrap up the season and achieve my goal of racing in a triathlon in all 50 States. I chose the Lobsterman Tri because Chris and I had some history in Maine. We went to Freeport along with over 600 other competitors for the Lobsterman Triathlon and Aquabike races. Over the past six weeks I recovered from three consecutive weekends of racing, with some intensive training days thrown in followed by some much needed tapering to peak for this end of season race.
Here I was in Maine, my 50th state race, my 150th triathlon ever, and at least my 500th sporting race of some sort I competed in over my lifetime. And I was still nervous before the race. Nervous about how well I would perform amongst 600 people who I never met before and most likely would never talk with or see again. After all these years of racing I observed triathletes and runners who didn’t get nervous about unknown pending race outcomes were more inclined not to care about race results. Their pleasure and happiness came from participating in the race events, just not so much from its outcome. Competitive triathletes who were nervous before a race, who experienced that feeling of butterflies in their stomach, definitely cared about their race performance of times, places, and comparative results to overs. Competitive triathletes also experienced longer-term, if not lifetime, fulfillment from a race full of pain and high achievement.
Somewhat related to understanding nervous racers compared to non-nervous racers are non-triathletes who do not understand nervous triathletes. Many non-triathletes view triathletes as some form of alien being. Non-triathletes don’t grasp what the sport is all about for us. Training is the delivery system and races are the judgement day for us to reach a self-imposed pinnacle of our own performance standard as we continually expose ourselves to relatively high levels of stress and anxiety during training and racing to achieve these standards. This situation is a significant paradox for non-triathletes and for people who get happiness from participating in sports but do not get nervous before competitions.
Many triathletes invest their personal time to train to perform the best they can in the sport. We forego many hours of pleasure leading up to a race. We incur a great deal of unpleasantness if not outright pain during a race. How triathletes derive pleasure and fulfillment from these aspects of the sport somehow defy logic to non-triathletes. Yet the void of alternative activities, deferred happiness, and hours of pain add up to some of the greatest pleasurable and lasting memorable achievements in any triathlete’s life. After the races of course. Sort of like parenthood, once the kids leave the house.
Over 500 triathletes competed in the Lobsterman Olympic distance triathlon under skies that threatened rain. Like much of the sport over the years, the weather changed. Winslow Park at the southern end of Freeport right on Casco Bay served as race central. The race started with a 1500 meter swim, under one mile in distance, at the boat ramp in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
As I waded in the water I readied myself for the first cold taste of saltwater on the swim. The sensation on the inner checks and the first gentle blow out the nostrils re-sets all the trained conditions of practicing in chlorinated pools and normalized racing in the fresh water Midwest lakes. The buoys were set out in an irregular diamond shape. If looking at the course from above towards the park, it resembled an outline of an ancient Mercury style space capsule. We started at the top of the cone and swam counter-clockwise around its perimeter, under its heat shield, and then back the far side to exit the water 200 meters at the park’s beach area.
About where the window would be located on the space capsule we swam through the first pocket of cold water. At that point I enjoyed a flashback to September 1987 of a picnic lunch 50 miles up the coast in Blue Hill Bay. A few of the more spontaneous and adventurous of us on a bike tour jumped off a diving board bolted on an outcrop of the glacier carved granite shoreline basin that extended above the water line. We froze in the water back then while only wearing cycling shorts as substitutes for swimsuits. Now in Casco Bay I was grateful to be swimming in a wetsuit.
Spectators enjoyed a great view of the entire swim. They cheered as we exited the water and ran up into the slanted transition area. The 50-54 age group leader exit the transition area while I was still in my wetsuit and running into T1. He continued to build a lead on the rest of us in the age group during the bike leg.
We followed the lollipop shaped bike course north out of the park for almost 12 miles. The upper half or the course gradually looped off towards the east until we paralleled the coastline back to the tip of the stick then backtracked our way to the transition area. We pedaled through large farm pastures with expansive views of Casco Bay and quick glances of some of Maine’s offshore islands for half of the trip back. We were treated to views of the Atlantic Ocean from a couple of the higher points on the eastern lollypop side of the course. With no significant landmass to be seen between here and Europe, the great vastness of water dropped off into the curvature of the Earth.
My mind wandered on the bike leg. I pedaled through a few moments of reflection and projection about triathloning and marriage. These were so intertwined in my life for the last 25 years. I became nostalgic of the changes and optimistic of futuristic aspects of both.
I thought more about the past and future of racing than thinking about the race in Lobsterman. I thought about our marriage too during the race. When I met Chris in 1985 I was a track runner with the 800 meter run being my best event. Chris was a recreational swimmer. After dating for a few months she suggested we buy bikes and compete in our first triathlon. The biking brought us closer together. Looking back on marriage Maine played a significant role early on for us. In September 1987 we spent the first leg of our honeymoon there. We rode bikes touring the wooded and peaceful countryside on a six day trip through Castine, Blue Hill, and Deer Isle. We hiked and boated in Acadia National Park. We went back there for the first time in 25 years and celebrated our silver wedding anniversary as part of the conclusion to the US portion of the Tri 50 State Journey.
