Spain -- Country #8

October 5, 2014

Ironman Barcelona

Calella

 

Chris came on the trip to Ironman Barcelona. She always wanted to vacation in Spain and racing at Ironman Barcelona allowed us to see a new part of Europe and vacation in a world class city. Training faltered for Ironman Barcelona. By September my outdoor daylight bike rides were squeezed by the tilt in the Earth’s axis as fall arrived. Sunrise came minutes later each morning and sunset arrived earlier each evening. I ran out of safe lighting conditions for riding outside without building up a long enough cycling endurance base. I was excited to experience Barcelona but my interest waned in getting prepared for a full Ironman triathlon. What seemed like a good idea when I signed up for the race, now felt like a hangover I had to work through. I was tired from a late summer race schedule and didn’t help much for a strong Ironman distance triathlon so late in the Midwest season.

 

In 2014 race choices concentrated on the USA age-group National Championship for the Olympic & Sprint distances to qualify for Worlds in Chicago in 2015 and to compete in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. The schedule played out with intensive training through early July, tapered to qualify in mid-July at Ironman 70.3 Racine in Wisconsin, and continued with a taper peak for the USA Championships in early August. Then kept the peak for the maximum six weeks to race over Labor Day Weekend in Mont Tremblant. All of this went well but it left only four weeks to recover/build/taper/and peak for Ironman Barcelona. A spectacular quality Ironman wasn’t going to happen whether I planned it on paper or raced it in reality.

 

The training schedule for Ironman Barcelona differed than any other plan. Split up bike training rides on Tuesdays and Thursdays: rode an hour in the morning, worked, and rode another hour after work. Mostly indoor but sometimes outside if time and weather conditions were favorable. Never rode in the 80 to 110 mile range required for a competitive Ironman distance triathlon. The two longest bike rides of 2014 were 56 miles each, both at Ironman 70.3 races. Once again for an Ironman, I will be in new racing readiness territory based on minimal bike training. Swimming was fine. Running level was similar to France and Kona 2013 though both run legs for these races were less than desired outcomes. More due to heat than my own fitness or fatigue.  

 

At age 55 I recognized mundaneness and repetition in my training schedule. It reminded me of early money making endeavors of mowing lawns, shoveling snow, sweeping floors at a local retailer, and three different factory jobs as a laborer. All jobs seemed mindless after learning them. How would I think in those jobs if still working at them now? Would they still be mindless? Swim, bike, and run workouts can be filled with blankness and relaxation yet my mind wandered throughout a workout in solving problems, planning activities, and imagining possibilities. I also grew to appreciate the solitude and their simplicity whether indoors or outdoors. Yesteryears’ work was not totally different from todays’ workouts, except for the payouts.

 

Workouts were not mindless. I paid attention to swimmers in the same pool lane, vehicular traffic on the roads when biking, and to people on the sidewalks when running. Also evaluated feedback as to how my body, mind, and spirit were doing. In the few evening workouts to prepare for Ironman Barcelona, I replayed the day’s events and issues. Often the best solutions revealed themselves when stepping back and thinking through them in a neutral setting like workouts. In intense workouts I envisioned repeating them in an actual race performance. Also took time in workouts to think how to be a better triathlete, spouse, parent, worker, and person.

 

As expected but not desired, race time arrived quickly. We flew overnight to Barcelona out of Chicago’s O’Hare airport on a direct flight. Entry through immigration and customs was uneventful. We arrived with beautiful weather on the Mediterranean Sea Coast. We collected luggage, picked up a rental car, and hit the road struggling to understand the road signs. We ended up driving thru Barcelona on its busiest streets in the morning rush hour. I drove myself into a stressful situation though all self-imposed.

 

The race center for Ironman Barcelona was staged in Calella, almost 40 miles east of downtown Barcelona. We drove for over an hour without leaving the heart of Barcelona. I needed a restroom, determine where in the hell we were, and how to get to Calella. Pulled off the main road and parked on a dead end side road near the Barcelona Aquarium. Turned out we were a block away from N-11, the highway to follow the Mediterranean Sea coastline to Calella. We just didn’t know it yet.

