Hey Everyone - Thanks for your patience...I tried to send a report from Germany after the race and for some reason it didn't go though. So, here's the scoop...bottom line first, then the story....
Out of 14 guys on Team USA in my age group (almost dead, gray haired, lots of wrinkles, AARP sponsored old timers - 50-54) I finished 4th.
Out of 99 from around the world in my age group, I finished 20th. Thank you Lord! Here's the story....
The first three days after arriving, it rained and was cold and windy. Temps probably in the 50s but the wind and rain made it feel much colder. Now, coming from Phx., this was quite a shock, and, being old as I am, I dislike the cold very much. I started to get kind of depressed, especially when we were down at the race site and I looked at the coffee-like, very cold water we were going to swim in. I even thought at times that I didn't want to be there. Just wanted to go home and forget this whole thing with the pressure of the race, cold, etc. We just hung out in our hotel room a lot. The hotel was just under 2 miles from the race site and we caught public buses back and forth.
On Friday afternoon, we walked through the rain to a very old Lutheran Church for the prayer service. The church was about 3 blocks from the race site, which, was in the center of Hamburg. There were about 15 athletes and family members who attended. After the service, we were able to meet a few of them and I gave out our triathlon version Step Up To Life cards to all of them and talked to them about the ICTN Tri Camp this coming January. Singing a few hymns with the massive pipe organ playing was pretty cool in that huge sanctuary and I felt my spirits lift a bit. We had a Team USA meeting later that afternoon and got meet a few others on the team which was fun. They briefed us on how things would work on race day and really encouraged us with the privilege of being on the team, representing our great nation.
There were teams competing from 50 nations, totally almost 2,500 athletes and we had 40 states represented on our team of 240 athletes. Also, on race day they estimated between 250,000 and 350,00 watching the races. That is not a misprint. Europeans LOVE this stuff for sure and Hamburg is the # 1 sports city in Germany.
On Friday, after not doing any training for about 48 hours, I rode my bike about 40 minutes and ran for about 15 min. I was mainly trying to get my body clock turned around, which, in 3 days before the race, was impossible considering we were 9 hours ahead of Phx. time.
The night before the race, I woke up at 2am, tossed and turned til 3am, when Jen woke up too. We decided to watch a movie on TV to pass the next two hours as quickly as possible. The alarm was set for 5am.
By 5:45am we were standing in the dark in the line outside of the transition area where I'd checked in my bike the night before. We chatted with an amazing lady standing next to us - she was 80 years old and racing! What an inspiration! She and her husband were so witty and funny. All of the physically challenged athletes were there too as they checked in first. Athletes with one arm, one leg, NO LEGS, etc. were there ready to race! Amazing.
The transition area held almost 3,000 bikes and was 3 city blocks long. It was about 800 yds. from where we exited the water to the bike exit was at the end of the transition area. I got everything set up perfectly...I thought...and we then went to relax and wait out the 3 1/2 hours til my age group got in the water.
There was a Starbucks right by the race site so we went in and joined about two dozen other athletes/family members inside who were also waiting. The skies were clear at first, praise God, but then some clouds rolled in. The temps were pretty good and it didn't rain all day. Amazing! I jogged around some to warm up about 45 min. before our start, stretched, and listened to my favorite upbeat praise and worship music on my IPod. I was soooo thrilled just to be there. I gave God thanks for allowing me this great, unexpected gift. I felt really good. Light, strong, focused... At 9:30 we walked over the swim start and I got on my wetsuit and went into the holding area.
Looking around at some of the best in the world in my age group could have been scary, but instead, I found myself saying, "OK. You guys are some of the very best in the world. Let's see what you've got. I'm ready to bring my best. Let's throw this down and see how it all comes out." I was surprised to hear what I was thinking, but, it wasn't really cockiness, just readiness I think. I'd invested 7 months of training to get ready for Nationals and two more months of training to then get ready for Worlds, so I was excited to see how I'd stack up. I was also VERY aware of my total dependence on the Lord for strength, health, etc.
We jumped into the coffee...er...water (MAN was it cold!) and I swam out and back once about 100 yds. for my warm up and then lined up on the wall ready to go. I decided to go out hard the first 100-200 and then settle in to a pace I thought I could hold for the .9 mile / 1,500m swim. I only got bumped once or twice, found some open water and swam right along the buoys, taking the shortest route possible out into the lake. We had to swim under two bridges to the turn around buoys, then back under them, back across the lake, past the swim start point to our right, under another bridge and into a canal where the exit was.
