"Sure," I replied. "The only problem with doing that is that there won't be anyone in front of me!" It was a half-joke as I informed my team that my newly found strategy to mentally prepare for this race was to employ "irrational levels of confidence." It was funny. And it took the edge off of just about everything we did or said when we talked about the pre-race nerves and game-day logistics over pizza and beers the night before.
The race is staged around Mt. Washington at the beginning of April. Spring doesn't really spring until May in the White Mountains but the chatter pre-race was about how 'lucky' we were to have predicted temps in the 30s. To call it a multi-sport event is a bit of an understatement. It is the multi-est of multi-sports and we can get into the details later; it is a run-kayak-bike-hike-ski. Dubbed the Tuckerman Inferno.
I have never kayaked before and I've only skied in Tuckerman's Ravine once. I had no idea what I was doing signing up for this thing. The thing was, I haven't really suffered in a race in a while and I was just looking for some opportunity to suffer. I was also looking for something outside of the box. I was looking forward to seeing how I handled racing in the freezing cold temps. Maybe masochistic of me, but I was really craving the frigid temps; the feeling of telling your fist close but digits not responding to the command due to frozen muscles.
I was super nervous leading up to the race. I didn't know how I was going to handle what race-day was going to throw at me; and even better, the race is so unique that I didn't even know how to go about preparing myself for it. By shear chance, I had set up to have lunch with a friend the Thursday before the race - it was the conversation we had that afternoon that got me back in the right mindset and back to the title of these ego-maniacal race-rant-blogs of mine. Act as if. Or as Matt put it that day "irrational levels of confidence."
To back up, I met Matt while running a marathon back in 2013. We were strangers at the start line, then stride for stride for most of the run; and after we finished, we smack talked each other a bit, and became really good friends. The focal point of our lunch was that he had just completed a 100mile run. I simply wanted a recap with him and I wanted to pick his brain.
"What got you thru the 100miles?" I inquired. "How'd you feel?"
He replied with a resounding, "I dominated every single one of those miles... and I enjoyed every second of it. Every one was telling me to 'respect the distance' but I blatantly disrespected the distance and it was one of the best days ever." Matt went on to joke, "I 'talked shit' to my crew when they told me I was going too fast. I told the race director I was going to go out for another loop once I was finished." Matt told me that he literally sped up and "ran away" from anyone he came across on the course who had a negative attitude.
I walked away from that lunch with a new attitude and the race changed right there for me. No matter what happens on race day, I told myself I was going out reckless abandon (even if it was completely out of ignorance). It was very liberating.
My crazy, old, bald, football coach used to spit and drool and snap clipboards over his knee while he screamed (with a lisp), "HAFF-A-TREE!! YOU CAN MAKE A MISH-TAKE BUT YOU'VE GOT TO MAKE IT AT FULL SH-PEED (exploitative, exploitative, exploitative)!!"
So that's what we did on race day.
I say "we" because I had the best crew up there with me. Three of them I had never met before but they truly made my race/day/weekend. I'm still smiling ear to ear as I write this thinking about it all and how selflessly they committed their day to making sure my race went smoothly. I like to think I returned the favor as best I could with some humor and smiles along the way. I committed myself to having the best day ever, even if I was in the depths of hell suffering thru this race, I promised that I'd always find a way to joke about it and laugh it off.
The race starts with an 8.3mile run that starts at Storyland in New Hampshire and ends at a launch on the Sacco River. The first quarter of a mile is relatively flat then you get kicked in the face by a 600ft climb over the <2 miles. Everyone starts in one wave, so it's unclear who is doing relays and who is doing the whole event. "Fuck it." I said to myself as the race director yelled GO! "Just beat everyone and keep a huge smile on your face doing it." I know this sounds arrogant. I did look at the previous years times, and I knew I was definitely not going to beat everyone. I just wanted the feelings and the pain that I knew was to come upon completely disregarding the voices telling me to "save your energy for the run" which I have become numb and a little bored with in the triathlon world. This morning, I was saving nothing for the nothing.
