Updated: Mar 25
I hadn't been in an official competitive triathlon since 2018. That was when I spontaneously banged out those three consecutive weekends of races at the end of the summer.
It was a long grind to get down here to Florida to start racing this winter, but the time was finally here. I've been doing last minute registrations because I for my initial races because I didn't know when I would actually end up arriving, and I don't want to be throwing away all the money on entry fees. That adds up fast. Triathlons are expensive.
Before race time...
I wrote a post before race time after I racked my bike and got my timing chip. I said something along the lines of how I forgot how much of an outcast I feel in triathlons. I show up in Grateful Dead shirts. (...and Grateful Dead stickers on my bike.) My shorts are usually ripped and stained from bush living in the mountains...this time being my fleece shorts I sleep in. I have nothing to do with spandex...ever! (I actually hate that stuff.) I don't do heart monitors or all those stinky lotions, and perhaps most noticeably, I race in flip flops, not fancy running shoes. I feel like an outcast in a world that I don't belong.
I've never cared what other people think, and I do what I wanna do.
A lot had changed for me though when my hometown race in Nelson, BC, Canada, wouldn't let me race because I wasn't fast enough for them anymore. That was in 2012...after I had raced there seven times from 2003 to 2009, in which time I had won their survivor award in 2005 after an epically insane race I did, and had even donated awards. They even had the word, "Fun," in the title of their name...literally! They killed the spirit of triathlon for me! I've never looked at it the same since.
I'll come back to that later on as it plays a part in this race I did here in Ft. Lauderdale.
**A little preface to it all: We spent the night at a rest area about 25 minutes away. While we were there, we were able to help some folks out, so that was pretty good.
It was a nice location for the race, right on the ocean. After I racked my bike and got my timing chip, I went back to my van to get organized with the rest of my gear, and to hang out with my Fennario. (I don't like being away from her...ever!) Luckily we were the closest parking spot to the transition area, which was by fluke, so that made it easier. I just looked for the most shaded parking spot for the position of the sun, and found the best one, although I had to pay some righteous bucks for it.
Before I left the transition area to go back to our van, I found out that the swim had been cancelled because the ocean was too rough to safely keep track of all the swimmers, so that meant we were doing a duathlon rather than a triathlon. (run-bike-run vs swim-bike-run) Typically I always want to do triathlons because swimming is the best part by far (Contrary to all the race directors who say it is the bane of the triathlete's existence.), but I really didn't care one way or the other. That attitude came into play later on as well. Because I am setting out to race every possible weekend until 2030 (or bust), things like that are meaningless to me.
Back into the thought of me feeling out of place in triathlon is partly because of how I go at the sport itself, but also partly because of a bigger notion that there is no place for someone like me in sport in general. The best way to explain that is through the Olympics.
I do find it silly that there are three different kinds of Olympics (Regular, Paralympic, Special Olympics), when it should just be one three week event with all the different categories...equal play for everyone. True equality. Even within all of that, there is no place for someone like me. I don't fit into any of those categories. I'm a truly unique person and I just have to make up my own challenges...which I have actually become pretty epic at.
This whole thing of doing triathlons every possible weekend until 2030 falls into that, because although I am doing officially sanctioned races, I'll be doing so many of them that blunders and changes here and there just don't matter because none of them take away from what I am trying to do.
To catch up those who don't know, last August, the most pivotal person to my life, who changed my entire existence, passed away. Her illness took a really bad turn last year, and I was heading back to Ontario (from British Columbia) to help her, but she died before I was able to get there. The regret of my life came out of that because I was keeping it a surprise from her, and now I am weeks too late for the rest of my life. I carry that with me every day like an unmovable, unbearable weight, even despite knowing how much she would tell me to stop being a fool. I don't care though. She was everything to me, and in a simple metaphor, I see it simply along the lines of the old 70's Kung Fu movies, where the student will do anything to honour their Sifu (Master-Teacher). She literally changed everything about me, my entire existence was different after her, and this is the way I have to do this...to honour her. Michelle Ana Fabian had a nine year old daughter when she passed away, so I am going to race every possible weekend I can until her daughter turns 18. That's a long time, with a lotta racing, and who knows what can happen in that time, whether with my body, or any other number of things, but I'm goin' for it as hard as I can with everything I got. I'm already exhausted, but I always am, so whatever...
