Monday, June 30, 2014

Winding the Clock

Guelph Lake Olympic Distance Triathlon

While I was trotting steadily along the path under the warm solstice sun during the run portion of the Guelph Lake Triathlon last weekend, it came to me that one of the things I enjoy most about triathlon is the continuity of effort that it both provides and demands.  Unlike the sports of swimming, biking, or running by themselves, in triathlon there is no real finish line for the first two events. Unless you are part of a relay team (which sort of defeats the purpose of entering a triathlon in the first place, doesn’t it?), you can’t sit down and rest after the swim or the bike; there is more to be done. The end of the swim is the start of the bike; the end of the bike is the start of the run.
After each event, a clock somewhere is reset to zero. I love the contiguous challenges of the three disciplines, whether they stretch over a couple of hours in a Sprint distance race, or fifteen in an Ironman.
At Guelph Lake this year, the first day of summer lived up to its name, with blue skies, warm temperatures, and light breezes. When the gun went off, I splashed into the water with the last wave of racers and quickly got left behind even by them. The effort of the continuous stroking over the 1500 metres felt familiar and relaxed. Of course I wasn’t working hard enough, but I knew I was working. I trotted up the long hill to transition leaving only a few folks in the water behind me.

Although it’s still early in the season for me, I got on my bike and started pedalling as if I had been doing it all winter—which I had… but mostly on my indoor trainer. It’s funny how I still think of my P2 as a newish bike even though I have had it for six years. The bike and I have been through a lot together: many slogs up Richter Pass at Ironman Canada; a hot, dusty century in Death Valley (before I had my road bike); humidity-drenched rides in the Florida 70.3; a clavicle-snapping crash in Muskoka; and countless rides in all weathers through Algonquin Park. The bike and I fit each other so well that I sometimes feel I could fall asleep in the aerobars during a long ride.

The Guelph Lake bike course slipped quickly past farm fields and cow pastures. There aren’t many thigh-burning hills, and the road surfaces are worn but navigable. My legs just kept pushing the pedals, the big wheels kept on turning , and, as often happens with an Olympic bike distance, the ride was over before I had truly settled in.
I don’t know why it had not occurred to me that it might be hot on the run. I suppose I thought that since it was a short race, the air would still be morning-cool before the run was over. It wasn’t. I felt very little breeze or shade along the paths through the park that made up the run course. In some places the heat rising from the grown-over roadways reminded me of the tarring scene in Cool Hand Luke. Except for the noisy enthusiasm of the aid station volunteers, it was warmly quiet and peaceful as I ran along with a slow and easy pace. I was so immersed in the constant rhythm of my footsteps that I barely looked up when I crossed the finish line.

Still, there's no stopping. The end of the race is not really an end, but the beginning of other things: you have to pack up your stuff, drive home, and then start planning for the next race: swimming, biking, and running. A triathlete’s summer is a continuum of activity.
Set the clock back to zero.
Do it all again next time.

There is an ongoing forward motion to the best parts of our lives, where one step leads to the next and one road gives onto the next. The end of a thing is always the beginning of another; this is how we make sense of our existence, and how we maintain hope.
E.B. White once wrote about the ritual act of winding up the grandfather clock each Sunday, to give structure and continuity to the week ahead. I metaphorically wind up the clock after each athletic challenge in the wishful hope that there will be another one ahead for it to measure, and that I will be ready to meet it.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I Love the Smell of Neoprene in the Morning

“My motto is: live every day to the moderation"
Lindsay Lohan

This summer, in terms of endurance athletics, I have set my sights a bit lower than in previous years. For “lower” I am thinking “fun.” I’ve entered the Guelph Lakes Olympic distance triathlon, a race that I haven’t done since 2001. When I was looking at the results, I couldn’t help noticing that the guys last year in the Men 60-65 age group were all faster than I was thirteen years ago, when I was in the 45-49 group. So with little to lose and nowhere to go but up, what else could it be but fun?
The last Olympic race I did was the now-gone Muskoka 5150. I remember the 40K bike as nothing but enjoyment; long enough to get your legs warmed up but not so long that you start to hate your saddle. The distances are so reasonable—1500 metre swim, 40K bike and 10K run—that it’s almost impossible not to have a good time on some level.

I have a good history with the Guelph Lakes triathlon.
I wore my first wetsuit there, back in the last century. It was a used Quntana Roo with a broad silver front that made me look like a metallized, bowling-pin-shaped penguin. I was so proud of it, I wore it till it fell apart—which it inconveniently did several years later just ten seconds before the gun went off at the Peterborough Half Iron race. I remember standing on the beach and taking a deep relaxing pre-race breath, and feeling all the neoprene along my ribcage come apart along the seam.
The Old QR - more water in than out
There wasn’t time to do anything about it—not even to strip it off and go without—so I swam the whole 2000 metres scooping in lake water like a bomber off to a forest fire as the rubber flapped and dragged around me. As it happened, it was one of my fastest swim times ever at Peterborough.

Wetsuits are amazing things. They actually make me think I can go faster, the way that tying a red towel around my neck as a kid made me think I could fly like Superman. A myth. It’s true that they add buoyancy and help me keep swimming flat, but for me this probably knocks about 15 seconds off my total swim time. They also help keep me warm in cold water. I will test this out at the cottage next week, where I believe the ice has been off the lake for about 4 days.
This year I am hoping I can fit into mine, as I am still carrying some of the blubber I put on during our long, long winter. The blubber may assist the wetsuit in keeping me afloat, and in keeping me warm, provided no seams burst. I do not plan a fast swim at Guelph Lakes, or ever.

I like the swim part of a triathlon. It’s a nice private, muffled, green time, where there is nothing to look at and where I don’t have to listen to the hectoring voice of the announcer or the raucous finish line music coming through the loudspeakers. I am lazy swimmer, and I take my time. (I was once passed by a fellow doing the backstroke.) I know that when I get out, I have to get on my bike and face whatever elements are waiting for me in the world. My time in the water is amniotic.

The Fly goes for a swim
Back at my last Guelph Lakes I wore a mask made by AquaSphere that covered most of the top half of my face and gave me a panoramic view of—nothing, actually. It was very comfortable, but some more aggressive swimmers probably felt the drag slowed them down, so the design gradually morphed into a more compact version, which I now wear. I have not noticed a marked improvement in my speed, but I look less like I belong in a Cronenberg movie.

Even though I am shamefully undertrained, I am really looking forward to upcoming race. I need to push myself, physically, in a way that is not as labour intensive as I have in past years. Guelph Lakes is it.