My legs immediately cursed me for this decision. Adrenaline hides the pain at the beginning of a race but it doesn't take more than a few instants for the pain to lift it's vale. My heart was beating faster than I have ever felt. I crested the top of the 2 mile hill in about 15minutes and the 4th runner. I tried to real in the guy ahead of me as we switched from climbing mode to downhill running mode. My muscles felt the shift as well and they took the opportunity to cry out again as the lactic acid built. I mumbled, "I love this shit." to myself and pushed them harder. I wondered if there was a breaking point in terms of self inflicted pain registering in the brain - as in - what if there was a point where you could keep pushing beyond the point where your muscles hurt. What was after that point? What would it feel like?
It hurt the whole way. However, as promised, I didn't let a single bit pain show beyond the confines of my cranium. When I saw Chris with his phone out around mile 4, I asked him if the race started yet and went up for a heel-click.
I would find out after the race that I had set a personal best 10k time within this 8.3mile run and though I have never seen my heart rate above 181 BPM (even during track workouts) that I somehow pushed it up to 192 BPM during this run.
My legs were screaming so loud during the run that I didn't realize that snow was flurrying and that it was cold. Doug and my crew helped get me in the kayak and shoved me off. I dipped a hand into the water, looked back, and yelled "Yeah, a little warmer than bath temp!"
To sum up the kayak, I hit every single rock in the rapids. In true Atari/Pong fashion I rammed back and forth from one side of the river to the other. I went backwards and I nearly capsized multiple times. About a mile down the river, I spotted one of the race officials. He asked me if I was sure I knew what I was doing and then proceeded to inform me that I was using my paddle backwards.
Other than the fact that my leg muscles had an amazing opportunity to seize up after overflowing with lactic acid and then going completely docile for 40minutes, I was feeling great. At this point my body was freezing cold as well. I didn't change my soaking wet clothes because that would have taken too long and started got on the bike shivering so hard I could barely control the handlebars. I felt my legs flash figurative double-middle-fingers(toes?) up as I reasoned with them - pedal harder and you might warm up faster.
The bike up to Pinkham Notch was not only steep and unrelenting but the head winds were absolutely brutal. My deep rimmed wheels blew around like sails with every gust. I'd say "Woah, I bet everyone else is realllly hating this wind right now!" and crank harder.
I rolled into the trail head parking lot and smiled when Doug greeted me to take the bike. I threw on my borrowed skis and skins and started making my way upward even more.
The hiking trail is also incredibly steep, windy, and snowing harder still. It was about halfway up the mountain when I realized I hadn't eaten anything or drank much at all. I started getting super dizzy every little turn hoping to see the transition to the ski. I'd sing to the other people on the trail as I passed them (it was still open for public use during the race) and I'd ask them stupid questions like if they had seen anyone else in goofy looking spandex going the wrong way on skis. Some of them got the humor, some didn't, but I was having a blast and despite the dehydration and hunger and freezing cold and heart throbbing out of my chest, I was in high spirits.
I got to the top and didn't really know what to do up there. I knew I had to take the skins off and lock my boots down but I didn't really practice how to do that on my borrowed ski set up. I lost a ton of time here and race people at the top seemed to get a kick out of my goofiness but I eventually managed to get ready to ski the right way down the mountain
Or maybe I should just call it a "slide and don't die" rather than a ski. On frozen, already sore, beat up legs I put a pair of skis on that I had never skied on before and attempted my way down. I was getting tossed air-born by the deathly combination of ice and mogles. I yelled more times than I will ever admit and at a higher pitch than I could ever recreate. I begged to crossed the finish line before my quads gave out and sheared off my bones. I finished with a huge smile 3rd across the line.
It was one of the best days I've had racing in a long while. Attitude is everything. Stay upbeat and positive no matter what. The alternative is to act shitty and to have shitty thoughts; that will only reinforce a shitty experience and no one wants to be around that.
Even if it's not 100% your style - I highly encourage and challenge you to try and employ "irrational levels of confidence" in any aspect of life whether working, racing, or absolutely anything. See what happens, I can almost guarantee you'll either be happy about what comes of it, or have an even more hilarious story about how you went down laughing about it. I am still not sure which of those I like better.