August 2015 - The last time I saw Michelle when I showed up to her door unannounced, and we went on a mission to find maple butter for my friends who were watching Fennario back home in British Columbia...
Needless to say, Michelle was plastered in my mind from start to finish in this race along the ocean.
With the swim scratched, it was a simple little 1km first run leg for the course. There were several categories between triathlon, duathlon, age groups, teams, etc. There were a lotta waves to get through, and each one started in the time trial setting...as in, one at a time, and your timing began when you crossed the mat. This was outside of the norm from any other races I have typically done. I'm used to the mass start where it is a chaotic free for all.
Being in the 45-49 age group, I was one of the last waves, so there was a lotta standing around and waiting to get out on the course. In that time, I chose to watch the sun hovering over the ocean with the wind blowing through the palm trees. The other notable thing I took giggly pleasure in looking at, was everyone's shoes, and how it seemed that for sure, as usual, I was the only one about to race in flip flops.
"Sweeeeet. Rollin' unique, just the way I like."
I actually like being that guy.
All three legs of the race, run-bike-run, were out-and-back's. The first leg of the run went south along the beach, and the other two went north along the beach.
Yaaaay for the beach!
If you need a set-up to my pain I run through, click here.
It took only a couple hundred metres for my chest to start hurting with that familiar feeling like I was gonna have a heart attack. (Don't worry, that's not a real thing, that's just how I call the pain that crushes down on my chest.) The part that I can't stand came moments after that crushing chest pain, which is where my arms go this weird kind of numb. I absolutely hate that. There is this numbness, but it is a very painful numbness that doesn't seem to make any sense to me.
As much as I hate that, it just releases what I really love about triathlon...
You see, it isn't the actual racing that I love about it all. I still don't feel the same about the sport for myself since my home race in Nelson stole my love of it, but I have kind of transcended that in a different way of sorts. It also definitely isn't about the competitiveness, as that doesn't apply to me.
The thing I love the most, not just about triathlon, but all of these self made challenges I throw myself into, is the mental battle within me that I get thrust into against my pain.
For those who don't know me, stickin' it to the man is one of my all time favourite things. I came down with a case of stick-it-to-the-man-itis when I was a kid, and it has only gotten worse from there.
I absolutely love the opportunity and challenge of stickin' it to my pain that tries to destroy my body, mind and life. There's not much I love better than that. You see, I don't see my pain as the same as me and who I am. My pain is separate from me, but lives inside my body, trying to sabotage everything about my life. I get off on rising above it. The worse it hurts, the better it is because there is this profound sense of satisfaction that comes from it all.
As I was supposed to die the day I was born, me and my body have been in an, "Ali - Fraser III" back and forth slug fest since day one. Of course, we all gotta die in the end, that's the price we must pay for life, but I am goin' out swingnin', and gettin' in as many possible shots as I can along the way. I relish in bustin' life right in the teeth. It's just so damned exhilarating...
So, when my chest started feeling like it was gonna cave in almost immediately, and then the painful numbness sunk deep into my arms, that's when I came alive. It was kinda nice that it happened so fast...even though it hurt so much and drove me nuts.
(In so many ways, I am a walking contradiction.)
For a project I am working on that is a part of all these triathlons...
Although the pain in my chest and arms were ravaging me, it was only mere moments later that they kinda washed away because of the next level of pain that was so intense that it back burner'd them...
Every single step I took riveted right up through my spine and came to rest in my neck, and most of all, my skull. I knew that was gonna happen, but it hurts so much that there's no real way to prepare for it. It is so fierce that it transcends way past excruciating. I don't like that pain in my skull one bit.
Fuck, does it ever hurt!!
The good thing though, is my sense of stick-it-to-the-man-itis is on such a different level in this regard, that this is when the race really begins.
