Character and Sportsmanship in Triathlon

Last Sunday at 6:35 a.m., I was prepping to race the Nation’s Triathlon in Washington, DC. This would be the largest triathlon I’d ever entered. It was a beautiful morning in our nation’s capital. The sunrise over the Washington Monument was spectacular; the sky perfectly blue and clear. I was pumped up, to say the least. I had a few pre-race jitters, but I was super excited. I said to myself, “Let’s do this!”

Triathlons begin with the swim and then racers’ biking and running gear is organized and waiting in individual transition areas. The Nation’s Tri staff had a strict closing time of 6:55 a.m. At that point, everyone had to be out of the transition area and making the 100-yard walk to the start on the bank of the Potomac River.

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While there were some nerves, I felt great about the race and confident in my training. Before I started my walk out of the transition area to get a “good-luck” from my cheering section, I felt I needed to check my bike’s tire pressure.

Front tire. Check.  Back tire. Holy shit, it’s flat.

Was this really happening?

While I’ve changed a tire tube before, I’ve never done so in less than 15 minutes under such an intense time crunch. Here I am, at the Nation’s Triathlon, my back tire is flat before the race begins and I’m thinking, “All that training for nothing, race over.”

This is where the sport of triathlon separates itself from other competitions.

Sportsmanship, support, encouragement and comradery seem so paramount with this sport.  The events that unfolded during the next 15 minutes will show you why triathlons are so special.

Once I realized my back tire was flat, three of the competitors near me saw the horror on my face and quickly volunteered, jumping into action to assist me with getting the tire fixed.  Luis, Jeff and Jeff, all direct competitors in the 40-44 age group, showed a side of this sport only witnessed as a participant of triathlons. IMG_20170910_062333

Ten minutes prior to realizing I had a flat tire, we were all organizing our stuff, chatting about other races we’ve competed in, discussing the water temperature, and other normal transition area pre-race conversations.  Then suddenly, we were all hunkered over my flat tire, working on fixing this unfortunate situation with only minutes until the proverbial transition area doors slammed shut.

The weather was cool and everyone’s hands were a little numb.  Taking a tire off the rim is hard enough on its own, but when temps are frigid, your hands are cold, and the clock is ticking, it is especially difficult.

As added pressure, the announcer was counting down, over the loud speaker, every minute we had to get out of the transition area.

Luis, Jeff and Jeff could’ve easily said there was no way to get the tube out, replaced, put back on the bike and pumped up in 15 minutes or less. They could have told me I was on my own, that it was my problem, but they didn’t say these things. These guys helped a fellow competitor during a desperate time of need.  With about two minutes to spare, my tire was fixed and pressurized to 100psi.

Wow, my heart was absolutely pounding; all pre-race jitters were gone and out the window. During those 15 minutes when I would have normally been thinking about the swim or how cold the water was going to be (69 degrees), all my focus was on fixing my flat tire.  Any anxiety had disappeared very quickly.  I was ready! Somewhat in shock, IMG_20170910_065433but I was ready to get the race started.

The Nation’s Triathlon was my absolute best triathlon to date. I finished the race in 67th place overall, out of 491 racers and was 7th in my age group, out of 30.  I had personal best times in each segment of the race and finished feeling very proud of how I performed in this amazing event.

I could find tons of inspiration from many parts of the race or could easily write about the unbelievable weekend I had in DC.  My race results and memories of the entire weekend will always hold a special place in my heart, but the acts of those three men was the first thing I wanted to highlight on my blog. Luis, Jeff and Jeff, whom I’d never met before and will probably never see again, willingly gave away some of their pre-race preparation time to help me overcome the adversity of a flat tire.

The sportsmanship and character of the competitors and racers like Luis, Jeff and Jeff, is what makes triathlon so special.  Yes, the sense of accomplishment and adrenaline rush you get at the end of a race help make the sport addictive, but it’s more than that.  The support and encouragement that you feel as a triathlete, even from direct competitors, is something that can only be experienced as a participant in this great sport.

Many times, I’ll hear, “nice pace, keep it up,” or “great job, keep pushing,” as racers pass me or run alongside me during the run.  No matter how fast or slow I am, other racers and spectators are always encouraging and cheering one another along the way.

