Race report: Denver Triathlon July 24 2011 by Randy Mast
Every now and again I have an experience that I find myself retelling over and over again to friends, coworkers, to whomever will hold still long enough to listen to me. That is what I find myself doing after this past weekend. Sunday, July 24th, I had the privilege to race in the Denver Sprint Triathlon as a guide with Brandon Adame, a blind triathlete.
Brandon and I met for the first time on Thursday evening before the race, when Brandon and his father came over to our house for dinner and a practice run. One of the first things that I noticed about Brandon was how fearless he is. After spending a few minutes teaching me how to guide he placed his trust in me not to run him into a tree, over a curb, or into me, all very real possibilities. We spent the entire time on the run talking and learning about each other- but mostly it was Brandon training me how to be an effective guide using the 4 foot tether that was attached to our elbows. Our run, other than a couple close calls with parked cars, was thankfully uneventful. I was feeling a bit more confident after our short run, as many of my questions about the guiding protocol were starting to be answered.
Friday morning we scheduled to meet early at a local lake to practice our swim (unfortunately a colder lake than what we would be swimming in on Sunday). We have been having a lot of hot weather in Denver for the past couple weeks which meant that the swim portion of the race would likely have to be done without a wet suit because of the warm temperature of the water. Both Brandon and I were not overly pleased by this news. Like many land-lovers that attempt triathlons, the swim portion is where I struggle the most. I am only too happy to zip up my wet suit on race day mornings, both for the added buoyancy that a wet suit provides and for the warmth in cold waters. Very early Friday morning both of us were shivering in cold water ready to make our first attempt at swimming together. Brandon had learned in past races that the most efficient way to get through the water with a guide was for him to lie on his back and kick while the guide pulls. We did our best to take a few laps using this technique, but after about 45 minutes we determined through chattering teeth that it was time to get out of the water and hope for the best.
Saturday was a busy day of getting ourselves organized and checked in for the race and practicing on the tandem. The Denver Triathlon made use of two transition areas which optimized a few local landmarks but added a level of complexity to getting ourselves set up. We were able to get checked in and set up our second transition fairly quickly. We then headed out on the tandem to get a feel for riding together. Like running together I realized quickly that the best way to ride together was to constantly narrate what was coming up next. We developed a pattern where I would tell Brandon which way we were going to turn and start counting down from 3; by the time I hit 1 Brandon would chime in with “1 and zero” at which point we would both start to lean into the corner. The most challenging part of the bike was getting on and off and getting our cleats clicked into the pedals. Fortunately Brandon has spent countless hours on the tandem so I was the one doing the majority of the learning.
Race day started as most race days do: very early. Brandon arrived at my house at 5:30 and we rode the tandem the couple of miles to the swim site and transition one. We were able to get ourselves set up in T1 and oriented fairly quickly, so we were ready with plenty of time before our wave was to start at 7:30. With so many C Different athletes ( C Different is a non-profit that aids many blind athletes to compete at events all over the country) going in the same wave we had plenty of distractions for the tense minutes leading up to our wave start.
When our wave eventually did start we were standing in the water knee deep and ready to go. My hope was that given how our swim practice went that if we got out of the water in 25 minutes we would be doing well. The first half of the 800m went fantastic and at the turn around point of the swim I was feeling like things were going far better than I hoped so I paused to check how Brandon was doing: he was in perfect position on his back kicking with everything he had. I yelled back to him that I thought it was going great and off we went on the second half of the swim. When we finally got to the beach and stood up I glance down at my watch and was ecstatic to see that it was showing a time still in the 17’s. I was so happy to be out of the water and running toward transition that I temporally forgot that I needed to wait for Brandon, and instead started to tug Brandon out of the water with the tether that attached the two of us. I quickly realized what I was doing and went back to protocol by grabbing Brandon’s hand and putting it on my shoulder so we could make our way into T1.
Our transition went smoothly and we were off on the bike. The first half of the bike course was for the most part straight and relatively flat, with only a long gradual uphill leading to our first 180º turn which we had practiced the day before. We flew back into town on the downhill section of the ride. The last couple miles on this bike course had a lot of turns, which slowed us down a bit. Our only hiccup on the bike was at about mile 10 when we dropped both of the chains on the tandem. We stopped the bike to fix the chains and in our haste to keep moving I made the mistake of not communicating how we were going to get off the bike. We both ending up getting off at the same time and which caused the bike to tip over and we piled up on top of it. Despite our mistake we were able to get the chains back on and start up again after a couple frantic minutes.
Our transition from bike to run went very well. We quickly switched out of our biking shoes, into our running shoes, had a couple gulps of water and headed out on the 5k run. The run section of the race was primarily an out and back on bike paths and sidewalks. Because the course was fairly narrow with a number of tight turns Brandon and I both held the tether a bit tighter than what we had practiced a few days before. We had only one close call on the run when I forgot to narrate a slight drop while crossing one if the streets and Brandon stumbled. He fortunately caught himself before hitting the street. We crossed the finish line with a great time of 1:36, Brandon finished 2nd in his group and overall 98 out of more than 700 participants.
All physically challenged athletes have to have a support network, as we all do, but with PC athletes the support network takes on additional significance. Brandon is fortunate to have an extremely supportive network surrounding him. David Adame, Brandon’s father, provides an incredible foundation upon which Brandon is able to reach for every more impressive height. David not only is a support for his own son but also is an integral part of C Different. I was impressed with David’s unselfish excitement throughout the entire weekend and as each of the C Different athletes crossed the finish line
Triathlon is by definition a very individualistic sport. I spend countless hours practicing my swimming, biking and running in an effort to pull back a few seconds or a couple minutes off of personal records. It is always a physically painful struggle in a race to hold a pace at close to maximal effort in order to go as fast as possible. To be invited to participate in another athlete's struggle is a privilege that I will not soon forget. I will continue to train and practice as much as I can, but now not only with the motivation of going faster but also with the motivation to be able to race with Brandon when he is ready to go again.