a Bri Gaal's Blog: Lake Norman Recap

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lake Norman Recap

This morning while setting up my transition, I saw a guy in a motorized wheel chair with a breathing tube and a personal nurse by his side rolling by the bikes. I distinctly remember stopping what I was doing and staring at him; wondering what happened and thinking 'geez, it can all be taken away so quick.'

Then before they started the race, I found out about his story. I can't remember his name right now, but last year he raced at Lake Norman. They gave him the mic and he was able to read a prepared speech through his breathing tube. He noticed something was wrong with his hand around the race time last year, and finally got a diagnosis in December - he had ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and one short year later he was paralyzed and couldn't breathe on his own. I teared up as he told his story, and as he sat there telling us to enjoy ourselves during the race and embrace the hurt that racing brings. It really can all be taken away so quick.

As it turned out, there were not any other Open women that showed up for the race. There were a few Master's Open women, so at least some others were in my wave (along with the Open and Master's Males). I saw Nasrin off to my right after the start and then tried to settle in behind her for a draft but couldn't stick on her feet at the turn buoys - ahh she was swimming so fast! Or maybe I was swimming slow? I need to stop skipping master's in the morning! But I was breathing and pulling hard so I thought I was swimming okay, Nas was just swimming better. I saw her get out of the water and estimated she was 15 seconds ahead of me. As I ran out, someone told me I was the first female but I knew that people often mess this up - but then when I got to the transition area Nas wasn't there -- it was Wade! Oops, so I'm first women out of my wave.

A male open passed me right out of transition and during the bike 2 master's open men passed me. And that was it. For the entire race. Out of 700 people, I saw 3 people on the course. 3! They had shortened the bike because of construction and the cut through road they put us on was even more hilly than the usual course. I tried to push.

I came off the bike and onto the run. I tried to push. I didn't see anyone ahead or behind me, the only people I saw were the volunteers.

I crossed the line first and then did a cooldown with Marty (who raced really well today! a few track workouts and he knocked some serious time out of his run). We saw some ladies who were moving on the run in the 35-39 age group; they were about 3 seconds apart. The first lady asked how far ahead she was, they were both working. I caught up to her after she finished and asked if she had held the other lady off and she said, "I did! It was great, we were together on the bike going back and forth and then ran the entire run together."

Oh, you mean you got to race?! I felt a pang of jealousy - I do these races to race, not for a time trial and I know how much it hurts and also how FUN it is to duke it out with other competitors.

At the awards I found out these two had beaten me by 1 minute and I was super bummed. First, though, I got to feel like an idiot getting up on the podium by myself for the first place open woman.

I was pissed. I was pissed at myself for not being able to push harder by myself. I was mad that I wasn't faster. And I was irked that fast age group women don't race open.

I threw myself a pity party for 5 minutes in the car, silently fuming and sending my friend an upset text about the race.

Then I stopped and thought about that guy with ALS and I felt like an absolute JERK. What am I upset about?! About not winning? Am I that big of a baby? (uhhh, don't answer that). I got to go out there and do something I love, still finishing 3rd overall while my husband is out there doing great, too. That guy probably has weeks or months to live.

Hopefully he knows that his story and speech affected a lot of people, but particularly me - as I remember what a gift life itself is - and one that is never guaranteed. This is something that is way too easy to forget.

I'm sure when I see my splits I'll be mad all over again, but I promise to get over it quick ;)

We took the scenic route home and stopped in Pittsboro at the Soda Shop.

And I had a delicious chocolate malt.


At August 22, 2009 5:20 PM , Blogger Rebecca DeWire said...

I really liked this post and your willingness to share your emotions of the day. ALS is such a tragic disease. I can't even begin to fathom what it must be like to receive that diagnosis and how it must affect family and those you love.

At August 22, 2009 5:42 PM , Blogger Sarah said...

cHi Bri

Two years ago I raced age group at Pinehurst and ended up beating you by a couple of seconds. I remember how bad I felt because I knew that if we'd been racing head to head you'd have taken the race for sure. So, I started racing Open the next year. I don't win much anymore,and I race by myself a lot in open "no man's land" but I agree with you that fast age groupers should race open. I have a hard time getting my teammates to do this, however, because they, too don't want to race "alone" and I certainly understand why they feel that way. Anyway, I think it's worth talking to Benji at SetUp about making racing open more appealing - better prizes at the open level would be one option. Or maybe some sort of thing where you're forced to Cat Up if you acheive certain results. Benji's pretty approachable and he's now in charge of the NCTS series and I know he'd listen to your comments. I've been asking him for this for awhile but so far - I think I've been the only one.
Mostly, I just wanted to let you know that your frustration is valid and we all know that while it may not have made a difference in the results, it would have been a much different race if it had been head to head.

At August 22, 2009 6:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

RIP Mr. Giesa.

At August 22, 2009 8:49 PM , Blogger BriGaal said...