 

We stepped into a restaurant serving meals for overnight workers. More dinner, less breakfast. The restaurant employees didn’t know the driving directions to Calella in English. They didn’t know what I was talking about. One of the customers waved us over. I listened in my long-forgotten Spanish. He spoke in Spanish and English only slightly slurred by a number of beers he had enjoyed for breakfast. He provided just enough directions by counting out the number of blocks between turns and describing basic yet unique building site cues. The most distinct was “museu blau”, a unique wedge shaped building with blue tinted glass and strips of blues waves to acknowledge its close location to the sea and a river.

 

Being genuinely grateful I offered to buy a round of drinks for the table but they turned us down. We nodded with a smile as to give thanks for their help. We shook hands. They returned to drinking and eating. While we left with directions, I also left uncertain of my understanding but in full faith of his intensions to help us. Now relieved with directional knowledge and a bio-break, we returned to the car. Wrote down the directions and looked at the map. The two didn’t line up. We followed his directions of counts and cues, not the map. Amazed and appreciative, he nailed the directions. The “museu blau” appeared as stated at the entry to Road N-11. We were on a direct path towards Calella.

 

There were almost as many cyclists on the highway as cars between Barcelona and Calella. Definitely more bikes than motorcycles. Many of the riders were triathletes trying out the race course. But more of the cyclists were middle age men and older. All riding new, late model European bike brands such Orbea, Pinarello, and Colnago. All seemed to be carbon fiber frames and Campy components. Riding in groups of 2-3. Nice cycling kits too. What a setting for the riders with views of the Mediterranean Sea and smells of restaurant foods in a location appropriate of their active lifestyle.

 

Halfway to Calella we turned off Road N-11 to find a place for lunch. The roads quickly changed to one-way streets with limited turns. Parking spots were in the meridian of the streets with no clear directions in how to pay or where allowed. I started going uphill, away from the city center into a congested residential area. The road went from one-way to one-lane going both ways with no pull-outs. Chris loved the new adventure. I swore with frustration from the unknown territory. I also swore at a downhill headed car that had priority over us going up. I pushed in the clutch and maneuvered the stick shift into reverse and hoped like hell not to roll over a curb or pedestrian. My stomach growled from hunger, and my neck strained from looking over my shoulder driving in reverse while trying to look over the top of a bike box and bag overstuffed with too much race related gear. We got turned around and headed downhill, ate lunch, and drove on to the hotel Calella.

 

It took us a repetitive two big three mile loops on a one-way, one lane street before stopping at the correct hotel. With no driveway at the hotel, we parked in the street unloading the bags and bike case. Before we could finish, a taxi driver and oversized delivery truck driver blocked by our rental car both stepped out of their vehicles and welcomed us loudly in Spanish to Calella. I think they told me off in how not to park at a hotel and unload our luggage. We watched others after us and learned you drive your vehicle up on the sidewalk and off the street. We followed this custom when loading up to leave. We only blocked the pedestrians and not the taxi drivers or oversized delivery trucks by doing it this way.   

 

Once we checked-in the hotel we learned the closest public parking lot was over a half-a-mile away and no valet service. As Americans, we don’t fully realize or appreciate how much of a car/SUV/small truck country we live in compared to the rest of the world. The independence, speed, flexibility, and availability of inexpensive gas gives us a great deal more flexibility in convenient travel options. You need to travel elsewhere to appreciate our self-transportation liberties.

 

The residents and city official of Calella embraced this inaugural triathlon race. Ironman Barcelona posters and Ironman logo’d flags hung in shops and hotels throughout the city center. The people of Calella created a great race buzz for competitors.

 

Communication proved to be more of a challenge than anticipated. English was not as common as expected in Calella. The residents catered more to Eastern European tourists than American or British tourists. The Internet Café in the hotel lobby didn’t offer English on the welcome page which made it difficult to navigate. The hotel offered only two TV stations broadcasted in English. One the BBC and the other a news station with English as a second language reporting on America and Americans in a much different approach than seen and heard in the States. Think of them as a television network for the anti-American influence in Western Europe. While many of the people on the news shows were Americans, you sure didn’t hear many American in the US talk about the public statements broadcasted on that station. I hoped non-Americans watching the news didn’t think these were typical representation of American citizens. These people left the US because they stopped living the American dream.