The battle between my pain and my mind. The battle I live for. One of the purest places I find the true essence of life.
I embrace that in a way that I have no words for. It is the greatest feeling, even though within my body, everything is screaming in agony.
I am a contradiction.
I am a paradox.
I am an anomaly.
...and I dig it!
I got quickly lost in that back and forth slug fest, to the point where I transcended what I was actually doing...seemingly blacking out on the racing process. After making the turn at the back end of the run, I don't really remember the second half because I was lost in the battle in my head with the pain trying to tear me down.
By the time I had gotten to the transition area, I already had gained some fans because of the gnarly shape I was in.
That was only one measly stinkin' lil' kilometre into it.
The kind of responsive attention I pull from my racing will never not be a weird thing for me, but it is inevitable with every race that I do. This was only the beginning of that for me though on this day.
Startin' out with a bang!
When I got out on the bike, as suspected, I needed a tune job. My name isn't Travis, where I know how to tune my bike, so I just roll anyway...wingin' it like I do the rest of my life. My bike wasn't that bad though...at least I had a seat. There was one range of gearing that was a little sloppy, but nothing terrible, and once I got really rolling in the zone I needed to be in, things went OK.
Despite all the crazy luggage that comes with Lance Armstrong, you still cannot deny his knowledge of the functional aspect of riding. I remember reading about him talking about the difference between him and Jan Ullrich, where Jan used a huge gear with lower cadence, and Lance used a smaller gear with higher cadence. Obviously stating, although astronomically nowhere near what those guys did, juiced or not, I think about that a lot when I ride, and kinda stick myself in the middle of that notion. As I have stated, no heart rate monitors, everything is by feel, and determined solely by the battle in my head from the pain in my body. On my bike, I find the gear that is one below too too hard, and keep it within too hard.
This out-and-back course was a completely flat ride right along the morning ocean. There was wind blowing off the shore, but no real headwinds, so that was cool. It was easy to find a nice flow within it all. Proportionately speaking, in the comparison of the swim, bike, and the run, my bike portion would be considered the strongest, even though there is nothing strong about it.
I didn't read maps or ask anyone about the course, which is kinda my norm, so I had no idea if it was one lap or two, but figured I'd find out when I got back near transition area. I get so lost in my head that I have no idea how far I've gone. I really do just wing it that much. Such is my life.
After the turnaround, there was one short point where there was a quick and brutal headwind. Thankfully it came and went pretty fast. I hate headwinds more than anything else...more than scorching sun, more than freezing rain or snow.
I just hate them!
Maybe around 3/4 into the bike leg I saw a woman sitting on the road median with her bike. I couldn't stop wondering what had happened. I wished I had stopped to ask her. That started playing in my head over and over quite quickly, but then it was too late to actually do. If I had been a bit quicker in mind, I would have stopped and offered her my bike to use to finish her race, if that was her problem, and I'd just DQ myself and walk hers back to transition. I was upset with myself for not doing so because, to me, that would have been the proper thing to do. That's where it was really in my head about the scope of what I am trying to do, and DQ'ing one race to help someone out wouldn't have mattered when I was only at the first of hundreds of races to go. I was disappointed in myself.
Me being slow in mind turned out to be a blessing in disguise though as around 3.5km out from transition area I heard a clang and instantaneous scatteredness within my feet. I had no idea what had happened, so I stopped and looked only to see that my left pedal broke off.
"Awe, bummer, maaan. Good thing I didn't give her my bike though, 'cause that wouldda been a double bummer if it broke on her too."
After the race with our broken pedal...
I picked up my pedal and tried to screw it back in by hand, but that was immediately futile. I was thinking about Travis again. He's the guy who is prepared, and knows what he is doing, I am not. I'm pretty sure he rides with tools, especially given the riding that he does in the mountains, but I'm not Travis, I am Mr. Wingin'-it-Guy!
I started walking my bike back, thinking that I am DQ'd from the race, but then I quickly got back on my bike to see if I could ride with one pedal by pushing down and pulling it back up. Yeah, no dice on that! That's the difference with being clipped in properly with actual racing shoes and pedals vs riding in flip flops. So, off the bike I get!