Thanks for your comment, Sarah! It's like one of those vicious circles: girls don't want to race open because they don't want to be 'alone' and then the open division is sparse, so then people don't want to race it! I just want to race everyone, no matter what age group. Marty had one suggestion about having the open women start with some of the age grouper women which would be fine with me. They could make people cat up like you say and race open, and then just pull out the top 3 for the series awards or something like that and flow everyone else down to age group. I don't know, there isn't a good solution for it all; I know USAT always struggles with the rankings because of open divisions, but I like being able to race everyone. Keep racing open!!

At August 22, 2009 8:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It says a lot about what type of person you are, when even with the adrenaline pumping and your goals in mind, that you took the message of that man with ALS to the depths of your heart. My favorite quote from "Tuesday's with Morrie", says " So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning."
I think what you did today, shows you are truly living your life with meaning. Of course, you had your goals in mind- as you've worked so hard to achieve the best, but you still stopped to appreciate life, and the life that others are facing as well. ALS can strike anyone at anytime. Regardless of age, healthy lifestyle or age. Once diagnosed, you have no hope, no treatment, no chance to fight, except living paralyzed on a ventilator or choosing just to die... EVERYONE should be like you, and stop and count their blessings- and even perhaps- think of a way to help. Thank you for your post.

At August 22, 2009 8:58 PM , Blogger LZ said...

What a great post Bri! It is so hard to keep things in perspective sometimes and I only hope that it forces others (including me) to keep thinking about how we should feel grateful for everything we do.

At August 23, 2009 2:00 AM , Blogger Mama Simmons said...

Good lesson. It's so easy to take our health for granted. I still do it way too much, even though I have first hand experience telling me that at any moment you can be diagnosed with some completely random disease that has no reason.

And about racing open... I'd likely be one that maybe could, but I'd be too self-conscious to apply for it because all I could think about would be how everyone would catch me on the run. The only way I would do it is if I sort of 'had to'- meaning that because of past results or whatever that was the category I should be racing in... I think as women sometimes we underestimate ourselves and don't want to come across as being too cocky or overly confident so we don't want to tell the world that "I think I'm fast" by entering the open category. Not sure if that makes sense.

I admire your confidence! :)

At August 23, 2009 7:29 AM , Blogger Train-This said...

well said Bri... and well raced!

At August 23, 2009 8:19 AM , Blogger Maijaleena said...

ALS is a devastating disease. We are lucky to be out doing the things we do every day.

About Open racing...I think women tend to have lower confidence and are scared of racing alone, or being last in the open division, or not winning an award like they can in AG. I don't get it, but it is how it is.

I think it would help to have a greater incentive to get people to race open. Or perhaps use USAT rankings which really are used for very little, to determine who is required to race open. Perhaps.

You are very lucky to have the open category in almost all the races you do. Most races here do not have that option and women are usually put in the later waves. Only those with a pro/elite card start first, and it is with the first men's wave. Only the very large races like Columbia and NYC. NJ state tri, the largest race in NJ, offers an elite wave but there are no incentives and it is not well publicized. Last year there were only 2 women in it, me and another that dropped way off on the run. I know I wouldn't have won had I been head to head with the woman that finished first coming back from the AG waves, but she had finished ahead of me in 2nd place the year prior...so she really should have been in the Elite wave. I would have liked to know where she was on the course instead of racing the whole run primarily on my own. But it is what it is.

I would like to see a lot of things change in triathlon, waves based on ability, not by choice as much as how you place. Sort of like cat system in biking.

At August 23, 2009 11:42 AM , Blogger Cody's Tri Blog said...

Yes it can be taken away just that quick. Delane's dad and brother who was my age passed from ALS. I have seen it close up and personal and it is a true reality check. Glad to see you recognize it, post like this help remind people how lucky they really are.

At August 23, 2009 5:09 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bri,
I'm the girl who won the 35-39 age group yesterday. I'm sure that if you had been in our wave and had been able to race side by side with Stephanie and I, it would have been an even closer race. I'm sorry for your frustration and I'm sure that I would have felt that way if I had been in your shoes and racing all by myself.
However, let me just make a few points about the NCTS races. First off, they require individuals to stay in the category that they sign up for during the first race of the season-which for me, was March. I came into this season finishing
9th at Lake Norman last year and racing 5 + hour halfs-which is fast, but not NCTS elite caliber in my mind.I've gotten a lot faster this season, but too late to change over to a new category even if I had wanted to -and not sure I do want to given the sparse open waves and my past experience racing in an open wave.
Secondly, I do this stuff for fun and if it's not going to be fun for me, I'm not going to do it. To me it is no fun racing by myself. Last year I raced one end of season race in SC in the open division and spent the entire race by myself. I had absolutely zero fun. I love being out there in the midst of the crowds. It pushes me harder and makes the day more entertaining. Often at these races, like you said, there are only a few women in the open division (and often they are world class caliber) and one is out there alone in no man's land which equals no fun to me. So maybe your suggestion of starting the open women with the age groupers is a good one. Until that changes, I'm not sure which category I will race in the future and I do think it should be an individual choice.It has nothing to do with my self confidence-just where I will enjoy myself the most. (Something for me to ponder over the winter.)
Finally, the nature of wave racing is that there are fast women in separate waves who don't get to race head to head and there are separate factors affecting each wave. The open wave, for example, gets the advantage of a nice clear swim and strong swimmers to work with. The age group waves get the crowd advantage -which can also be a disadvantage on the bike. Even as an age grouper there might be someone in a younger or older AG that I won't know about until after the race is over. Fortunately at the NCTS races, they don't make a big deal of announcing overall winners (they didn't even mention it yesterday)-just category winners and USAT ranks the open division as a completely separate race.
If you have some more suggestions as to how to improve the "open division situation", I'll be happy to brainstorm with you and support you in approaching Set Up. If they can find a way to make the division larger, then I'll consider moving into it. You can e-mail me at jjmule@bellsouth.net or find me on facebook.
Take care,
Leigh-Ann Mueller