I felt like I was swimming strong and fast. Best swim of my life I thought. That last bridge was very low and was about 50 yds. long. It was very dark in it and with the cold, black water and black wall that I looked at every time I breathed, I started to think I might have a bit of an anxiety attack or something. It was really creepy in that long dark tube. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me" came to my mind. I laughed to myself and thought this might be pretty close to the valley of the shadow of death as that's how it felt to me.
As I swam to the exit, I thought I might have taken about 23 minutes which would have been my fastest ever for that distance. "OK," I thought. "If it's 24 don't be disappointed and if it's 25 don't get down on yourself - there's plenty of racing left." I came out and looked at my watch and saw, 26 something. Rats! I thought I'd had a great swim and my watch told me otherwise. However, in talking to many athletes after the race, I discovered that, to a person, they were all 2 1/2 to 4 min. slower than normal. Even the best swimmers in my age group were 2 1/2 minutes slower than at Nationals. So, we guessed that swimming to the canal to find an exit point, they added about 200 yds. to the swim. Taking off the 3 min. would have made my time my best ever.
I didn't know that then and my "slow" swim time motivated me to go fast on the bike. I ran the 600 yds. to my bike, going as fast as I could without pulling a calf muscle or something as my legs / feet were really cold from the swim. My normal first transition times are about 1:15 - 2 min. depending on the layout. This T-1 time was 4:30 since it was so far to my bike, but everyone had to do the same thing. (So, now, I've got an extra 3 min. from the swim and an extra 3 min. due to the long run from the swim exit). I usually pull on my socks before the run starts but since it had been cold in Hamburg, I pulled them on in T-1. As I ran the last 200 yds to the exit, they got soaking wet. I jumped on my sweet Valdora bike and my watch said 30 something. Now it was time to rock and roll.
I come from a run background but my bike is my strongest event. I love to ride and ride as fast as I can. This was supposed to be a flat course but there were several long, slow grades to go up which knocked my speed down some. I was a double out and back. 10K out, 10K back, then do it again. On both "outs" we went into a stiff headwind almost the whole time. I found myself playing leapfrog with two guys from Germany and one Brit who were all in my age group.
We stayed together almost the whole bike leg. Drafting was illegal and I really tried to ride my own race, unlike ONE of the other three (country to remain nameless) who drafted continually off of the rest of us. After the race I heard from many that drafting was taking place all over the place. There were very few race marshals and they were only yelling to get back and weren't really enforcing the rule.
Well, we were flying! Having not seen the course due to not having a car there leading up to the race, the first out and back was exploratory. I rode hard, not knowing what was around the next corner. There course took us out of town some to the west along the river and into some residential areas. I felt great! Doing some self-monitoring, I realized my heart rate wasn't that high though I was going between 20-30 mph depending on the grade of the road. On the second out and back I tried to pick it up even more as I was still feeling so strong. It was fun to go by others on Team USA and yell encouragement to them and have them yell back.
We dropped one of the Germans on the second out and back and so the Brit, other German and myself came flying into T-2 bunched together. They beat me over the timing mats by a second or two and I later discovered that out of 99 guys in our age group, we had the 4th, 5th and 6th fastest bike splits of the day. My time was 1 hour, 2 min. and something. I wanted to hit one hour, but the wind and grades had not allowed that to happen.
I was aware that my socks were really wet as I ran through T-2 looking for my spot to rack my bike. I momentarily got disoriented and thought I'd passed my spot. So I turned back and started to run the opposite direction, searching frantically. This was a rookie mistake. I had taken note of some landmarks to remind me of where my spot was, but wasn't thinking of that as I should have been when I ran into the transition. Then, I heard a voice yelling, "Linc, down here, come this way." It was Jen, outside the bike area, standing as close as she could get to my spot. I turned back around, running her direction and finally found my spot. (Add probably 20 seconds to my time).
I knew I didn't want to run in wet socks as I'd get a blister for sure, so I thought I'd just pull on some dry socks that I had left in my transition area...only to discover...I had NOT put them there. So, it was no socks or wet socks. Neither was a good choice as I have "baby butt" soft feet that blister very easily. I had to get moving so I just pulled on my shoes and took off. In hindsight, I should have grabbed my wet socks and carried them with me just in case the no sock idea wasn't working. At least it would have been something that might have helped if a hot spot started to form, but who knows...
