I was talking with a few folks in the shop this week that had gone to New Orleans for the IM 70.3 on Sunday. The conditions, apparently, were super rough-lots of wind and choppy water. One of the two, Drake, was telling me about swimming in the washing-machine-like water, how we couldn't see over the swells, how he was constantly getting mouthfuls of water and his goggles kept falling off, and he said, "At least it makes a good story!".
That got me thinking about all the weird/funny/ridiculous things I've seen(or done) at races of various types over the years.
I lived in San Francisco for a while, and I did the Escape from Alcatraz a coupe of times back when it was just a big local event, not the craziness that it is now. One year, I was waiting in line to get on the ferry that takes all the competitors out to the island, and I was behind a group of big, young, loud guys. Like a lot of people, they dealt with their nervous energy through constant bad jokes at high volume. The line was long and I was pretty ready to get on the boat and away from them. As we got into the boat, they were doing last-minute body marking. The Bro in front of me hadn't had his done, so he tried to pull up his wetsuit to expose his calf for the marker. It wasn't easy, so the nice woman who was doing the marking said,"Why don't you pull the suit down instead of up? It'll be quicker."
He looked at her as if she had recently sustained a head injury and said, not kindly, "Because I'm not wearing anything underneath." He looked at his friends, as if to say, "Look at this idiot with the Sharpie".
The nice woman paused, smiled, and said, "Whatcha planning on doing in transition, Champ?"
The look on the Bro King's face as he realized he was going to have to get nude in front of 2,000 people in a field because he was too dim to think past the swim was memorable.
Another year at Alcatraz, I got out of the water and was changing out of my wetsuit(luckily with clothes underneath). I was next to a guy that was having trouble getting his right arm out of his long sleeve wetsuit. He'd gotten his left out and was gripping the end of the right sleeve with his left hand and pulling, but his shoulders were presumably tired from swimming, so it wasn't working. I watched for a beat, wondered if I could help, then figured he'd be ok, then started to lean down to get my shoes. Right then, the guy gave a big heave and his arm came out of the suit, elbow first, at approximately seventy thousand miles an hour. I took the elbow right in the nose. I remember thinking, "Oh-you really do see stars..."
The guy turned, looked at me and said, "Oh. God."
Amazingly, my face was so numb from the cold that it didn't even hurt(until the next day).
The good bike race stories, unfortunately, usually involve a crash. I was in a Masters crit in Northern California a few years ago-I don't even remember exactly where. I remember the course, though-it was the kind that didn't look technical on paper. The corners weren't sharp. But the road width-or lack thereof-made the race sketchy. It was a big group, and when the road narrowed there wouldn't be enough room. It was fine until the last few laps, when everyone started to fight for spots. We were just about to see the 'two to go' sign when we hit one of the narrow spots. One guy tried to stick his wheel in a hole that didn't exist and he ended up in the grass. He hit a divot and went pinwheeling by the group, somehow still at speed. As he came by us, the guy next to me said, loudly but as calmly as if he were ordering coffee, "You deserve that, Jim". At that moment, Jim's shoes were four feet above his helmet. That was the absolute best example of adding insult to injury that I've witnessed. I laughed so hard I almost crashed myself.
It's funny until it happens to you. Last years I was racing in another Masters race, this time in Louisville. The early part of the race was being dominated by the local heavy hitters on the Texas Roadhouse team. They had sent a guy up the road, and I wanted to get up to him before his gap got too big. I was on the left side of the road, and I swung out to jump in the left gutter. As I jumped, I saw a lip in the pavement that I hadn't known was there(in retrospect, it was a pretty dicey move). I figured I could get over it with a small bunny hop, but my front wheel caught and turned and I went down.
It's astonishing how quickly the mind works when you're crashing. Before I even hit the ground, I thought, "This is gonna hurt-I hope I don't take anyone down with me-I'm probably gonna get hit from behind". I didn't get hit from behind, but I did get some comments from the rest of the group as they went by.
One said, "Stay down".
A few seconds later, "Idiot."
I probably deserved it for laughing so hard at Jim.
Some racing stories, thankfully, don't involve crashing; one that I know I'll remember until I die is from the Gateway Cup in St. Louis in 2007. Gateway Cup is a four day series of big(100+ person fields) fast crits that happens every year on Labor Day weekend. The races draw talented fields from several states, and a result there is meaningful(at least to me). The first race is on Friday night and is usually the fastest one-and almost always a field sprint. I was racing in the category three races, and I thought I had a shot at a decent finish, but I'd have to play the last few laps well-I'm not a great sprinter, so I'd have to position myself perfectly.
Five laps to go, and I was on the top fifteen. Four to go, and I was surfing the top ten, managing my position without wasting too much energy. Three and two to go, and I was at the front but not on the front, which was perfect. My legs felt great; I couldn't believe how well this was going. As we started the last lap, I was in fourth wheel, then third. This was exactly what I wanted-it's a short distance from the last corner to the line, so I wanted to be no further back than fourth or fifth wheel.
I came around the last corner in third wheel(this was great!), and suddenly, inexplicably, there was a lull-everyone just seemed to pause. I thought about Magnus Backstedt, winner of Paris Roubaix, who said, "If you're looking around, wondering who is going to open the sprint, it should be you". So I did. 100 Meters from the line I was clear. 70, 50 meters...I didn't see a wheel next to mine. 30 meters, 20...the finish. I threw my right arm in the air; this was the only field sprint I had ever won. I was thrilled. I coasted past turn one, where my mother, father and sisters were sitting(they all live in St. Louis). I was in the process of shouting, "I won!" when I heard the group go by. They sure were going fast for a cool-down lap...
Oh...no. that wasn't the last lap. I had sprinted at one to go. I have never felt so dumb. Or, coincidentally, so dumb in front of so many people. I rolled around the course one more time, and up to my family(again).
Sometimes you can tell how poorly you've done by the way people look at you. When your seven year old niece can't look you in the eye, you know it's bad. Really, really bad.
My friends later told me they spent HOURS traveling to the far corners of the internet looking for photos or video of that 'finish'. At the time, I was immensely grateful that none was found. Now that I've gotten over it, though, I wish someone had captured that amazingly ridiculous moment. I'd give anything for that photo.
At least it makes a good story.