Monday, July 20, 2009

Murphy and Uber Me

This year has been one of those days. A great plan is nothing without hard work and determination. I had all that, but you know what they say. Hard work and determination pays off with time, but laziness pays off now. It almost feels now like that would have been a better plan. Murphy’s Law, just like the Robert Burns poem “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men” seems to have a grip on my year that I had great plans for.

I thought this would be a story about the Trailblazer Triathlon, my favorite race. Instead it’s a story about Murphy and me. There are actually several lists of Murphy’s Laws. Here are some of my favorites.

If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.

If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.

If you perceive that there are several ways in which something can go awry, and circumvent these, then another way that you have not prepared for will promptly develop.

If things are going well, you are walking into an ambush.

You never run out of things that can go wrong. (This is the one that really worries me).

Smile … tomorrow will be worse.

I know there are far worse things that happen to people in a day and in a year, but for me, this year is certainly not a good one from the eyes of an athlete. Last year was, by a large margin, my best year of racing. As a point of contrast to this year, last year included nineteen wins and eleven course records. A couple bad days kept it from being more, but I’m not going to complain about that.

This year I was supposed to be better. I had a detailed plan that I started a couple months earlier than usual and was following religiously. Things were going really well. By mid December, I was in better shape than expected, then all hell broke loose. We had our worst winter ever. Training was difficult, but I didn’t care if hell froze over, I’d run there too. Problem was the pool roof isn’t as hard core as I am and decided to collapse. Given my difficult schedule, I didn’t have time to travel to a pool. No swimming for me until the roof was fixed. That would be 92 days. In the following months, I managed to get injured repeatedly. First was the calf, which left me unable to do more than a slow jog. This injury is about as limiting as an injury a triathlete can experience, which resulted in very limited biking and running. Just as I was healing up, I injured my hamstring. As I was recovering from the hamstring, I injured both knees. Later I’d injure my other hamstring. Somehow, I managed to pull it all together to have a great race at the Armed Forces Triathlon Championship, taking sixth overall. The day after I got home, I suffered a freak running accident where I broke three ribs, broke my right collar bone (again) and tore my rotator cuff.

Surgery will be needed to recover from this one and no amount of clever schemes can compensate for this problem. Needless to say, doing the Trailblazer Triathlon was a new experience. I had to swim with one arm. I struggled to make my way across the lake, inhaling water often and being left in the wake of nearly every competitor in the field. Once on the bike, I was able to suffer through the pains, imbalance of one-arm riding and weak power transfer to work my way to 3rd overall with a two-minute deficit on 2nd. Other than the difficulty training causing a bit of fitness loss, the run was the one place I didn’t have to give up a lot. I began to close in on Nate Duncan, a pretty strong runner. Although the gap was coming down quickly, I would have never caught up if he hadn’t lost a few precious seconds after turning off course. Once on course again, I was 16 seconds behind, but would get no closer than 15 seconds and eventually faded from my early efforts, finishing 3rd overall by 22 seconds on Nate and over 4 minutes to Roger Thompson. He absolutely destroyed the course with a time so fast that not even my seriously hampered performance can’t be used as an excuse. Not even close! Third overall would normally be hard to take, but this time it was encouraging.

The day after the Trailblazer I broke my left pinky toe. Since then, I’ve had some aches and pains, but haven’t injured anything else. Amanda injured her foot and says that I ran out of places to injure, so they’re spreading to her. I hope not.

Now I wait for the 31st of July to learn what the surgeon determines the path of healing is for me. I’m told it will likely require surgery and 6 to 9 months of recovery. For nearly everyone out there, my current dilemma is a no brainer. That dilemma is whether I should race the Uberman Triathlon in New Jersey on the 25th. I’ve done few races in my life over which I’d have trouble making this decision, but this is certainly one of them. This is an invite-only race pitting 10 elite men and 10 elite women against each other in an absolute all-out super sprint triathlon that will take about 17 minutes (200m swim, 4-mile bike and 1-mile run). If the year had gone according to plan, then I’d be strong enough that I’d feel good about my chances of placing well. There’s no hope for that now as I’m not only giving up way too much with my one-armed swim, but the trouble with power transfer/bike control and lost fitness will leave me far behind an invited-elite field. Right now I’m not the guy who earned a limited spot in this race. On the other hand, simply spectating an event like this would be great. I have the exclusive opportunity to spectate from within the race and be a part of the very first Uberman Triathlon. I said I’d be there, so I feel obligated to keep my word.

My question(s) to those of you who read this and are willing to answer: What would you do if you were in my shoes? Should I base my participation on my ability or should I show because I’m grateful to have the opportunity? We can never tell if things will get better or worse, making opportunities like this our last. I don’t want to make this a decision I’ll regret. I’m pretty sure I’ll recover and rise up again, but always have to ask myself “what if I don’t?” I was there in 1997 when I wasn’t supposed to ever be able to run again. I know I don’t have to do this, but I’m wondering if, on a grand scale, if I should or owe it to myself and others to simply show up and do my best.