 

Exhausted from the traveling, we went to bed 8pm, unfortunately a music entertainer in the hotel courtyard started playing the saxophone. Loudly. Not sure if we were too tired to sleep or still too much on US Central Standard Time. Finally at 11pm we went from Kenny G to snoring zzz’s and fell asleep.

 

Friday afternoon we drove into the surrounding countryside and visited an old dilapidated historic fort that was part of the Spanish National Park system. We went further inland amongst lush farmlands and mountains covered with beautiful green forests. This contrasted with the much drier climate along the coast line. Near Calella, much of flora looked more tropical and included big flowers, spikey cactus plants and palm trees. Many of the local homesteads on the edge of town looked like horse properties found in certain areas around Phoenix. 

 

I also did pre-race check-in to receive race numbers, a race specific Ironman Barcelona backpack, and other race related swag. The volunteers processed the entrants quickly. Each Ironman race through in something quirky in the check-in process and it’s only shared at the pre-race briefing. For Ironman Barcelona we were required to show our swim cap to a volunteer who directed us to our rack location in the transition area for the bike at check-in on Saturday afternoon,. On a side note, the silicon swim caps issued in European races were much more comfortable and durable than race caps issued on any other continent. The bike and transition bag check-in was uneventful though each of three-long lines of triathletes moved slowly. I stood in the slowest moving check-in line for over an hour. I passed the time watching the sea roll in. The sight was spectacular. I also watched some anxious and nervous triathletes mindlessly rack their bikes and hand over their swim-to-bike and bike-to-run transition bags.  

 

We met back at the hotel room, headed out for dinner and sat beside a full table of German competitors who were full of beer and laughing. Thought of them more as futbol fans than triathletes.  And although I didn’t drink that night, had a premonition they would beat me. With dinner completed we returned to the hotel room. After watching some lame TV shows and reading a boring book, we played Scrabble, then I went to bed.

 

Every time I fell asleep, my body did the sleep jerk and woke me up. First a leg jerked, another time the arm, and even did a whole body jerk. Rested more than slept throughout the night. At 5:30am ate breakfast that included a Clif Bar and two bottles of vanilla Ensure, then laid back down until 6:30. Dressed and looked out the window at the darkness and overcast skies. Thought the race would be held under gray skies. Slipped out of the room and into the hallway to stretch. Then a cold front hit. Wind slammed into the glass window and door that led to the outside pool. Rain pounded on the glass with hostile intentions. I listened damn near heartbroken to the heavy deluge of rain on the hotel roof. Next came the flashes of lightening and rumbles of thunder.

 

Put on running tights and a warm-up top then slung the swim gear bag over my shoulder and rode the elevator down six floors to the hotel lobby. No one else was in the lobby. I slouched on the overstuffed couch near the oversized front window facing the street. Beyond the beach, the Mediterranean Sea was mostly dark with frosty white caps dancing herky-jerky on the choppy water. Sat quietly and watched the incoming tide of competitors and support crews flow east towards the transition pen to check on their bikes and transition bags. More triathletes came down to the lobby. Some by themselves, others with family and support crews. Some went outside and others stayed dry inside. No one knew whether the race schedule was as planned, changed, pending, or cancelled. Conceivably, anything was possible at this point.

 

After 30 minutes joined the triathlete tide to the transition tent. Tried to mentally walk through the race to keep engaged in the pending task near at hand and to stay optimistic of a good race. My mind wandered back to the previous sunny day with minimal winds. I was too optimistic and decided to clip in leather bike shoes on the bike pedals. Left the black leather bike saddle uncovered too. Both fully exposed overnight to the elements. Then 15 hours later, the elements unleashed buckets of rain. Just like the weather forecaster predicted. I now dreaded the thought of starting the bike leg with mushy feet and a wet ass from the rain soaked shoes and bike seat. The race held more torture than the full physical endurance an Ironman triathlon challenges all of its competitors. It can also punish the optimistic contestants that try to outsmart the weather.   

