Thursday, April 9, 2009

Big Easy, Over Easy

Didn’t think I would have anyone asking how the bet went. Good thing it turned out favorable for me; not only would I be deprived of the gloating at office, I would have been subject to Brad’s gloating. I’m trying to keep it civil. Honest. With just a little jab here or there. For now, Brad is my bitch.

Since then, he’s been threatening to throw people across the office and put people in sleeperholds. He’s clearly moved on.

So tale of the tape: Oceanside was from all accounts pretty ideal weather wise. Brad was on pace for a fast swim but was kicked in the shoulder by a woman from an earlier wave (yes, a woman), resulting in one of his frequent shoulder dislocations (I am not making this up). He found a nearby piling just 100 yards off shore and began banging his shoulder against it, trying to re-set the sucker in socket. So he accounts for five minutes of that.

On the bike, his first half was beset by a tight back. On the half marathon, his first half of the run, like the bike, was beset by the tight back. 5:19 was the final damage of his race.

My race? Considering all the travel I have undergone in the last three or four weeks (Arizona for TriFest, then Thailand and Arizona again for a couple birthdays), I was pleased that my impromptu taper on airplanes and in my car seat along Interstate 8 between Tucson and San Diego worked out so nicely. And it was nice to be on the run in Nawlins, knowing that I had run in hotter temps in Phuket two weeks earlier.

The point-to-point swim was awesome—longshore in the murky Pontchartrain without a bit of contact. Swimming was the one thing I did the least of (swimming once a week, getting in once every two weeks every so often as time didn’t permit) and I expected an ugly time. That said, I started easy and found a good set of feet that I latched onto, battering anyone who contested me for them. I wasn’t letting go of this pacesetter. Ended up with a 34-minute swim.

The bike was my favorite. I love flat courses—just love to tuck in and jam. Through 30 miles, that was it—jamming out east of town into Bayou Sauvage. Race officials said we might see crocodiles out there, and while I didn’t, a few pros said they actually saw a couple. But I saw some shit there I didn’t expect. A forest of trees, absent their foliage after the hurricane, looked like erect toothpicks. But something caught my eye; a 40-foot closed-bow boat was jammed in there behind the trees, clearly forced up nearly onto the road by the Katrina winds that shoved water high up the shore. There was no water around now, the boat stranded in a prison of trees, high and dry.

An out and back along the Bayou Sauvage was crankin at 25 mph. But I saw the guys coming back in from the turnaround at a much slower pace, and I knew what was coming: ugly headwinds. A turn onto the main highway was hoped to be a respite, but no dice; it was wind in the grill the rest of the way home. My early dreams for a sub 2:30 bike were gone, but I was happy to split 2:37. But I also wondered if I overcooked the bike.

As such, the run was gonna be the big question. At mile one, I got dehydration tingles in my arms, and expected it to be a walkfest. The sun beating down, paired with the humidity, reminded me of my run in Phuket two weeks ago. I found a cat who was cruising super easy, and just locked into his pace. I’d rather ease into the run and finish stronger, especially in the heat—at the advice of my wife. I didn’t want to walk a step of the run. At every aid station, it was water over the head, water across the chest, ice into my singlet, cool the engine room.

It paid off. After five miles, the sun tucked in behind the clouds, and the going got easier. I invited my run partner from Dalton, GA to join me when I was gonna pick things up after mile six. An aid station later, he dropped off and I never saw him again. So I picked up the pace 30 seconds per mile through the rest of the day, enjoying the shade trees that covered the rest of the run course.

Somewhere along the way, I had a laugh; some fans held out a bedsheet with YOU CAN DO IT! spraypainted across it. All I could think of was Rob Schneider’s little Cajun character in all of Adam Sandler’s flicks like The Waterboy and 50 First Dates.

I came across the finish in front of Jackson Square, the chute beset by spectators that were only a few feet wide, a Jazz band playing off to the side, and I immediately put this race in my top three of all time ever done: Monaco, Alcatraz, and New Orleans. It’s an ESPN Instant Classic. My time: 5:13. Brad spotted me 45 minutes, and I beat him outright by five minutes.

Thanks for the unofficial snag of images from Brightroom.

Some folks are bitching about not getting cold towels (queue teardrop) during the run. But goddamn it, what the hell do you want? The spirit of this event from the early days has always been one of self-sustainance (remember the days of using electrical tape to secure a banana to the stem?)