"Fuck this, I'm not walkin'! Whether they DQ me or not is up to them, but I am not pulling myself outta this race!"
...and I started running while pushing my bike.
This garnered a ton of support as I was not too far from where the turnaround is for the run to head back the final 2.5km to the transition/finish area. For that last 2.5km, I ran my bike right alongside of all the athletes on the run, whether they were going out, or had made the turn back in, or both.
Of course I was still deep in my full limp, and looked a mess. The police who were doing traffic control were asking if I was OK, and one officer on a motorcycle did a couple times. I was getting cheers from people on the sidewalks on both sides of the street. It was that familiar uncomfortable feeling of having tons of people cheering for me. Reflections started seeping in of me slowly hobbling my way past this one restaurant patio by the beach in Kitsilano in the Vancouver Marathon in 2008. That's when I had busted my foot, on top of my regular crippledness, and the whole patio stood up in a screaming and cheering standing ovation. As I was so gibbled, I was suuuper slow, but I smiled as I tried to hide in thin air. That kind of attention is so overwhelming for me.
The result of the 2008 Vancouver Marathon on no training. Got special pedal made and bike refit so I could ride with my cast on. Three days off crutches I did 10 triathlons over 15 weeks...
I still don't know how to respond to that, so I just smile and say thank you.
I did have a lotta wonder as to whether I would get DQ'd or not. Regardless, I wasn't pulling myself outta the race. I'd only done that once before, and that was because of that hometown triathlon in Nelson in 2012.
Clearly, I'm still bitter about that...or at least it is still in my head. I think it is perhaps more of a log on the fire of intensity...the whole notion of those who doubt you only making your fires burn hotter. I don't forget that kinda stuff, and in the world of triathlon, that 2012 Nelson race is front and centre every time I get back out and race, whether official for those three in 2018, or all the ones I have done for myself...and then again today.
Maybe I should thank those Nelson triathlon people for pissing me off so bad to make me wanna dig in even harder.
Anyway, I made it back to the transition area though, and asked them if they would let me go out on the run. The people who were at the bike finish said they didn't know, that it was up to other people, so I went in and racked my bike, and then went back out to finish the 5km run.
Nobody tried to stop me, so it was a go!
I was a real mess by then. Running is bad enough on its own for me, but running while pushing my bike puts my body in different, and less efficient positions, so I was extra hurting. I enjoyed that though. You know...that internal battle.
The run was just more of the same. It hurt. I was gibbled and hobbled. Whether racers, volunteering officials, or spectators, people were all inspired and yelling, screaming and cheering for me. The best part of that was when there was a military platoon in full fatigues that I passed. They were marching in order on the sidewalk right beside me going in the opposite direction. They were all-in on cheering me on. The USA flag cheering on my Canadian flag. (I have a Canadian flag on the front of my shirt.) That was pretty good. I enjoyed that.
Blah, blah, blah...I dragged myself through the rest of it, and got 'er done. No DQ! That was surprising. Once I got finished, there were several athletes who saw me out there on course who came up to me to congratulate me and/or ask me what had happened with my bike.
All in all, it was a great day. It kicked the shit outta me, and despite trying to stop me through my bike breaking, I laid the smackdown on it.
The one last thing I gotta mention is the guy who took this photo of us before the race. He was parked right by me, and had his baby with him as he was getting everything sorted for his wife to race. He was the nicest guy ever, and cheered for me like mad. He saw me when I was goin' out on my bike, and then when I was running it back it. The guy had some serious lungs too. Fantastic! After he took the photo of us, I gave him one of my cards, and then he said...
"I don't say good luck. I don't believe in that. Instead, I say, 'Skill, Faith & Consistency!'"
I never got his name, and the sneaky quick photo I took was apparently only of his butt, but I'll never forget his voice and his kindness.
I thought I was the one who just whupped down a race...
I got back to the beach in Jupiter just in time to write Michelle's name in the sand at the ocean's edge just before dark. The perfect end for the day.
I love you Michelle. I'm trying my best...