© Eric Wynn 2012
“Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… Only try to realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you’ll see it is not the spoon that bends, only yourself.” – The Matrix.
“Men, like nails, lose their usefulness when they lose their direction and begin to bend.” – Walter Savage Landor
Leadman Epic 250
Bend, OR – 2012.09.22
I hope you’ll forgive the somewhat pun-ny use of the word, “bend.” I promise that I would not have used it if I didn’t find at least somewhat apropos. Ultra-distance racing (by which I mean races longer than six to seven hours) always has some component of “bend but do not break” to it. Rarely do things go precisely according to plan, though if you are lucky, you end up having them go remarkably smoothly. Like trying to bend a cafeteria spoon to make a miniature catapult to launch food at your roommate on the other side of the dining hall. Sometimes it just is that easy. But I digress. And even earlier than normal.
I thought the two quotations captured nicely the seemingly diametrically opposed ideas that I think define long distance racing – the need to be flexible and the need to be rigid. There are parts of your approach to racing that must be unyielding. And there are parts that need to be flexible and malleable. Eight hours is a long time to win a race. And it’s a long time to lose a race. It’s a long time where things can go wrong. And it’s a long time to make things go right. It’s a little bit like a Rube Goldberg machine – lots of ways to get the ball from A to B, but ultimately confined by A, and by B, and by the fundamental laws of physics and thermodynamics. And, like designing a Rube Goldberg device, sometimes you need to bend your own perceptions in order to figure out something surprisingly simple and yet surprisingly clever. Like after Quentin somehow removed the car’s review mirror, and I could not figure out how to pop it back on. And then, suddenly, I looked at the mirror, and the mount, and realized it rotated back on. And voila, a two-second fix.
Knee warmers on, arm warmers on, jacket on, gloves on. Gloves off, knee warmers off (without getting off the bike I might add), arm warmers off, and jacket off. That was how I broke up the bike ride. 138 miles is a long way to go. Amazing how your brain chooses to break it up. I couldn’t feel my fingers at the start of the bike. And by the end of the run I was squeezing ice cold towels on my head and draping them on my neck. Bend is like most high deserts that way. You have to be flexible. Eat. Drink. Pedal. Run. You have to be rigid in your drive to keep moving forward and to fuel yourself to do so. No I do not want another bottle. Yes I will take another bottle anyway. No I do not want to eat anymore. Yes I will eat more anyway. But those were the intermittent thoughts. Like, “I think I need to take off some clothing.” They come in to your brain. And you execute. And then they are gone.
I sometimes wish those thoughts would stick around. But they don’t. Instead I’m left with the thoughts that do stick around. Most notably, in this case, “f’ing Quintana man. That creep can roll.” Every time I passed someone, and once the gap started to come down to Mathias Hecht, this singular phrase kept rolling (sorry) through my head. Bowling. Cycling. The word, “roll” has many meanings. Kind of like the word run, which in the OED occupies something like three pages. Who knew triathlon could be interpreted so many ways. I have yet to understand, however, how on earth the word “swimmingly” came to mean splendidly/smoothly/etc. They are certainly not talking about the average triathlete. Nor are they talking about me. Maybe Michael Phelps. I don’t know. Swimmingly? Splendidly? Not based on most of my trips to the pool… Anyway, let’s get back to rolling along. If you’ve never ridden 138 miles in somewhat thin air (peak elevation of 6,348ft), well, it’s amazing how fast it goes by when you’ve got images of John Turturo in a purple bowling suit with a Latino cover of The Eagle’s “Hotel California” playing in the background. I suppose the net elevation descent helped as well. And a top speed of 51.5mph.
A little bit NSFW (language)
I’m not sure if I’m implying that I am somehow the triathlon version of the hair-netted Jesus Quintana. That crazy finger-wrist brace thingy certainly seems a bit like me. Sort of like the bowler’s version of an aero helmet. The tall socks would also fit right in in the triathlon world. Clearly they need to be more compressive though, based on the fact that they’ve fallen down. The hair net? Well, I do wear a beanie for most races under my helmet. Maybe I’m stretching a bit too far. It seemed plausible during that second trip up the long Sparks Lake climb. Then again, a lot of things seemed plausible then. I’d been on the bike for a very long time.
Exiting T2, two thoughts kept running (sorry) through my mind. Don’t get passed. And, of course, the only other thing that really mattered. The time on the clock. And whether or it would be enough for a BIG buckle. That’s the thing about long races. You just never know. At least until you’ve got it in your hands. Or, as the case may be, in both hands. Remember, it’s a BIG buckle…
That’s a BIG buckle…