At August 23, 2009 7:14 PM , Blogger Angela said...

sorry about that Bri. Sounds like it was a good race as far and emotionally and not so much athletically. You still did great though!

All I'm thinking about now is the fact that you're gonna kick my butt and the Nuclear swim next week!

At August 24, 2009 9:31 AM , Blogger Beth said...

Hey Bri! First off, ALS - such a devastating disease. I work with a lot of ALS patients in the hospital because they are often forced to get feeding tubes once they no longer have the capacity to safely swallow any longer. Part of the reason I like my hospital job is because it gives me such perspective on dealing with so called "stressors" in my own life - just like what happened for you on Saturday.

As for the whole open vs AG debate, etc... I was actually thinking a lot about this over the weekend at AG Nationals. I think it's triathlon in general because even AG vs AG wave starts leaves us in the same position. It's almost as if you have to view them as totally separate races because the racing dynamic is SOOO different if you aren't head to head. Like you said, I'm sure your race would have been VERY different had you had someone to chase or known someone was right behind you on the run, etc... But even though we should view them as separate races, of course that's very hard to do because in the end, you have the final times to look at. Ugh.

In the bigger races that I've done that do have "elite amateur" or "open" waves, there were definitely incentives (prizes) to make those waves more appealing to race in vs AG. As others suggested, perhaps that's the route the setupevents group can take to make it work better. The funny thing is, I bet the men didn't have this same problem. ;)

Regardless, GREAT JOB in your race Bri. You shouldn't beat yourself up for not pushing harder. You are a racer and racers race to the level that they have to. I'm sure that "push" would have been there had you needed it!!

At August 24, 2009 12:58 PM , Blogger Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Hey Bri -

GREAT post! First - your comments and personal thoughts about ALS and putting things into perspective were very touching. Thank you for sharing - that must have been very surreal to experience before the start of a race. ALS is such a horrible disease...

On a completely different note -
Very interesting debate about the Open/elite vs AG waves. I actually started racing more seriously at Set Up Events...my first year I did AG - but had a really hard time at the Willmington YMCA tri because of ALL the traffic on the course. I think I mentioned it to one of the guys at InsideOut Sports - and based on my placing, he said I should race Open and the traffic/congestion would be less. A different race! And then a week later I raced Pinehurst and figured that I would give Open a try for the next year.

I did 5 races in the Open/Elite category - and most of the races that I did - were all pretty stacked with a lot of girls. There was always a clear line between the open and AG ranks. In recent years - and maybe because there are more races OR some of the Open/Elite girls are racing other races and not doing NCTS races as much and/or the AG ladies have gotten a lot faster - the gap between age group and open has declined.

I think that it IS a different race. More space on the swim, and generally less people around. In the AG ranks though - there are always people...more congestion for the swim (but the chance to get on fast feet), more people to worry about on the bike, and always someone to chase down on the run. In the open wave - WHEN there are other people racing, you have the option of going back and forth...But if not, you're on your own.

Honestly - I had a blast racing open when I did. I felt it bettered my game and I learned a lot by racing against faster people. I didn't win as much - but that was never my intention in the first place. If given the option - I would race open (its one thing that I miss out here).

That being said - what could Set UP events do to attract a higher quality open field OR make an incentive for people to race open? That's a great question. More prize money - perhaps. Different prizes at races...? I also like the categorizing system - where if you place in your division a certain amount of time, you can get moved ahead into a different division. Then again - for people who only want to race AG, they may not want that.

It's a tough call : because in the end, its completely up to the individual. What they want from the sport and how they choose to define themselves.

Great post Bri - very thought provoking.

At September 1, 2009 12:30 PM , Blogger Rob Jones said...

Nice post. Interesting debate. Great racing. But the important thing no one has mentioned... The Pittsboro Soda Shop rocks. Nothing beats a post race chocolate malt and pimento cheeseburger.


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