Last week, three competitors pitched in to help me in a crunch, allowing me to compete in one of the most amazing triathlons in the country.  I will never be able to repay them for their acts of kindness, but I will always remember the generosity of Luis, Jeff and Jeff.  They put me, a fellow competitor, before themselves during that integral 15 minutes before the race.

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What really inspired me was the 2nd place overall finisher was Jeff Zickus, bib number 1422.  I was bib number 1421; our bikes were right beside each other in transition.  This Jeff was one of the Jeffs that willingly helped me with my flat tire before the race and who went on to stand on the podium as the 2nd place overall male finisher. I knew I wasn’t going to win the race that morning, but I had goals set to beat my previous times.  Someone that finishes 2nd overall goes into the event knowing he can and was trying to win the race.  Jeff wanted to win, coming very close, yet he took the time, prior to the race, to help me with my tire. That’s some amazing sportsmanship right there.

For many reasons, the Nation’s Triathlon in 2017 and the weekend in DC, will always hold a special place in my memory.  Today, though, is about how the acts of complete strangers inspired me in such a great way.  I hope sharing what inspired me can also motivate someone else out there because what Luis, Jeff and Jeff did to help was beyond special.

Have a great week!

Matthew

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“Matthew, Where Have You Been?”

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve been on to write and share what’s going on in my world.  I said from the beginning of this journey that consistency with this blog was going to be somewhat of a challenge, but I’m getting there.  I love to get on here and just start writing, but I have to say, it’s hard when life is so busy; busy in a good way! IMG_20170819_183645

This past weekend, the kiddos and I had a great time together.  They have started their fall soccer season and Hannah had her first tournament of the year and was named team captain.  I’m so proud of her and was proud of her team.  They played three games, winning two and losing one.  It’s really fun to watch them play hard and have fun.  I do get a little intense during the matches and have to keep to my self down in the corner of the field.  I guess it’s the competitor in me!?!  This past weekend, we visited my step-sister and her family for a sleepover.  The kids love their cousins and it’s fun for us adults to hang out, something we don’t do often enough.

I’ve also been busy with work.  I love my job and absolutely have the best team to work with each day.  The mortgage industry can be a high-stress industry, but when you are around people that love their job, work hard, and who truly seek to help, the job is fun and exciting.  We’ve had a good year and I am so proud of our team!

What’s really on my mind to talk about, that has also kept me really busy lately, is my triathlon training. IMG_20170819_120601 I have really gotten addicted to the exercise, the competition and the fun I have with this multi-discipline sport.  It’s something that is hard to explain because it can be so tough and challenging on the body but yet so rewarding both physically and emotionally.  This is a topic that I’ll be writing and sharing more on in the near future.

So, it was almost two weeks ago that I competed in the Lake Lure Triathlon and I’ve been back in serious training mode with only two days off to get ready for the NationsTri on September 10, in Washington DC. My training plan has changed some as I have been focusing on my biking and running, areas where I believe I can cut some minutes off of my finish time at this next event.  That’s something I really enjoy about triathlon, is that there are three disciplines to work on during my training sessions.  Training on all three is required in order to be successful, however, after a race, you learn about the improvements that can be made to help post a better time and place the other competitors.

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While I do want to improve my times across the board, the bike and the run are my focus for this next race.  Because of the longer distances, reducing the time it takes to bike or run each of those events, even a little, can add up to multiple minutes off of my total time.  During the swim, there just isn’t that much distance to make up a lot of time.  Yes, every second matters, but for this race, I am focusing on reducing my bike and run times significantly.

Twice this week I have completed “brick” workouts.  “What is a brick workout,” you may be asking.  Well, it’s going from one discipline’s training to the next, in order to mimic the transition at the actual race.  Since I’ve been working on my bike and run, I’ve been working on that transition.  Yesterday, for instance, I rode the bike hard for thirty minutes, at race pace, then immediately jumped off, wiped the bike down, and set off on a three mile run.  I felt really good after the bike last night IMG_20170823_080558and was able to keep a run pace at eight minutes per mile.  At the Lake Lure Triathlon, I ran at a nine minute pace, so if I can get it down to close to eight, that’s a three minute difference in my total time.  I feel good about my training and look forward to seeing the results in DC.  I have one more week of hard training and then it’ll be race week.  It’ll be here before I know it and I can’t wait!