 

We sat in a huge change tent with our transition bags on hooks and the lights out. No electricity from the power lines or generators. Anxious competitors prepped and re-prepped for the race. They added things to their bags like a race belt with their number attached which were mandatory on bike and run legs. They took things out of their bags. Body markings were not needed for either race numbers or ages so most competitors put on their wetsuits, almost in a defiant taunting of the Spanish weather gods. “Rain, rain. Go away. Comeback again another day,” they mocked.

 

The transition tent was a mile from the start. We continued to stay in the tent. No lights. Lots of darkness. Lots of wind. Lots of rain. Lots of lightening. Lots of pent-up potential energy waiting to be released for an 8 to 17 hour triathlon. And worst of all, no information. Rainwater seeped in through holes in the tent roof while we waited for some info to go to the start. I got cold and grew impatient. I put on my wetsuit to mid-body to get warm. I walked back to the hotel lobby and sat watching competitors and support crew head towards the planned race start away from the transition tent.

 

After 15 minutes, put on the top half of my wetsuit in the hotel lobby. A spouse of another competitor with flawless, slender hands helped me with the wetsuit. She started pinching the neoprene together then pushing up my sleeves and torso of the wetsuit without asking. She knew exactly how to put on a wet suit. More with minimal pushes instead of hard tugs. That was a first. I was speechless. I didn't mind. I smiled. She smiled. With the wetsuit on, I thanked her, put on a rain soaked jacket over the neoprene, and walked/jogged to the start.

 

Finally it's light and a bit past 8am. The scheduled start was at 8:30am for male pros with women pros three minutes later. My wave, males age 50 and up, was to follow another three minutes later. We're told to go to the food tent, not eat the food, and wait for an announcement. It's still raining. It’s windier than when I walked down to the starting area. Competitors sat or stood in the over-sized tent. More out of fear of a race cancellation than fear of danger from the weather. The race director approached the microphone to tell us an announcement on the race would be given soon. He did this 3 or 4 times over a 15 minute span. Each time he talked with more excitement than before but no specifics. Each announcement was said in Spanish first followed by the English version. Lightning flashes and booms of thunder continued in the dark grey sky above us through each brief announcement.

 

Between announcements most of the competitors’ conversations were quiet. I easily heard over ten different languages spoken by people all around me. This was one experience I always looked forward to when racing in foreign countries.

 

At 8:45am with the storm starting to subside outside, an announcement was given in Spanish. A large portion of the crowd erupted in cheers and clapping and drowned out the thunder on the outside of the tent. I didn’t hear the English translation. None needed. The race was on. We're told the race starts at 9am, a full Ironman. The whole timetable was pushed out 30 minutes, including the end of race cut-off time.

 

All the triathletes filed out of the protective coverage of the giant tent to the weather outside for race prep. Chris stood just outside the tent. We exchanged thumbs up and I later finagled a kiss from her before entering the holding pen, our last stop before being released into the choppy waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

At 9:06am I took a couple of strides with 200 strangers and got knocked into the water to start swimming. It was rough. It was salty. It was race time. Over the next hour I passed a couple of pro females and a male pro. A few speedy quick age-groupers, first in green caps, then near the end swimmers in white caps swam by me. Meanwhile, somebody kept on hitting my feet with their hands on each stroke for 63 minutes.

 

The swim course lead us south 300 meters straight out into the Mediterranean Sea. We went around the first buoy with a right hand turn and swam west 800 meters. Beyond the breakers the water offered minimal rolling. The sea water in Calella was clearer than the milky blue waters of Nice, France 15 months earlier. The temp was great. Slightly chilled in a swimsuit when I swam two days earlier but comfortably cool during the race and riding high in a wetsuit. We took a left at the next turn buoy and swam another 100 meters out into the sea. We turned left again and headed east 2,350 meters (1 ½ miles) paralleling the beach. Along the way we swam through these currents of flotsam and jetsam dumped into the sea from the road, beaches, dump stations, and formerly dry stream beds became conduits for the rain runoff waters to flow straight into the sea instead of on the roads. Five or six quasi rip tides of junk sideswiped us as we swam parallel to the shoreline. Finally we turned left one final time and swam straight to the transition tent 300 meters away. We existed the water for what looked like a short jog into the transition area. However, the transition path was a 500 to 600 meter run around the edges of the fenced off transition area to get into the change tent. The run maze from beach to bench seemed like it had as many turns as the swim did.

