Naturally, I'm always fired up on race morning. Add to that the fact that it was Father's Day, and my dad was there watching---the motivational equivalent of a gunpowder keg.
I was also looking for that first "Great" race of the year, as I felt that all cylinders weren't firing optimally at this point. I knew they needed to be, as the Kelowna trio of Jake Van Allen, Sean Bell and Cory Krist had been racing very strongly through May and June, and they'd be ready to go. As would my friend Chris Young. Chris's training seems to consist of pursuing his Masters in Civil Engineering, working on a farm, and balancing all that with family time, yet he'll show up and podium at local races at will (maybe I should've stayed in school...).
Onward to the swim start. Thankfully Okanagan lake was cool enough for wetsuits. I'm having a lot of fun in the Blueseventy Helix; I've learned a lot about wetsuit fitting recently, and do the little things ever make a difference!
.....though not enough of a difference to hang with the lead pack ("still need to swim, Nate!") which included my girlfriend Tara and her Helix. She'd been feeling "not very fast" leading up to Sunday. Could've fooled me!
I did put down a solid swim though----not to mention an uncharacteristically fast first transition----- and started mowing through the front pack on the bike. I knew Sean would be out front after the swim that Cory and Chris would be throwing down some fast rides, and that Jake would keep us all in sight and then attack on the run.
That didn't matter at the moment, because I'd FINALLY found that rhythm I'd been looking for all year, and hit the bike course on fire. And by the 8k mark Sean, who was leading the race, was coming back to me.
And then: PPFFFFTSCHTSCHTSCHTSCH
Every cyclist knows the sound of a tire flatting. First came Denial----I looked around for a crop sprinkler to blame the sound on-----then Anger as I had to pull to roadside. A lot of Anger. Let's just say I was glad the kids from the day before were long gone and out of earshot. As I hadn't brought a spare kit, that was it for the racing; time to walk back.
Or not. After realizing I was done, I'd been cheering and giving splits to some of the others as they'd gone by. One of those was Chris, who was making up mad time as he always does on the bike. But as I was getting ready to hike back, I heard
"Take your rear wheel off!!"
Chris had turned around and biked back to me. He knew what this race means to me, and knew how important it is to me to race in front of my Dad and the rest of my family. Long story short, his wheel wound up on my bike, and I was back in the race.
The rest of the race was a blur. I'd dropped to about 15th with the flat, but pedalled my brains out and came into T2 in 7th. I tore out of the transition knowing there'd be a huge gap to the top 3, but ready to empty the tank to see if I could put a dent in it. I had my fastest run on that hilly course, and hauled three guys in to finish 4th behind the 1-2-3 of Jake, Sean and Cory. They're all great athletes, and deserve the sweep. I'm looking forward to some great battles against those 3 over the next few years. I went and found my family, and we watched Tara hang tough to finish 4th in a great women's field.
Meanwhile, the Legend of the Dude in the Green Aero Helmet was growing. The bike course is an out-and-back, and on the way out one would have seen Chris carrying his bike back towards transition. On the way back, though, a volunteer lent Chris their bike. So as the finish slowly filled up, I kept hearing things.
"Did you see the guy in the green helmet?"
"Yeah, he was carrying a bike and a disc! Hope he's alright."
"Oh! I saw him on a mountain bike wearing that helmet. No shoes!"
"I know! And he was still passing people!"
And so on. It was cool, and I'm glad people were asking. They found out exactly what happened at the awards presentation, as I explained to the Kal Rats what had gone on out on course.
I think the character that Chris showed is one of the more understated aspects of Triathlon. The sport itself is such a physical struggle; you're very much "fighting the good fight." And while winning feels great, it's that feeling of striving, embracing the struggle, that's so addictive about this sport. What Chris did for me showed a lot of respect; he knew how important just being able to fight again would be to me.
There are now some young athletes in Vernon who look up to me, and I really wanted to put on a show that day, to teach excellence by example. But I hope that any kid who heard this story from their parents might have learned even more from Chris. I wouldn't wish a flat tire on anyone, but displays of sportsmanship like that are one of the hallmarks of this great sport.
Needless to say, it lit a massive fire under me for the rest of this season! More reports to come soon.