Well, it’s time to go get in a swim this morning and then off to work.  I appreciate you stopping by and reading what has kept me from more frequent posts to my blog.  Things are busy but going well in many areas of my life.  I’ll do my best to share my journey more frequently.  Speaking of, next week, I’m excited to be working on a post titled, “Transformation at the BIG 40.”  I turn 40 next Saturday and feel that it is appropriate to be a little more vulnerable and share more specifics of my journey, striving to be a better man and a better dad every day!  I hope you’ll come back to check it out!

Have a blessed weekend!

Matthew

Lake Lure Triathlon “Reflection”

Wow, what a weekend!  It was a weekend that I’ve had on the calendar for a few months now and one that did not disappoint.  Saturday morning at about 9:40, I finished the 2017 Lake Lure Triathlon in a little over an hour and thirty-six minutes, eight minutes faster than my last race at Lake Lure!  In this blog post, I want to take you back to the race and share some of my thoughts and feelings that I had before, during and after the triathlon.  Put on your swim cap, your goggles and let’s go.

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I had my two alarms set for Saturday morning to wake me at 5:00 am.  While it was only a 30 minute drive to Rumbling Bald Resort from my mother’s home, I felt I needed to get up and get moving early.  When I awoke it was absolutely pouring the rain.  I just knew the weather would cause them to cancel or modify the event.  Regardless, I showered to “wake up” and ensured all my gear was in my pack and ready to go.  I made a cup of coffee and set out on my way.  Just as I got to the Lake Lure area, the rain stopped and I could see some twinkling starts in the sky.  “Yes, it’s going to be a beautiful morning for the race,” I thought.  I arrived at the site early, but chose to drive the bike course just to familiarize myself with the route.  Some of my thoughts during my drive around the bike course were, “This climb is going to be a tough hill.  Oh, I can come out of my saddle and not lose momentum on this ascent.  Wow, this downhill, with a hairpin curve, is scary.”  I remembered the course some, but just a little extra knowledge couldn’t hurt for the race.

When I got to the parking area, I was one of the first thirty or so racers there.  It screenshot_20170813-211938.pngwas 6:33, almost an hour and a half from the start.  I had plenty of time to get my registration packet and organize my transition area.  As I parked, I had my Spotify playlist blasting ALO and Jack Johnson’s “Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down.”  Some of the people in neighboring cars, who were unloading their bikes, may have thought that I was being a little obnoxious to keep it playing loudly with my doors opened, but I didn’t care.  I was into the song, one that I had recently added to a my playlist because well, let’s just say it’s a good song that has a great “groove” to it and it really gets my heart pumping.  Music allows me to focus mentally, and this song was doing just that.  I didn’t care what others thought at that time; I was going to let the song come to an end before I turned it down.

With my earbuds now in, and my bike beside me, it didn’t take me long to get my pack and gear down to the transition area where I gathered my registration packet, my race number and my time chip.  I also had to get my race number and age marked on my thighs, calves and biceps.  This helps the race organizers to keep track of you and for the other competitors to IMG_9728know if you are competing against them in their age group or not.  Once I completed those tasks I organized my transition area, the small area where you store your bike, change into your shoes and get ready for each element of the triathlon.  It was 7:30 and I was ready!

At 7:45, I made my way over to the start line. I was so antsy to start the race, not really jittery, just ready to go.  With a little more time, I stretched properly,  warmed up a little more, and had my swim cap on and goggles ready.

A triathlon is an endurance sport, but so much of  it is also mental.  Being in the right mindset, being positive and focused on each event, one at a img_9718.jpgtime, is so important.  As I stood there at the start line, I kept my mind focused on getting to each site-buoy, keeping my “form,” and maintaining my pace, not the other racers’ paces.

