Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.
William Ellery Channing
William Ellery Channing
I sprinted into the lake and dove to start my race.
recap: I had been talking to my dad at the top of the boat ramp, 100 meters from the beach, when the gun went off. I hadn't heard any warnings or count downs and thought I had more time. As if being sick wasn't enough, I started my race late and in a panic.
I doubt you remember, but when I first started training for my first triathlon (a mere 6 weeks before PumpkinMan) I could barely swim 50 meters in the pool without wanting to die. Then my first 1/2 mile open water swim was less than pleasant. This would be my first full mile open water swim.
The cool lake water felt crisp and refreshing as I pulled and kicked my way around the course. My delayed start was somewhat advantageous; I was able to bypass the white-water frenzy of legs and arms that usually signifies the start of a triathlon and go straight to open water swimming. In retrospect, this delay actually allowed me to gain more speed, rhythm, and momentum than usual. I quickly caught up to the pack and was actually making good time. Once I got with the pack, I had to start dealing with being kicked. I took one particularly harsh kick to the hand but thought nothing of it.
If you've never swam with a cough, let me tell you what it's like. Generally, I had no real issues while swimming with my illness. However, sometimes a coughing fit would come on and it would happen while my face was buried in the lake. Honestly, I prefer lake-coughing. It somehow felt easier on my throat. So if you have a cough and are afraid to go swimming, don't be. Disclaimer: I'm not encouraging swimming while sick and do not claim any liability should the reader nearly drown after taking a dip during an asthma attack.
About halfway through the swim I started to notice a strange pain in my right ring finger. Every stroke was pretty painful and I couldn't figure out why. I sucked it up and kept swimming, eventually finishing the mile about 2 times faster than my first 1/2 mile swim! It's amazing what can change in just 6 weeks.
As my feet hit solid ground and I started removing my wetsuit, I looked down at my right ring finger and saw that it had swollen to about twice its normal size and was a beautiful purple color! I had broken my finger...swimming.
Then it was up the ramp, running on sharp gravel in bare feet, watching closely so I didn't pass my bike. I got to my transition area and hurried as fast as I could to make the switch to bike. My mangled finger wasn't making things easier, but I eventually grabbed my bike and ran it up the mounting area (in triathlon it is illegal to sit on your bike until you have completely exited the transition area, so you have to run it off the ramp).
I hopped on and it was time to ride! Even though my arms had been covered by my wetsuit, I hadn't forgotten Judd's name written on them. As I pedaled out onto the bike course I gathered a lot of strength by looking down at the inside of my forearms to see "JUDD KEMP" written in black ink.
The course was a tough one. It was very hilly and there were some crosswinds which are Satan's way of making triathlons even more miserable. In most triathlon races, it is illegal to draft (ride close behind another rider so they block the wind for you) so you have to either be passing someone or letting someone pass you. I was able to pass a large amount of racers on the bike and once I got up to some similar-skilled riders, we spent the majority of the course doing the dance of passing and being passed with each other. This lasted for a large part of the rollercoasteresque portion of the ride.
I eventually pulled ahead and was making decent time. There were times on the bike that I felt like coughing my lungs out, but I'd look down at the name on my arms, audibly yell "come on!" or "let's do this Judd!" and push forward. It sounds cheesy but I really felt like Judd was right there with me. We were enjoyed this beautiful race day together and he was giving me strength.
Eventually the course broke off the main road and onto a kind of parkway trail that led through the desert and away from the lake. It's during these moments that you look around you and see amazing views and think, "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now." A photographer caught me during that part of the race.
Another great feeling during this triathlon was when I'd pass guys on the bike who were riding $5,000 tri bikes with all the bells and whistles, aero helmet, and carbon wheel sets. I bought my roadie on ksl.com for $400. As I'd pass them on a hill or on the flats it would put a big smile on my face. When it comes down to it, the most important machine is the human body. It's the same with guitar, having a $3,000 Taylor doesn't make you a better guitarist. Granted, those tri bikes are fast and definitely necessary if you really want to fly and win the race, but my humble Specialized Allez, dubbed Samson was doing great.
After about 26 miles in the saddle, I was rolling by the park where T2 was. I jumped off my bike and ran to put on my running stuff.
It was here that I heard my dad's "go Ryyyyy!" that is my second wind. I took off ton the 10k run, hoping to finish strong for Judd. At about the 1/2 mile mark I already started to get shin splints. I took a quick second and massaged my legs a little bit before starting to run again. I thought, "come on Judd, we can do this." One of my heroes, four-time Ironman World Champion Chris "MACCA" McCormack coined the motto, "embrace the suck." I decided it was time to embrace the suck and push through my aching shins. After another 1/2 mile or so the pain went away! I was feeling good and picked up the pace.
One of my favorite things about triathlon is the general atmosphere among racers. I've never competed in a sport where there is so much support and positive attitude towards your opponents. Everyone's cheering each other on, shouting words of encouragement, giving high fives, it's just really positive. I love it. During the run I unintentionally gained a running buddy. We ran shoulder to shoulder for about 3 or 4 miles. I learned that he had competed in a few Ironman distance races and was about to do Ironman Tempe Arizona in a month. It was great getting to know him while challenging each other with our pace.
I try to make it a point at races to thank the volunteers along the way. There are so many people who volunteer and pass out water, organize traffic cones, help with registration, etc. It's important to keep thanking them for their hard work and willingness to be there. It adds to the good vibes and that positive attitude helps immensely in your performance.
One thing about competing in a three sport event is that the weather is gorgeous and perfect in the morning for the swim, and then gradually heats up as the day goes on. By the time you're running, it can be pretty toasty. Being in Vegas, the air jumped up to 88 degrees while I was on the run portion. I could feel it.
I drenched my hat in cold water at the water stations and tried to keep a steady cadence. Towards the turn around point it felt like we were running on Mars. It was desert in every direction, the sun was merciless, and you could almost float on the heat rising off the asphalt. For the last few miles I broke away from my new-found friend and worked my way back up the long hill we had come down on the first half.
After reaching the top of the hill I knew I was only about 2 miles away from the finish line. I was exhausted but kept talking to myself and Judd. Some of the team members from the University of Arizona's team were on the sidelines shouting their school's fight song and cheering on everyone that passed. They made me feel like a rockstar when I ran by and it really helped me push harder for those last miles. I finally came around the corner, with about 3/4 mile left, and decided to sprint.
The sound of cowbells and crowds cheering never sounded so sweet. I sprinted uphill to the finish area and gave my all to explode through the finish line. I was greeted by some of my team members who had done the Sprint distance and we all enjoyed some bananas and gatorade together.
It was a hot but beautiful day. I grabbed my free lunch and ate with my teammates on the BYU team. We all shared our war stories and enjoyed some shade and grass. Another perk is the free massage. When it was my turn, I was greeted by a tattooed man with a beard and red bandana around his head. I was just grateful because I knew he wasn't going to be soft. I wanted a recovery massage, not a swedish oil rub. Needless to say, it felt great.
I felt very accomplished after this race. It wasn't my fastest time, but there was something special about it. I had a lot of reasons to quit and not compete in this race, but I'm so glad I did it. It just further confirms the fact that you never regret going the extra mile in something. You never regret trying to do something despite the odds. And most importantly, there was something about not racing for myself, but for someone else, that made this race possible for me. I'm grateful I could dedicate this race to Judd Kemp, one of my heroes, and an amazing man. Because of him, I felt great all day. My sickness was not debilitating, and I was carried by his memory and inspiration.
Thank you Judd.
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