As for marriage, these should be journey, not destinations. The excitement of attaining some object or single objective in marriage can become obsessive if focusing on a single destination. Shortly after you obtain your desire you’re bored and in search of something else. The destination becomes a disposable. Journeys provide extended fulfillment and keep the players motivated. We need to understand our levers of excitement and fulfillment of both the chase of the journey and achievement in collecting destination milestones instead of being too singularly obsessed to jeopardize any family, friends, work, fun, or relationships.
“Till Death Do Us Part” is a great goal. Marriage is different than triathloning but similarities exist. For both, people are better being a participant than a spectator. You need to practice consistently to be good at both of them. People excel when doing both with partners. Both marriage and triathloning are a mash up of disciplines. When combined, they determine the outcome of our overall success. Sometimes you need to peak in both and other times you need to lay low and recover. The disappointments in both can feel like some of the worst days of your life and the high points of both can be memorable of some of the best times of your life though for vastly different reasons. Both can bring out the best in people. And both are great motivators to keep improving for not only yourself but for everyone you touch in the marriage and triathloning.
My mind wandered back to the race. The roads were open to vehicular traffic but we experienced minimal motorists. As expected the threatening skies rained on us for the first half of the race leg. Lightly at first then with hard but short showers. By the end of the bike leg the rain stopped and blue skies broke through. We gained and lost over 1,700 feet of elevation along the continuous undulating bike course.
An EKG reading would have shown less spikes than climbs on the bike. The terrain offered a real challenge to all flatlanders like me. I dropped to 3rd place in the age group by the start of the run. Either too much reflection on the sport and marriage or not enough innovation in my equipment. My reality though was enough training but not being aerodynamic in my body position on the bike according to the racer that overtook me. I out climbed him on every hill but he always passed me back on the downhills and never relinquished his lead on the final drop into T2. He was either more aero or a better overall cycling talent than me for his quick bike leg.
I jumped off my bike and slide into wet running shoes from the rain. Mentally this is an “ah crap” moment, my feet will slide around during the entire run leg. Blisters will develop which will rub me raw and cause bleeding hot spots. This would cause me to limp into a painful finish. The reality between sweat dribbling down my calves and shin bones combined with natural sweat produced by glands on the soles of my feet, the shoes always got wet without rain. Also, after a few dumps of water on my head the fluids always found their way into my shoes at all races. Rarely would I notice that type of wetness in my shoes on a sunny race day. Only when looking for an excuse for a poor run during the rain would I acknowledge that the rain cost me a new PR or higher finishing place. At Lobsterman the rain didn’t impair my run performance one bit.
We ran west out of out of Winslow Park then turned north into the charming village of South Freeport three miles away then returned to the finish line for a full 10K or 6.2 mile run. Spectator and volunteer support on the run was fantastic, especially as we exited and re-entered the park in South Freeport. Lots of people. Lots of drinks, gels, and snacks. Lots of good vibes and high fives.
The blisters never developed. My wet shoes were no excuse today for my second place age group finish. Dave Davala, the 50-54 age group winner, was a better triathlete than I was at Lobsterman. He beat me in other races over the years. Dave was a consistent All-American with top finishes at The National Championships and other major tri races.
With the Tri 50 State Journey now completed, you may wonder how many Americans are prepared for their own tri journey. Well 49% for American teenagers can swim according to a 2014 Red Cross survey. For our country’s overall population, “more than half of all Americans (54 percent) either can’t swim or don’t have all of the basic swimming skills.” In biking, early participation has dropped. Only 13% of American kids rode their bikes to school in 2009 compared to almost one in two kids (48%) in 1969 according to David Darlington in "Why Johnny Can't Ride". For the triathlon’s third leg, according to Statista, a statistics portal, 64 million Americans went jogging or running in 2013, or 20% of the population. Putting all three legs of a triathlon together, only 4% of Americans competed in a triathlon in their lifetime. Less than 10 triathletes completed the 50 state triathlon journey. However, over 2,500 athletes completed a full marathon in all 50 states suggests a significant endurance pool of talent exists to increase the journey’s participants for eternal pleasurable and memorial moments.
After the race we stayed in a bed & breakfast in Blue Hill still there from our honeymoon bike tour. Maine was prettier than 25 years earlier. The weather at Acadia National Park was stellar. The triathlon was more challenging than expected. And in my typical fashion of racing, the Lobsterman Triathlon was better than completing the Tri 50 States Journey. The actual achievement was a letdown of sorts. I always knew I would complete the Journey or I never would have started it. Besides, I was already thinking about my next milestones on the Tri All-Continents World journey. Europe for next year and South America to follow.
On a more nearer timeline, we enjoyed a dinner of lobster, butter, and beer. Much like we did 25 years ago along the coastline of Maine but this one for an extraordinary special tri celebration of marriage, racing, and life.
Results: 18th overall. 2nd in age group