The race started and the buzzer beeped.  I hit the water and I was off, unfortunately, letting my adrenaline dictate my pace.  I started off a little fast and could feel it after the first hundred of so meters.  I tried to reign myself in, but the competitor in me wanted to keep up with the guy right in front of me.  At about two hundred meters into the swim I came up for a breath, just as the wake from “that guy” crested into my mouth.  I took on what seemed like a half of cup of lake water and had to swim the next few strokes trying to cough up the water and catch my breath.  I didn’t panic and was able to regain my composure and get to the turn buoy without missing a stroke.  As I made the turn, I was heading to the swim finish.  During that final stretch I felt strong and had finally settled into a good pace with a good rhythm.  In my mind, I was swimming to the songs that I had blasting in the car from earlier.  The last 200 meters were also refreshing because, with each breath I took, I could see the sun rising above the NC mountains.  You see, I breath only on my right side when I swim and each time I came up for air, the sun was there encouraging me on.  Sixteen minutes from the start, I had made it to the swim finish.  I came out of the water feeling good, time for the bike segment.

At the transition, I put on my sunglasses, fastened my helmet, tightened my shoes and drank a little energy drink, IMG_9722before pushing my bike out of the transition area where I would start the next phase of the race.  The bike portion of the race was 22.5 kilometers of mountain roads with long, steady climbs and fast descents.  I did my best to settle into a consistent cadence and power my way through the hills.  Getting into the right gears, at the proper time, was a strategy that I knew was important to keep good momentum on each and every decent-to-ascent along the course.  Missing a gear, or waiting too long to change the gears, can really cause you to lose some serious momentum and allow other racers to pass with ease.  During this race, I felt like I did an excellent job with implementing my bike and gear strategies, allowing me to cut over 9 minutes off of my previous bike split during my last Lake Lure Triathlon.  The last descent back into the resort was very steep and very curvy.  Proper braking was required to ensure that I made the curves safely.  Emergency crews were standing ready at the top and bottom, ready to help, if needed.  Fortunately, all racers remained safe.  Forty-six minutes after I mounted my bike, I was back at the transition preparing for the last leg, the run!

As I transitioned off of my bike to the five kilometer run, my legs were exhausted.  If you’veimg_9725.jpg ever ran in a triathlon, you know the feeling you have when your legs are used to going in circles from the bike and then all of a sudden you are trying to get them to go up and down.  To make it worse, the first half of the Lake Lure run, when my legs felt mostly like Jello anyway, was all uphill.  I was struggling to keep a decent pace, but was determined to keep up with the runners in front of me; I was going to finish strong.  Just as I got to the turnaround to head back toward the finish line, my left quadriceps kept feeling like it was going to cramp and the medical bracelet holding my time chip was cutting into my heel with each stride.  “Mind over Matter,” I kept telling myself.  I altered my stride just slightly and the cramp never came and I ignored the pain coming from my bloody heel.  I was getting close and could think of nothing but picking up the pace and finishing the race strong. Coming around the last turn and hitting the white sandy beach at Rumbling Bald Resort was quite the feeling.  Sprinting to the end, I IMG_9726made it through the corral, lined by spectators cheering on all of us racers.  I crossed the finish line as the announcer welcomed me in by name. The amazing volunteers at the race draped an iced towel over my shoulder, handed me water and kept congratulating me on the race, like I was the winner or the only one there. What an amazing feeling to be welcomed at the finish line after a race like that!  I finished the race in one hour and thirty-six minutes, 65th place out of 157 male racers.  I was proud of my results and my accomplishments.

I committed to doing the Lake Lure Triathlon at the end of April and trained almost every day since then to prepare for it! There were times during this triathlon journey that I didn’t feel like working out or wanted to cut my runs short, but I stayed persistent.  I kept thinking about what I wanted to accomplish.  My mind kept going back to a quote that I read from my all time favorite athlete, Michael Jordan.  He said, “If you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t stop working on it.”  This quote not only applies to my triathlon training and my thought of my fitness goals, but also personally, with the relationships that I have been blessed to have in my life.  I constantly think of the people that are important to me, so I strive each day to work on those relationships by being a better man and a better dad!

Do you have someone or something in your life that you can’t stop thinking about?  Are there goals that you want to achieve, or habits you want to break?  If so, turn on your favorite play list to get your heart pumping and start working on them.  Imagine yourself running through the corral as you approach your finish line with all of the people you love there, cheering you on, congratulating you on the goal that you are about to accomplish!  The journey may be, and probably will be tough.  It may be exhausting at times, but stay persistent because the accomplishment of getting past the finish line is such a great feeling!

Have a blessed week!

Matt