I traveled to the race by myself so when one of my athletes, Colleen, mentioned there was room for me in a condo they were staying at I decided to join them. It would give me a chance to connect more with Colleen (she lives in Washington) and make new friends – Kyle and MacBeth.
They mentioned extra room would be at a minimum. Not a problem – I’m pretty small and could probably handle sleeping on a carpet square if I had to. So when I arrived and they showed me to my closet, I was unafraid. It was like the little hole in that magical tree where the Keebler elves live. There was an air mattress, about 100 pillows, an outlet for my computer, a light and a door. Closet? Your call but for a few days I called it my little hobbit home.
The first day we arrived we headed over to the expo to check in and meet up with Rob, another one of my athletes (he lives in Oregon). He’s the guy who signs everything with “breathe”. And after coaching Rob for the past year I really think he needs to remind himself *frequently* to breathe. He is, in a word, excitable. Overexcitable. Like a small dog off the leash but on crack. Quiet but manic. Most likely to shout MIRINDA at the top of his lungs from a rolled down car window while driving by the expo.
Rob likes to communicate in a very "Gen Y" way. He’s one of those guys in his late 30s that has texting skills to rival a 14 year old girl. If it came down to thumb wrestling Rob or walking across hot coals, I’d take the coals. Many times – and I’m talking sometimes many times a day – Rob sends me a text. Completely off the cuff, totally random, wildly hysterical – he’s sent them all. Sometimes he tells me the interval he hit in the pool. Other times he tells me he cried like a little girl on this bike. He nailed a tempo run. His foot hurts. His kids are sick. The veggie porn pictures. Pictures of him driving his car while wearing an aero helmet. His dog wants to be my dog’s friend on Facebook. Anything and everything comes in form of text from this guy.
The hardest part about a “big” race like a world championship is not getting there. It’s not doing the training. It’s arriving at the start line injury free. Especially with frantic guys like Rob. You just want to close them into a dark room with no windows and keep them tethered for a few days so they can’t hurt themselves. With too many miles between us, that wasn’t an option. As such, a few weeks before the race his foot started to hurt. A short while later a calf strain. A trip to Disneyland where he indulged in kid food and chasing Mickey’s tail instead of training. A head cold. The list goes on….
Everything was simply not going his way.
Just when I thought things were safe, when he was finally on the plane heading towards Clearwater, a text came in:
I dislocated my shoulder but I’m ok! Call me.
Of course Rob had gotten on the plane right after that so I could only leave a lengthy message about bad luck, these things happen, obstacles can be opportunities and if not he could at least be my Sherpa for the race. Someone had to carry my post-race peanut butter cups. I don’t know – I was trying to be as positive as someone could be when they hear that their athlete heading to a world championship was down one shoulder.
In between Oregon, Texas and Florida, Rob called and left a message about explaining how a wrong boarding pass that led to a luggage mishap routing his bags to Atlanta instead of Clearwater caused him to run back to the ticket counter to (politely) accuse the attendant that she made a huge mistake that she would (NOW) have to fix to get his bags rerouted to the right place and by the time all of this happened they realized his bags would probably make it but unless he took off in full on sprint speed across the airport he might not make it on the plane, sprinting then something catching the bag hanging across his shoulder leading to the crash on the floor. Clearly I didn’t understand the details but I did understand that he had dislocated his shoulder but an orthopedic doctor that was nearby popped it back in, he still made his flight and was bound for Clearwater. Oh and the Crocs he was wearing while doing the 100 meter dash across the airport that might have played a role in his fall? He left those behind.
Above all, he reminded me not to worry. Everything was fine. Clearly. Why? Well, as he put it:
Don’t worry, Bigun is picking me up at the airport and bringing a sling and some ice!
The words “Bigun” and “worry” next to each other made me worry and the word sling for someone expected to swim 1.2 miles in two days was another worry word. Bigun lives in Florida. He’s a Clydesdale tri legend of sorts. A guy with a name like Bigun ain’t small. All I know about Bigun is that Rob made him eggs before Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Eggs he admits to later regretting. Because he had never tried it before. And because they were, after all, eggs before an Ironman.
So I didn’t worry. Because at least Rob was in Bigun’s big and good hands and soon enough someone would be cooking someone eggs. I told him to have Bigun close him into a metal closet and lock the door until I got there. When I finally did get to Clearwater, a day after all this occurred, I had yet another text from Rob:
Bring the wheels! My shoulder is fine, I had it kinesio taped back in place.
*really really deep breath*
Finally I met Rob at the expo and he was everything you would think – tall, skinny, quiet but chatty, slightly obsessed with Mirinda and sporting kinesio tape. I told him to stop swinging his arm around in circles to test his range of motion for fear the arm would simply dislocate itself and drop right into the sand. I could see the challenge before me. What we had here was a grown man with the attention span of a puppy ready to bolt at first sign of open door. I had to keep him contained. If there was any way to keep him on a leash and in a padded cell until Saturday I had to find it.
