Back in the spring of, oh, 2006 or 2007, I drove my beloved 1993 Saab 900s (forest green, sunroof, leather interior, no turbo, standard shift) to Chincoteague, Virginia (you’ve all read Misty, right?) for a surfing trip with my once and future roommate, Jesse Dukes. I was a couple of years out of graduate school, teaching at a small boarding school in Vermont and trying to write and train in my few spare minutes. Jesse, after a long stint in Maine, was back in home state, trying to make a living as a freelance radio producer. We were both obsessed with journalism and surfing. Chincoteague, famous for its ponies (see above parentheses), is also famous for pretty good east coast surf. By western standards, it’s pretty silly stuff, but for the east coast the swell was great: small but regular, mostly un-interrupted by the terrible wind-slop of New England surfing. We would wake up, have breakfast, drink coffee, go to the beach, surf, come home, eat, nap, go back to the beach, surf again, and then come home, exhausted, to make dinner and talk about books.
The second morning, Jesse made pancakes, and revealed a (to me) hitherto unrevealed truth about pancakes: the first one always sucks. There’s something about getting one pancake made on a virgin pan, with butter unclouded by burnt milk solids, that just doesn’t seem to work. That first pancake is recognizably pan-cakey (round, between white and black on the color spectrum, roughly 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick), but is almost always overcooked on the outside and runny in the middle. Just take it and toss it outside for the famous Chincoteague ponies. Jesse, making pancakes at the stove, was struggling with the house’s finicky electric stove (the cottage was straight out of 1950s America vacationing chic), and the pancakes subsequent to the first were turning out not much better than the first. In a creaky Russian accent (we were obsessed with journalism and surfing, but Russia, too, which, in the middle aughts, was more of a drunken uncle figure rather than abusive and alcoholic cousin its revealed itself to be in these latter days) he said “The first pancake is for the pan. The second pancake is…for the pan.” We laughed.
The cannier among you will have detected, as early as the title of this post, a metaphor lurking somewhere in here. Dear reader, I cannot help myself. A race like last weekend’s Oceanside 70.3 begs explanation in some vein, some meaning. It is such a habit for us as thinkers and doers to analyze, categorize. My race last weekend was recognizable as a complete triathlon (I swam, biked, and ran, without any explosions, mechanicals, or disqualifications), but it had an overcooked outer and runny center. I began the race right where I wanted to, on Trevor Wurtele’s hip, where I stayed for about 600 meters, in comfort, right where I wanted to be. We started working our way through a group that contained (I think) Jesse Thomas, and somewhere right around there I lost Trevor. Just…lost him. I could still see him, but the part of my brain that should have cared about the loss kinda shrugged and walked away. I lost him, and then I lost the group he and I had just swam through! I ended up two minutes behind Trevor out of the water (two minutes! He put two minutes into me in 1200 meters!) and more than 40 seconds behind Jesse. My swim performance haunts me the most, ten days later, as it’s the least explainable. Mental toughness has always been an issue for me, and I think I have been neglecting that part of my game. The last 400 meters of the swim I just felt…tired.
Onto the bike, however, and I resolved to put the swim behind me. I felt reasonably good on the bike, but didn’t realize how good the other front-runners were feeling, too. Jesse rode a 2:06. Lionel Sanders an incredible 2:03! I was eight minutes faster than my last attempt on this course, posting a mid-packish 2:15, but that wasn’t going to do the trick in such a quality field, on such a fast day. I did stick to my and my coach’s plan, putting my head down and pushing for the last 11 miles (you make a right hand turn as you descend from the mountains on the Oceanside course and head back towards town—this is where many people get tired and you can catch them if you stay vigilant and tough). I caught several good athletes in this final push (Paul Matthews, Stephen Kilshaw, Matt Hanson), and resolved to continue the push onto the run.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be…I faded after the first 5k or so and kinda struggled to the finish, having put in a very good Ironman-pace kind of day. I finished 21st, which isn’t up to the standard I set for myself, but at least the pancake is made, dissected, and thrown to the ponies. My next race is Wildflower, which, as a tougher and slower course than Oceanside, is more my speed. I’d like to thank my coach, Cliff English, for his support at training camp, and my sponsors Athletes Lounge, Wattie Ink, Giant Bicycles, Rolf Prima Wheel Systems, Fuse Lenses, Newton Running, Powerbar, TYR, and Speedfill for all their help in and around Oceanside 70.3. It is a beautiful, old-school race, and I love it every time I’m down there. It’s a great way to open up the season, regardless of the result.