Yesterday, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 5:00AM to shower, walk Sheepa (our dog) – who by the way was just as groggy as I was, and drive into Malibu to go to Zuma Beach. I ended up parking along Pacifc Coast Highway (illegally apparently) and travelling 3 miles on foot to the beach (@#$%#$) along with several hundred other folks.
You see, my friend Ted, who I consider to be my best friend and was my best man at my wedding, was going to compete in the Malibu Triathlon.
For the record:
- I really thought he was drinking the bong water for wanting to do this.
- It was WAY too early for any normal human to be up on a weekend.
- I don’t watch Triathlons on TV much less go see them.
But nonetheless, I had heard triathlons were a big deal and I didn’t want him to go do this all by himself, being this was his first try at something like this, and I… well… didn’t have a lot of confidence that he’d be able to do the whole thing.
See, a triathlon as you may or may not know, is:
- a half mile swim in the ocean, followed by
- an immediate 18 mile bike ride, followed by
- a 4 mile run over hill and dale
Now, I knew Ted had been training but I didn’t think he’d really been "TRAINING" for this gig. All I knew was that he had it in his head that he was going to do this thing.
So I showed up. Which I felt good about I suppose since I was supporting my friend however I was NOT happy. Walking down a highway at 6:00AM is not my idea of spending a morning. Walking for 3 MILES is even worse. I called Ted on his cell at 6:45AM and mumbled something to his voicemail about being late and pissed about the walk then hung up.
His start time was 7:30AM and I had NO idea where he was. I managed to waddle out into the sand and found a sign that read "Men 35-39" which I assumed was him but I could find a messy haired Chinese guy in this sea of 100 wetsuit-wearing, goggles-bearing, athletes.
BAM. The gun sounded. People started scrambling across the sand to the surf. I started taking photos but then stopped as I looked in horror: The breaking waves were STRONG and were knocking guys over. The water was FREEZING cold. Competitors were scrambling and kicking beneath the waves and were struggling to get to a buoy which marked the starting point of the half mile leg.
You really can’t appreciate what a half mile swim is like until you see hundreds of little white skull caps swimming/bobbing slowly through the waves between the start & finish buoys along the Malibu coast. The finish buoy was near the horizon… and I had no idea that a half mile could look so far away.
I hate swimming. Demetri Martin (comedian) once said, "Swimming is an confusing sport… because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it so you DON’T DIE." My body has the tendency to just sink. I told me friend Chandler that I’m like Jack from "Titanic". Just look at me and imagine slipping off of a floating piece of wood: "Blub blub blub." That’s me.
I didn’t know where Ted was, so I just kind wandered around, every so often peering at the horizon looking for white skull caps to start coming in. I decided to plant myself near the the location where the swimmers were supposed to coming in. Here I learned two things:
- The swimmers all had RFID tags. Every swimmer was supposed to cross this electric field of sorts eminating from these pads that sat at the Stage 1 finish line. As they came in a "boop boop BOOOOOOP!" sounded and the person knew they’d been "marked off" as coming in from the ocean.
- There’s a relay. Apparently, you don’t actually have to do the whole triathlon. Some folks come in teams of 3, each person doing a "leg" of the triathlon. Which to me sort of defeated the purpose but whatever.
Ted came out of the water and started trudging to his bike. I was so startled by his exit that I barely got a photo of him coming out of the water. He couldn’t even hear me… and didn’t even know I was there because he had earplugs on.
As he made his way to the thousands of bikes in the waiting area, all I could think was: HOLY SHIT. HE MADE IT. HE ACTUALLY MADE IT. AND NOW HE’S GONNA DO THE BIKE PORTION.
At this point, I didn’t actually know that the bike route was 18 miles long. I frankly didn’t know a whole lot about triathlons except that they were some how related to the fabled "Ironman" competition. (Sidenote: Saying that the Ironman is related to nature to a Triathlon is kinda like saying a Porsche Cayman is related to a Toyota Corolla. The Ironman is 140.2 miles in length – 2 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, & 26.2 mile marathon run. A Triathlon is 22.5 miles in length – .5 mile swim, 18 mile bike ride, & 4 mile mile run. If you know anyone that’s ever done an Ironman competition, you should be in awe of that person.) All I knew was that he was getting into his bicycling gear and was in for a serious ride.
Why? Because the route had two uphill sections. And uphill = uphell. I missed him coming out of the gate and waited on the side for over an hour or so looking for him to pass by again.
I got a little antsy here. This was taking a while and I wanted to go back to bed. But then it dawned on me that Ted was doing a triathlon – he was the one going through hell – and here I am, bitching about having to wait around sitting on my lazy ass watching people whiz past me. How much of an ass do you think I felt like at that point?