Just because you paid an entry fee does not mean it is a catered buffet with guaranteed deviled eggs, escargot and champagne flutes. Race director Bill Burke said he was shocked that so many first-timers (not first timers to that race, not first timers to the half-Ironman distance, but first-timers to triathlon) were laying out their transition race morning, and setting off for the swims start—without a bottle on their bike. And he took heat for being shocked about that. I’m as shocked. Granted, it was hot and people went through too many bottles. But sorry, no sympathy for these whingers. One bottle cage on your bike for a half Ironman? Really? Take ownership of your day—end of story. I learned it’s one more thing for my “First Timer” articles: bring nutrition. I thought it would be a no brainer, but I guess that’s what happens when you assume.

And logistics? I was from out of town, figured out the map, rode to the race start, checked in my bike and got a cab back to my hotel the day before the race. After the race, a shuttle got athletes back to transition. A point-to-point race makes the race itself greater than any out and back or loop—that’s the tradeoff. I’ll take a bit of hustle in periphery to the race in deference to the actual race experience. This is one reason this race makes my top five—I mean, we traversed town from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River and the French Quarter. Without the “inconvenience” of a finish at Jackson Square, this race is just another 70.3. With it, this race is special.

Beyond this all, the race did something else; it wrote a check to A Shared Initiative, an organization that is helping rebuild houses in the Lower Ninth Ward. Burke took me on a personal solo tour of the Ninth Ward; upon crossing the bridge, he pointed in the direction of where a river retaining wall (which stood about 13 foot tall) failed, flooding a massive neighborhood with waters that ripped houses from their foundations, ripped the only possessions from folks, ripped folks from the lives of loved ones. Burke pointed out some green homes that Brad Pitt was having built to help rebuild the hood.

But the area still needs so much help. I’ll be doing a travel piece in Triathlete on this race. There’s so much to see, but athletes need to see this area.

I wanted to show two photos I took on my tour with Burke that resonated with me: one of a table set on its end, with a message to then-President Bush… which I am sure extends to President Obama. New Orleans is out of the media spotlight, but the area still needs help. Click on the pic to read what it says. The site was home to a headstone for one resident who died. Behind was a trailer, housing offices for the guys building some of Brad Pitt's new rebuild project homes. It was encouraging to see that, because beyond that, there was nothing but steps up to homes.. without the homes even being there.

The other is from inside a home, any home, about seven blocks inland from the wall. It wore the proverbial scarlet letter that so many of the homes wore: a spraypainted X, with numbers and codes that alerted emergency staff to status of lives—or deaths—inside. To see the waterline still set on homes was appalling.

But walking into this particular home, only held up by 2x4 supports, it hit home more. A pile of photos lay on the linoleum floor. A little girl features in the first one I see. I don’t know the status of the family, but to see this family’s belongings sitting, water-stained in this empty home was like walking on a grave—I felt like an intruder.Of course, if nobody pays notice, nothing changes.

This 70.3 race, with whatever tourism dollars were generated by athlete presence, helps rebuild the community, the city. This was my first time to New Orleans. I saw a t-shirt that said “Recover, Rebuild, Restore New Orleans” Of course, I also saw a t-shirt that said “I got Bourbon-faced on Shit Street.” Whatever your pleasure, injecting dollars, tourism or otherwise by doing as little as buying a t-shirt, or an order of beignets and a cafe au lait, helps get this great city back on its feet.

After the race, I joined the LifeSport crew—coach Lance Watson and athletes Brent McMahon (your race winner), Linsey Corbin, Chris Lieto, Magali Tisseyre and Justin Park well as elite age groupers Nat Faulkner and Sean Bechtel—for some Bourbon Street revelry. Much fun was had by all, but things, as they probably always do on Bourbon Street, devolved as the night went on. Starting the evening with Hurricanes at Pat O’Briens was great; Brent drank, hilarity ensued. Upon leaving at 2:30 a.m., you think we can get out unscathed?

No, not when there’s a bar open with a mechanical bull. Park, Tisseyre and I were dumb enough to ride the bull. I had to represent my Tucson rodeo upbringing (well, it was merely watching in the stands as a kid). I wrapped the rope around a hand and channeled Ty Murray.

I sucked. We all did. But it was fun.

Taking my Pacificos home from work now. Don’t like my choice of that beer for my race earnings? That’s ok; you don’t have to drink it, and summer is coming soon enough, it’s warm enough to start drinking it here in San Diego.

Next up: a detailed look at T.J. Tolakson’s race rig.


G said...

Best race review I've read in a long time. Thanks.

TriDave said...

Awesome race report. I'm adding this 70.3 to my 2010 schedule. What's next?

Jay Prasuhn said...

Thx, gents. Despite the crying going on at ST by some forumgoers, this race was VERY well run, and a ton of fun; Brad wants to do it next year after I came back glowing about it, so maybe we'll have the rematch head-up.

I don't know what's on next except supporting my wife at Wildflower.. will race again when she's away at team camp in Switzerland. Will find something—not gonna let the fitness go away!

wedding rings said...

Same here! Awesome report!