Let us define fear in this context; ‘an unpleasant feeling of anxiety or apprehension caused by the presence or anticipation of danger’.
Saint Mary’s Day 2009
Sallertaine, France August 15, 3:43pm After just pumping up my rear tire I was dismayed to see it go flat. With only 15 minutes to the race, it became a mad dash to find out why, and fix it. Ten minutes later it seemed the valve extender on the deep dish wheel was letting out air; unscrewing it after filling up the tire should be the ‘fix’. The race will be commencing any second and I had yet to visit the transition area.
Heading to transition with everyone else lining up at the start line forced me to hurry. Two elderly gentlemen would not let me pass. I searched out Dede, “Tu avez mon nombre?” Repeating a few times before he understood my poor accent, he smiled and supplied said number. Then, I asked Hortense if she could attach it to a race belt for me. This got me through transition and I took off my flip flops and put on my running flats half expecting the race gun to go off. But wait, another official came up to me and explained that I could not use a race belt and it was an obligation to pin the number to my shirt. Starting to get flustered, in my haste, the number tore while taking it off the race belt. Hortense and I pinned the number to my wet and sweaty shirt. Pheeew, there was no doubt I would make the start.
“Who needs a warm up when it is close to 40C” I convinced myself. Without thinking about it, I was about to face one of my fears; Running fast in heat and humidity.
Pushing your limits is one reason we all race, no one ever thinks they will push themselves to death. It used to be so for me. A trend was developing in humid races, hurting me to the point of needing medical attention right after. My 5th ‘occurrence’ of running hard in humidity landed me in St. Anthony’s Hospital. A painful and traumatic experience to not remember the last 2 miles of a 6 mile run only to have your brain shut off, sending you to the pavement, within sight of the finish. I survived but my will under similar circumstances was understandably defeated. Yet, the human spirit is persistent and amazing in its ability to overcome our fears. These challenges enrich our lives and make us better.
Sallertaine 4:22pm The pavement radiated heat and the breezes did little to alleviate the roasting sensation. This settled the pace to a degree but the lead group had dwindled down to five. We turned into the field for the second time and we ran single file in the barely distinguishable goat trail. In the first lap I was stunned to be tramping through a field leaping over clumps of grass while running on uneven ground and scanning for the best line. I had not expected the adventure through a farmers pasture but enjoyed the surprise. Now, in the second lap, running single file I contemplated what to do about my race number flapping; being torn off from the wind and hanging on by one pin. “Nothing” I thought, “there’s nothing to be done while running like this.” The intensity of the pace and the heat brought me back to navigating the farmer’s field.
“It’s bloody hot” I said aloud to the other lead runners as we came to a narrow bridge over a ditch. The bridge being made of just one bowed board of wood made for a tricky passing.
Entering transition on the heels of some very good runners, namely Adam Fitzakerley and Kristian McCartney, put me in great position starting the bike.
In Saint Jean de Monts team van in route to Sallertaine 3:20pm Adam, Kristian and I joked about some unfortunate encounters with French referees. “My streak ended last week with the aquathon” I explained to them as we drove to the start of the duathlon. The first 5 races in France have all had serious ‘mishaps’, from red cards and wrong turns, to wetsuits being unzipped and stop-&-go penalties. Some of them my fault, others just part of racing. Finally, my 6th race in Jard sur Mer had no mistakes. “I’m starting a new streak today”.
Sallertaine 4:34pm The head referee held out his hand and blew his whistle at me. “Oh no, the race number”, I thought, forgetting the not so little problem. I protested but he insisted my number be displayed properly before I continue the race. Already 20 to 30 seconds behind I let my bike fall to the ground needing two hands for the delicate surgery of pinning my wet and torn race number to my shirt. It made me angry to have to disrespect my bike like that. It seemed crazy to be standing in place carefully undoing the safety pins, trying not to prick myself. I hurried too much and focused too little on the art of number pinning while racing. Finished, I spread my arms out in jest. The ref shook his head no. I had failed miserably, not only was the number upside down it was backwards showing nothing. Dismayed, I picked up my bike and nicely set it down against a guard rail. It didn’t make me feel much better, it just took more time. Thinking out loud I said, “This is ridiculous”. Hortense calmed me down and eventually I pinned my number correctly. After what felt like a lifetime, and wondering if I should even continue the ref let me start biking.
A few miles into the bike ride it became obvious that it was only a matter of time before my race number became litter on the side of the road. I tore it off and put it in my back pocket. Riding suspicious of the many referees, kept me crouching low on my bike whenever I saw one. I felt like an outlaw.
Abandoning my original plan to ease into the bike on this hot day, I rode hard right from the start. Riding somewhere in the top 15 I tried to pick off some bikers and focus on at least getting a good effort in. Race situations are outstanding for keeping your skills sharp and boosting your performance for later. Honing in on my pedal stroke I drank lots of fluids and flew in the heat.
In Saint Jean de Monts team van in route to Sallertaine 3:25pm Being from a swimming background I’ve had to learn, be patient, and train smart to bring my running up to speed with my peers. “This is less than an ideal situation for me, a duathlon, with good runners, in hot and humid weather, kind of a nightmare situation for me” I joked with the guys in the van while we kidded around about winning the ham that went to the top 3 finishers. To be honest, in the past, fear would creep into the situation, today, I felt up for the challenge.
Sallertaine 5:12pm My cycling legs showed up and turned my race around in a hurry. Within about 13k of a 30k bike ride I had caught all but the lead biker. Even a driver that got on the course, drove too slow and then stopped the car, forcing me to come to a screeching halt didn’t bother me. It was a chance to work on some accelerating.
Getting off the bike and running out of transition to start the second 5k run left me wondering if I would have another encounter with the ref. After all, my number was in my back pocket. He was waiting for me. I smiled and took the number out of my back pocket and he let me go! Wow, what was all the fuss about earlier? Ah well, time to tackle a hot run. I felt fit, fast and in control. Although with the hot temperatures it was good to be running solo at exactly my comfortably fast pace. Just two more times through the goat field and I could cool off and maybe win some ham.
That night the crew celebrated at the Coliseum with good spirits, fireworks, and ice cream. Saint Mary’s day is a big holiday in France and the crowds were out late; we enjoyed the sea-breeze-summer-night-air with them.