I am two days into the off season following my sixth year doing triathlons. Having taken the last two days away from training, I already miss the sport like mad. I am so excited about breaking the 37 minute 10k barrier that has plagued me all season. My coach and I have known it has been in me all year but bad nutrition, exhausted legs, and poor performances have kept me from achieving the goal I established at the beginning of the year until this last race.
At the beginning of this season, I had no idea what would come of it. I had the goal of attaining my professional license but as I watch more and more professional racing and come closer and closer to achieving that goal, I recognize how in over my head I would be. I don’t want to rush this goal. It still remains top on the list but I want to be ready for the transition and I am content with finishing this season as a content amateur rather than an inexperienced elite.
I finished the season with five wins and three more podium finishes, two course records, as Virginia Triathlon Series Champion, and as an All-American. I achieved my primary goal to continue improving each year with a five minute personal record on the Giant Acorn course and several other personal records.
In May I returned to the site of my first triathlon, Angels Race in Lynchburg, Virginia. The goal was to rediscover what it was that attracted me so much to this sport and with the insanely fun and supportive atmosphere in Lynchburg, I found what I was looking for. Even out on the rural 15 mile bike course, there were people out cheering at eight in the morning. I raced to a course record by over two minutes and a personal record of 10 minutes over the race five years earlier.
Two weeks later I ventured to Lake Anna to battle head to head with Ben Bartlett, a race that even five months later, still ranks as one of the most fun this season. Ben and I duked it out for essentially the entire race for me to barely squeeze out a victory with a sub-5 minute last mile. At Colonial Beach Triathlon a few weeks later I would repeat another close race with catching the leader in the last quarter mile to win by a mere seven seconds.
However, my streak of six wins for six races in Virginia would end with a hard thump with a DNF at Rockett’s Landing Triathlon in Richmond. In the weeks following I worked to clean up the mess of such a hard fall to attempt to recover for Age Group Nationals in Vermont. As a tune-up I raced Luray Sprint Triathlon and faced one of the fastest amateurs in the nation who would take me down after having raced to a win in the Olympic distance race the day before.
The next week I once again crumbled under the pressure of a National Championships, a trend that has become all too familiar for me. However, I was able to travel back to Vermont, a state I have not visited since I walked through it almost two years ago on my southbound trip on the Appalachian Trail.
With another month break to shake off the poor performance, I mustered the last bits of matches from a box that was becoming more and more empty. I lit another match at Naylor’s Beach Triathlon last weekend that burned out with six miles still left to race. However, this past weekend at Giant Acorn Triathlon I managed to set some personal records and race to a result that I can be proud to enter the off season with.
I am recognizing more and more how much this sport means to me. I am seeing how many metaphors and relationships it has to my life. Sure I spend only a couple hours with the sport each day, but in the time away from training and racing, triathlon does not leave me. I love this sport, I love the competition, and I love the community.
However, late in the season I saw some sides to this sport that I have not seen before. The cheating that I saw used to defeat me managed to bring me down in more ways than just in placings. I was broken. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the sport. I saw people who were willing to sacrifice their integrity for a win. However, I saw some aspects of myself and others that I would not have witnessed. I was faced with a difficult situation. I stood my ground and told people exactly what I thought and publicized the facts. While I maybe came off as frustrated at having being beaten, I know that I am not and have never been a sore loser. I know what happened and I believe the penalties are evidence for the reality. While people will always be critical of my honesty, I will not let my hard work be crapped on by unfair racing. Earlier in the year I commented in a post on how content I am losing to tough, respectable, and fair competitors such as Michael Harlow, Ryan Peterson, Matias Palavecino, Clayton Petty, Ben Bartlett, Justin Riddle, Adam Otstot, et cetera and I think I have upheld that all season.
It makes me sick the attacks against me as an athlete that I have received because I called someone out on unfair play. It seems that some people are so quick to abandon the Grayson they have always known if I say one thing critical. I have never been in this situation before where my words and actions are so analyzed. As an age grouper, you can say whatever idiotic, egotistical crap you want. But the second you hold a banner above your head, people are waiting like hyenas to jump on the slightest slip of the tongue.
Last week, I waited all week for an apology from the man who used my effort against me. But on Thursday night, four days after the race, the half-butt apology seemed more like an attempt to reconcile a truce before the battle that would ensue on Saturday. I never want to have enemies but it seems in me shedding light on the truth I have upset some people.
This weekend, despite a continuation of the drafting from last weekend, I am content with how the race turned out. I was beaten on my best day by enough of a margin that I think the benefit from the rule breaking was not substantial enough. However, the rules are rules and that margin would have for sure been smaller. So how much smaller, who knows. But we would know for sure had the rules been followed. That is a race I want to see. In all honesty the drafting simply helps me to recognize my need to stray away from my dependency on my cycling ability. My coach and I have really all but abandoned training on the bike for over a year now and focused on swimming and running. Last winter, for four months I biked maybe a total of 150 miles. This year I’ll probably do the same and invest my time on the sports which still hold me back.
While I did see such a low point in the sport, in just a week, I think I may have witnessed its redemption. Triathlon is not just a sport. It is a lifestyle. It is an incorruptible representation of the greatness of humanity. Each of us can attain speeds and performances that we never thought possible. Through pushing these barriers, we dig within ourselves and find a god-like essence that we may not have known existed. We can show this power through our racing and although all these adaptations can all be explained through biological science, there are still things about it that can never and will never be understood.
We each will bury ourselves to depths of pain and suffering to race people who we will later congratulate and shake hands with and laugh with. We treat each other like mortal enemies out on the course but the second we cross that finish line, we are all friends. There is no logical reason for digging ourselves to such pain. We like to base our lives off facts and realities, leaving the unexplainable to religion and yet we got out every day to defy our body’s will.
I didn’t quite realize the power of the sport until this year when I heard the respect and acknowledgments from the volunteers at the race. They have so much respect for triathletes and I honestly believe that they make the sport what it is. Saturday, as puked streamed out of my mouth in my masochistic quest to catch my competitor, five girls volunteering for the race, manned a turn on the bike course and waved their flags in rhythmic fashion while cheering to all the cyclists to signify the turn. Despite the raging pain throughout my body, I couldn’t help but laugh. I loved it. Later I would hear the praise of a volunteer who struggled, just as I do, to express why it is so amazing what triathletes do out on that course.
With each passing year, I love this sport so much more and I am so excited for next year. This was the first year that the burn out did not come on full throttle. Instead, I finished the season with a sort of tear-jerking reflection on such a fun season and the fun adventures I have had with my friends and teammates. With the cold having already hit Blacksburg hard, I am excited about turning on my go-to trainer movie, Wall-E, for the thousandth time and hopping on the bike. Preparation for Nationals starts next week. I am looking forward to seeing everyone at the early season races next spring. Look for Virginia Tech Triathlon in the top-5 at Collegiate Nationals next year.