Monday, April 11, 2011

Race Weekend Purgatory

And we’re waiting for Carlberg’s cake

at the deli counter in the Wichita Falls Super-Walmart

The leg I had shifted all my weight onto starts to tremble

And 40-weight tiredness drips down my body

The lady behind the counter bites her lip and

grips the tube of yellow sugary frosting

Her partner’s white hairnet cartoon cloud frames the disclaimer

“We ain’t no cake decorators”

A skittle smeared child rolls on the tiled floor nearby

Three times his haggard mama tells him to get up

The carmel colored floor looks like a good place for a nap

and my eyelids pause closed in the middle of a blink

I fantasize about a shower and wonder

Am I coated with sand?

Am I the only one who can smell

my salty funk of a hard day of racing?

Or does it radiate from my pits

and announce my presence

like an offensive cloud

of unbathed radioactivity?

Zane and I

Suspended in the purgatory

between today’s road race and time trial

and tomorrow’s crit

A pain sandwich with yellow frosting

Friday, April 1, 2011

Holy Toledo

Under severe discomfort the mind plays some odd games with itself. I was conscious of that fact as I approached the halfway point of the 40 mile bike portion of the Holy Toledo Triathlon last Sunday. The race was small enough to count the number of people ahead of me, giving me a chance to quantify how I was doing so far. But the voice in my head assumed the character of “Count von Count,” the muppet vampire from Sesame Street with the mania for counting everything. “One. One triathlete. Bah ha ha ha. Two. Two triathletes. Bah ha ha ha.” and so forth, until I determined I was in 11th place halfway through the bike. Bah ha ha ha. So like the soldier’s black humor, my technique for dealing with the pain and stress was to turn the event into absurd play, which is the only way to approach the Holy Toledo. Just check out the race website at if you don’t believe me.

The swim had been first. The water temp was judged to be 68, about 8 degrees warmer than the year before, but still cold enough to speed up my breathing so much that my normal bilateral breathing technique was tossed in favor of breathing every stroke on one side. The mile swim seemed to take forever, but I came out of the water only about a minute behind my brother Andy, and a couple of minutes ahead of my middle brother Ben, which was as well as I hoped for. I peeled out of my sleeveless wetsuit and got out on the bike.

Anyone who says all of Louisiana is flat hasn’t been to the Cypress Bend Park and resort next to Toledo Bend Lake near Many, Louisiana. The first and last 5 miles of the 40 mile bike course has several really tough hills. First, little short steep ones and then big long steep ones. My tri-bike has a 34 tooth small chainring on the front and a 23 tooth easiest gear on the back, and I needed every tooth of it to creep up the hills. On more than one occasion, I saw people getting off their bikes and pushing them up the worst of the hills. That’ll do a number on your average speed, huh? The intervening 30 miles of the bike course, though, is flat and wind-swept up to and back from Zwolle (rhymes with Tamale). I pushed pretty hard for the first ¾ of the bike leg, passed a few people, and then backed off the effort a little bit to get ready for the 10 mile “run”.

The 10 mile run starts out reasonably enough. You come up out of the lake area where the bikes are staged, do a loop of a gravel road and then run on pavement for less than a mile before a green arrow painted on the road directs you onto a narrow roller-coaster path of broken rocks and clay through a briar thicket that runs under a powerline. Most of the run’s trauma is inflicted on this path which comprises from about mile 2.75 to mile 8 (except for the paved hills up to the golf resort). This part of the run includes the aptly-named “pit of less joy” and the “pit of despair” and if you finish the run without bleeding anywhere you will be accused of being too careful. Being eaten by feral hogs is one of the run hazards enumerated in the pre-race brief, and the trail is so steep and the footing so tenuous that I was forced to walk a lot of it, even adopting the shameful “push down on your thighs with your hands” technique. I shouted and received encouragement from fellow death-marchers until I came out of the thicket and back onto pavement and eventually down the long hill back to the finish line. Finishers are awarded a dog-tag with SURVIVOR stamped on it, and that “medal” is as cherished as any trophy ever earned.

As has been my experience with most Louisiana triathlons, the vibe is fun, friendly and laid-back and the beer, cold drinks and abundant hot food comprise the race’s 4th event. Bobo, the diabolical race director, and Brad Coldwell, the swim coordinator, should be canonized in the Pantheon of Triathlon for putting together a race that gets back to the roots of the sport, when tough things were done (far from striped-shirted Barney Fife race officials, self-appointed governing bodies and glossy magazine coverage) just to see who could hang. The whole weekend was great. My Dad and brothers and I had a great time together, laughed a lot and enjoyed each other’s company.

And the Holy Toledo Tri is tremendous. Any triathlon where the post-race checklist includes being checked for ticks has to be classified as something special.