This year I had three “A” races: The Niagara Half Marathon, Mussleman and the Wineglass Marathon. These were the centerpieces of my racing schedule, the events which would give shape to my training. These were the races I chose to focus on my performance, working to achieve a certain result based on time and pace and splits and all things involving math. The epic fail at the half marathon jolted me. Yes, I did well under the weather circumstances. Yes, I performed as best as I could. But part of me was still woefully disappointed.
It was time for a mental shift.
Enter Musselman, a 70.3 race (a.k.a “half Ironman.” Old school types still call these races a “tinman.” Ah, I love distances with multiple names!) This will be my fourth 70.3 and my second time at this race. I know this distance. I know this course. And yet, I feel … strange. My work with Coach Peter Pimm has been fantastic. Part of the coach-athlete relationship is trust and I know that he has me ready to be at my best on Sunday morning. I am getting to the starting line, which is not a fact to be taken lightly. And actually, I’m nervous that I’m not nervous enough. How freakin’ crazy is that?
Musselman is still my ‘A ‘triathlon race of the year. And while I have an ideal time in mind, it’s merely something for me to play with. Because my ‘A’ race now has plenty of other goals, ones which are much more fulfilling that merely hitting some arbitrary time on a clock.
Goal 1: Enjoy time with friends.
It starts on Saturday where I get to watch Mary complete her first sprint distance outdoor triathlon. As you may recall, I talked Mary into doing the Pittsford Triathlon last month, which featured a pool swim followed by an outdoor bike and run. But the mini-Musselman starts with an open water swim. This is the big deal. This is what she’s been training for. And I can not wait to see her face when she crosses the line.
Sunday’s race features a list of amazing friends. It starts with Tara, a fellow alum of St. Bonaventure and The Olean Times Herald. This will be her first 70.3 race. We’ve exchanged training calls and emails over the past few years and, more importantly, she’s willingly served as an outlet for me to talk out the big bag of crazy shit that likes to take up residence in my mind. Seriously, this girl is gonna kick my ass. And I look forward to it.
I also get to race with That Walker Girl again. Walker and I grew up together in good, old Lockport, and have known each other since kindergarten. You know those friends whom you can go years without much more than liking their Facebook status but once you’re together pick up like you were hanging out at the mall together last weekend? She’s one of them. And Walker gets extra bonus points for racing with me in Galveston, Texas last year. That’s the 70.3 race where I bashed my ankle the day before, watched it swell and turn pretty colors and swell and had a nervous breakdown. She will also kick my ass. And it will be totally fun to watch.
There are plenty of other peeps there this weekend. Theo, who was our support crew in Texas last year, will be racing his first 70.3. (He may not kick my ass, but he still will probably beat me.) Mark is making the trip with me as he is now expert with dealing my race day irrationality. John (of swim instruction fame last weekend) is hosting us on Seneca Lake with a few other triathletes, at least one of which is making his tri debut. And of course Mom and Dad are planning to be there. If you’re racing on Sunday, you will see my mom at the swim exit. She waits until every last swimmer is out of the water. I mean every last one. There is something really cool about that.
Indeed, there is something really cool about being around other people who understand what you’re doing. It’s not an individual effort for me. It’s a communal celebration. And this race, I’m going to totally embrace that aspect.
Goal No. 2: Say hi to the TRYBE
Last year, two guys from Pennsylvania launched their product, TRYChips at the Musselman packet pickup. I tried their dried fruit product and chatted with Jerry and Tim, the founders and owners of the upstart company. We connected afterward for an interview and some samples and quickly I became a fan, not just of their product but of their philosophy. (Disclaimer: I do write occasional profiles of every day athletes for their website. Check it.) They will be back this year to offer athletes a sample, a chance to buy and of course, race. Their company motto is “Waste Nothing. Try Everything.” Their focus is not on elite athletic performance but on engaging actively in life. Tim describes this on their website as such:
In general, people don’t want to TRY new things. We tend to shy away from new adventures, new opportunities, meeting new friends, visiting new places and trying new foods. At Try Chips we want to get out and TRY! We are willing to subject ourselves to failure, to be bad at something and TRY new things and let the world laugh with us. We don’t want to waste our short time on Earth. We want to TRY anything with no fear of failure.
All right. So maybe that personal record was not set at the Niagara Half Marathon. Maybe Seneca Lake will be too warm for a wetsuit. Maybe my swim will be slow and the heat and humidity will once again zap me on the run. But I will never know what I am capable of if I don’t try. Maybe it will be an amazing success. Maybe it will be an epic fail. Experience tells me it will be somewhere in between — an amazing adventure which lays the groundwork for possibility. For me, the race is never the end of the story. It’s like those old “choose your own adventure” books — I continuously get to remake my story. And if I don’t like one ending, I get to choose again.
Goal No. 3: Take the day as it comes
I have not obsessed about the weather this week. According the official Twitter feed of Mussleman, on Wednesday Seneca Lake was 69 degrees. If that’s accurate, the race should be wetsuit legal with no problem. The latest weather forecast (checked for the first time this week as I sit down to write this) has the high temperature of 88 degrees. Are you freaking serious? How can it be even hotter than it was last year? I was not made for such heat especially with the tortuous hills in the first half of the run course.
But here’s what I know: I can either try to fight against the conditions or I can work with them. I have experience now. That doesn’t always equate into needing faster times. Sometimes, it equates into being just a bit smarter and more understanding of how to roll with the day. And so, I prepare to give my best effort, taking whatever the day throws at me, enjoying the ass-kicking my friends will give me and celebrating the fact that I’m out on the course, living my most enjoyable life. For me at least, these are the goals which are most satisfying. This is what I’ve been preparing months for — to remember what it is I love about endurance sports in the first place.