 

Between the time I ran out of the Sea, around the repurposed soccer pitch of T1, and into the change tent the clouds started breaking up, the sunshine broke through and reflected off the Mediterranean Sea. The view was spectacular. The first leg of the race was completed. We were in Europe. Life was good.

 

I stepped into the brightly lit change tent were everyone inside moved about with a sense of urgency. Female volunteers pointed out where each racer’s specific transition bag hung. Racers quickly strode down the aisles, grabbed their bags, changed full naked in the common tent, crammed their spent swim wear in the bag that previously held all the bike gear, and took off for their bikes. Vastly different to the sloth-like movements of the triathletes less than two hours earlier when we waited impatiently in the leaky dark tent. Spain was different. Never saw this arrangement in any other country. At all other races the set-up was males only or females only or no nudity changing in a common area. Competitors got more help in pulling items out of bags and getting race used items back in bags than at all other races with separate change tents.

 

I chose to race without socks since my shoes were cleaned and drenched from being outside in the rain all night on the bike pedals. I ran out to my bike in bare feet and dry clothing. I lifted my bike off the rack, pushed it to the mount line, and took off pedaling. The course proved to be flat, fast, and frustrating.

 

The earlier rains came down so hard so fast that areas of the bike course were covered with debris, rocks, sticks, leaves, and what-not during the first lap until broken up and dispersed by over 4,000 bike wheels rolling over it. The bigger concern was getting a flat tire from the debris than crashing out from the puddles left behind by the rain.

 

Almost 10 miles into the race I reached behind my bike seat for fluids on the left side and came up empty. I jettisoned a bottle on a bump somewhere along the course. A “bottle bump”. I reached right to get my secondary nutrition bottle and instead felt my spare intertube. I looked down and pulled up on the bottle on the down tube. At the first aid station I replaced the bottle with Nutrisport, the sports drink provided to competitors during the race into a bottle holder. The 350 ml sized red plastic bottle went straight through the bottle holder and skidded along the road. I didn’t bottle bump it after all. The bottom support bracket of the bottle holder broke that held the bottle in place. I would be riding at half fluids for the rest of the bike leg.

 

I panic momentarily but recovered enough to grab a gel pack from a volunteer. I quickly decided to get more calories from gels since fluid opportunities would be limited. I stuck the gel in a back pocket of my bike jersey. Some of the sweet goo oozed on to my hand. The packet was already opened and its contents were being squeezed out up against my skin by the tightness of the tri top. After a few miles of riding my jersey became cemented to my back like a dried up sticky soda spill. With the morning sun heating up the course I found myself sweaty, sticky, and short of fluids. The ride turned out not only be long but unpleasant too.

 

Have you ever wondered why do energy drinks, bars and gels taste so good before and during a race? You think you can eat them all day to satisfy your thirst and energy needs almost forever but once the race is over, it’s like drinking beer the next morning with a hangover. You have absolutely no interest in any race related nutrition item. You would not mind if you never did chug, ingest, or squeeze another race snack in your lifetime. At least until enough time passed to sign up for another race and start pounding nutrition to keep the calories coming and the race buzz going.

We raced almost exclusively on roadway N-11, the main road closest to the Mediterranean Sea between Calella and Barcelona. The roads were in great condition, smooth and fast and the coursed accurately marked with highly visual mileage signage. All in kilometers though. We enjoyed superb weather conditions on the bike leg, sunny and bright. And for the entire ride we experienced strong and steady crosswinds coming off the Mediterranean Sea. The course was flat except a big hill at the western edge of Calella and at the town of Montgat located at the far western edge of the course.  

In Montgat we rode up this narrow street with multi-storied retail shops on either side. It resembled a man-made structural canyon lined with spectators on either side of its narrow street. The spectators cheered us on, clanked cowbells, and blew air horns. The noise echoed off the upper stories of the buildings. The whole ride time on this street was way cool. The vibe of spectators energized all competitors during both trips into the city canyon.  At the apex we did a 180 degree turn at a roundabout and came screaming downhill until pouring out of the man-made canyon and back onto roadway N-11 cycling east towards Calella for the next 25 miles or so.

