Chattanooga 70.3: The Oldest Surfer on the Beach

oldest surfer

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

It took a few days before I started to reflect upon the whole thing. Like many times in my life, a song triggered emotions. I sat on the beach watching you play in the surf. My iphone was plugged into a small speaker where we had a shuffled mix of Jimmy Buffett and Grateful Dead playing quietly.

Jimmy sang,

I stopped searching for perfection
Many waves ago
What really matters is the here and now
And that’s about all I know
Gonna catch me a big old roller
Sun setting on the sea
Riding in on her glassy shoulder
The water going gray like me
There’s nothing that I want to do
No place I’m trying to reach
Only time is now more precious to
The oldest surfer on the beach
Oldest surfer on the beach
Mommy looked at me and said “that’s you.” I smiled and breathed in the salt air, focused on you kids laughing and diving through rough waves, and rubbed my sore legs. We’ve never missed  a year of going to the beach – going 2 times most year. It gives me room to breath, room to think, or not think. Everyone loves the beach. I need the beach.
I completed my 7th half ironman at Chattanooga 70.3 a couple of weeks ago. The build up wasn’t particularly eventful through the winter. I did the work, somewhat less focused than in years past, but still did most of it. Like every time before there were cold mornings waiting for the windshield to defrost before I could drive to the pool, mornings riding my bike in sub-freezing temperatures with sleet and cold rain falling, long runs…always the long runs.
But nothing specific I remember about training cycle. No illness. No injury. Only a few dark months where winter caught up to me and my outlook on things became gloomy. That’s winter for me. Triathlon has always helped me get past it – knowing that spring is coming, because I’m training for something after all. The event happens in spring and summer follows and winter, like the drudgery of long rides and runs passes.
chatt medal
Nana and Papaw accompanied us to the beach, and to the race the weekend before. On race morning Papaw drove me downtown Chattanooga at 4:30am where I met up with my friend and training partner Mike.
THE SWIM – 28:54
The race itself, like the training cycle this go-around, was fairly uneventful.
After a short bus ride up river, we started the swim in a rolling start. One person in the water after another. As always, I slowed my breathing and prayed silently for strength of will and body before starting. There was loud music playing at the start and I eventually found myself praying quietly outloud, thanking God for a strong body and strong mind and giving him the Glory for getting me to another starting line. There’s victory in that alone. Before jumping into the Tennessee river I said “Your will God, not mine.” And then I was swimming.
We swam 300 yards upstream before turning downstream for the remainder of the 2300 yard swim. I swam a steady pace, pulling back when I started feeling too much effort, kicking deep when my arms tired, gliding “long and strong” and letting the river carry me. Relax, relax, long and strong, relax, relax – my standard mantra during a long swim. I had my fastest ever half iron swim split, somewhat aided by the river current. Good for 25th out of almost 270 in my age group.
THE BIKE – 2:49:14
My bike was set up a long way from the bike out, so I had a long transition time. I took the first few rolling miles easy averaging under 19mph until my breathing regulated. Once I wa comfortable I picked up the pace to closer to 22mph for the middle portion of the ride, headed south, with a tail wind, into North Georgia. The course had a number of rolling hills, but nothing I was familiar with training in middle TN. On the return leg North back to Chattanooga, we faced a head wind most of the way. My pace slowed, but I managed to stay strong and “within myself” – not overcooking myself as I’d done in Orlando and Pell City. I drank a bottle of gatorade and two bottles of water and ate 2 gels and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich during the ride. For once I ate and drank enough on the bike. I was happy with my ride. It wasn’t my best (2:39) or my worst (3:00), but comfortably in the middle.
THE RUN – 2:03
The entire family was waiting for me behind the barriers when I got to T2. You all screamed and gave me energy. Behind my sunglasses I actually shed a few tears in T2. Reflecting on it afterwards, while listening to Buffett, I realized it was a two fold reason – 1. I’d made it through another race, knowing that I could survive the run and finish yet again. 2. I knew there was immense pain ahead to get through the 13 miles remaining.
I left transition at a 6:45 pace that lasted for about a quarter mile and until I was out of your sight, then I slowed way down to settle into a rhythm. My hamstring cramped about a mile in as we ran up a hill, so i stopped to stretch. But that was the last of the cramps for the day.
I chose to walk through every aid station from start to finish – running in between. I drank a water, poured a water over my head, drank a gatorade, drank a coke (on lap two), dumped ice down my tri suit, one more water over my head and then started running again- every mile.
Nutrition (or lack of) has been my downfall in every half I’ve completed, but not this one.
At 11.5 miles, I slowed to a walk as we ran up the pedestrian bridge. A nice lady who had ridden near me during most of the ride ran up alongside me. “Almost there. Run with me to that orange cone,” she said, pointing up the bridge. “Thank you,” I said in return. We started running together at a good pace. When we reached the cone she said “Run with me to that post up there.” That pattern when on through the last 1.5 miles. She pulled me to the finish. There are good people out of the course who care about their fellow racers like a triathlon family.
There were thousands of screaming spectators on the course, particularly near the downtown area. At one point, it felt like a tour de france climb with the crowds pressing in, people holding homemade signs in front of you, cheering you on. My favorite signs of the day: “Don’t trust that fart”, “You’re the slowest runner so far!”, “Worst parade ever!”, “What is everyone running from”.
At the finish I slumped over, my hands on my knees, tears streaming again as one lady removed my timing chip and another held me by the shoulders to make sure I didn’t collapse.
I’m happy with my result. It’s right in the middle of my half iron times (5:30, 5:31, 5:45, 5:41, 5:38, 5:25 – and now, at 41, 5:32).
I got what I put in and felt no regret at this finish line.
That evening, in a hotel, I felt the effects of my effort – I shivered with both dehydration and sunburn, but fell asleep with a smile on my face. When I was younger I laid awake thinking of “what if’s” and “I could have’s”.
At the finish, like every time before, I said “never again.” Withing 48 hours I was looking online at another 70.3, a few days later I settled into “only time will tell”. Not sure yet what’s next.
On the beach a few days after the race I listened to Jimmy Buffett sing “The oldest surfer on the beach” and realized that I have a lot good years left, but something has changed in me. I still want the best from myself, and settle for nothing less, but I’ve learned who I am and where I am and have found contentment in both.
I stopped searching for perfection
Many waves ago
What really matters is the here and now
And that’s about all I know
I love you,
xx2i Sunglasses for providing me with both pre race and race day shades (Bahamas 1 and Hawaii 1)
Mizuno who provided me with my race day shoe, the Wave Hitogami 3
Gu Energy for providing me with gels for race day. (I used both caffeinated and Roctane varieties on the course)