In the meantime, two girls sat on the side of the route where both the bikes and the runners (some individuals had finished the bicycling portion and had moved on to the running portioin due to the staggering of the start times for some of the younger folks) and to my amazement, they cheered everyone on. EVERYONE. For over the hour that I was there, these two girls cheered like schoolgirls for every person that went past them.
Remember that I was a little irritable. At first, the darker side of me was a little annoyed by them being there like a broken record. After all, hearing, "Yay! Go [insert company name here]! You’re doing great!" over and over again can be a little repetitive. But as I watched people go by and saw the utter pain and sheer anguish in everyone’s faces, I started feeling more and more like a grade A jerk. Who was I to think poorly of anyone encouraging these folks along? Christ – these people are doing far more exercise than I could ever hope to accomplish. I found myself starting to actually shout along with them as I waited for Ted to come back.
Then came the near-crash.
A girl, who looked like she could barely stand, wobbled on her bike along the path. Her head hung low, she hit a post and lost control. She swerved in the opposite direction hitting yet another post and looked like she’d had it. She just had a look of absolute fear on her face and had tears welling up in her eyes as she entered just the second leg of the triathlon and I said to myself, "I really should go help her."
But I stopped. I remembered something someone said earlier about the bike section – the athletes had to complete the bicycle leg on the own power or they would be disqualified. No water. No help from anyone. Only verbal encouragement.
So I yelled at her to focus and that there was no one behind her so to take her time. She regained her composure, nodded silently in acknowledgment, stared straight ahead and started moving forward. I don’t know what happened to her but judging by the change in her expression, I’ll bet she made it.
I waited for what seemed like an eternity: Ted hadn’t come back yet. It was so long that I suspected something might have gone wrong. I later found out that I was correct – he cramped up on the uphill incline and was reduced to a fraction of his training speed. But he did eventually make it back. In fact, on the final turn he was practically sprinting into the second stage finish.
Which left the run. The run was a beach-side 4 mile trek that went uphill and back. As the runners left the gate, I managed to take another picture and noticed that Ted didn’t look bad! He was breathing well and was running at a good clip, grabbing a cup of water from a volunteer as he left the RFID gates.
I shouted out to him at this point and ran with him for a brief second: This was the first time he knew for certain that I was there. He actually hadn’t seen me up until this point. I shouted that this was the final leg and to keep a steady pace as he ran toward the highway.
I knew he’d have the opportunity to stop and walk if he needed to at this point so it was only a matter of time before he came in. Unlike the swim, where… well… you can’t exactly stop anywhere, or the bike, where… you have to keep momentum or you fall off, the run is very controlled and even when exhaustion sets in, an athlete can keep moving forward through sheer momentum.
Sure enough after a little more than a half hour, he came hurtling back down the highway. I caught him at the final 1/4 mile and started yelling at him to kick it into gear and that this was all that was left… the final minute or two of the triathlon. As I shot some good photos of him, then suddenly burst into a sprint.
Now when I say "sprint", I mean, FASTER THAN I WAS ABLE TO RUN. Me – the guy that drank sparkling water from a nearby vending machine (BTW: $2.50 for a bottle of sparkling water? What highway robbery!) and sat on his duff for over 2 hours. I couldn’t keep up with him. He was seemingly unstoppable.
In fact, I didn’t even catch him at the finish line. I looked for him but I couldn’t find him. I figured he must have gone back to his bike so I wandered over there, and there he was – the Triathlete – gathering up his belongings at his bike. And he didn’t look bad at all. He still had that patented dumb-assed smile on his face, and he didn’t look any worse for the wear. In fact, he looked like he’d broken a sweat but, well, he wasn’t about to topple over or anything.
Unlike me. I probably would have been swearing up a storm about some blister or some cramp that I got. He got a cramp during the run but he was able to run through it… as if enduring the Triathlon wasn’t enough as it was.
And that led me to a reaffirmation that no matter how much I think I know, I sure as hell shouldn’t ever count people out that have the right attitude – because attitude counts for more than people know when faced with serious challenges. While I’m more of a git’-er-done, bear-down, grit-your-teeth type of person that just trudges through any situation like a tank doing it’s duty-bound job, Ted always has this ridiculous can-do, optimistic, positive attitude that I frankly tend to mock a lot. He thinks he can be an Olympic snowboarder. He thinks he can write a movie script. He thinks he can get an MBA. He thinks he can make it big in the stock market. He thinks he can publish a book. I always shake my head at his constant damn-fool daydreaming.
But then again, he THOUGHT he could run an Triathlon. And so he tried.
And well… I stand, humbled. Good job, buddy…really: Good job.