Saturday, October 15, 2005

Napa Vintage Half-Iron Triathlon
What next? That's what I'm wondering now. One thing is certain: No more triathlons this year. Last Sunday's half-iron swim-bike-run gaggle up at Lake Berryessa marked the end of the season. ("Season." That's far too grandiose a term to describe my periodic exertions, but anyway it's over.) It ended well. The sun shone; the field was small and friendly; I didn't fall or flat; I didn't barf; and I started what I finished.

Took me six hours and fifteen minutes, which is more than half an hour longer than my best half. But it was a tougher course than Vineman. Part of the swim went right into the damn sun and most of the time I was either off-course or stopping to see if I was off-course yet. And then I turned at a buoy when I was supposed to go straight and one of the kayak dudes had to redirect me. That cost me a minute and some pride.

Nevertheless, when I did know my way my swim was steady and relatively strong. I climbed out of the water onto the concrete boat ramp at Putah Creek Resort about 39 minutes after the starting horn blared.

The bike ride was beautiful, through the rolling hills that divide our mild, Mediterranean inland valley from the Big Valley, with its wicked hot summers and cold fog-bound winters. The terrain was brown and the grasses and the trees seemed crisp and just about ready for the rainy season to begin. Aromas of sage, fennel, hay and other plants were carried by the breeze, which blew from the northwest at first then turned a bit and came warmer from the northeast. We never quite had the wind at our backs, nor did it ever feel like we had to fight it. But there were always hills and twists and turns. It was a ride where developing a rhythm wasn't easy. And, too, with only 88 athletes going (and a healthy number dropping out along the way), it was lonely out there. There were stretches of 10, 15 miles where I didn't see a single rider. This made it a challenge not to take it easy on the ride, which was fine. From the start of the day my body had felt a little off, my throat a bit scratchy and my sinuses congested. I mostly convinced myself that it would be dangerous to dip deep into the energy pool -- everything I had would probably be necessary just to finish. So I didn't hammer any climbs and I coasted the declines. Once or twice I scolded myself for being such a weenie, but then I told myself that maybe this year, maybe this October, maybe this day, just being out there was proving enough to myself.

Anyway, the suffering would come. What was it about that run? Well, I was on the asphalt between 1 and 3 p.m. and the temperature was 85 degrees and there was no shade, so that wasn't ideal. They had us go about 2.2 miles out and 2.2 miles back, once, twice, three times. Each time out, there was about 200 feet of vertical ascent and 100 feet of vertical descent. And of course the reverse coming back. The big climbs came on long, gentle curves, giving you a long opportunities to contemplate the hard work ahead.

The mind games this setup engendered were interesting and intense. On the plus side, it was easy to measure my progress. At each turnaround I could do a simple calculation: One-sixth done. One-third. Halfway. Etc. But I found this focus on where I was -- on, When will this agony be over? -- to be tiring and distracting. I felt disconnected from my actual performance, clueless as to how hard (or not) I was going. My first out-and-back split was around 36 minutes -- well under nine minutes a mile. Then came splits of 42 and 46 minutes. Who knew? All I knew, constantly, was where I was on the course and what that meant I had done and had left to do.

When I headed toward the start/finish for the last time the guy at the turnaround said, "How many is that?" "That's it," I said. "I'm done." The PA guy overheard me and said, "That's Pete Danko from Napa. Stick a fork in him, he's done."

I picked up my medal and a bottle of water and headed down the ramp into the water -- 66 degrees, they said. That was a good ten minutes. Then, as I gathered my gear and took it to the car, the PA guy reminded us about the "great beef enchilada dinner" that was waiting for us. The mere thought had my stomach doing flips, so I picked up my T-shirt and began the hour and a quarter drive home. After about 15 minutes, my body was screaming for calories. I pulled over at a little grocery and got a ginger ale. Sipping it felt like I had been hooked into an IV; my muscles and stomach relaxed, and the fuzziness in my head began to clear.

The morning after, on Monday, I woke up with a full-fledged cold, concentrated in the sinuses. So: That was a triathlon done at less than 100 percent. OK. That explains some things.

Now I'm feeling significantly better. I did two very light swims during the week and am contemplating an easy, not-long run this morning.

Here's what I'm thinking for the next few months: Run, run, run. Long slow runs. Low intensity! And maybe -- if I can swing it with the work and family schedule -- do the Death Valley Borax Marathon on December 3. I love triathlon, but sometimes the effort and complexity of putting together the three disciplines can feel like too great a burden. Plus, the races are becoming outrageously expensive. I was going to do an Olympic distance tri in November, but it was $125 for early registration, and $140 for regular registration. Meanwhile, I can do a marathon in one of the more amazing spots in the world for less than half that.

The numbers:
Swim: 39:29
T1: 4:43.2
Bike: 3:23:17.1
T2: 2:40.4
Run: 2:05:17.4
Total: 6:15:28.3
17th out of 34 male finishers