But there wasn’t. He was staying at the Holiday Inn and besides my closet in the condo was way too small. Instead I tried to keep Rob close at hand. The night before the race, we all went to dinner. Rob ate his dinner, a side of chicken, two loaves of bread and then asked Colleen if she was done with her dinner. Sounds like his name should be Bigun but I christened him Beanpole. I also put him on strict orders to eat a pie a day when he starts training for Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Because he’s just too skinny and needs to eat more than bird food. Man needs pie. Coach says so.
Naturally orders like this lead the conversation straight into junk food. The rest of dinner we spent making a list of everything we wanted to eat after the race. Colleen, Bryan, Rob, even Erich, we all had something to say. Glad to see I’m not the only one that will race for junk food. The list contained chocolate, fudge, peanut butter, blizzards, ice cream, cookie dough, chips, salsa, mojitos (extra emphasis because Rob circled it), bacon (somehow that made it on twice) among other things.
But first, the race. Everyone had a solid race. Erich was 7th in his age group in 4:08. It’s a rough day when the guy that wins your age group goes 3:53. Colleen set an 8 minute PR. Bryan did not die on the run and resisted temptation to draft at 27 mph. My favorite line from Bryan was when he rode by an (empty) penalty tent and said to the officials – I lost my paceline, you guys seen ‘em? And then there was Rob’s race. I’d mention the 17 minute PR but that’s not the top story of the day. The best part is the text I got from him after the race:
Lost my nutrition on the bike and crashed into a car! Yay!
Ironically his shoulder was the least of the problems during the race. And by the way, the next time you need to swim 1.2 miles in 28 minutes – pop your shoulder out of the socket, have someone pop it back in then tape it on. Worked for Rob. It was actually the bike course that would nearly did him in. Turns out that about 2 miles into the bike Rob hit a bump and ejected both of his bottles of nutrition. But that wasn’t enough. He also had a scuffle with a car. You see, the course in Clearwater is along busy strip mall streets for the first 20 miles. Someone decided to turn into a mall right in front of a guy in front of Rob. That guy avoided the car. Rob, however, was forced to slow down but still ran right into the side of the car. Upon impact he launched himself onto the hood? the roof? and still managed to get back to his bike, put on his dropped chain and took off like a man gone mad.
Of course, in his words, I may have paid for an effort like that.
Somehow he survives this incident mostly unscathed except for opening up a few of the airport floor rash wounds he got from the other day’s dislocated shoulder episode. But it wasn’t until the next day when Rob looked at the wheelset that he realized what he did. He had stopped so hard that he had completely worn away the rubber on the tire and left nothing but the threads exposed. He then rode on this non-tire tire for the next 30 miles without getting a flat. Now of all the unlucky things that have happened to him – that was pure good luck!
The rest of the day after the race we spent thinking about food, looking for food and finally each of us in our own way eating food. I almost slapped Erich at the grocery store when he said he didn’t believe in using food as a reward. Standing there with a Big Cup and a gallon of Moose Tracks in my basket I asked him the impossible, why? Because he doesn’t believe in treating himself like a dog. Treat me like the dog I am and hand me my Big Cup, bark, yip.
The next morning I woke up with a rumbly tummy (surprise) and Rob texting me about being HUNGRY not just hungry like most people. I told him to head to IHOP where I am sure he ate 20 Moons Over My Hammy or whatever kitschy greasy spoon dish they serve there. Meanwhile he sent a series of bizarre texts that I assumed were meant for his wife or Mirinda (“you are the wind beneath my wings”) when later he confessed that they really they were just bizarre texts intended for me.
You complete me!
Finally on Sunday I got to meet Bigun. True to his name he was a really big guy. Somewhere there is a picture of me and Bigun. He is so big that I literally fit under his armpit. I’ll admit I was a little scared by that. Bigun, Rob, Erich and I spent some time together talking about the Bigun Ironman Training Plan while Rob plowed through his lunch, my salad and a piece of pie. Shortly thereafter Bigun put Rob in his truck to safely deliver him to the airport (and hopefully directly to the plane).
Me and "Bigun" - visit his blog at http://clydesdaleshavebigbikes.blogspot.com
You hear a lot of talk about the drawbacks of coaching via email – no connection, no interaction. I beg to differ on that. I have developed some great partnerships with my athletes by way of email. Through our contact we form a friendship that holds in person as much as it holds online. Each time I finally meet an athlete I am often surprised at how it feels like I am meeting an old friend. Spending time with Colleen and Rob this weekend was just like that. Not only that but I feel like most of the people I meet in the sport are just all around good people, people I can relate to and know that we’ll get along – Kyle, MacBeth, Erich, Bryan, Bigun.
Me and Rob! Visit his blog at http://tri-robstri-blog.blogspot.com/
Good times, my friends, good times – both in the race (congrats to all) and in everything else we did. Thanks for the good times and laughs, guys.