Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I can pass them while they're laughing.

The woman wrote numbers with a big black permanent marker on my legs and arms in the early morning mist along the Tennessee River. In the Rocketman triathlon, like all other triathlons, your entry number and age are written on half a dozen places on your body. I think it's as much to identify your body should you die on part of the course as much as to let them see who you are.

I guess I should explain why I like triathlons. I'm getting old - they girl wrote 44 on my leg in big black numbers. I protested, I'm 43 until November. She said something about your birthday nearest the race is the one they use for the race. Great, now I'm a year older. But, back to why I like triathlons. Basically, I'm fat, and old. I try to use triathlons as a goal to keep in shape. I like triathlons because I am a lousy runner but a good cyclist and swimmer. I'm not last as often in triathlons as I am in runs.

I had stayed up too late the night before listening to music at The Sports Page lounge. I'm sure staying up to 1:00 am listening to rock and roll is really not what the hard core triathletes are doing as part of their training plans. But hey, who am I kidding? The odds of me winning the triathlon, even in my age group, are about the odds of Sarah Jessica Parker calling me to ask me to dinner. Besides, even though it was 1:30 a.m. all I had to do was pack my stuff for the triathlon.

I had been researching a little about triathlons. One way you can save time in a triathlon is the transition. This is the time between the swim and ride or between the ride and the run. If you can cut this time down by packing your stuff correctly in a box, in my case an old milk crate, what you need is on the top and you don't spend any time scrambling for your shoes, or helmet, or whatever. By packing correctly, you save time and it doesn't matter how strong you are. This appealed to me, a faster time and I didn't have to worry about my strength, or the fact that I'm old and fat.

So, when I got back from listening to music, I got my milk crate and started packing. Helmet, check. Goggles, check. Running shoes, check. I checked out the bike, all my clothes were washed and ready, my milk crate was loaded into the car. The bike was in the bike rack. I was ready for the Rocketman. It was around 2:00 a.m.

Five hours later, I was getting into the car and heading out to Redstone Arsenal, where the Rocketman takes place. I checked through the gate and drove to the river. It was a beautiful morning. There was a mist across the river and the sun was that sweet golden light which only happens at sunrise. A perfect day for me and 499 friends to swim, bike and run.

I carried my milk crate to the transition area all proud of myself for being so organized. I might have even scoffed at others who were dragging all their gear in bags and dropping their shoes while pushing their bike. Amateurs, hah! Didn't they study up and do their research? I was ready, even if I was running on five hours of sleep.

I hung my bike on the rails that hold the 500 bikes. A pretty cool sight, all those bikes lined up. I put my box down and started laying things out for my efficient transition. Helmet, check. Goggles, check. Running shoes, check. Wait. Running shoes - two running shoes. But something was wrong. Why did I have one Nike shoe and one New Balance shoe? This didn't make sense. I didn't even know I still had New Balance shoes, anymore. Wait...is that...two left shoes?!

Here I am, minutes away from the start of the Rocketman triathlon with two left shoes. What to do? I could run in the shoes. No, the run is the last event and I am afraid my legs will be tired and I might trip with a left shoe on the right foot. I could borrow shoes. Really, how can you tell someone wears a 9 1/2 running shoe? Even if I found a pair, why would they give them to me? I could not run in my bike shoes, the clips on the bottom make them almost impossible to walk in, let alone run. All I have are my Teva sandals and a pair of Florida Gator socks.

So, after the swim and the ride, I'm running out of the transition area wearing Teva sandals and bright blue Gator socks. Before I get 200 yards the first of many people pass me. As they pass, I hear snickers and a little laugh from my competitors in their $200 running shoes. One woman runs beside me for a while. Finally, after a few minutes of our breathing keeping time, she asks "Why are you wearing sandals?" I tried to tell her the story between breaths. "Late night, packing in the dark, two left shoes...." This isn't going well, I can't run, breathe, and tell her about efficient planning, two left shoes, and my sandals. Finally, in gasping breath, I just tell her "I'm an idiot." This seems to satisfy her curiosity and she pulls away from the slap, slap, slap sound of my sandals.

There were other jeers and laughter from runners passing me. A lot of runners passed me, I'm a slow runner. It seemed to be a little bright spot in their run, this idiot running a triathlon in sandals. They are passing me gaining a place and they get to laugh at my sandals. In the end, I ran the 4.65 miles at a pace of 10:37/mile. Really, not all that bad for me. Maybe, for the next triathlon this Saturday, I'll leave the running shoes at home and just wear my sandals. I may not win the race, but if I can make some other triathletes laugh I can at least pass them while they're laughing.

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