A couple days before a recent Xterra off road triathlon, I had posted a Facebook status about perhaps having the wrong tool for the job. I was questioning my decision to bring my single speed mountain bike to a race of which I had no knowledge. Would a bike with only one gear be the right tool for the job? As the race got closer, the anxiety over my decision rose. Little did I know that bike choice would turn out to be the least of my worries.
As I pulled into the race venue I stepped our of my wife’s car just in time to hear an announcement over the loudspeaker. “Attention racers! Wetsuits will NOT be allowed in today’s swim leg.” WHAT? I’m a terrible swimmer and the wetsuit provides me extra flotation and some stream lining to greatly enhance my abilities. Being on the scrawny side, I have a tendency to sink, not float if I’m not moving in the water. The wetsuit kind of provides me a mental life preserver, cause you can’t sink while wearing one. I never swam a ½ mile in open water without one. Oh and I’m afraid of water. Needless to say my nerves were jumping out of my skin.
The race starts with the blast of the gun. I’m in and swimming across West Branch Reservoir with a hundred or so of my fellow racers. Much to my surprise, the swim went well. I never felt like I was going to die (like usual) and actually maintained a respectable pace. I came out of the water and ran the ¼ mile to the transition area, imagining how I was going to reel in all those bastards that swim well once I got them into my preferred element…dirt, rocks and woods. I’m pumped and ready to get cracking.
I tear into the transition, find my spot, throw on my helmet and riding glasses and reach for my shoes. Then it hits me. I’ve got the wrong DAMN shoes. In the rush to pack the day before, I packed my road shoes, not my mountain bike shoes. If you are reading this and don’t know, bike racing shoes have a special cleat that actually hooks into the peddle to allow you to both pull up on the pedals as well as push down and also keep your foot planted firmly on the peddle so it can’t slip off. Typically the cleats and pedals for road and mountain bikes are not compatible. This is the case with my setup. My race is over. I start to think how to find the race director to tell him I’m done and not in the bottom of the lake. I’m in a daze wondering around the transition kicked myself for bringing the wrong shoes. And it hits me. My shoes are in my truck. I run my bike to the edge of the transition hop the fence and run a couple hundred yards towards my truck. CRAP! I don’t have my truck with extra gear; I have my wife’s car. No extra bike gear, but some nice sweaters if I should catch a chill. Unbelievably, in my oxygen-depleted state of panic, I forgot what vehicle I was driving. Race over.
Dejected and pretty pissed, I shuffle back towards the transition, trying to find a puppy to kick. I step back over the fence and catch my foot on the top and topple to the ground in front of all the friends and fans watching. As I hit the ground, my head snaps from dismay to WTF. Can’t get worse right? I will not be denied. I will finish. I run back and grab my running shoes and slap ‘em on. I sprint back to my bike and hop on. Off I go. By this time, just about the entire field has gotten ahead of me on the bike. Into the woods I go and even in running shoes I’m picking people off quickly. The course has very little elevation change and the single speed was a fine choice. Unfortunately this trail network must get a lot of use and there are lots of very rooted up sections where tree roots are exposed and slippery. Without being clipped in, I can keep my feet on the peddles for a couple roots in a row but a long series inevitably knocks my feet forward and off the peddle forceing the crank arm to wrap around and smack me in the back of the calf. As I work thru the field, I’m feeling pretty good. All the time thinking how fun this would be with the right shoes. As I finish the bike leg, I’m feeling pretty good having made up a lot of time on most of the field. I’m way too far back to have an impact on the race results, but feeling pretty strong.
I’m into the transition for the second and last time. My “strategy pays off” I have the fastest T2 time in the race! Of course not having to change shoes really helps the transition times. The 10 seconds I save here probably won’t make up the 10 minutes lost in my debacle. Onto the run. It’s a nice wooded trail run. Rocky and rooty with lots of short steep ups and downs. I’m catching and passing some runners and feeling pretty good. I’m flowing along pretty well till the tri gods decide that I still need to pay my penance for some unknown sin. I hit I the top of a little crest and accelerate to take advantage of a little gravity. I’m cruising along down hill when WHAM! My toe catches an unseen root and I’m super-manning across the trail. Full on head first slide, just like stealing third base. I hit with enough impact to actually take some skin off of my armpits. Before I can get up I find my self-laughing. Yes actually laughing out loud. Today is not about finishing high, but rather finishing and enjoying the effort. The last couple miles will be the best of the day.