A Podium, A PR, and a Near DNF-Oh My! How Challenges I Faced During 2023 had Different Results
by Eric R.
Anyone who has been in triathlon or any endurance sport has heard the phrase, “you can’t control the weather on race day,” or maybe you’ve also been told to, “expect the unexpected” during long distance races. These phrases now take on more of a personal meaning for me after this season.
My 2023 season began in June with an Olympic distance triathlon in Springfield, MO called “ConcerteMan,” named for the concrete company that was the original title sponsor. This small, local race was well run and well supported, and one that I’d recommend. I even met the race director’s father, we had a really nice conversation. My family and I got down there and I do my race prep-checked out the transition area, biked a bit of the course and did my shake out run. I’m feeling good going in to race morning.
This event had a mass start for the swim, which I had practiced with Experience Triathlon’s Open Water Clinics at at Centennial Beach, so I was like, “ok, no biggie.” Well, before I even make my first dive into the water another athlete’s foot comes up and knocks my goggles clear off. I’m behind before I have even started. Frustrated and annoyed was not how I had hoped to start, but I got situated and I began the swim. I’m telling myself, “let’s settle in, just do the best you can.” I finished the swim and most everyone was already gone, but I felt really good on the bike, knowing that I made up some ground. I was feeling strong going into the run, so I ran maybe a little harder than I should have, but it went well. Not thinking that I was anywhere near the top I didn’t even check the leaderboard. Imagine my surprise when my wife comes over and says, “you’re 2nd in your age group!” I had no idea how I did that, but was so surprised and grateful.
My second race was the Door County Triathlon, the half iron distance. This event is special to me-it takes place in the town where my family vacationed during my childhood (and near where my parents live now) and it is also the event where I did my first sprint triathlon. So, listening to the announcer as I am getting ready to start the swim and he goes, “I was out there earlier and the water is kind of like a washing machine.” I’m in the start chute thinking that there really isn’t a “kind of” in that description. Well, yes, it was very much a washing machine. Many athletes are getting pulled, but I somehow manage to make each turn and get back to transition, again, near the back, but I was out, so who cares!
I go out on the bike just looking to enjoy the ride, same for the run. I do fine on each. I had a pleasant surprise when I looked at my finishing time, I had set a new half iron PR. Thinking how I went from that washing machine in the water to a PR was really beyond me.
My final event was back in Door County, but this time the Fall 50, yes 50 miles not 50k, and yes, as a solo runner. Now, Coach Joe (and everybody who I told about this) probably thought I was crazy. Spoiler alert, I probably should have listened, but I’ll get to that. Besides, it was broken down into 10 “short” legs, how bad can it be?
The first marathon plus went alright. My watch died, twice, but I found a guy and chatted with him for about 10 or so miles, which helped a lot with pacing and keeping my head on straight. The clouds had parted and the sun was out and I was warming up and feeling great. I get past the 7th aid station (about mile 36) and the clouds come back in and then the wind picks up, and of course there’s rain off and on. I was still ok until about mile 40 or so. And then I just couldn’t get warm. Both of my quads tighten up, I’m shivering, couldn’t really feel my hands, and I am having to push out thoughts of giving up. I do the math and figure that I can walk the final leg and still make the cutoff (12 hours). I had been passed by various relay team members and other solo runners, all cheering me on and being supportive, but when those cheers turned to making sure I was ok, I knew I was in for a rough finish.
Seeing my wife, daughter, and parents at the finish line was such a welcome sight. Each of them were rockstars for being out there supporting me in those conditions! I was also so happy to see the clock, as I had just narrowly missed a DNF. I had done it, by far the hardest event I’ve ever done.
There is a lot that I have taken away from this season. But when it comes to a curveball, an unexpected challenge, it doesn’t have to completely derail your race day. Hopefully it will add to your incredible story about your achievement!