I felt good as I started into the run. It was really windy and my hat almost blew off my head so I turned it around and wore it backwards. By the half mile point I knew that not having dry socks on was going to be a big problem. A blister was starting to form on the ball of my left foot. I exhorted myself to not worry about it and just run as hard as I could, but it got into my head a little and by mile 2.5 it was a full-blown blood blister. I tried curling my toes up under my foot to take the pressure off - not good for smooth running form. I kept thinking about how I'd be able run faster if I hadn't made my second rookie mistake. Early in the run, two guys in my age group from other countries passed me like I was standing still. In all, five guys passed me in the run, and I passed two. I had come off the bike in 17th place..
The last 3 miles of the run, I felt so very tired and my foot was killing me. I think my weariness had to do with that fact it was now around 3am on my body clock. Duh! The run was out and back and as we started to get back into town, the course was lined with thousands of spectators who were screaming and twirling these European noise maker devices that made a constant clicking sound. Every now and then people from the USA would see my USA uniform and yell encouragement at me. How totally cool it was to have them yell, "GO USA!!!, and think..."They are cheering for ME!" Wow. I ran the last mile as hard as I could, really hurting. In my two previous races, I had run hard, feeling so strong and good and so it was hard to feel so bad in this race. I had used my Hammer Nutrition as in the past and their products work great, but the swim, bike, blister and time zones were taking their toll.
With 1/2 mile to go, I ran by the Team USA Director who yelled my name and told me get going - to pick off a couple more guys... Though hurting, I tried to do just that. Feeding off the energy that huge crowds give, I picked it up one more gear. As we hit the blue carpet that started the entrance to the finish area, I heard footsteps coming and a Brit started to pass me. They had written our ages on our right calves and I looked down and saw he was in my age group. "No Way," I thought and he and sprinted towards the finish about 50 yds. away. There were literally thousands of screaming people now lining the course and in the grandstands that had been brought in for the race.
About 8 months ago, I had written on the little whiteboard on our refrigerator, "Top 16 at Nationals - Make Team USA," and, "Top 20 at Worlds." As I sprinted in, I didn't know that we were in 20th and 21st place. I gave it my all, feeling my hamstring start to seize up about 10 yds. from the line, but it held together and I beat him by 1 second...for 20th place. Time - 2:18something. God is so good and kind!
I was hurting badly and was so overcome with the whole experience that I started to lose it emotionally. Then I saw Jen and I did lose it a bit. She is such a great "Tri-Mate." She'd hung out with me for 4 days, doing little of anything, particularly the things she would have like to do, not complaining but supporting me totally. She had prayed for me before we left the hotel room and all through the morning. I'm so blessed to have her for my wife. When I saw her everything just kind of "let go" emotionally so to speak.
I walked to the end of the finish exit area and took a look at my foot. Ouch! Oh well, this would have lots of time to heal up. I drank my Hammer Recoverite post-race drink and some water, putting on some dry clothes. We finally saw that some preliminarily results had been posted and that the goal I'd written down 8 months before had been reached. I also saw that all the swim times were slow and both the transition times were, of course, extra slow. My run was probably more than a minute slow due to my sock mistake. All considered, it was probably a 2:10 - 2:11 effort on a more "normal" course - which would have been by far my best Olympic triathlon by about 4 minutes.
Team USA had pulled in 38 medals - 17 Golds, 10 Silvers and 11 Bronze, exceeding last year's total of 31 medals.
We went back to our room to rest and watch the Elite race which was televised and all the Olympic hopefuls chase their dreams. Then, there was the Team USA Victory party at the hotel where all the top finishers were recognized. All of us were give a few mementos to take home.
We got in last night and as we pulled around the corner to our house, there, in our driveway, were about 20 friends from our church, cheering and yelling, "USA, USA, USA." I truly feel I am the most blessed man on the planet. Balloons and signs greeted us as we got fell out of the car. We'd been up over 24 hours but this welcome pumped us back up!
I'll probably have another post or two on this blog regarding our experience but right now I have to unpack. We got a good night sleep last night and now need to play catch-up. Thanks for all the thoughts and prayers that supported us in this experience. I'll study the results and see where I can improve. I'm going to lay low for a couple of months and not race. Then, in Nov./Dec. I'll start to think about next June and Vancouver - Age Group World Championships 2008 which is the second weekend of June.
How's your race going? The race of life I mean. Know where you are on the course? To learn more, go to http://www.stepuptolife.com/ and find out what step you're on. That race is really the only one that matters anyway.
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