The flat stretch between Calella and Montgat was interrupted only by roundabouts. These served as simply opportunities to stand up and stretch out the back, neck, and full set of leg muscles. The openness of a semicircles also provided an illusion of speed whether picking up the cadence or gliding through at an angle to rest for few seconds. Either way, I welcomed this unfamiliar rode design to an American racer.

Each loop or more like a long, straight out and back included the same short but steep climb at the lighthouse as we returned to Calella. The openness of the Calella setting didn’t allow for the reverb creation set-up Montgat presented yet the crowd support in Calella between the lighthouse and the transition area was awesome. Lots of spectators lined the roadway and shouted words of encouragement and blew horns as we rode by them. Once we crested the hill we came screaming into town and turned right at the first roundabout. That dumped us into a street that paralleled the coastline for a mile to the transition area. We did a full 180 degree turn past the transition area and repeated the same course for a second lap all the way to Montgat and back.   

Six shout out opportunities existed at the Calella junction over the course of the bike leg. During the next six hours of riding there never seemed to be a let up of noise or energy poured out to us by the crowd of spectators located at this key point of the bike leg. The English speaking Ironman race announcer, Paul Kaye, called out racers by name while urging spectators to cheer wildly. Paul is a native South African who also lived in Germany and Japan for a while. He was a great announcer and made all competitors confident for their race during the event and pre-race meetings. On the first lap of the bike I confess he gave outside assistance recognizing me for being one of the few Americans in the race.

While the special support helped, I didn’t train up properly for this triathlon of Ironman distance. Precisely at the halfway point of 56 miles (90 kilometers) on the bike, matched my two longest rides with in the last 12 months from the two Ironman 70.3 races earlier in the season. Longest training ride all year was 46 miles. Did two or three other training rides of similar distances in the 40+ miles range. This amount of riding mileage was too low for adequate full Ironman distance race preparation. While my legs were not fully wasted at this point, at the pace I was going and the frustration level of honoring the non-drafting race, the marathon distance run leg would be slow, painful, and long.

 

By the time the third lap on the bike started, the stream of competitors resembled a long, thin rolling snake almost 25 miles (40 kilometers) long. Every once in a while it showed bulges of draft packs that look more like a snake that swallowed a rat whole. This rolling bulge of bikes were illegal drafters not honoring race rules of no drafting.

Between the end-town points of Calella and Montgat lots of drafting occurred. One disappointment of the race included the blatant amount of drafting by hundreds of competitors. A guy in my age group went by me initially at the ten mile marker. In his blue kit he was easy to follow as he rode closely behind other competitors in their slipstreams. Couldn’t keep up with the initial pack. Didn’t want to hang with the violators. Watched for him coming out of turnaround points. Continued trailing him and lost time over the course of the bike leg. At the 90 mile mark saw him in the penalty area over-flowing with 30-40 or more cheaters in the holding pen. At the 95 mile marker the blue kit man went back by me plus what seemed like all the others cheaters previously in the penalty box. They quickly formed a peloton upon release, tighter than before to gain the time back they lost during their rest. Most of the officials rode by on their motor bikes spreading their arms apart, their signaling was the international sign language for IM racers to spread out the required spacing distance. The six minute penalty for drafting in Ironman was a fifth of the value gained by racers with faster times on the bike leg and without the greater effort and a more endurance on the run since less wear on their leg muscles.

Two big frustrations on the bike course were the magnitude of the drafting and lack of significant and consistent enforcement. The entire course was closed to motorized vehicles except the race officials on motorbikes patrolling the course. Unfortunately they didn’t understand how to effectively manage or enforce drafting violations or didn’t understand the race’s anti-drafting rules. Only one time did I see anyone pulled over for violations.

