I realized later in the day that it was almost three years to the day that I last won my age group in a triathlon. Three years ago, I thought I was perhaps in the best shape of my life. I had just had a great race at the Rev3 Poconos Olympic distance. The plan was to step up and absolutely crush a 70.3 the next year before taking on the full Ironman after that. I had no idea that I would actually end up in the hospital instead with a tumor, a chronic disease, and the mandate to not do much of anything for six months.
It was a long and winding road back (hello, arthritis), but last weekend I finally felt like the old 2015 version of me as all the preparation came together in a great race and I once again climbed up on the top step. I have no plans to do a half or full iron anymore, that shipped sailed with the cartilage in my knee, but it felt really good crossing that finish line knowing I put everything I had into the race.
But let’s back up and start at the beginning.
You can only do the race on race day. Trying to make that my older and wiser mantra. There’s no use wasting energy in stressing about the weather, or the course, or if your child comes down with a stomach bug the day before that has her throwing up and moaning on the couch. You race or you don’t. The alarm went off at 4:30. I got up, it was race day.
It had been over a year since my last triathlon and I was nervous. I was nervous for the packing. I had forgotten just how much logistics and checklists are involved the day before a triathlon. Sometime mid-morning I felt a fluttering panic in my stomach and was sure that I was missing something major, something critical from the list. I had a crystal clear vision of showing up on race morning without my bike or my pants. Something that would be embarrassing and force me out of the race.
Turns out a few deep breaths and some double checking and then triple checking my race day list was all I needed. I drove the hour south to Wareham, just before the bridges to the Cape, still somewhat convinced that I had forgotten something, but I showed up at the race venue, unpacked my gear and found that it was all there. I was ready. It was time to race.
One silver lining to being limited to shorter distances is that you can race more. You might find yourself racing four times in five weeks. I love racing. I love the nerves and possibility of the start line. I love suffering and pushing myself, at least after the fact.
But even I’ll admit that four in five weeks might be a bit much. And I have two more weeks coming up of races. I’m going to need a break before I get injured or burn out. But back to last weekend. This one wasn’t my fault. Really. I hadn’t scheduled this one on the calendar. A friend who is not quite as obsessed with running and racing as I am suggested we try this race and, to support him, I agreed. Turns out the Trillium 5k is pretty popular and parking is pretty limited at the brewery so entry is a lottery system. You know the end of this story. I was selected. He was not. Therefor, four races in five weeks.
By the fourth mile I was cursing the bride and groom. Turns out when you are a master’s runner, it’s not a great idea to prep for a race by staying up to the small hours of the morning drinking, dancing and eating way too many shrimp appetizers. At my age, I need a week to recover from such debauchery, so running a 5.6 mile trail race a mere two days later was tough.
The series started in 2015 and it’s been my white whale. Each year, circumstances (it is a holiday weekend), injuries, freak diseases or weather (one year was absolutely torrential rains) has kept me from racing. So, given that history, I wasn’t about to let a lingering hangover keep me from racing on Monday.
As I milled about the starting line to this year’s HMEA 5k, I tried to pick him out of the crowd. The problem with having a teenage running nemesis is that they sometimes change so much and so fast that is is hard to recognize them from year-to-year.
Other than the James Joyce 10k in Dedham, this 5k in mid-May may be the race that I’ve ran the most times over the years. It’s my wife’s company fundraiser and along with raising money for a great cause, it also offers a great after party with a free BBQ and lots of family-friendly events. The kids are more than happy to go, collect tchotchkes and eat cotton candy.
One of my favorite things about where we live is the abundance of preservation land and trails. You almost have to try not to run on trails in our neighborhood.It’s given me a keen appreciation of the benefits (and ankle twisting dangers!) of adding trails into my running routine.
So while I have been slowly exploring the local trails and adding more off-road miles to my training plan, I had yet to run an actual trail race. This past weekend, I changed all that. With a new 5k trail race just a few minutes from the house, how could I not sign up?