I violated a different rule during the race. On the ascent before returning to Calella a couple of kids on the right hand side of the road “collected” the red Nutrisport race water bottles as riders pitched them to the road. The kids were hoarding them. Racers made a calculated decision to toss their empties to the kids which were not at an aide station. Technically we were littering. We risked getting a 3-6 minute or a disqualification (DQ) penalty for littering but knowing the kids enjoyed their morning collecting hundreds of bottles and would continue to enjoy those bottles for days afterwards. We tossed them bottles anyway. The benefits of making kids happy were more than the risk of a DQ. Their parents might want to curse us for being enablers to their kids as they returned home with more bottles than the cupboard could hold or the kids could use in their lifetime. Though maybe the kids started hoarding the bottles to use when they grew up to compete in triathlons. Or even way into the future, after retirement, be used by them as healthy aged men riding on the latest models of a great European bike on N-11 road along the Mediterranean coastline.

Kept one bottle on the bike to take home after the race to feed my own little kid still lurking somewhere inside me. When I was a kid one of my favorite toys were superballs. Superman was one of our favorite action heroes. Today though, superbikes are now one of the adult triathlete’s favorite toys. And for many adult triathletes, a new favorite action hero is to become an Ironman. But in Barcelona I would settle for an Ironman race bottle and let others be their own hero.

 

Racked my bike and shuffled into the change room. Grabbed the run gear bag and swapped out sweaty cycling shorts and jersey for a fresh pair of jammers, tri top, and brand new pair of Ironman racing socks. Put on racing flats, sunglasses, and a hat then started the 42 kilometer/26.2 mile run to wrap up the race day. Both the bike and run courses provided great sight lines. With minimal turns and long straights the formation of competitors strung out in a long line. The conga line continued until well after midnight.

 

Only a full marathon run consisting of four laps was between me and the finish line. Felt good but tired for the run. Not hot. Still tired from the bike miles (or lack of bike training miles).  Saw Chris eight or nine times during the run leg. She stayed a mile up from the transition area near the small boardwalk on the beach. She cheered me on each time which was part of my motivation. After my last loop to the east, she walked down to the finish line for one last hurrah.

 

On the second lap at the 10 mile mark I walked. Steady as I ran. Steady as I walked. A spectator in front of a tall apartment building walked up to me. He matched my step. He spoke in English with a heavy Spanish accent said: “You run now…    Go!  … You run now.” I walked more, then started running again.

 

On the third lap I’m walking again in the same place in front of the high rise apartment building. He was still out there. Again he stepped up alongside me and told me the exact same thing: “You run now…    Go!  … You run now.”

 

Definitely remembered him. Doubt if he remembered me. He probably encouraged tens if not over a hundred other walking triathletes to start running on the marathon leg again. When coming by on the fourth and final time made sure I was running. Unfortunately he wasn’t there. But I honored his earlier encouragement, kept running in front of the high rise and continued non-stop to the finish line.

 

The third lap was mentally and physically the toughest for me. At an aid station in a park like setting behind the beach and in front of our hotel, I stopped to take on water and caffeinated cola. Took the drinks and stepped to the outside of the course. The cola was nasty but the water went down cold and clean. Bent over at the waist, rested my hands on the quads, head hung down and looked straight at the ground feeling sorry for myself. I was spent. A spectator walked up beside and mirrored my pose. She spoke in an accented, soft tone. Just above a whisper. She spoke confidently without hesitation. Without lecturing. She talked to me like I would talk to myself to get myself back on track to do something that meant so much to me. Something I was on the verge of giving up. Chucking the whole investment of pre-race training and walking away from the challenge at hand. I wanted to walk off the course and into my hotel room not more than 100 meters away from where I stood bent over. At that point of the race I wanted more to go for a soapy shower and a 10 hour sleep than run another hour for another Ironman finisher’s medal. Already had eight Ironman finishes, #9 was nothing special and I was already off the podium with no chance this year to qualify for a return trip to Kona. She knew differently though.

 

Somehow she knew how to get me to make the best decision, one not clouded by pain, despair, or poor judgement. She channeled my real personal thoughts back in her words of encouragement. She was inspiring in her messaging and delivery with words of action I would not regret if I stuck to them even when in pain. She simply talked me down off the ledge and prevented me from crossing the railroad tracks to walk into the lobby of the hotel. This is what Chicago area triathlete Chris Evans envisioned when preparing for those hardest, most pain filled moments of an Ironman race. He would have prepared himself to breakaway and move forward on his own. I was grateful that in Calella a Spanish spectator helped me out. With my mind back on the day’s objectives to finish Ironman Barcelona, I stated running and didn’t stop again until I crossed the finish line.

 

Spectators tended to gather at various places along the run course. Many of the younger kids stretched out their hands signaling the universal gesture for “give me 5!” At the finish line adults joined the act letting some of their own inner little kid out and enjoy the emotional celebration between spectators and racers.

 

The day started with dark skies and thunderstorms. By mid-morning we were under way with blue skies and sunshine. Darkness returned before I crossed the finish line under artificial lighting. I pulled, pushed, and strode over 140.6 miles along the Mediterranean Coast for 10 ½ hours. Racing in an Ironman Triathlon was what I did all day. My choice as a competitor.

 

I was so tired at the end of the race the whole day simply could have been a dream I was coming out of after another restless night. But two things confirmed my reality. One, I watched myself cross the finish line on a supersized, larger than life television screen typically in use at major sports stadiums and concert venues. And two, I heard international race announcer Paul Kaye give a shout out and say, “Doug Morris, YOU are an IRONMAN!”

 

After nine full Ironman Triathlons I finally realized nothing in the race is more painful than anticipation during the run up to the race. There’s the pain of getting race ready, the pain of solving problems and breaking through barriers that may occur during the race, and physical and mental pain of the race itself. The saving grace comes from the satisfaction of completing the race. The symbolic finisher’s medal relieves so much of everything afterwards.

 

The day after the race we drove up to an old fort in Tosses de Mar, 45 minute drive west on the coast. We toured the medieval town that still stands within it stone walls built sometime in the 14th century. Its location high above the Mediterranean Sea coastline. My quads ached on every step up and burned like sheer hell fire pain on every step down. What a difference a day makes in how your body feels. We took a detour inland when going back to Calella. We stopped at a scenic pullout to snap photos and take in the views. While there, four cyclists on a multi-day tour pulled in too. Three of the cyclists were Americans. A husband and wife couple, who graduate from my alma mater, Indiana University and now lived in Beverly Hills. The third American showed me his custom made 14 karat gold Ironman logo’d ring for his competition of a previous triathlon. No tattoos for him. The fourth cyclist was a Spaniard who served as official tour guide for the other three riders. He knew the language, best wines to drink, and best restaurants to eat at after a day of riding. Each of his quads were as thick as my chest though filled solid with muscle fiber instead of air. And his bike cost more than our vacation trip. He was a former pro tour rider including the Tour de France, turned high-end tourist guide. Maybe I could provide tour services for casual triathletes on their own personalized version of a Tri 50 States and Tri World Continent Journey. In 25 years, he will probably be riding on N-11 with a few other twice retired pros on their bikes taking in the sunshine of the Mediterranean coast.

 

The next morning we returned to Barcelona for a three day withdrawal and recovery sightseeing session. Barcelona was way cool. I learned driving around the city in an endless stream of rush hour traffic was not the best way to see the city. With the help of the “Hop-on Hop-off” services of a bright red double decker tour bus, we visited the Barcelona Cathedral, Montjuïc Castle, and saw more Gaudi grand scale architecture than we knew existed. We dined on great food. And we sat beside a rooftop swimming pool while doing drinks without doing laps. We enjoyed a wonderful vacation in Spain. And for the amount of training I put in for a full Ironman triathlon, I was surprisingly satisfied with the race results.

 

Flying half-way around the world or a race was a challenge but the uniqueness of the racing in far off places with different people, culture, food and challenges was way cool. Why do we question ourselves during a race as to why we’re doing it now? We swear to ourselves multiple times before the finish line, we will never, ever, enter another race. Yet by the time we receive our race results, we already mentally reviewed our performance. We identified multiple areas we could improve on. Then we start looking at maps and scanning websites for our next race. Our next destination. Our next milestone on the journey. We enter another vicious cycle of getting sucked into more training to feed our never ending addictions. We start fantasying out activities on our next epic adventure. I wonder what Norway is like?

 

Results: 615th overall. 7th in age group

Doug Morris

Coach of Exceptional Outcomes

Palm Trees Ahead, LLC

Tel: 1.630.457.7889

dougmorris@palmtreesahead.com

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